The New York Yankees have had more than a year to prepare for the inevitable. Mariano Rivera gave the Yankees and the baseball world plenty of notice that he would not be returning in 2014, and lived up to his word by retiring at last season’s end. The free agent market wasn’t thick with top shelf closer options, but there were a couple, and as of right now, it appears both of those options are now off the board. Joe Nathan signed a 2-year deal with the Detroit Tigers, and Grant Balfour is reportedly close to signing with AL East rival Baltimore. Where does that leave the Yankees as general manager Brian Cashman continues to tinker, adding a small pieces here and there? Let’s examine who might be options to slam the door in the 9th inning for the Bronx Bombers in 2014.
- David Robertson: He has proved to be a valuable asset for the Yankees in seasons past, entrenching himself into the lock down 8th inning role. On the rare occasion that Rivera needed a day off, Robertson moved into the closer’s role, so it is not something that is completely unfamiliar with him. Shoulder and leg injuries have been somewhat of a concern over the past couple of seasons, and as is common knowledge, being “the guy” in the last frame is not setting up in the 8th. He is a nice fallback option if the Yankees choose to hold onto their cash and look for cheaper options to fill out the remaining holes on their roster.
- Jonathan Papelbon: There have been numerous rumors circulating over the past couple of days that the Yankees and the Philadelphia Phillies have been discussing a trade to bring the former Red Sox closer to the Bronx. Fans believe it shouldn’t happen because of Papelbon’s bad attitude and clubhouse cancer tendencies. On a good note, he did save 29 games with a 2.92 ERA for a Philly team that won only 73 games in 2013, which equates to almost 40 percent of the team’s wins. Add in the motivation of getting the chance to consistently stick it to the Red Sox, and if the Phillies are willing to eat some of the remaining dollars on the contract, it might just be a good fit.
- Fernando Rodney: Nobody wants to see the former Tampa Bay Rays closer shooting arrows into Monument Park every time he closes out a game, but he did have a career resurrection in Tampa. He was out of this world good in 2012, posting a 0.60 ERA, while recording 48 saves. Last season, he came back to Earth, with a 3.38 ERA, along with 37 saves. Rodney wouldn’t require a big time contract, and has proven he can close out games in the highly competitive AL East. He would also provide C.C. Sabathia with a partner for how not to wear your ball cap on the field.
- Joaquin Benoit: Another cheaper option to look at for the Yankees, Benoit has been reportedly in talks with the San Diego Padres for a couple of weeks now. The Yankees have been in contact with Benoit’s agent, and it might come down to whether he wants to get paid to set up, or take a little less to close out games, ego versus money. Benoit filled in nicely as the Tigers’ closer last season, but most fans who didn’t watch the Tigers everyday, only remember the ALCS grand slam he gave up to David Ortiz. Benoit after taking over the closer’s role full time, posted a 2.01 ERA with 24 saves.
- Joel Hanrahan: A super cheap option for the Yankees, prior to arriving in Boston, and having his season cut short by injury, Hanrahan posted 76 saves in the previous two seasons for Pittsburgh Pirates. The Red Sox thought he was the answer after they traded for him, but season-ending surgery ended that experiment in Beantown. Hanrahan could be the lowest cost option of all remaining proven closers on the market for the Bombers.
- Francisco Rodriguez: How the mighty have fallen. K-Rod was once considered among the handful of elite closers in the game, but after off the field issues sent him packing out of Queens, he has bounced around, spending time in Milwaukee on two different stints, and finished last season as a role reliever in Baltimore. Does he have the stuff to close out games still? In 25 games last season with the Brewers, he recorded 10 saves with a 1.09 ERA. At a minimum, he’s worth a low cost look from the Yankees.
Brian Cashman was quiet as a church mouse during the Baseball Winter Meetings in Orlando, but has come out swinging in the last full work week prior to the Christmas and New Year’s holidays. He has signed second baseman Brian Roberts to a 1-year deal, along with lefty specialist and fireballer Matt Thornton to a 2-year deal to take over for the departed Boone Logan. Cashman has also been in talks with third baseman Mark Reynolds to return in case A-Rod is suspended for the entire 2014 season. Don’t be surprised to see one of the aforementioned relievers signed or traded for before the week comes to a close.
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