December 2, 2011 at 11:00 am by Ben Duronio under Atlanta Braves
With Heath Bell receiving a three year $27 million deal from the Miami Marlins and Jonathan Papelbon signing for four years and $50 million, there seems to be at least a somewhat an inflated price for late inning relievers. Here is the list of closers still available on the free agent market. Of course, there are certain to be relievers available via the trade market as well.
Juan Olvideo (Formerly Leo Nunez, soon to be non-tendered by the Marlins)
There are also other players who MLB Trade Rumors free agent tracker does not list as closers, but that could be signed as one if a team sees fit, such as David Aardsma or Octavio Dotel. For the most part, these are the guys that will be signed to pitch the ninth inning going forward, with some of them also being placed in set-up roles for teams with already established closers.
And here is the list of teams that could be looking for a closer.
New York Mets
Los Angeles Dodgers
A few of these teams may have players lined up as set-up men that could easily step up into the role of closer, but we all know how teams value “closer experience” and like to at least have a player with said experience on the roster in a set-up role at minimum in case the newly appointed ninth inning man fails. Venters does not fall into this category, but those teams could sign one of the aforementioned closers which would create an opening on another team. Even looking outside of the closer position, many teams have bullpen problems and would be all over a pitcher the quality of Venters to improve their late-inning relief.
Teams do have some options. It is not as if there are twelve teams looking for closers and only three viable candidates, which would drive up the price of those relievers. The available options does not warrant what I consider to be an overpay for the reliever contracts being handed out.
With that said, Jonny Venters could be a solid trade candidate at this point. Just like Jair Jurrjens’ value was at its all time highest in the middle of 2011, Venters value is likely as high as it can get at this point. After two consecutive 80+ inning seasons with an ERA under 2.00, teams would be very attracted to acquiring Venters if he were known to be available.
Now, why should he be traded? There are a number of reasons. One is that Venters has already had Tommy John surgery in his career, so he is literally one wrong elbow snap from no longer having a career in the sport. Recovering from one Tommy John surgery is very common, recovering from two is much less likely.
His 171 innings over two seasons ranks second in the Majors behind Tyler Clippard for relief pitchers, and he is one of only five relievers to throw over 150 innings since 2010. In terms of appearances for relievers, Venters is the league leader over the past two years with 164. He has piled up the innings and appearances, and as most of us know the nickname “Every Day Jonny” has certainly been fitting. Lots of appearances does not necessarily mean Venters will suffer a catastrophic injury, but it raises the odds of one occurring, at least somewhat.
Replacing a pitcher like Venters is no easy task. Fortunately, the Braves are in a solid position to do so. Most would point to Eric O’Flaherty being the guy to step in after his great 2011 season, but with the lack of left-handed relievers it would likely make more sense for Arodys Vizcaino or Kris Medlen to become the de facto eighth inning man. The Braves have a solid group of relievers, and while the production could take a slight hit without Venters, the bullpen would likely still be a strength of the club in 2012 even without him.
With his extremely impressive performance over two seasons, the amazing sinker that has been lauded by so many hitters, the slightly inflated market for late inning relievers, the ample potential in-house replacements, and the amount of appearances he has made over his Major League tenure, it starts to make some sense to trade Venters at his peak value.
A team with little hopes of contending for the playoffs would not be a team that would trade a hefty amount for Venters. Cincinnati, however, does have hopes of contending and could be willing to go after a player like Jonny. They signed Francisco Cordero in 2007 to what was then the biggest deal ever signed by a relief pitcher at four years and $46 million, so they have a propensity for overvaluing the position of closer. Toronto would be another interesting team, as they have stated the free agent market for closers is crazy right now and they could be looking to acquire a pitcher like Venters through trade.
What the return would be is extremely difficult to determine, but moving Venters now could pay dividends in the long run and remove the risk of Venters’ performance declining or an injury occurring under the Braves’ watch, leaving them with an asset that is not quite worth what it once was and that will begin to get expensive after next season.