by Marc Luckey Helms II
Cream of the Crop
Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta Braves
Craig Kimbrel is the gold standard for closers and if your strategy relies on relief pitchers, he’s worth every penny you’ll have to pay to get him. Last season, Kimbrelstruck out over half of the batters he faced while walking only 14, and that is not a misprint. He’s given up a few home runs early on, but will find his rhythm in due time.
Job Security: Very very safe.
Closers-in-Waiting: With expert setup man Johnny Venters on the DL, former Angels closer Jordan Walden is most likely to vulture the occasional save if Kimbrel shows any signs of fatigue due to high pitch count or back-to-back-to-back appearances.
Best of the Rest
Jonathon Papelbon, Philadelphia Phillies
Without Kimbrel, Jonathan Papelbon would be the best closer in the NL East. As a model of consistency, Papelbon has had seven consecutive seasons of 30+ saves. Expect him to benefit from Philly’s small ball approach and dominate the ninth in too many close, low-run ballgames.
Job Security: Very safe.
Closers-in-Waiting: Consider Mike Adams the most-likely-to-be-a-closer-elsewhere-at-the-end-of–the-season winner in the Phillies’ bullpen yearbook. A few years ago Adams was an absolute stud and, stop me if you’ve heard this before, his production dropped after an injury. If he gets back to full strength, Philadelphia will be rewarded for keeping the faith and signing Adams to be their primary setup guy in 2013.
Rafael Soriano, Washington Nationals
After Atlanta, the Nationals have the best bullpen in the NL East. This offseason, the rich got richer when Washington signed Rafael Soriano to a two-year deal for big-time closer money. Despite Soriano’s ability to get out of jams and a firm endorsement by the GM, his leash may not be as long as it seems.
Job Security: Somewhat safe.
Closers-in-Waiting: Drew Storen has closer stuff and is only 25. After pushing through an elbow injury last year, Storen will have the first crack at the ninth if Soriano stumbles or falls to injury. If this happens, there may be no looking back. Tyler Clippard has great stuff, but excels in a setup role. Considering the overall talent in their lineup, expect the Nationals to have an abundance of save opportunities over the course of this season.
Middle of the Road
Steve Cishek, Miami Marlins
After last year’s Heath Bell Experience, Steve Cishek was a breath of fresh air to the Marlins’ ninth inning woes. Even though he didn’t set the world ablaze, he did enough to keep the closer’s gig in 2013. His job is safe at the moment, and he’s done well to lower his BB/9 from 4.1 last season to a more respectable 3.5.
Job Security: Somewhat safe.
Closers-in-Waiting: Although Cishek has the job, there are a number of pitchers looming to knock him off the perch. Mike Dunn is a solid lefty who earned some respect by closing out a few games last season. Jon Rauch has experience in the role, with 62 saves in his career and A.J. Ramos is the type of prototypical young gun you’d expect the Marlins to give time this season.
Last Chance Saloon
Bobby Parnell, New York Mets
Due to Frank Francisco’s offseason surgery, Bobby Parnell has been the Mets’ closer and he’s had a very respectable ERA (1.29) and WHIP (0.57) thus far. Don’t let his numbers fool you, he currently has a save percentage of 60% and, if he keeps it up, the job will not be his for much longer. Although he’s been the closer-in-waiting in Queens for a few seasons, this may not be the year he proves why the job should be his.
Job Security: Unsafe.
Closers-in-Waiting: Frank Francisco has been recovering nicely from offseason surgery and is near returning to big league play. If he comes back to form and Parnell struggles, he should regain the closer post. Last season Francisco spent most of the year on the verge of losing the closer’s role and the Mets’ faithful will be happy to see him fade into a setup role if Parnell performs to expectations. Don’t forget about former closer Brandon Lyon, who has a career total of 79 saves and might just get the chance should injuries wreak havoc on the Mets’ bullpen.