Wednesday, February 16, 2011

MARINERS: The closing problem

By Matthew Carlson

If I had asked any fan who the Mariners closer was in 2009/2010, the answer would have been simple - David Aardsma. But now with the D.A. on crutches after surgery, with no definitive timetable of return, the closer spot for 2011 is an open shot for anyone to claim. I can think of 3 off the bat; the unpredictable Brandon League, the young gun Dan Cortes, and the wily old veteran Chris Ray.
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We all remember last year when we sent the “bust” labeled Brandon Morrow packing for the Toronto tundra in exchange for League and outfield prospect Johermyn Chavez. The notion was we had just ripped off the Jays, but in fact it was Morrow who got the last laugh, who was near the top of the Major League strikeout list, while commanding a respectable 4.49 ERA, and firing a ridiculous 17K one hitter. League on the other hand proved to be two faced. He did have 9 wins, and an average 3.42 ERA, in all regards a good season. The problem was he might look like Mariano Rivera one night by striking out the side, and then the next be giving up gopher balls left and right. In all, League would be a shaky closer option, one that would dominantly slam the door some nights, and sporadically self-destruct on others.

Dan Cortes is one of the good stories in baseball. He was injured as a prospect in a fight in 2005, and managed to recover to the point where he would be able to play baseball once more. He was traded here by the Royals for Yunieski Betancourt (ugh, that guy) in 2009, spent time in the minors, and made his Major League debut last year while firing triple digits on the radar gun. In all, Cortes has the stuff to be an overpowering reliever in the future, but his inexperience and the supply of other options probably means his time is yet to come to save ballgames.

The Mariners signed Chris Ray to a minor league deal in January and…well…he has a lot of similarities to Erik Bedard (don’t rush to judgment!). Only 29 years old, he has unfortunately been plagued by injuries, sitting out 2008 because of Tommy John surgery. Ray (like Bedard) also had his best years in Baltimore, where he saved 33 games with a 2.73 ERA in 2006, and slammed the door 16 times in 2007. He played for the Rangers and then the Giants last season, but didn’t factor in San Francisco’s run to the World Series. Between both squads he furnished a decent 3.72 ERA and a 5-0 record. He has a 4.02 career ERA. In all, Chris Ray has the most closing experience between the three candidates, and when healthy is a solid option to close out games.

So who should be our closer to start the season? I believe the gig is up in the air between Ray and League, and it will come down to whoever has the better spring training (and if Ray manages to comeback and make the team as a non-roster invitee). If I had to pick one, it would be Ray, because of his experience in closing situations and the fact that he appears healthy at the moment.

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