Monday, June 15, 2015

Shopping for a Closer

It's more difficult than it looks

The Jays fandom has been asking for the Jays to seek help in getting a closer at the trade deadline for a team that may be competing for the post season. Let's look past the fact that the Jays have had only 8 end-of-game save opportunities all season which projects the Jays to have perhaps 20 of these opportunities in the season. The Jays either win by a bunch of runs (20 of their wins) or come back from a blown save. The 8 saves recorded thus far have been of the multi-run variety save for the bullpen's gem on Saturday at Boston.

Let's also look past the fact that during the season, only 2 or 3 closers are moved. This is because the closer is a coveted position not to be given up if the team is close to competing, and with the double wildcard, there are many more teams that find themselves closer to a wild card at the trade deadline. And, if a team is not competing, there is a good chance that the closer on that team might be a big part of that.

Still, let's say that the Jays are able to shop for a closer. Who is available? There are 26 closers in baseball who are projecting to have a 20+ save season.

Let's look at these:

Glen Perkins - MIN - 21 saves
Trevor Rosenthal - STL - 21 saves
Mark Melancon - PIT - 20 saves
Drew Storen - WSN - 19 saves
Huston Street - LAA - 19 saves
Santiago Casilla - SFG - 18 saves
Juerys Familia - NYM - 18 saves
Zach Britton - BAL - 17 saves
Andrew Miller - NYY - 17 saves
Jason Grilli - ATL - 16 saves
Craig Kimbrel - SDP - 16 saves
Joakim Soria - DET - 16 saves
Brad Boxberger - TBR - 15 saves
Luke Gregerson - HOU - 15 saves
Cody Allen - CLE - 14 saves
Fernando Rodney - SEA - 14 saves
Aroldis Chapman - CIN - 13 saves
David Robertson - CHW - 13 saves
Francisco Rodriguez - MIL - 13 saves
Koki Uehara - BOS - 13 saves
Jonathan Papelbon - PHI - 12 saves
John Axford - COL - 11 saves
Greg Holland - KCR - 11 saves
Hector Rondon - CHC - 11 saves
Tyler Clippard - OAK - 9 saves
Kenley Janson - LAD - 8 saves

Now let's start eliminating first by taking away teams that will likely be  competing for a wild card spot at the trade deadline. With about 40 games to go before the deadline, there is alot of moving going on but this is June 15th and we can only speculate.

In the AL, assume that Boston, the White Sox, Cleveland, Seattle and Oakland are out. In the NL, assume that the Phillies, Marlins, Brewers, Reds, and Rockies are out. That leaves 9 closers available:

Cody Allen - CLE - 14 saves - 2nd year
Fernando Rodney - SEA - 14 saves - 7th year
Aroldis Chapman - CIN - 13 saves - 4th year
David Robertson - CHW - 13 saves - 2nd year
Francisco Rodriguez - MIL - 13 saves - 11th year
Koki Uehara - BOS - 13 saves - 3rd year
Jonathan Papelbon - PHI - 12 saves - 10th year
John Axford - COL - 11 saves - 1st year
Tyler Clippard - OAK - 9 saves - 1st year

We should also eliminate closers who are "1st year closers" as their arms are not the most reliable. About 1/2 of the closers (those who have more than 20 saves a season) only last as closers for 1 or 2 years before they fizzle out. Indeed, of the 253 closers identified over the last 37 years (since 1977), 89 were 1 year closers, 38 were 2 year closers, with the rest being over that time.

The Jays have been burned by hiring short term closers. One remembers Sergo Santos. Trading for a closer with pedigree makes alot of sense. That is why I would avoid Clippard and Axford - they may be drops in the pan, though there are reports of the Jays looking at Clippard.

Finally, let's look at the contracts of the final 7 and look at them 1 by 1.

Cody Allen - CLE - under the Indians control until 2018 and the league minimum salary, the concern is his inflated ERA (4.07) and WHIP of 1.463 despite having a FIP of 2.47 and 14 saves. I think it would take alot for the Indians to give up this young man and force the team to find another closer from its bullpen or roster of farm talent.

Aroldis Chapman - CIN - in his 4th year of stellar closing for the Reds, he earns a salary of 8 million this year and is under team control next year. While his numbers are somewhat inflated this year with 18 walks (he had 24 total last year) and about .8 hits per outing (much higher than last year) he has managed to get out of jams and keep his ERA down. He would be under team control next year. There has been speculation on this trade.

Francisco Rodriguez - MIL is intriguing. A seasoned closer, he earns a salary of 3.5 million this year, 5.5 the next and a team option in 2017. He seems to have regained his form this year and last for the Brewers. His HR/9 last year was alarming at 1.9/9 which might not translate well in Rogers Center, but with a team that is struggling, team control, and a backloaded salary, this might be a perfect place for Rodriguez to come if the Brewers are still struggling at the deadline. His numbers this year so far are stellar, so it might cost a premium.

Fernando Rodney - SEA is in this last year of his contract and would be a good rental option for the Jays, if he is pitching well, which he IS NOT. In his last 12 outings, he has an ERA of 9 and an opposing OPS of over 1. Unless he turns things around quickly, he would have no viability coming to Toronto. I think the Jays might look at him if he can straighten things out.

David Robertson - CHW is in his first year of a 4 year / 46 million contract and the Jays (nor any other club) will not bite at that contract.

Koji Uehara - BOS - he's a Red Sox, and it's unlikely that the Jays would entertain a trade within the division and at 9 million a year with not much closing experience, very expensive.

Jonathan Papelbon - PHI - at 13 million plus a 13 million vesting option for 2016 which he is on track to earn, this player is also very expensive even with his WHIP at 1 and an ERA of 1.05.

So for me, the shopping list is down to 3:
  • Francisco Rodriguez - home run / 9 is too high, but good team control and affordable with a backloaded salary which allows Rogers to rent another arm or starter if needed.
  • Aroldis Chapman - on the expensive side but would be a very good acquisition.
  • Cody Allen - would be a very expensive acquisition from a player standpoint given his salary. The Jays likely would need to send alot of AAA / AA talent to compensate and I doubt that the Indians are even willing to entertain a trade for him.

Now, other teams who are competing and need a closer are going to be thinking the exact same thing. And with such a short shopping list, these players will be in very high demand. And Toronto's need for a closer when they are scoring so many runs may not be there.

It's easy to say "find someone", especially in the AL East when we remember Papelbon and Rivera and more recently Fernano Rodney and Jim Johnson. But excellent and experienced closers are expensive and hard to find. Only a few are traded each year and they are usually sold at a premium.

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