Darn. And I had already saved up almost all the cash it would have taken for a Silverado, the apparent going rate to speak with Keith Foulke. From Johnny Cougar to Johnny from Burger King.
It was certainly no surprise that the Red Sox declined to pick up the $7.5 million option for 2007 on Foulke's contract yesterday, especially following a period of two years in which he went from World Series hero to an underachieving, cantankerous enigma.
Since his dominant 32-save season in 2004, Foulke never really got things back in order, as physical ailments and personal conflicts contributed to him saving just 15 more games over two seasons (all in 2005).
Along the way, he went from a guy who might never have to pay for a meal in this town, to one restaurateurs probably wondered how they could overcharge and get away with it. He dissed blue collar workers, referring to fans who dared to boo him after another poor performance as "Johnny from Burger King." He made a fool of himself when he insisted he went to Alabama on an off-day for BBQ, when it turns out he was visiting Dr. James Andrews’ clinic. He professed his distaste for the game of baseball, the same game that bestowed him with upwards of $8 million a year, calling it, "boring." He shied away from the press in 2005, despite doing a weekly radio bit, for which he received a free truck from a sponsor, once barking to an inquisitive reporter, "If you give me a free truck, I'll talk to you more." He even got involved in the it-couldn't-get-any-more-ridiculous Doug Mientkiewicz ball dispute by insisting he was the rightful owner, thus making the inane controversy even more preposterous.
Keith Foulke wanted you to leave him alone. And you might now have that chance.
There's the possibility that Foulke will be back with the Sox by Friday, choosing to pick up his $3.75 million player option, but this might actually be one situation where the player realizes that it's best for both parties to go their separate ways. Foulke is quite obviously miserable in Boston, where a salivating fan base and gossip columns with no Hollywood glitter to dedicate their time to know his every move, making life difficult for even the most attention-seeking athlete. If the possibility exists that he could squeeze a similar contract out of the likes of Arizona or Texas, he'd likely jump at that option. But by Friday? Probably not.
Still, that's the gamble Foulke has to take, and for a guy that has struggled this badly and already has discussed retiring as an option, it's not like even pitching-desperate teams are knocking down the door to talk with him. If he realizes this, he takes the $3.5 million on the table (plus the $1.5 million buyout he gets), and gives the Red Sox more headaches in 2007.
The underlying issue in all of this, of course, is Theo Epstein's need to yet again rebuild the bullpen, an ongoing project that has gone about as well for him as the Big Dig has gone for ... well, anybody. The only thing that can be said with some certainly about an Epstein bullpen is that Rudy Seanez's name will inexplicably be a part of it somehow.
With Jonathan Papelbon's necessary shift to the rotation next season, Epstein told reporters yesterday that the search for a closer would be a priority this offseason. “We're going to try and acquire a closer through trade or free agency," he said. "If we can't, there are certain options internally where we would turn to next. It's very early in the offseason. So it's not yet clear how our bullpen is going to shape up. Certainly we're in the market for someone with the ability to close games."
That's a task at which Papelbon succeeded last season until his campaign was cut short by injury. He was so dominant that it's laughable now to think the team entered the season with Foulke entrenched as their closer, a status that lasted exactly one day.
But closer is such a touchy role in the big leagues that very few succeed at it for a long period of time. Outside of Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffmann, the landscape is littered with one-time solid guys who are riding out the fat dollars on their long-term deals with even more bloated ERAs. How unsure is it? Todd Jones was the fireman for a team that went to the World Series. That really happened.
Therefore, it's a tricky road to follow when filling the slot. The Sox certainly do not want to dish out another Foulke-type deal to any pitcher that is anything but a lock to perform for the entire length of his deal. Discovering that guy on the market is akin to finding Grace Ross' two percent on the city streets.
Eric Gagne: Fits the common bill of one-time dominant closer who has fallen off the face of the land. Since saving 152 games over three seasons, Gagne's injury issues have limited him to just 9 saves over two years, and he pitched just two innings in 2006. That's $5 million per inning in case you were wondering.
Danys Baez: Since saving 41 games for the Rays in 2005, Baez was traded twice and was less than impressive in each of his stops in LA and Atlanta. Still, at $4 million, he wasn't awful either, and might face a decent shot at regaining his one-time closing mentality if given the shot. A dark horse to watch.
Octavio Dotel: Dotel was just awful in his 14-game stint with the Yankees in a non-closing role following elbow surgery. The former Oakland closer gave way to 2005 Rookie of the Year Huston Street after blowing out his elbow that same season, and has yet to come back to form. There's a chance it could happen in 2007, but not without a heavily-laced incentive deal.
Chad Fox: Please.
Danny Graves: See Eric Gagne, Keith Foulke, etc.
Eddie Guardado: At 36, there's little chance of him being Everyday Eddie anymore, but his arm seemed somewhat rejuvenated after a midseason trade to the Reds, his ERA shooting down to 1.29 from the 5.28 he posted with the Mariners. He had 55 saves as recently as 2005, and the very least could serve as a valuable setup man, which would reduce some of the stress on Mike Timlin's arm.
Joe Borowski: Borowski had 36 saves for the Marlins last season, and is due for a raise after making just $327,000. It was the best season for Borowski since the 2002-03 campaigns with the Cubs, which, frankly are his only other two good seasons. At less than a million for a season? Sure, and then some. A multi-year, multi-million dollar deal? Right.
With less-than-tantalizing options on the market, don't be shocked to see the Red Sox go with one of the kids to start things out, an option the team would most prefer, depending upon the maturing process of a guy like Craig Hansen. Brad Lidge's name has also come up in trade discussions with the Houston Astros. But if you're looking to rid yourself of Keith Foulke, why on earth would you dip into the National League to get another Keith Foulke?
Baseball's general manager meetings begin in Florida in a matter of days, with Epstein looking to rebuild a bullpen. Stop me if you've heard this one before.
By the time he gets there, he'll know the status of one-time World Series hero Foulke, and whether or not he'll have $3.5 million extra to dedicate to fixing the problems instead of maintaining them in 2007.