Closing in on Closing Roles
As the seemingly endless Spring Training passes the midpoint, there are still many unsettled bullpen situations. Those of us who like to wait on closers and their one category goodness are awaiting the word on who will be shutting the door in Colorado, Chicago, St. Louis, and Seattle.
In addition to those four, there is news from the WBC that Matt Lindstrom of the Marlins is having some rotator cuff issues and may not be ready for opening day.
A closer is a special kind of pitcher. It is hard to understand why the last three outs are the hardest three outs to get. The pressure is different, the feel in the air is different, and opposing manager strategy is different.
You can’t tell me you didn’t feel a chill come over you when the bells in Hells Bells starting ringing as Trevor Hoffman took his stroll towards the mound for all those years in San Diego. Countless numbers of relievers who have spent years getting outs in the seventh and eighth innings have failed miserably when asked to get the last three outs.
I don’t understand how you can truly evaluate the moxie of a closer in Spring Training when in the back of everyone’s mind is the feeling that the games don’t mean anything, but I will do my best to guide you as you look to grab a few cheap saves.
Chicago: Kevin Gregg and Carlos Marmol
Conventional wisdom would put Marmol, his filthy slider and his 1.31 K/9 rate as the clear favorite to with the job, but it looks like Gregg is having the better spring. In addition, Lou Piniella loves having his Marmol security blanket available in early jams, and Gregg has nearly two full years of closer experience. I would lean toward Gregg getting the call early, but Marmol is a good guy to have on your team even if he doesn’t win the job as his ratios will continue to be solid.
St. Louis: Ryan Franklin, Jason Motte, and Chris Perez
Franklin ended last year with 17 saves and eight blown saves, which is not a very good percentage, but does give him more experience than the two youngsters. Perez ended 2008 as the penciled in closer, but has struggled in his spring outings. Motte is the hardest thrower of them all and had a ridiculous 110 strikeouts in 66.2 Triple-A innings last year.
Tony LaRussa has said that he may wait until the end of Spring Training to name a closer, but for those who cannot wait that long I would say that Motte has a very slight edge over Perez. This is a situation that I would avoid as there is the possibility of a closer by committee to start the year.
Colorado: Huston Street and Manny Corpas
It looks like Corpas will be the guy here. He has had success closing in Colorado in 2007, but lost his job to Fuentes last year. Street was acquired in the Matt Holliday deal this offseason and has been the subject of trade rumors ever since his plane landed in Colorado.
It was often thought that they would hand him the job to showcase his talents until the Rockies found a suitor, but a sore quad has slowed him a bit this spring. If Street is dealt or they both struggle, look for Taylor Buchholz, who flourished in a set up role last year, to get a shot at the gig.
Seattle: Everyone who has an arm
This situation is a mess. There is no one with a great deal of closer experience, and a new manager who doesn’t want one of his first big decisions to blow up in his face. This has closer by committee written all over it. The best possible outcome for cheap saves is if Miguel Batista wins the job. Not because I think he will have a great deal of success, but because he will have SP eligibility in most formats.
Mark Lowe has expressed great interest in the job. Roy Corcoran, Tyler Walker, and David Aardsma have also been linked to the role this spring. To muddle the waters even more, the Mariners recently signed ex-Nats closer Chad Cordero to a minor league deal. He is not expected to be ready to compete right away as he is coming off labrum surgery last summer. My advice: Pass.
Florida: Matt Lindstrom or Leo Nunez
This is Matt Lindstrom’s job if he is healthy. He left the WBC with tightness in his throwing shoulder that has since been diagnosed as a strained rotator cuff. He as been shut down for 7-10 days and is iffy to start the season, but the injury does not sound too serious. Leo Nunez would be the next in line to pick up saves, however I would wait for more information on Lindstrom’s injury before wasting a pick or a move on Nunez.
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