In 1993, the A’s picked up 31 year old journeyman reliever Billy Taylor as a minor league free agent. Taylor pitched middle relief for the A’s in 1994, was out with an injury for 1995, and was then promoted to the closer role in 1996. Taylor did a serviceable job for 4 years, until his salary gradually went up from $135,000 to $2,500,000.
Then in 1999, Billy Beane traded Taylor and in exchange picked up a young reliever from the Mets named Jason Isringhausen, along with Greg McMichael. It could have been seen as a salary dump: Taylor made $2,500,000 in 1999; Isringhausen made only $475,000. Beane installed Isringhausen, then an unproven entity, as the full time closer in 2000. Isringhausen pitched fairly well for 2000-01.
The A’s let Isringhausen go to free agency in the fall of 2001. In exchange, they got the Cardinals 2002 first round draft pick, and a supplemental 1st round pick.
For their next closer, Oakland obtained Billy Koch on December 7, 2001: Koch was obtained from the Toronto Blue Jays in exchange for Eric Hinske and Justin Miller. Koch gave the A’s an excellent year in 2002.
Billy Koch was traded by the Oakland Athletics, along with Neal Cotts and Daylon Holt, to the Chicago White Sox, in exchange for Keith Foulke, Mark L. Johnson, Joe Valentine, and cash. Foulke had an excellent 2003 season, saving 90% of his games, but costing the A’s $6 million.
The A’s let Keith Foulke become a free agent after 2003. Oakland got a 1st round pick (from Boston) and a sandwich pick between the 1st and 2nd round. One of those picks was a college relief pitcher named Huston Street.
In June 2004, the A’s picked up Octavio Dotel as part of a 3-team trade by the Houston Astros, the Kansas City Royals, and the Oakland Athletics. The Oakland Athletics sent Mike Wood and Mark Teahen to the Kansas City Royals. The Houston Astros sent John Buck and cash to the Kansas City Royals. The Kansas City Royals sent Carlos Beltran to the Houston Astros. Dotel pitched well in 2004, and fell off somewhat in 2005.
After Dotel became a free agent after 2005 season, Oakland got Huston Street, at a major league minimum salary, to take his place. Street has been very good.
For the last 12 years, at a cost of about $2 million per year on average, the A’s closers have maintained a save percentage hovering near 80%.
For what it is worth, over his MLB career, Francisco Cordero has 177 saves in 223 chances, a 79% save rate, with a 3.29 ERA. We will be paying him $11.5 million per year for the next four years.
David Weathers in 2007 saved 33 of 39 games, an 85% save rate, with a 3.59 ERA. Weathers 2007 Salary was only $2,250,000.
The way to win on a limited budget, as has been amply demonstrated by Oakland, and in the book Moneyball, is to not waste money at the closer position. It is simply not worth paying a premium salary to hire a ‘known’ talent. About the time a closer becomes known, he tends to rapidly decline due to age and health issues. He also tends to skyrocket in cost. The way to play the game is to find or develop a younger player, and then trade him or let him go to free agency for draft picks (I realize the new compensation system is less generous). I predict that we will all be looking at the acquisition of Mr. Cordero as ‘Eric Milton II’ in a few years.
2007 Huston Street 16/21 76% 2.88 ERA Salary $ 380,000
Alan Embree 17/21 81% 3.97 ERA Salary $2,356,496
2006 Huston Street 37/48 77% 3.31 ERA Salary $339,625
2005 Huston Street 23/27 85% 1.72 ERA Salary $316,000
Octavio Dotel 7/11' 64% 3.52 ERA Salary $4,750,000
2004 Octavio Dotel 22/28 79% 4.09 ERA Salary $2,800,000 (1/2)
2003 Keith Folke 43/48 90% 2.08 ERA Salary $6,000,000
2002 Billy Koch 44/50 88% 3.27 ERA Salary $2,433,333
2001 Jason Isringhausen 34/43 79% 2.65 ERA Salary $3,300,000
2000 Jason Isringhausen 33/40 83% 3.78 ERA Salary $825,000
1999 Billy Taylor 26/33 79% 3.98 ERA Salary $2,500,000
1998 Billy Taylor 33/37 89% 3.58 ERA Salary $1,100,000
1997 Billy Taylor 23/30 77% 3.82 ERA Salary $575,000
1996 Billy Taylor 17/19 89% 4.33 ERA Salary $135,000