After a third consecutive outing where closer Leo Nunez allowed multiple runs to cross the plate, the Marlins have, for the time being, removed Nunez from the closer role in the hopes of getting pitchers Steve Cishek or Jose Ceda molded into gaining that job in 2012.
As recently as August 12th, Nunez had his ERA at 3.35, which for a closer is a tad bit high. After blowing the save in Colorado, nearly blowing it again the night after and allowing four earned runs in the ninth inning against the Reds last Tuesday, the ERA ballooned to 4.63.
Now, the return of the closer dubbed by fans and TV announcers Rich Waltz and Tommy Hutton as "The Leocoaster" is shrouded in doubt as the team will be looking at a salary rise in the neighborhood of $5 million-$6 million.
Indeed, "The Leocoaster" has lived up to the name, so much to the point that he symbolizes the third installment of the Final Destination franchise, which is built after a freak rollercoaster accident at the start of the film.
Marlins TV analyst Tommy Hutton was outraged at Nunez, and his abandonment of his better out-pitches, which primarily consist of his seldom used slider and fastball, which were the staple in his string of 18 consecutive saves to start the season without a blown save.
Hutton said (h/t Sun Sentinel): "You've got a guy who's never hit a home run, you give him a pitch he can pull, an 86 mph changeup—and you can throw 97 miles an hour. Doesn't make sense to me. If you’re looking ahead to 2012, start throwing Steve Cishek in there to close out games, If you’re going to figure out who your closer is going to be in 2012, if it’s not going to be Leo Nunez, then start figuring it out right now.”
Who do think is the best successor to Leo Nunez?
As the trade deadline passed nearly a month ago, the Marlins decided to keep Nunez hoping to reopen trade talks with more teams in the offseason. Now his value has plummeted from what is was in July and the Marlins have but themselves to blame for that since they didn't pull the trigger.
With the Marlins already on the hook for $45 million in 2012 and possible extensions and tenders on tap, the team is looking at being close to $60 million in salary with the current players (not including Nunez).
Starting pitcher Anibal Sanchez is a candidate for a contract extension this offseason, which could pay him $6 million in 2012 (an identical type contract extension to Ricky Nolasco) and Omar Infante needs to be re-signed, which could be the deal breaker for Nunez if he hopes to remain a Marlin.
The Marlins will have bigger priorities (i.e. starting pitching and bench) and Nunez's $5-6 million salary won't be worth their while, especially if they want to contend in October in the near future. Nunez isn't the type of pitcher who you will feel safe with in a one-run, two-run and even three-run game (against offensive powerhouses) in the postseason. Fish fans have first-hand knowledge of that.
The Marlins rolled out Edward Mujica in the first game of the doubleheader but he promptly gave up a two-run home run. Steve Cishek took over and got the save. He, along with Mike Dunn and quite possibly Jose Ceda (who was acquired in the Kevin Gregg trade), will figure to be in the mix for save opportunities from here on out.