New York Yankees: 10 Potential Replacements for Mariano Rivera
On May 3, all-time saves leader and Yankee legend Mariano Rivera injured his ACL while shagging balls in the outfield before their evening game against the Kansas City Royals. This injury could potentially be devastating for the Yankees, as they currently sit in fourth place in the tough AL East Division, only ahead of rival Boston.
Rivera has been clutch as the Yankees closer, as he's the all-time leader in saves and has the lowest ERA and WHIP of any pitcher of the live-ball era. He might be the most missed if the Yankees make the playoffs, as he also holds the lowest playoff ERA and has the most saves (42) of any reliever.
While it's still early in the 2012 season, the always busy Yankees should already start considering trying to replace Rivera on their staff, as he's expected to miss the entire season with the potentially career-ending injury. Here's a list of 10 relievers who could try to fill the huge shoes of the future Hall of Famer.
David Robertson, Yankees
The former understudy for Rivera (both are righties) is the most likely candidate to replace the future Hall of Famer, as he had a pristine and breakout 2011 season in the pinstripes, recording a 1.08 ERA and 13.5 K/9. Robertson has come a long way since being a 17th-round pick and eventually landing a spot in the Yankees crowded 2009 and 2010 bullpens.
However, if Robertson were to be switched from setup to the closer role, there would be a dramatic effect on the current bullpen in the Bronx. While his void could be filled by Phil Hughes or David Phelps (assuming Andy Pettitte continues with his regimen), losing the reliable Robertson would be a severe blow to the seventh and eighth innings.
Rafael Soriano, Yankees
After leading the AL in saves for the division rival Rays, the Yankees signed Soriano to a three-year, $35 million deal in the 2010-11 offseason. Brought in to be Rivera's set-up guy, Soriano initially struggled in his first season in the pinstripes, as he carried a 4.12 ERA over just 39.1 innings.
Soriano has rebounded nicely since the 2011 season, as he has a 2.00 ERA so far in the 2012 campaign. Soriano was brought in to be Mo's replacement, and while he struggled in his first season, he still has high velocity and profiles similarly to Rivera. As he's currently not the primary eighth-inning guy for Joe Girardi, his loss wouldn't be as much as Robertson to the stability of the staff.
Huston Street, Padres
The San Diego Padres began their 2011 offseason by trying to replace the void left by former All-Star closer Heath Bell by trading for former Colorado Rockies ninth-inning stud Huston Street. Street, the former AL Rookie of the Year (2005), is already on his third team since 2008 and appears to be nothing more than a rental for San Diego.
The Padres currently sit in last place in the NL West, but Street has been marvelous, as he currently has four saves, a 0.93 ERA and is at 12.1 strikes per nine innings. He's currently serving as a place holder for their young prospect, Andrew Cashner, who is still learning the ropes of being a major leaguer.
It would probably take a few mid prospects to require Street, but since he will be a free agent at season's end, I can see the Yankees going after him due to his prior experience in the AL and had expressed previous interest in him in the past.
Brett Myers, Astros
Houston's Brett Myers dramatically differs from the closers on this list, as he has versatility as to where he can fit within a staff. He has prior experience for both the Phillies and his current Astros as both a starting pitcher and as a reliever. The hard-throwing Florida native is also a right-handed pitcher, so it would keep consistency for the Yankee staff.
Houston has surprised many in this young 2012 season, as they are still close enough to the top of the NL Central to make a play. They may not be sellers yet, but I expect their play to drop off, as they're a young team and will eventually hit the midseason "wall."
Myers currently has seven saves on nine appearances and has allowed a single earned run on the season. His strikeout total may be down, but he still has above-average velocity. I believe the Yankees could be interested in him, and potentially not just as a closer. The Bronx Bombers could want to bring him in as a starter if one of their starters fails to impress.
Brandon League, Mariners
League appears to be the hottest closer to be acquired via trade this season, as rumors are already swirling that Seattle is looking to move their All-Star closer. After the injury to then-closer David Aardsma, League started the 2011 campaign as the Mariners closer and was selected as the club's All-Star Representative.
The Mariners are looking to continue to rebuild, and although League is an impending free agent at season's end, he could still fetch a small bounty for his services for the 2012 season. He currently has seven saves and sports a 2.77 ERA. Seattle could be interested in moving him if the deal is right.
Matt Capps, Twins
It seems as though Minnesota's Matt Capps is always on the trading block early in the season, but he continues to be a steady reliever for whichever team he plays for. The former Pirate and National boasts potentially the most impressive resume as a reliever on this list, as he has 128 career saves and has shown that he can still be reliable.
After signing with the Nationals in the 2010 offseason, Capps was traded midseason to the Twins when their reliever, Joe Nathan, injured his elbow. When Nathan made his comeback for 2011, Capps moved back to the set-up role, but eventually earned back the closer position when Nathan failed to impress. When Nathan signed with the AL defending champs Rangers this past offseason, Capps re-signed with the Twins and has held onto the roll ever since.
Capps is off to a slow start this season, as he sports a 5.00 ERA for the struggling club. The Twins are in the midst of a two-season, injury-filled slump and are looking to rebuild around Joe Mauer. I believe it wouldn't take much for the Yankees to acquire Capps' services, perhaps only a few mid-level prospects. I also doubt the Yankees would have interest in making him their closer, as they most likely would want him to fill a void created by the move of Soriano or Robertson to the ninth inning.
Jonathan Broxton, Royals
Most fans will recognize Broxton as the husky former closer for the Dodgers, but Broxton has quietly put up solid numbers for Kansas City since joining the club this past offseason. Signed to just a one-year deal, Broxton has a low 1.86 ERA and five saves through 10 appearances, as he leads the young Royals pitching staff that includes Aaron Crow, among others.
The Royals are in the midst of another losing season as they continue to rebuild. Since Broxton is on a single-season contract, I would expect the Royals to become sellers near the trading deadline and look to unload their closer for young prospects. Due to his past inconsistencies for the Dodgers, I wouldn't expect a large package for the fireballer.
Matt Thornton, White Sox
Like most other teams on this list, the White Sox have struggled early this season, as the club is beginning a rebuilding cycle. The team is currently treading water with a 12-14 record, but remain in the race, as the AL Central is wide open and they sit in third place. Former closer Thornton has been called on to mentor young relievers Hector Santiago (currently the club's closer) and Addison Reed (the closer of the future).
Thornton has four holds on the season and one save, but has bounced back and forth as being a replacement closer and set-up man for the Chicago club. He's one of the oldest players on this list, so I wouldn't expect him to net a large amount of prospects or even above mid-level minor leaguers in return.
I do expect White Sox GM Kenny Williams to unload Thornton closer to the trade deadline, and the Yankees have had prior interest in his services as he's shown to be a reliable force in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings.
Grant Balfour, Athletics
Though the A's Grant Balfour beat out fellow reliever and former All-Star closer Brian Fuentes for the ninth-inning position in Oakland, I doubt the Yankees would be interested in adding the former Rays closer to fill the same role in the Bronx.
If the Yankees were to acquire him, I believe they would do so to help the sixth and seventh inning, to serve as a strong and reliable bridge between their starters and guys like Soriano and Robertson. He's proven to be electric in the tough AL East and has started the season strong, as he leads the AL in appearances so far.
Though he is a 10-plus year veteran of the AL, he has just 16 saves in his career and currently has a 4.73 ERA. He may even lose the A's closer position as the season progresses.
I wouldn't expect A's GM Billy Beane to be able to fetch more than a few mid-level prospects around Balfour, but I can see him unloading him in a small package, including other A's players he's looking to trade.
Joel Hanrahan, Pirates
Though Hanrahan is off to a disappointing start to the 2012 season, he has steadily improved since reaching the majors with the Washington Nationals in 2007. Hanrahan peaked in 2011 when he had 40 saves and a 1.83 ERA, as he represented the Pirates in the 2011 All-Star Game.
Unlike some of the others in this list, Hanrahan could be seen as an immediate fix to the situation, as he has shown closer-quality "stuff" and four saves on the season already despite a bad walks-to-strikeout percentage. The Pirates still control Hanrahan through the 2013 season, so unlike many others on this list who expect to become free agents at the end of the season, he may require a bigger package of prospects to acquire his services.
While I've presented a few options for Yankees GM Brian Cashman to go after with trades, I expect the Yankees to simply move Robertson into the closer position and hope that he can transfer his great eighth-inning stats to the more important position. If he fails to impress, they have former great Rays closer Rafael Soriano already on their roster to fill Rivera's role.
If both fail to impress, then I can imagine the Pinstripes going after some of the elite guys on this list, including League, Hanrahan and Street, to become "the guy" in the ninth. I do expect the Yankees to be more active as we get closer to the late July trade deadline, as they always seem to make a deal. These one-year rental players, including Broxton and Capps, seam to be potential fits.
Thanks for reading. I hope you enjoyed this list. You can follow me at @metta_colin on Twitter.