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Saturday, December 08, 2012

Market for expensive closers such as Rafael Soriano is fading, hybrid reliever category on the rise-Verducci

12/7/12, "Soriano among closers learning market for services is diminishing," Tom Verducci, SI.com

"Rafael Soriano opted out of a contract with the New York Yankees earlier this offseason and the $14 million he was due. Players don't opt out of contracts unless they know more money awaits them -- see J.D. Drew, Alex Rodriguez, CC Sabathia, etc. But the winter meetings have come and gone and Soriano's name hardly merited a mention. This is a cold winter for closers, who have hit a pay ceiling relative to their importance and supply.

Soriano and his agent, Scott Boras, could not have been blamed if they thought Tigers owner Mike Ilitch would be their bailout king, just as he was for Prince Fielder and Boras late last winter. But Tigers president and GM Dave Dombrowski said the team will give an opportunity to rookie Bruce Rondon, who started last season in A ball, to win the job. Rondon throws 100 miles an hour and, Dombrowski made sure to point out, is saving games in the pressurized environment of the Venezuelan winter league. Dombrowski added that he has Joaquin Benoit, Phil Coke and Octavio Dotel to provide ninth inning insurance in the event that Rondon is not quite ready.

The Detroit plan seems cribbed from how the San Francisco Giants won the World Series after closer Brian Wilson blew out his elbow last April. They didn't trade for a closer to replace him; they essentially repurposed the relievers on hand, with Sergio Romo ultimately stepping into the role. Indeed, three teams lost big-money closers before the first month of the season was finished: San Francisco, the Yankees (Mariano Rivera) and Cincinnati (Ryan Madson) -- and all of them won their division.

In fact, of the 10 teams to reach the postseason, six of them ended the year with a different closer than how they began, including Detroit, which in October ditched its big-money closer, Jose Valverde, for Coke. Valverde has heard crickets on the free agent market this year.

So while position players Shane Victorino and Mike Napoli are quickly enriched with deals from the Red Sox, Soriano, Valverde and Wilson play the waiting game.

Boras told reporters, "We're seeing mid-level players make $13 million a year. The value of a closer, you would have to argue, has historically been more valuable than what you see in mid-level players."

Boras was right, but that valuation no longer is true. The contract for Jonathan Papelbon last year (four years, $50 million) underscored the wasted dollars when closer money gets that high. Papelbon had a nice year -- for a .500 Phillies team. He saved 38 games, but 25 of them involved holding a lead of two runs or more, the kind of situations just about any decent reliever converts well more than 90 percent of the time. With a $12.5 million average annual value, Papelbon recorded only 13 saves when he had to protect one run....

With expensive closers now seen as luxury items, teams are willing to invest more in hybrid relievers -- guys who can work as setup men or can close if needed. The hybrid reliever category is exploding. Jeremy Affeldt, Jonathan Broxton, Brandon League and Randy Choate all signed three-year deals -- already double the total number of deals last year for free agent relief pitchers covering more than two years (Papelbon and Heath Bell, an unmitigated disaster of a big-money closer for Miami)."...

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