Latest update: March 7, 2014
(Stay tuned for AL/NL Central updates, which will post on March 9. AL/NL East updates coming on March 11.)
Houston Astros – The Astros enter 2014 with one of the most wide open bullpens in all of baseball. After stumbling to the finish line in 2013 with one of the worst cadre of relievers in recent memory, Houston picked up Chad Qualls, Matt Albers, and Jesse Crain to bolster the back end of their bullpen. Josh Fields, Chia-Jen Lo, Josh Zeid, and Kevin Chapman are among those likely to fill out the bullpen, and depending how it shakes out, nearly any of those guys could conceivably be the closer by the end of April. We like Qualls out of the gate, as manager Bo Porter said in February that he values Qualls’s previous experience. Fields finished the season as closer last year, and has said openly that he wants the job, so he could be Qualls’s early competition. Crain would likely be challenging for the position as well, were he not a little bit nicked up. And though Zeid finished last season strong, we’ll give the 2nd in line spot to Albers, based on his tenure. Starting 2014 hierarchy: Closer – Chad Qualls, Set-up – Josh Fields (Jesse Crain injured), 2nd in line – Matt Albers.
Los Angeles Angels – Despite some rocky stretches last year, Ernesto Frieri enters 2014 as the unquestioned closer for the Angels. The first man behind him should be Joe Smith, who got a big offseason contract, while Kevin Jepsen and Dane de la Rosa figure to feature prominently in the 7th inning. Mike Scioscia has always liked Kevin Jepsen, who the Angels hope will return to form after an injury-plagued 2013. De la Rosa finished last year strong, but we’ll give a slight edge to Jepsen, who manager Mike Scioscia has always liked. Starting 2014 hierarchy: Closer – Ernesto Frieri, Set-up – Joe Smith, 2nd in line – Kevin Jepsen.
Oakland A’s – The A’s brought Jim Johnson in to be their new stopper, and gave him a contract big enough to ensure his early-season job security. Not much else to see here, as Sean Doolittle and Ryan Cook will likely share 8th inning duties again. Cook has been recovering from some tendinitis, but is confident he’ll be ready for the season. If he can’t go, the newly-acquired Luke Gregerson will slide up into his spot. Starting 2014 hierarchy: Closer – Jim Johnson, Set-up – Sean Doolittle, 2nd in line – Ryan Cook.
Seattle Mariners – Danny Farquhar spent much of 2013 putting up phenomenal peripherals that the Mariners just didn’t trust for some reason, waiting until August to hand him the closer job. Well, not much has changed — the Mariners still don’t trust Farquhar, and scooped up the enigmatic Fernando Rodney to be their 9th inning man. If Rodney puts up 2012 numbers, then obviously Farquhar will never sniff the job. If Rodney puts up 2013 numbers, then Farquhar could win it pretty quickly. Tom Wilhelmsen is lurking as well, and starts the season in our 2nd in line position, while Stephen Pryor is still seen as the closer of the future in Seattle, and continues to work his way back from injury. Starting 2014 hierarchy: Closer – Fernando Rodney, Set-up – Danny Farquhar, 2nd in line – Tom Wilhelmsen.
Texas Rangers – The Rangers have said this is an open competition. But they’ve also suggested that they want Neftali Feliz to win the job, and yesterday, Feliz gave them reason to think that he will. So for now, we like him to beat out Joakim Soria for the job. Tanner Scheppers and Robbie Ross, both among the best middle relievers in baseball last year, both reportedly have their eye on the 5th starter job. They’re probably both too valuable to demote if they can’t crack the rotation, so one of them could get shuttled back to the bullpen by the end of spring training. Starting 2014 hierarchy: Closer – Neftali Feliz, Set-up – Joakim Soria, 2nd in line – Tanner Scheppers.
Arizona Diamondbacks – The Diamondbacks picked up Addison Reed in the offseason, but in a somewhat surprising move, have not handed him the closer gig. GM Kevin Towers said in February that the closer role will be a competition between Reed and J.J. Putz, a statement backed up by Kirk Gibson yesterday. As the D-Backs prep for their season opener in Australia, we’ll keep a close eye on this situation — so far, the pitchers have nearly identical spring stats, both having given up 1 run in three innings. Starting 2014 hierarchy: Closer – Addison Reed, Set-up – J.J. Putz, 2nd in line – Brad Ziegler.
Colorado Rockies – Rex Brothers’s quest to become the full-time Rockies closer will have to wait for at least a little while, as the Rockies signed the 41-year-old LaTroy Hawkins in the offseason. Walt Weiss has already named Hawkins the closer, though the aging righty will probably need to be rested from time to time, making Brothers an appealing option for vulture saves. Returning to the Colorado bullpen behind them are Matt Belisle and Wilton Lopez, though former Yankee Boone Logan has the early edge for the 2nd in line job after a solid 2013 campaign. Starting 2014 hierarchy: Closer – LaTroy Hawkins, Set-up – Rex Brothers, 2nd in line – Boone Logan.
Los Angeles Dodgers – The Dodgers have unlimited money, which allows them to do silly things like pay Brian Wilson $10 million. Though The Beard won’t close — Kenley Jansen finally has a firm grasp on that job — his contract means he’s almost assuredly the set-up man. Behind Jansen and Wilson is another former closer looking to return to form, as Chris Perez is in town on a 1-year deal. Starting 2014 hierarchy: Closer – Kenley Jansen, Set-up – Brian Wilson, 2nd in line – Chris Perez.
San Diego Padres – The Padres brought in veteran Joaquin Benoit to bolster their bullpen after losing Luke Gregerson to the A’s, but Huston Street is still the closer for the foreseeable future. Benoit will set-up, while Dale Thayer is a good bet for 7th inning work. Starting 2014 hierarchy: Closer – Huston Street, Set-up – Joaquin Benoit, 2nd in line – Dale Thayer.
San Francisco Giants – The Giants bullpen looks very similar to last year’s edition, with Sergio Romo closing and Santiago Casilla right behind him. Javier Lopez and Jean Machi will handle the 7th inning, though future closer Heath Hembree is worth watching. Starting 2014 hierarchy: Closer – Sergio Romo, Set-up – Santiago Casilla, 2nd in line – Javier Lopez.
At a glance:
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September 29, 2013
New York Yankees – Mariano Rivera, the greatest closer of all time, will not pitch again this season. He finishes his final season with 44 saves. David Robertson will take over as closer and certainly has some big shoes to fill. No hierarchy change.
Milwaukee Brewers – Alfredo Figaro picked up the save in extra innings last night Henderson, Kintzler, and Wooten had all pitched in two straight games. No hierarchy change.
St. Louis Cardinals – Edward Mujica continues to struggle. The Cardinals brought Mujica on for the 9th with a 6 run lead. He gave up 3 hits while only recording one out. Seth Maness ended up getting the save. No hierarchy change.
VULTURE SAVE WATCH
1. David Robertson, New York Yankees – Mariano Rivera will not pitch again so Robertson should get the call if there is a save opportunity today
2. Joakim Soria, Texas Rangers – Joe Nathan has pitched in 3 straight and 4 of the last 5. The Rangers need this win for a chance at making the playoffs so they could send him out there for a 4th straight day. If they decide to give Nathan the day off Soria could get the call.
3. Kevin Gregg, Chicago Cubs – Pedro Strop and Kevin Gregg have been sharing the closing duties so either could be used today.
September 28, 2013
New York Yankees - Mariano Rivera got the night off after his emotional final outing in Yankee Stadium. David Robertson retired the Astros in order (which isn’t hard to do) for his 3rd save of the season. There are rumors that Mariano could play center field this weekend so Robertson could see more saves. No hierarchy change.
Toronto Blue Jays – Sergio Santos came on in the 8th inning with the bases loaded and one out and the Blue Jays up 4. He got a double play to get out of the inning and then stayed on for the 9th to pick up his first save of the season. No hierarchy change.
Cleveland Indians – Chris Perez is officially out as closer, and will be replaced by a committee of relievers that includes most of the bullpen. Former No. 1 starter Justin Masterson, recovering from an oblique injury, is among the best bets for the 9th inning, as mentioned this morning. Joe Smith is neck-and-neck with Masterson, with Cody Allen and Bryan Shaw close behind. Hierarchy change: Joe Smith to Closer, Justin Masterson to Set-up.
VULTURE SAVE WATCH
1. Kevin Gregg, Chicago Cubs – The Cubs could go with Gregg or Strop if they have a save opportunity tonight.
2. David Robertson, New York Yankees – The Yankees may play Mariano Rivera in center field so Robertson could be the closer the rest of this weekend.
September 27, 2013
Cleveland Indians – Chris Perez got the dreaded “vote of confidence” from Terry Francona after a blown save on Tuesday, and followed it up on Thursday by getting shelled in a non-save opp. Joe Smith is the best bet for saves if yesterday’s outing costs Perez his job for the remainder of the season. Recently converted starter Justin Masterson is also an option. Chris Perez to Hot Seat.
VULTURE SAVE WATCH
1. Kevin Gregg, Chicago Cubs – Pedro Strop got the opp earlier this week, but Gregg picked up another save on Wednesday. Either one could get the call next time the Cubs have a save chance.
2. Jose Veras, Detroit Tigers – Prior to the Tigers’ offday yesterday, Joaquin Benoit had pitched in three straight. They might give him another day off to make sure he’s totally fresh for the postseason.
3. David Robertson, New York Yankees – Some are clamoring for Mariano Rivera’s Thursday night appearance in Yankee Stadium to be his last outing ever, saying he should sit out the Houston series. If he listens, David Robertson will start his career as the new Yankee closer a few days early.