RHP Brandon League will not be a Seattle Mariner come the trade deadline this summer. Why? You don't need a $5 million closer on a team that will be lucky to hit 81 wins this year.
The closer role is an important one for a competitive team—the luxury of having a solid pitcher who you can rely on to close out the ninth in a tight game is worth a few million dollars at least since he will probably preserve a decent number of wins in potentially high-pressure situations.
However, with a few exceptions in the National League, pitchers tend not to put runs on the board; they prevent them. A pitcher's act of preserving a win can be considered comparable but not equivalent to a hitter's act of creating a win via creating runs. Both acts are quantified by the sabermetric WAR (Wins Above Replacement).
Since closers usually only go through one inning of work and usually appear in only 60 or 70 games a year, they obviously have a lesser value than an everyday hitter/fielder, and WAR reflects that.
Brandon League earned just a 1.2 WAR—that is, he generated 1.2 wins more than an average replacement player of the same position would have—with 37 saves, a 2.79 ERA and an All-Star appearance through 61.1 IP.
By comparison, Mariners shortstop Brendan Ryan accumulated a 1.9 WAR in 2011 with .248/.313/.326 through 123 games, and midseason call-up Dustin Ackley racked up a 2.4 WAR with .273/.348/.417 through 90 games.
So both a mediocre, part-time shortstop and a talented but albeit inexperienced second baseman who only played half a season are worth more wins to the team than an All-Star closer? And they're both making under $1.5 million?
Like I said earlier, a talented closer is perhaps worth more to a playoff team than his stats belie, but the Mariners aren't a playoff team this year, so you can take those stats at face value. League will not make the difference for the Mariners this year, so he isn't worth keeping around.
Luckily for General Manager Jack Zduriencik and the Mariners, a skilled deal-sealer will sell high on the market to a team looking to make a playoff push going into August and September.
It is also important to note that League is in his last year of arbitration eligibility. After this year, he will become a free agent, and if the Mariners wanted to keep him, they would have to dish out at least another $5 million per year.
The more attractive option is to sell him this year (maybe for a young outfield bat), and slide one of the younger relief pitchers on the team into the closer role.
If League were gone, RHP Chance Ruffin could take the last two months of the season to ease into the role, and be ready as full-time closer by 2013 when the team has a more legitimate shot at the playoffs.
The other two players signed just before the arbitration deadline, LHP Jason Vargas and RHP Shawn Kelley, are more likely to stick around.
Vargas was a staple in last year's rotation, and we'll likely see him join Felix Hernandez again this year.
Kelley is a fourth-year reliever with a decent ability to strike batters out and a strong chance at making the 2012 bullpen in Seattle.
Overall, it's nice to see the gears continue to spin the Mariners organization; Jack Z just needs to keep up the good work and get the roster ready for a very important Spring Training. Seattle pitchers are set to report to Peoria, AZ on February 11, the earliest in the league. It's just like the Mariners...always trying to get a head start on things!
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