|Hot Stove (Updated): Who’s still searching for a closer?||12.06.11 at 2:20 pm ET|
DALLAS — On the one hand, a number of the top closers on the market have already found their homes this offseason. The Phillies got the ball rolling by signing Jonathan Papelbon away from the Red Sox to a four-year deal. The Marlins signed Heath Bell. The Rangers added Joe Nathan on a two-year deal. The Twins re-upped with Matt Capps on a one-year deal.
The Blue Jays, meanwhile, struck a deal with the White Sox to send highly regarded pitching prospect Nestor Molina to Chicago for right-hander Sergio Santos, a converted shortstop who had an eye-popping 13.1 strikeouts per nine innings as the White Sox closer last year.
“His stuff is just so good,” said Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos. “In our division, if you can get a guy with that kind of power stuff and strikeout ability, certainly it’s someone we feel has a chance to be a lock-down guy and for a long period of time.”
The Red Sox, according to a major league source, never engaged in serious discussions with the White Sox about Santos. Indeed, it appears that the White Sox did not shop Santos or make his potential availability widely known to generate a larger market for the right-hander.
Anthopoulos suggested that he had talked with White Sox GM Kenny Williams “about 85 times” over several months about Santos, typically receiving a flat no to inquiries, only to have the deal come together quickly late on Monday night in Chicago’s suite.
The implications of the Blue Jays deal for Santos are at least three-fold for the Sox: First, the pool of available closers has diminished from what it was at the start of the offseason. Secondly, with Santos in Toronto, the Blue Jays are no longer in the market for a closer. Thirdly, the White Sox have added another starter, something that could make it easier for them to deal one of their starters such as John Danks or Gavin Floyd.
Even so, the offseason is reaching an interesting point. Many of the teams that were shopping for closers have filled that need. And so, the dynamics of the game of musical chairs for closers are changing. There are fewer closers remaining to choose from, but also fewer chairs remaining for those pitchers who remain on the market.
That pattern continued on Tuesday and Wednesday. The Mets moved to add free agents Frank Francisco and Jon Rauch while also making a trade for Ramon Ramirez. On Wednesday morning, the Padres and Rockies consummated a trade of divisional opponents to send right-hander Huston Street from Colorado to San Diego.
Aside from the Sox, who will explore the market for closers through both trades and free agents while having a potential market safety net in Daniel Bard, which teams remain in the market for closers?
ANGELS – Bell said that the Angels expressed interest but suggested the Halos weren’t going to match the Marlins in years (three with a team option for a fourth year) or dollars ($9 million per year). Still, the Angels appear to be considering options to solidify the back end of their bullpen as a complement to Jordan Walden. They are in a somewhat similar boat to the Sox, since Walden showed tremendous promise as a rookie (32 saves, 2.98 ERA), but with room to upgrade.
RED SOX – Bard offers one possibility, of course, and the Sox also are trying to remain opportunistic as they explore both trades and free agents. Thus far, the Sox haven’t been close on any of the free-agent closers to move, a reflection of the fact that they are more inclined to pursue the low-lying fruit on the market rather than to set the bar for closer contracts.
REDS – With Francisco Cordero, Cincinnati’s closer of the last four years, a free agent, the Reds are looking for someone to handle the ninth inning. The team has talked to Cordero about returning, though as Reds GM Walt Jocketty suggested at the GM meetings last month, Cincinnati is looking to limit its investment in that position.
WHITE SOX — With Santos gone, the White Sox will have to replace him. Of course, Chicago seems intent on building for the future, and so the idea of trying to acquire a free agent closer seems a bit far-fetched.
Other suitors, of course, could emerge, but the supply and demand dynamic is taking interesting shape. The Red Sox and Reds are still seeking closers, but they have also been trying to limit their spending in that field. Meanwhile, free agents such as Ryan Madson, Francisco Rodriguez, Cordero and Brad Lidge remain available, as does trade candidate Andrew Bailey of the Athletics.
For most of the offseason, the cost of acquiring closers — whether contracts for free agents, or in terms of a pitching prospect whom the Blue Jays valued highly in Molina in the deal for Santos — had been high. Street, however, represents a departure from that pattern.
If there is a buy-low opportunity to be had — and that may or may not happen — it will occur later in the offseason, a possibility for which the Red Sox appear to be waiting.
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