"Don't be surprised if the Diamondbacks trade right-hander J.J. Putz."
So wrote Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal over the weekend, though it doesn't appear, at this point, to be any more than the purest of speculation on his part, with not even the "anonymous MLB source with knowledge" chipping in on the deal. Instead, this appears based on nothing more than the arrival of another closer in Addison Reed, which seems to cause Rosenthal to conclude that Putz must be on his way out. I guess he may have missed, oh, the 2013 season, where the arrival of Heath Bell did not signal the departure of Putz, though admittedly, the salary gap this time round is rather more significant, with Reed at league minimum and Putz due to earn $7 million.
I think what really sends this off into pure speculation, is Rosenthal's subsequent suggestion that we deal Putz for... Wait for it... Wait for it... Yankees' outfielder Ichiro Suzuki. This seems to be based solely on Rosenthal's premise that the D-backs would have to trade Putz's salary on a "like for like" basis, and Suzuki is on the New York books for $6.5 million in 2014. Quite why we would want Suzuki, whose best days are clearly well behind him (he has averaged less than one bWAR over the past four years), I have no clue. Even a Yankees site is dubious, saying we "can do better than an old, spare part outfielder who doesn't hit for power and doesn't get on base."
About the only way this would make even the slightest sense is some bizarre scenario where Masahiro Tanaka says he'll sign with us if he gets to play alongside the Japanese legend in 2014. Otherwise, perhaps slightly more credible is Rosenthal's alternative suggestion, that Putz "could be part of a trade for a starter.," in the eventuality that we don't sign Tanaka. Then, we'd be looking at the various Option B's, and one wonders whether Putz plus Owings or Gregorius might net us a better fifth member of the rotation than the remaining available free-market option, who seem to peak at Matt Garza or Ubaldo Jimenez.
A counter-argument is that, while trading Putz might make financial sense for 2014, it could cost significantly more down the road to use Addison Reed as closer. That's because he will enter arbitration after this season; another year racking up saves will certainly boost his rate there, while keeping him out of the ninth will depress his value. Beyond the Box Score looked at this last week, concluding, "Depending on Reed’s 2014 performance, the savings could be in the neighborhood of $2-3 million," and pointing out that the Cubs did something similar this year, letting fixed-price Kevin Gregg close, while younger, better and cheaper Pedro Strop set him up.
But let's see which teams out there, might have interest in Putz: in other words, those who do not currently appear to have a solid, established closer for the 2014 campaign. That list would certainly include the Yankees, who need to replace future Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera, but they are also still looking to strengthen their rotation, and wouldn't seem like a good fit is this area. Here are the other teams who could be looking for a proven reliever for the ninth inning this season.
- Baltimore Orioles.Apparent closer: Tommy Hunter. It looked like they had got their man when they signed Grant Balfour, but he failed his physical, nixing the deal. That they signed him shows a lack of faith in Hunter, so they're likely still looking to upgrade there.
- Chicago White Sox. Apparent closer: open. No obvious replacement after cashing out on Reed, but pitching coach Don Cooper is unconcerned. "We have guys we feel can get the last out for us. I've always been a believer of this, and if you look at the closers we've had since 2005, we'll find the guys,"
- Cleveland Indians. Apparent closer: John Axford. They signed Axford to a one-year deal worth $4.5 million, as he tries to rebuild, after going from leading the league in saves during 2011, to getting exactly none of them in 2013. They'll probably want to see how that works out first.
- Houston Astros. Apparent closer: Josh Fields, though a couple of ex-Dbacks, in Matt Albers and Chad Qualls could also be in the mix. Hard to see them being interested in taking on Putz's salary however, and it's not exactly like they're one piece from contending.
- Tampa Rays. Apparent closer: What? Heath Bell not enough for you? We'll see how that works out, especially bearing in mind Bell has a 2015 option which kicks in if he finishes 55 games this year (he fell one short his last year in San Diego). May make a bid to re-sign Francisco Rodney.
- Texas Rangers. Apparent closer: open, following the departure of Joe Nathan. However, they have no shortage of internal candidates, including Joakim Soria, Neftali Feliz and Tanner Scheppers, and after the signing of Choo, Texas are likely close to their payroll cap for the year.