Talkin’ Relief: Can The Jays Sign A Closer To Save The 9th?

There was an interesting article posted this morning by MLB Trade Rumours, linking Toronto with some of the big name free agent closers currently available.  We all know that the Blue Jays’ bullpen was a disaster this year – 25 blown saves, only a 57% save conversion rate, and too many grey hairs and gnawed fingernails to count.   While we all know that the blown save is a mostly flawed stat (don’t get me started on that…) it’s easy to see where Toronto’s weak spot was in 2011.

But is signing a big name closer a good idea?  Normally I would say no – there is plenty of evidence each season that suggests that for the most part, closers are interchangeable.  Unless you are Mariano Rivera, closers come and go.  For us Jays fans, remember Billy Koch?  Miguel Batista?  Jeremy Accardo?  There you go.

On top of that, there is also a lot of evidence to suggest that not only are closers interchangeable, they are extremely up and down.  Why rope yourself into a long-term deal with an erratic performer?  Remember B.J. Ryan?

But this offseason my opinion may be changing, and here’s two reasons why: 1) I trust Alex Anthopoulos one billion times more than I trusted J.P. Ricciardi (who was in charge the last time Toronto signed a closer) and 2) I remember B.J. Ryan’s first year here – it was the greatest season a Blue Jays’ closer has ever had. 

With that said, I thought I’d look at the closers available on the free agent market, and give my thoughts on who I’d like to see in our bullpen next year. 

First let’s meet the field:

According to the great baseball-reference.com, there are 26 free agents available with over 30 career saves.  However, one of these candidates (with 52 career saves) is C.J. Wilson, who is obviously a starting pitcher now.  Take him away and we are left with 25 realistic free agent candidates to be the next closer of the Toronto Blue Jays. 

So how do we decide from here?  Simple – process of elimination.

First Elimination – The Old Guys

Although it’s not old in real life, 40 is pretty old in baseball years.  And while this is not to say that the following players are no longer effective as major leaguers, I think they’re a bit too advanced in age to close for a young team like the Jays.  So we say goodbye to:

– Jason Isringhausen (39 years old)

– LaTroy Hawkins (39 years old)

– Takashi Saito (42  years old)

– Miguel Batista (41 years old)

– Arthur Rhodes (42 years old)

Cut: 5   Remaining: 20

Second Elimination – Been There, Done That

If a pitcher has already played for the Jays, tried to be a closer, and failed, I would prefer to not bring him back.  Even though Frank Francisco had a really good second half out of the pen, not only does he have a lot of baggage with Jays fans for his horrendous first half, he will always also be seen as the guy the Jays traded Mike Napoli for.  Though not his fault, every mistake he makes will feel worse.  That gets rid of:

– Jon Rauch

– Ocatvio Dotel

– Frank Francisco

– Jeremy Accardo

Cut: 4   Remaining: 16

Third Elimination – The Non-Closers

Just because a guy has racked up 30+ saves in his career doesn’t make him a closer.  Some have closed for half a year, others have filled in for injuries, and some might have been a closer at one point, but now are more of a LOOGY or specialist.  Gone from our search are:

– Mike Gonzalez

– George Sherrill

– Damaso Marte

– Dan Wheeler

Cut: 4   Remaining: 12

Fourth Elimination – The Weak and the Injured

Health is important for any position player, and closer is no different.  There is nothing worse than having the guy you depend on to finish off games miss a significant amount of time.  Unfortunately these five guys have all missed a substantial amount of time in the past few years due to injury.  So long:

– Joe Nathan

– Brad Lidge

– David Aardsma

– Kerry Wood

– Chad Qualls

Cut: 5   Remaining: 7

Fifth Elimination – The Recently Failed

Many closers lose their jobs.  In fact, many closers each season lose their jobs.  Though some reasons are legitimate (injury, trade), I’d like to avoid the guys who lost their closers jobs due to poor performance.  Gone are:

– Matt Capps

– Fernando Rodney

The Final Five

After five rounds of cuts we are left with five potential candidates to be the closer for the 2012 Toronto Blue Jays.   However, when you look a little more in depth at each name, one floats to the surface.

Cut: Francisco Cordero

Why: He is aging (will turn 37 in May).  He will likely be expensive ($12-million + in each of the past three years).  And he struggles mightily in even numbered years.  Check it out:

2006: 3.70 ERA, 1.34 WHIP

2007: 2.98 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, All-Star

2008: 3.33 ERA, 1.41 WHIP

2009: 2.16 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, All-Star

2010: 3.84 ERA, 1.43 WHIP

2011: 2.45 ERA, 1.02 WHIP

2012 is an even number.  No thanks.

Cut: Francisco Rodriguez

Why: He has 291 career saves and is a 4-time All-Star, but he is a Scott Boras client looking for big bucks, and his ERA and WHIP are trending the wrong way.  He’s also a loose cannon who has been involved in many on and off-the-field altercations.  Not cool.

Cut: Heath Bell

Why: Mainly cause he’ll do anything to stay in San Diego, and also cause there’s no telling how the transition from pitching against terrible offenses in a pitchers park to pitching against powerhouses in a hitters park would go.

Cut: Jonathan Papelbon

Why: I can’t stand him.  The fans in Toronto can’t stand him.  He takes forever to throw the ball.  He is arrogant.  When he pitches he looks like an anus.  Enough said.

The Winner…

Sign: Ryan Madson

Why: Yes, he’s only been a true closer for less than one full season, really emerging last year as the stopper for the Phillies.  But look at the pro’s:

– he has experience – 491 major league games across 9 seasons

– he blew only two saves last year

– his K/9 rate has been above 9.0 three consecutive years

– he doesn’t walk many batters – only 16 in 60.2 IP last year, and only 51 in 191 IP over the past three years

– at 31, he is still young

– he has playoff experience

– he would definitely come cheaper than the other four in my top five.

If I were to vote, I would still vote to not sign a closer.  But if forced, I would definitely choose Madson.

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