Real-Time MLB Closer Update
Team: Anaheim Angels
Closer: Francisco Rodriguez
Next in line: Francisco Rodriguez, Brendan Donnelly, Kevin Gregg
Notes: 12/15: Rodriguez should take over at closer with the departure of Troy Percival. End of 2004: The Angels' closer situation has essentially morphed into a co-closer setup, with Rodriguez getting save opportunities more often than usual. "There will be days when Frankie closes, sure," manager Mike Scioscia said. "Other days, Francisco will be down. I don't think it's so much who's going to close. It's how the pieces fit." Percival didn't come out for the ninth Sunday (9/5) and watched Rodriguez pick up his 11th save. Percival had pitched the previous two days and wasn't available out of the pen, but should be for the next chance. With Percival fighting through some back stiffness in mid-to-late August, he and Rodriguez shared save opportunities for a week or so. Expect him to see the saves so long as he hasn't pitched three days in a row or four in five. Rodriguez, meanwhile, suffered through his own rough patch in mid-August, but has regained the form that's propelled him to an amazing 102:25 K:BB in 68 IP on the year.
Team: Atlanta Braves
Closer: Danny Kolb
Next in line: Tom Martin, Chris Reitsma
Notes: 12/15: Kolb trade moves Smoltz to the rotation and raises the value of all the closers in waiting on Atlanta. Kolb's lack of strikeouts and career track record could mean Reitsma gets a chance at some point. Smoltz's durability issues could land him in the bullpen again as well. End of 2004: Smoltz got the final five outs Monday (9/6) for his 36th save of the season in a 3-1 victory over the Phillies. He has a 2.05 ERA this season. Smoltz remains one of the top options around and hasn't showed many signs of slowing down. He picked up 10 saves in August and has been used when needed all year long, like any closer would be, including multiple sets of pitching three days in a row. At the beginning of the year, in light of the surgery to repair scar tissue in his shoulder undertaken in October, Atlanta management said Smoltz would be used on a regular schedule, such as every third day, whether it was a save chance or not. Reitsma did get a save on August 6, but otherwise Smoltz is being used normally. Atlanta traded for Martin to bolster their set-up crew to ensure Smoltz pitches more than an inning less frequently. He did so 13 times before the July 31 trade deadline and just twice since.
Team: Arizona Diamondbacks
Closer: Greg Aquino
Next in line: Mike Koplove, Brian Bruney, Jose Valverde (injured)
Notes: 9/1: In just over a month as a closer, Aquino has nine conversions and no officially blown saves. While his 9:6 K:BB in 14 IP leaves something to be desired, a 1.93 ERA and 1.000 WHIP are just what you'd expect from a strong closer. Owners who took a flier on him have certainly been rewarded, not only with a solid performance, but also more save chances than one would expect from the D'Backs. If Aquino falters, the next closer could be Bruney or Koplove.
Team: Baltimore Orioles
Closer: Jorge Julio
Next in line: B.J. Ryan, Jason Grimsley, John Parrish
Notes: 9/14: Julio is currently appealing his four-game suspension for allegedly throwing at the head of Minnesota's Augie Ojeda, but if the commissioner's office deemed the offense bad enough to levy a four-game suspension they probably won't eliminate it altogether. Ryan is the most likely candidate to pick up a few saves in Julio's absence. In August, it looked like Julio was back into a groove under new pitching coach Ray Miller, as many Orioles pitchers have been, but his recent outings have been a mess. Ryan is striking out a ton of batters and looks more than capable of stepping in if needed.
Team: Boston Red Sox
Closer: Keith Foulke
Next in line: Mike Timlin, Alan Embree
Notes: 9/6: Foulke wasn't his usual effective self Sunday (9/5) surrendering two runs on three hits in a non-save situation. Curt Schilling wasn't able to finish the ninth of Sunday's game, so Foulke was called on to record the final two outs. He gave up two runs but managed to protect the lead. Foulke has recorded 13 consecutive saves, so Sunday's outing shouldn't be too much of a concern. He's nursing a stiff back and has learned to protect it better in recent years by using means of conditioning other than running. His ratios and strikeout numbers have been excellent, so the biggest problem with Foulke this year has been the low saves total.
Team: Chicago White Sox
Closer: Shingo Takatsu
Next in line: Damaso Marte, Dustan Hermanson, Cliff Politte
Notes: 9/9: Takatsu got four outs Wednesday (9/8) for his 17th save in 18 chances this season. We're not sure whether it's fatigue, or simply MLB batters starting to figure Takatsu out, but after being basically untouchable since mid-April he's been Billy Koch-esque in August and September. On Sunday (9/5) Marte allowed a solo home run to Jolbert Cabrera, but still picked up his fifth save of the year. It wasn't a conventional save - Marte entered the game with the tying run on deck in the eighth, then stuck around after Chicago added another run in the ninth - but Marte owners will take it. He's put his rough July behind him, posting a 2.60 ERA and 20:5 K:BB ratio in 17.3 innings in August and September. Consider Marte's save appearance a break for Takatsu; we still expecct him to get the large majority of chances from here on out.
Team: Chicago Cubs
Closer: Ryan Dempster
Stability: Very Low
Next in line: Latroy Hawkins, Ryan Dempster, Kyle Farnsworth, Mike Remlinger, Joe Borowski (injured)
Notes: 12/15: Latroy Hawkins or Ryan Dempster are the best bets to close at the moment, but the Cubs should acquire a free agent this winter. End of 2004: Hawkins has been working on an improved breaking ball to complement his fastball, and it showed Saturday (9/11) when he struck out the side in the ninth on nine pitches. Hawkins has been fairly solid all season, and an improved breaking ball will only make him tougher to hit. He's the team's undisputed closer the rest of the way. Hawkins traditionally has pitched better in a set-up role than as a closer, but his peripheral stats have improved considerably in the last two years and he's proved worthy this year. Farnsworth has the best stuff and was the most dominant of the group in 2003, but his walk rate has prevented him from being seriously considered for the role.
Team: Cincinnati Reds
Closer: Danny Graves
Next in line: Joe Valentine, Ryan Wagner, John Riedling, Gabe White
Notes: 9/16: Graves got his 40th save on Tuesday (9/14) coming on for the ninth inning and putting runners on second and third before getting Jason Michaels to fly out to center. He's converted 40 of 49 saves this season and appears to have put a foot injury behind him. Valentine has been used as a closer in the minor leagues and filled in for Graves during his recent DL stint. He is the Reds' hardest thrower in the bullpen, but his control has held him back in the past.
Team: Cleveland Indians
Closer: Bob Wickman
Next in line: Rafael Betancourt, David Riske, Bobby Howry, Matt Miller, Rick White
Notes: 9/4: Wickman struggled against the Yankees on August 23 and 24, blowing two saves and not getting the call on August 25 when Betancourt saved the final game of the series with the Yanks. Wickman got back on the horse with a save against the White Sox on August 27. Howry, who saved 28 games for the White Sox before suffering elbow problems that ultimately led to surgery in July 2003, has quietly made an impressive comeback. In 18 appearances, he's 1-0 with a 1.44 ERA. He's struck out 26, walked two and is holding opposing batters to a .216 average. Riske has excelled in middle relief and set-up, so perhaps his mindset is best suited there.
Team: Colorado Rockies
Closer: Chin-Hui Tsao
Stability: Very Low
Next in line: Steve Reed, Brian Fuentes, Tim Harikkala
Notes: 12/15: The Rockies have said Chacon won't return as closer and will look elsewhere. End of 2004: The only way to be happy about Chacon's 6.30 ERA is to note that it's down an entire point from where it was a month ago. It's the price you have to pay for his 34 saves so far, which rank as the second higest single-season total in Rockies history to the 41 posted by Jose Jimenez in 2002. His biggest problem has been an inability to throw his fastball for strikes, so he's decided to move back to the right side of the pitching rubber, where he pitched from last year. In spring training he moved to the left side so his fastball would crowd hitters more. That, he believes, led to flawed mechanics and is why he's walked so many. Chacon will likely close again for the Rockies next season, but there's some thought in the organization that they might want to check out Chin-Hui Tsao in that role. Chacon's control, his biggest minus, has improved since midseason. Tsao's great stuff is the impetus behind the thought of at least evaluating the possibility of him closing.
Team: Detroit Tigers
Closer: Ugueth Urbina
Next in line: Troy Percival, Jamie Walker
Notes: The signing of Percival and the quesitonable return and/or trade of Urbina make the closer job an unknown heading into spring training. End of 2004: Walker and John Ennis failed to hold a four-run lead in the 10th inning against the White Sox on Saturday (9/18) each allowing a homer and two runs to blow the save. Yan was unavailable to pitch after seeing extended action the night before. He's the primary closer while Urbina attends to the kidnapping of his mother in Venezuela. According to a Venezuelan website, the kidnappers are demanding a ransom of $15 million. Police regard the demand as a positive sign, but it is unlikely the family will pay the full sum. We would be very surprised if Urbina returned before the end of the season.
Team: Florida Marlins
Closer: Guillermo Mota
Next in line: Guillermo Mota, Josias Manzanillo, Matt Perisho, Chad Fox (injured)
Notes: 12/15: Mota is the leading candidate but offseason moves will dictate this position. End of 2004: Benitez, who didn't pitch on Tuesday (9/14) because of elbow soreness, pitched a perfect ninth inning for his 42nd save of the season Thursday (9/16) against the Expos. Guillermo Mota, who picked up the save on Tuesday to give Benitez the day off, would be in line to pick up any other save opportunities should Benitez be unavailable again. Be particularly watchful of what happens when Benitez is called upon to pitch on back to back nights. For essentially the first time in Benitez's career he's striking out less than a batter an inning, but with both his ERA and WHIP hovering around 1.00, there's little to worry about here. Mota adds a lights-out set-up man to the mix, something the team has been lacking all season.
Team: Houston Astros
Closer: Brad Lidge
Next in line: Dan Miceli, Mike Gallo
Notes: 9/5: Lidge pitched a perfect ninth against the Pirates Saturday (9/4), picking up his 20th save of the season. He's allowed runs in one out of his last 19 appearances, a span during which he's saved 11 games. Lidge is a definite keeper for 2005, with a 1.95 ERA and a 125:26 K:BB in 78.3 innings. Miceli worked his way into the set-up mix with a string of shutout innings in April but has cooled as the year progressed and is now nursing a case of pinkeye on the 15-day DL. Mike Gallo has become an oft-used lefty in the back of the pen.
Team: Kansas City Royals
Closer: Jeremy Affeldt
Next in line: Shawn Camp, Nate Field (injured)
Notes: 9/20: Affeldt walked one and struck out two in picking up his 11th save Friday (9/17) in a win over Cleveland. He has three saves this month and has yet to allow an earned run. He has allowed just two hits in six innings while striking out 10. Field tore an oblique muscle and hit the DL, perhaps for the rest of the season. That leaves Camp in set-up, who is banged up with a bruised hip.
Team: Los Angeles Dodgers
Closer: Eric Gagne
Stability: Very High
Next in line: Giovanni Carrara, Yhency Brazoban, Duaner Sanchez
Notes: 9/30: Gagne had a precautionary MRI on his right shoulder Wednesday (9/29) and the results revealed no significant damage. He experienced discomfort while playing catch before Tuesday's game and is suffering from both bursitis and tendinitis. Gagne wasn't available for Wednesday's game but club officials are cautiously optimistic he can return Thursday. "We won't let him pitch until he has no pain," trainer Stan Johnston said. "But with treatment and an exercise program, this probably will go away completely in the next three or four days." Carrara has picked up a few saves, but Brazoban has taken over the role as primary setup man. "We're beginning to see more and more of Yhency Brazoban, and there is a heck of a lot to like," manager Jim Tracy told the L.A. Times. "The ceiling is very high for this guy." He has done well when given the opportunity. The Guillermo Mota trade and a season-ending ACL injury to Darren Dreifort initially left Gagne exposed to pitching before the ninth and losing effectiveness, but it seems his new supporting cast is giving him the set-up he needs.
Team: Milwaukee Brewers
Closer: Mike Adams
Next in line: Mike Adams, Justin Lehr, Jose Capellan
Notes: 12/15: Adams was named the closer after the trade of Danny Klob, but he's no sure thing. End of 2004: Kolb recorded his 37th save Monday (9/6), tying the Brewers record. He's saved 58 of 64 chances since joining the club last season and will be getting a big raise in pay the offseason. He hasn't been nearly as good since the All-Star break as he was before, but hasn't had many opportunities. He will be a free agent at the end of the season (assuming the Brewers don't offer him arbitration) and is probably a longshot to return to the Brewers. If you have him in a keeper league then you should be aware that he might not be a closer next season: a big market team with an established closer might look to add him in set-up. Vizcaino or Adams would step in if needed to give Kolb a break.
Team: Minnesota Twins
Closer: Joe Nathan
Stability: Very High
Next in line: Juan Rincon, J.C. Romero, Jesse Crain
Notes: 9/14: Nathan nailed down his 40th save in 44 chances on Saturday (9/11). Not bad for a pitcher with one career save coming into the season. After weathering a bumpy stretch in August, Nathan is a perfect 6-for-6 in save opportunities for the month of September. In his first year as a closer, Nathan is quickly establishing himself in the elite. Romero recently had a 36-inning scoreless streak snapped and is dominant after troubles in the first half. Rincon and Crain round out an excellent set-up staff.
Team: New York Yankees
Closer: Mariano Rivera
Next in line: Tom Gordon, Paul Quantrill, Steve Karsay, Felix Rodriguez
Notes: 9/20: Rivera had a rare blown save on Friday (9/17) against the Red Sox. "Any time you send Mo out there with a one-run lead, you're totally shocked when you don't come back with a victory," said manager Joe Torre. "This is another test. When you lose a game that you feel you have in your hip pocket, you have to come back out here and forget about it." The Yankees' bullpen troubles in 2003 were mainly in getting to Rivera, which is no longer to be an issue with Gordon and Quantrill in the fold. Expect Gordon to get any chances Rivera is unavailable for.
Team: New York Mets
Closer: Braden Looper
Next in line: Ricky Bottalico, Mike Stanton, Mike DeJean
Notes: 9/14: Looper suffered through his worst outing of the season on Saturday (9/11) allowing six hits and four earned runs in 1.7 innings. He saw his ERA jump from 2.01 to 2.45. Ouch! Looper is a pitcher who likes a lot of work but the Mets' recent struggles have limited his chances to pitch. Look for him to rebound in his next outing. On the year, though, Looper's been better than anyone could have expected and credits mechanical adjustments this spring with improving his performance. He also added a split finger that's amped up his strikeout numbers.
Team: Oakland A's
Closer: Octavio Dotel
Next in line: Ricardo Rincon, Chad Bradford, Jim Mecir
Notes: 9/14: Dotel notched his 33rd save of the season on Saturday (9/11) pitching a perfect ninth against the Indians. After a shaky start with the A's, Dotel has allowed just two earned runs in his last 15 appearances. He's picked up two wins and 10 saves over that span (since August 10). He credits an improved slider for his recent success. While observers have made much of the fact that Dotel's HR/9IP and K/9IP are headed in the wrong direction, they're not bad - just not as good as they once were. With the return of Bradford, the Oakland bullpen is finally fully healthy, which should help Dotel. Expect Rhodes, Bradford and Rincon to bear most of the set up work.
Team: Philadelphia Phillies
Closer: Billy Wagner
Next in line: Tim Worrell, Feliz Rodriguez, Ryan Madson, Todd Jones, Roberto Hernandez
Notes: 9/20: Wagner was suspended for two games Friday (9/17) after being ejected against the Mets for throwing two high-and-inside pitches to Cliff Floyd. He's expected to start serving his suspension starting Friday (9/17) and will be out of action for the next two games against the Expos. Any possible save chances in Wagner's absence will likely go to Tim Worrell. Meanwhile, Wagner has said that he is leaning toward coming back with the Phillies next year. "I'd love to come back, considering I haven't done diddly this year," he said. "I haven't really considered [a trade] because I've really enjoyed Philadelphia and the guys on the team. I've started to get used to the changes. I think a lot of things have gotten better for me."
Team: Pittsburgh Pirates
Closer: Jose Mesa
Next in line: Salomon Torres, Mike Gonzalez, John Grabow, Mark Corey, Mike Johnston (minors)
Notes: 9/8: Mesa pitched the ninth Tuesday (9/7) for his 37th save in 42 opportunities. His ERA is still a respectable 3.36, despite some struggles and recent trade talk. His success this year is somewhat thanks to a mechanical change pitching coach Spin Williams helped him make in keeping his eyes on the catcher's target. Word is that Torres would take over as the team's closer if needed. The Pirates certainly hit pay dirt when they signed Mesa off the scrap heap and have to be happy with the way he has pitched this season. The down side is that unless Mesa accepts a home-town discount it's going to be tough to re-sign him, given that he is likely to command a much higher salary after his bounce-back campaign.
Team: San Diego Padres
Closer: Trevor Hoffman
Next in line: Akinori Otsuka, Scott Linebrink
Notes: 9/14: Hoffman struck out the side in the ninth Monday (9/13) to notch his 36th save of the season. He's has been lights out lately. Monday's save was his fifth in as many opportunities. He hasn't given up a hit in the last four-plus innings. If it looks like he's tiring down the stretch - which we doubt - the team will go to Otsuka to give the 36-year-old a break. His shoulder problems have not re-surfaced and he's actually looking stronger as the season wears on. Otsuka has had an incredible start to his major league career and would be the first in line for the job if necessary. Linebrink has performed quite ably as a set-up man.
Team: Seattle Mariners
Closer: Eddie Guardado
Stability: Very High
Next in line: George Sherrill, Shigetoshi Hasegawa
Notes: 12/15: Guardardo is expected to be ready by spring training but remains an unknown after choosing not to rehab a torn rotator cuff rather than undergo surgery. End of 2004: Putz will be the first-option closer the rest of the year. He has the stuff to close—a 96 to 97 mph fastball and a breaking pitch—but also has a 5.30 ERA in 46 appearances this season. His fantasy value is mediocre since he hasn't been terribly consistent and the Mariners don't afford many save opportunities. If Eddie Guardado needs rotator cuff surgery, Putz likely would be in the closer role in 2005. The M's are confident, though, Guardado's shoulder will heal with rehab and he will be 100 percent by spring training. Sherrill had 10 saves and a 2.47 ERA at Tacoma. He pitches with a stiff front leg, which sometimes prevents proper follow-through, causing him to leave the ball up in the zone.
Team: San Francisco Giants
Closer: Armando Benitez
Stability: Very High
Next in line: Jason Christiansen, Jim Brower, Matt Herges
Notes: 12/15: Benitez takes over the role and should continue to put up big numbers in a pitcher's park. End of 2004: Hermanson pitched a scoreless 1.3 innings on Sunday (9/19) getting the win against the Padres. He has not given up an earned run since August 30 and has rattled off seven consecutive save attempts. He continues to roll, and has given the Giants some badly needed reliability in the bullpen. Christiansen is pitching well in set-up. He's the top left-handed option and will be used whenever a righty can't get the job done.
Team: St. Louis Cardinals
Closer: Jason Isringhausen
Next in line: Ray King, Julian Tavarez, Kiko Calero, Steve Kline (injured)
Notes: 9/6: Isringhausen failed to shut the door on the Dodgers Sunday (9/5), squandering a three-run lead in the ninth, and was credited for his fifth blown save this season. He'd successfully converted his last 12 save opportunities before this, so there's not much reason for concern. Izzy had some trouble with his mechanics in mid-to-late May but has made adjustments to correct the problem. Tavarez has been effective and will pitch until a hearing is held to appeal his 10-game suspension for using a foreign substance on a ball. King has overcome control issues to be devastating thus far.
Team: Tampa Bay Devil Rays
Closer: Danys Baez
Next in line: Jorge Sosa, Lance Carter, Jesus Colome (injured), Seth McClung (minors)
Notes: 9/16: Baez got his 27th save on Tuesday (9/14) against the Red Sox. He walked a batter, but gave up no hits or runs in the ninth. Baez is walking half as many men as he's striking out, but maintains decent ratios and effectiveness. There's not much chance currently of Sosa deposing him, but Sosa is first in line when Baez can't go. Carter’s late season struggles encouraged the Devil Rays to search for a closer this offseason, but he still has a prominent late-inning role. Seth McClung is probably the team's closer of the future, but he won't be back until at least late 2004 as a result of Tommy John surgery in July 2003.
Team: Texas Rangers
Closer: Francisco Cordero
Stability: Very High
Next in line: Carlos Almanzar, Frank Francisco, Jeff Nelson (injured)
Notes: 9/2: Cordero blew a save opportunity Wednesday (9/1) by giving up two runs on three hits in a 4-2 loss to Minnesota. He'd made good on 21 straight save opportunities before this one and has been one of the most reliable closers this season, converting 41 of 44 opportunities. Only a high walk rate is of concern - Cordero keeps the ball in the park and strikes out more than a batter per inning. Nelson was the primary set-up man and the only other pitcher on the team with much big-time late-inning experience, but he's out with knee and elbow surgeries. That leaves Almanzar and fireballin' Francisco the set-up men.
Team: Toronto Blue Jays
Closer: Justin Speier
Stability: Very Low
Next in line: Justin Speier, Jason Frasor, Vinnie Chulk, Kerry Ligtenberg (injured)
Notes: 12/15: Miguel Batista was given a trial as the closer at the end of last season, but now may be headed back to the rotation. Speier may be the best candidate to close, but the bullpen situation is very unclear at this point. 9/20: With the return of Roy Halladay to the rotation, erstwhile starter Miguel Batista will be given a two-week trial as closer. He notched his first save on Saturday (9/18) but Speier, who Batista replaced as closer, pitched a scoreless ninth for his seventh save on Sunday (9/19). Even though Batista will be given a trial, he may not be yet ready for everyday duty. Speier could get another save or two as a result. Chulk has picked up a chance here and there.
Team: Washington Nationals
Closer: Chad Cordero
Next in line: Luis Ayala, Joe Horgan, Joey Eischen
Notes: 9/6: Following the game Sunday (9/5) Cordero has not allowed a run in his last 6.3 innings, striking out 13 batters in that stretch. He's come back with a vengeance after his August struggle and is still clearly the most trusted arm in the Expos bullpen. Ayala has shouldered a pretty heavy workload, but has been able to maintain strong ratios and will be the first choice to fill in for Cordero. As the only lefty the Expos have, Horgan may see rare situational saves going forward, but even so isn't worth picking up.