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Many closers, few takers

Many closers, few takers

Soon after it became clear that Billy Wagner's elbow injury would keep him disabled longer than expected last summer, the Mets began busying themselves with a search for his replacement. Yet internal solutions quickly proved inadequate, and Luis Ayala, among others, proved uneven. The Mets were stuck.

Months later, now knowing that Wagner will miss most, if not all, of next season, the Mets are in the process of finding his successor. And even before the Winter Meetings, it appears almost certain that this search will prove more fruitful than the last.

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Not only are this offseason's free-agent and trade markets stocked with established closers -- including one, Francisco Rodriguez, who set the Major League record for saves in a season -- but few teams are even in the market for a closer. Most of those who are have more other, more pressing needs, and so the Mets, in pursuit of a bullpen makeover, have stumbled upon a rare situation in which supply outweighs demand.

The Indians, Brewers, Rangers, Tigers, Cardinals, Rays and Angels all could use a closer, but most of those teams have also indicated an unwillingness to splurge for the best. Only the Mets, with their deep pockets and pressing needs, seem committed to pursuing the top closers on the market.

That's not to say the Mets won't find competition -- this year's free-agent class is shallow in other areas, and teams might look to shore up their bullpens as a consolation prize. But what's clear is that the Mets are wholly capable of outspending all others to acquire the closer of their choice and just might be willing to do so.

FRANCISCO RODRIGUEZ
Teams interested: Mets, Angels

Latest chatter: Most teams have shown an aversion to the newly crowned saves king this offseason, simply because he will require a richer and longer deal than anyone else on the market. His agent, Paul Kinzer, said recently that Rodriguez is seeking a contract somewhere in the neighborhood of five years and $75 million, though even the Mets balked at that initial estimate. The Angels have made efforts to retain K-Rod and now say they're done; Kinzer insists that a return to Anaheim remains a possibility.

What is he waiting for? An offer. Kinzer hasn't rushed to find a match for his client, waiting to ship K-Rod's medical records until the week of Thanksgiving. He can afford to do so. Even with a glut of closers on the market, Rodriguez still stands out.

He'll sign during Winter Meetings if ... the Mets blow him away. They're the only team that appears willing to do so this early in the offseason -- though with so many options on the market, it's unlikely that even the Mets would rush to sign Rodriguez. Look for him to remain unemployed for at least the next couple of weeks.

BRIAN FUENTES
Teams interested: Mets, Indians, Rays, Cardinals, Angels, Tigers

Latest chatter: The agent for Fuentes, Rick Thurman, is marketing his client as a cheaper alternative to Rodriguez, and Thurman has reportedly opened the bidding at $30 million for three years. Just the fact that Fuentes is available should give the Mets a bargaining chip to drive K-Rod's price lower, though their interest in Fuentes is more than a bluff. There is evidence that they value him just as high, if not higher, than Rodriguez.

What is he waiting for? Thurman is still gauging interest throughout the market, and must determine how serious the Mets are about signing his client. If the Mets land K-Rod in the coming weeks, it would make this situation significantly clearer. If the Angels land K-Rod, then the Mets would almost certainly push harder than ever for Fuentes.

He'll sign during Winter Meetings if ... K-Rod signs with someone other than the Mets. The Mets have indicated quite clearly that they either want one or the other, and if K-Rod heads elsewhere, it would force the Mets to turn to Fuentes.

KERRY WOOD
Teams interested: Indians, Mets, Rangers, Reds

Latest chatter: Wood became a more attractive option after the Cubs, who have indicated no interest in re-signing him, did not offer their former closer arbitration. That means that whichever team signs him -- the Indians or Mets, perhaps -- won't have to forfeit a Draft pick to do so. The Reds are reportedly interested as well, if only because manager Dusty Baker previously managed Wood in Chicago.

What is he waiting for? He's a step below Rodriguez and Fuentes on the free-agent ladder, so those in need can gauge the top of the market before settling on Wood. If K-Rod and Fuentes sign soon, Wood likely won't be too far behind.

He'll sign during Winter Meetings if ... other closers sign, as well. As far as free-agent closers go, Wood is the clear third option and will be treated as such.

TREVOR HOFFMAN
Teams interested: Indians, Dodgers, Brewers, Tigers

Latest chatter: The future Hall of Famer is done in San Diego after 16 seasons, but even at 41 years old, is still plenty capable of helping another team. The Indians, Dodgers, Brewers and Tigers have all indicated interest in Hoffman, who, unlike Wood, could be had for as little as a one-year deal.

What is he waiting for? Someone to make him a top priority. It's no secret that Hoffman no longer ranks among the top closers in the game, which explains why the Mets and Cardinals have steered clear of him this offseason. But if another team steps up and offers Hoffman a fair deal, he's likely to sign.

He'll sign during Winter Meetings if ... a contender offers him a contract. A World Series title means more than dollars do at this point in Hoffman's career, and his next contract should reflect that.

JASON ISRINGHAUSEN
Teams interested: Indians, Cardinals, Tigers

Latest chatter: He may have lost the closer's role and stumbled through injuries last season, but at 36 years old, Isringhausen is on the comeback trail. He's still an injury risk, and it's unlikely that any team would sign him as a closer. But in the right bullpen, he could certainly earn his way back into that role.

What is he waiting for? Someone to gamble. Isringhausen would be a risky acquisition, but still one worth pursuing.

He'll be signed during Winter Meetings if ... the Cardinals offer him a deal to come back, or another team beats them to it. At this stage in his career, Isringhausen can't afford to be picky.

ERIC GAGNE
Teams interested: Indians, Cardinals, Tigers, Brewers

Latest chatter: Another former closer who lost his job last season, Gagne almost certainly won't sign as a closer this winter. But he's still capable of helping out the back end of someone's bullpen.

What is he waiting for? Similar to Isringhausen, Gagne is waiting for any team to take a chance on him.

He'll be signed during Winter Meetings if ... teams pay attention to detail. With so much focus on the top free agents available, one such as Gagne might slip through the cracks.

HUSTON STREET
Teams interested: Mets, Indians, Cardinals, Tigers

Latest chatter: It's a not-so-well-kept secret that the Rockies are shopping Street, the reliever they received in return for Matt Holliday. The Mets are interested, though they've indicated that they'd prefer to use Street as a setup man. And the Indians, too, are interested, especially if free-agent demands remain high.

What is he waiting for? Need to arise. Although Street has given the Rockies a fine bargaining chip, it's difficult for teams to look in that direction with so many closers available on the open market. If the right deal falls into place, the Rockies will do it.

He'll be traded during Winter Meetings if ... the Rockies find a match. With Manuel Corpas in line to close games out at Coors Field, general manager Dan O'Dowd has incentive to swap Street for something more valuable to his club.

J.J. PUTZ
Teams interested: Mets, Indians, Cardinals, Tigers

Latest chatter: The Mariners have reportedly made Putz available on the trade market, and teams are taking the bait. It would be tough not to have interest in one of the game's top closers, though those willing to spend money on K-Rod or Fuentes might prefer to do so, rather than forfeit top prospects in a deal.

What is he waiting for? The Mariners to pull the trigger. Trading Putz is no done deal, and the Mariners might yet decide to keep one of their brightest players.

He'll be traded during Winter Meetings if ... a team is unwilling to break the bank on a closer -- the Indians, Cardinals or Tigers, perhaps -- makes a strong offer. Although the Mariners would like to trade Putz, they certainly don't need to, and won't settle for less than what they think he is worth.

JOSE VALVERDE
Teams interested: Mets, Indians, Cardinals, Tigers

Latest chatter: Although rumors have flown this offseason that Valverde might be traded, it seems more likely now that the Astros will wait. They don't have anyone to step in at closer if Valverde leaves. And with such a strong market of closers, the Astros might be more willing to make him available in July, when demand is higher.

What is he waiting for? The Astros must decide whether or not Valverde is a part of their immediate future. If not, a deal could happen sooner rather than later.

He'll be traded during Winter Meetings if ... someone makes the Astros a strong enough offer to make a trade worthwhile. General manager Ed Wade is under no pressure to trade Valverde, so any offer would have to be a good one.

BOBBY JENKS
Teams interested: Mets, Indians, Cardinals, Tigers, Reds

Latest chatter: Jenks' name has been tossed around in recent rumors regarding outfielder Jermaine Dye, one of the top hitters available on the trade market. The White Sox still might trade Jenks in a separate transaction, but it's becoming increasingly likely that Jenks could leave as part of a package.

What is he waiting for? Clarity on the Dye situation. If the White Sox trade Dye, and Jenks doesn't go along with him, then it might become easier to acquire him.

He'll be traded during Winter Meetings if ... Dye is traded, too. That's the most pressing issue for the White Sox heading into Las Vegas.

GEORGE SHERRILL
Teams interested: Indians, Cardinals, Tigers, Brewers, Rays, Rangers

Latest chatter: One of the players seemingly most likely to be dealt before last season's non-waiver Trade Deadline, Sherrill instead stayed put. Now, with a healthy Chris Ray returning to the bullpen, the Orioles again have reason to trade Sherrill.

What is he waiting for? The right deal. The Orioles are in the same situation as the Astros are with Valverde: they would trade him, but they certainly don't need to.

He'll be traded during Winter Meetings if ... a team, unwilling to spend millions on the free-agent market, decides it would rather spend prospects instead.

MATT CAPPS
Teams interested: Indians, Cardinals, Tigers, Brewers, Rays, Rangers

Latest chatter: The Pirates signed Capps to a two-year deal before last season, which turned out to be a shrewd gamble. Buying out Capps' first year of arbitration, the Pirates kept their closer relatively cheap for one more season. But Capps is in line to earn a significant raise through arbitration next winter, giving the Pirates reason to consider dealing him now.

What is he waiting for? The Pirates must decide whether or not it's worth forfeiting a cheap year of service for the prospects they could receive in return.

He'll be traded during Winter Meetings if ... a team willing to stick with Capps in the future makes a deal. Capps won't be eligible for free agency until after the 2011 season, making him a wise acquisition for any team in need of a closer.

Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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{"content":["winter_meetings" ] }
{"content":["winter_meetings" ] }