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Off-season stuff: Closers in Free Agency

(Probably) Looking for the next Fernando Rodney.

Miami Marlins v Arizona Diamondbacks Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

What you should know beforehand.

Let’s kick off my 2023 off-season stuff with a look at several positions the Diamondbacks will have to cover. I will take a look at candidates in free agency. We start with the hottest vacancy: closers.

For this article we have to assume that we don’t have any in-house candidates that are a lock to fill in the closer role.

We know the profile Mike Hazen has been looking for in recent seasons: a veteran with experience as a closer, be it either someone bouncing back from a down season, like Greg Holland, or a couple of down seasons, like Brad Boxberger, or someone who can return to the closer role after spending time in lower leverage situations, like Joakim Soria. I personally hope Hazen will shy away from all this, but old habits die hard.

The Diamondbacks are not a team that in 2023 will be a real post-season candidate. They might be a dark horse but let us assume that the next step for Hazen and co. is to get this team back to or over .500, with a budget that fits that ambition (whatever this might mean).

That basically excludes the biggest fish in closer free agency: Edwin Diaz. The Mets’ closer will turn 29 in March and is coming off a 3.2 bWAR season, with a 1.31 ERA and 0.839 WHIP, hitting 99.1 mph on average with his fastball. His save% was 91% and his SO/BB ratio was 6.56. Those are excellent stats and age to demand a great contract and with some big market teams looking to find a new closer, his market is really, really good.

Of the other 4 “real” closers that Spotrac lists, Jose Leclerc can probably be taken off the list as well. After a solid return from TJ surgery, the ailing Rangers are sure to lift their $6,000,000 club option on him.

Possible free agent options

Kenley Jansen

  • 64.0 IP, 3.38 ERA, 1.047 WHIP, 41 SV, 85 SV%, 3.86 SO/BB. Cutter in 2022: 92.3 mph (-0.3 mph compared to 2021).

Once the post-season is over the 35-year-old pitcher from Curaçao will become a free agent after completing a 1 year $16,000,000 contract with the Atlanta Braves. That might be the go-to money a team will have to pay to sign the cutter-specialist.

Jansen is no longer the absolute ace he was until 2018 with the Dodgers, although he still provides excellent value. He would be a great addition to this Diamondbacks team and one of the heart beatings of that winning culture Mike Hazen so proudly sings of...if Jansen’s own cardiac issues do not force him to spend time on the IL. That is probably the biggest risk with Jansen here, and maybe a risk the Diamondbacks are not willing to take and cannot afford.

Amongst relievers he is still top 20 in strikeouts, his fastball and cutter are a tad down but still on velocity although he is getting hit a bit harder than before. His overall picture is still one of a reliable reliever, much better than the Fernando Rodney experience for sure with 47 scoreless outings in 65 appearances and 6 games in which he gave up more than 1 run. He is shaky, but not stirry, and would be a great addition to this team. However, the Braves might be willing to reunite with him, and other teams who miss out on Diaz may pursuit Jansen as well.

Craig Kimbrel

  • 60.0 IP, 3.75 ERA, 1.317 WHIP, 22 SV, 81 SV%, 2.57 SO/BB. Fastball in 2022: 95.8 mph (-0.9).

If you are looking for your Mike Hazen prototype closer signing, here he is: a veteran (Kimbrel will become 35 in May next year) with closer experience looking for a bounce back from a previous season. If you are looking for your next Fernando Rodney experience, Kimbrel is probably the best candidate to provide you one, as he was saving games for the Dodgers with a similar ERA and a similar track.

The biggest problem in 2022 for Kimbrel was the lost velocity on his pitches (his fastball was almost a mile down), probably the cause for a drop in strikeouts and more hits thus runners on base, never a good combination for especially a closer. If you get Melancon vibes here, you are probably right and if we had to take odds, I’d put my money on Hazen signing Kimbrel once the post-season for the Dodgers is over.

If so, let’s hope the commitment is limited to just one year and around $5,000,000-$6,000,000, which is probably the price for Kimbrel on the open market, with maybe a mutual option.

David Robertson

  • 63.2 IP, 2.40 ERA, 1.162 WHIP, 20 SV, 71 SV%, 1.88 SO/BB. Cutter in 2022: 93.1 mph (+1.0).

Robertson, never shy of walking a batter in his career, is an intriguing candidate for the closer role in Arizona. He started the season with the Cubs on a $3,500,000 contract after a disastrous 2021 season. He added a slider to his arsenal, a few ticks to the velocity on all of his pitches and, voilá, success returned. Key to the success in his 2022 pitching was his curveball with a 0.093 BA against and a 44.4 WHIFF%. We are talking about a guy who reinvented himself and found success with it, a clear candidate to continue his success under the auspices of Brent Strom despite the age of 38 next April.

But his success is also his possible downfall. For his cutter/curveball combo to work his control needs to be on spot and that is where he faltered from time to time in 2022, hence his low save percentage. The chase rate on his pitches isn’t elite, just like his SO/BB ratio. FIP and SIERA (both around 3.50) are less impressed by Robertson, so there is a real risk in this profile here.

However, Robertson’s 2022 season can be considered a success and he could settle for anywhere in the vicinity of $8,000,000-10,000,000 on a 1-year contract. The thing with Robertson is that he is not a closer per se and as such bigger market teams might be prepared to take the risk and sign him for that money to deploy him in any other high leverage role.

Corey Knebel

  • 44.2 IP, 3.43 ERA, 1.366 WHIP, 12 SV, 75 SV%, 1.46 SO/BB. Fastball in 2022: 95.7 mph (-0.7).

Corey Knebel enjoyed a solid 2021 season for the Dodgers that landed him a 1-year $10,000,000 contract in Philadelphia, where he struggled all year until he landed on the 60-day IL late August. His career has been hampered by injuries ever since his All Star closer performance for the Brewers in 2017, but the potential is still there for the righty who will turn 31 this November.

His velocity in 2022 was down from 2021, but is still considered great by statcast. As Knebel’s SO/BB rate shows his biggest problem was command: his strikeout rate plummeted and was a career low, while he also issued more walks than ever.

This combined with an injury history gives cause for concern and the Diamondbacks might rather look to an arm with more recent success. But with only 31 years, it’s not like Knebel can’t be fixed and return to previous success.

Taylor Rogers

  • 64.1 IP, 4.76 ERA, 1.181 WHIP, 31 SV, 75.6 SV%, 4.42 SO/BB. Fastball in 2022: 94.3 mph (-1.5).

You might not have noticed, but the Milwaukee Brewers fleeced themselves when they moved Hader to San Diego: not only did they DFAd Lamet for Rosenthal, who never made an appearance for them, but the somewhat disappointing Rogers in San Diego became an absolute deception with the Brewers. He had control problems, walking too many guys and was especially hit hard by the long ball (2.35 HR/9), leading to a 5.48 ERA: he left a ball too many in the middle of the plate.

But even then, his SO/BB ratio was still strong in Milwaukee with 3.60. The soon-to-be 32 year old had an All Star-season in 2019 when he locked down 30 saves for the Twins, although his SV% has fluctuated around 80% these final years: he is not the most trustworthy closer you can find.

Still, the strikeouts are still there, the slider is still fine, but the sinker needs work. Maybe he just needs to get out of Milwaukee and find himself again.

Archie Bradley

  • 18.2 IP, 4.82 ERA, 1.286 WHIP, 2 SV, 50 SV%, 2.14 SO/BB. Fastball in 2022: 93.5 mph (-0.5).

It’s impossible to not mention Archie. Ever since leaving Arizona and tossing a few innings for Cincinnati in that shortened 2020 season, ‘The Beard’ has had troubles with finding success and staying healthy. Bradley pitched just 18.2 innings in 2022 at the age of 29, one of his prime years, because of, probably, too many adrenaline. After losing an entire season because of a broken elbow after tripping over the dugout railing because of a stupid brawl, it is time for Archie to come home and close out games for the Diamondbacks, because he did okay in doing so, right?

Archie is still Archie, he’ll rally Chase Field. He just needs to work a bit on those walks.

Brad Hand

  • 45.0 IP, 2.80 ERA, 1.333 WHIP, 5 SV, 71.4 SV%, 1.65 SO/BB. Fastball in 2022: 92.6 mph (-0.4).

I had a lot of second thoughts about including Brad Hand here, because it looks like he’s been around for ages, but it’s been just 2-3 years since he put up excellent numbers as Cleveland’s closer.

His 2021 season was mostly a farce, although he did bounce back a bit in Washington. In 2022 he has been fine for the Phillies and even notched a handful of saves. The pitcher, who will turn 33 in March, has never been much of a powerballer, but his velocity is still in the vicinity of his 2019 values. Biggest question mark, beside the dropping SO/BB ratio, is the dropping spin rate on his pitches. Maybe without the sticky-icky Hand is not much more than a middle reliever?

And then this...

If the Diamondbacks really want to go dumpster diving, they could end up with one of the possible dark horses like Will Smith, Aroldis Chapman, Zack Britton, Alex Colome, Trevor Rosenthal (hasn’t pitched since 2020 because of injuries), Mychal Givens and Luke Jackson although their success as a closer is probably too long due and all are probably better suited in a middle relief role.

Obviously, we don’t know what Hazen’s budget and priorities are. The market will also be determined by what other teams are looking for. We know that at least the Dodgers and Mets will probably be fighting over Diaz, maybe the Yankees too. The Braves will be looking on the free agency market as well and might look to reunite with Jansen. Other possible teams looking for a closer can be the Milwaukee Brewers and Philadelphia Phillies.

With a lack of internal options, Hazen has recently said that he might look for reinforcements via trade, although he did not specify that the closer role was one possible target for that.

Now take all this into consideration and then share your thoughts on what the Diamondbacks should and will do.


Would you sign one of these free agents as our 2023 closer?

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