Always be closing
Nowhere is the Phils current malaise in finding and integrated a new GM more frustrating than in the area of their contract talks. And so, in reading today's report on how the Phils front office is upping their offer to retain the services of one Billy Wagner, esq., closer extrordinaire and media-savvy loose cannon, one can only hope Wagner's inflated sense of self gets the best of him and he walks. Why? Certainly not because Wags isn't one of the elite closers in the baseball -- he is. However, as it was stated very eloquently on another blog, he has become a luxury item the Phils can't really afford (given their current payroll and declining attendence) at a position where they can make a better decision (assuming they CAN make better decisions) about how to fill that need.
To put the Phils' blogoshere's discontent with succumbing to Wags's contract demands in perspective, let's a take a very rudimentary look at the market. Here, listed in order of saves, are the top 20 closers in baseball last year, with their squad, saves, WHIP, and '05 salary next to their names.
Chad Cordero Was 47 // .97 // $346,500
Bob Wickman Cle 45 //1.26 //$2.75 mil
Francisco Rodriguez LAA 45 //1.14 //$440,000
Trevor Hoffman SD 43 //1.11 //$5 mil
Mariano Rivera NYY 43 //.87 //$10.5 mil
Joe Nathan Min 43 //.97 //$2.1 mil
Brad Lidge Hou 42 //1.15 //$500,000
Danys Baez TB 41 //1.33 //$3.75 mil
Todd Jones Fla 40 //1.03 //$1.1 mil
Jason Isringhausen StL 39 //1.19 //$8.25 mil
Derrick Turnbow Mil 39 //1.08 //$322,000
Billy Wagner Phi 38 //.84 //$9 mil
Francisco Cordero Tex 37 //1.32 //$3.875 mil
Eddie Guardado Sea 36 //1.19 //$4 mil
B.J. Ryan Bal 36 //1.14 //$2.6 mil
Dustin Hermanson CWS 34 //1.10 //$2 mil
Ryan Dempster ChC 33 //1.43 //$2 mil
Miguel Batista Tor 31 //1.43 // $4.75 mil
Brian Fuentes Col 31 //1.25 // $328,000
Braden Looper NYM 28 //1.47 //$5.3 mil
As you can see, Wags is already the second highest paid closer in baseball, behind Mariano Rivera and let the record show that for as long as this blog exists, the Yankees shall heretofor never be used as a benchmark for what to pay a player. An argument can made that Rivera has earned his dough through saving the backend of a handful of World Series rings; Wags has done no such thing, whether his fault or not. On the bottom end, the incredibly mediocre Braden Looper further proves the Big Apple's penchent for price inflation. Wags's .87 WHIP was the best of any closer's last year, so in his eyes, as he looks at what Rivera is paid, he has something of a case. If he can get that kind of money out of, say, Boston, more power to him.
However, there are other ways to fill this need. Of the Top 20, there are only 5 closers who made less than $1 mil last year. The Phils certainly don't need to be one of those clubs. On the other hand, there were only 5 closers who made $5 mil or more last year, including the two NY closers previously mentioned. The Phils can't afford to be one of those clubs.
Granted, the thought of having a nearly automatic 9th inning guy seems to negate Wags's price tag in many fans' eyes -- visions of MesaMeltdown, v. 2003, still dance in our heads, as do the '05 squad's combined 17 blown saves. But, who the Phils get to fill this role is the second part of an equation which should start with the determination that this $10 million could be spent more wisely elsewhere and is by most other teams in the majors.
But breaking up is hard to do, I guess.