The three-year extension the Reds negotiated with Sean Marshall made brilliant business sense. The organization had lived through its four-year, $48 million contract with CoCo Cordero and rightly arrived at the conclusion that a team with an $80 million payroll can’t afford to pay $12 million to a closer.
Their crafty solution was to evaluate the league’s elite set-up relievers, identify one with an excellent chance at becoming an effective closer, then sign that pitcher to a long-term contract before he actually took on the role full-time. The salary could be in-between that of a proven, top-shelf closer and a set-up man.
The trade and extension of Marshall perfectly executed that forward-looking strategy. It locked a dominant pitcher up for four years at under $5 million/year — less than half the going rate for established closers.
Jocketty’s version of the ‘Marshall Plan’ was just as clever as George C. Marshall’s idea to rebuild Europe after World War II.
Ryan Madson falling into Jocketty’s lap would have postponed the Marshall Plan for a year, with Marshall assuming ninth-inning duties in 2013. When Madson was diagnosed with a season-ending injury last Saturday, the distress was partly tempered by the recognition of most observers that the Reds were relatively well situated to cope.
But not so obvious to Dusty Baker.
Yesterday, John Fay reported an exchange with Baker about the team’s closer role. The manager’s response — and explanation — was startling:
“Your closer ideally can go three or four days in a row. That’s how closing goes. Then he might not get work for a week. There are very few guys out there that have gone three, four, five days in a row. I was told that with (Sean) Marshall, you’ve got to try to stay away from him going three days in a row. So it might have to be that famous by committee, which I hate. Hopefully, someone will emerge.”
Hopefully someone will emerge? How about the reliever the GM just extended for $16.5 million?
Is it really possible that Jocketty negotiated the trade and extension for Marshall without knowing the lefty can’t pitch three games in a row? Or is this yet another troubling case of Dusty Baker and Walt Jocketty being on different wavelengths?
(It’s eerily reminiscent of Jocketty saying before spring training last year that Edgar Renteria was signed to play all around the infield, including third and first base, only to have Baker say in Goodyear that Renteria wasn’t suited to play third.)
Plainly, Baker’s statement to Fay is impossible to reconcile with Jocketty’s present-day Marshall Plan.
Part of the confusing context is the manager’s uncommon view of how to use a closer. Baker’s pattern for the ninth inning is among the most extreme in the history of major league baseball when it comes to using only one pitcher to earn saves. Chris Jaffe’s fantastic book Evaluating Baseball’s Managers 1876-2008 documents Baker’s severe tendency in this regard:
Only five teams in baseball history with more than 15 saves had one reliever record all of them; Dusty Baker managed three: Rod Beck with the 1996 Giants, Robb Nen with the 2002 Giants, and Francisco Cordero with the 2008 Reds.
If Sean Marshall truly can’t be used on a third consecutive day, designating either Nick Masset or Jose Arredondo to step in on those rare occasions is not the dreaded “committee.” It’s basically standard operating procedure for almost every major league manager.
Let’s hope this is simply a case where Baker wants to control information for a while or seem like he’s at the center of a decision.
Because if Sean Marshall really won’t ever be used as the Reds closer, then the savvy Marshall Plan becomes a costly luxury for the organization, much like Cordero’s contract.