Baltimore Orioles: Top 5 Candidates to Close in 2012
The Orioles didn't win a lot of games in 2011, but they lost more than they should thanks to blown saves and trouble with the back end of the bullpen.
Andy MacPhail added closers through free agency to finish games, but none seemed to shut it down. The Orioles have seen Michael Gonzalez, Alfredo Simon, Jim Johnson, Kevin Gregg, Koji Uehara and others try to close over the last two years. In 2011, Gregg began the year as the closer, but Jim Johnson finished the year in the role.
Dan Duquette has made a lot of changes to the pitching staff to build depth and closer may be his next area of focus. Otherwise, there are some pretty good candidates already on the team that could fill the role.
Here are the top five candidates to close for the Orioles in 2012.
5. Pedro Strop
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Pedro Strop is not likely to close for the Orioles in 2012, but he definitely has the repertoire to take the job if needed.
After the Orioles acquired him in late August, Pedro Strop became a go-to guy for Buck Showalter for the final month of the season. Strop impressed with an electric fastball, but was also incredibly effective.
In 12.1 innings over 12 appearances, Strop struck out 12 and only allowed one run. He held hitters to a .190 average and a .89 WHIP, likely cementing his spot in the 2012 bullpen.
Strop isn't particularly on the radar to close, but could win the job with an impressive showing in Spring Training.
4. Alfredo Simon
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Alfredo Simon has shown in his four seasons with the Orioles that he can pitch in any role that is asked of him, which makes him a terrific asset in any pitching staff. He spent 2011 as a long reliever and then a starter, but was the team's primary closer for a long stretch in 2010.
Simon took the closer job from Michael Gonzalez and was great until injuring his hamstring in a game against the Nationals. He picked the job back up when he recovered, but then lost it to Koji Uehara as the season came to a close. Over the course of the year, he saved 17 of 21, showing he clearly has the temperament to close.
Simon is going to have to fight for his life in Spring Training because there is going to be a lot of competition for the bullpen this year and Jim Johnson is the only guy that will definitely have a spot.
3. Kevin Gregg
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Kevin Gregg (aka Captain Chaos), was a controversial signing from the beginning. He fell to the Orioles because he couldn't find a job for a while, but they ended up committing some big money for him.
Gregg was wild, but managed to get saves at the beginning of the year, but his walks ended up catching up to him at the end of the season. He saved 22 games in the season, which led the team, but also blew seven saves, which was fifth worst in the majors.
Gregg lost his job to Jim Johnson, who dominated the end of the season, so it's hard to believe that he'll come back to the role in 2012. He does have the most experience on the team though, so it depends on what Buck Showalter sees in March.
2. Francisco Cordero
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Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun reported that the Orioles have some interest in the 36-year-old veteran and the fit is obvious.
Cordero is the last of the quality closers on the market, but the available jobs have all but run out for him. His former team, the Reds, just found their closer in Ryan Madson, so they won't be having Cordero back.
The advantage in having Cordero is having a proven closer for the first time in years. Cordero is second among active pitchers in saves with 327, behind just Mariano Rivera. In 2011, Cordero saved 37 games for the Reds and had a great ERA of just 2.45. With a WHIP of just 1.02, Cordero is the exact opposite of the tightrope-style saves of Kevin Gregg.
The Orioles may stay in-house for the closer in 2012, but Cordero is the most likely on the outside.
1. Jim Johnson
It seemed sure that Jim Johnson was going to move to the rotation in 2012, but the recent acquisitions of Dana Eveland, Tsuyoshi Wada and Wei-Yin Chen have made it seem unlikely that Johnson will change roles.
Johnson came up through the minors as a starter, but has since moved to the bullpen and has been very effective. He had to develop multiple pitches as a starter, making him a very versatile reliever. He was second in the majors in innings for relievers with 91 and had a terrific 2.67 ERA.
When Kevin Gregg couldn't record saves at the end of the season, Johnson took over as the closer and saved seven out of seven games in September. A couple of those came in the final two series against the Red Sox, in which he was praised on the national stage for shutting down a great lineup as they skidded to a stop in the final week of the season.
Johnson finished the year as the closer and is the favorite to pick up the role when the season begins against the Twins in April. Expect to see Johnson decrease his innings in 2012 by closing games instead of pitching in over two out of every five games.