It’s time to continue our journey around the league, looking at each team’s closer situation. The AL East is home of the greatest closer in baseball, but there are plenty of other situations worth noting. Let’s take a look:
Current Closer: Alfredo Simon
Waiting in the Wings: Mike Gonzalez
Closer of the Future: Kam Mickolio?
Have the Orioles made the switch to Gonzalez yet? We all know it’s just a matter of time, as it should be. While Simon thrived early on, he has had too many issues to trust him in the ninth inning. A 1.56 WHIP from your closer? No thank you. Plus, the team is paying a lot of money for Gonzalez, who was expected to be the closer. As for the future, the Orioles have a ton of young pitching, and if someone fails in the rotation they could ultimately transition to the pen and the closer’s role. Mickolio has struggled this season, but at 6’9″, it could take him a little longer to develop (as it often does for taller pitchers). With 38 Ks in 28.0 innings at Triple-A, there certainly is potential to watch.
Boston Red Sox
Current Closer: Jonathan Papelbon
Waiting in the Wings: Daniel Bard
Closer of the Future: Daniel Bard
Papelbon has been one of the best closers in baseball over the last few years, but he’s starting to show a few dents in his armor. Still, with a 3.20 ERA and 1.14 WHIP, to go along with his 29 saves, is anyone really complaining? One or two bad outings, especially from your closer, get significantly magnified. Stay patient and don’t overreact. Of course, the Red Sox do have an arm ready and waiting to take the reigns. Bard has benefited from some positive luck (.208 BABIP, 87.2% strand rate), but with a fastball averaging nearly 98.0 mph to go with a 2.01 ERA and 0.91 WHIP, there’s a lot to like. The Red Sox easily could try to save some money and hand the job to Bard sooner rather then later.
New York Yankees
Current Closer: Mariano Rivera
Waiting in the Wings: Joba Chamberlain
Closer of the Future: Joba Chamberlain
There’s nothing to be said about Rivera that hasn’t already been said. He’s the best closer in baseball history. Period. As for Joba, there certainly have been issues, but you would have to think that the Yankees would like to get him back into a significant bullpen role before long. Otherwise, why did they give up on him as a starting pitcher so quickly? I know he’s struggled this season, but the Yankees certainly have mishandled him and we know how good he can be. Don’t give up on him yet.
Tampa Bay Rays
Current Closer: Rafael Soriano
Waiting in the Wings: Dan Wheeler
Closer of the Future: ?
Soriano has thrived in Tampa Bay this season, posting a 1.74 ERA and 0.84 WHIP. At 30-years old, he definitely could have a few more years left in him to succeed. Then again, the Rays constantly are developing arms, so there could be any number of pitchers who ultimately emerge to take over the role down the line. That makes it impossible to nail down who could eventually emerge as their closer of the future.
Toronto Blue Jays
Current Closer: Kevin Gregg
Waiting in the Wings: Jason Frasor
Closer of the Future: David Purcey
There were questions surrounding Gregg entering the season, but he’s done a solid job with 27 saves to go along with a 3.35 ERA and 1.27 WHIP. As he has always done, he continues to pile up the strikeouts, with 49 Ks over 45.2 innings. At 32-years old, he’s not the long-term solution for the Blue Jays, but it appears likely that he could be back with the team in 2011. His contract has a very affordable 2011 option ($4.5 million according to Cot’s Baseball Contracts), so there appears to be little reason not to bring him back. Frasor has struggled at times this season, with a WHIP of 1.51 thanks to below average control (4.1 BB/9). He’ll get occasional opportunities, but it’s Gregg’s job. As far as down the line, they have a kid down in Single-A named Matthew Daly (28 saves), who could develop in time, but I have a feeling that David Purcey may beat him too it. Having been transitioned to the bullpen, Purcey has thrived this season. In 24 Major League appearances he has posted a 2.81 ERA. A former top prospect, he has strikeout ability and appears to be finding his niche in the bullpen. While he’s currently on the DL, it will be interesting to see if the Blue Jays challenge him once he returns, though, as a lefty, they may prefer to groom him to be a specialist.
What are your thoughts on these situations?
Make sure to check out our look at the other divisions in baseball: