Twins fans feared the worst when Joe Nathan underwent Tommy John surgery last spring, but Jon Rauch's ability to close games was a big reason why Minnesota won the AL Central. Though Rauch lost the closing role to Matt Capps in July, the 6'11" right-hander still went 21-for-25 in save opportunities, posted a 3.12 ERA in 59 appearances and had an impressive 3.29 K/BB ratio.
Let's see how Rauch stacks up on the free agent market this winter...
- Rauch is a Type B free agent, so a team can sign him without losing a compensatory draft pick.
- Rauch might be eager to get away from Target Field. His ERA in 30 home games last season was 4.45, compared to just a 1.84 ERA in 29 road games.
- He's pretty solid against hitters on both sides of the plate. He's obviously better against right-handed hitters (holding them to a .238/.280/.372 career slash line) but Rauch has also done well against left-handed bats --- .255/.328/.417.
- Rauch lost the stopper's job both last year and in Arizona in 2009. Teams looking for a closer could be worried by the fact that Rauch has yet to show he can handle the job for a full season.
- Rauch tends to make things interesting at the end of games. His H/9 rate was a career-high 9.5 last season.
- After averaging 80.5 appearances per season from 2006 to 2009, Rauch pitched in just 59 games last year due to a variety of minor injuries. He turned 32 last month.
Rauch is more likely to be signed as a set-up man than as a closer, and his solid career track record makes him a candidate for a multi-year deal in the neighborhood of two years and $7MM. Teams looking for closing help this winter include the Diamondbacks, White Sox, Angels and Rays, so Rauch could get a look from those clubs to be at least part of a closing committee. Rauch could also be signed by a team like Atlanta or Washington as an experienced backup option should their young closers (Jonny Venters and Drew Storen, respectively) falter.
It's possible the Twins offer Rauch salary arbitration. He'll get a raise from his $2.9MM salary last season, but if he can't find more than that on the open market, he could accept arbitration and then work out a contract to stay in the Twin Cities. The Twins would be giving up the sandwich pick they'd receive if Rauch signed elsewhere, but with so many free agent relievers in their bullpen, Minnesota will still be in line for other compensation picks. The Twins themselves are one of the clubs looking for closing depth if Nathan isn't fully recovered or back in form after his surgery.