Blue Jays Aggressively Pursuing Closer?

By Thom Tsang

Finally, a (sort of, but not really) rumour involving the Jays!

Buster Olney of ESPN tweeted earlier today that the team is taking a “very aggressive” approach at acquiring a closer for 2012 (and beyond), and that it would not be a surprise if the bluebirds acquired a top player. Obviously a somewhat ambiguous, loaded statement here, but what might this mean for the Blue Jays if the approach led to tangible results?

The first – and biggest – name that comes to mind would be Jonathan Papelbon. The top reliever available in FA (and as much as I hate him, he’s one of the best in the league), Papelbon is looking for a multi-year deal worth $15 mil/year, headed into his age-31 season. Personal vendetta against the soon-to-be former Red Sox aside, I don’t think signing any reliever to that kind of money is really the brightest of ideas, let alone one who will be exiting the prime of his career (age-wise) by the end of a 3-year contract. Whether Papelbon warrants being paid the highest salary ever for the relief pitcher is perhaps arguable (pretty straightforward “nope” to me), but it would seem very un-Alex Anthopoulous to commit to what the player will be looking for here.

Pap aside, the other names that could be involved in this closer search could be Heath Bell (not much of a fit with organization in terms of age and career trajectory), Francisco Rodriguez (just…no), Joe Nathan could be intriguing in a 1-year deal, but he’s looking to sign with a team with a shot at the WS in ’12, and that’s unfortunately not us. Not yet, anyway. There’s also Ryan Madson, who has been one of the best set-up men in baseball in recent years, before taking on the closer’s role in Philadelphia in ’11, delivering the best season of his career thus far. He’s a Boras client, but even so, he should come a fair bit cheaper than Papelbon, and could deliver similar numbers over a 2-year contract.

I don’t think there’s really a big-name FA closer that would be a good fit for the Jays in terms of how much resource the team would have to commit to the player now, when the team is still several pieces away. That being said, the Jays ‘pen was a nightmarish roller coaster on many nights in ’11, and it would be nice to have some stability in that department next season. So, could the Jays be looking to acquire a controllable closer through trade? Perhaps somebody like Andrew Bailey of the A’s? The two clubs have hooked up for several trades this year, and with everyone apparently being made available for the right price in Oakland, perhaps this would be an opportunity for the Jays to acquire a young closer who doesn’t hit FA until 2015?

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