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Joe Nathan | Minnesota Twins | RP | Free Agent | Taking Less to Close?

Joe Nathan’s agent David Pepe says Nathan is excited about free agency and seeks closer (not setup) job.

After the Twins declined Nathan’s option this week, he will become a free agent this winter. The problem for Nathan owners in keeper leagues is that there will be a number of quality closers joining him on the market: Jonathan Papelbon, Heath Bell, Ryan Madson, and Francisco Rodriguez, in addition to semi-closers like Frank Francisco, Jonathan Broxton, and Brad Lidge, as well as guys like Jose Valverde, Francisco Cordero, Joakim Soria, and Kyle Farnsworth with club options.

In the offseason, there are four types of closers:

  1. The Rafael Soriano type, who will sign as a set-up man if he makes more money
  2. The J.J. Putz type, who will turn down more money or more years for a chance to close
  3. The K-Rod circa-2009 type, who is good enough to receive both money and a job closing
  4. The Chad Qualls type, who is unable to find a job closing no matter what

The Soriano types can be true heartbreakers for keeper league owners, while the Putz types are beloved for remaining slaves to the saves. Luckily for Nathan owners, he falls into the Putz category. That’s not to say he won’t accidentally slip into the Qualls category given the rest of the options on the market, but a closer with express interest in closing is always a good thing for fantasy owners. Nathan posted a 4.84 ERA this past season, but his peripherals were excellent, and the poor ERA was a result of an uncharacteristically low Left On Base Percentage (64 percent when it hasn’t been below 75 percent since 2000, when he was terrible all around) and a career high HR/FB. Nathan’s velocity returned to the 93 mph level after coming off the disabled list at the end of June, but it’s a little worrisome that it plummeted over his last few appearances of the season. It could have just been fatigue in his first season pitching since 2009, but it’s something to keep an eye on in spring training.

It seems likely that the Twins will pursue an external option to close, but if they decide to skimp and go internally, Glen Perkins would be the favorite.
Potential Value Change: Gain for Joe Nathan; Gain for Glen Perkins

Marco Scutaro | Boston Red Sox | SS | Team Option | Picking Up the Option?

[Red Sox GM Ben] Cherington believes Marco Scutaro would be "very coveted" this offseason if he got onto the market. The Red Sox have a $6MM option for Scutaro that they'll likely pick up this offseason ($3MM player option, $1.5MM buyout).

With such a thin class of free-agent shortstops this winter, new Red Sox GM Ben Cherington is right that Scutaro would likely be “very coveted.” Indeed, Scutaro would probably receive offers to start at shortstop for someone. Unfortunately for Scutaro owners, the Sox recognize his value and will likely keep him on for another year while prospect Jose Iglesias continues to develop. This is bad news because, while he’ll have good teammates in Boston, he won’t draw everyday starts. The team would certainly like Jed Lowrie to be a part of their future plans, but he’s proven unreliable in staying healthy, which makes Scutaro a necessity given his reasonable option. Whenever Lowrie is healthy, though, he’ll draw some starts in place of Scutaro.
Potential Value Change: Loss for Marco Scutaro; Loss for Jed Lowrie

Roy Oswalt | Philadelphia Phillies | SP | Free Agent | Target for Rockies?

Rox will be eyeing trade for starter. Or short-term deal. That's why Oswalt makes sense if he has open mind about Colorado.

With the Phillies declining Oswalt’s $16 million option for 2012, he’ll be free to negotiate with any club following the conclusion of the World Series. This rumor sounds more like speculation by a beat writer than anything else, but it’s certainly possible that Oswalt winds up in Colorado.

While your initial impression might be that leaving the Phillies would be bad for Oswalt no matter where he goes, keep in mind that the Phillies ranked just 13th in baseball in runs scored last season. With Jimmy Rollins a free agent, Ryan Howard potentially out for a good chunk of the year, and Chase Utley no longer really Chase Utley, the Phillies’ offense may not be as good as most give it credit for. Additionally, Philadelphia was roughly average defensively and had a slightly above-average bullpen. Yes, they’re the Phillies, but they’re not the NL All-Stars.

That said, Colorado would not be the best place for Oswalt. Inflating home runs by 19 percent, Coors Field is one of the three most extreme parks in baseball in this regard—no surprise. But what many people don’t realize is that Coors Field is also the second-worst park in baseball for strikeouts, deflating them by eight percent. Throw in neutral walks and a four percent bump to hits, and you’re looking at one of, if not the worst park in baseball for a pitcher.

Additionally, PADE ranked the Rockies as the second-worst defensive team in baseball in 2011 (though it should be noted that UZR thinks they were merely below average). What Colorado offers is a top-notch offense that ranked in the top three in the National League in run-scoring over the past three seasons. That’s not enough to offset the ratio losses Oswalt would sustain, but at least it’s something.
Potential Value Change: Loss for Roy Oswalt

CC Sabathia | New York Yankees | SP | Player Option, Likely to be Declined | Returning to the Bronx?

If he does [opt out], the Yankees will be the favorites to re-sign him, but until the 31-year-old lefty opts out, the team has exclusive negotiating rights with their ace…

The Yankees are believed to be OK with a five- or six-year deal for an obvious raise over his current $23 million a year. Yet seven or eight years is something they want to avoid because of age, workload, and Sabathia gaining weight across the second half of last season.

I had a request to look at Sabathia last week, and with the news that the Yankees are devising a way to keep him around, now seems like a good time to talk about him. Sabathia has four years left on his contract, but with a thin free-agent class, he’s likely to exercise an option that lets him out of the deal, freeing him up to negotiate a new, longer one. The Yankees want him back, and it seems likely that they’ll ultimately agree to something. I have a hard time seeing any team giving Sabathia, who will turn 32 this season, a seven-year deal, and the Yanks may give him six years. Teams are more reluctant than they once were to hand out lengthy deals to aging starters—especially ones who weigh 300 pounds and put additional weight on heading into free agency. Talk of the negotiations and speculation as to what will happen are bound to be all over the New York papers for the next week, but I think in the end, he’ll be back with New York.
Potential Value Change: No Change for CC Sabathia

Jim Thome | Cleveland Indians | DH | Free Agent | Playing Another Year?

"I'll keep playing," said Thome… "I just need teams to call me. I can't go play in the backyard by myself. I don't know the demand for a 41-year-old DH, but my passion is I want to continue to play."

I think Thome is a very undervalued fantasy commodity and can have a lot of value for AL-only league owners. BP’s Player Forecast Manager thought he was worth $6.51 this past season despite a large drop-off in power and having accrued just 324 plate appearances. That’s obviously not star-worthy, but it has value, and it’s good to see that Thome wants to continue playing. It’s unlikely he’ll stay healthy for a full season again, but he still has the goods to DH whenever he is healthy. I like Thome for a bit of a power bounceback, and I think I’d take the over on 20 home runs next season, especially he can stay off the DL a bit more than he did in 2011; that would make him worth double-digits in AL-only leagues. Thome has even more value in daily leagues where you can bench him on days when he’s sitting with a nagging injury or against a tough lefty.
Potential Value Change: Big Gain for Jim Thome  

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Have there been closers other than Rafael Soriano to get offered more money to set up than close? That struck me as a very unique circumstance.
Soriano's situation was unique because it was the Yankees, he was the best closer on the market, and he got a LOT of money. It's not that unusual, though, for more fringy closers to have the option of a little more money or an extra year as a setup man or to close for less money with a smaller market team. J.J. Putz was a good example of this last off-season, as he wanted to close and settled for less in Arizona. It's a smart strategy for smaller market teams, actually. There's a lot of prestige associated with the ninth inning, and by letting a guy pitch there, they may have the opportunity to acquire a better talent for less money simply because there are only so many closing jobs to go around.
Where are you getting the ball stats you were using re. Oswalt? "Coor inflates HR by 19%"
My own set of park factors.
Is there any reason why BP does not provide park factors? Always been a mystery to me..
With closers i have always taken the idea of don't pay for saves. I will try and draft them later or pick up the unexpected guys early. Who would you say are real keepers as a closer.
It really depends on your league's specifics. How deep is the league? How your keeper system work? How do in-season pickups work? Closers are a very tricky subject, and there's no blanket answer. In some leagues none are keepable. In others a lot are.

You might be interested to read this series on the value of closers I wrote this season at the site for the CardRunners expert league. Here's the link to the final article, which links to the rest of the series.
Will your formula be used for save projections in next year's PECOTA? Do you have a similar study on predicting pitcher wins and losses?