Two Walk-Year Closers With Declining Trade Value

Uspw_6259562The new playoff system may or may not impact the number of buyers and sellers this summer, but there's one thing about the trade deadline that won't change: pitching will be in demand. It is every year and in all forms — starters and relievers, right-handers and left-handers, aces and innings-eaters — there's a market for all of them.

A popular target for clubs looking to add bullpen help is the proverbial "closer on a bad team." The Rangers were 14.5 games out when they traded Eric Gagne to the Red Sox in 2007 and the Nationals were 13.5 games out when they traded Matt Capps to the Twins in 2010, just for example. The upcoming free agent class is littered with closers, but two of them have seen their trade value drop because of poor performance in recent weeks.

Brandon League, Mariners
League saved 37 games and was an All-Star a year ago, but this season he's pitched to a 4.43 ERA with a 44.4% ground ball rate that is well below his career norm (60.3%). Manager Eric Wedge removed the 29-year-old right-hander from the closer's role following last night's blown save, already his fourth of the season. He told reporters (including Larry Larue of The News Tribune) they'll instead "match up with what we think works" in the ninth inning.

Grant Balfour, Athletics
Three poor performances (two blown saves) in late-April and early-May cost Balfour his job as closer, and now he's working the seventh inning in Oakland thanks to Ryan Cook's emergence. The 34-year-old veteran has a 4.09 ERA in 22 innings, though his strikeout (7.0 K/9) and walk (3.3 BB/9) rates are both trending in the wrong direction for the second straight season.

Both League and Balfour are scheduled to become free agents after this season, though Balfour's contract includes a $4.5MM club option ($350K buyout) for 2013. With pitchers like Jonathan Broxton, Huston Street, and Francisco Rodriguez providing quality rental bullpen help alternatives on the trade market, the Mariners and A's could be left with nothing to show for their free agent-to-be relievers.

Photo via US Presswire.

23 Responses to Two Walk-Year Closers With Declining Trade Value Leave a Reply

  1. Devern Hansack 3 years ago

    Can we just collectively agree that the closer role is outdated and unnecessary?

    • Slopeboy 3 years ago

      Respectfully disagree. Here’s why. For the last 14 out of 15 years, the Yankees have made the play-offs. There are a number of reasons for sure, but the overwhelming reason is because of their closer.Some would argue that it’s been because of their huge payroll and their ability to ‘buy’ titles, to stockpile the best players, or luck, the so-call ‘Yankees Mystique’. Maybe so, maybe not. The one constant has been their ability to close out a game on a regular basis.

      Starting with Wetteland in ’95 up to the present time, that’s what’s separated
      NY from everyone else all these years! Whenever NY goes into the 9th inning with a lead, nine times out on ten, that game is over. A couple of examples, in the ’09 Play-offs almost all the teams involved had blown saves except one. Guess who didn’t? In last year’s WS, Texas blew TWO chances to close out the series and it cost them.

      I’ll concede that other teams have won using different methods of finishing games, closers by committee or having starters go deeper into games, but that hasn’t worked consistently or long term to make closers ‘outdated or unnecessary’.

      • Devern Hansack 3 years ago

        I understand your argument, but here’s my counterpoint. Wetteland and Rivera were absolutely crucial to the Yankees’ success since 1995. Having a guy who will put up ~1.5 WAR per season (Wetteland) or ~2.3 WAR per season (Rivera) out of the pen can be the difference between the postseason or sitting at home. However, by not confining Wetteland or Rivera to the ninth inning, they could have utilized them in higher-leverage situations and therefore may have ended up with more wins. It is crucial to have one or maybe two relief aces, but the closer role is highly inefficient.

        • Slopeboy 3 years ago

          Your counterpoint seems more complicated than it needs to be. Is WAR really the best measure for a pitcher whose job is to come into the last inning with a lead and get three outs before the opponent ties the game? Seems to me that you think
          The closer isn’t really needed but two ‘relief aces’ is the formula?
          Isn’t that scenario the least efficient of the two?
          You’re using two pitchers to do the job of one.

    • Wainwrights_Curveball 3 years ago

      MLBTR should do an open discussion article on the value of the closer.

      Think about it…how many of those guys at the back-end of the bullpen are making MONDO cash just for getting 3 outs. And often times those final three outs aren’t exactly the most difficult outs to make. Sometimes the most crucial relief situation in the game is taking place in an inning that isn’t the 9th.

      • Slopeboy 3 years ago

        Very true! The scenario you’re describing is the turning point in the game, the actual ‘save’, if you will. That’s how the game was played in the past, with guys like Fingers,Quizenberry,Eckersley and Goosage filling those roles.Today’s game is no longer like that. It’s about pitch counts, match-ups and specialists. The question that needs to be asked is: Can that pitcher get 3 quick outs in the last inning, before the opposing team ties the game?
        Not every pitcher can do that consistently.

  2. Jon Snow 3 years ago

    bob melvin manages the oakland a’s. not sure how he decides when brandon league pitches. 

  3. baseball1010 3 years ago

    Bob Melvin does not manage the Mariners. How many years ago did he manage them, five. Wow

  4. The many one-year wonder closers just make you shake your head at Rivera even more… ELEVEN years with sub-2.00 ERAs. Awesome!

  5. Runtime 3 years ago

    I remember when I was pissed that the Jays traded League…

    oh man. The difference a few years makes…

    • Lunchbox45 3 years ago

      Why would you have been pissed? He was pretty mediocre at best with the jays 

  6. johnsilver 3 years ago

    League and Balfour probably have value as setup guys, which is what both have been most of their careers anyway. Broxton is putting it back together in KC. Watched a couple games he saved and he had it together. Whether or not it will translate into a multi year offer is a good question.. I think probably 1 year and an option with his late history.. But still nice to see him get back on track again.

  7. melonis_rex 3 years ago

    Balfour’s option is a near lock, especially if he rebounds, which he should (and has been since being pulled from the closer role, to some degree). He has enough upside to keep him around for 4MM, especially since he’s been an elite reliever for 3 of the last 4 years, and Fuentes will be gone (and I like Ryan Cook the relief ace better than Ryan Cook the closer). 

    • IndianaBob 3 years ago

      They are not going to pay Balfour $4 million to pitch middle relief.  He is 35 years old and you can get a good younger middle relief for $4 million a year in the free agent market. 

      • Iconoclast17 3 years ago

        Balfour’s gone; as Indian Bob says he’s not getting $4 million to pitch in the 7th inning. cook has replaced him in his set-up role for 1/10th the cost. I like Balfour, but the value isn’t there. Same with Fuentes.

        If they can flip either one or both for a  low level prospect or two they certainly will by the end of July. If only the same could be said of the worthless Coco Crisp and Daric Barton.

  8. I will say this if the Pirates bats don’t get hitting (even though they are winning games) hanrahan will be moved. So if some playoff teams are looking for a closer and willing to give up a bat they should wait until the Pirates begin to shop him.  

    • bigpat 3 years ago

       I agree. I love Hanrahan to death on and off the field but I think it would probably be the best time to trade him, and Jason Grilli or Brad Lincoln can probably close now and next season as well. With all the trouble teams are having at the back of their bullpen, Hammer can probably fetch a king’s ransom. I will be very sad to see him go but if we get a quality bat in return, it would probably be the best move.

      An ideal scenario would be getting someone like LoMo or Espinosa from Washington, or trade him to the Angels for Trumbo.

  9. dshires4 3 years ago

    I once saw a horse race in which a horse broke its leg and was put down on the track for all to see. If Eric Wedge goes back to Brandon League and the same result continues to prove true – blown saves – I say we do the same to both Wedge and League. Who’s down?

  10. Slopeboy 3 years ago

    Interesting speculation. The season is just past the quarter mark and we all know how
    Nthings can quickly change in Baseball, so there’s still hope for these relievers. That being said, let me offer another type of speculation. This one on the opposite end of the coin.

    Rafael Soriano signed a 3 yr deal with the Yanks for 35 million last year over the objections of Cashman. The reason for Cash’s balking at the signing was because of the opt-out clause at the end of each year, which made very little sense for a set-up reliever. Soriano proceeded to get injured and not be effective the first year of the contract and didn’t bother with the opt-out last year.Early this season, he was pretty much mediocre. That is until Rivera and Robertson both went down, now he’s become the formidable closer he was with Tampa once again.
    He’s scheduled to make $14 Mil next year, a $3 Million dollar raise, something that a normal reliever would most likely not walk away from.

    I betting that he DOES opt-out and walks away for bigger money. My hunch is that if the Yanks go deep into the Play-offs and he saves 30 games or more and with the uncertainty of Rivera’s recovery at age 43 looming, he’ll put the screws to the Yanks.
    The question is, will Hal and Randy Levine ante-up or will they take their chances with Mo and then Robertson if he can no longer do it?

    The juicier question is what team is willing to pay at least $15 mil per year for a closer?

  11. 1980CHAMPS 3 years ago

    With all of the below .500 teams in both Central & West divisions the reliever market come July will probably be a buyers market.

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