NATIONAL HARBOR, Md.
Show of hands. Who predicted Mark Melancon would break Mariano Rivera’s record for the highest average annual value for a closer?
Right. No one did. Because the idea seemed preposterous until Monday, when the Giants reportedly agreed on a four-year, $62-million contract with Melancon.
That alone would have been enough to bump Rivera, edging his $15-million mark by $500,000. But wait, there’s more.
Apparently, according to Yahoo Sports, Melancon actually gets $17 million for the first two seasons before he can opt out, leaving Rivera in the dust. And Melancon figured to be No. 3 among the Big Three available this offseason, behind Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen.
Crazy times, but not all that difficult to see coming. Way back in 2012, Francisco Rodriguez was closing fast on a $17.5-million vesting option with the Mets before Sandy Alderson, desperate to escape that killer clause, traded him to the Brewers only minutes after the All-Star Game ended. If K-Rod had been able to finish 21 more games in Flushing, the Mets would be remembered as the market-setter for closers, and four years ahead of the Giants.
As a GM who planned to steer clear of the high-end closer derby this winter, Alderson joked about that Monday in the wake of Melancon’s new deal. Not that the Mets couldn’t use some back-end bullpen help with Jeurys Familia all but certain to be suspended for his domestic-violence arrest. But after giving $110 million to Yoenis Cespedes and another $17.2 million to Neil Walker, there’s almost zero left for relief help, other than whatever Alderson might be able to scrape up in a swap for either Jay Bruce or Curtis Granderson.
That explains why Alderson is so willing to push one of his young starters — such as Robert Gsellman, Seth Lugo or even Zack Wheeler — into a bullpen role, at least until Familia is free to return. “I think it reinforces, by and large, that you need to build a bullpen from within,” he said.
Unless, of course, you have the money allocated for such a purpose, which seems to be the case for Alderson’s buddy across town, Brian Cashman. With both the Yankees and Dodgers gunning for either Chapman or Jansen, it’s a safe bet that Melancon’s record will be short-lived. With the winter meetings scheduled to wrap Thursday morning, it might not survive the next 72 hours.
All Cashman has done so far is give Matt Holliday a one-year deal for $13 million, which is petty cash by the Yankees’ standards, and he hasn’t been shy about wanting Chapman back, almost from the moment he dealt him to the Cubs for uber-prospect Gleyber Torres last July.
More often, GMs tend to couch their interest in a free agent rather than gush over a top target. Cashman, however, probably realizes that’s pointless at this stage. Why pretend? Chapman is looking for a record deal, and the Yankees have the financial might to make it happen. The fit is too obvious.
“I’m not sure how it’s going to play out,” Cashman said. “We’re going to compete to a certain extent.”
Cashman mentioned that he’s touched base with others, such as Jansen and Greg Holland, and that he also talked with Melancon’s camp before he went to the Giants. But Chapman should be considered less of a gamble because he’s already proved that he can succeed in the Bronx, even while pitching under the microscope of his return from a 30-game suspension stemming from domestic-violence allegations. Chapman was pretty much a model Yankee after the controversial trade, and while that doesn’t erase the darker events from his past, it can make Cashman more comfortable with a huge financial commitment.
The Dodgers’ familiarity with Jansen — as well as their own deep pockets — could lead to a reunion in L.A. when all this free-agent posturing is over, unless the Marlins truly are a legitimate threat.
In the meantime, Melancon can enjoy his moment. His $62-million package also jumped Jonathan Papelbon, whose four-year, $50-million deal previously had set the bar for closers in total payout. Like his AAV record, Melanson’s record for total package won’t last very long. Now it’s just a matter of how high the Yankees plan to go with Chapman, and for how many years.