One of my favorite gambits in baseball: Downtrodden teams unearthing or producing a reliever that they eventually trade for a prospect or two. I don't know why. There's something so Horatio Alger about it, so self-starting. Take what the world will let you have, polish it up, and sell it for a profit.
The Kansas City Royals have signaled to teams that they are willing to move closer Jonathan Broxton, major league sources told FOXSports.com.
When you go on Rotoworld, they have a blurb that goes with that trade rumor, and this is the picture accompanying it:
D'awwww, and you just want to take the lil' guy home. You can almost hear the Sarah McLachlan song playing in the background. We found him on the side of the road by the Royals. Can we keep him?
Broxton used to be one of the best closers in baseball. He struck out 13.5 hitters for every nine innings he pitched in 2009, and he started out 2010 with even more dominance, striking out 55 and walking seven in his first 38 innings. He was a deserving All-Star. Then he allowed 76 runners over his next 36 innings before missing most of 2011 with elbow surgery. The decline was sudden and complete.
The Royals picked him up over the last offseason. The Royals. Jonathan Broxton. There's a subset of baseball nerd who finds that sort of combination funny. Guilty. It was like incompetence placing a personal ad in a desperate search for inability. A Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan movie that ends with everyone giving up runs.
Except it worked out. It worked out really, really well. You can argue that Broxton's strikeout rate doesn't match up with his ERA, and you'd be right. But for a $4 million gamble, the Royals are sitting pretty with a proven closer (ERA under 2.00!) that they're willing to trade. It will work out well for them, even if teams still don't really trust Broxton yet.
Because there will always be a team that will overpay for relief. Every year. That isn't to say every trade involving a reliever is lopsided. Just that every year, there's a trade that makes you do that whistly thing and say "Wow, good deal for that team. Wilson Ramos for Matt Capps. Two top prospects for Mike Adams. It's still a good idea for non-contenders to hoard potential late-inning arms.
Broxton was a reclamation project, but there are other ways, too. Brett Myers was, at the very least, an innings-eater. If he were a starter and pitched as expected, he'd be a $10 million fourth starter -- not a hot commodity at the deadline. But now he's a closer, and the Astros can move him now. Depending on how much money they eat, they might get a decent prospect back.
Huston Street is a proven closer's proven closer -- perhaps the best closer to never make the All-Star team before this season -- so he doesn't count as a reclamation project. But he was freely available. All you needed was cash and a token prospect. The Padres gave up a 25-year-old pitcher who hadn't made it out of A-ball. And six months later, everyone around them is freaking out, looking for a way to give up a good prospect for a reliever. It was a deft move.
For a contending team, it's so obvious. You need a bullpen. You need a closer. A proven closer. It's easy to recognize that Jason Motte's dominance last October was a big part of the Cardinals' World Series win, The same thing goes for Brian Wilson, Mariano Rivera, Brad Lidge, Jonathan Papelbon … every year, a hot closer turns a good team into a championship team. That brings up the two-part October Closer Theorem:
1. The championship will likely be won or lost through the successes or failures of a closer
2. You don't know which closer
Even Mariano Rivera allowed a triple to Tony Womack. You don't know who the hot closer will be this year. But contending teams have to try. They have to comfort themselves with proven relievers and known quantities if their bullpen is struggling in July. They can't just cycle through internal options, hoping things will work out.
I mean, they can cycle through internal options. And in a lot of cases, they should. But they won't. Doesn't look good.
And that means things are looking up for the Royals, Astros, Padres … heck, maybe even the Twins, if Matt Capps gets back before the deadline. Baseball's an unfair game, but every so often, a team that needs a break can find one when they trade a reliever at the deadline. Six months ago, would you have thought you'd read an article about the burgeoning Jonathan Broxton trade market? Of course not. That's the point.