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Birds should check out the closer market

While the Cardinals wait for Matt Holliday to make up his mind -- or for agent Scott Boras to make it up for him -- they ought to be looking at some help for the bullpen.

Granted the team signed incumbent closer Ryan Franklin to a modest contract extension in the second half of 2009. But that is also the time the Franklin began to, how shall I put this? Ah, yes: stink.

The Astros Jose Valverde decided to play a $10 million game of chicken by declining his player option to seek a multi-year deal on the open market. Only one problem, most of the teams with a lot of money to spend already have a high-dollar closer. So Valverde finds himself in a position where he is probably going to have to take a lot less than $10 million... And he probably will have to settle for a one-year deal.

Valverde had a 2.33 ERA with 25 saves in 29 tries in the Astros' hitter friendly ballpark. If the Cardinals brought him in it would make their bullpen deeper and more injury resistant. It would also help it to pick up the extra work that seems inevitable because the rotation features four pitchers who have spent extensive time on the disabled list in the last two years and an inexperienced fifth starter. Somebody is going to get hurt and there are going to be some five and six inning bullpen appearances.

if the Cardinals don't like Valverde, the White Sox are said to be shopping their big closer, Bobby Jenks. The 6-foot-3, 270-pound righty had 29 saves last year and blew six tries with a 3.71 ERA.

Jenks is streaky and a little bit erratic. But he might be the sort of guy that Dave Duncan could tweak into perfection. He certainly has the size the Cardinals pitching coach likes to see in a hurler.

While Jenks could be more of a project, he would probably be cheaper than Valverde. He made $5.6 million last season in a one-year contract reached without arbitration. The White Sox would probably let him go for a reasonable price in terms of talent.

If the Birds  were to pick up either closer, Franklin could compete with them for the closing job with the loser of the competition becoming the set up guy and everyone else moving up an inning in their bullpen roles. If Franklin would win the job, the new guy would probably still get a chance to close games because Franklin appears unable to pitch on back-to-back games or more than a couple or maybe three games a week.

Franklin will make $2.75 million in 2010, which is more commiserate with set-up guy money than closer money in today's baseball market. So it wouldn't be a budget head scratcher to go out and get a more established guy if the price is right.