When Mariano Rivera collapsed onto the warning track at Kauffman Stadium, writhing in pain, everybody knew that something had gone terribly wrong. Was this going to be the last image we saw of the greatest closer in the history of the game? Would his career end with him riding off in the back of a cart before a game in May?
It couldn’t be.
Rivera had suffered a torn ACL in his right knee — effectively ending his season. But the Yankees did not panic. While they had just lost the lone staple of their bullpen for more than a decade, they had both David Robertson and Rafael Soriano ready to take over the role of closer. Robertson was tested first and ultimately struggled in his new role. Soriano took over from there and notched 42 saves for the Yankees over the course of the 2012 season.
Unfortunately, the Yankees lost Rafael Soriano to free agency during this offseason.
So if Mariano Rivera is unable to effectively return to the role that he has made a career out of, what does the team do? Well, they have three options.
Their first option is to give David Robertson a proper chance to take over the closer’s role. Let’s face it, Robertson was given the role in a very impromptu manner once Rivera went down last season. If the Yankees give him some advanced notice, Robertson could shake off any jitters he may have, and mentally prepare himself for the pressure that lays ahead. As the Yankees’ set-up man for the last few seasons, Robertson has flourished — posting a 1.08 and 2.67 ERA in both 2011 and 2012, respectively. He is also very good at getting himself out of the jams he works himself into. At this point, it seems that Robertson would be the most likely option to replace Rivera.
The second option the Yankees have is to go with Joba Chamberlain. Call it a hunch, but I think Chamberlain would really thrive in the closer’s role. After two injury-plagued seasons, Chamberlain has been fairly solid out of the bullpen for the Yankees — aiming to regain the form that he had back when he was first called up. There have been glimpses of him returning to said form, and with an injury-free season, hopefully Joba can prove that he’s still a viable option. Even though he only pitched 20.2 innings during the 2012 season, he was able to accumulate 22 strikeouts — a little more than one per inning. Joba has great control and rarely walks a batter, so making him closer is not as far-fetched as one may think.
The third and final option that the Yankees’ have is to use Mark Montgomery. This 22-year-old right-hander has devastating stuff, and is coming off a great 2012 season spent in both High-A and Double-A ball. In 2012, Montgomery was 7-2 with a 1.54 ERA. He pitched 64.1 innings and struck out 99 batters. The numbers that Montgomery has posted while playing minor-league baseball are so great, that not even Mariano Rivera himself could put up statistics like these when he was playing in the minors. Montgomery has a slider that makes batters look absolutely foolish, even when they know it is coming. Montgomery’s slider can be compared to Rivera’s cutter – an effective pitch that hitters just can’t seem to get a hold of. This is why his strikeout numbers were so high. There is no doubt that Montgomery will be showcased during Spring Training, and he even has a very good chance of making the Opening Day roster. If Rivera fails, Montgomery is the type of pitcher that the Yankees would want to take his place.
So while the Yankees have three great options to take over the role of closer, this is Mariano Rivera that we’re talking about here. While he may be coming off a debilitating injury, there is no doubt that Rivera has been working hard to get himself ready to close out ballgames once again. Expect Rivera to come back and be as dominant as he always has been. At the same time though, cherish the sight of Mariano Rivera — this may be the last season that you see him play.