Josh Hader isn’t the only free agent with extensive closing experience, but he is the best.
Next on that list is Craig Kimbrel, and let’s just say his performance in the NLCS last month didn’t exactly boost his free-agent value. Kimbrel faced 18 Diamondbacks hitters and 10 of them reached base. Four scored, and he got the L in Games 3 and 4. Yikes. Aroldis Chapman was bend-don’t-break OK in the postseason, though he terrified the Rangers and their fans every time he stepped on the mound — he allowed 14 baserunners in 8 innings and had a 5.63 playoff FIP — and at 36 next season he’s more of a setup pitcher.
Jose Alvarado and Hector Neris are coming off outstanding seasons, but neither has run through a full season as a closer. David Robertson has extensive closing experience, but he turns 39 in April and isn’t competing with Hader for multiyear deals. There are other fine relievers on the market, too — Jordan Hicks, Wandy Peralta, Phil Maton, etc. — but none hold a candle to Hader’s value.
So, yeah. Hader is an enviable position. He has a specific skill set, and he’s the only one on the market who can make that claim. Also, there are plenty of teams who need what he brings to the table, and several others that have a strong want, though not quite a need.
Hader’s days as a multi-inning force — he threw 157 innings in 116 appearances in 2018-19 — are gone, but that’s the case with most closers in today’s game. The lefty, who turns 30 in early April, was brilliant for the Padres last year, fashioning a 1.28 ERA, with 85 strikeouts and only 32 hits allowed in 56 1/3 innings over 61 appearances. He had 33 saves in 38 opportunities, bringing his career save total to 165.
In 16 career playoff appearances, Hader has a 1.37 ERA, with 33 strikeouts in 19 2/3 innings. For the Padres in the 2022 postseason he faced 18 batters and allowed only two to reach base, one on a double and one on a walk.
Hader will be in demand this offseason. Let’s take a look the teams that will be interested.
Who will sign free agent closer Josh Hader?
The need: Didn’t they just win the World Series? Yep, they did. But the “success” of the bullpen in late postseason innings at times felt more like smoke and mirrors than pure domination, and the club could use an upgrade as they make a run at a repeat. Add Hader to the ninth-inning mix with Jose Leclerc and that’s a pretty good combo.
The need: No worries if you skipped the intro. I’ll do that myself sometimes, too. But if you read it, you’ll notice two big things Philly-related. First, that NLCS meltdown by Craig Kimbrel, that happened to the Phillies, emphasizing the need for more certainty in that role. Second, Jose Alvarado had his outstanding season wearing a Phillies uniform, and he’s now a free agent. So that’s two key bullpen pieces who could head elsewhere.
The Phillies intend to compete for a World Series title again in 2024, and they’ll need upgrades in the bullpen. Wouldn’t be surprising to see them re-sign Alvarado as a late-innings force again, then sign Hader, too. Or make a trade to address the closer’s role.
The need: We’re a couple weeks into the offseason. Have you noticed how the Yankees have been on pretty much every list of potential destinations for pretty much every free agent? That’s because A) this club has a lot of needs and B) this storied franchise’s current World Series drought is 14 years, tied for the second-longest stretch in franchise history and C) there’s money to be spent.
As with pretty much every free agent out there, though, the Yankees need Hader a lot more than Hader needs the Yankees.
The need: Atlanta’s bullpen is good, not great. Hader would take that up a notch. Atlanta would prefer an elite starter — they were in on Aaron Nola to the end — but fortifying the bullpen isn’t a bad idea, either. It was, after all, a dominating bullpen that was the key to their 2021 World Series title.
The need: The Cubs are looking to make an impact on the roster, somehow. They’d love to sign Ohtani and they’d love to trade for Juan Soto. They’d love to sign Hader, though it’s probably not at the same priority level.
The need: The Dodgers, maybe more so than any other franchise, like to see what opportunities are out there and figure out a way to work those to their advantage. On paper, is a closer their top priority? No, not at all. Would an elite closer make the Dodgers better? Yes, absolutely. There’s plenty of money to spend, and you’d imagine Hader wouldn’t hate going to a team that will challenge the 100-win mark again in 2024 (and 2025 and 2026 and so on).
The need: Same with other contenders on this list, starting pitching is the priority for the Diamondbacks but adding an elite late-inning guy would be a huge boost.
The need: Kenley Jansen did a fine job as Boston’s closer in 2023, converting 29 of 33 save opportunities, with a 3.63 ERA and 10.5 K/9 ratio. But he’s 36 and signed only through the 2024 season, meaning he’s not the long-term closer. Hader could fill that role, while sharing late-inning duties with Jansen in 2024, giving the Red Sox an impressive duo.
The need: Sure, they could use a lights-out guy in the ninth inning to anchor a bullpen with Ryan Helsley and Gio Gallegos. But the Cardinals would be better served spending the kind of money Hader will get on starting pitching. Only way this could happen is if the Cardinals miss on their SP targets and shift to Hader, if he’s still on the market. Not likely.
The need: Hader would fill in quite nicely for Felix Bautista while he’s out for the year after Tommy John surgery, wouldn’t he? And then when Bautista gets back, just imagine that duo shutting down games for the O’s in 2025. Would be hard to beat.
The need: They’d have to overpay, and does Hader want to play for a franchise that’s had so much trouble even getting to .500?
Source : ESPN.com