As baseball evolves, the front offices, management and fan bases become smarter and more informed. Through the use of sabermetrics and a lot of common sense, we have started to view baseball much differently than we have in the past. One major change that is beginning to take shape in MLB is the stance on needing a “proven closer”.
The new-school thinkers in baseball are pushing for a new view of how bullpens are used. The most notable media member trying to remove the term “closer” from the game of baseball is MLB Network’s Brian Kenny. Kenny is trying to change the term “closer” to “relief ace”.
The idea is that closers are, in most instances, the best reliever in a team’s bullpen. Since they are the best reliever, they should be used for more than 70 innings per season. The Baltimore Orioles are still using old-school methods, anointing one reliever the closer and using him for the ninth inning with a lead of three or fewer runs.
Orioles closer Jim Johnson is due to make just over $10 million in arbitration according to MLBTradeRumors.com. That is far too much money for a small market team like the Orioles to spend on their closer, especially one coming off a season in which he blew nine saves. Johnson is known for using a heavy sinker that has led to a career 57.7 percent ground ball rate. He makes up for a lack of strikeouts (career 5.96 K/9) with the ability to induce a ton of ground balls.
Instead of keeping Johnson, the Orioles should take the approach of the Pittsburgh Pirates and Tampa Bay Rays and trade their expensive closer for other pieces. The Pirates and Rays have had several different closers in recent seasons — all of which have been effective and relatively inexpensive. The Pirates were able to acquire 2013 All-Star Mark Melancon in exchange for their 2012 closer, Joel Hanrahan.
The Orioles need to take advantage of the foolish idea that “proven closers” are still a thing by trading one for other useful pieces. Surely, there will be a team that is lacking a good ninth-inning option that will be willing to acquire the expensive closer from the O’s.