The Current Closer Market
Let's take a peek at the Roto Authority Top 50 Free Agents List, which I finalized on October 25th. Before you scoff at my Tom Gordon to the Marlins prediction, remember that no one foresaw this fire sale. Looking back over the list, I'm reminded just how hard it is to predict where these guys end up. I'm almost starting to respect Steve Phillips. Wait, no I'm not.
Now that Gordon has signed, we're left with Trevor Hoffman, Todd Jones, Kyle Farnsworth, Octavio Dotel, and Bob Wickman on the free agent market. I suppose Rudy Seanez could serve as a bargain-basement closer as well (he's old, but had a 12.9 K/9 in 2005). Jose Mesa and Ugueth Urbina will probably find work too.
The trade market consists of Danys Baez, Keith Foulke, Miguel Batista, Jeremy Affeldt, Mike MacDougal, Scot Shields, Aaron Heilman, and Chris Reitsma. If things go wrong in Los Angeles, Eric Gagne could be on the block by summer '06.
You'll find a nice summary of closer depth charts over at The Closer Watch.
Teams that might be in the hunt include Baltimore, Boston, Cleveland, Detroit, Arizona, Atlanta, Cincinnati, and San Diego.
If you lost count, that's 8 teams and 5 decent relievers with the official closer label available via free agency (less if Wickman retires and Dotel and Farnsworth work in setup roles). Baez will be dealt, but two or three teams may be left standing without a chair. It's tough to determine how stable Chris Ray, Keith Foulke, Fernando Rodney, Jose Valverde, and David Weathers are in their pseudo-closer roles.
I'm surprised that more teams aren't following the blueprint set out by the White Sox, Brewers, A's, and Rockies. These teams all thrust unproven arms into their 9th inning role and were rewarded with millions of dollars to be spent elsewhere.
Who will be the Derrick Turnbow or Bobby Jenks of 2006? Chris Ray could probably handle the 9th inning as well as any free agent. Jose Valverde threw in his vote in the form of 66 excellent innings last year. Aaron Heilman, Mike Gonzalez, and Scott Linebrink all have the credentials to step right into a closer role next year if given the opportunity.
Linebrink, for instance, is more than ready to inherit Trevor Hoffman's job. Look at his performance since joining the Padres:
I believe that when all of these three and four year deals come to roost near the end of the decade, the idea of paying an aging 9th inning guy $9MM to throw 75 innings will start to lose its luster.