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Analyzing Crowded Offseason Closer Market with Jim Johnson Now Available

Josh SchochAnalyst IIINovember 27, 2013

Analyzing Crowded Offseason Closer Market with Jim Johnson Now Available

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    Greg Fiume/Getty Images

    You can add Baltimore Orioles pitcher Jim Johnson to the long list of closers who will be available during the 2013 MLB offseason.

    According to Buster Olney of ESPN, the list of closers who could be signed or dealt was lengthened when the Orioles announced that they would be willing to trade Johnson and get rid of the roughly $10 million he will soon be owed.

    Johnson now joins a very crowded market, but there's no shortage of demand for talented relievers who can pitch in late-inning situations.

    Jerry Crasnick of ESPN lists the Detroit Tigers, Colorado Rockies, Tampa Bay Rays, Cincinnati Reds, Boston Red Sox, Cleveland Indians, New York Yankees, San Francisco Giants, Texas Rangers, Los Angeles Angels, Baltimore Orioles, Seattle Mariners, Oakland Athletics, Philadelphia Phillies and Houston Astros as teams who could be looking for late-inning help.

    That's half of the MLB.

    Let's take a look at the top closers on the market now that Johnson has joined the fray.

Grant Balfour

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    Leon Halip/Getty Images

    2013 Team: Oakland Athletics

    2013 Stats: 65 GP, 62.2 IP, 38 SV, 3 BLSV, 2.59 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 1.4 WAR

    Availability Status: Free Agent

     

    Why There's Interest in Him

    Grant Balfour is coming off another fantastic campaign, posting an ERA below 2.60 for the fourth consecutive season.

    Balfour started off as a back-end reliever, but has since moved up the ranks to become one of the best closers in the game. This past season, he converted 38 of his 41 save opportunities as he led the Athletics to an AL West crown.

    He only further elevated his game in the postseason, throwing three shutout, no-hit innings. He was credited with a win and a save in the ALDS against the Detroit Tigers and allowed just one batter to reach base (on a walk).

     

    Who's After Him

    It's "almost certain" that the A's will let Balfour walk, per Jane Lee of MLB.com, and there's no shortage of rumored interest in him.

    The New York Yankees, Los Angeles Angels, Detroit Tigers, Tampa Bay Rays and Colorado Rockies have all expressed interest in the closer, according to Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle.

    Ken Rosenthal and Jon Paul Morosi of Fox Sports then revealed that the Seattle Mariners are also interested in the Australian righty, via Twitter.

    Given Balfour's status as an elite closer, it's no surprise that some of the league's best teams with the biggest payrolls are in hot pursuit of him.

     

    Predicted Landing Spot: New York Yankees

    Some will call this prediction a cop-out. 

    The Yankees have an enormous payroll every year, so it's easy to say that they'll sign the best players.

    In the case of Balfour, the Yankees will probably get what they want. They're looking for a replacement to Mariano Rivera, the greatest closer in history (and what a guy!), and they will surely be willing to shell out the big bucks to find one.

    While the Yankees have also been connected to Joe Nathan, per Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News, they know that Balfour is the better option and will likely make him an offer he can't refuse.

Chris Perez

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    Jason Miller/Getty Images

    2013 Team: Cleveland Indians

    2013 Stats: 54 GP, 54.0 IP, 25 SV, 5 BLSV, 4.33 ERA, 1.43 WHIP, -0.3 WAR

    Availability Status: Free Agent

     

    Why There's Interest in Him

    To be brutally honest, there isn't a ton of interest in two-time All-Star Chris Perez.

    While he had an incredible 2010 campaign (1.71 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 23 saves, nine holds, 2.5 WAR) that he followed up with back-to-back All-Star appearances in 2011 and 2012, teams quickly forgot that he used to be a great closer—or maybe they just never cared.

    The Indians were certainly willing to shop Perez this past offseason, as Terry Pluto of The Plain Dealer wrote. However, they found the trade market to be "iffy" and decided to hang on to him.

    That turned out to be a mistake, as Perez turned in the worst season of his career in 2013, setting new career lows in ERA, WHIP and WAR.

    While Perez was once dominant and looked better after his velocity began to come back late in the year, teams wont' likely forget his recent struggles any time soon.

     

    Who's After Him

    If the trade market was iffy in 2012, it's almost almost nonexistent in 2013.

    The Indians knew that they wouldn't be able to deal Perez away, which explains why they released him in late October.

    Perez will likely be a late signee to a team that missed out on its other opportunities during the offseason.

    This is all speculation (since no substantial rumors are spreading), but for now, it's the best we can do.

     

    Predicted Landing Spot: San Francisco Giants

    Again, this is all speculation at this point, but Perez seems to be a good fit with the Giants.

    San Francisco already has a bloated payroll after signing Tim Lincecum to a two-year, $35 million contract, but the team needs to find a way to fill out its bullpen.

    Teams aren't chomping at the bit to sign Perez, so he should be available for a while. He'll also likely come pretty cheap once the 2014 season draws closer and he still hasn't signed.

    If the Giants see Perez available late in the offseason, they may attempt to sign him to a short-term, low-cost deal.

Joe Nathan

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    2013 Team: Texas Rangers

    2013 Stats: 67 GP, 64.2 IP, 43 SV, 3 BLSV, 1.39 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, 3.2 WAR

    Availability Status: Free Agent

     

    Why There's Interest in Him

    Given how Joe Nathan has pitched in recent years, it'd be easier to find a reason why there wouldn't be interest in him.

    A quick look at Nathan's stats from 2011-13 will show you that he's improving at a stunning rate, despite having recently turned 39 years old.

    Joe Nathan Stats (2011-13)
    YearGPSV/BLSVERAWHIP
    20114814/34.841.16
    20126637/32.801.06
    20136743/31.390.90

    Nathan has been on fire over the past few seasons, and signing him to a short-term deal makes sense for a lot of teams.

     

    Who's After Him

    Surprisingly, the list of teams rumored to be interested in Nathan is very short.

    Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News connected the New York Yankees with Nathan, while Jon Paul Morosi of Fox Sports reported that the Detroit Tigers and Nathan had mutual interest.

    When Nathan did a radio interview with Jim Bowden and Casey Stern on MLB Network Radio, Nathan also said that he liked the idea of joining the Los Angeles Angels.

    However, Nathan expressed his clear preference during that same radio broadcast: the Tigers.

     

    Predicted Landing Spot: Detroit Tigers

    Earlier this month, I wrote about Nathan being a perfect fit with the Tigers, and I stand by that argument.

    Some of the major selling points I brought up were the Tigers' need to win right now and Nathan's success only lasting another year or two, Nathan's previous success in Comerica Park and the Tigers' desperate need for a reliable closer. 

    The Tigers are looking for a dominant, short-term closer, and Nathan fits the bill perfectly.

Brian Wilson

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    Harry How/Getty Images

    2013 Team: Los Angeles Dodgers

    2013 Stats: 18 GP, 13.2 IP, 0 SV, 0 BLSV, 0.66 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, 0.6 WAR

    Availability Status: Free Agent

     

    Why There's Interest in Him

    Brian Wilson was once the most dominant closer in baseball, but Tommy John surgery led to his demise as the closer for the San Francisco Giants.

    The Giants declined to tender a contract to Wilson following the 2012 season, making him a free agent for the first time in his career. After not joining a team before the start of this past season to fully complete his recovery, the Los Angeles Dodgers signed him to a one-year, $1 million deal on July 31.

    Wilson made the most of his opportunity with the Dodgers, throwing 19.2 innings of one-run ball during the regular season and playoffs.

    Wilson looked as dominant as ever in 2013, and now teams are lining up to have him as their closer in 2014.

     

    Who's After Him

    Back on Nov. 13, Tim Brown of Yahoo! Sports revealed the list of teams after Wilson: the San Francisco Giants, Los Angeles Dodgers, Cleveland Indians, Detroit Tigers, Colorado Rockies, Seattle Mariners and Boston Red Sox.

    The Cincinnati Reds could also "climb in," per Brown, "depending on [pitcher Adonis] Chapman."

    With as many as eight teams chasing Wilson, the race to sign him will certainly be among the most intriguing storylines this offseason.

     

    Predicted Landing Spot: Seattle Mariners

    Assuming the Giants don't have enough money to sign Wilson, the Yankees sign Balfour and the Tigers sign Nathan, that leaves just five teams remaining on the above list.

    Then, let's say that the Reds are set with Chapman and the Dodgers don't want to add to their bloated payroll. That leaves just the Cleveland Indians, Colorado Rockies and Seattle Mariners as Wilson's three potential landing spots.

    We already know that the Mariners could be big spenders this offseason because they have been connected to elite free agents Jacoby Ellsbury and Shin-Soo Choo, per Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports.

    Assuming that the Mariners are serious about shelling out some cash this offseason, they could easily make Wilson a huge offer, enticing him to go to Seattle for a few years.

Rafael Betancourt

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    Drew Hallowell/Getty Images

    2013 Team: Colorado Rockies

    2013 Stats: 32 GP, 28.2 IP, 16 SV, 3 BLSV, 4.08 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 0.2 WAR

    Availability Status: Free Agent

     

    Why There's Interest in Him

    Rafael Betancourt is coming off a disappointing 2013 campaign, during which he posted his worst ERA, WHIP and WAR since his disastrous 2008 season with the Cleveland Indians.

    Betancourt's season also ended in the worst way possible for a pitcher, as he suffered a career-threatening tear of his ulnar ligament in late August, per Troy E. Renck of The Denver Post.

    However, the pitcher told Deportes Union Radio that he will undergo surgery and attempt to pitch again.

    If Betancourt's surgery goes well and he is able to pitch again, teams know they will be able to sign him to a minimal contract. That leaves them in a low-risk, high-reward situation.

     

    Who's After Him

    The Colorado Rockies declined their option to keep Betancourt, making him a free agent this offseason.

    That leaves the door open for teams to swoop in and sign him, but the market for a 38-year-old pitcher coming off a complete UCL tear isn't all that extensive.

    With such serious concerns about his health, Betancourt will be hard-pressed to find a team willing to take a chance on him.

     

    Predicted Landing Spot: Retirement

    Even if the 38-year-old's Tommy John surgery doesn't end his career, a lack of interest from MLB teams likely will.

    Signing an aging pitcher who is coming back from such a devastating injury is not a smart move, and it's unlikely that Betancourt will be able to convince any team to give him the chance to come back.

    Instead of signing with a team, Betancourt's free agency will end only when he retires.

Joaquin Benoit

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    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    2013 Team: Detroit Tigers

    2013 Stats: 66 GP, 67.0 IP, 24 SV, 2 BLSV, 2.01 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 2.8 WAR

    Availability Status: Free Agent

     

    Why There's Interest in Him

    Joaquin Benoit is coming off a great season in Detroit, having bounced back from a somewhat subpar year in 2012 (3.68 ERA in 73 appearances).

    After taking over the closer role for the Tigers in the summer, Benoit made the most of his opportunity, only blowing two of his 26 save opportunities.

    While it remains unclear whether or not the Tigers will be the ones to sign him, Benoit pitched well enough to warrant legitimate interest from suitors this offseason.

     

    Who's After Him

    So far, we've only seen two teams step forward and express interest in signing Benoit.

    Chris Lott of MLive.com predicts that the Tigers will resign Benoit this offseason. Given Detroit's need for a closer and the way Benoit played down the stretch in 2013, this prediction makes a good bit of sense.

    Meanwhile, Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com reported that Philadelphia Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. is interested in pursuing Benoit.

    The Phillies have already signed Marlon Byrd, and it appears as though they'll be in the hunt for Benoit as well.

     

    Predicted Landing Spot: Philadelphia Phillies

    Since there are only two teams in the hunt for Benoit right now, predicting his final landing spot isn't the easiest task in the world.

    At this point in time, however, it looks like the Phillies will be the lucky winners in the Benoit sweepstakes. With Detroit likely to sign Joe Nathan, Benoit is left with only the Phillies courting him.

    Amaro brought Jonathan Papelbon to Philadelphia two years ago, and now it looks like he will bring another talented closer to the City of Brotherly Love.

Jose Veras

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    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    2013 Team: Detroit Tigers

    2013 Stats: 67 GP, 62.2 IP, 21 SV, 4 BLSV, 3.02 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 1.4 WAR

    Availability Status: Free Agent

     

    Why There's Interest in Him

    Jose Veras is coming off the best season of his career, during which he set new career bests in ERA, WHIP and WAR.

    While he wasn't an elite closer, he was still a very effective pitcher.

    The Tigers declined their option on Veras after the season, making him a free agent. Whichever team signs him will be getting a serviceable option at closer or as a setup man.

     

    Who's After Him

    At the moment, it's tough to gauge the market for Veras. The Tigers clearly don't have interest in him, and their choice to decline his option appears to have scared off quite a few teams.

    One of the few teams rumored to be interested in Veras is the Colorado Rockies. Troy E. Renck of The Denver Post reported that the Rockies are interested in relievers, including Veras (among others).

    It's a surprisingly small market for Veras for now, but that will likely change in December.

     

    Predicted Landing Spot: Colorado Rockies

    Veras is in a similar situation as his 2013 teammate, Joaquin Benoit.

    There isn't a very defined market for either guy at the moment, so for now, it looks like the Rockies will be signing Veras.

    It's tough to pick against the Rockies, considering that they appear to be the only team with enough interest in Veras to go public. This could change over the next few weeks, though.

Kevin Gregg

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    2013 Team: Chicago Cubs

    2013 Stats: 62 GP, 62.0 IP, 33 SV, 5 BLSV, 3.48 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 0.5 WAR

    Availability Status: Free Agent

     

    Why There's Interest in Him

    It's not always easy to be a good reliever on a bad team, but Kevin Gregg performed surprisingly well in that role with the Cubs this season.

    Gregg put up the best numbers he's had in years, racking up 33 saves, a 1.37 WHIP, and an ERA of 3.48.

    With Gregg having returned to the NL, he's found a good amount of success once again. He should generate at least some interest in the free-agent market.

     

    Who's After Him

    There aren't many teams showing early interest in Gregg, but we can write a few teams off.

    The Cubs will almost certainly not re-sign Gregg. After the pitcher blasted the team in September for some misunderstood comments, the team was considering releasing him before he apologized.

    We can also write off most AL teams, who may believe that his struggles from 2010 to 2012 are because of his apparent struggles against AL opponents.

    That essentially leaves Gregg with less than half of the league looking at him, but the Colorado Rockies, Cincinnati Reds, Philadelphia Phillies, Los Angeles Dodgers and St. Louis Cardinals could be interested.

     

    Predicted Landing Spot: Philadelphia Phillies

    It's almost impossible to tell where Gregg will end up at this point, but one team certainly makes sense.

    The Phillies are looking for some bullpen help, but not necessarily a closer. The team could take a chance on Gregg, who has been sensational in Citizens Bank Ballpark.

    In Philadelphia, Gregg has a 0.00 ERA and a 0.63 WHIP in 9.1 innings of work. He has been comfortable in CBP and could be looking to make that his new home.

Fernando Rodney

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    Brian Blanco/Getty Images

    2013 Team: Tampa Bay Rays

    2013 Stats: 68 GP, 66.2 IP, 37 SV, 8 BLSV, 3.38 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 0.5 WAR

    Availability Status: Free Agent

     

    Why There's Interest in Him

    Fernando Rodney has emerged as a very good—if not elite—closer with the Rays over the past two seasons.

    When Rodney signed with the Rays, it seemed like he was a mediocre closer who had one good season in Detroit (2009).

    However, he converted 85 of 95 save opportunities over the past two seasons, including 48 of 50 in 2012, to the tune of a 0.60 ERA, a 0.78 WHIP and a 3.7 WAR.

    Now that he is a free agent again, Rodney will likely follow the money, wherever it may take him.

     

    Who's After Him

    The Rays are obviously still interested in Rodney, as he has been among their best players over the last two seasons. The real question is: Which teams will try to steal Rodney from Tampa Bay?

    According to Paul Hoynes of the Northeast Ohio Media Group (h/t Cleveland.com), one of the teams who will try to bring Rodney in is the Cleveland Indians.

    Rodney's agent, Dan Lozano, has scheduled talks with Cleveland GM Chris Antonetti. If these discussions goes well, Rodney very well may be joining the Indians in 2014.

     

    Predicted Landing Spot: Cleveland Indians

    It's still unclear which teams are after Rodney, so it's difficult to predict where he will end up this early. However, the Indians appear to be the initial front-runners.

    Assuming that the Rays' payroll commitments stop them from signing Rodney, his best option at this point in time is Cleveland.

    The Indians certainly have the money to woo Rodney, and if they're willing to spend it, he's all theirs.

Jim Johnson

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    Jonathan Ernst/Getty Images

    2013 Team: Baltimore Orioles

    2013 Stats: 74 GP, 70.1 IP, 50 SV, 9 BLSV, 2.94 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 1.5 WAR

    Availability Status: Trade Target

     

    Why There's Interest in Him

    The immense interest in Jim Johnson is completely understandable.

    After tying Craig Kimbrel for the MLB lead in saves, saving at least 50 games in back-to-back seasons and posting an ERA under 3.00 for the third consecutive year, Johnson is considered to be among the top closers in baseball.

    The biggest drawback to pursuing Johnson is that he is a trade target who is owed more than $10 million in 2014.

    Giving away prospects and spending that kind of money on a closer is a big investment, but Johnson is worth it.

     

    Who's After Him

    It's too early to have rumors as to who is going after Johnson, but it's not hard to speculate as to who will pursue him.

    Eduardo A. Encina of The Baltimore Sun wrote a few days ago that the Orioles should consider trading Johnson. While Encina didn't list any teams who might have interest in Johnson, the possibility remains on the table for now.

    Teams like the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox certainly have the assets to get a deal done, while the Detroit Tigers freed up some cap space by trading Prince Fielder for Ian Kinsler. All three loom as potential trade targets.

     

    Predicted Landing Spot: Boston Red Sox

    With the Yankees signing Grant Balfour and the Tigers likely signing Joe Nathan, that leaves the Red Sox as one of the few teams who will have what it takes to get Johnson.

    The Red Sox don't need another closer, as they already have Koji Uehara in that role. However, the team could use Johnson as a setup man.

    While it might not be easy for Johnson to adjust to pitching as a reliever instead of a closer, he would certainly make for a fantastic eighth-inning pitcher.

     

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