Will somebody please close the door? While pitching was preeminent during the first few days of the 2012 season, encouraging some fans to proclaim this another "Year of the Pitcher," you'll understand if many of the high profile closers in baseball feel a bit left out with regards to that statement. It seemed like a closer was opening the door rather than closing it more often as not, and even the typically reliable guys had their share of adversity over the first few days of the season. And, it wasn't just poor performances - with a few names like Joakim Soria and Ryan Madson already out for a long time, several other "locked in" stoppers followed them onto the disabled list. Have you always been one of those owners who was adamant about not paying big draft money for saves? This year, at least early on, it looks like that strategy was a good one. Let's take a look at the end game situations across baseball after the first weekend of 2012:
Around the American League:
Boston Red Sox- One of the bullpens in the most turmoil, the Red Sox lost new closer Andrew Bailey to wrist surgery. He'll likely be out until July or August. Mark Melancon was supposedly acquired as insurance against something like this happening, but in a surprise move, Bobby Valentine indicated that swingman Alfredo Aceves would get the opportunity to close after losing out on a rotation spot to probably their best reliever, Daniel Bard. Until Monday, Aceves was terrible, and Valentine seems reluctant to use Melancon when it counts. Melancon should rise to the top of the list, however so many moves in Boston have been quirky (to say the least), so it's hard to predict what's next.
New York Yankees- Even the most successful closer in the game wasn't immune to the end game fireworks. Mariano Rivera blew his first save opportunity of the season allowing two runs on two hits and two intentional walks in just one-third of an inning. He is certainly not in any danger of losing his job, but at his age (42), you do have to wonder when his skill set might begin to decline. If Rivera should start showing his age, the Yankees have plenty of support with David Robertson and Rafael Soriano.
Toronto Blue Jays - After being denied a save opportunity on opening day when lefty Luis Perez faced one batter in the 16th inning with the Jays holding a three run lead, new closer Sergio Santos entered to begin the ninth Saturday and promptly allowed a game-tying solo home run. The Jays do have some insurance with veteran - as in old - Francisco Cordero, but Santos should have a reasonably long leash. He was very reliable for the White Sox last year, despite occasionally struggling with his command. Just another who suffered the first week closer blues.
Tampa Bay Rays- Add Kyle Farnsworth to the list of injured closers. He is expected to miss 4-6 weeks and the line of succession isn't all that clear. Joel Peralta would have been the preseason favorite for fill-in duties, and he is probably still the most likely to get the ball in the ninth, however the Rays probably still harbor some hope in Jacob McGee rising to the occasion, even Fernando Rodney, as silly as that seems, is an outside consideration, and a very appealing dark horse could also be part of this race - Wade Davis missed out on a rotation spot, but his velocity is up this year, and closing would minimize his need for more reliable secondary pitches. Keep an eye on him.
Detroit Tigers- Jose Valverde didn't blow a save in 2011. It wasn't that he didn't get close several times, but his luck ran out on opening day in 2012. He did manage to notch a win after allowing the tying runs to score in the ninth, and like Rivera above he is not in any danger of losing his job, but his adversity underscores the tumultuous closer scenarios in baseball this April. He should be fine, albeit nail-biting fine at times, and this team should get him plenty of save chances.
Chicago White Sox- New Sox manager Robin Ventura has been playing his version of I've Got a Secret all spring. Top tier set-up guy, Matt Thornton, has been the presumed closer to start the season while most believe Addison Reed will eventually be the man. Just to complicate things, another quality set-up man, Jesse Crain has had his name added to the closing menu, and young Hector Santiago is trying hard to be this year's version of Sergio Santos on the south side of Chicago. It really looks like it could be a matchup, committee of many early on, however Reed is still the most likely long term answer. Santiago is somehow lurking in the wings but I don't see it down the road.
Kansas City Royals- When Joakim Soria went under the knife for his second Tommy John surgery a couple of weeks ago, the discussion of bullpen roles in Kansas City spiked. The two most prominent names were the oft-injured Jonathon Broxton and super set-up man from 2011, Greg Holland. Even Aaron Crow could enter into the equation at some point, but Broxton, who has hit 97 mph on the gun, and Holland are the frontrunners. Expect Broxton to get the first call - probably as a showcase - and if he is at least moderately effective, he should hold the job until he is either re-injured, or dealt. Then the Holland era begins.
Cleveland Indians- Unless things change dramatically very soon, this is not so much a case of if Chris Perez loses the job, but rather, when Perez loses the job. Diminished velocity, spotty command, a sharply declining strikeout rate, and general ineffectiveness all point to a new closer in Cleveland sooner rather than later. Vinnie Pestano is poised to step in as soon as Perez stumbles and fumbles just a few more times, and he is an almost mandatory handcuff for Perez at this time.
Seattle Mariners- Based on results, Brandon League isn't really in danger of losing his job as the closer for Seattle as much as he is likely to need change of address labels for his mail. The Mariners regularly test the waters to gauge interest in their current closer, and with so many injuries and shaky performances in the end game, it's probably only a matter of time before League changes hats. Long term, the guy to have is Chance Ruffin, but he is currently in Triple-A, and its possible Tom Wilhelmsen could get a crack if they feel Ruffin would benefit from more minor league seasoning.
Around the National League:
Washington Nationals- There are a lot of people, including me, who think the young Nationals are playoff contenders for this season. For that to happen, Drew Storen will need to be firing on all cylinders. He had some minor elbow issues early on, but his rehab is reportedly going well and his 2012 debut is imminent. Until then, Brad Lidge and Henry Rodriguez will be sharing the closer duties with Lidge perhaps getting the bulk of the chances. Rodriguez would actually be a better choice if this were a long term need, but the Nats would love to convince a team with a spare centerfielder that Lidge could be the answer to their bullpen needs and the best way to generate interest is with exposure in high leverage situations.
Miami Marlins - The fish spent some cash to christen their new stadium, including a big chunk new closer Heath Bell. Initial returns suggest that new ballpark could be a bit like PETCO east (it's still too early to say really), but Bell will need to pitch on the road too. In his first save opportunity, he allowed a solo home run, retired a batter, and then allowed three straight singles to blow the save, and take a loss. Like some of the other more experienced closers, Bell will have to really struggle to lose the job, but his dominance has been waning for awhile now and he could have more of these outings in the future. Was this just another case of opening weekend closer blues? In Bell's case, maybe not.
Chicago Cubs- The Cubs aren't likely to be very good in 2012 and their closer is just one piece of their underperforming puzzle. Carlos Marmol continues to spiral downward into fantasy irrelevance, and his primary backup, Kerry Wood, is really more about hopes and dreams name recognition than truly effective relief work at this point in his career. The team is still gradually working their way out from under a lot of ill-advised contracts so immediate improvement isn't too likely. If there is a change in closer's in the near future, the best choices, at least marginally, might be flame thrower Rafael Dolis or so-so lefty Jeff Beliveau. Both have some ability but would really benefit from more experience. For those who like to track the sleepers, write down the name Dae-Eun Rhee. I watched him a few years ago and was very impressed, especially with his feel for the change-up at such a young age. Tommy John surgery cost him most of 2009 and put him in build it back mode for 2010 so he not on a lot of radars. The Cubs are working him as a starter, but he could emerge as a quality late inning reliever in the future.
Cincinnati Reds- The Reds thought they had solidified the back of their bullpen with the signing of Ryan Madson and Sean Marshall, but that was short-lived as Madson underwent Tommy John surgery before the 2012 season even began. Marshall was supposed to be Madson's primary set-up guy, but he is now their likely closer - at least for the time being. High profile Aroldis Chapman has been officially assigned to the bullpen for this year, and if he demonstrates enough command, he could be the closer in Cincinnati before this season is too far along.
Pittsburgh Pirates- Similar to the national debt in the United States, the cost of keeping Joel Hanrahan in Pittsburgh is steadily rising. The Pirates aren't known for big paydays so it's reasonable to assume they would entertain offers for their pretty well established closer at some point. If Hanrahan does move on, the challenge will be in finding a quality replacement. Evan Meek, Juan Cruz and/or Chris Resop would be the most likely candidates, but none of those really fit the high quality definition. There are several quality arms in the system, but the Pirates won't want to rush them, and for the most part, they are still seen as rotation candidates. This would be a situation that requires careful monitoring.
Los Angeles Dodgers- Javy Guerra was one of the closer's expected to be living on borrowed time as the 2012 season began. In the Dodger's first game, Guerra's intended replacement, Kenley Jansen served up a two-run home run, and Guerra was effective in earning saves in his first two chances of the season - so much for scripting the end game. Given the ups and downs of bullpen work, Guerra has no doubt silenced, or at least muted, some of those calling for an immediate switch to Jansen. For those of you who own Jansen (and that would include me), the Dodgers coaches think they have denoted a glitch in his delivery, and it's still only a matter of time before Jansen's amazing arm surpasses the spotty command of Guerra, and he begins his tenure as one of the game's most dominating closers. Is that a strong enough endorsement?
San Francisco Giants- The Giants, and the Beard, would both probably tell you that "all is well" at the back of the San Francisco bullpen. That line reminds me of the scene from the movie Animal House. In other words, I'm not quite convinced. Brian Wilson is back, but he isn't the closer he once was. His velocity is down, his pitches don't have the same life, and his command is inconsistent. If he is not 100% healthy - a very real possibility - there could be an opportunity for someone else to fill in at some point in the season. Sergio Romo might be the best choice, but they are hesitant to move him out of the set-up role. If the need is short term, expect a committee approach with match-ups dictating whether Jeremy Affeldt, Javier Lopez, or Santiago Casilla gets the call.