In what is undoubtedly one of the weirdest things that has happened to me in my years of writing for baseball, I started an article on Tuesday night, making a case for Joey Devine as closer. I didn't get a chance to publish it Wednesday, and was going to save it for today. Last night, I did a quick google search, and discovered that Mychael Urban is a mind reader. Urban, in a piece titled "Joey Devine has the makeup to fill closer role for Oakland A's", presents that argument that I have always been behind; that Joey Devine has the stuff to be a closer.
I think choosing this year's closer is an extremely important part of Spring Training; it's pretty likely that the A's aren't going to score a lot of runs, so we're looking at the maddening one-run games again. And, of course, whether the game is won or lost will depend on the player coming out in the ninth.
The first we heard of the replacements came just days after Bailey was traded. CBS Sports reported:
(Updated 12/29/2011) Fuentes not a candidate to close?: The A's shipped closer Andrew Bailey to the Red Sox on Wednesday, leaving an opening for their ninth-inning role. Assistant GM David Forst said Grant Balfour, Fautino De Los Santos and Joey Devine will compete for the team's opening at closer. Brian Fuentes, who has 199 career saves, was not included on that list.
I think this has changed. I certainly believe that Fuentes is currently in consideration; if not the top of the list, and I vehemently disagree with the choice. As Urban points out, Fuentes' best days are behind him, and he should be used in a set-up role only, unless it makes sense to close by committee. Not to mention, I'm not sure I could watch that number of A's games hiding under my couch.
I think the choices are going to be Fuentes, De Los Santos, Devine, and Balfour. And I think I've made mine.
Brian Fuentes has closer experience; more than anyone on the team. I personally don't think this matters at all, but I know that "in baseball", it might. Fuentes saved a career-high 48 games (out of 55 opportunities) for the Angels in 2009 (and later blew an all-important playoff save as the Angels lost to the Yankees), before he was traded to the Twins mid-season in 2010. Fuentes filled in for Bailey early last year, but was demoted in one of Geren's last moves as manager. And let's be honest; Fuentes lost eight games last year as a reliever. I think I painfully remember each one, as every day I would ask, "But where IS Bailey?"
Next up is Fautino De Los Santos, the hard-throwing right-hander, who had a terrific K/9 in the minors. He's young, and he throws hard; that might be enough for the 2012 Athletics. Although he only broke into the Majors last year, he has the potential to be a real asset out of the 'pen.
The other closer option is Grant Balfour, the passionate, hard-throwing veteran set-up man, who hasn't been a closer in his career. Balfour is good, but think he's probably the fourth option.
Obviously, my horse in the race has issues; Devine missed two full seasons in 2009 and 2010 due to injuries, and there is absolutely no guarantee of his health this year, but I think he had closer stuff early on, and he's still throwing well. He throws in the low-to-mid 90's, and although it's hard to back anything up with numbers, due to the sheer volume of time he has missed, but he has historically has had good K/9 and BB/9 stats. Last year in 23 games in Triple-A, he posted a 13.50 K/9, and in 26 games in the Majors, 7.83.
Seriously, what exactly do we have to lose? I would have Joey Devine as the closer until he gets hurt again. I think he was being groomed for that role years ago; at least back then, I thought he had the stuff to be successful. I think Balfour and Fuentes make a better (and relatively efficient) set-up team. If Devine isn't ready or capable, start De Los Santos. If that doesn't happen, I would close by committee and pick the best reliever for the situation every night. I have absolutely zero patience for "he has seniority; give him the closer role" or the ever-popular "everyone needs a role in the bullpen, otherwise it's chaos" excuse.
That being said, what do you think? Who should close? Who will close? And how successful will he be?
The A's take on the Rockies at 12:00. We'll have a game thread right here.