The position of closer looked to be one of strength for the Seattle Mariners going into 2013. Tom Wilhelmsen stepped into the closer’s role after Brandon League was traded to the Dodgers, and he had a fine 2012 saving 29 games with a 2.50 ERA and a 1.11 WHIP. He came hot out of the gate in 2013 saving 8 games in April with a 0.75 ERA, but a disastrous June (0-2, 4 saves, 3 blown saves, 10.97 ERA) ended up costing him the closer’s role. Down the stretch, the Mariners went with power pitcher Danny Farquhar who saved 16 games in August and September. For 2014, are the Mariners keeping in house for a closer or are they going to bring in a veteran?
Closer’s Market Quickly Closing. The FA market for closers is shrinking rapidly. The Mariners were rumored to be looking at former A’s closer Grant Balfour, but Balfour chose to sign with Baltimore (if the deal stands – currently there are some questions that arose out of the physical.) If the Balfour deal stands, he would join Joe Nathan, Edward Mujica, and Joaquin Benoit as closers off the market. Even veterans with limited closing experience, like Jose Veras who closed for the Astros last season until traded to the Tigers, have been snatched off the market.
So…Who’s Left? Even though the market is dwindling, there are still a few good options. The best option would be Fernando Rodney. Rodney had an amazing 2012 season for Tampa Bay (48/50 saves with a 0.60 ERA), and he closed for the playoff bound Rays in 2013 (37/45 saves with a 3.38 ERA). His numbers weren’t as good, but pitching in the A.L. East last year, Rodney showed his competency is closing out ball games. Besides Seattle, Tampa has reported interest in retaining Rodney’s services. The only two other free agents who saved more than 20 games last season are Kevin Gregg and Chris Perez. Gregg is out of a job in Chicago after the Cubs brought in Veras, and Perez was released by the Indians with Cleveland deciding to go with John Axford. Unlike Rodney, neither Gregg or Perez have been linked to the Mariners in negotiations, but may be options if Seattle can’t land Rodney.
Is the Closer on the Roster Now? If the Mariners don’t land a FA or make a trade, then I would assume Danny Farquhar would be the closer on Opening Day. After some struggles in middle relief, Farquhar hit a grove closing the last two months. In his first full month of closing, Farquhar saved 11 out of 12 opportunities with a 2.03 ERA and struck out 21 batters in 13.1 IP. When his strikeouts dropped in September (8 in 9.1 IP), he still converted 5 out of 6 opportunities. To be the closer, he would need to stay as strong as he was the final two months; his ERA through July 31st was 5.45. The Mariners could always turn back to Tom Wilhelmsen or try a younger pitcher like Yoervis Medina (19 holds and a 2.91 ERA in 68.0 IP).