MLB Analysis: AL Closers Poised to Dominate in 2012

| by Hardball Times

Below is my best guess as to who will be pitching the ninth for American league teams next season. Some teams—like the Yankees—were easy to predict and for others—like the Jays, Mariners, and Twins—it was difficult, so it is more important to read the blurb that follows rather than just the one name I listed. Feel free to share any insight I failed to mention in the comments for the greater good. National League will come next week.

Angels — Jordan Walden — Walden has been effective in his first year as closer, though has a surprising number of blown saves, seven, for his 2.80 ERA. That is most likely just poor timing rather than a flaw in Walden, but it is a small red flag. He's under team control for five more years so he isn't going anywhere soon.

Athletics — Andrew Bailey — When healthy Bailey is an elite closer but he has often struggled with his health, landing on the DL three times in the past two years with throwing arm injuries. He will be arbitration eligible for the first time and the A's are likely to keep their Jersey-bred flamethrower. In the event of a serious injury or an unexpected trade the A's have Grant Balfour under contract for another year, plus a club option for 2013. Fautino De Los Santos, who possesses the typical closer makeup, could also find himself in a closer's role somehow if he improves his control.

Blue Jays — Frank Francisco — The Jays have one of the messiest bullpens in all the baseball land so there were multiple names I could have chosen here. Remember the Jays gave up Mike Napoli to get Francisco so I am skeptical they will let him walk after a down year in which he maintained solid peripherals. Still there is a club option on Rauch that could be picked up, a Casey Jannsen that has closer potential, and countless potential in-house and free agent options. I don't see the Jays throwing one of the youngsters the responsibility of closing to start the season so Francisco makes a nice potential bridge to one of them, most notably Joel Carreno or Danny Farquhar.

Indians — Vinnie Pestano — The horrible 26/20 strikeout-to-walk ratio of Chris Perez is starting to catch up to him and he's allowed eight runs in his last ten appearances with two blown saves. The Indians are clearly in win-now mode with the acquisition of Ubaldo Jimenez so I believe they will skip the niceties and let Vinnie Pestano try his hand at closer, if not this year, then sometime early in 2012. Tony Sipp is also a potential saves candidate, despite his left-handedness.

Mariners — Brandon League — League was retained at the trade deadline so he's either in the Mariner's plans for next year or the right offer just did not come along. League has pitched well enough to deserve a closer's role but the M's might not want to spend around five million on a bullpen arm. It is also difficult to know their front office's plan for David Aardsma and free agents this offseason. Maybe they will sign Jonathan Broxton, who knows.

Orioles — Kevin Gregg — Gregg has somehow performed adequately as the closer this year despite a WHIP on the wrong side of the 1.50 mark. He is under contract for $6 million to continue increasing the number of heart failures in the greater Baltimore area with dramatic bases-loaded jams next season. When Gregg becomes unbearable sometime next season, Jim Johnson seems perfectly capable of handling the job with less sweat.

Rangers — Mike Adams — Neftali Feliz has struggled to say the least in the closer's role this season with plently of walks and blown saves and not too many strikeouts. With Adams brought in at the deadline, I expect the Rangers to make the still young Feliz a starter next year, for real this time.

Rays — Kyle Farnsworth — The Rays have a club option on Kyle Farnsworth and I see no reason for that not to get exercised. He's exceeded all expectations and looks much better than Jake McGee.

Red Sox — Jonathan Papelbon — The lastest I've read indicates the most likely place Papelbon goes is nowhere in his first year of free agency. Papelbon has shown his best this year but not many teams are looking to overspend on a closer this offseason and Boston can afford to make its fanbase happy by retaining him. Daniel Bard will keep his role as Robin if Paps stays, though he is the obvious replacement if Papelbon does manage to leave the town.

Royals — Joakim Soria — There are grumblings of Soria joining Aaron Crow in moving from the bullpen to the rotation in 2012, but those are mere grumblings. Still, Kansas City all of sudden has one of the most exciting young bullpens with Louis Coleman and Greg Holland having Kimbrel-and-Venters-esque rookie years. Either of those two arms seems capable of handling the ninth so maybe, just maybe Dayton Moore will finally decide to try something bold and put Soria in the rotation.

Tigers — Jose Valverde — Valverde has been "perfect" this season in terms of converting saves with 32 out of 32 converted this season. Regardless there is much controversy surrounding his nine million dollar club option that may or may not be optioned. My guess is it will be picked up despite Valverde's 34 years of age and increasing showing of it with a declining strikeout and ever-increasing walk rate that now sits at 4.74 BB/9. If it isn't, Joaquin Benoit or Al Alburquerque will look to step into Valverde's shoes.

Twins — Joe Nathan — Nathan's 12.5 million dollar option won't be exercised but Nathan likes Minnesota and will probably re-sign with the Twins for less money. From there Nathan could keep the closer role, Glen Perkins could get a shot, or the Twins could sign someone from outside the organization. Jim Hoey is the in-house option to keep an eye on.

White Sox — Sergio Santos — Santos has managed to earn some respect from Ozzie Guillen by pitching brilliantly in his second year in the majors. Expect the White Sox bullpen situation to be much less complicated than it was at the beginning of this season with Santos as the clear-cut closer.

Yankees — Mariano Rivera — Mariano will be 42 years old in 2012 but there's no sign of aging in his stats. So far this year he's been as good as ever and short of a certain Mayan prediction bearing true, 2012 figures to be more of the same. I've actually met Mariano and shook his hand and I swear it felt human, but every year I can't help but wonder.

Thanks to Cot's Baseball Contracts for the details on player contracts.

Paul has been managing fantasy baseball teams for many seasons and writing for THT Fantasy over the past two years. He is currently a student at Penn's Wharton School of Business welcomes readers' thoughts at his email here or in the comments below.

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