Jonathan Papelbon and 4 Other Closers with Jobs at Risk

Mason ArgiropoulosContributor IJune 6, 2011

Jonathan Papelbon and 4 Other Closers with Jobs at Risk

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    BOSTON, MA - JUNE 04:  Jonathan Papelbon #58 of the Boston Red Sox is held back by manager Terry Francona #47 in the ninth inning against the Oakland Athletics on June 4, 2011 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
    Elsa/Getty Images

    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)

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    MINNEAPOLIS, MN - OCTOBER 7: Joe Mauer #7 and Matt Capps #55 of the Minnesota Twins speak on the mound in the ninth inning during game two of the ALDS game against the New York Yankees on October 7, 2010 at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo b
    Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

    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)

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    TORONTO, CANADA - MAY 20: Chris Johnson #23 of the Houston Astros rounds the bases after a 2 run home run off of Frank Francisco #50 of the Toronto Blue Jays during MLB action at the Rogers Centre May 20, 2011 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Abelim
    Abelimages/Getty Images

    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)

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    BALTIMORE, MD - MAY 12: Pitching coach Carl Willis #48 (C) talks with reliever Brandon League #43 and catcher Miguel Olivo #30 of the Seattle Mariners on the mound during the twelfth inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on M
    Rob Carr/Getty Images

    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)

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    OAKLAND, CA - MAY 03:  Brian Fuentes #57 of the Oakland Athletics is taken out of the game by manager Bob Geren after he gave up three runs to the Cleveland Indians in the ninth inning at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum on May 3, 2011 in Oakland, Californ
    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    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)

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    BOSTON, MA - JUNE 04:  Jonathan Papelbon #58 of the Boston Red Sox and home plate umpire Tony Randazzo #11 are separated by manager Terry Francona #47 of the Red Sox in the bottom of the ninth inning against the Oakland Athletics on June 4, 2011 at Fenway
    Elsa/Getty Images

    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.