Astros closer Jose Valverde told MLB.com's Brian McTaggart today that he plans to test the free agent market after the season. He'd prefer to return to the Astros, but McTaggart finds Houston unlikely to pony up the cash. Valverde will come with the added cost of a draft pick, assuming the Astros offer arbitration to the Type A free agent. The closer noted that aside from the Astros, the Cubs may be in need of a closer. They seem likely to continue with Carlos Marmol, though.
Valverde, 32 in March, will be the top free agent closer on the market (though there are other quality names). He sports a 2.00 ERA, 50 strikeouts, and 17 walks in 45 innings this year, missing a good chunk of the season with a calf injury. Back in January, Valverde and the Astros avoided arbitration and agreed to an $8MM salary for '09.
Valverde surely expects another raise, perhaps a new deal to the tune of Francisco Rodriguez's three-year, $37MM pact. The high-water mark for closers is $46-47MM over four years, but Francisco Cordero and Joe Nathan signed their deals in a different economic climate (late 2007/early 2008). Mariano Rivera, who is on his own plane, also signed that offseason for three years and $45MM.
The Tigers, Braves, Brewers, Nationals, Phillies and Marlins might be hunting for late-inning help this winter. But which of these clubs would open the checkbook for Valverde?