With pitchers and catchers set to report to Spring Training in just weeks, there are still teams in need of key players and the free agent pool is getting smaller by the day. The Baltimore Orioles and New York Mets have this problem and both need to fill the same key role. They need a late-inning reliever, preferably an experienced closer.
The Orioles traded their closer Jim Johnson to Oakland then proceeded to blow off a what seemed like done-deal with former Oakland closer Grant Balfour due to medical concerns about his wrist and knee. The Mets, who have basically ignored their bullpen needs this off-season, seemed to have suddenly remembered that their closer, Bobby Parnell, is coming off of neck surgery and may be a liability in the closer role. With just a group of youngsters to back up Parnell, it seems they need a plan “B” as well.
It wasn’t widely known, but the Mets tried to go after Balfour as well. They reportedly offered him a $12 million, two-year deal just like the Tampa Bay Rays but Balfour went with the Florida team.
So with Balfour off the market and other free agent relievers like Joe Nathan, Joaquin Benoit, and Edward Mujica already snatched up by the Detroit Tigers, the San Diego Padres, and the Boston Red Sox, respectively, who is left for the two teams to sign?
The obvious answer is RHP Fernando Rodney, the player who’s spot in Tampa Bay was filled by Balfour. Otherwise there just aren’t a lot of options left. Will there be an all out war for the lone closer?
At first glance you’d think no. The Mets still have Parnell, sure, but they have to be worried about his health since they were going after Balfour with the same intensity as the Rays. A source close to the team told ESPNNewYork.com that Mets’ general manager Sandy Alderson is already in talks with Rodney.
Baltimore must be, at this late point in the off-season, wondering, “why did we let Balfour go?” Having a good late inning reliever is a bit of a necessity in baseball these days and Rodney is the best one still available. It was reported Friday by The Baltimore Sun’s Dan Connolly that the Orioles hadn’t been in touch with Rodney in weeks but they are looking to get the dialogue with Rodney heated up.
It seems the Mets have the jump on the Orioles as of now, but they also have less money to spend. They met their estimated budget limit of $87 million with the acquisition of RHP Bartolo Colon in December. Obviously though, they must be willing to spend around $12 million on a closer since they offered as much to Balfour. The Mets don’t have as desperate a need for Rodney as the Orioles do but with Parnell’s health in question they may be feeling the desperation just as much.
The Orioles look like the overall favorite as they have more to spend. Currently they are only at a payroll total of $83 million with a $100 million budget, leaving them $17 million to spend on a closer if they are forced to do so. Yet $17 million is a lot for a closer who ranks lower on the totem pole than Balfour, who they offered only $15 million to.
At this point it looks like anybody’s guess who will sign the last remaining high-ranked closer. The Mets are on target by already being in talks with Rodney, while the Orioles have more money to spend but are behind in the game.
Rodney went 5-4 with 37 saves and a 3.38 ERA in 68 games with the Rays last season.