You know the deal by now; we rank ‘em, and discussion ensues. For the first time in nearly twenty years, the Yankees will have uncertainty at the closer museum now that Mariano Rivera is enjoying retirement. So with David Robertson anchoring the bullpen, where does New York find themselves on this list?
5. Baltimore Orioles- The main reason the O’s are ranked the lowest is bullpen uncertainty. After trading away Jim Johnson to the Oakland Athletics, there now lays a gaping ninth inning hole. Johnson had 50 saves last year; the rest of the team had 7. After no major offseason pickups (except for Ryan Webb, a middle reliever who pitched in Miami last season), manager Buck Showalter will probably trot out Darren O’Day, a submarine style righty who ushers comparisons to Chad Bradford. O’Day dominates hitters (2.62 career ERA over a six-year career), but has only four career saves. While previous closing experience doesn’t equal failure, there might be an adjustment period. Other relievers include Troy Patton, Tommy Hunter, and Brian Matusz. With an average starting rotation led by Miguel Gonzalez, the Orioles will be forced to rely on their offense to win games.
4. Tampa Bay Rays- Simply, the Rays have no depth, especially after losing former closer Fernando Rodney and Alex Torres. As of now, the bullpen consists of six pitchers: Heath Bell, Juan Carlos Oviedo (formerly known as Leo Nunez), Joel Peralta, Jake McGee, Cesar Ramos, and the newly acquired, newly reunited, Grant Balfour. After pitching with the Athletics for three seasons, Balfour returns as the closer. He first went down to Florida when the team was the Devil Rays in 2007, and stayed until 2010. Balfour has pitched great for the last six years, only pitching above a 3.00 ERA once. Given his familiarity with Tropicana Field, he should be fine. Also, Joel Peralta is a rubber-armed reliever; he pitched in 80 games last season, and 76 in 2012. Outside of these two guys, the bullpen is weak. McGee is inconsistent, Ramos is average, Oviedo has not played since 2011, and Bell has cracked. Unless every starter pitches seven innings, Tampa’s bullpen will show its flaws early in 2014.
3. New York Yankees- The Yankees could easily have been switched with either of the aforementioned teams. Many of last season’s players have moved on. Rivera, Boone Logan, Joba Chamberlain, and David Huff (yes, but still) have all departed from NYC. With the remaining roster, it appears David Robertson will close games. After mainly excelling as an eighth inning bridge for the last few years, Robertson will have to channel his inner Mo. As much speculation there may be about Robertson closing, the whole debate is futile if the rest of the team can’t hold leads. The 6-8 inning duties will be handed to some formation of Preston Claiborne, Shawn Kelley, Adam Warren, and Matt Thornton among others. Simultaneously, a fifth starting spot is up for grabs. The three competing are David Phelps, Michael Pineda, and Vidal Nuno. Potentially, the two losers could be long relievers. I don’t want to speculate because Spring Training hasn’t started, but the Yankees bullpen looks iffy.
2. Toronto Blue Jays- A very close second choice, as Toronto could have been the top bullpen in the AL East. Closer Casey Janssen is by far the most underrated pitcher in the AL East, and maybe the entire American League. Last season, Janssen shut the door against 34 teams, while holding hitters to a BAA of .200 and a WHIP below 1. After two other seasons of a sub-3 ERA and plus 160 ERA+ (100 is average), Janssen is no fluke. Other than Janssen, the Jays have All-Stars Brett Cecil and Steve Delabar, stud Aaron Loup (2.47 ERA), and Sergio Santos. The only reason why Toronto is not above the Red Sox is their record. After finishing 74-88, the Blue Jays barely played for anything last season. They were out of playoff contention by July, and haven’t faced serious pressure yet. I think the bullpen is legit, but I don’t know the bullpen is legit.
1. Boston Red Sox- After last postseason’s performance, the Red Sox have solidified themselves as an elite team. I know, I hate them too, but Koji Uehara was beyond masterful in 2013. He set the record for lowest WHIP by a relief pitcher with at least 60 IP (.565), and gave up one run in 13 playoff appearances. Fellow Japanese pitcher Junichi Tazawa mimicked Uehara’s stats: 13 playoff outings, 1 run allowed. Lefty Craig Breslow neutralizes left-handed hitters and right-handed hitters with a combined ERA of 1.81. Andrew Miller had a 2.67 ERA. Boston even signed former St. Louis Cardinals closer Edward Mujica (37 saves) and versatile Milwaukee Brewers reliever Burke Badenhop. The Red Sox appear poised to rule the AL East from innings seven to nine. But remember, the Red Sox had All-Star closers in Andrew Bailey and Joel Hanrahan. Both guys became injured, and subsequently dumped, making room for the current crop of relievers. This list is just conjecture, and anything can happen, but the odds are in Boston for next season.