Riding the Closer Carousel: Next Up, Joaquin Benoit


Is Joaquin Benoit the Answer?

The search for the next closer of the Cleveland Indians is turning into one of the most dynamic thrill rides we have ever seen. OK, so maybe that’s going a bit far. It hasn’t really been all that exciting. However, the twists and turns we are encountering as they try to figure out who will finish off games in the ninth inning has been anything but uneventful.

As outlined yesterday while reviewing the possibility of signing John Axford, the Indians have been linked to a number of different candidates. It should come as no surprise then that yet another name is being tossed into the ring by the Indians. Today, the hot name we should all be  on the lookout for is former Tigers closer, Joaquin Benoit.

Oct 12, 2013; Boston, MA, USA; Detroit Tigers pitcher Joaquin Benoit (53) wipes his forehead during the ninth inning in game one of the American League Championship Series baseball game against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. The Detroit Tigers won 1-0. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Yesterday afternoon, multiple sources were reporting that the Indians were all in on Joaquin Benoit. They weren’t alone, though. The San Diego Padres also have interest in Benoits services and as of 5 pm eastern time, they were believed to be the leaders in the Joaquin Benoit sweepstakes. Details of the proposed deals have not been released, but many expert insiders believe that both teams are putting up somewhere around $14-million or more over two years.

The differentiating factor between the two deals is believed to be the number of years. Many believe that the Indians are willing to commit two years to Benoit. Meanwhile, the Padres may have an option on the table for year three. It’s a bold move for a player who will be 39-years-old by the end of such a deal. But, if the Padres are serious about acquiring his services, that extra year may be what it takes. At his age, Benoit will want as many potential years of guaranteed money that he can get his hands on.

That said, how would the signing of Joaquin Benoit fit within the Indians plan both on the field and financially?

Let’s first take a look at the monetary aspect of this equation. If we believe the Indians have offered Benoit two years and around $14-million, that could be considered a fair deal given his skill set and the role in which he would be expected to fill. In three of the past four seasons, Benoit has been worth around 1.5 fWAR. With the cost of a win projected to be somewhere around $7-million, the $14-million two-year deal the Indians are rumored to have offered would seem reasonable. Again, this is further proof that the Indians will not overspend.

Then there is the part of this that really matters – Benoit’s performance on the mound. Over the past three seasons with the Tigers, he has served primarily as a set-up man. It was a role he filled admirably, posting an ERA of 3.34 for 2011 and 2012 while striking out exactly 10 batters per nine innings of work with a smattering of save opportunities thrown in. However, it wasn’t until 2013 that Benoit became the Tigers primary closer and even then it took at least three months of failed experiments before the decision was finally made.

As the Tigers closer in the second half of 2013, Joaquin Benoit was nearly unhittable. He closed out 24 games in 26 chances and posted a 2.08 ERA after taking over the gig full-time. At the age of 36-years-old, he managed to turn in one of the finest seasons of his career. The question is, can he keep up with that level of performance for another two years? Regression is bound to happen given his age and the fact that relievers are a fickle bunch.

One thing working in the Indians favor, though, are the young arms they already have in their bullpen to serve as insurance in the event that Benoit either got hurt or fell off a cliff from a performance standpoint. Both Bryan Shaw and Cody Allen are probably more than capable of taking over the role, but why prematurely inflate their value for arbitration by piling up saves? With Benoit in the mix, those two could continue to develop until the time is right to install one of them as closer.

In the meantime, Joaquin Benoit would act as a serviceable stopgap. With his combination of historical performance, veteran know how, and financial investment, signing Benoit would appear to be a no-brainer. Now it’s just a matter of having him sign on the dotted line, a proposition that to this point has been easier said than done for the Indians this offseason.