A look at the closer market minus Jonathan Papelbon

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The Phillies just went and bought themselves the best closer available this winter. Now we’ll see who else is ready to ante up.

Here’s how I ranked the available closers in the top 111 free agents:

6. Papelbon
12. Heath Bell
14. Ryan Madson
16. Francisco Rodriguez
24. Francisco Cordero
40. Joe Nathan
45. Jonathan Broxton
47. Matt Capps
53. Frank Francisco

Those first five guys were always pretty much guaranteed to open next season as closers, and Nathan is certain to have a job in that role if he wants one. The remaining three are possibilities as cheap closers but could also sign as setup men.

And the teams looking for closers now that the Phillies are out of the hunt:

Boston
Cincinnati
Toronto
Minnesota
San Diego
Florida
Baltimore
L.A. Dodgers
N.Y. Mets

Other possibilities: Washington, Texas, Chicago White Sox, L.A. Angels, St. Louis

I’m ordering those teams in presumed willingness to spend. I think it’s pretty much a given that Boston, Cincinnati and Toronto will sign new closers, probably from among the “big four” remaining closers. San Diego is a wild card; the Padres would spend a substantial amount to re-sign Bell, but they’ll probably go cheap if they can’t land him.

It seems to me that it’s much more of a buyers market now with the Phillies and Papelbon out of the mix. I think the Red Sox would love Madson, but not at the four years and $44 million he was rumored to be getting from Philadelphia. Now, however, he might come off the board substantially cheaper than that. The Blue Jays want a big-time closer, but it’s hard to see them going past $10 million per year. I expect Cincinnati will simply re-sign Cordero. Teams like the Orioles and Mets could gamble on Broxton or Brad Lidge.

One way it could potentially shake out:

Boston: Madson – four years, $36 million
Toronto: K-Rod – two years, $18 million
Cincinnati: Cordero – two years, $16 million
San Diego: Bell – accepts arbitration
Minnesota: Nathan – two years, $12 million

Now, on the other hand, there’s still the possibility those contracts could go substantially higher. The Marlins could decide to throw big money at a closer if they get spurned by Albert Pujols and Jose Reyes. The Rangers could decide to shift Neftali Feliz to the rotation and then bid for Madson. The Nationals could trade Drew Storen and make a run at Madson. The Cards would have money to spend on the bullpen if Pujols decides to head elsewhere.

As is, though, I think the teams that are patient will be rewarded and that the Phillies’ decision to give $50 million to Papelbon will look like a big overpay at the conclusion of the winter. But only time will tell.

The Giants are winning but they’re still gonna sell

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The state of baseball in general, the state of the National League in particular and the state of the San Francisco Giants as a competitor are conspiring to create what seems like at least a mildly absurd situation.

The Giants, a veteran-laden team that, as recently as this past offseason but definitely within the past couple of years, were at least talking about being on a win-now footing, just swept a four-game series, have won five straight games and have won 12 of 14 to pull themselves to within two and a half games of a playoff spot.

Yet, that’s all for temporary show, because they’re about to sell off. At least according to Jeff Passan at ESPN. Giants president Farhan Zaidi tried to push back on that in a radio interview yesterday, denying that the club has foreclosed the possibility of a postseason push, but I’m not really buying that and I don’t think most people are.

On one level it makes sense to ignore the recent surge and forge on with a rebuild. Sure, the Giants are winning but they’re not exactly good. They’re two and a half out of the Wild Card, but there are many teams ahead of them. There’s a lot of reason to think that they’re playing in good fortune right now and that that, rather than finding some extra gear of sustainable better play, is what’s to credit. Hot streaks can happen at any time but the trade deadline only comes once a year. When you have the best starter available in Madison Bumgarner and the best reliever available in Will Smith, you gotta make those deals. That’s what I’d probably do if I ran the Giants and I think that that’s, wisely, what Zaidi will do.

Still, it’s an odd look, less for the Giants specifically than for baseball as a whole. We may in an era of cheap front offices who don’t like to contend if it means spending money, but it’s unfair to paint the Giants with that brush. They’ve spent money and acquired talent and have done whatever they can to extend their 2010-2014 mini-dynasty a few more years and in doing so they’ve made a lot of fans happy. That team has pretty much reached the end and, even in an earlier, more competitive era, they’d not be properly criticized for starting in on a rebuild. Heck, they’d be excused if they had done it a year or two earlier, frankly.

But, because so many teams have punted on improving themselves, these aging Giants are at least superficially competitive. As such, when they do sell off in the coming days, it’ll look to some like they’re waving a white flag or something when they’re not really doing that. I mean, the Rockies and the Pirates, among other teams, should be much better than they are but didn’t seem all that interested in improving, thereby helping the Giants look better, right? It’s less a knock on the Giants for rebuilding when they’re within striking distance of the playoffs than it is on the rest of the league for allowing a team like the Giants to be within striking distance of a playoff spot.

But that’s where we are right now. An insanely competitive Wild Card race from teams that, on the whole, are rather unconcerned with being competitive. What a time to be a baseball fan.