Jonathan Papelbon and 4 Other Closers with Jobs at Risk
Last week, the Royals removed the Closer label from Joakim Soria and handed it to rookie Aaron Crow.
Soria had blown saves in each of his last three chances, allowing a combined seven runs in those outings and expanding his ERA to a dismal 6.55.
Ninth inning management is a hot topic in other baseball cities as well. Here are five current closers who are at risk of becoming ordinary middle relievers.
Matt Capps (Minnesota)
2011 has been a rough year for the Twins, and while their weakness at the plate has been heavily chronicled, they are also dead last in the American League in ERA.
With Joe Nathan still working out the kinks following Tommy John surgery, Matt Capps has been handed the ball to close games since the beginning of the season. Capps has struggled in this role, having blown four saves and posting a 4.50 ERA.
The central issue for Ron Gardenhire is that the rest of his bullpen has also performed poorly, and Nathan is a long way away from retaking the closing duties. That said, look for the Twins to replace Capps with either a rejuvenated Glen Perkins or recently called up Triple-A Rochester closer Phil Dumatrait.
Frank Francisco (Toronto)
Jays fans and fantasy baseball owners across the country have been trying to make sense of the closer situation in Toronto all season. Frank Francisco currently maintains that responsibility, but his performance suggests that a change may be coming soon.
Francisco has blown three save opportunities in relatively limited action this season. His ERA sits at a lofty 5.74 ERA in 18 appearances, and he has already been passed over in favor of Jon Rauch on a couple of save opportunities.
Francisco was handed the ball in the ninth on May 28, the last save situation for Toronto, where he promptly surrendered the lead. He may not see too many additional chances—Rauch has already registered six saves despite blowing two chances himself. If Rauch doesn’t ultimately get the nod, look for John Farrell to anoint either Jason Frasor or Casey Janssen.
Brandon League (Seattle)
League inherited the closer role in Seattle following a solid 2010 season and an injury to last year’s stopper, David Aardsma. League has not, however, been able to fully fill the shoes of his sidelined teammate.
His 2011 numbers are not pretty: 4.68 ERA, 0-4 record and three blown saves. He has pitched better of late, earning saves in each of his last six chances, but it will take several more strong outings to erase the sins of April and early May.
The recent report on Aardsma suggests the big righthander won’t be back until July. If League’s inconsistency continues, manager Eric Wedge may not wait for Aardsma’s return and temporarily shift the closing functions to David Pauley.
Brian Fuentes (Oakland)
Brian Fuentes has not officially lost his job as the Athletics' closer, but that should occur very soon.
Oakland activated Andrew Bailey from the disabled list, and manager Bob Geren plans to gently slide him back into his old role as the A’s closer. This announcement comes a week after Fuentes publicly criticized Geren for his lack of communication with the bullpen.
Internal politics aside, Fuentes has not exactly dominated the opposition this year. The veteran southpaw has three blown saves with a ho-hum 4.05 ERA. Expect Bailey to be regularly receiving the call in the ninth inning come the end of June.
Jonathan Papelbon (Boston)
For much of the year, Jonathan Papelbon has been practicing a “bend but don’t break” approach. That is, until Saturday’s meltdown against Oakland.
Paps blew his first save of the year, giving up a four-run lead in the ninth and getting ejected for arguing balls and strikes. Despite receiving his first official blemish, Papelbon has not rebounded from an unspectacular 2010 campaign.
Saturday’s episode marked the fourth time in the last six appearances Papelbon has allowed a run, and his ERA now sits at 4.32, the highest of his career. The most troubling statistic for the Boston closer though is that he has allowed more hits than innings pitched this year.
It will admittedly take several more implosions before Terry Francona motions for someone other than Papelbon to preserve ninth inning leads. We may, however, be seeing the first chinks in the 30-year-old’s armor, and Boston has a capable replacement in flame-thrower Daniel Bard waiting in the wings.