Padres Position Analysis: Closer


Huston Street is the Padres’ closer for 2012.  That much is known.  But what does that mean for the 2012 season and beyond?  Will the Padres pay Street $9 million for 2013 if he has a solid year for San Diego?  Will they buyout his contract with the money the Rockies sent their way?  Will they be faced with the same off-season search they had this season?

These are the burning questions behind the Street trade.  It’s not a terrible trade – the Padres send a minor leaguer to be named later and assumed Street’s contract for $7.5 million with the Rockies kicking in $500,000 for Street’s 2013 buyout if the Padres do want to buy him out – but I can’t help but think they are making a lateral move from Heath Bell to Huston Street.  Sure, the team didn’t want to sign Bell to a long-term deal.  They didn’t want an aging closer on their books.  However, I’m not sure a one-year rental for $7.5 million helps them out either.

Let’s take a look at Street’s performance in his career:

Year Tm W L W-L% ERA G SV IP H R ER HR BB SO SO/9 SO/BB
2004 OAK-min 1 1 .500 1.38 21 8 26.0 21 4 4 0 8 30 10.4 3.75 MDL,KNC,SAC · TL,MIDW,PCL
2005 OAK 5 1 .833 1.72 67 23 78.1 53 17 15 3 26 72 8.3 2.77
2006 OAK 4 4 .500 3.31 69 37 70.2 64 28 26 4 13 67 8.5 5.15
2007 OAK-min 0 0 0.00 1 0 1.0 1 0 0 0 0 2 18.0 SAC · PCL
2007 OAK 5 2 .714 2.88 48 16 50.0 35 20 16 5 12 63 11.3 5.25
2008 OAK 7 5 .583 3.73 63 18 70.0 58 29 29 6 27 69 8.9 2.56
2009 COL 4 1 .800 3.06 64 35 61.2 43 22 21 7 13 70 10.2 5.38
2010 COL-min 1 1 .500 8.64 9 0 8.1 12 8 8 1 3 11 11.9 3.67 CSP,TUL · PCL,TL
2010 COL 4 4 .500 3.61 44 20 47.1 39 21 19 5 11 45 8.6 4.09
2011 COL-min 0 0 0.00 2 0 2.0 0 0 0 0 0 2 9.0 CSP · PCL
2011 COL 1 4 .200 3.86 62 29 58.1 62 28 25 10 9 55 8.5 6.11
7 Seasons 30 21 .588 3.11 417 178 436.1 354 165 151 40 111 441 9.1 3.97
162 Game Avg. 5 3 .588 3.11 68 29 71 58 27 25 7 18 72 9.1 3.97
OAK (4 yrs) 21 12 .636 2.88 247 94 269.0 210 94 86 18 78 271 9.1 3.47
COL (3 yrs) 9 9 .500 3.50 170 84 167.1 144 71 65 22 33 170 9.1 5.15
AL (4 yrs) 21 12 .636 2.88 247 94 269.0 210 94 86 18 78 271 9.1 3.47
NL (3 yrs) 9 9 .500 3.50 170 84 167.1 144 71 65 22 33 170 9.1 5.15
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 12/7/2011.

Street’s save totals pale in comparison to Bell’s, but Street played his games in Oakland and Denver.  Both are less than pitcher-friendly locations.  His strikeouts per nine innings have fluctuated over the course of his career.  His ERA has been decent, but not great.  Yet, once Street pitches the majority of his innings at Petco Park, I would expect all of his numbers to improve.

So let’s talk about next season.  If Street saves as many games as Heath Bell did last season, the trade becomes a wash essentially.  The Padres will have paid the same amount in 2012 as they did in 2011 for the same amount of saves.  If Street saves more games than Bell, the trade may look like a bargain.  What the Padres and their fans have to weigh is the importance of a save.  If Street saves 45 games next season but the Padres only win 71 again, does Street’s save totals matter?  If Street saves 45 games, the Padres win 90 games, and they win the division by one game, does Street’s save totals matter?  I think it’s clear in the second scenario that Huston Street would have directly contributed to a Padres division title, where as in the first scenario, Street had great individual numbers but they didn’t ultimately help the team.

This is the problem facing teams and their pursuit of closers.  Is it worth it?  After next season, the Padres will have a choice.  They can keep Street and pay him $9 million, or they can buyout his contract for $500,000 and let him walk as a free agent.  Neither option seems to benefit the club very much.  If they keep Street, they will be paying him exactly what Bell will be making with the Marlins and will have spent $16.5 million in two seasons on their closer.  If they let him walk, what was the purpose of the trade in the first place?  The only scenario in which this trade seems to make sense is if the Padres win next season and make the play-offs.

No one seems to think that is going to happen (including the Chicken Friars readers, see the results of our poll here), so the Padres will be faced with finding another new closer after the 2012 season.  It’s hard to predict for 2013, but let’s try.

The team seems to have made its choice and going the internal route is not that choice.  However, if they chose to go internal, Luke Gregerson might be a nice option.  Unfortunately, by the time the Padres are looking to make this decision, Gregerson will be arbitration eligible. We have no idea how good a season Gregerson will have in 2012, but he is likely to see a nice pay increase for the 2013 once he reaches arbitration.

From a minor league standpoint, would the Padres be willing to convert one of their starting pitching prospects to a closer? Would they pull Joseph Weiland to the Majors and shove him in the closer role? It’s unlikely, and beyond that option, they really don’t have a solid go-to guy in the minor league system who could step up and be the full-time closer. So what’s that leave us with?

That leaves us with another year of searching for a closer come Winter Meetings time. That leaves us wondering how much money the Padres are going to commit to their 9th inning guy. Huston Street might be a nice novelty during the 2012 season, but trading for him puts the Padres right back where they were come the end of next year.

 

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Tags: Closers Heath Bell Huston Street Padres