It has become a near article of faith that high-priced closers are a waste of money. That's baloney; good high-priced closers are extremely valuable.
Now now, before you go and confiscate my SABR card, there are a couple points here we should be clear on. I'm not arguing that the ranks of the middle relief corps should be populated by Proven Veteran Middle Relievers (PVMRs) making 2 million a year. I'm also not arguing that closers are possessive of a mystical force that only certain players have rendering the Mike Williams's and Jose Mesa's of the world as special. What I am saying is that the very best closers are correctly priced in this market and that Billy Wagner is probably a good value.
First, one thing I hear is that relievers are extremely unpredictable (exhibit A is Rheal Cormier). Yeah, ok, they are pretty unpredictable, but that being said, so are starters. Heck, if you factor in the idea that starters may have more potential to injure themselves through the amount of innings they throw, I'd say that it's probably just as likely that someone perceived as a "good" starter will have a bad year as a good reliever will have a bad year.
Second, the fact that the best reliever in any given year is not as valuable as the best starter in any given year has already been taken into account by the market. Billy Wagner is not getting Tim Hudson money, he's not getting Pedro Martinez money, Randy Johnson money. Heck he's also not even getting Derek Lowe, Darren Dreifort and Mike Hampton money.
Third, where are you going to get 80 high leverage innings at a less than two ERA? It just doesn't happen that often. Billy Wagner's WORST ERA in the last four years has been 2.50. That type of predictability is extremely valuable. If you take seven million from Wags and put it somewhere else, you're going to get a pretty good player (not a great one, but a pretty good one), but you have no idea what you're getting from your closer. You very well may get a good one, but it's extremely unlikely that you end up with a below 2 ERA. For eight million bucks (heck, I'll go to nine million if it's only a two-year contract) that ain't bad. Knowledgeable Phillies fans are being a little too dismissive of the truly great closers in this league. Yes, they can get hurt and flame out, but guess what, the truly great starters do that too. At least you don't have to pay more than 10 per for a closer.