MLB Free Agency

MLB Free Agents 2012: Jonathan Papelbon and the Top Closers on the Market

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 25: Jonathan Papelbon #58 of the Boston Red Sox reacts after striking out Austin Romine #71 of the New York Yankees (not pictured) with the bases loaded to end the bottom of the ninth inning on September 25, 2011 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Christopher Pasatieri/Getty Images)
Christopher Pasatieri/Getty Images
Thad NovakCorrespondent IOctober 14, 2011

Relief pitchers in general, and closers in particular, have repeatedly proven to be terrible investments in free agency. Nevertheless, every offseason sees millions upon millions of dollars thrown at closers, particularly when they’ve put up stats like the cream of this year’s crop:

 

Jonathan Papelbon

After saving 30-plus games for six-straight seasons in the pressure cooker that is Boston, Papelbon has certainly proven that he has the mental toughness to handle the closer’s job. He also recovered well from a down year in 2010 to post a dazzling 0.933 WHIP this season (along with cutting his blown saves from eight to three).

Papelbon is only 30, so he should have several good years ahead of him. Boston may opt to shell out for his services, but wherever he lands, he’s in for a big payday.

 

Heath Bell

Despite rampant speculation to the contrary, San Diego opted to hang on to Bell at the trade deadline. The Padres, one presumes, expect to be able to re-sign their lights-out closer, but they’ll have plenty of competition.

 

SAN DIEGO, CA - SEPTEMBER 24: Closing Pitcher Heath Bell #21 of the San Diego Padres throws the ball on his way to recording his 42nd save of the season during the ninth inning of the game against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Petco Park on September 24, 201
Kent Horner/Getty Images

Bell has saved at least 42 games each of the last three seasons, with ERAs no higher than 2.71. The only potential red flag is that his strikeout rate plummeted this season from a career-high 11.1 K’s per nine innings in 2010 to a career-worst 7.3.

 

Francisco Rodriguez

Milwaukee isn’t likely to offer its current setup man as much money as he can get on the market as a potential closer. K-Rod is now three seasons removed from his dazzling 62-save season as an Angel, but he’s an established commodity out of the bullpen (not to mention a fairly big-name acquisition for some club in free agency).

On the other hand, Rodriguez’s ERA as a Met (where he spent the first half of the season) was a disappointing 3.16. It’s hard to judge whether any team signing him will get that version or the one who went 4-0 with a 1.86 ERA as a Brewer.

 

Ryan Madson

Perhaps the best bet to be seriously overpaid this offseason is newly-minted Phillies closer Madson. He saved 32 games with a solid 1.154 WHIP, but one season of production in the closer’s role doesn’t necessarily translate to long-term success.

The former starter may yet become a reliable stopper out of the bullpen, but he’s also got a substantial possibility of blowing up entirely after signing a big contract.

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