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:
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.