Chuck 'n' Duck

"I'm a very optimistic person. When you're optimistic, the good opportunities, good fortune, good everything will come with it." - Jae Seo Chuck 'n' Duck: the New York Mets from an Eternal Optimist's P.O.V.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Free Agent Files: Closer

For those of you who visit MetsGeek, you may have noticed that the site has been offline a lot recently. This is due to us switching servers, and is extremely frustrating.

Anyways, I posted an article running down closers over there this morning, but because the site's been down the majority of the day, I figured I'd post it here as well:

Below is a list of the top closers in the Free Agent market this offseason. Though not originally planned, it pretty much follows the order in which I feel the Mets should look for their closer. The list is pretty self-explanatory. Also, not included below are Bob Wickman (who has said he's either re-signing with the Indians or retiring), Eddie Guardado (who has both a team and a player option on his contract this season) and Octavio Dotel (who won't be returning to baseball until, at least, mid-June). Also not included are Braden Looper and Matt Mantei, for obvious reasons.


Name: Billy Wagner
Height: 5-11"
Weight: 202
Throws: Left
Age: 34
Current Salary: $9,000,000
Likely Asking For: $29,000,000 over Three Years

Wagner is the Cream of the Closer Crop. Arguably on the way to his second Rolaids Relief Award, and armed with an overpowering 100 MPH fastball and a hellacious high-80's slider, Wagner is about as close to a sure thing at the end of the game as there was this season. At the age of thirty-four Wagner enjoyed one of the best seasons of his career, striking out 87 in 77.7 IP (10.1 K/9), while walking twenty (2.3 BB/9). Holding opposing hitters to a batting average of .165, Wagner got the job done, amassing thirty-eight saves while blowing only three -- or five less than what Braden Looper blew. It should also be noted that when outside the Homer-Friendly confines of Citizen’s Bank Park, Wagner pitched to an ERA of 0.90, allowing three runs off of twelve hits in thirty innings. Scary.

Still, Wagner is thirty-four and has a history of injuries. He missed the majority of the 2000 and 2003 seasons with various ailments (back spasms, strained rotator cuff, shoulder, groin, inflamed finger, etc.). It should be noted that Wagner rededicated himself to steering clear of injuries last offseason, and made it through the entire year injury-free. Wagner also did not endear himself to the Philadelphia faithful -- though that's not much of a surprise -- because he called them out for booing the team. In the same vein, Wagner has a long history of openly complaining to the media when things aren't going well with the team, something that carried over from his days in Houston. Despite this Wagner is considered a good teammate, and has never been rumored to be a clubhouse cancer.

The fact remains that Wagner is an excellent pitcher, not just a thrower. If the Mets are looking to make the playoffs next season, they desperately need somebody to slam the door at the end of games, especially if they don't make a move for a big hitter in the offseason. Outside of Mariano Rivera and Brad Lidge, Wagner may be the most dominant, and healthy (sorry, Eric Gagne), closer in baseball. He won’t come cheap, but he could certainly be the answer the Mets have been searching for at closer since... ever?

Name: B.J. Ryan
Height: 6-6"
Weight: 249
Throws: Left
Age: 29
Current Salary: $2,600,000
Likely Asking For: $22,000,000 over Four Years

Finally handed the keys to the closer car this season, Ryan did not disappoint. Appearing in sixty-nine games, Ryan threw 70.3 innings and held hitters to a .208 batting average. Even more impressive is his splits against lefties and righties. While Ryan held lefties to a line of .211/.284/.352, he managed to hold righties to a line of .206/.282/.265, meaning it doesn't matter how you swing, you're gonna have trouble against him. BJ also struck out an even one hundred, for a ridiculous 12.8 K/9 rate, while walking 26 (3.3 BB/9). Ryan’s got some nice natural movement on both of his pitches: a low-to-mid 90’s fastball, and a ridiculous sharp breaking slider. When he’s on, he’s as unhittable as they come.

Really, there’s not much to dislike about Ryan. He does have a reputation of being very emotional, and this did get to him on the mound a few times this season. But what’s really the biggest question mark is the amount of money Ryan will command. BJ’s gone on record saying that he would have no problem returning to the setup role that he excelled in in past years, as long as he was pitching for a winner (ie: the Yankees or Red Sox, two teams that have large payrolls and need bullpen help). He also has stated, however, that he’d have no problem pitching for a New York team. If it simply comes down to a bidding war, the Yankees more than likely have the upper hand, though the Mets can offer Ryan something the Yanks can not: a chance to close out games for a playoff-contending team.

Name: Trevor Hoffman
Height: 6-0"
Weight: 215
Throws: Right
Age: 38
Current Salary: $5,000,000
Likely Asking For: $20,000,000 over Two Years

There’s no doubt that Hoffman gets the job done. This past year he passed former Met John Franco on the All Time Saves list, amassing 436 in his thirteen year career -- and only 42 behind leader Lee Smith. Though he’s undergone two surgeries on his shoulder, Hoffman has somehow remained a consistent closer, making the proper adjustments year in and year out to stay at the top of his game. He by no means has overpowering stuff, as he relies on a high-80’s fastball, an average slider, an average curve, but perhaps the second best changeup in the league (behind Pedro Martinez). Hoffman’s reliance on command and so-so stuff doesn’t translate to overpowering punch-outs: he struck out 54 in 57.7 IP (8.4 K/9), though his command is exceptional, only walking 12 (1.9 BB/9). He also managed to hold opponents to a .235 batting average. Hoffman is as unflappable as it gets on the mound, and has been in the Top Ten in the saves category for eleven of his twelve years at the position.

Yet, there are a lot of big negatives against Hoffman. For one, he’s thirty-eight years old, which means the Mets need to be absolutely convinced they can compete if they’re looking to sign Hoffman. Secondly, he’s said to be asking for Mariano Rivera money -- though he won’t likely find a ballclub willing to give it to him. Still, this shows that Hoffman won't be coming cheap. Also, much like Braden Looper, Hoffman had troubles against lefthanders this season. While he held righties to a mind-boggling .179/.213/.316 line, lefties teed off on Hoffman to the tune of .298/.342/.375. Hoffman would make an excellent setup man, but by all indications he has no desire to go down that road just yet. While Hoffman manages to find ways to close out games every year, it doesn’t look like he's a match for the Mets.

Name: Kyle Farnsworth
Height: 6-4"
Weight: 240
Throws: Right
Age: 29
Current Salary: $1,975,000
Likely Asking For: $14,000,000 over Three Years

Farnsworth had long been considered the Closer of the Future for the Chicago Cubs due to two overwhelming fastballs: a four-seamer that is dialed up around 100 MPH, and a two-seam sinker that clocks in at an awe-inspiring 96. But Farnsworth was never able to find a secondary pitch that would make him unhittable until this year when he developed a decent, quick breaking slider. Combining the two, Farnsworth put up the best season of his career, pitching for both the Detroit Tigers and Atlanta Braves. In seventy innings Farnsworth struck out eighty-seven (11.2 K/9), though he sometimes struggled with his command, allowing twenty-seven free passes (3.5 BB/9). Opponents hit a measly .180 off him, with righthanders going .165/.237/.220 off him. Though he held lefties to a .197 batting average, they managed an on-base percentage of .301, due to seventeen walks and a hit batter in 117 at-bats.

Most fans, as well as some General Managers, are starting to grow wary of signing Braves pitchers after terrific seasons, but there is some consolation in the fact that Farnsworth was pitching very well for the Tigers before the trade. Leo Mazzone did get him to cut back some on his walks, and Farnsworth went 10-10 as the closer for the Braves -- that is, until the postseason, ha ha!. Still, plenty of people feel that Farnsworth doesn't have enough of a record of success that the Braves will pay him what he'll eventually be offered by other teams. While Farnsworth's past is filled with shaky command and scary numbers, the development of his slider may have actually turned him into a different pitcher. If the Mets miss out on Wagner and Ryan, he wouldn't be a bad option for a team needing some strikeouts at the end of the game. And, hey, eventually somebody needs to succeed after leaving Atlanta, right?

Name: Todd Jones
Height: 6-3"
Weight: 230
Throws: Right
Age: 37
Current Salary: $1,100,000
Likely Asking For: $5,500,000 over Two Years

After traveling to Rosedale, Mississippi under the full moon at midnight, Todd Jones sold his soul to the Devil in exchange for some pitching ability. Now, Jones -- who hadn't really been a reliable reliever since 2000 -- is in the free agent market once again, looking to capitalize on a nice year at closer. And, really, it was a nice year. Jones appeared in sixty-eight games, throwing seventy-three innings, while striking out sixty-two (7.6 K/9) and walking a miniscule fourteen (1.7 BB/9). He also managed to close out forty games (along with five blown) despite taking over the closer's role at the beginning of May. Jones, known as one of the most prepared pitchers in baseball, is no longer capable of throwing his fastball in the high-90's, therefore relying on a low 90's fastball and a quick breaking slider, while also hurling the occasional changeup and curveball.

Still, Jones is thirty-seven -- turning thirty-eight next April -- and this could very well be a fluke season for the guy. This was without a doubt the best season of his career, posting career lows in walks, hits, earned runs, runs and homeruns. Most revival seasons are the result of a lack of injury or reinventing yourself, but Jones has done neither. He has approached the game with the same plan as he always had, which could very well spell a return to his previous numbers. Also of note would be his late season collapse: through September and October he pitched a total of thirteen innings, allowing nine runs on eighteen hits. Seeing that Jones is reportedly looking for a two year deal worth between five and six million, it might be best for the Mets to let somebody else run the risk on Jones.

Name: Tom Gordon
Height: 5-10"
Weight: 190
Throws: Right
Age: 37
Current Salary: $3,750,000
Likely Asking For: $6,500,000 over Two Years

Gordon, seeking his last big payday, has stated that if the Yankees aren't interested, he'd like to return to closing elsewhere. However, upon further inspection, it would appear he's already made up his mind -- "I had a great time being a setup here. I enjoyed every day with Mo. I still have in my mind that if I got an opportunity again to close that I want to do that. Closing's always going to be a first choice for me." And, honestly, Gordon still has the stuff to get the job done. He's been a closer before -- 46 saves and book by Steven King with the Boston Red Sox in 1998 -- and over the past three years he's been one of the top five best setup men in baseball. Flash features three above-average pitches: a mid-90's fastball, a nice slider, and an excellent curveball. He'll also throw a decent cut-fastball as well as a rarely seen changeup. Utilizing these pitches, Gordon gave up only fifty-nine hits in 80.2 innings pitched, striking out sixty-nine (7.7 K/9) though walking twenty-nine (3.2 BB/9).

Gordon was turned into a setup man by the Cubs after a penchant for blowing saves and his second serious elbow injury in three seasons. Gordon has bucked those injuries now, appearing in the second most games in 2004 and the third most in 2005. But the blown saves issue may still exist -- this season he went 2-9 in save opportunities, as well as struggling in his second straight postseason appearance. A case probably could be made that Gordon might not have the intestinal fortitude to close out games -- though whether that even exists is debatable. Still, Gordon has pitched so long in a setup role that it's fairly unlikely the Mets -- or any other big market team -- will be looking to him as a closer. Unless all other options are nonexistent, Gordon will more than likely stay with the Yankees or be closing for a team like the Orioles next season.

Name: Ugueth Urbina
Height: 6-0"
Weight: 205
Throws: Right
Age: 31
Current Salary: $4,000,000
Likely Asking For: $8,000,000 over Two Years

Urbina is a strange pitcher, in so much as he can’t be counted on in pressure situations, he doesn’t throw particularly hard, and he has below-average command -- yet, everywhere he goes he’s always given a spin as a closer. Urbina’s fastball, which used to be in the high-90’s, now resides in the high-80’s to low-90’s. He couples that with a nice, deceptive changeup and a pretty poor slider. He can be counted on to stay healthy, as his 79.7 innings out of the pen last season will indicate. And though he does still get his strikeouts, ninety seven of ‘em (11.0 K/9), he will walk the ballpark as well (thirty-nine walks, good for a 4.4 BB/9).

Urbina is intent on returning to closing next season, which means that unless Billy Wagner winds up elsewhere, Urbina will be leaving the Phillies. Still, Urbina may be on to something with his insistence to return as a closer. In that role with the Tigers last season he went 10-10 in his save opportunities, holding opponents to a .191 batting average. Still, Urbina is a pretty steep drop from the aforementioned names, mostly due to his inability to throw strikes. If Urbina could command the strike zone better he would have terrific potential in the closer role, but right now the Mets signing him would be a lateral move at best.