Ferguson: Do the Toronto Blue Jays need a closer?

Scott Ferguson
12/28/2012 10:51:25 AM
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Writing this, I feel like a little kid who got everything he wanted for his birthday and then asks for something else the next day. Toronto Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos has already had a career-defining off-season that could one day be a major building block to putting him in the Hall of Fame.
Still I wonder if the Blue Jays need a closer. This is not a knock on Casey Janssen. He did an incredible job last season, coverting 22 of 25 opportunities after Sergio Santos got hurt and Francisco Cordero showed he just didn't have it anymore.
Consider though, the division the Jays play in and the other closers in the East. Baltimore's Jim Johnson is coming off an incredible 51-save campaign and was a big factor in all the Orioles one-run and extra-inning victories.
Fernando Rodney was just as good, if not better, and chalked up an unbelievable ERA of 0.60. Boston just traded with the Pirates to get righthander Joel Hanrahan, who has racked up 76 saves over the last two seasons at Pittsburgh. Then you have the Yankees with Mariano Rivera, the greatest closer of all-time, albeit over 40 and coming off knee surgery.
Janssen has just 31 career saves. At 31, he may just be coming into his own as a short reliever and he simply may have just been the guy who had to get the saves on a 73-win club. Casey also underwent what was termed to be relatively minor surgery on  his shoulder to alleviate some soreness in the AC joint back in November. Previously, he has had surgery for a torn labrum.
The Jays also have Santos coming back, but with the shoulder issues he had, you never know how long it will take for a pitcher to regain his form.
There are still options on the free agent market. Giants eccentric closer Brian Wilson, the Tigers' Jose Valverde, who went from great to just average to a post-season disappointment in the span of two seasons, and finally Rafael Soriano, who did such an incredible job filling in for Rivera with the Yankees last season.
Soriano would appear to be the best option. He's had two great seasons in his career, a 45-save effort in 2010 with the Rays and 42 saves last season with the Yankees. His determination to be a closer led him to opt out of the final year of his three-year, $35 million pact with the Yanks.
The 33-year-old righthander may have misread the market a bit or maybe teams believe the price tag would be too much for a closer approaching his mid-30's. In any event, trying to sign him would serve two purposes. It would give the Blue Jays a more proven closer and would keep him out of the hands of teams such as the Yankees and Tigers, who figure to be competing with them for post-season berths.
Janssen is clearly the more economic choice. He will be making $3.9 million in 2013 and has a club option for 2014. Soriano would have to be looking for at least three years and $36-to-40 million.
Remember, the Blue Jays have been down this road before. In 2005, they signed lefty B.J Ryan to a five-year contract worth $47 million, at the time the largest contract ever for a closer.
Though not a total bust, the contract didn't quite work out for the Jays. Though he saved 75 games over parts of four seasons, Ryan ultimately needed "Tommy John" surgery on his left elbow and was finally released with over a year left on his contract and about $15 million owing on the deal. He tried to catch on with the Cubs, but never really made it back to the Majors.
So yes, it would be a risk for the Jays to go after a Rafael Soriano at that kind of price, but as close as the Jays appear to be to becoming a World Series favourite, it just might be worth it.

A long-time member of the baseball beat, Scott Ferguson covers the Blue Jays for TSN Radio 1050 in Toronto. His baseball blog appears on during the season.

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