Brandon League: 7 Possible Homes for Mariners Closer
Despite a recent slump, Brandon League has been a solid closer for the Seattle Mariners in the last two-and-a-half seasons. As prospects such as Stephen Pryor, Chance Ruffin and Forrest Snow rise, and other young relievers show their flexibility in the bullpen (Tom Wilhelmsen, Lucas Luetge and Steve Delabar), general manager "Trader Jack" Zduriencik could be shopping his valuable reliever.
This season League is 0-3 with a 3.72 ERA and nine saves out of twelve opportunities. Last year, League was an All-Star, recording 37 of 42 saves with a 2.79 ERA and a 1.08 WHIP.
No. 7: Arizona Diamondbacks
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Arizona came into the season as the defending NL West champs. They now appear to be an underdog thanks to a series of big injuries and blown saves, despite a bullpen that statistically (besides the saves) looks good on paper.
Craig Breslow, David Hernandez, Brad Ziegler, and Bryan Shaw all have ERAs ranging from 2.01 to 3.57 and have appeared in over twenty games each. Hernandez has saved zero of three save opportunities, Ziegler has saved zero of two and Shaw has saved two of three.
Incumbent closer, ex-Mariner J.J. Putz, has converted nine of 12, while recording a 7.20/1.53/.313 line.
If Kirk Gibson and the Arizona Diamondbacks would like to remain the best team in the NL West, Putz needs to return to form, a reliever needs to step up and be a closer or management needs to trade for a pitcher like Brandon League.
With an abundance of prospects to choose from, I am confident that Zdurencik will listen to the D-Backs if they call Seattle for help.
No. 6: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
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The so-called “blow pen” has finally got it together. Kevin Jepsen and his 10.29 ERA are having a blast in AAA Salt Lake City, Jordan Walden is relearning how to pitch and LaTroy Hawkins and Jason Isringhausen are a quality pair of seasoned veterans.
On top of these improvements, Scott Downs and early May addition Ernesto Frieri have given up zero runs. In 7.2 innings, Frieri walked five, struck out sixteen and gave up zero hits.
The Angels could use Brandon League as a closer, a setup man or as a regular reliever. Hawkins and Isringhausen will not remain Angels forever, possibly not through even this year. Hisanori Takahashi, Jepsen, David Pauley and Rich Thompson are terrible.
Brandon League or another reliever like him should be added to the bullpen soon in order to prevent injuries to Downs, Frieri or the aged duo. League could close, but so could Frieri. League, however, has experience closing, and Frieri has none.
No. 5: Minnesota Twins
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Alex Burnett and Brian Duensing have been the most solid contributors to the Twins’ bullpen, and closer Matt Capps seems to have found himself, converting all nine saves in nine save opportunities. Capps has a 3.38 ERA and an impressive 0.88 WHIP.
Other relievers are excellent pitchers but have high ERAs due to relieving the terrible rotation, most often with runners on base. Jared Burton is the best of said relievers, holding six games in 15.2 innings, with a 0.70 WHIP, .164 opposing batting average. But he also has a 4.60 ERA.
Conclusion: Matt Capps appears to be a closer once again, but just in case, Brandon League would be a solid backup. League is also an excellent closer, but Gardenhire might prefer him over Capps, since Capps has a much greater chance of falling apart.
The Twins’ priority right now is a starter. Carl Pavano leads the rotation with a 4.91 ERA and a minuscule 29 strikeouts, but League could help out the bullpen if the Gardenhire wants to move Duensing or Anthony Swarzak back into the rotation.
No. 4: Cincinnati Reds
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The Reds don’t need a closer—they need insurance for Aroldis Chapman.
Chapman is owner of a 0.00 ERA and has struck out 41 batters in 23.1 innings. Dusty Baker has called him the closer of the future, and he has already converted a pair of saves since Sean Marshall was relieved of the top bullpen job.
In one bad week, Chapman was arrested for driving 93 MPH with a suspended license and was slapped with an $18 million lawsuit in a separate dilemma. If he goes under via either of these ways or another run-in with the law, League would be a superb replacement.
The rest of the Reds’ bullpen isn’t bad. J.J. Hoover has only given up a run in 9.1 innings while holding batters to a .129 batting average. Jose Arredondo has a 2.21/1.03/.147 line, Logan Ondrusek is 2.89/1.13/.194 and Alfredo Simon has a 2.30 ERA and 17 strikeouts.
No. 3: Kansas City Royals
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Jonathan Broxton lost the closer’s job last season with the Dodgers, but he’s earned the gig with the Royals as Joakim Soria’s replacement. His line this year—2.30/1.28/.268 and eight of 10 save opportunities—is exceptionally better than last season’s disastrous 5.68/1.89/2.83 and seven for eight.
Jose Mijares, Tim Collins and Louis Coleman all have ERAs under 3.00, and Aaron Crow has a 3.10/1.13/.183 line with a team-leading seven holds. Crow looks to be the closer of the future and could get the job this year if management decides to trade away Broxton or use him as a setup man.
Kelvin Hererra has been a nice surprise this season, with a 3.97/1.01/.229 line. He continues to get appearances for the American League Central’s most surprising bullpen.
If the Royals improve (that responsibility is the burden of Eric Hosmer’s bat and a weak
rotation), they could make a surprising run for the playoffs—like the Cardinals of last season.
They would likely be interested in League, who has done an excellent job getting out of the ninth against AL Central teams. League could be added to the bullpen, or he could hold the closer’s job until Crow is given a shot at the job.
No. 2: Boston Red Sox
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The Red Sox bullpen is surprisingly excellent, minus the fact that both closers they traded for, Andrew Bailey and Mark Melancon, are not actually playing for the team.
Bailey is once again injured. Melancon is 0-2 and owner of a 49.50 ERA, 6.00 WHIP, and .667 opposing batting average. In just two innings, Melancon has given up more runs than Andrew Miller, Junichi Tazawa, Clayton Mortenson, Scott Atchison and Rich Hill have given up—combined—in 56.1 innings.
Miller and Tazawa have pitched scoreless seasons so far. Mortenson has done well as a long reliever in three games so far. Rich Hill has given up a pair of runs in eleven outings, and Scott Atchison has given up just three runs in twenty-four innings all in the bullpen.
Current closer Alfredo Aceves has a 4.43/1.38/.247 line, which is not good for any reliever, but especially not for a closer. He has ten saves in twelve opportunities, and has been relied on in twenty games. Aceves was handed the closing job after other members of the bullpen converted two for four.
Brandon League could replace Aceves as the everyday closer, and Aceves could return to the regular relief role, setup role or long relief role, all of which he is capable of doing.
No. 1: Chicago Cubs
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The Cubs came into 2012 knowing that they were in an early stage of the rebuilding phase, not expected to win many games or make the playoffs. That outlook is still the same.
Jeff Samardzija moved from the bullpen to the rotation, Carlos Marmol continued his slump of awful pitching and Kerry Wood retired after making ten outings and blowing two saves. The Cubs have relied on James Russell (1.89 ERA), Shawn Camp (3.09 ERA) and Rafael Dolis (3.75 ERA).
Dolis has taken over for Marmol as the Cubs’ closer and has saved four of the six games he has been tasked to save. His ERA looks above average for a reliever, but his 1.17 WHIP and .210 opposing batting average are excellent. Unfortunately, Dolis has given up eleven walks while striking out only nine, a pitiful ratio for a closer.
Carlos Marmol was much worse, only converting half of the four save opportunities given, while recording an unusual 6.35/2.21/.205 line.
Marmol clearly is not the best closer for the Cubs, nor is Dolis. League would be a welcomed addition to Chicago’s weak and consistently weakening bullpen for the remainder of the season and likely for the future.
The Mariners have several young relievers that should compete for the closer’s role this year and in the near future, but the Cubs have nearly nobody to fill the ninth inning, and League is young enough to be a part of Theo Epstein’s rebuilding.