One of the possible trade chips the Seattle Mariners have headed toward the winter meetings is first-year closer Brandon League, although getting much in return may be tough in a market still strewn with ninth-inning specialists.
The Florida Marlins have signed free agent Heath Bell to a three year deal for $27 million and incentives - making Bell the fourth closer this winter to sign with a new team. In a free agent market that's been slow to develop, Jonathon Papelbon (Phillies), Jon Broxton (Royals) and Joe Nathan (Rangers) have all agreed to new contrracts.
And there are still more closers available: Frank Francisco, Matt Capps, Francisco Cordero, Ryan Madson and Francisco Rodriguez remain on the market, where a team looking for late-innnig relief can get one for cash and not give up players.
League, 28, closed last year for the first time in his career, going 1-5 with 37 saves and a 2.79 earned run average in Seattle. It was a fine season for a bad team, and he was paid $2.25 million. Now he's arbitration-eligible, and will have to be paid as a closer, which means a considerable jump in salary.
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So trading him for a solid return makes sense, financially. But what's the market?
The Mets, Blue Jays, Twins, Red Sox, Reds and Padres are all looking for closers. Doing the math, that's six teams shopping and at least five free agent closers still on the market.
If Jack Zduriencik is going to move League, he's going to have to make him look more attractive than what's available elsewhere and still come away with something of value for 2012. In a sense, that would be like trying to trade first baseman Justin Smoak before Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder sign.
What's the best matchup for Seattle and League? The Mets may not want anything to do with Jack Z. after the J.J. Putz deal of 2008 and the Blue Jays had League and didn't see him as a closer before trading him to the Mariners before the 2010 season. If the Twins believe they can get League and keep his salary in a middle range for closers, they might be the most interested.
And throw this on the hot stove and see if it sizzles: League to Cincinnati for first baseman Yonder Alfonso?
Then all Seattle would have to do is figure out who would close for them in 2012.
It's why League is a chip who may not get played this off-season.