MLB Closers Who Could Be in Danger of Losing Their Jobs
Being an MLB closer may be the toughest job in baseball. Typically, a closer is tasked with preserving a tight lead in just one inning, after sitting for the first eight innings of a game. There is very little room for error, but the potential for a mishap is very real.
There are several closers in baseball who have the ultimate job security. Either they are among today's elite stoppers—such as the New York Yankees' Mariano Rivera or the Atlanta Braves' Craig Kimbrel—or their club simply has no better alternative on the roster.
But there are also closers who should be looking over their shoulders, as their job security is growing very thin. This could be a result of a number of extenuating circumstances—such as poor performance—or it could be due to a team's regular closer returning from an injury. Regardless, the following pitchers shouldn't get too comfortable in the closer's role, as they may have a new assignment soon.
*Note: Carlos Marmol of the Chicago Cubs has already lost his job as the team's closer, and thus, does not qualify for this list.
Ernesto Frieri, Los Angeles Angels
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You have to feel bad for Ernesto Frieri. The 27-year-old reliever came over to the Angels from the Padres in a mid-season trade last year. In his 56 appearances with the Angels in 2012, Frieri saved 23 games and finished with a cumulative 2.32 ERA for the season.
During the offseason, however, the Halos signed fellow righty Ryan Madson to a one-year contract. Madson—who missed the entire 2012 season while recovering from Tommy John surgery—has missed the first month-plus of the season, but he is getting closer to returning. In fact, he could be activated later this week if his rehab stint—which began on Monday—goes well.
And though it may take a little while until Madson is fully up to speed, I still feel that he will eventually take over as the team's closer. But if he falters, Frieri is a nice chip to have as a fill-in. So far in 2013, Frieri has recorded seven saves to go along with a 1.59 ERA in 17 innings pitched.
Brandon League, Los Angeles Dodgers
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After recording nine saves in 46 appearances for the Seattle Mariners last season, Brandon League was dealt to the Los Angeles Dodgers just prior to the 2012 trade deadline. Despite getting quality work out of 25-year-old Kenley Jansen, the Dodgers felt that they were in need of some bullpen depth, which is why they went out and acquired League.
The right-handed League saved six games in 28 appearances with the Dodgers after the trade, sporting a 2.30 ERA over 27.1 innings of work. As a result, League was given the role of closer for the Dodgers heading into this season.
But things haven't been going so swimmingly for League and the Dodgers thus far in 2013. While League has posted eight saves, his ERA is in the stratosphere at 6.28. He's also given up at least one earned run in six of his last seven appearances, and his ratios aren't much better—10.0 H/9, 4.4 K/9, 2.5 BB/9.
Meanwhile, Jansen—who saved 25 games for the Dodgers last year—has a 2.29 ERA over 19.2 innings pitched. His 12.4 K/9 and 5.4 SO/BB ratio are very impressive as well. The 25-year-old Jansen has widely been viewed as the obvious choice to be the Dodgers' closer.
But after the free-spending Dodgers handed out a three-year, $22.5 million extension to League, and with Jansen having offseason surgery to correct an irregular heartbeat, the club felt that it was necessary to give League the first crack at being the team's stopper. Manager Don Mattingly even recently backed League has his closer.
With the Dodgers currently being 6.5 games out of the division lead and six games under .500, it may not be too long before Mattingly makes a change at the back end of his bullpen.
J.J. Putz, Arizona Diamondbacks
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After coming over to the Arizona Diamondbacks prior to the 2011 season, J.J. Putz had saved 87 games between the 2011 and 2012 campaigns, while having a sub-3.00 ERA in each of those seasons. Heading into the 2013 season, expectations for the 36-year-old closer were pretty high.
But, so far, he has failed to live up to these expectations, or has even come close to meeting them. He has a 4.26 ERA, with ratios of 5.7 BB/9, 8.5 H/9 and 2.1 HR/9—not very good closer numbers. To make matters worse, Putz is now on the 15-day disabled list with a right elbow strain, and he currently has no timetable for a return.
Fortunately for the D-Backs, they have some strong protection in the back-end of their bullpen. Currently, Heath Bell is manager Kirk Gibson's primary closer. And after Putz went down with the injury, Bell immediately converted three consecutive saves—that is, until Saturday, when he blew a save against the Phillies.
But even if Bell continues to falter, David Hernandez is not far behind him. Hernandez saved 11 games for the D-Backs in 2011. The Diamondbacks' bullpen also features Matt Reynolds and Brad Ziegler, each of whom has closer experience.
The bottom line here is: if and when Putz returns from the shelf, he may have a tough time reclaiming his closer role. Being that he is signed through the 2014 season, however, Putz may be a trade candidate if he comes back healthy and picks up his performance—but this is purely speculation on my part.
Junichi Tazawa, Boston Red Sox
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In the span of about 24 hours, the Boston Red Sox lost two closers—Andrew Bailey and Joel Hanrahan—due to injury.
On May 6, Andrew Bailey was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a right biceps strain. He had replaced Joel Hanrahan as closer after Hanrahan missed some time with a hamstring injury in April.
So, after Bailey went down, Hanrahan was back as the team's closer—that was, until he was forced to leave the game with an injury on the very same night that Bailey was placed on the DL. Hanrahan is suffering from a right forearm strain and is on the 60-day DL. He will miss the rest of the season after undergoing surgery to correct the injury.
In their stead, Junichi Tazawa was named as the team's fill-in closer. However, since Bailey last pitched on April 28, Tazawa has not recorded a single save. In fact, the 26-year-old has just one career save, which came last year. And, in the five games that he's appeared in since Hanrahan went down, Tazawa has an ERA of 4.91.
Fortunately for the Red Sox, Bailey is on the road back. He threw a 20-pitch bullpen session on Tuesday, and WEEI.com reports he is set to pitch a simulated game on Thursday in Tampa. If all goes well, he could be activated by this weekend.
Tazawa's short but uneventful term as closer is drawing to an end.