In what is becoming an annual tradition, the anointed Proven CloserTM for more than a few ballclubs has found himself in hot water, inciting panic in their respective fan bases, dugouts and front offices.
In Chicago, Carlos Marmol needed all of four appearances before he lost his job as closer to Kyuji Fujikawa. For John Axford, it only took three before his job security was put in jeopardy. The same goes for Greg Holland, even if his manager claims he still has his job, though the save Aaron Crow picked up yesterday afternoon would beg to differ. And then there is the whole closer mess in the back of Detroit's beleaguered bullpen.
Gosh, for such a supposedly important role, it sure seems like teams are wildly reactionary and/or uncertain of what to do with their closer slot whenever things don't go exactly according to plan. Their distress is understandable because of the myth that teams need a Proven CloserTM leading them to believe they are screwed without one.
That may make sense on a logical level but, fortunately for the Brewers, Tigers, Cubs and Royals, history has shown that to not be the case. We aren't talking about ancient history here either, you only have to go way, way back to last season to see how an injured or underperforming closer is hardly a death knell for a team's hopes.
In 2012, no less than 18 teams went a significant amount of time without their projected closer going into spring training. Be it injury or ineffectiveness, over half the teams in baseball lost their Proven CloserTM and didn't see their season fall to pieces. In fact, the Yankees, A's, Nationals, Reds and World Series champion Giants all had to cope with closer turnover and they all wound up making the playoffs. One could even argue that the Reds may not have been as successful had they not lost Ryan Madson, allowing Aroldis Chapman to step into a much more valuable role. One could also argue that the Nationals were actually better off when Drew Storen was sidelined with an injury. One could even argue that the Yankees lost the greatest closer of all-time and barely missed a beat.
Those teams all had the benefit of having tremendous relief depth going into the season, so losing their closer was never a disaster in the making. But plenty of other teams had much more tenuous situations in their relief corps and still managed to land on their feet. The Angels fired Jordan Walden from closing in the first week of the season only to pull Ernesto Frieri out of obscurity in San Diego to become a dominant closer in an otherwise lousy bullpen. The Mariners demoted and eventually traded Brandon League so they could replace him with former bartender Tom Wilhelmsen who proved to be a clear upgrade over League. And then, of course, there is Fernando Rodney who was merely a scrapheap pick up by the Rays that went on to steal the closer gig from Kyle Farnsworth and set a record for the lowest ERA ever in the process.
Not every team survived their closer loss (see the 2012 Boston Red Sox), but a vast majority of them weathered the storm and came out of it in just as good or better shape and most of them didn't need to have several high-priced relievers on the payroll to pull it off. Heck, some of them didn't even have any real bullpen depth and still managed just fine.
So for the 2013 clubs that are experiencing some technical difficulties with their incumbent closer, the worry shouldn't be nearly as large. The Cubs look like they should be better off with Kyuji Fujikawa as closer and the Royals have enough talent in Kelvin Herrera, Aaron Crow and Tim Collins that they shouldn't have any trouble replacing Holland if they ultimately decide to do so. The Tigers and Brewers don't have the same kind of obvious in-house solutions but with a minor trade, converting a starter to a reliever, a scrapheap veteran signing or a promotion of some raw prospect, you never know what might fall into place for them.