Yes, the Blue Jays are currently 16-6 so far in June, that’s a fact. And yes, playing .727% ball will allow for a cute little mask to be placed over some of the more short-term “issues” a team might have, that’s a near-fact.
But this closer carousel business that’s happening right now, is still a giant question mark for the team. One that needs a concrete remedy. Or at least some formal plan of attack.
When the Jays didn’t even have a save opportunity present itself for almost an entire month, no one really noticed that there was no guy at the back of the pen. Then Brett Cecil imploded (posting a 11+ ERA in the month of June alone) and the ninth inning chaos resumed. Earlier this week he was removed from the role he never really owned.
The very loosely coined “closer by committee” setup is always such a weak, band-aid attempt by teams who either can’t decide on a closer or don’t have one stocked in the cupboard. I’m convinced that teams are convinced that it’s a viable option. It doesn’t work. It’s not sustainable. A confident, hard-throwing juggernaut is damn near a requirement for the ninth inning, especially in heat of the playoffs.
This is clearly one of the Jays lingering and obvious problems. So what exactly do they do? First, what are their potential options? In the order of what makes the least sense to the most sense, here are my inner thoughts.
5. Convert a starter
Back in Spring Training, the “Aaron Sanchez as closer” idea was toyed with and talked about. It was exciting at the time, but now that he’s worked out to be a very capable starting pitcher with a very high ceiling, I’m grateful the closer gig didn’t actually happen. Once he’s back from his somewhat mysterious (it’s his lat) disabled list stint and now that he’s stretched out into throwing starter innings, would it makes sense to revert him back to less work and higher pressure innings in the closer role? Definitely not.
As for the rest of the rotation being used in the role? Not a chance. Not unless we want R.A. Dickey shattering the single season record for most bases loaded walk walk-offs. Ditch this idea.
4. Keep the committee
Sorry, I’m not a fan. I understand that the handedness matchups are often key in late innings and I like the idea of adjusting to that, but not in closing situations. I want the no-brainer option in there, that one dude. With a bullpen that already features far too many changes, the thought of just any random guy out there is scary. Cecil, Roberto Osuna (who’s actually been pretty nice in middle relief), Aaron Loup, Bo Schultz, Rob Rasumussen, Phil Coke, Todd Redmond… that’s not even the full list, and some aren’t even up with the team any longer. But they could be at the drop of a hat, which is kind of the point.
3. Steve Delabar
Stevie Delabar, the 2014 Vote-In All-Star, who started the season with a surprise demotion to the minors, certainly seems like the most likely candidate doesn’t he? He’s been very consistent (2-0, 1.41 ERA, 0.79 WHIP, 9.95 K/9) since re-joining the team and probably still pitches with at least a small piece of that early season chip on his shoulder. He also has some experience with the late innings. So much so, that officially closing ball games would be far removed from a true “experiment,” something the Jays don’t need any part of. Stevie needs to at least be in the conversation.
2. Play the ‘rent-a-closer’ game
Obviously, this is the most “exciting” of options, and especially since the rumor mill has linked the Jays to veteran closers like Jonathan Papelbon (13/13 saves, 1.88 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 10.05 K/9) and Francisco Rodriguez (15/15 saves, 1.00 ERA, 0.78 WHIP, 10.67 K/9). While neither of these two guys are spring chickens, they are two of the most successful closers the game has seen and are having absolutely dominant seasons in 2015, despite pitching for terrible teams. Now, coming to Canada can be a particular issue for some players (remember when Mark Buehrle had to leave his dogs behind?), but consider again that Papelbon and Rodriguez currently pitch for the Phillies and Brewers, who happen to be the two WORST teams in the entire league. If Alex Anthopoulos really wants an exclamation point in the ninth inning, he could treat this as a rescue mission for one of these unfortunate guys, make a deal and end up with “hero” status. Sounds fun for all involved.
1. Liam Hendricks
Here’s where my thinking wanders completely outside the box. If we reflect on who has been the most consistent of all the Blue Jays bullpen arms this season, you can make a solid case for my man Liam Hendricks. Although he’s racked up most of his innings in long relief (32.2 innings), he’s been extremely steady in middle relief as well, posting a season line of: 2-0, 2.76 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 35/6 K:B ratio. He’s been impressive all season.
He also possesses many of those unique closer attributes. He throws hard (mid-to-high 90’s fastball), goes after hitters while issuing very few walks AND he’s Australian! Who’d be cooler under pressure than an Aussie? Fellow countryman Grant Balfour had some success in the closer role back in the day, perhaps he could achieve some inspiration from him.
Baseball talk aside, the guy has also been featured on the TLC wedding show “Say Yes to the Dress.” I say that if he can handle that kind of treacherous spotlight, closing ball games should be a rather ordinary task.
After that, my other overwhelming argument for trying Hendriks remains (emphatically): Why the heck not?!