Seattle Mariners' David Aardsma and the Trickiest Closer Situations in Baseball

Adam StangContributor IFebruary 17, 2011

Seattle Mariners' David Aardsma and the Trickiest Closer Situations in Baseball

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    Baseball fans rejoice; Spring Training started yesterday and the regular season is just a month and a half away.

    With the season rapidly approaching, the closer situation of each team is becoming clearer. As one of the most important roles on a baseball team, a closer can be the difference between a good team and a championship one.

    Interested to see which teams have shaky and stable closer situations? Read on.

30. Baltimore Orioles

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    This situation is very complicated.

    Who gets the closer role? Is it Mike Gonzalez, their 2010 Opening Day closer? Or is it Koji Uehara, their closer at the end of 2010? Or is it Kevin Gregg, who earned 37 saves last year? Closer-by-committee, anyone?

    There are so many question marks here.

    On the bright side, there is a lot of competition for these positions.

29. Toronto Blue Jays

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    The competition for the Toronto closer role is fierce.

    With Kevin Gregg in Baltimore, Frank Francisco, Octavio Dotel, Jon Rauch and Jason Frasor are battling for the vacancy.

    Manager John Farrell is against the closer-by-committee approach and has said he will choose one to be the designated closer. Farrell expects that person to be Francisco.

    Due to such heavy competition, the new closer won't have much room for error. The minute they begin to struggle, Toronto fans will be clamoring for someone else to take over.

28. Minnesota Twins

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    Joe Nathan has been lights out for Minnesota but his age (36) and Tommy John surgery might give the Twins pause.

    Nathan pitched off a mound yesterday for the first time since undergoing surgery. While Nathan and pitching coach Rick Anderson sounded enthusiastic, it remains to be seen how well he will hold up when the regular season begins.

    Current closer Matt Capps won't surrender his position easily. In 27 games with the Twins, Capps had a 2.00 ERA and 16 saves.

    It will be interesting to see how this situation plays out.

27. Seattle Mariners

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    With closer David Aardsma set to miss the first few weeks of the season due to hip surgery, the Mariners' closer situation just got dicey.

    With Aardsma out, Brandon League is the front-runner for save opportunities. League had a decent season last year but doesn't have much closing experience with just eight career saves.

    This presents a conundrum. If League does well, should Seattle manager Eric Wedge disrupt team chemistry by inserting Aardsma back into the closer role? Likewise, if League does poorly, should Aardsma become the closer before he is ready?

    In all likelihood, Aardsma will regain closing duties when he is ready but League or whomever closes will have a say in that.

26. Tampa Bay Rays

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    Last season, the Rays had the AL's best bullpen. With the departure of closer Rafael Soriano and five other relievers, the Tampa Bay bullpen likely won't be as stellar.

    The closer situation is particularly precarious. Manager Joe Maddon is supposedly leaning toward a closer-by-committee, indicating that Tampa Bay doesn't have a proven closer or doesn't trust one player to handle the duties alone.

    Of the relievers, Jake McGee and Kyle Farnsworth are expected to get the lion's share of save opportunities.

25. Atlanta Braves

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    With Billy Wagner retiring, Atlanta has a void to fill at closer.

    The Braves appear to be considering a closer-by-committee approach with Craig Kimbrel and Jonny Venters.

    The Braves implemented something similar when Rafael Soriano and Mike Gonzalez were in Atlanta. Soriano was the righty of the platoon and Gonzalez, the southpaw.

    The righty Kimbrel and lefty Venters could do something similar.

    The main point of concern is experience. Kimbrel and Venters are both sophomores without much closing experience.

24. Florida Marlins

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    Leo Nunez will begin the season as closer but has a shaky grip on the position.

    Nunez finished with solid numbers but blew eight saves, second most in baseball. Over the offseason, the Marlins acquired a few relievers to shore up the bullpen and challenge Nunez.

    To further emphasize Nunez's unsteady hold on the closer position, Clay Hensley temporarily replaced him in September.

    One Marlin official said that “Leo doesn’t command the ball well enough to be consistent,” and manager Edwin Rodriguez said Nunez “needs to study hitters better, watch video, and have a plan before the game.”

    It doesn't sound like the Marlins are all that confident about Nunez.

23. Chicago White Sox

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    With Bobby Jenks in Boston, Matt Thornton appears to be the most likely closer.

    Thornton has put together a nice run in Chicago, especially over the last three seasons. However, his save experience is limited with just 17 career saves.

    Chris Sale could challenge Thornton for the closer role. Though just 21 years old, Sale put up nice numbers––1.93 ERA, 1.07 WHIP. However, the White Sox might be reluctant to rush the young pitcher.

22. Washington Nationals

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    Washington traded closer Matt Capps to the Minnesota Twins last July. In 2010, Capps earned 26 saves for the Nationals. The next closest reliever had five saves.

    That reliever was Drew Storen, widely expected to be the next closer. He has pitched only one season and hence lacks experience. With a short resume and limited save opportunities, it is hard to predict how Storen will do.

    Tyler Clippard could also be in line for save opportunities.

21. Pittsburgh Pirates

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    Joel Hanrahan is expected to be Pittsburgh's closer.

    Hanrahan was a K machine in 2010 with 100 strikeouts in 69.2 innings. While those numbers are impressive, he has not yet proven himself as a closer.

    The problem for Hanrahan is the person right below him on the depth chart, Evan Meek. Meek put up impressive numbers in 2010 as well with a 2.14 ERA and 1.05 WHIP. If Hanrahan stumbles, Meek will be right there to take advantage.

20. Los Angeles Angels

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    With Brian Fuentes in Oakland, Fernando Rodney is the most likely closer.

    Though an experienced stopper, Rodney isn't particularly good. His 4.27 career ERA and 1.44 WHIP are high for a closer.

    That being said, he is probably their best ninth inning option. Hisanori Takahashi might also get a look at closer due to the eight saves and high strikeout numbers he posted last year for the New York Mets.

19. Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Jonathan Broxton has the closer's job––for now.

    He was replaced last August due to a horrid second half––7.13 ERA, 2.13 WHIP.

    It remains to be seen whether he can bounce back. If not, the Dodgers will turn to Hong-Chih Kuo, Broxton's replacement last season.

18. Arizona Diamondbacks

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    J.J. Putz is the new Arizona closer.

    Putz has ninth inning experience from his days in Seattle. His 2007 season was particularly impressive.

    However, Putz took a step back in 2008, his last year with Seattle. He hasn't gotten any substantial save opportunities ever since.

    Juan Gutierrez will challenge Putz. He didn't have great numbers but earned 15 saves in 17 attempts last season.

17. Boston Red Sox

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    Papelbon is still the man but for how much longer remains to be seen.

    In 2010, Papelbon had a 3.90 ERA, 1.27 WHIP and eight blown saves––all career highs. Another mediocre season and Boston might turn to other alternatives.

    Should Papelbon falter, Daniel Bard and Bobby Jenks would be the main candidates to fill the closer role. Bard is the future closer, and Jenks has considerable save experience from his stint with the Chicago White Sox.

16. Chicago Cubs

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    Closer Carlos Marmol is an electrifying talent. In 77.2 innings, Marmol earned 38 saves and struck out 138.

    However, Marmol is also erratic, giving up 52 walks. In 2009, he almost had a 1:1 ratio of walks to innings pitched with 65 BBs in 74.0 IPs.

    This hasn't come back to haunt Marmol yet. Still, it isn't wise to give opponents more scoring opportunities.

    His lack of control was probably a reason why former manager Lou Pinella didn't promote him earlier.

    If Marmol struggles, Kerry Wood will be there to back him up. Wood was particularly successful as a closer for the Cubs in 2008 with 34 saves.

15. Milwaukee Brewers

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    In his first full season, John Axford put up nice numbers––24 saves, 2.48 ERA, 1.19 WHIP.

    While the Brewers should be optimistic about his success, he has only been at it one season. It remains to be seen whether Axford can continue his success or fall prey to the sophomore slump.

    The closer role is Axford's to lose. He might occasionally lose save opportunities to LaTroy Hawkins and Takashi Saito but he is the closer.

14. Texas Rangers

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    In his first full season, Neftali Feliz was impressive; his 40 saves, 2.73 ERA, 0.88 WHIP stat line speaks for itself.

    There is talk that Feliz might move from closer to starter. While this most likely won't occur, it is not out of the realm of possibility.

    In the likely event that Feliz remains closer, he has a good chance of reaching 40 saves again.

13. Cleveland Indians

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    Chris Perez is the closer of the Cleveland Indians.

    In his first full season as closer, Perez performed magnificently––23 saves, 1.71 ERA and 1.08 WHIP.

    His 2010 season was far superior to that of previous seasons. It is possible that he could take a statistical step back in 2011.

    With Kerry Wood in Chicago, Perez doesn't have a serious challenger for save opportunities.

12. Houston Astros

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    Brandon Lyon will be the Opening Day closer for the Astros.

    The solid if unspectacular Lyon has decent ninth inning experience (74 career saves) and was Houston's closer last year with 20 saves.

    Lyon doesn't have serious competition for save opportunities.

11. Detroit Tigers

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    Jose Valverde has gone on a nice run with four consecutive seasons of at least 25 saves.

    There is a little bit of concern with Valverde, though. He did suffer an elbow injury which perhaps contributed to his poor second half––6.38 ERA, 1.71 WHIP. 

    The Tigers did sign Joaquin Benoit in case Valverde falters. However, he should be fine assuming that he has sufficiently recovered from the injury.

10. Oakland Athletics

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    Andrew Bailey has had a phenomenal first two years––1.70 ERA, 0.91 WHIP and 51 saves.

    However, he was sidelined at the end of last season due to right elbow pain. He underwent a cleanup procedure to fix the problem and is reportedly doing well.

    It looks like Bailey will be ready for Opening Day. Nevertheless, the A's don't want to rush Bailey and are easing him back into the bullpen. If the A's don't think he is far enough along, they can rely on offseason acquisition Brian Fuentes to handle closer duties.

    Still, Bailey is the man and will be the closer when he is ready to go.

9. Philadelphia Phillies

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    Lidge is somewhat of an enigma. His ERAs fluctuate from year to year (sometimes dramatically), making it difficult to predict future performance. For example, Lidge had a 1.95 ERA and 1.23 WHIP in 2008. In 2009, those numbers jumped to 7.21 and 1.81 respectively.

    Despite this bipolarity, the Phillies will continue to give Lidge save opportunities. Even in his dreadful 2009 season, he had 42 save opportunities. 

    If Lidge struggles, Ryan Madson is capable of closing out games.

8. Cincinnati Reds

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    When Francisco Cordero joined the Reds in 2008, he brought welcome stability to the bullpen.

    While Cordero remains an adequate closer, he tends to make things really interesting in the ninth inning as evidenced by his bloated 1.43 WHIP. Now that he's 35 years old, his numbers are likely to get worse.

    That's not to mention the threat posed by Aroldis Chapman who throws in the 100s with regularity.

    Still, Cordero has reasonable job security with a hefty $12 million contract. Due to that reason alone, small market Cincinnati isn't likely to give up on him quickly.

7. St. Louis Cardinals

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    Ryan Franklin has served as the Cardinals' closer over the past three seasons. His stats aren't that pretty but he gets the job done.

    The big concern regarding Franklin is his age; he will be 38 on Opening Day. It will be interesting to see how he holds up over another season.

    Next season, the closer situation could get dicey––Franklin is in the final year of his contract. For now, however, the situation is stable.

6. New York Mets

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    Francisco Rodriguez has had a tumultuous time what with last year's assault of his then-girlfriend's father and thumb surgery.

    Despite this, K-Rod is a quality closer with high job security; due to high salary and little competition, he will keep his job unless he really tanks.

    That is unlikely. Though he's slipped since his days in Los Angeles, he isn't that far removed from his record-setting 62 save season.

5. Colorado Rockies

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    Huston Street has had a solid career in stints with Oakland and Colorado. At just 27 years old, Street is a proven closer headed into his peak years.

    Due to his $7.3 million salary and relative mediocrity of the backups, Street has high job security.

4. San Diego Padres

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    Padres closer Heath Bell has appeared in two consecutive All-Star games, earning 89 saves in that time.

    That being said, Bell suffered a strained left calf recently but the injury isn't serious; he won't miss much Spring Training and will be fine come Opening Day.

    With the way Bell has performed the past couple of seasons, there is no incentive for the Padres to remove him from ninth inning duty.

3. San Francisco Giants

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    If Brian Wilson's body of work over the past three seasons didn't convince the Giants that he was the real deal, the 2010 postseason did.

    After a fabulous 2010 regular season campaign in which he earned a league-leading 48 saves, Wilson was even better in the postseason with a 0.00 ERA and six saves.

    Blackbeard intimidates hitters in the same way the original terrified the British Navy.

2. Kansas City Royals

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    The Royals may be a sorry team but they have a gem in Joakim Soria.

    To put it bluntly, Soria is a shutdown closer. In his four year tenure with the Royals, Soria has 132 saves compared to 13 blown saves––good for a 91 percent success rate.

    His career line is insanely good––2.01 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, .197 BAA.

    The closer situation in Kansas City is simple; get a lead, give the ball to Soria.

1. New York Yankees

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    Could it possibly be anybody else? With arguably the greatest closer of all time, the Yankees boast baseball's most stable closer situation.

    Unless Rivera suffers injury, retires or really drops off, he will be closer of the New York Yankees.

    The Bronx Bombers recently acquired Rafael Soriano, the 2010 AL leader in saves. Even someone like Soriano poses little threat to Mo.