The Hot Stove season has hit its closer rush. Active saves king Joe Nathan and reigning AL saves leader Jim Johnson have changed teams, while Brian Wilson decided to stay in L.A. for another season as a setup man after talk of a closer's gig elsewhere.
Here's a breakdown of what's been happening on the closer carousel, plus a few of the best names still on the market:
• Nathan is "close" to agreeing to a two-year contract with the Detroit Tigers, a deal first reported by Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal. They were one of the best offseason matches — a veteran free agent with 341 career saves and a team desperately in need of a stable bullpen stopper. Nathan saved 80 games the past two seasons for the Texas Rangers. The deal hasn't yet been finalized and the amount of the contract is still unknown, but it's reportedly for two years.
• With that domino following, Wilson and the Los Angeles Dodgers were next to be "close" on a new contract, a deal first reported by Yahoo Sports' Tim Brown. Wilson, who joined the team midseason in 2013 as a setup man, was said to be looking for a closer's job and was in talks with Detroit. He pitched well for the Dodgers in 2013 coming off Tommy John surgery — 0.66 ERA in 13.2 innings, plus six scoreless innings in the postseason.
• That deal was also helped along by the fact that the Baltimore Orioles traded their closer Jim Johnson — who had back-to-back 50-save seasons — to the Oakland Athletics late Monday night for second baseman Jemile Weeks, a prospect who never quite materialized. The Dodgers were interested in acquiring Johnson, but when he was taken off the board, they were quick to lock up Wilson. The Oakland-Baltimore trade was an interesting one, as it was a cash dump for the Orioles who would have paid Johnson about $10 million this season. Usually, the A's aren't the kind of team that will eat a contract like that, but they are without a closer now that Grant Balfour, their stopper for the past two seasons, is a free agent.
With the league-wide closer picture beginning to take better shape, here are the top three closers still on the market — including Balfour — according to our buddy Jeff Passan and his free-agent tracker (go here for his Top 200):
2. (26) Joaquin Benoit, RP: Closer stuff, closer chops and the sort of changeup that doesn’t age.
3. (29) Fernando Rodney, RP: His 2012 season was among the best ever for relievers, so 2013 was inevitably a letdown. He still throws 100 mph, though, and his changeup is an absolute beast.
4. (31) Grant Balfour, RP: Still has the big fastball. Will be interesting to see how his flyball tendencies play outside of spacious O.Co Coliseum.
Another pitcher with closer experience just hit the market on Monday. That's John Axford, the former Milwaukee Brewers closer, who was non-tendered by the St. Louis Cardinals, the team that acquired him via trade in the middle of 2013.
The Orioles, Chicago Cubs, Cleveland Indians, Houston Astros, Tampa Bay Rays, New York Yankees and Texas Rangers are among the teams potentially in the market for a closer.
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Fans who don't happen to like the Boston Red Sox, and/or infamous villainous catcher A.J. Pierzynski, have reason to groan Tuesday morning. The 2013 World Series champions have signed him to a one-year contract, Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reported first.
This clears the way for the end of the Jarrod Saltalamacchia era behind the plate in Boston. Pierzynski is much easier to spell if you're not lazy about it. Pierzynski's ability to grow a bad beard, or any beard, is questionable.
Pierzynski, who turns 37 years old later this month, batted .272/.297/.425 with 17 home runs in 529 plate appearances for the Texas Rangers in 2013. His on-base percentage was a career low. His pitch-framing statistics were, and have been, poor — for whatever those are actually worth.
Though he has a well-deserved reputation for playing the heel — stoked by Pierzysnki's fascination with pro wrestling and a notoriously bad season with the Giants in 2004 — he's actually a good guy to have in the clubhouse. Or at least a neutral guy. The complaints made by Brett Tomko and others in '04 have never been publicly echoed by other teammates in subsequent seasons. He's also very durable. David Ross will continue to be the backup with Boston, complementing Pierzynski from the right-handed batter's box as he did with Salty.
Pierzynski is a "you like him if he's on your team" kind of guy, though Rangers fans didn't seem all that impressed in 2013. He earned $7.5 million this past season. He had been courted by the Minnesota Twins, which would have been a fun reunion. But this also should be fun.
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Charges have been brought against three people for allegedly kidnapping Leonys Martin and his family
Thursday morning Rangers news and links
Per T.R. Sullivan, the Rangers tried to acquire catcher J.P. Arencibia before he was non-tendered by the Blue Jays
What grade to you give the trade yesterday between the Rangers and the A's
Bovada had the Rangers at +200 to sign Robinson Cano, the best odds of any team other than Seattle, but have now revised the odds
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