Contractual Nightmares of Closers…Over

The Mets trade of Francisco Rodriguez happened for two reasons: 1) They aren’t going to contend and they need to cut payroll, and 2) They didn’t want him to finish games to kick in his 2012 option that would pay him $17.5 million.  In Milwaukee, K-Rod will be setting up John Axford and his awesome facial hair.  K-Rod has been a disappointment for the Mets, going 9-10 with 83 saves and a 3.03 ERA, but you could argue that the Mets .470 winning percentage since his arrival has something to do with the middle of the road numbers.  His trade will clear up space for the Mets impending $100 million-plus offer to Jose Reyes, whether he is worth it or not (https://thebaseballhaven.wordpress.com/2011/07/07/why-is-jose-reyes-worth-100-million/), and look for Carlos Beltran, maybe even David Wright to be next on the Mets list of trade prospects.

The closer market has been very interesting since K-Rod signed his 3-year, $37 million deal with the Mets and Francisco Cordero signed his 4-year, $46 million deal with the Reds.  There aren’t many closers earning top dollar anymore.  Sure, Papelbon ($12 million) and Rivera ($15 million) are getting theirs, but Brian Wilson, Heath Bell, Jose Valverde, and Joel Hanrahan are each earning under $8 million per season, with Hanrahan and his perfect season getting just $1.4 million.

What have teams learned from signing closers?  They can give the ball to the hot hand and see what happens, maybe even put a young guy in there and let them learn how to pitch an inning at a time.  We don’t see these famous names any longer, even Brad Lidge (who signed a three-year, $37.5 deal with Philadelphia the same off-season as K-Rod signed with the Mets) has faded into an injury-plagued pitcher who may not have a job when he comes back, that is, if he comes back.  Ryan Franklin went from an All-Star in 2009 and saving 65 games combined in 2009 and 2010 to being released by St. Louis this season.  Look at the dominant closers in baseball:

Neftali Feliz, Texas, 23, making $457,000

Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta, 23, making $419,000

Drew Storen, Washington, 23, making $418,000

John Axford, Milwaukee, 28, making $443,000

Jordan Walden, L.A. Angels, 23, making $414,000

Sergio Santos, Chicago White Sox, 28, making $435,000

Fernando Salas, St. Louis, 26, contract info isn’t available online but it has to be towards the minimum based on his service time.

You have several guys in the $4-8 million range with Bell, Wilson, Gregg, and others, but when nearly 1/4 of the league is getting by with “make-shift” closers, are teams going to pay guys big contracts when they could just put a journeyman or young fireballing-type in there and get by?

K-Rod once said that he wanted to close over 700 games and be better than Mariano Rivera.  He will be 30-years-old this winter, and Scott Boras will do all that he can to get him a big payday.  When Rafael Soriano couldn’t get a closing job this winter and settled for setting up Mariano Rivera, was that a sign of what was to come for big name closers?  If a guy gets paid $17.5 million to finish (be the last pitcher for the last out) 75 games, he makes $233,333 per finished game.  Even getting $12.5 million per season pays $166,666 per game.  Alex Rodriguez and his $27.5 million per season contract gets paid $169,753 per game.  For all of the people who say that A-Rod is overpaid, what do you say about the closers?  The highly overpaid day of the closer is gone with K-Rod and Cordero hitting the open market this winter.

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