This is a great year to be looking for a closer on the market. The options are plentiful if not extremely palatable. There's a real chance the Mets could find a closer for a multi-year deal at a good price.
So why was the first rumored match Francisco Cordero? Oh no, not Co-Co. There have got to be better options out there.
What Cordero does do for us is point out that there are two, possibly competing, motives for the Mets in their search this off-season. One motive is to find a closer that might return more value than he costs. Thinking this way would push the team towards signing a younger closer coming off a bad year. The thinking would be that he'd be cheap and that he could bounce back and be better than his contract in the years down the line.
The other motive is to, you know, sign an actual reliever that has a good chance to put in a strong 2011. Since the Mets' budget seems limited, they probably can't sign both unless the market really drives the price down far.
So who's the best match? Let's take a look.Here are the availables, in a sortable leaderboard currently sorted by 2011 WAR:
Maybe we should take Ryan Madson off the list right now. If the Mets are going to pay the market rate for an elite player at any position, let's hope it's shortstop. Also, reading the tea leaves -- the report that the Mets FO offered Cordero a two-year deal -- it doesn't sound like the Mets want to pay for a top-flight closer either.
Does that mean we should take our old friend Francisco Rodriguez off the list? Probably. Not sure K-Rod -- or his new agent -- would be happy with a deal starting at about a third of the contract he had just last year. Scratch Heath Bell then too.
And yeah, that's what the team should be shooting for. On a $5 million a year salary, a closer could actually return positive value. It'd be great to see a contract that was around the three-year, $15-million level. If 2013 is the rallying cry, then the team would still have a closer under contract and that closer might actually be returning all of his value. Plus, there's the real goal of developing a home-grown, under-control closer out of a failed starter sometime over the next three years. Continually paying market rate for closers is no long-term strategy.
So what's wrong with Francisco Cordero? He's 37 and his strikeout rate hasn't been above average since 2008. Maybe mitigating his ridiculously low 5.43 K/9 last year was his above-average swinging strike rate (10%), but he's still not very exciting at that age. Only his walk rate was good last year, and that was the first time it was good in the last four years.
Mike Gonzalez and Brad Lidge have been oft-injured. Lidge, in particular, won't see the correct side of 91 MPH on the gun again and is best signed as a reclamation project. Gonzalez, like Joel Peralta, seems like a platoon pitcher at this point in his career. He was only really a closer for a limited time.
Fernando Rodney was never good. Joe Nathan is pretty old - do the Mets want to pay him until he's forty?
Then we have the Twins former two-headed monster of Jon Rauch and Matt Capps. They're the perfect example of pitchers that are good enough to be closers when they are under control, but just don't have more than one elite skill that's worth paying for in free agency. Relievers averaged an 8 K/9 last year. Capps has never struck out that many batters per nine innings. Rauch has done it twice, but not since 2008. Relievers averaged a 3.65 BB/9 last year. Both Capps and Rauch have beaten that number by a ton most years, but it's Capps (career 1.75 BB/9) that owns the advantage. Pitchers average around 44% ground balls -- Capps has hit that mark once, Rauch hasn't ever. Is control worth paying a multi-year deal for? At the closer position?
The best of what's left might actually be the best bets: Frank Francisco and Kerry Wood. Because they haven't been closing regularly for the past two years, they might not get the "capital C" Closer money. But they've been pretty good for a while now.
Kerry Wood has averaged over 50 innings with a double-digit strikeout rate since 2009. His four and a half walks per nine are not super exciting, but his ground-ball percentage (39%) is closer to average than Frank Francisco's (34.5%). Frankie Frank, though, has done everything but get ground balls. Since 2009, he's had ten strikeouts per nine, three walks per nine, and 50+ innings a year. If he could be had for five-to-eight million a year for three years, he'd be the most exciting pick. Good thing the Mets have contacted his representatives according to Ken Davidoff.
If the market passes the Mets by, though, there's still hope. A pairing of one old, one young, could work too: Sign Joel Peralta and Jon Broxton for a couple years, and maybe one will work out. Throw Michael Wuertz on there if you like. The quantity-not-quality approach is a good fallback.
But if the Mets want a closer that might help us win this year, and might return them more value than they are being paid, Kerry Wood and Frank Francisco are the best options on the market.