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Options at Closer for the Baltimore Orioles; In-house or Free Agent?

December 4th, 2013 at 7:24 AM
By Josh Michael

The Baltimore Orioles made what can be considered a big move on Monday Night, but it was not a big move for the Orioles as they traded closer Jim Johnson to the Oakland A's for Jemile Weeks and a player to be named later. It was considered a big move because it involved a big name, but it was just a big salary dump for the Birds and now the Orioles have to figure out who is the closer in 2014.

'John Axford of the Brewers. I think.' photo (c) 2012, Mike LaChance - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

There have already been reports on the Orioles interest in free agent closers, and most notably by Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal has he tweeted that Baltimore had interest in John Axford and Edward Mujica.

We will have free agent profiles on both of these guys in the coming days, but it is certainly a possibility that Baltimore could sign a free agent to be their closer and the way closers are paid now days, they would likely get one much cheaper than retaining Johnson would have been.

So that's one route the Orioles could go, but another would simply be an in-house replacement. There are actually several in-house replacement candidates, although none of them immediately put complete confidence in the fan's mind as a dominant closer. The leading candidate if the replacement were to come from within the organization seems to be Tommy Hunter. In his first full season as a reliever, Hunter had a fantastic 2013 with a 2.81 ERA and four saves in 68 appearances, but the underlying issue with Hunter is his inability to get left handers out consistently.

Brian Matusz is another candidate, but he struggles against right handers somewhat and he is not a flame thrower, much like Johnson wasn't and when a closer is a pitch to contact type of guy you are going to experience some blown saves.

'Brian Matusz' photo (c) 2012, Keith Allison - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

What about the side-winder Darren O'Day? He is certainly a very quality reliever and has posted a WHIP of 1.000 or lower each of the last two seasons. This season we saw O'Day struggle with a minor injury late in the season and his walks were up and strikeouts down from 2012, but was still very good with a 2.18 ERA.

We have even seen suggestions for Bud Norris and Kevin Gausman, but those guys are starters and we cannot see the Orioles putting either guy in the closer's role.

From what we have gathered from our followers on Twitter and Facebook is that they would like to see a closer by committee with guys like O'Day, Hunter and Matusz. It is an intriguing idea and could certainly play in the Orioles favor with certain matchups as there is no other pitcher on this planet that I would rather have facing David Ortiz than Matusz, but what a closer by committee could essentially do is restrict Buck Showalter a little bit. If you are facing the Red Sox for example with Dustin Pedroia, Ortiz, and Mike Napoli coming up in the ninth inning, Showalter will have had to find a way to save Matusz and Hunter or O'Day, thus reducing the number of pitchers he could use earlier in the game by one since he needs two guys in the ninth. Yes we know there is no way of knowing those three guys are going to come up in the ninth until the eighth inning is played, but managers have to think about situations such as these.

Ultimately, we firmly believe, especially from what we have heard from our sources, that the Orioles closer in 2014 will be someone not currently in the organization. Baltimore will likely go out and sign a second tier closer once the big names are off the market such as Axford or Mujica.

Here is the bottom line, if the starting pitching is better, the role of the closer for the Orioles is drastically reduced. What do we mean? The Orioles led all of baseball in total save opportunities with 84, which was 11 more than any other team in the league. If the starters perform better, there would be fewer save opportunities with this offense, which makes the closer's role less significant.

Who is your choice or who do you believe will be closing in 2014 for the O's?


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Tags: Baltimore, Baltimore Orioles, Baseball, Brian Matusz, Buck Showalter, Darren O'Day, Edward Mujica, Jim Johnson, John Axford, MLB, Tommy Hunter

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