The Hot Stove season has hit its closer rush. Active saves king Joe Nathan and reigning AL saves leader Jim Johnson have changed teams, while Brian Wilson decided to stay in L.A. for another season as a setup man after talk of a closer's gig elsewhere.
Here's a breakdown of what's been happening on the closer carousel, plus a few of the best names still on the market:
• Nathan is "close" to agreeing to a two-year contract with the Detroit Tigers, a deal first reported by Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal. They were one of the best offseason matches — a veteran free agent with 341 career saves and a team desperately in need of a stable bullpen stopper. Nathan saved 80 games the past two seasons for the Texas Rangers. The deal hasn't yet been finalized and the amount of the contract is still unknown, but it's reportedly for two years.
• With that domino following, Wilson and the Los Angeles Dodgers were next to be "close" on a new contract, a deal first reported by Yahoo Sports' Tim Brown. Wilson, who joined the team midseason in 2013 as a setup man, was said to be looking for a closer's job and was in talks with Detroit. He pitched well for the Dodgers in 2013 coming off Tommy John surgery — 0.66 ERA in 13.2 innings, plus six scoreless innings in the postseason.
• That deal was also helped along by the fact that the Baltimore Orioles traded their closer Jim Johnson — who had back-to-back 50-save seasons — to the Oakland Athletics late Monday night for second baseman Jemile Weeks, a prospect who never quite materialized. The Dodgers were interested in acquiring Johnson, but when he was taken off the board, they were quick to lock up Wilson. The Oakland-Baltimore trade was an interesting one, as it was a cash dump for the Orioles who would have paid Johnson about $10 million this season. Usually, the A's aren't the kind of team that will eat a contract like that, but they are without a closer now that Grant Balfour, their stopper for the past two seasons, is a free agent.
With the league-wide closer picture beginning to take better shape, here are the top three closers still on the market — including Balfour — according to our buddy Jeff Passan and his free-agent tracker (go here for his Top 200):
2. (26) Joaquin Benoit, RP: Closer stuff, closer chops and the sort of changeup that doesn’t age.
3. (29) Fernando Rodney, RP: His 2012 season was among the best ever for relievers, so 2013 was inevitably a letdown. He still throws 100 mph, though, and his changeup is an absolute beast.
4. (31) Grant Balfour, RP: Still has the big fastball. Will be interesting to see how his flyball tendencies play outside of spacious O.Co Coliseum.
Another pitcher with closer experience just hit the market on Monday. That's John Axford, the former Milwaukee Brewers closer, who was non-tendered by the St. Louis Cardinals, the team that acquired him via trade in the middle of 2013.
The Orioles, Chicago Cubs, Cleveland Indians, Houston Astros, Tampa Bay Rays, New York Yankees and Texas Rangers are among the teams potentially in the market for a closer.
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