Jeremy Affeldt was never quite "on the list" as far as potential relievers the Detroit Tigers might be interested in, but he looked like a good lower-cost pick-up that could get a shot at closer, or at the very least, perform well in a set-up role. Keith Law had him as the second best reliever on his list of top 100 free agents.
Unfortunately, Affeldt is now a moot point, as far as the Tigers are concerned. In something of a surprise move, he became the first free agent of the winter to sign, agreeing to a contract with the San Francisco Giants. Terms of the deal are $8 million over two years. (Wouldn't that have fit into Detroit's budget nicely?)
The Giants already have a closer in Brian Wilson, who tied for the second-most saves in the National League with 41. But Affeldt, 29, has never really been a "capital C" closer, and sounds pretty comfortable in a set-up role for a team he sees with a good pitching staff.
"With that starting rotation, the bullpen won't get burned out," he said.
Perhaps he also wanted to stay in the National League, where he's pitched the past two-and-a-half seasons. Last year with the Cincinnati Reds, the left-handed Affeldt posted 80 strikeouts in 78 1/3 innings, along with a 1-1 record and 3.33 ERA.
Law, as you might imagine, thinks the Giants made a smart move:
They get one of the best free agent relievers on the market for a contract below the typical length for high-end relievers. Two years is nothing for a quality relief pitcher, not when most get three years and some (like Scott Linebrink last year, who isn't close to Affeldt in terms of stuff) get four. If Affeldt gets hurt, or regresses horribly, the commitment is short. It's absolute sanity.
Could this be the first domino that falls in the free agent chain? I figured the Mets would set the market, and maybe they still will, when it comes to closers. But as Ken Davidoff points out on his blog for newsday.com, Affeldt's $4 million-per-year contract could set the market for other middle relievers teams like the Tigers might be interested in, such as Juan Cruz and Darren Oliver.
(Hat tip to Billfer, who caught me up on current events via instant message)