Alex Anthopoulos has stated that he thinks that shoring up the back end of the Jays’ bullpen is one of his main areas of focus this off-season, and while it’s impossible to deny that, until Frank Francisco figured shit the fuck out after the All-Star break, the Jays were getting pretty close to shit all from back there, it’s still painful for me to see the club linked to some of the top free agent closers who are on the market, as they have been again today– again by Buster Olney of ESPN.com.
In Olney’s latest (Insider only) column, he claims that the Jays have discussed Heath Bell, Jonathan Papelbon, Joe Nathan, “who threw the ball very well down the stretch as he got further removed from his elbow surgery,” and the prospect of trading for Oakland’s Andrew Bailey.
Technically, he says that those guys are “among the names that have come up in their conversations,” so who knows how serious their interest could have been? I mean, Heath Bell’s name could come up in their conversation in an exchange like: “How about pissing away a draft pick and paying way too much money to bring a declining Petco-created 34-year-old to the AL East on a multi-year deal?” “You’re fucking fired!”
Nathan is even older than Bell, and wasn’t very Joe Nathan-like in his first year back from Tommy John surgery, but the price to acquire him– in both salary and term– is a whole lot more palatable. Plus, as Olney points out, he was better down the stretch– opponents OPS’d .598 off him from July 1st onward.
Papelbon– hate him as I do– has been pretty fucking reliably terrific for Boston the last several years, and is about as close to a sure thing as there is on the market– not that you could ever call any free agent a sure thing, especially a reliever. His acquisition also, as Olney points out, would put a dent in one of they Jays’ division rivals. However, he’ll command a shit-tonne of money– more than a 60- or 70-inning guy is worth, surely– and will require the Jays giving up a draft pick.
That is… unless he doesn’t.
Olney also has a bit of information later in his post about the CBA talks, which are ongoing. He notes that the compensation for Type-A free agents is one of the more contentious issues, given the way teams have, over the last four years, taken to actually valuing draft picks and gaming a system that was “set up three decades ago to deter George Steinbrenner from signing all the top free agents.” One proposal would eliminate teams having to surrender their top draft picks to sign one, while another would mimic the NFL’s system, forcing clubs to pay an top-end salary to any Type-A free agent they offer arbitration to. The latter seems a bit fanciful, but the key point he makes is that there is still a chance that the compensation changes could go into effect for this free agency period.
Would that change the equation for the Jays on a guy like Papelbon? It’s only money, right? Better to pay in cash than in prospects, right? Uh… right??? I don’t know– I don’t think so– but they seem a little more into this needing an established closer thing than I want to believe, so maybe.
Then there’s Andrew Bailey. The A’s closer is entering his first year of arbitration, so any team acquiring him would him would control him relatively cheaply for three seasons. He’s coming off the worst season of his career, statistically, part of which can be attributed to a painful-looking forearm strain suffered in spring training, which kept him out until May 29th. He also, according to his injury history at Baseball Prospectus, had elbow surgery last winter, microfracture surgery on his left knee in 2009, and Tommy John in 2006. Um… holy shit.
Still, back in August, Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports heard that “the Rangers offered Robbie Erlin and Joe Wieland (who ultimately got them Mike Adams) plus shortstop prospect Leury Garcia” for Bailey. Erlin was the club’s #4 prospect, according to Baseball America, so it’s safe to say Bailey will cost a decent amount, in terms of prospects. But the Jays have enough depth in the system at the moment that they should realistically be able to pull a deal like that off without taking much of a hit. If the price is right, why not?
Otherwise, how about that Joe Nathan, huh?