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Elite Closers May be in Midst of Market Adjustment

Not too long ago -- say, last winter -- a team might have overpaid dramatically for a proven closer, even if his ascending age was starting to become a question (cough cough, Rivera, cough). The assumption was that those high-spending trends would repeat themselves this year, with a strong crop hitting the free agent market.

Well, if early buzz is any indication, 2008 may not be a repeat of 2007. At all.

Coming off a record-setting season in which he set the single-season record for saves, Francisco Rodriguez's agent -- Paul Kinzer -- was publicly asking for a $75 million contract, allegedly over five years at a rate of $15 million per. Given his age and pedigree, that seems almost reasonable given the market established by all-time great Mariano Rivera last winter.

Unfortunately for Kinzer and K-Rod, the market they anticipated just hasn't been out there. Terrified of getting in beyond terms even free-spending owner Arte Moreno deems acceptable, the Angels came out days after the end of the season to announce that first baseman Mark Teixeira, not K-Rod, was their primary offseason target. Teams that desperately need a new closer -- most prominently the Mets -- are just beginning to have conversations with Kinzer but seem much more interested in other options who might be amenable to a shorter deal. In the Mets' case, that target seems to be Brian Fuentes, whose representatives have reciprocated interest by trying to spur length and terms of contract.

Then there's the aspect that has to be most concerning to Kinzer and K-Rod (maybe we can call them the K-team, huh?): rather than ramp up interest in the record-setting closer, the Mets seem to be just as happy stoking conversation with a closer who would be decidedly down the list from both Rodriguez and Fuenter: recently injured former Nationals All-Star Chad Cordero.

What does that indicate to the K-team? Well, it's spurred a much more gracious and flexibile approach, if this interview with ESPN-1050 AM in New York is any indication. If ever there was an indication that an agent was desperate to get more teams involved, that has to be it.

So who else could get involved with K-Rod, Fuentes, Cordero and their colleagues? Some had speculated the Dodgers could be a fit for Rodriguez if their bid for Manny Ramirez falls short. That doesn't make much sense, considering the fact that they already had two pitchers who closed pretty well last year -- Takashi Saito started strong by racking up 18 saves before injury forced him into giving way to Jonathan Broxton, who had 14 saves in his own right -- and L.A. will need bats (emphasis on the plurality) if they lose out on the Ramirez fiesta that Dave described yesterday morning.

The Cubs? It's possible, though they've made it clear that they desperately want to re-sign Ryan Dempster and will move quickly to get Jake Peavy if they lose out on Dempster ... maybe even if they do keep Dempster. There aren't many other big market, big revenue clubs who fit the bill; the Yankees and Red Sox are all set at the tail end of their bullpens and the White Sox are invested in Bobby Jenks. Toronto, an occasional wild card in big pitching contracts, has B.J. Ryan coming back from injury again, so they don't seem like a realistic suitor unless all other bidders bow out.

It's a confusing world for a top closer and his agent to find themselves in, and it may get more confusing if Fuentes signs on the dotted line somewhere soon. Like all positional markets, we won't get a really strong indication of how things will shake out until someone starts the cycle turning, but closers like K-Rod, more than anyone else so far, seem to be proving that that general economic downturn and trends toward fiscal sanity could be trickling in to one of America's most expensive commodity markets: baseball players.

By Cameron Smith  |  November 7, 2008; 8:26 AM ET
Categories:  Angels , Cubs , Dodgers , Mets , Red Sox , Yankees  
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Jenks could be wheeled to the Mets if the ChiSox thought K-Rod was an upgrade. But the ChiSox have cheap internal hard-throwing options behind Jenks if they were to try to sell him high.

The real lack of a market for closers may have to do with the realization that most are spotty. Even Lidge had 2 -3 off years. Perhaps there are questions about overuse of K-Rod. Statistically, several of Planet NJ's posters compared his peripherals to Chad (I forget how this exercise went, it was a year ago or so), and we have seen what overuse can do to young closers. It is darn hard to give him even a Mo Rivera contract, regardless of K-Rod's age.

Posted by: jca-CrystalCity | November 7, 2008 10:39 AM | Report abuse

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