The offseason austerity plaguing MLB this offseason apparently has not affected the market price for closers. Kelvim Escobar of the Toronto Blue Jays re-signed over the weekend for $3.9 M, up from $2.525 M in 2002 (he had asked for $4.6 M in arbitration compared to the $3.5 M Blue Jay offer).
The only problem is that Kelvim Escobar wasn't much better than the average pitcher, let alone the average closer, in 2002. He had a 4.27 ERA (5% better than average), had a WHIP (walks plus hits per innings pitched) over 1.5 (!), had a strikeout-to-walk ratio of under 2 even though he struck out more than one man an inning (about 9.8 per 9 innings), and blew 8 of 46 save opportunities. Baseball Prospectus puts his season at only 0.6 adjusted runs prevented better than average. 2002 was also his first full year as a closer.
This comes in an offseason in which a number of fellow closers signed lucrative contracts as well: Ugueth Urbina ($4.5 M from the Rangers), Antonio Alfonseca ($4M from Cubs), and Billy Koch ($10.625 M over two years from the White Sox). The only loser in their ranks appears to be Roberto Hernandez who, after a sub-par year statistically comparable (if not superior) to Escobar's, had to settle for a setup role with Atlanta (at $600 K).
It should be noted that three of these five had ERAs over four and none had ERAs under three (Urbina's was 3.00). We're not talking about Hoyt Wilhelm here, and yet all signed to hefty paychecks while players at other position were left to pick up scraps. Apparently whatever machinations are or are not behind the salary decisions being made this offseason, the closer role has remained sacrosanct. Tightly clenched purse strings are made to open wide so that G.M.'s can inject next-to-meaningless save totals onto the roster. G.M.'s still come a-running for the fresh scent of saves.
I'm glad to see that teams are still capable of making outrageous offers even when their payrolls are cut to the bone. It warms my cold heart.