Of all the big stories we’re going to deal with this winter, none might be bigger than the fate of Jonathan Broxton, who’s due to make $7m in the second year of a two-year deal. Though I’ve been a regular defender of Broxton, I’d be completely okay with moving him. That has less to do with his performance than it does with my feeling that relievers are generally so replaceable that only the absolute top-tier are worthy of that kind of salary, particularly on a team with well-known payroll issues.
Until June 26, 2010, Broxton was one of those “top-tier” guys, earning every bit of his salary. After that; well, you know. We’ll get back to that in a second. More important for this discussion is, is there really any sort of trade fit this winter? You can stamp your feet all you want and claim “he has to go”, but regardless of whether I agree with that or not it won’t matter if there’s not a destination for him and an adequate return.
Any team that would take Broxton on would have to fulfill four requirements. #1, they’d need to have hopes of contending next year, since bottom-feeders certainly aren’t going to give up assets for a guy entering his walk year. #2, they’d need to have a healthy payroll, in order to fit most or all of Broxton’s salary. #3, they’d need to have something decent to give back, since you can’t just throw away someone who’s been as successful as Broxton’s been for nothing. #4, they’d need to have a need in the bullpen.
It’s hard to find a good fit.
Let’s eliminate the obvious teams who won’t even be in the conversation. Washington, Florida, Houston, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, Arizona, Baltimore, Toronto, Kansas City, Cleveland, & Seattle have little hope of contending next year. The other NL West teams all have set closers, and a trade within the division is unlikely anyway. That’s 15 teams out of the way, and 14 more to get through.
New York – Mariano Rivera is obviously the man there (yes, he’s a free agent, but no chance he leaves), and they’re more likely to spend their money on Cliff Lee, Carl Crawford/Jayson Werth, resigning Derek Jeter, and bolstering a suddenly faltering rotation.
Boston – Already have Jonathan Papelbon and Daniel Bard. Papelbon may hit the market, which would only hurt Broxton’s value.
Tampa Bay – Are about to lose Rafael Soriano, but they’re going to need to cut payroll, not add.
Chicago – The Sox are full of talented bullpen arms, from Bobby Jenks and Matt Thornton to Chris Sale and Sergio Santos. Kenny Williams and Ned Colletti certainly have a history of making deals, and Williams is far from predictable, but their offense is brutal and they have bigger concerns than the bullpen.
Detroit – Here’s our first interesting situation. Jose Valverde is under contract and in no danger of losing his job, but the Tigers have money to spend and are looking for bullpen help. Detroit’s a possibility.
Minnesota – Matt Capps is under team control, Joe Nathan will be trying to come back, and their payroll is already at historic levels for them.
Anaheim – With Brian Fuentes gone, Fernando Rodney is the incumbent, so the Angels could be looking for relief help, but trades between the Dodgers and Angels are extremely rare.
Oakland – Already has a talented bullpen, and generally wouldn’t pay this much for another arm.
Texas – Neftali Feliz just set a rookie record for saves, and each one makes it less likely that he moves back to the rotation. With Lee a free agent, they’ll likely focus more on the starting pitching and first base.
Atlanta – The Braves have several young arms making waves, like Jonny Venters and Craig Kimbrel, and a limited payroll. Their big concern this winter has to be bats, with big holes in the middle of the lineup.
New York – Still on the hook for Francisco Rodriguez, and they’ve got far bigger concerns and payroll issues of their own.
Philadelphia – Brad Lidge and Ryan Madson are under contract for next year, and can you really imagine the Phillies wanting to import Broxton after his history there?
Chicago – Carlos Marmol‘s job is secure, and the Cubs may not have a lot of free cash thanks to their many big-ticket obligations.
Cincinnati – Francisco Cordero is signed for next year, though was less than dominant this year. Aroldis Chapman may or may not return to the rotation. I suppose this is possible.
St. Louis – Ryan Franklin has been waffling on his intentions to retire, but even if he does the Cardinals have to worry about finding the money to pay Albert Pujols and Chris Carpenter, among other needs. (First person to suggestion a Broxton-for-Colby Rasmus deal gets banned from the site forever.)
So Detroit seems like the only real possibility, with lesser cases to be made for Cincinnati and St. Louis. Some teams could use Broxton as a setup man if not a closer, but few will pay $7m for an 8th-inning guy. In addition, the relief market is flush with talent this year, full of arms who may be had for less and didn’t melt down for the last three months. Soriano, Joaquin Benoit, Jon Rauch, Scott Downs, Kevin Gregg, and many others are out there, potentially offering less risk and more value.
Let’s say, for the moment, that Detroit has interest. What kind of deal could be made? I’ve always liked Ryan Raburn, who plays six different positions and can rake. But is a utility man worth a guy who was one of the top closers in baseball up until June? I’m not sure that it is. Otherwise, the Tigers are full of players untouchable (Miguel Cabrera, Justin Verlander), overpaid (Carlos Guillen), or headed into free agency (Brandon Inge, Gerald Laird, Jeremy Bonderman).
From this point of view, a Broxton trade seems unlikely unless the Dodgers eat a good portion of the cash or don’t get much back, and in that case, what’s the point? Besides, it’s not as though the Dodger bullpen isn’t full of their own questions for next season. The only two relievers you can put any faith in are Hong-Chih Kuo and Kenley Jansen, and even then you’re talking about a guy with a fragile arm and a guy who’s been pitching for just over a year. Beyond them, can you depend on Ramon Troncoso? Ronald Belisario? It’s hard to say that you can.
That’s not to say that you can necessarily count on Broxton, either. He was ungodly horrible after June 27, ending a stretch in which he’d been asked to throw 99 pitches in five days. It’s unfair to review his season without noting how incredible he’d been up to that point, however (48/5 K/BB). He claims he’s not hurt, and though his velocity is down, he’s still in the mid-90s. Besides, for anyone who claims that Broxton’s lousy second-half means he’s irreparably damaged… may I remind you of how Chad Billingsley bounced back this year from his terrible finish to 2009? A winter of rest, a better exercise program, and a season away from Joe Torre, could really do wonders here.
Look, if there’s a good deal to be had for Broxton. I’m not against it. I’m just not sure that there is, and he’s too valuable to be given away for mere peanuts.