Competition for Closers

Several teams are interested in Ms reliever JJ Putz

Several teams are interested in Ms reliever JJ Putz

Mets fans — myself included — tend to look at the winter market in a vacuum, seeing things only from the Flushing perspective. Unfortunately, there are 29 other teams in MLB, and many of them are — like the Mets — looking for a closer.

When it comes to free agents, the Mets have the advantage of deeper pockets than most teams — and there are few teams willing to consider the figure that Francisco Rodriguez will command. But if the Mets don’t get K-Rod (and hopefully, pass on Brian Fuentes), do they really have a chance to land a solid closer via trade?

Omar Minaya has insisted that the Mets “have the depth” to acquire a closer. But, number one, is he talking about a shaky closer (Kevin Gregg), a closer with plenty of question marks (B.J. Ryan), a closer who is coming off a bad year (J.J. Putz), or a legitimate, lights-out closer (Bobby Jenks)?

I don’t doubt that the Mets have the goods to trade for someone with closing experience. I’m just not sure that I’d (a) be happy with the “closer” acquired; or (b) judge the deal as fair for both sides.

The problem is that because most teams in the market for a closer can’t afford K-Rod, most are instead looking to make a trade. These are just a few of the teams likely in the market for a closer: Tigers, Angels (assuming they don’t re-sign K-Rod), Cubs (if they don’t re-up Kerry Wood), Indians, Rangers, Rockies (if they don’t sign Fuentes), Brewers, and Cardinals. In addition, the Braves may be looking to add, say, Huston Street, as a setup man or insurance against Mike Gonzalez. Similarly, the Diamondbacks may not be so convinced Chad Qualls is the answer as their 9th-inning man. The Dodgers are likely looking for an extra arm, with Joe Beimel a free agent and 38-year-old Takashi Saito no guarantee after a major elbow injury.

I’m not saying the Mets can’t compete with those teams in trade talks — rather, that the breadth of competition creates increased demand. So instead of the Mets trading, say, Jon Niese and Bobby Parnell for a J.J. Putz, the market condition bloats that package to include Dan Murphy and/or Fernando Martinez. Put another way, instead of getting a Kevin Gregg for a AA suspect (i.e., Michael Antonini), the cost is now an MLB-ready prospect or two (i.e., Niese and Parnell). In essence, paying double.

If my theory is correct, the Mets may be better off trying to sign someone like Brandon Lyon to a short-term, inexpensive deal (if that’s possible) — similar to what they did in the 2003-2004 winter with Braden Looper. In other words, get a stopgap, and hope that either the market conditions change, or someone from within (Brant Rustich? Brad Holt?) takes the fast track toward a 2010 / 2011 debut.

Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.
  1. Schmidtxc November 10, 2008 at 9:43 am
    Joe, I couldn’t be in agreement with you more strongly about fuentes. It seems like he will probably command wagner type money, and I’d rather see that money go elsewhere. I’d really like to see us bring in juan cruz, I think he’d be a low cost guy that could do the job. I’d be interested to see what kerry wood gets for offers, if it’s not too steep he’d be interesting. I just don’t see us getting a guy from a trade without giving up way too much for him. I’d rather try to go cheaper and spend bigger for a proven starter than spend big on a closer. I also think the value of some of our prospects will be much higher by july if need be.I can’t see seattle or baltimore contending this year, so there should be guys available.
  2. joe November 10, 2008 at 10:24 am
    Schmidt, I’m liking Kerry Wood, too, thinking that he’ll be a short-term, lower-cost solution than some of the others. I’ve liked Cruz since he was a minor league starter with the Cubs, so I’d welcome him with open arms. The more I think about it the more it makes sense for the Mets to acquire relievers via free agency rather than trade.
  3. isuzudude November 10, 2008 at 3:16 pm
    Sorry to contribute something off topic. but it is being reported that the A’s have acquired Matt Holliday from the Rockies. No news yet as far as who is going to Oakland. I’m happy for 2 reasons:
    1. The Phillies will not be getting Holliday to replace Burrell in LF. A 3-4-5 of Utley, Howard, and Holliday would have been very imposing, so thank goodness it won’t be happening.
    2. The Mets will not be any further enticed to part with a package of Niese, Parnell, FMart, and Murphy for Holliday, who traditionally fairs much worse away from Coors.

    I wouldn’t be shocked to see Huston Street going to Colorado as part of the deal, as the Rockies need a closer (losing Fuentes) and the A’s love Brad Ziegler and Joey Devine. That would be one potential Omar target off the market to fulfill Billy Wagner’s vacated closer’s role.

  4. Micalpalyn November 10, 2008 at 4:21 pm
    Cosidering that i dont think we need a lights out closer i amfine with Fuentes. But I’d also revamp the entire pen too.

    I think omar is not likely to deal unless the cost is OK. but I disagree with you that Niese and parnell are the likely chips. I stand by my theory that Schneider, church, Heilman, and other lower cost ML experienced guys are the chips.

  5. isuzudude November 10, 2008 at 5:00 pm
    Mic, how many games did the bullpen blow for the Mets this past year? Why, then, would you think the Mets don’t need a lights out closer? Furthermore, if Fuentes is not a lights out closer, why would you be in favor of the Mets spendng in upwards of $12-mil per season for him over 3 or 4 years? Think it through.

    If the Mets are going to trade for a closer, it’s either going to be for a reclammation project (Kevin Gregg, JJ Putz) or for someone who will come dirt cheap. If it takes Matt Holliday to pry Huston Street away from the A’s, I’m afraid of what some of the other asking prices are going to be. I also don’t see the Mets splurging for a big money closer in free agency because they will already be paying Billy Wagner $10.5-mil. How can the Mets improve their starting pitching, shore up the bullpen, and find a new LF while spending $20-mil in 2009 on a closer? Juan Cruz makes a lot of sense, but he’s never closed before so who knows how he’ll handle the pressure. Brandon Lyon is trash. The more the market is examined, the more it looks like next year’s closer is going to come from within. If Heilman is healthy and isn’t traded this offseason, I really think he’s a favorite. Look at his 3 prior years to 2008 and you can’t tell me those numbers aren’t good enough to notch between 30-40 saves a season. Right now we can’t trust Heilman with any type of lead as far as we can throw him, but the other options are either going to be very costly or very unattractive. Sad but true.

  6. joe November 10, 2008 at 5:33 pm
    Heilman as a closer makes a lot of sense for two reasons:

    1. He pitches better when given the chance to both start and FINISH an inning.
    (this is different from being brought in and then pulled out after he allows a leadoff walk)

    2. He pitches better when used judiciously — i.e., 10-12 times per month. If anointed the closer, and if Uncle Jerry actually COMMITS to roles, there is a better chance of Heilman being managed properly and pitching more effectively.

  7. joe November 10, 2008 at 5:37 pm
    Hey ‘dude, the Street news should have been on the right sidebar …. or did you beat me to it? 🙂
  8. Schmidtxc November 11, 2008 at 2:55 pm
    Slightyly off topic, but I’d be curious if billy wagner would have any trade value next off season. With his option being for a year at 8 million, I’d think he’d have some value to someone. At least this way he may give the mets some return on their 10 million this season.
  9. isuzudude November 11, 2008 at 3:14 pm
    Schmidt, I’d say it depends on what Wagner looks like if/when he comes back at the tail end of the 2009 season. If he comes back looking strong I’m sure he’ll have great value. If he comes back looking out of shape, slow-armed, and ineffective I don’t think he’ll be worth much of anything – mostly because the Mets won’t pick up his $8-mil option. And if he doesn’t come back at all in 2009, he’d be in the same boat as say Curt Schilling is now, and the list of eager suitors for Schilling is not all that long, if it even includes 2 teams.
  10. Schmidtxc November 11, 2008 at 6:23 pm
    I guess we can count henry owens out of the mix. He just got 50 games for ped’s.
  11. joe November 11, 2008 at 7:20 pm
    Thanks for the tip, Schmidt … I’ll post the news shortly.
  12. Micalpalyn November 11, 2008 at 8:23 pm
    dude; there you go ripping me again!!! The mets blew roughly 27 saves last year. actually probably >30 as i lost count.

    So to my abreviated post:
    1. The mets will net a closer- obviously. my point is that Fuentes and the now linked bobby jenks would be OK. Consider Lidge (of the imploding reputation) simply had to be perfect to outdistance the Mets who needed to convert a grand total of TWO wasted chances to enter post season.
    2. You and I are polar OPPOSITES in the optimism department. frankly i see two Omar actions; Trade for jenks early, or sign K-rod to a 3yr deal with a vesting option. there are other closers too, not just putz and sherrill. The last thing Omar needs is an unproven entity in the Mets 9th after the last 2 years. Add Hoffman to considerations.
    3. I think Omar wants a 5th starter and Sonnastine/Jackson are strong likelihoods. so that means there are prospects on the table in seperate deals.
    4. I suspect the Matt holiday deal had little to do with huston. I think he was gone regardless. I suspect the Rocks figured they could spin him for 2 more players.
    Note to Isuzu: Remember just 2-3 short yrs ago when the Braves converted Smoltz back to a starter and thought Dan Kolb could close…….If only they just added the FA starter instead. IOW I think Omar will go (again) after the best most proven quantity even if it costs $$$

  13. isuzudude November 12, 2008 at 7:09 am
    Mic, I just find it hard to fathom that a team like the Mets, who has oodles of money to play with but rarely tries to keep up with the Yankees and Red Sox, will invest $20-mil or more on a closer in the 2009 season, all while keeping an eye (i.e. throwing more money at) fixing their other holes in the bullpen, in the rotation, in LF, potentially at 2B, and potentially on the bench. That’s why I’m leaning towards the opinion of the Mets either finding a cheap closing option or finding one from within the organization. If he wants to prolong his career and migrate east, maybe Trevor Hoffman is the answer. If the Mariners are willing to accept a package of Luis Castillo and Dylan Owen, maybe JJ Putz is the answer. Maybe one of the Japanese imports will be an answer. But a guy like Jenks is going to cost at least FMart, probably more. And a guy like Krod or Fuentes is going to cost way more than market value because of the dearth of closing talent around MLB (regardless of what some of the hot stove reporters are telling us). Do you really think it’s a hot idea to sign Krod to a 4-yr, $50/60-mil contract? Do we then scratch the idea of going after Derek Lowe and settle instead for Josh Fogg? It’s not that I’m pessimistic, I’m trying to be realistic.