Thursday, 28 October 2010

Options, we got options.

Not quite two weeks ago, The Man With the Golden Arm blogged his opinion (controversial in some quarters) over at 1Blue Jays Way that the Blue Jays needed to make it a top priority to sign a top shelf closer. He recommended either surrendering a first round pick to go after Rafiel Soriano (who IS very good) or trade for a similarly talented guy.

After having spent some time this fine evening looking over the list of free agent relief pitchers with a little help from Baseball Reference, I'm moved to argue that we can find a closer better than the one who is (hopefully) walking away and not do either of those things.

Let me give you a brief list of options, prefaced with Soriano's stat line for comparison.

Rafael Soriano: 1.73 ERA, 0.80 WHIP, 62.1 IP, 36 H, 14 BB, 57 K (age 31 next year)

Pretty damn good, right? Consider these:

1. Joaquin Benoit: 1.34 / 0.68 / 60.1 / 30 / 11 / 75 (33) - How do you like them apples? Benoit outpitched Soriano in each and every one of those categories. He won't cost you a first round pick and he almost certainly won't cost as many dollars.

2. Koji Uehara: 2.86 / 0.96 / 44 / 37 / 5 / 55 (36) - Hands up everyone who, upon reading that name, said "Who the hell?" Hands up everyone who already knew about that 11:1 K:BB ratio. right. I didn't either until after the season ended. This guy is WAY below the radar and if you want to scoop a guy up on the cheap, you have to look at him. This is the sort of guys the Yankees will want to grap for set up men, but one of them should respond well to the chance to close.

3. Takashi Saito: 2.83 / 1.07 / 54 / 41 / 17 / 59 (41) Speaking of Japanese imports, here's a slightly bigger gamble. First, he's going to be 41. Second, he hasn't closed in a few years, and his walk rate went up a bit in the one year in the AL East. BUT on the other hand, John Farrell has coached him before and if they had a good relationship, and if Farrell thinks he can do the job . . . Keep an eye on this one.

4. JJ Putz: 2.83 / 1.04 / 54 / 41 / 15 / 65 (34) - Putz was, in terms of results, basically Duane Ward in Seattle in '06 and '07. then injuries slowed him in '08 and crippled him in '09. Unlike Ward, however, injuries didn't kill his career and he was back to quality work this last season. like Saito, he has the experience of having been a closer and a good one.

5. Frank Francisco: 3.76 / 1.27 / 52.2 / 49 / 18 / 60 (31) - The Rangers closer before the phenomenal Feliz arrived, Francisco didn't really do anything to lose the job except not be a freak of nature. He's probably never going to be on the level of someone like Soriano, but he's noticeably better than Kevin Gregg.

It's a buyers market for closers. The Yankees pretty much HAVE to bring back Rivera, and Soriano has the name to command the big contract - maybe a return to the Braves, since they have the Wagner money to spend?

Beyond that, for the record, the other guys who will want to find a closer's job and might reasonably get one include Gregg, Kerry Wood, Brian Fuentes, Jon Rauch, Grant Balfour, Jason Frasor, Octavio Dotel, and maybe even Scott Downs. That's 14 options (assuming Rivera re-signs and Hoffman is done) in a market that has, at most, eight or nine closer openings.

Add to that, most of the well-heeled teams have no real opening for a closer. The Yanks will try to sell some of these guys on set-up roles perhaps, and a younger guy might take that with the idea of trying to be Rivera's eventual successor. Honestly,they might talk Soriano into that, but other than the Yankees, the lure will be the chance to close - that combined with the fact that the Jays HAVE money to spend means there's no reason we can't get the guy we want.

For my dollars, it'd be tempting to sign both Benoit and Saito - the former to a 3 year deal (probably can't get him for less) ad the latter with one and a series of options (kinda like how the
Red Sox have been working Wakefield the last several years).

Heck, maybe get Randy Choate in here too just so he can stop killing the Jays.

I say all that with the stipulation that I think the in-house crew isn't nearly as worrisome as many like to describe it, but none of them are reliably going to be remotely as good as Benoit so let's get THAT done at least. if you go whole hog, you have something like this for your bullpen depth chart:

Closer: Benoit
Set Up: Saito and Choate
Middle Camp, Janssen, Purcey (Carlson, Buchholz, Roenicke)
Long: Zep (Richmond, Mills, Ray, Tallet if he's tendered)

I'd go to war with that crew.


jans4 said...

you don't want saito, as a jays and braves fan i just witnessed a year of saito. While he is still a decent arm for the pen he was hurt too much and any time he pitched i found myself wanting either venters or kimbrel to be in the game instead. speaking of the braves soriano won't be back as they will be using venters/kimbrel as their closer now. I like the idea of benoit but i can't see him being a super cheap option after that year he just had in tampa.

The Southpaw said...

not super cheap, no. but unless the Yankees try to buy up- all the good options, there should be a reasonable ceiling assuming that Soriano gets the biggest contract.

On the off chance the Rays don't offer arb to Soriano (fearing a repeat of last year) then you have two guy who'd be top shelf options and that should work to our advantage.

The 5th Starter said...

When you consider that between Gregg and Frasor, they blew 10 saves, and the Jays only missed the playoffs by that much, then it's easy to see where this team can be improved upon...

Anonymous said...

Every Closer blows saves. You can't just point to the 10 blown frasor/gregg saves and say "there's your playoffs" because whoever you get to replace them will invariable blow some saves too.

pete smith said...

I think that your observation about the depth of potential back-of-the-pen bullpen arms is a good one, but I'll be somewhat surprised if they don't bring back Gregg. I'm not sure if I agree with your assessment that all of those guys you list are better options than him, such as Francisco, who DID lose his job because of a certain degree of ineptitude in the position. Gregg wasn't always pretty, but in the end he got the job done relatively well in terms of blown saves to opportunities and at a very reasonable price. I don't think that is an unimportant stat, because we've seen lots of good relievers (ie. Frasor and Downs) who don't handle the ninth very well. Although it might be worth letting Gregg walk for the sandwich pick, I think I'd rather bring him back as an insurance policy. He can save some games. Some of the guys you mention, can't. Also, I'd try to get Fuentes to replace Downs and Jesse Crain to replace Frasor. If Gregg falters badly, which obviously might happen, then you have the backup internal arms you mention.

Ian - BJH said...

The only reason I'd be weary to sign Benoit is maybe he hit his ceiling in 2010. It would be a lot to expect him to do that again in 2011, but at least he would probably come on the cheap.

Speaking of Tampa - I know he didn't have a particularly good season, but what about somebody like Chad Qualls? He's had experience as closer and I imagine the Jays could get him to sign cheap.

The Southpaw said...

Whatever Francisco did wrong doesn't show up in the game log. He gave up six runs in all in his first three appearances (a total of 2 IP) and without those his ERA goes to 2.84.

Since Feliz started this year as the closer, if he lost the job due to inefficiency it would have been last year.

But if you look at the game log, he had 2 really ugly outings of .2 innings. in one he gave up 4 runs and in one he gave up six - and those two outings were six weeks apart.

Those make up 10 of the 21 runs he gave up in 2009. On the rest of the season his ERA was 2.06

give me a helping of that "ineptitude" every year.

Gregg has, overall, a pretty decent track record himself - but there are enough options that we don't need insurance. We're not going to be left without a seat when the music stops. get the pick and sign a replacement.

The Man With The Golden Arm said...

Thanks for the shout out sir! Much appreciated.
I do take some issue with what you wrote, specifically the top priority thing. In fact I stated just the opposite:
Is it the number 1 priority for the offseason? No, of course not.
My point was this: IF you want to allow Downs and Frasor to walk THEN we need a hammer. Especially if you plan on replacing them from within the organization.
All of the guys you mentioned are buy low players, similar to what Gregg was last year when we got him. I'm not saying that shouldn't be the plan because it is a decent one but why wouldn't you just exercise the option on Gregg then? He is cheap compared to other closers and is sure to be a Type A free agent after a good 2011 season.
As for Benoit, he has 9 saves in his 9 year MLB career.
My hope is the cash strapped Rays don't offer Soriano arb. He looks to be the best available guy with the necessary experience.

jans4 said...

Okay 1) francisco did start the year as closer and feliz did take it from him but it was very early on in the same way that gregg took the job from frasor. Francisco then went on to be the best option in the ben behind feliz so i would be okay with giving him a shot. 2) i agree with the golden arm this shouldn't be a top priority. I think finding a 1b and a 3rd basemen is more important simply because they jays can bring the arms back. That said i think all 3 walk for the picks but we are still let with decent arms in the a relatively strong FA class that we can choose from

Cincinnatus C. said...

If you throw out Gregg's two worst games, he had an ERA of 2.48.