Closing Time: Who Will the Chicago Cubs' Closer Be Next Season?

M. S.Correspondent IAugust 19, 2009

CHICAGO - MAY 16: Carlos Marmol #49 of the Chicago Cubs throws the ball against the Houston Astros on May 16, 2009 at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois. The Cubs defeated the Astros 5-4. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Even I, a die-hard Brewers fan, have to admit that I had a hard time watching Kevin Gregg’s last performance on Monday against the Padres. Sitting with three Cubs fans and watching Gregg give up the game-tying and game-winning runs was just too much to bear, so I decided to look ahead and give the North Siders some hope for next year.

Gregg is set to become a free agent, and the only way I can see the Cubs re-signing him is if he stays in the closer role and the Cubs make the playoffs. Even then, it will be a long shot. He hasn’t been liked by the fans for quite some time, and many, myself included, believe he should never have been the closer.

With Gregg blowing three saves in his last five tries, manager Lou Piniella decided enough was enough and converted Carlos Marmol to closer. Citing experience as the main reason, Marmol will go back to the closer’s role that he briefly saw last season, when he made the All-Star Game.

Piniella said he was also considering left-hander John Grabow and right-hander Angel Guzman for the spot but went with Marmol instead. Grabow is an important lefty out of the bullpen, and Guzman has been a solid middle-innings man.

Even with the move of Marmol to the closer position, it’s more of a shakeup than a permanent change. With 52 walks and a major league-leading 11 hit batters, Marmol is hardly a long-term solution. He has been wild this season and is more of a setup man than anything else. He leads the National League in holds with 27.

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One thing that Marmol will bring to the table is his ability to strike batters out and avoid the home run ball. Gregg led all relievers in the majors with12 home runs allowed, while Marmol has given up just one long ball.

It’s easy to look at the schedule and believe that the Cubs are all but out of the wild card race and are quickly losing time to gain ground on the Cardinals, who stand six games ahead of the Cubs entering today’s action.

There are viable options that the Cubs will certainly take a look at to make their bullpen, ranked 17th in the majors in ERA, better next season.

The cream of the crop in free agency will be closer Jose Valverde, currently of the Houston Astros. He has just 16 saves on the season, but a lack of opportunities and injuries scattered through this year led to his weak numbers. His ERA of 2.50 is solid, and he has walked just 13 batters all year.

Trevor Hoffman will be a free agent next season, but one has to wonder whether he will hang up “Hells Bells” rather than play for a third team in three consecutive years. He did take a job in Milwaukee this year, so location clearly was not an issue. With 26 saves and a 1.80 ERA, a rejuvenated Hoffman could do wonders in Wrigley Field.

The Tigers will be expected to make an offer for Fernando Rodney this offseason, but the Cubs could snatch him up if they decide to get in a bidding war with Detroit.

The Atlanta Braves have two pitchers, Mike Gonzalez and Rafael Soriano, who are set to become free agents next season, and both have closed games for the Braves this season. The two have formed a solid one-two punch in late inning games, but would both be plausible options for the Cubs in the ninth next year.

The Cubbies also have a few young arms in the farm system that could be potential closers in the future. Andrew Cashner and Dae-Eun Rhee are the top two prospects, and while both project as starters in the future, Cashner has the goods to be able to close. Jeff Samardzija has flopped as a starter, but with time and seasoning he could be a ninth inning option in Chicago if need be.

Jim Hendry will be on a shorter leash this offseason after his free agent acquisitions and contract extensions floundered this year.

This could mean the Cubs will have to promote from within for the closer’s role instead of going out and breaking the bank, but if they want to, the potential is there. It is a strong free agent class for relief pitchers, and some good arms will be on the market.

If the Cubs really believe Marmol can get the job done moving forward, it would be a huge relief to fans everywhere. 

However, history says that too many walks does not get the job done. Looking at the top six leaders in saves this season, none of them has more than 16 walks on the season.

Marmol is a good change for the Cubs, who desperately need one, but cannot be seen as the long-term solution to the problem. With the season quickly fading, the Cubs needed to do something and went with the best option available.

However, next year will be a different story.


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