Teams pay a premium for saves; it's how Rafael Soriano was able to get a three-year, $35MM contract last offseason. Impending free agents who have picked up at least five saves this year: Jose Valverde (club option), Heath Bell, Francisco Cordero (club option), Jonathan Papelbon, Ryan Madson, Francisco Rodriguez, Kyle Farnsworth (club option), Matt Capps, Joe Nathan (club option), Jon Rauch (club option), Frank Francisco, Jason Isringhausen, and Jonathan Broxton. Brad Lidge is another consideration, though he has a ways to go. Options for Valverde and Farnsworth could be exercised and several more will likely be content to set up, but we're left with a minimum of five relievers who will expect to close next year. They won't get to choose their role, but trade candidates such as Brandon League, Leo Nunez, or Huston Street could enter the picture as well.
As many as 16 teams may be in the market for a closer in the offseason to varying degrees:
- Orioles: I'm not sure the team's new GM will want to throw good money after bad, but Kevin Gregg is the worst reliever holding a closer job currently.
- Red Sox: They could re-sign Papelbon, though Daniel Bard certainly appears ready.
- Blue Jays: Jason Frasor and Octavio Dotel are gone, while Shawn Camp, Rauch, and Francisco are eligible for free agency. Perhaps the Jays will bring several relievers in on one-year deals again, and/or pick up Rauch's option.
- Tigers: They could save $9MM by declining Valverde's option, allowing them to use Joaquin Benoit in the ninth or sign someone cheaper.
- Twins: With Capps and Nathan up for free agency, Glen Perkins could get the job. Or, Nathan could be re-signed at a much lower rate or they could see who else is out there.
- Mariners: David Aardsma figures to miss most of 2012, so League may be needed again. Otherwise, the Mariners could flip League at his peak value and bring in someone else.
- Marlins: The Marlins reportedly intend to retain Nunez as next year's closer, but they could change their mind and put him on the market.
- Mets: Bobby Parnell has the early line on the job, but they could bring in someone more seasoned to take on an Isringhausen-type role.
- Phillies: I expect a legitimate attempt to re-sign Madson. Antonio Bastardo might be capable of stepping in if that fails, but the Phillies figure to be in the market for a veteran closer.
- Reds: Cordero's option is certain to be declined, so the question becomes whether to use Aroldis Chapman as a closer or starter.
- Astros: I wouldn't expect them to sign Papelbon, but an experienced reliever would make sense even if Mark Melancon retains the job.
- Cardinals: They can make it work with Fernando Salas, Jason Motte, and others, and may need to skimp given the big names they have up for free agency.
- Rockies: They could save money by moving Street and using Rafael Betancourt or others.
- Dodgers: There's no reason not to stick with Javy Guerra, and Kenley Jansen has closer potential as well. Matt Guerrier is around to fill the veteran reliever role, so they might not be in the closer market.
- Padres: If they don't figure something out with Bell, I'd expect a cheap veteran signing or two. It'd be a dream opportunity for most relievers.
- Giants: Depending on how Brian Wilson's elbow soreness turns out, they could be in the market.
Certainly there are enough closer jobs to go around, though I don't see too many teams likely to join a high-end bidding war for Papelbon or Madson.