Hoffman weighing all his free-agency options
All-time saves leader is looking for a good closing situation
Trevor Hoffman wants to give the free-agent market one good look before he determines his future.
The right-handed reliever, with a record 601 saves, told MLB.com on Tuesday that if there's a good fit for him to return as a closer in 2011, he'll take it. If not, he'll retire after 18 seasons. Hoffman, the former Padres and Brewers closer, turned 43 on Oct. 13.
"I'm going to wait to see what happens, see what's out there," said Hoffman, when reached by phone in San Diego, where he and his family still make their home. "It's not a situation where I'm going to pursue it very hard. If it's something that makes sense, if it's an opportunity for me to close, I'll look at it. If it's something that doesn't make any sense, I'll probably retire."
Hoffman parted ways with the Brewers after two seasons and became a free agent when the club declined to exercise a $7 million mutual option on Nov. 2. Hoffman's contract included a buyout that increased from $500,000 to $750,000, when he finished his 35th game of the season on Sept. 26.
Hoffman said that he's eyeing the D-backs situation, where old friend Kevin Towers is now the general manager. Towers, who was the GM of the Padres for virtually Hoffman's entire 16-year tenure there, has made it no secret that he's in the market for a closer and wants to rebuild a bullpen that had a third-worst in Major League history 5.74 ERA last season.
"I've known K.T. for such a long time and I figured having a little history there would help," Hoffman said about playing in Phoenix, which would keep him close to home. "But I don't know. I'm coming off a tough year. I don't know if people are going to be turned off by that or not. I hope the strong second half I had will compensate."
Hoffman's age and 10 saves this past season could be points of contention. After Hoffman blew five early opportunities, then-Brewers manager Ken Macha took Hoffman out of the closer role by mid-May and never reinstated him. The blown saves helped put the Brewers in a deep hole they never were able to climb out of, as Milwaukee finished third in the National League Central.
Rick Thurman, Hoffman's agent, said on Tuesday that his client was suffering from tendinitis in the triceps area of his right arm during the first months of the season.
"And when he got rid of that, he was lights out," said Thurman, when reached in Los Angeles at the Beverly Hills Sports Council. "His mechanics just weren't right."
Although Hoffman finished 2-7 with a 5.89 ERA (as opposed to a 1.83 ERA in 2009) in 50 appearances, he allowed nine earned runs in his last 33 appearances dating back to June 3 -- three of them in a single game on Aug. 9.
Towers said on Tuesday that he needed to have a long talk with Hoffman before making a determination about pursuing him.
"Because of our relationship and our need for a closer people are going to tie us together," said Towers, who was dismissed as Padres GM in 2009 and assumed the same role with the D-backs this past September. "Before I make any statements I'd like to have a lengthy conversation with Trevor. I know he'll shoot me straight about where he's at, how much he has left in the tank and what his expectations are financially. That's probably the way I'll handle it.
"We all know what kind of season he had and that was very unlike Trevor Hoffman. He's not going to BS me. He's not that type of guy."
Just as he mentored Heath Bell for the Padres in '08, Hoffman did the same this past season with John Axford, who replaced him as closer. Hoffman went into the season just nine saves short of becoming the first reliever to record 600. But because he was used predominantly in a setup role the last four months of the season, he didn't get there until Sept. 7. Prior to '10, Hoffman had averaged nearly 35 saves a season. He had surgery to clean out his right elbow after the '07 season and shoulder surgery that forced him to miss most of the '03 season.
Thurman said he hasn't talked directly yet with Towers, but has spoken to the D-backs as recently as this past Friday about Hoffman and a bevy of his other relief pitching clients -- including free agents Brian Fuentes, Arthur Rhodes, Will Ohman, Octavio Dotel and Chan Ho Park. Thurman said he's also had very preliminary talks with several other unnamed teams about Hoffman.
"We just kind of glazed over the topic of Trevor," said Thurman, speaking specifically about the D-backs. "They're looking for a closer. They need a lot of pitching. They're looking for back end relief help."
The D-backs could certainly use Hoffman's leadership ability, but they may not have the money in the budget to pay him what he's earned as a base in recent years with Milwaukee: $6 million in '09 and $7.5 million in '10. Hoffman signed with the Brewers in '09 after contract talks with the Padres broke down, when the club abruptly pulled a $4 million offer from the table. Towers was the GM who had to tell Hoffman that the offer, which was out there for a month, was a dead issue.
But Hoffman's relationship with the Padres at the time had a rocky recent contractual negotiation history. He recorded 552 of his saves for the Padres, then a record with one club -- since surpassed by Mariano Rivera, who has 559 saves, all for the Yankees. Certainly the time and the situation are now different.
"Usually [money] is what it always comes down to," Hoffman said. "It'll be interesting to see if [the D-backs] get back to me. I'm open for anything. I want to take a look at all my options."
With the General Managers' Meetings coming up next week in Orlando, Fla., Towers said he didn't have any particular timetable to talk with either Thurman or Hoffman, but he will get there.
"There's probably some other guys on Thurman's list that I need to have some dialogue with him about," Towers said. "I truly expect to talk with Thurman and Trevor, but I can't give you a time frame right now for doing it."
Barry M. Bloom is national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.