As the Phillies leave Clearwater and head back to South Philly, the team has yet to name a closer and that’s just fine with me.
For years I have said to just about anyone that will listen that the role of closer on a baseball team has to be one of the most overrated in all of sports.
You’re talking about a guy who is supposed to come into a game where you have a lead in the ninth inning and ideally pitch against just three batters. The goal is to get three outs, finish the game and go home. Maybe if things don’t go exactly as planned you pitch against four of five batters, but regardless after that inning, you are likely done for the night.
And for this, teams will pay a ridiculous amount of money for one inning of work.
How ridiculous? Just look at what Ruben Amaro Jr. paid Jonathan Papelbon while he was here. The New York Yankees are going to pay Aroldis Chapman $11.3 million in 2016 to close out games for them. Papelbon is one of three closers who are going to make $11 million this season, David Robertson of the Chicago White Sox and Craig Kimbrel of the Boston Red Sox the other two.
Doesn’t that seem just all kinds of crazy to anyone else?
For the Phillies, it was expected that Ken Giles would be the closer for many years to come after posting an ERA of 1.80 as well as 15 saves and 87 strikeouts in 2015. But that plan went up in smoke once the team traded Giles to the Houston Astros last December for pitchers Thomas Eshelman, Vincent Velasquez and Brett Oberholtzer in addition to outfielder Derek Fisher.
Considering the Phillies are rebuilding, it was the smart thing to do, if a bit depressing for Phillies fans everywhere.
It was thought that a closer would emerge during Spring Training with the leading candidate being David Hernandez, but injuries have nixed that idea. He was followed by Andrew Bailey and Hector Neris, but both had a terrible spring and lost the chance at the job.
So who is going to be the Phillies closer come opening day? Nobody seems to know, least of all manager Pete Mackanin, who told CSN Philly.com as much earlier this week.
“Unless I’m 100 percent sure about somebody that I want to call a closer, I’m not going to call anybody a closer. When you think about it, a closer is somebody that you go to, that you count on for the ninth inning. I don’t know if … I hope we have one. But I’m not going to name one right now just to call a guy closer. That doesn’t really mean anything.”
So it looks like the Phillies will enter the 2016 season without a set closer. And that is perfectly okay from where I’m sitting.
Why go out and spend money on a closer when the Phillies have so many other needs that have to be addressed? There’s the mess at first base, a patchwork outfield due to injuries and a bullpen that isn’t going to put the fear of God into anyone.
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The least of the Phillies concerns is who is going to come out and pitch the ninth inning.
If down the road the team finds it needs a good, dependable closer, you know, when they return to the postseason, then they can worry about it and maybe spend some money on someone reliable. But until that time, let a committee handle the closing duties. Who knows, maybe someone will emerge and make the role their own.
And if you start to think differently, just remember two words: