It's pretty big news around baseball that the Minnesota Twins lost their closer Joe Nathan for the season after he injured his elbow, and went on to have Tommy John surgery. So what do the Twins, a team who possibly has their best all around team they have had in years, do to replace their automatic closer?
According to Ron Gardenhire, their manager, the Twins will have a closer by committee (a closer by committee is a group of players that are all available to close, but each game where a closer is needed, one will be chosen depending on matchups and performance rather than picking only one man for the job).
Closer by committee is a good way to start the season. Spring training doesn’t give you a clear idea how a player will react with the game on the line in the bottom of the ninth, and this gives multiple players a chance to step up and prove themselves. If one falters, someone else gets a chance.
Someone will probably work their way into the position a month or two into the season, and if that doesn’t happen and this closer by committee approach isn’t working, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Twins trade for a closer.
The most likely bet for someone to step up and become the closer is John Rauch. He has the most experience as a closer but his numbers back in Washington scare me a little bit. In 2007 he was 4 for 10 in saves with an ERA of 3.61 and in 2008 he was 18 for 24 in saves with an ERA of 4.14. Overall in his career, he is 26 for 44 in saves with an ERA of 3.79 Not exactly the numbers you want of the guy pitching in the 9th inning.
The next in house candidate is Jesse Crain. Crain is a player that you don't really know what you’re going to get from him when he is on the mound.
He could be great like the Crain we knew before his shoulder surgery (2.71 ERA) or he can be the Crain that we knew last year when he was sent down to the minors to re-learn some things (4.70 ERA). Crain can be good if he really wants to, but only half the time. I really doubt he is going to be the Twins closer.
The next option, Matt Guerrier, is the safest and most reliable guy on the team, but he shouldn’t close. Guerrier is perfect where he is in the bullpen as a middle relief man. There is no point in having a closer if you don't have someone you can trust to get the game to the point where you will need one.
He is so valuable in the bullpen, there is no way you can take him out and make him closer. He led the AL last year in games and holds. As much as I love Guerrier as the main middle relief man, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Twins get desperate, and move him to closer. If the Twins get desperate, it will be because they tried to put in this next option as closer, Jose Mijares, and it didn't work.
To start off, you can't have a closer that doesn't want to put effort into baseball, and Jose Mijares doesn't seem to know what effort is. The Twins tell him to join the Winter League so he doesn't get rusty and lose his mechanics like he did at the end of the season last year, and what does he do? Nothing.
He doesn’t join any offseason baseball league. The Twins tell him to lose weight (at best) and maintain his weight (at least), and what does he do, he gains weight. He skips the fan festivals and tours, and arrives to camp late, and was unfazed by it (I know he said it was because he got his Visa late, but that happened in 2008 also. Two years in a row seems like he is a little irresponsible).
The Twins need a closer that their players can get along with and trust, and Mijares, well, he is the farthest thing from that. Last year the Twins and Tigers had a game where there were multiple hit batters, and multiple ejections. After a few innings all the retaliation had stopped and the players went on playing the game without any more problems.
Until Mijares came up to pitch.
He decided to throw a fastball behind the head of a Tigers player, who played for the Twins the season before. Delmon Young (the Twins LF who took a fastball to his knee earlier in the game), had seen enough. He started to charge to mound from the dugout.
Yeah you heard me. Mijares was charged by his own teammate!
It sure sounds like his teammates really get along with him. Aside from all the personal issues Mijares has, he is not fit to be a closer at all. He has the ERA, 2.71, to be a closer but he chokes when it counts. His ERA in the postseason is 13.50. During the last few weeks of September, it was terrifying to watching him pitch. With all the issues Mijares has, I would be surprised if he makes it through the whole season without some problem.
Pat Neshek would be a great closer, the only issue with him, is that he hasn't pitched in a regular season baseball game in two years. Neshek had Tommy John surgery and missed most of the 2008 season and all of the 2009 season. Before that, he was a lights out pitcher with a career ERA of 2.91 and a 3:1 strikeout to walk ratio.
The Twins have no idea how Neshek will react when he is out there pitching, or if he could handle pitching multiple days in a row, but if he is similar to the type of pitcher he was before his injury, Neshek might be the Twins closer by June.
The last option I see is trading for a closer. I really doubt the Twins will do that unless the committee approach is not working, and no one steps up to close the games. The best option would be Heath Bell of the Padres, but the Twins are not going to be the only team after him.
The Padres will have a pretty high asking price for him, which means the Twins will most likely have to give up one of their top prospects (Hicks, Revere, Ramos), and it might not be worth it considering all three of those players have the ability to be stars in a few years. Hopefully it won't come to a point where the Twins need to worry about a trade, but it is a possibility it might happen.
Closer by committee will work for a while, but come September, you want to have someone set aside each night that you can count on to save the game in the ninth. If the Twins want to be a serious contender in the American League they will need to find a closer, not a whole committee of them.