We currently have three closer committees and each one is a little bit different. Let’s take a look at them in a little greater detail, and think about what they might look like in the short term and the long term.
Tampa Bay Rays — When Jake McGee started the season on the DL, most people thought that whoever started the season as the closer for the Rays would just be keeping it warm until McGee got back. After all, McGee was coming off a season where he recorded 19 saves, struck out well over a batter per inning, and had an ERA under 2.00. Brad Boxberger had other ideas, however. By the time McGee made his season debut on May 17th, Boxberger was already 10 for 10 in save opportunities and had an ERA just over 1.00. Boxberger picked up five more saves in the month of May, but then the calendar turned to June, and everything seemed to change. McGee rattled off seven straight scoreless appearances, including saves in three straight outings. Meanwhile, Boxberger blew a couple of saves and saw his ERA jump over 3.00. It looked like McGee had all the momentum moving forward. Then things changed again. On Thursday, Boxberger recorded the save, while McGee took the eighth inning. There didn’t seem to be any special reasons for this, as the Nationals had two righties and a switch-hitter to start the eighth inning against the lefty McGee, and Boxberger took the top of the order in the ninth. Again on Friday, Boxberger got the save after McGee pitched the eighth. It’s hard to read too much into a couple games but usage certainly suggests that Boxberger continues to be the closer. We think the Rays will use both guys (and mix Kevin Jepsen in as well) to try and keep everyone fresh, but Boxberger should see the majority of save chances.
Seattle Mariners — Carson Smith has recorded the last three saves for the Mariners and his numbers have been fantastic this season. Still, manager Lloyd McClendon seems to want Fernando Rodney back in his former role as closer. It took McClendon a long time to remove Rodney from the job, and now, after three scoreless outings, he has already started talking about Rodney getting save opportunities when Smith is unavailable. If Smith continues to pitch as well as he has, it will be hard to remove him from the closer’s role, but if he falters at all, and Rodney can put together a few more strong appearances, Rodney could get a chance to reclaim the job.
Chicago Cubs — Seven different Rays relievers recorded saves last season when Joe Maddon was the team’s manager. This year, four different relievers have already picked up saves for the Cubs, even though Maddon said a week ago that he would prefer to have one guy for the ninth inning. Hector Rondon has gotten most of the save chances, including the most recent one. Rondon was very good last year and despite a couple blown saves, his numbers are pretty good this year. Rondon should have a chance to become the full-time closer again for the Cubs, but with Pedro Strop, Jason Motte, (and potentially Rafael Soriano) looming, he needs to make sure he doesn’t slip up.