One move cleared up two teams' closer situations Thursday.
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The Mariners signed former Rays closer Fernando Rodney to a two-year, $14 million contract Thursday afternoon, ending weeks of speculation as to where the reliever would land. With Grant Balfour finding a home in Tampa, Rodney represented the last of the bonafide free agent closers still available.
The 36-year-old will immediately step in as the Mariners' closer, supplanting Danny Farquhar. Rodney is coming off two seasons with the Rays in which he saved a combined 85 games, including 48 in his unbelievable 2012 season. Last season, the right-hander struck out 82 batters in 66 2/3 innings but also walked 36. Rodney finished the season with a 3.38 ERA and 1.36 WHIP.
If Rodney falters or gets injured, the 26-year-old Farquhar is a capable fill-in and should be one of the league's better setup men next season. Farquhar had a 79/22 K/BB ratio, 4.20 ERA and 1.19 WHIP over 55 2/3 innings last season. He notched all 16 of his saves after August 1 and looked to be the odds-on favorite for save opportunities this season before the Rodney signing.
Now that Rodney's off the market, the Orioles' closer situation suddenly gets much clearer, too. The O's were one of the teams in the running for Rodney until the end; they're the same team that had an agreement in place with Balfour in December before concerns with his physical caused the team to break it off. They've been searching for help since dealing Jim Johnson to the Athletics for Jemile Weeks.
With the market now dried up -- Kevin Gregg becomes the next best option for teams looking for relief help -- the closer job in Baltimore will be Tommy Hunter's to lose. In his first full season as a reliever, the 27-year-old was a revelation, posting a 2.81 ERA, 0.99 WHIP and 68/14 K/BB ratio in 86 1/3 innings last year. Hunter saved just four games with Johnson holding down the ninth inning, but he collected 21 holds as the Orioles' primary setup man.
After converting to reliever from starter, Hunter saw a notable increase in velocity and, in conjunction, a rise in his strikeout rate as well. Despite the improvements, Hunter's strikeout rate was still pedestrian as far as closers go, and he benefited from an unusually low BABIP against that contributed to his success. Even if he takes another step forward in his ability to miss bats, some luck normalization is in order next season, too.
All that combined means Hunter, barring the unforeseen, should be a passable fantasy option for saves. He'll certainly get his opportunities, but without elite strikeouts his fantasy upside is limited. Still, he should be a decent source of saves and should come relatively cheap as a largely unproven commodity with a name that isn't a household name.
The Braves made headlines when they avoided arbitration in a big way with two of their young stars.
The team signed 24-year-old outfielder Jason Heyward to a two-year, $13.3 million deal on February 4. That deal served as an appetite to the main course served later that day when they signed first baseman Freddie Freeman to an eight-year contract worth $135 million. The deal is the largest in Braves history.
In locking up Freeman, the Braves ensured they'll keep one of the game's best young corner infielders through his prime. The 24-year-old batted .319/.396/.501 with 23 home runs and 109 RBI last year, finishing fifth in National League MVP voting. He'll remain a mainstay in the middle of the Braves' lineup for years to come.
And the Braves weren't the only ones getting business done in the days before spring training. On Thursday, the Orioles avoided arbitration with Matt Wieters, agreeing to a one-year, $7.7 million deal. Newly acquired Mark Trumbo and the Diamondbacks struck a deal as well, agreeing upon a one-year, $4.8 million pact. And the Cubs reached a deal with Darwin Barney for one year and $2.3 million.
Other one-year agreements included backstop A.J. Ellis and the Dodgers agreeing for $3.55 million, the Angels and David Freese settling on $5.05 million, the Tigers and Alex Avila skipping arbitration with a $4.15 million deal and the Royals locking up Aaron Crow for $1.475 million.
Hot Stove Quick Hits: The Diamondbacks, Orioles and Dodgers are the three teams in on free agent Bronson Arroyo. The Diamondbacks are serious enough in their pursuit that they plan to have a meeting with the 36-year-old; the O's are also active in talks. Teams became more receptive to a deal after the right-hander lowered his demands to asking for a two-year deal ... The Astros bolstered their pitching rotation with the addition of Jerome Williams. The two sides agreed to a one-year, $2.1 million deal, and the 32-year-old will join the Astros' rotation ... To make room for Williams, the Astros designated Brett Wallace for assignment. Wallace, a former first-round pick, owns a career .242/.313/.391 line in the majors ... Upon re-signing Bruce Chen, the Royals designated Emilio Bonifacio for assignment. The Orioles have shown some interest in acquiring Bonifacio as a utility player ... Some of the more notable minor league deals signed: Justin Turner with the Dodgers, Kyle Farnsworth with the Mets, Sam Fuld with the Athletics, Bryan LaHair with the Indians and Matt LaPorta with the Orioles ... In the wake of the Fernando Rodney signing, USA Today's Bob Nightengale said the Mariners are "cautiously optimistic" about their chances of signing Nelson Cruz. At this point, the M's may be bidding against themselves for the 33-year-old's services ... Another free agent, Stephen Drew, remains at a standstill. The latest report was that Drew's agent, Scott Boras, was seeking an opt-out clause after the first year of any deal, a remote possibility given that he's tied to draft pick compensation ... Ryan Madson will throw for scouts Friday in his continued attempt to come back from elbow injuries. The Phillies, Red Sox and Royals have shown some interest in Madson this winter ... Another former closer, Carlos Marmol, caught on with the Marlins on a one-year deal. He'll make $1.25 million next season to serve as insurance against a Steve Cishek meltdown ... With Freeman and Heyward locked up, the Braves have turned their attention to pre-arbitration extensions for Andrelton Simmons and Julio Teheran. On the other hand, the team seems poised to go to arbitration with Craig Kimbrel ... After an emergency appendectomy in late January, Mark Appel has resumed exercising. He should be ready for the start of spring training and could make his major league debut sometime in 2014.