My colleague, Mr. Bamford eloquently made his argument yesterday that Joe Nathan and Mariano Rivera were the only true consistent high end closers, and he may well be correct in that estimation. But is the impact "enormous?" Only to Nathan and the Minnesota Twins. From my point of view, Nathan's absence does very little to change the Closer landscape, except to get some managers to leap even sooner than they might have, or start a Closer run a round or so sooner then it would normally start. Let's face it, managers are Closer crazy regardless.
That said, someone still has to close games in the Twin Cities, and who that lucky draft day S.O.B. is, well, let's take a look at the options.
First off, here are/were my pre-season Closer rankings, and my thoughts on drafting Closers: Go ahead and read it, I'll wait. I hate repeating myself anyway--
Welcome back. All settled in? Got a fresh beer? Okay, let's move on.
You'll note that I listed Matt Guerrier as Nathan's "Successor in Waiting." However in my relief pitcher column, I suggested the guy to keep an eye on is Jose Mijares. So which of them will it be? Likely neither.
First let me say that Twins coach Ron Gardenhire plays his cards so close to the vest they might as well be tattooed on. Plus there is still some slim hope Nathan could play come opening day. How thin? Thin enough to make David Wells look anorexic.
So here are our options and their likelihood of Closing this season in Minnesota.
Front Runner: Jon Rauch - Many forget that Rauch successfully closed for a half season for the lowly Nationals in 2008 before he got traded to the Diamondbacks and had a meltdown. But prior to and after his debacle in the desert, Rauch has been a solid strike-out reliever. He's a veteran guy who should get the first shot. Odds to close 65/35
Runner Up: Matt Guerrier - Matt is about is consistent as they come for a relief pitcher, and has logged more innings in his role than about any pitcher I can think of. If your league counts Holds, you want this guy anyway. However, Guerrier is not a lights out strike-out pitcher. He doesn't have Closer make-up and he gives up too many long balls. That said, he's never had the chance to try. Odds to close 25/75
The Contender: Jose Mijares - He's young, cocky, often immature, and at times struggles with his control. He is however the best of the bunch in terms of true closer stuff. He's hell on lefties but Swiss cheese to righties. he needs more experience, but we could see him take the closer role from Rauch by the All-Star break if he settles in. Until then he makes for a nice one-two set up punch with Guerrier. Odds to Close 7/93
The Darkhorse: Pat Neshek - Neshek has long been one of the Twins best relievers. He was lights out in 2007, and struggled a bit in 2008 before surgery cost him all of 2009. Still, he has the stuff, and Gardenhire's confidence, so the coach could throw a curve and use Neshek when the game counts most. Odds to close 3/97
Nothing would surprise me with Gardenhire, and nothing should surprise you either. Someone other than these four could pop out of the wordwork to close games in Minnesota this season. But for now, the odds, and my money are on Jon Rauch. He should get between 25-35 saves if he hangs onto the job all season.
I wouldn't take Rauch in my Top 10 picks at the position, but when we know for sure he has the gig, he could provide Top 15 numbers. For now, he's out of my Top 22, unless you count Holds, then he's worth looking at.