Earlier today, the Nationals signed Casey Janssen, ending all hope for Toronto fans that he would return to the Blue Jays and close for them for another season.
Whether you like it or not, the Blue Jays are considering Brett Cecil, Steve Delabar, and possibly Aaron Loup to be their closer in 2015, with Cecil being the most likely of the three. None of them have any prolonged closing experience, with Cecil and Loup being tied for the most career saves at six. Let me repeat myself. Brett Cecil and Aaron Loup, two possible closers for the Blue Jays in 2015, have a career six saves each.
That is not good security. As a club, the Blue Jays have three possible closers, none of whom who have handled the high pressure situations for more than just a one-time situation.
Sure, every closer in baseball started with zero saves for their career. But the Blue Jays are not in a spot to be "trying out" closers. They want to contend. The acquisitions of Josh Donaldson and Michael Saunders and the signing of Russell Martin are prime examples of their yearning for contention.
What's a good baseball team without a good, experienced bullpen? As we saw last season, on a Wins Above Replacement scale (FanGraphs), teams with good bullpens overall (Royals, Yankees, Nationals) could be receiving about five more wins than those with a poor preforming bullpen (Astros, Tigers, Dodgers). It isn't all about having a good closer, in fact, it's more about the depth.
If the Blue Jays did go out and get a closer like Jonathan Papelbon of the Phillies, they would not only be receiving a good closer, but they would guarantee Cecil, Loup, and Delabar regular bullpen spots, making their bullpen all the more deep. With their rotation not being the best nor the worst, they may need three or four innings from their bullpen on a daily basis.
Jonathan Papelbon would be a great get for the Blue Jays, if the Phillies are willing to eat the money. Sure, Papelbon, 34, has shown signs of decline, but he was not bad last season by any means. Papelbon saved 39 games, the second-highest mark of his career, in 43 opportunities with a 2.04 ERA (fourth-highest).
Papelbon has lost the velocity strikeout numbers that he once had, but he has turned more into a pitcher than a thrower. He can get hitters to make outs on his other pitches. For example, hitters went just 4-for-42 on his slider last year (.095).
The more money the Blue Jays decide to pay Papelbon, the less they would have to give in return to Philadelphia in terms of prospects. Papelbon is owed $13 million this season with a $13 million vesting option for 2016. If the Blue Jays decide to pay Papelbon $10 million of that $26 million total, they would be getting a solid closer at a good price, while not having to give up the best of prospects.
Adding Papelbon by himself is an upgrade for the Blue Jays, but it would also keep Loup, Delabar, and Cecil in the spots that they have known to be in. Toronto cannot make any of these three pitchers feel uncomfortable. They are important to the success of their bullpen. To keep them comfortable, they need to go out and get a real closer. That is and should be Papelbon.
Francisco Rodriguez, Casey Janssen, Rafael Soriano highlight remaining free agent relievers; where will they land?
The offseason continues to dwindle, as pitchers and catchers will officially begin reporting in under a month. Clubs can still find some late January free agent additions, and among the remaining free agents are three known relievers: Francisco Rodriguez, Casey Janssen, and Rafael Soriano. It is time to take a look at all three and where they will land.
Francisco Rodriguez - Milwaukee Brewers
Rodriguez went 5-5 with a 3.04 ERA, 9.7 K/9 ratio, and a 2.4 BB/9 ratio in 68 innings last season, saving 44 games in 49 opportunities. Rodriguez finished the most games in the National League last season, as he was the pitcher on the mound at the end of 66 games last year. He was worth -0.6 fWAR last season. I could see Rodriguez getting a two-year, $20 million deal, but with Scott Boras as his agent, it could be hard to find a common ground between the club and Rodriguez.
The Brewers are currently prepared to go into the season with Jonathan Broxton as their closer, but he hasn't closed regularly since 2012, saving just seven games over the past two seasons. The Brewers were reportedly in "serious discussions" to acquire Jonathan Papelbon last week, but nothing materialized. Rodriguez and the Brewers have been in discussions and it looks as if he could be headed their soon.
Casey Janssen - Washington Nationals
Janssen has served as the Blue Jays' closer over the past three years, so he could be looking for another closer's job, which will not be open in Washington. He went 3-3 with a 3.94 ERA, 5.5 K/9 ratio, and a 1.4 BB/9 ratio in 45.2 innings pitched last season, saving 25 games in 30 opportunities. He missed 37 games last season with an injury and posted a 0.1 fWAR. He could get a one-year, $5 million deal with an option year, something the Nationals should definitely want and be willing to take on.
Ever since the Nationals dealt Tyler Clippard to the Athletics, relief pitching has been a need for them, especially backend relief pitching. The Nationals reportedly "checked in" on Janssen and he makes a lot of sense for them, as they likely do not want to spend the money on Rodriguez and have already dealt with the problems of Soriano, while also having a need for pitching.
Rafael Soriano - Los Angeles Dodgers
Soriano's season took a wrong turn last year with the Nationals, as he started the season solid, but ended up losing the closer's job to Drew Storen at the end of the year. At 35, Soriano can't be looking for a huge contract, so a one- or two-year contract seems likely, which could include a lot of performance bonuses. Last season, he went 4-1 with a 3.19 ERA, 8.6 K/9 ratio, and a 2.8 BB/9 ratio in 62 innings, saving 32 games in 39 opportunities. Soriano is another Boras client.
The Dodgers have the closer's spot locked down with Kenley Jansen, but the rest of their bullpen is still a question mark. Los Angeles' relief corps were among the worst in the league last year, as their 0.7 fWAR as a group ranked 26th in the Major Leagues. The Dodgers could use bounce-back year from Soriano. He seems like a guy Andrew Friedman and company in the front office would take a chance on.
In case you haven't seen or heard or have been paying attention to sports over the past week, Max Scherzer has been signed by the Nationals to a seven-year, $210 million deal.
The Tigers' rotation is currently not in the best shape. They have Justin Verlander, who hasn't had a good season (by his standards) since 2012. They have Anibal Sanchez, who only tossed 126 innings last season, his second straight season pitching under 185 innings and 30 starts. They have Shane Greene, who is in his first full season. They have Alfredo Simon, who pitched to a 4.33 FIP last season in Cincinnati. Their only anchor in their rotation is David Price, who tossed the most innings and struck out the most hitters in the American League last season.
The Tigers need starting pitching. What would have happened if they had just extended Max Scherzer before his leverage increased after winning the Cy Young award?
(Before we continue, just make sure that I am talking theoretically here and about the past. Obviously, the Tigers never extended Scherzer and let him walk as a free agent this season. Second, Scherzer's agent, Scott Boras, is rarely ever up for signing his players to extensions, usually letting them hit free agency.)
In 2012, Scherzer was coming off a strong season in which he pitched 187.2 innings, going 16-7 with a 3.74 ERA, 3.27 FIP, and a 3.85 strikeout-per-walk ratio. He was a better-than-solid pitcher, but by no means was he worth $210 million guaranteed. Scherzer, coming into the 2013 season, had roughly four years of MLB service time, so what type of deal could have the Tigers offered him?
According to MLB Trade Rumors' Extension Tracker, plenty of starting pitchers received an extension in between four and five years of service time. One comparable pitcher to Scherzer, at least at the time, was Zack Greinke, who went 13-10 with a 3.47 ERA, 3.56 FIP, and a 3.27 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Greinke was given a four-year, $38 million deal ($9.5MM AAV) from the Royals, buying out two free agency seasons.
If Scherzer was given a comparable deal to Greinke at a similar time, he would still be with the Tigers this and next season. For a team that is desperate for a return to the World Series for the first time since 2012, two more years of Scherzer, at around a $9.5 million annual average value (what Greinke got), would be an absolute steal. That could allow them to sign more free agents and have payroll flexibility, while also being able to contend for a World Series title.
Hindsight is always 20/20, but if the Tigers had just locked up Scherzer early, they would be in a much better position right now. That is for sure.
Cover Those Bases Podcast: 1/20/2015: Max Scherzer's deal and how that impacts the Washington Nationals
Check out the first Cover Those Bases Podcast in about a year! I'm bringing it back after all this time because I love talking about baseball and sharing my thoughts orally almost as much as I love writing about them. Give this one a listen and hear my take on the starting pitching saga in Washington.
Nationals fans, it's finally time to trade Ian Desmond.
The star-studded shortstop has been with the Nationals his entire career, drafted by the then-Montreal Expos in the 3rd round of the 2004 MLB Draft. He spent the 2004 season in the Expos system, then when the team moved to Washington, he moved with them. Desmond has been the Nationals' starting shortstop since 2010, and is approaching free agency this winter.
It's sad to see a star leave town, but for the Nationals it makes both economic and baseball sense. The team has a projected 2015 payroll of $141 million (Baseball Reference). They already have five players signed to guaranteed contracts in 2016. By itself, that's $59.8 million.
Desmond would command $100 million or more on the open market. The Nationals and Desmond have not had recent extension talks, plus it is unknown if Desmond would take a hometown discount to continue playing in Washington. Regardless, adding $15-$20 million a year to the Nationals' payroll does not make sense at all. Allow me to explain.
When the Nationals were involved in the three-team trade with the Padres and Rays that sent Wil Myers west to San Diego, they "acquired" a player to be named later. That player is almost a guarantee to be shortstop Trea Turner, who was the Padres' first round pick in the 2014 MLB Draft. Turner could be in the big leagues for Washington in 2016, if not sooner if Desmond is gone.
In short, the Nationals already have a long-term backup plan intact if they deal Desmond now. In fact, they have a short-term backup plan as well. That was by acquiring Yunel Escobar from the Oakland Athletics to play second base. Escobar has not played second since 2007 and has been a shortstop ever since. He could serve as a bridge at shortstop, playing there until Turner is ready. Escobar is a free agent after next season, barring a 2017 club option.
If the Nationals deal Desmond, how would they find a second baseman to replace Escobar?
That's an easy one. The New York Mets have a second baseman and no shortstop. The difference is, however, they have two big league ready players that could play second base in Dilson Herrera and Ruben Tejada. The Mets could acquire Desmond, and deal Daniel Murphy to the Nationals, and slot Herrera or Tejada into their vacant second base position.
The Mets could only do that, however, if they knew that they could sign Desmond to a long-term deal. With only a payroll of $98.4 million this season and already four players signed to $57.4 million next year, the possibility of them extending Desmond is a real one. If they can't sign Desmond long-term, they have two possible options. One would be to get Desmond at a reduced price from the Nationals, then offer him a qualifying offer and try to re-sign him in the offseason, while the other would be to not acquire him at all.
The Nationals then could move Daniel Murphy to third base (his natural position) and move Anthony Rendon back to second base. Then, around the infield, they would have Ryan Zimmerman, Anthony Rendon, Yunel Escobar, and Daniel Murphy.
Murphy, of course, would not be the Nationals' only return for Desmond. They would also likely acquire a prospect or two, depending on if the Mets believe they can meet Desmond's demands and sign him to long-term extension.
The price, time, and place is all right. The Nationals need to deal shortstop Ian Desmond.