Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Closing Situation After Soriano Opted Out

This was not what Yankee fans wanted to see in January of 2011.

It's funny how things work out. When Rafael Soriano signed that 3 year contract before the 2011 season, Yankee fans such as myself were left thinking "WTF?" Sure, if Mariano Rivera did something silly like tear up his knee shagging fly balls during batting practice, the contract would make sense. But what are the chances that's going to happen? Meaning we'll all be left dreaming that Rafael would opt-out of the deal after the 2012 season.

Here we are now, and it turns out Soriano did opt out of his contract, after having saved 42 games for the Yanks in 2012. So now we're left hoping that either Rivera returns for another season, in the face of reports that he's thinking of leaving the game, or Brian Cashman can figure something else out. Well I'm too impatient to wait for Cashman, not to mention this little blog here needing material, so I thought it would be a good idea to take a look at the free agent closers myself.

So let's start with Soriano... Is he worth re-signing anyway? Well, without thinking about a contract, I doubt there's a Yankee fan on the planet that wouldn't want Soriano to return to the team. It's not as if Rafael's numbers this season were above anything he's ever done in his career. His walk rate was actually a bit higher than his career mark (3.2 walks per 9 innings, compared to a career number of 2.9), his strikeout rate was right in line with his career (9.2 in 2012, and 9.4 in his career), and he gave up a few more hits than he has in his career (7.3 hits/9 compared to 6.5 hits/9 in his career).

But what will he demand as far as a contract? Would it be something like the 3 years and $27 million that the Miami Marlins gave to Heath Bell, a year after Bell had finished his 3rd straight season with 42+ saves, and an ERA below 3.00? That would actually be kind of funny, since Rafeal would have made more than half that in 2013 alone with the Yankees (the Yanks would have paid him $14 million for 2013). There's not a big age different between the two men either, as Soriano will be entering his age 33 season while Bell was going into his age 34 season. I'm totally spitballing here, but I can see Rafael wanting a deal of 4 years and $50 million (an AAV of $12.5 million). And seeing those numbers, I think Brian will look around at other options.

In the immortal words of Rod Tidwell, Rafael says "show me the money!"

So what are those other options? Well, take a look...

Jonathan Broxton
Broxton had surgery on his throwing elbow a little over a year ago to remove bone spurs and other loose bodies. He came back to pitch in 2012 with the Royals and Reds, putting up a total ERA of 2.48 with 27 saves (23 for KC, 4 for CIN). Unfortunately, on top of missing a few games with should soreness in 2012, his strikeout rate didn't bounce back to what it  was in a couple of years ago. He's an interesting option, but doesn't come without some red flags.

Matt Capps
Matt's had a number of issues with his throwing arm since 2009. Elbow, shoulder, wrist, forearm, culminating with a 2012 in which he missed 79 games due to shoulder inflammation. He struck out 7.3 batters per 9 innings in 2010, but has seen that number dip to only 4.7 and 5.5 the following two years. I my opinion you'd be crazy to trust him as your closer in 2013.

Ryan Madson - $11MM mutual option with a $2.5MM buyout
Looking at the numbers from 2009 to 2011, you'd think any team needing a closer would be all over Ryan. During those three years he had an ERA of 2.79, saved 47 games (32 of which were in 2011), had a strikeout rate of 9.65, and a walk rate of 2.41. The one reason I have to say "no" to him is a big one... Tommy John surgery on April 11th of last year. There's a chance he's ready for Opening Day, but I don't want to count on him as the Yankees new closer. I'd be interested in a one year deal to see how he bounces back after the surgery, but certainly not as Soriano or Rivera's replacement.

Brett Myers
Brett's career average strikeout rate is 7.3 per 9 innings, which is higher than we've seen from his since 2008, and it was a lowly 5.6 this past season. Although his walk rate isn't astronomically higher, that 2.1 per 9 innings is much worse when he doesn't miss many bats to go with it. And he's not as experienced as a closer either, as the 19 saves he saw with the Astros last season were his first saves since 2007.

Fernando Rodney - $2.5MM club option with a $250K buyout
Rodney has a fantastic season with the Rays in 2012, putting up a very low .60 ERA and .777 WHIP in 74.2 innings pitched. So right there you'd say "bingo", assuming Tampa Bay didn't pick up their club option. But when you look at the peripheral stats the picture on Fernando becomes clearer. Rodney had a strikeout rate of 9.2 per 9 innings, which was about 2 batters more than he had between 2009 and 2011. His walk rate was a very nice 1.8 per 9, but that was about 3 batters less than in 2009 and 2010 (I skipped 2011 because he had lower back issues, which likely skewed his numbers). And when I see a batting average on balls in play against of .225, I can't help but think the guy got pretty lucky in 2012.

Joakim Soria 
Joakim and Ryan Madson are in the same boat. Both men have had extraordinary numbers when healthy. Between 2009 and 2011 Soria struck out over 10 batters per 9 innings, and walked 2.47 per 9, while earning an all star bid, and Cy Young and MVP votes in 2010. Another resounding "yes" for a team that is looking for a closer. But the problem with Joakim is that, along with Madson, had Tommy John surgery the past April. Like Ryan, Joakim may be ready for Opening Day, but I have a hard time trusting him to close for the team all season. He's another guy that I wouldn't mind the team signing.

Jose Valverde
What's good about Jose is that he hasn't spent a single day on the DL since 2009, so he has that going for him. Another good thing is that Jose's seen his walk rate drop in each of the last 3 seasons, going from 4.6 to 4.2 to 3.5 per 9 innings, it's still on the high side. Unfortunately his strikeout rate also fell in each of the last three years, going from 9.0 to 8.6 to 6.3. And after seeing him implode this past postseason, giving up 9 earned runs in only 2.2 innings of work, from the ALDS through the World Series, I would hardly be excited to have him in New York next year.

Yeah, the lack of good options gave me that same look.

After looking at all the free agents, I really hope Mo returns for one more season (at least). For starters, I'm not sure I like the idea of even committing to Soriano for 3 years, let alone the 4 he'll probably want. And other than Rafael, the only two free agent closers that I'm intrigued by are just coming off of Tommy John surgery (Madson and Soria). The two guys already with the team that have closing experience, David Robertson and Joba Chamberlain, haven't exactly "killed it" in save situations. Robertson had 3 blown saves in 5 chances last season, and has 8 blown saves in 13 chances for his career. Joba isn't any better, having blown 6 saves out of the 10 chances he's had in his career. Mind you, those are pretty small sample sizes, but they don't help to instill a ton of confidence in them for 2013 should they get the closing gig.

This is definitely a story that I and other Yankee fans will be keeping a close eye on throughout the offseason.

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