A good closer can make or break a team, as they can often shut down late inning opponent rallies. After the top of the rotation starter, closers are often the best pitcher on the team.
The pairing between an ace at the front of the rotation, and a dominant shut down man can often mean a nearly guaranteed win every five games.
Last year, Everett Weisensel (Battle Creek) and Adam Fitzpatrick (Seattle) were the top closers, earning the postseason awards, even though they were on teams that had limited success through the season. They stood alone, head and shoulders, as the best in their role, even though their teams couldn’t find playoff success, or in the case of Battle Creek, even make it to the postseason.
There are three free agent closers on the market this offseason, let’s take a look at where they rank and how they can help the teams that are in the market for a shut down guy.
2017: 1-3, 15 SV, 3.55 ERA, 33.0 IP, 56 K, 1.21 WHIP
Career: 6-12, 73 SV, 2.23 ERA, 141.0 IP, 209 K, 1.05 WHIP
2017 Salary: $4.2 million
Kremer last played for Jacksonville, and had managed to earn 15 saves in 29 appearances before suffering a blown elbow ligament at the end of July in a game against the Dallas Deputies.
After it became clear that he would not be available to help the organization for more than a year while he recovered, and being in an exclusive year-to-year contract situation with the club, he was not offered arbitration and as a result became a free agent, with 10 months left of recovery time.
While Kremer is unlikely to be of use to any other teams until the very end of 2018, he is still considered the dominant closer in the league, and with Jacksonville he pair well with Ricky Rodriguez and the other top starters on that rotation.
With a career save percentage of .890, and a year-long streak of 24 saves spanning August 2014 to August 2015, he is considered the top of the class. When he mixes his near-perfect changeup pitch into his 95 mph pin-point fastball, and 12-6 curve, he is very challenging to hit off.
His injury and recovery shouldn’t put a lot of teams off, either. Only two closers in the Bull League are younger than the 27-year-old Kremer (Arizona’s Jaylen Carlier and Rimouski’s Marc Garland, both 26). He is one of just a handful of left-handed closers, the others being Carlier again, Anchorage’s Cyril Lefevre, Detroit’s Danny Hooten, Dallas’ Nate Weil, and Denver’s Nick MacLellan. He is a rare commodity who is young enough to recover and be useful to a team for years to come.
The major drawback of signing Kremer will be his demand, which is north of $10 million per year. While we don’t see him being signed before the 2018 season starts, the question will be which team will take him first?
Montreal needs a closer, though they have a handful of decent bullpen arms that could fill the role. But none will fill it as well as Kremer, and the Metros have historically relied on dominating pitching to win games and reach the postseason.
Denver may want to upgrade from MacLellan, and could afford Kremer easily. MacLellan is up for free agency at the end of 2018 and if Kremer is still on the market, the Danger could make a move for him.
The Kingston Cannons are currently using Bill Paradis, who has great velocity but no control and has been described by some teammates as “like frozen molasses” when it comes to hustle. He is under exclusive team control until 2022, and the Cannons likely won’t have budget for a Kremer until after 2019 anyway, so they are unlikely to bid.
The New York Dragons are a contending team with a desperate need for a closer, unless the streaky Manny ‘Skip’ Meza somehow turns his ship around and improves. Few teams can tolerate a closer with an ERA north of 4.00 for very long, as the risk of late inning runs against will negate any value they have in the closer role.
Finally, the Toronto Nomads would see a major improvement pairing a Kremer with a rotation that includes Knuckles Malone, Alex Medina, and in a few years, prospects like Jim Torelli and Frits Ritmeester. But they cannot afford the price of admission for a Kremer, having invested too heavily in salaries for those top of the line starters.
Kremer may end up sitting on the free agent list until very late in 2018, and by then the landscape may have changed dramatically. But one thing is for sure, once healthy again, whatever team picks him up will see a big improvement.
2017: 0-4, 19 SV, 2.56 ERA, 45.2 IP, 62 K, 1.05 WHIP
Career: 14-17, 111 SV, 2.89 ERA, 330.0 IP, 392 K, 1.22 WHIP
2017 Salary: $12.1 million
Although he has bounced around the league these past few seasons, most recently with the Dallas Deputies, before that San Diego (now Anchorage), and Battle Creek before that, Courteau is without question one of the elite level pitchers in the league, and when paired with the right support, another intimidating and dominant closer.
His fastball pierces the 99 mph mark, and his splitter drops off the table at such speed that batters had no time to react. He is consistently above 10 K’s per 9 innings, virtually guaranteeing at least one strikeout in every last inning appearance, an ideal characteristic for a closer.
At 31-years-old, and with ten years of pitching under his belt at the top level, Courteau is a batter’s nightmare. His longest saves streak spanned four seasons, with 40 saves notched before he faltered. And, he has never lost a day of service due to injury, showing a remarkable resiliency and durability that many teams would salivate to put into their bullpen.
Courteau’s price of admission is over the $10 million mark, and he makes an attractive alternative to Kremer especially because he is available right now.
2017: 4-6, 20 SV, 3.11 ERA, 55.0 IP, 58 K, 0.96 WHIP
Career: 23-26, 126 SV, 3.26 ERA, 273.1 IP, 268 K, 1.19 WHIP
2017 Salary: $1.36 million
Niceley last played for the Montreal Metros, where he was an economical and effective closer in low-risk, low-leverage situations. His main issue has been inconsistency, going from a Woodchuck Trophy-winning 2016 season that saw his ERA fall to 0.92, and a solid opponent BABIP of just .253, then crashing the next season to his most recent 3.11 ERA, and a save percentage under .700.
Still, he is young enough at 30 to represent a good value in the closer role, as he brings a lot to the table. His cutter rips in at 97 mph and his slider is effective, especially against right-handed batters, who hit just .206 against him last season.
He knows he can play a valuable role, and has upped his ask for 2018 to the $10 million range, on par with the likes of Courteau and Kremer. And while he may not produce the same results as either of those pitchers, he is certainly worth a look by any team that already has effective defensive options in late innings, and can weather his inconsistencies.
He may never hit a 40 game save streak, but he will keep the bases cleared as well as any pitcher and as a bonus, has the postseason chops to keep contending teams confident in the playoffs.