Some are predicting that the Rays will turn to a closer-by-committee. And this may be true to an extent, but eventually, somebody will settle into the role.
Joe Maddon vs The Front Office
The funny thing about the closer’s job, is that it has always appeared to be the one thing that Joe Maddon and the front office have a strong fundamental disagreement, even if publicly, they claim to be on the same page.
The front office clearly doesn’t believe in having a defined “closer,” preferring instead to have the best pitchers work the highest-leveraged situations no matter what inning that occurs. And on paper, this is smart baseball.
Closer-by-Committee is difficult to implement
But JoeMa knows things are occasionally more complicated than bringing in his best pitcher for the most important outs.
Using your best reliever in the most important situations requires that a manager know ahead of time when those will occur. And that is not always easy to predict. Sure, you know when Alex Rodriguez is coming up. But facing A-Rod with two runners on in a 2-run game is much different from facing A-Rod with the bases empty.
So if A-Rod is coming up in the 7th inning, Maddon could warm up his best pitcher. But what happens if he the situation turns out to not be a high-leverage out? Does he bring the pitcher in any way? Or does he sit the reliever and warm him up again later, something that can be taxing on a pitcher’s arm?
Maddon knows numbers and players
Maddon also understands that players are creatures of habit. Whether it is Wade Boggs eating chicken before the game, or James Shields preferring to pitch on four days rest as often as possible, or Mariano Rivera having a set routine that begins in the 6th or 7th inning every game, many players crave consistency and routine.
And we can all argue over the importance of these ceremonies and routines. But if the players believe they are important, then they are important.
Maddon likes having a closer, just not the title
Maddon also appreciates the freedom that comes from not assigning the title “closer” to one player. Not only does this give him flexibility, but it also removes the scrutiny that comes to both the manager and the player on the rare occasion that somebody else subs in.
So who will close?
Early on, we wouldn’t be surprised to see Fernando Rodney, Joel Peralta, and Jake McGee get a save or two. But the guy we would expect to see Maddon lean on is JP Howell. If Dude is indeed 100% as he appears to be, he is one guy in the bullpen that Maddon has always trusted, occasionally to a fault. He also has experience in the role. And Maddon has shown a preference for experience at the back-end of the bullpen.
But eventually, somebody will be the Rays closer. Maybe not right away. And definitely not in any official capacity. But Maddon has always used closers, even if he has never defined that role. And there is no reason to expect things to change now.