Closer Report: Closers-in-Waiting

Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Ray offers his thoughts on some relievers/set up guys who could see save opportunities in 2014.

Daniel Kelley published his 2014 closer rankings yesterday, so today, I thought I would take a look at some relievers and set up guys who could see save opportunities in 2014. We all know how volatile the closer role is so it pays to have some knowledge of who will be the next guy in line should one of the thirty closers goes down with an injury or has a bad week and loses his job early in the season.

Let's face it, we see this every year. Last season, we saw several closers blow up in the first few weeks of the season. Remember Mitchell Boggs blowing save after save in St. Louis after Jason Motte went down with an elbow injury? Or, how about Kyuji Fujikawa blowing a few saves and going down to injury? Yeah, there were plenty others. So it pays to stash some of these guys in leagues that have bench spots or even in deeper mixed and AL and NL only leagues.

To get an idea as to how volatile the closer role is, check out this article from ESPN's David Schoenfield:

Volatille world of closers in chart form

Here is an excerpt from his piece:

One reason for the lack of superstar closers today may be a simple explanation: Teams and managers have come around to the notion that most good relievers can close, and they are more willing to give a new kid the ninth inning.

Most closers keep their jobs for a year or two. Only a few closers in the game can be dominant year in and year out. There are several teams right now that have closers who really could lose their job in April, including Tommy Hunter in Baltimore and whoever ends up closing in Houston and both Chicago teams.

Here are some relievers who are closers-in-waiting on Opening Day 2014 (in no particular order):

Edward Mujica, Red Sox

Red Sox closer Koji Uehara was pretty dominant last year once he took over the closer role in Boston. But truth be told, he turns 39 years of age on April 3rd and has thrown more than 70 innings just once in his MLB career…last season. Enter Mujica who will have the first shot at closing should Uehara struggle or land on the disabled list again. Mujica probably helped some owners win leagues last season by saving 37 games before giving way to Trevor Rosenthal in September.

Kevin Gausman/Orioles pen

Who knows who will close on Opening Day for the Orioles. Right now, it appears Tommy Hunter will be that guy, but he struggles vs left-handed hitters, so he could easily lose the job early in the season. My dark horse candidate to take over is top prospect Kevin Gausman. I know, I know. Silly idea, but this is the Orioles we are talking about. They signed Ubaldo Jimenez, Johan Santana and Suk-Min Yoon this offseason, to go along with Chris Tillman, Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez, and Bud Norris. Actually, Norris is another popular dark horse candidate to close this season. I wouldn't be surprised Dylan Bundy closes in Baltimore once he returns from Tommy John surgery. The Orioles have plenty of candidates who can close should Hunter fail in the role.

Some may think it is a silly idea for Gausman to close, but even the great Peter Gammons wrote about it yesterday on his blog, Gammons Daily:

Kevin Gausman was 94-to-99 Saturday night with a great changeup. Even if the O's don't sign Ervin Santana, Gausman might start the season in Norfolk, with Chris Tillman, Ubaldo Jimenez, Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez and Bud Norris in the rotation. Norris could move to the end of the bullpen, and Gausman is likely to be a part of the Baltimore run in the AL East. It also could be as a closer, as he is essentially a fastball-change pitcher who has tried to find a breaking ball, and that strong two pitch mix is probably enough for 5-6 outs.

Cody Allen, Indians

The Indians signed John Axford to close this offseason, but his history tells us you cannot rely on him for very long. He turned things around after a trade to St. Louis last season, and he will be working with Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway, who has worked wonders with Ubaldo Jimenez, Corey Kluber and Scott Kazmir, so he could keep Axford on track all season. If not. in steps Cody Allen, who has the pedigree to close. He struck out 29% of the hitters he faced in 2013 with a sub-3.00 ERA.

Casey Fien/Jared Burton, Twins

The Twins are in rebuild mode, so it makes sense for them to listen to offers for closer Glen Perkins midseason. Every year, teams in contention are looking to shore up their pens, and Perkins would be a good candidate to be traded this season. Should that happen, Burton or Fien can step in and be the closer for the rebuilding Twins. Both strike out more than a batter per inning, but are prone to the home run ball. Fien has the better control, so maybe he gets the first shot at closing instead of Burton, who has blown nine saves over the last two seasons.

Matt Lindstrom/Nate Jones, White Sox

The White Sox are in a similar position as the Twins, as they are in rebuild and looking to see who will win the closer job in spring training. Jones appears to be the favorite, but is sidelined with an injury at the moment. Lindstrom has previous closer experience, albeit brief, so he could be the guy out of spring training if Jones isn't ready.

Joakim Soria/Neftali Feliz, Rangers

I have some interest in who wins the closer role in Texas, as I own Soria at $3 in an AL only keeper league. Feliz has struggled this spring, as his fastball has been clocked in the 90-92 range, this after being clocked at 95 mph in winter ball. Soria has been the better of the two thus far, but it sounds like the Rangers want Feliz in that role on Opening Day. Should Feliz win the job, Soria is a solid closer-in-waiting choice on draft day as he has saved 160 games in his career.

Tyler Clippard, Nationals

All one has to do is take a look at Rafael Soriano's peripheral stats in 2013 to see that he isn't the dominant closer he was a few seasons ago. Soriano saw his K/9 drop from 9.18 K/9 to 6.89 K/9, mainly due to the fact that he reduced how much he threw his slider from 40% in 2012 to 16% last season. Soriano saved 43 games last season, but blew six save opportunities. New manager Matt Williams will feel pressure to win after the team disappointed in 2013, so he could have Soriano on a short leash if he struggles to start the season. Clippard is one of my favorite closer-in-waiting candidates in 2014.

Vic Black, Mets

Bobby Parnell is slated to close for the Mets this season, but if he falters, they could turn to Black who saved games in AA and AAA in the Pirates farm system. His 2013 MLB strikeout rate is well below his MiLB strikeout rate, so there is room for him to grow in that area.

Carlos Marmol/A.J. Ramos, Marlins

Marmol closing? Stay away, right? Well, maybe. Marlins Park is one of the best pitchers parks in the game, so he could have some usefulness should the Marlins decide to trade closer Steve Cishek at the trade deadline. Ramos might be their closer of the future, as he has closed throughout his minor league career, and owns a double digit K/9 in the minors. He struck out more than a batter per inning in his 80 innings of work last season, but struggled with his control, walking almost five batters per nine. He will have to get that under wraps before taking over as closer in Miami.

Carlos Martinez, Cardinals

We haven't seen Trevor Rosenthal close for very long, as he took over as the Cardinals closer in September last season, after Edward Mujica faltered down the stretch. We don't know how he will perform after a few rough outings/blown saves either. Enter Carlos Martinez, who is currently being stretched out to start, and maybe he will do just that. But, should the Cardinals have a need, CMart is up to the task.

Mark Melancon, Pirates

Melancon took over the Pirates closer job when Jason Grilli was injured last season, saving 16 games with a 1.39 ERA, a strikeout rate bordering a batter per inning, a 1.01 walks per nine and an elite ground ball rate of 60%. After writing this, he might be my favorite NL only closer-in-waiting this season. Grilli is old and may not be 100% healthy, so Melancon is a solid grab late in drafts this season.

Brandon Kintzler, Brewers

Kintzler isn't a dominating reliever, but he strikes out just under seven batters per nine, walks less than two per nine, and owns an elite 57% ground ball rate, which is a plus pitching in Miller Park. Miller Park is a home run haven, so a reliever who can keep the ball on the ground is ideal.

Arodys Vizcaino, Cubs

Vizcaino is the Cubs closer of the future, especially after several elbow injuries. He hasn't pitched for two years, and the Cubs are taking it slow with him this spring. This from Comcast Sportsnet Chicago's Patrick Mooney:

Vizcaino could be a weapon at the back end of the bullpen this season. But the Cubs have been very cautious, knowing they need to manage his innings and hoping the centerpiece of the 2012 Paul Maholm trade might someday be able to join the rotation.

He has thrown four innings this spring, but hasn't pitched on back to back days yet. Once he can do that a few times, the Cubs could have themselves one dominating closer, one who is hitting 97-98 mph on his fastball this spring.

Heath Hembree, Giants

Sergio Romo is one of the best closers in the game, but he is struggling mightily this spring. This from Andrew Baggarly from Comcast Sportsnet San Francisco:

The spring numbers don't look pretty for Sergio Romo.

He has appeared four times, pitched three-plus innings, allowed 11 hits and has a 33.00 ERA. In his last outing against the Seattle Mariners on Saturday, Romo didn't retire any of the five batters he faced. It was three hits, two walks - one with the bases loaded - and then the showers.

The Giants will tell you that the story extends beyond the box score, though. Romo has thrown almost exclusively fastballs and changeups this spring. He is keeping his boomerang slider lashed behind his back. Before he draws his sharpest weapon, he wants to prove he can stand and fight in close combat.

Should Romo be hurt or lose the closer role this season, Hembree is their closer in waiting. He showed us that he was ready last season, working 7.2 innings, striking out 12 and walking just two. He has saved 46 games over the last two seasons in the minors, so he is comfortable in the role.

Joaquin Benoit, Padres

The Padres signed Benoit this offseason to set up closer Huston Street, but Street is recovering from yet another injury, and is coming off a season where he gave up 12 home runs in 56 innings last season. Benoit has looked good this spring, and there is talk of wildcard aspirations in San Diego this season, so blown saves from Street could be more magnified this season.

Brian Wilson, Dodgers

Speaking of playoff expectations, with the way the Dodgers have spent the last two seasons, it is World Series or bust for them this season. Kenley Jansen, one of the best closers in the game, will start the season as the Dodgers closer for the first time in his career. How he handles that is yet to be seen, but should he falter, the Dodgers have Brian Wilson as a fall back option who has World Series experience.

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