If you’ve been reading my articles since I joined Reviewing the Brew, you probably have figured out that I’m a saber-friendly writer. I don’t care for narratives all that much, because they don’t actually analyze what is going on. I personally don’t believe in the “proven closer” narrative, because its logic is that you aren’t one until you are one. I firmly believe that given an ample sample size that pitchers will pitch no different in the ninth inning than other innings. Many smart organizations (Tampa Bay, Oakland, St. Louis) are not concerned with the “proven closer” idea.
Despite teams moving away from the idea of “proven closers,” there has been a market for them at the trade deadline. There are several reasons for this. First of all, these pitchers are usually good relief pitchers, so they will be in demand for contenders as they look to shore up weaker middle relief. In addition to contenders wanting to acquire these pitchers, sellers are trying to move them. Relief pitchers are extremely volatile, so moving them when value is high is an absolute must, because like we’ve seen with our own relief pitchers over the years (notably Derrick Turnbow and Danny Kolb), the wheels can fall off quick. Also, relief pitchers do not provide a lot of long-term value to a team, so rebuilding teams have no reason not to move them to contending teams for prospects or other forms of controllable talent.
As recently as this past summer the Brewers capitalized on this market inefficiency. After not being wanted anywhere during the past off-season, right-hander Francisco Rodriguez was picked up by the Brewers in the spring. After being dominant in his fairly short stint with Milwaukee, the Brewers were able to acquire prospect third baseman Nick Delmonico. While Delmonico is far from a perfect prospect, acquiring any sort of legitimate prospect for a relief pitcher is a win.
The Brewers are in a position where they may be able to capitalize on this again. They are not in a position to compete, with three teams in the division significantly stronger. Despite not being in a traditional position to be seeking relief pitching, they can buy-low on guys with the “proven closer” identity, and hope for a bounceback in order to increase their trading price in July.
There are a few players still available with the “proven closer” label. Andrew Bailey, Joel Hanrahan, and Ryan Madson are buy-low candidates (with my favorite being Joel Hanrahan). Injuries are obviously a question with both Madson and Bailey, so medicals will have to check out. Don’t forget that Francisco Rodriguez is still a free agent, and it was reported that the Brewers were interested in bringing him back.
The Brewers should not be targeting expensive relief options, because reliever performance is so volatile. If they can acquire a relief pitcher for pennies on the dollar and get lucky with his performance for three months, they should be able to cash in that performance for something more valuable long-term. If they are able to get some luck as a team, and be in the race come July, then they already have a bolstered bullpen.