The Rays have a couple of positions up for grabs this spring, and maybe foremost among those will be finding a new closer. With both Rafael Soriano and Joaquin Benoit gone, and Jake McGee still a work-in-progress, the position is up for grabs, and may go unclaimed.

The Rays did sign Kyle Farnsworth to a one-year deal worth $3.25 million. That deal also includes $300 thousand in incentives based on games finished*. “Games Finished” is just code for “Saves” as MLB rules forbid incentive clauses to be based on performance. And it is reasonable to think Farnsworth will at times be called on in the ninth inning.

But without a proven closer on the roster, there is also the possibility of the dreaded “closer-by-committee,” something Joe Maddon recently confirmed.

“It’s possible. I think it’s not optimal, but it’s possible,” Maddon said. “If it occurs that way we’re going to make the best of it. I think Andrew is trying to get that particular person, and if it doesn’t happen, then we’re just going to have to do it the other way and figure it out from there.”

Obviously, the optimal solution is for Maddon to just pitch his best pitchers when he needs them the most. But that is easier said than done. Relief pitchers need time to warm up, and it is not always easy to predict when the most important outs will be at the plate. And Maddon doesn’t want to get into a situation where he is warming up his best pitchers 3-4 times every night.

There are reasons to be excited about the 2011 Rays. But the bullpen should also scare the bejeezus out of you.

* “Games finished” clauses are common for free agent relief pitchers that may potentially fill the role as closer.

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13 Comments

  1. Don says:

    You can start by adding 1/2 hr.-1hr to every game this year with "Maddon Madness"....
    Isn't match-up pitching much like roulette...blind luck...
    I'll tell you how to handle it Joe...keep the pitchers in that are doing good ...ie. striking out the last two hitters or ground balls.....and take out the pitchers that can't get anyone out....See Joe...not too hard!...give it a try...Huh?

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  2. Scot says:

    Funny, for 100 years baseball didn't need a designated closer. Even the great Goose Gossage was NOT a closer. He was often brought into the game at critical points which were the 8th or even 7th inning to stop the opposition. It didn't have to be the 9th inning. In 2008, Maddon was successful using this technique, except nobody had realized it because no one had labeled Balfour as the closer. (Percy was there to placate the masses.)

    The empirical evidence is overwhelming (except to those who choose not to look.) Using a player in the 9th inning just because he has been labeled "the closer" is a losing move. It reduces a team's chance of winning the game.

    This is why I like Maddon. He is one of the few managers left who doesn't manage by old school popular consensus. He is one of the few who doesn't manage by fear of what will be written in the newspaper/blog/internet after the game. Funny, so is Bruce Bochy, but he couldn't lead a team anywhere.

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    • Cork Gaines says:

      And yet Maddon still says he would prefer to have a closer. It doesn't have to be the best pitcher. Last year, Benoit was Maddon's best reliever and as you correctly point out, Balfour was the best arm in 2008. But it is also good to have some pre-defined roles since the importance of any given situation can change so dramatically from batter to batter.

      Ultimately, the problem is not in having a closer. The problem is when managers are not willing to deviate from the plan. THAT is where Maddon excels and others fail. And even then, we still see Maddon be as rigid as the others. We have seen times when Maddon would use Soriano with a 3-run lead (save situation) to start the 9th, but he wouldn't use him with a 4-run lead (non-save situation) even if the latter required facing the heart of the order and the former did not.

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      • Scot says:

        It is not clear that Maddon prefers a designated closer. But I'm glad you re-enforced my argument.

        What I suspect, i.e., my hypothesis, is that any good manager must choose a path that makes his players respond best. Given the conservatism in baseball, if a "well known closer" joins the Rays, he would probably rebel if Maddon tried were to alter this player's definition of when and how he would be asked to pitch. Percy was like this and I suspect now with the reports of his characteristics, Soriano was probably like this. (Of course if you pay a person enough, he might change is view...)

        But now, with no pre-season designated closer, Maddon is free to select the most useful pitcher when necessary. Every pitcher would be happy to be asked to pitch, and the ego driven "its a save situation or else" attitude is minimalized.

        Of course a real manager, like Bochy, would also designated a closer. (Except when he didn't.)

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        • Tone says:

          Maddon has stated numerous times he likes having a "closer". Just look at the quote above for a very recent admission of preference; “It’s possible. I think it’s not optimal, but it’s possible,” Maddon said. “If it occurs that way we’re going to make the best of it." In response to the question of closer by committee. So it IS clear that he likes having a closer. He stated that many times this past season. Maddon would love to have the 9th set, so he and the rest of the bullpen only have to figure out the 6th, 7th, and 8th. 2009 was not fun in the late innings. JP looked mostly bad in the 9th. I remember him giving up a walk off 2 or 3 run home run to Langrauhans(?) in Seattle. Troy was awful in 2008. We have only unknowns this year to look forward to. I still have hope, but as stated in the post, it is mighty scary.

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          • Scot says:

            Fair enough about what Maddon says, but he also notorious for making statements that limits controversy. But if he really thinks this way, I am disappointed.

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  3. Don says:

    OH Scot...Wait a minute....Bruce Bochy..."Can't lead a team anywhere"....so hes like Maddon???? What did you miss the WS last year....
    When Maddon wins a WS you can tell me about his great pitcher management...till then hes an idiot!
    You want to see fear...... look at Maddons face when the other team is rallying and he doesn't know what to do...

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    • The BIZ says:

      sigh.

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    • Indiana Rays Boy says:

      Don, right on. Maddon thinks he's smarter than what he really is. Bruce Bochy is 2 times the manager that Maddon is. Joe Maddon is like a Clint Hurdle type manager; both of them took over their respected franchises that were struggling to a World Series appearances. Since their World Series appearance, Hurdle got fired in 2009 with a talented roster and Maddon has a World Series type talented roster but he is finding new ways to ruin them with mixed match lineups and sabermatrics nonsense. Look who Maddon patterns his game when he was with the Angels organization in the 1980's: Gene Mauch. I am sick and tired of hearing the national media praising this guy like the next Tony LaRussa. Anyways, the closer by committee worked in 2008 and didn't work in 2009 season. Teams don't win a World Series with a closer by committee. He projects this team to win 90 wins; my rear. They will be like in 2009 84-86 wins range. 2012 season, should be World Series or bust.

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      • Scot says:

        Lets look at the teams that tend to subscribe to sabermatrics: Athletics, Indians, Mariners, Rangers, Padres, Red Sox, Yankees, Rays - mostly American League teams.

        How about the ones who more likely to ignore it - Royals, Astros, Reds, Marlins, Phillies, Braves, Mets, and the World Series champs Giants. mostly NL teams. Yes the Giants are WS champs because of a 7 game meeting, but by and large, the NL is the AAAA compared to the AL.

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        • Tone says:

          No method is 100%. Stats help; the "gut" can help too. But nothing is sure. Luck and circumstance play a big role. The Giants have solid pitching, that is why they won. They would have beaten any one that was in the playoffs in my humble opinion.

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          • Scot says:

            As you point out, nothing is 100%. Hence there is a chance that my old college team could beat the Giants. The 162 game season is a better measure of the quality of the teams. The best team does not win the WS.

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