Jonathan Papelbon was given a 4 year, $50M contract by the Phillies last week. If he averages 65 innings a year in Philly, he'll be paid at a rate of $192K per inning. There are plenty of celebrities and pundits on the speaking circuit who have commanded a higher appearance fees, but they generally stick around for at least a half hour - maybe even a Q&A and/or book signing. Although, with Papelbon's epic stop-downs between pitches, he's a better value than he seems. It also wouldn't be out of the league of what Francisco Cordero was paid over the life of his contract with the Reds: $162,233-per-IP.
Though I assume Reds are still interested in bringing Cordero back at the right price, they at least nominally have a vacancy as Cordero tests the markets as a free agent. So what does the Papelbon signing mean for that closer market? The Sox and Phillies both play at the highest end of the market, so it probably doesn't affect the pool of teams that would put out offers for CoCo's services. But it does at least set an upper bound for what closers will be paid this offseason: $12.5M AAV and four guaranteed years. No one is going to be giving Cordero his old contract, which paid him $12.125M in base salary over 3 of its four years.
Let's look at a quick 'n' dirty power ranking of the remaining free agent closers and closer candidates.
|Player||Age||2011 stats||Previous $||fWAR $ value|
|Ryan Madson||31||164 ERA+, 2.25 FIP||3 yr/$12M||$7.6M|
|Francisco Rodriquez||30||145 ERA+, 2.72 FIP||3 yr/$37M||$6.4M|
|Heath Bell||34||146 ERA+, 3.23 FIP||1 yr/$7.5M||$2.3M|
|Francisco Cordero||36||160 ERA+, 4.02 FIP||4 yr/$45M||$0.6M|
|Joe Nathan||37||83 ERA+, 4.28 FIP||4 yr/$47M||$0.2M|
|Kerry Wood||34||117 ERA+, 3.59 FIP||1 yr/$1.5M||$2.1M|
|Brad Lidge||35||282 ERA+, 2.82 FIP||3 yr/$36M||$1.6M|
|Frank Francisco||32||120 ERA+, 3.80 FIP||1 yr/$4M||$2M|
|Matt Capps||28||95 ERA+, 4.75 FIP||1 yr/$7.15M||(-$1.7M)|
|Takashi Saito||42||195 ERA+, 3.40 FIP||1 yr/$1.75M||$1M|
|Jonathan Broxton||27||67 ERA+, 5.63 FIP||2 yr/$11M||(-$1.4M)|
There's a pretty big fall-off in pedigree after Brad Lidge. And a lot of these names have some serious injury history attached to them, which might mean a good number of one-year contracts. Still, it's a pretty crowded market. Names like Huston Street and Brandon League are also floating around as possible trade bait. If, for example, Street were to change hands and the Rockies to choose another closer from within, that would likely nix another potential suitor for Cordero.
MLB Trade Rumors estimated in August that there might be as many as 16 teams looking for closers in the offseason. With Papelbon signed, the Phillies are off that list; so are teams like the Tigers and Marlins. A liberal estimate - including the Reds - says almost half of major league baseball may be at least window shopping.
I think it's a safe bet Cordero in the top half of available closers, which means he'll attract at least a few of the more agressive bidders, depending on who enters the market and what trades are available. Cordero is also among the oldest, but also one of the sturdier closers available. That says to me he'll get at least two years.
What teams might pursue Cordero? First, let's mention the Cordero's agent is named Bean Stringfellow. That's the name of a man who's lean, mean and will work long hours to make his client happy. I'd assume he wants to continue on as closer, so while it's possible a big money team could "Rafael Soriano" him, that seems like a remote possibility. The Rangers might consider bringing him back to where it all kind of started if Neftali Feliz starts, making him the closer or set-up man to Mike Adams. But if they're actually looking, they're likely to go after the very upper tier - Bell, Madson, K-Rod, possibly Street or Nathan. The same goes for the BoSox.
The leading suspects with open vacancies in the ninth inning are the Jays, Twins, Mets and Dodgers, with the Astros, Padres, Rockies and Orioles possible, but less likely. There's enough depth in the closer market that teams put-off by Cordero or Bell's asking prices can start looking at Wood, Lidge, Nathan or trade options. And even if Papelbon, K-Rod and Madson are all getting 8-figure-a-year contracts, there might only be one big-market team in on CoCo. In the second tier, I'd say Cordero's upper limit is around what Bell made last year: $7.5M AAV. The lower end could be what Francisco, Frank made last year: $4M.
Things could break in a weird way and Cordero could end getting three years/$32M. More likely is that teams with similar pay scales to the Reds are competing for Cordero. I think 2 years/$10M still sounds about right. If the Reds have as little as $7M-$8M to spend, it needs to be about right for someone else.