D-backs have several different options to fill hole at closer
After examining options to fill the Arizona Diamondbacks’ hole at catcher, the ninth inning will also need work this offseason.
In order for the D-backs to make a deeper run in October, it is paramount the front office finds reliable relievers, including a closer.
After signing veteran Fernando Rodney to a one-year, free agent contract last December, the D-backs have a decision to make.
With no clear-cut options in the farm system, general manager Mike Hazen could resign the 40-year-old Rodney, give Archie Bradley to take hold of the ninth inning, or he could look at a number of intriguing external options on the free agent market.
Hazen could also make a trade. The Tampa Bay Rays are reportedly listening to trade offers for Alex Colome, who saved a major-league best 47 games last season. But his strikeout rate dipped and his walk rate increased, which are troubling signs for a closer.
At the General Managers Meetings, Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports reported that the D-backs were open to bringing Fernando Rodney back to close games in 2018.
After posting a 12.60 ERA with two blown saves in April, Rodney did not give up an earned run and only blew one save across 19 appearances in May and June. Rodney followed that up with a shaky July, in which he posted a 9.00 ERA and converted two of his four save chances.
But he bounced back in August with a 3.00 ERA while converting all 12 of save chances. Rodney blew a save in September but posted a 3.12 ERA in 10 games and he did record a save in the D-backs’ NL Wild Card Game victory over the Colorado Rockies.
It truly was a mixed bag for the 40-year-old right-hander in 2017, and at his age, it is fair to ask whether it is worth bringing him back — even if it is for only one more year. But Rodney likely will not command a lot of money and could be the way to go if the D-backs lose out on free agent options, cannot make a trade and prefer to have Archie Bradley pitch the eighth inning.
Hazen told Steve Gilbert and AJ Cassavell of MLB.com at the GM Meetings that the D-backs would stretch out Archie Bradley next spring, but that he would likely remain a reliever in 2018.
The numbers certainly align with the D-backs’ plans. The 25-year-old Bradley owns a career 5.18 ERA as a starter. After he could not secure a spot in the rotation last spring, Bradley became one of baseball’s most dominant relievers, posting a 1.73 ERA in 63 games. His 3.7 WAR was tops among relievers.
The D-backs starting rotation from last season — Zack Greinke, Robbie Ray, Taijuan Walker, Patrick Corbin and Zack Godley — is likely to return intact.
A fan favorite who was excellent last season, Bradley is the one many would like to see get the job next season.
Arizona acquired Boxberger from Tampa Bay on Thursday. He figures to play a role in solidifying the depth of the bullpen outside of Bradley.
The 29-year-old led the American League and ranked fourth in the majors with 41 saves in 2015, when he was an All-Star. He only pitched in 57 games in the last two seasons due to injuries.
With the analytics suggesting a decline in Boxberger’s performance from 2015 to 2017, he is more of a candidate to pitch in the seventh or eighth inning than he is in the ninth.
He’s a long shot, but Sherfy certainly has the track record to warrant an opportunity as a big league closer and has to be mentioned.
The 25-year-old Sherfy saved 66 games during his minor league career. In addition, he held batters to a .192 average in late and close game situations while pitching at the Triple-A level in 2017.
At the major league level, Sherfy did not allow a hit with RISP, held batters to a .133 average in late and close situations and a .125 average in high-leverage situations.
It was a small sample size, but Sherfy certainly performed like he belonged in the late innings. He showed poise and confidence beyond his years and seemed to not fear facing big league hitters.
Experience, however, is a major question mark and makes it unlikely that Sherfy will be closing games in 2018.
Besides inquiring about Colome, there are a few intriguing names on the free agent market.
In MLB Trade Rumors’ rankings of the top 50 free agents, Wade Davis ranked eighth. No other reliever was higher, making him an expensive possibility.
The 32-year-old Davis saved the fifth-most games in the majors last season (32) in his first year with the Chicago Cubs. The right-hander compiled a 2.30 ERA in 59 games and struck out 12.1 batters per nine innings.
Very few relievers in recent years have been more effective at preventing runs than Davis. Davis’ 2.23 Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) ranks sixth among relievers with at least 100 innings pitched since 2014. If you are a fan of ERA, Davis’ 1.45 mark ranks first among relievers during the same span.
Davis might be too expensive but if Hazen is serious about stabilizing the closer role, there is not a better option on the free agent market.
Ryan Zimmerman may have taken home NL Comeback Player of the Year honors for 2017, but Greg Holland had a strong case.
The 32-year-old Holland resurrected his career in 2017. In his first season with the Colorado Rockies, the right-hander led the National League in saves (41) and games finished (58). His 4.1 walks per nine innings rate left more to be desired, but he also struck out 11 per nine innings pitched.
He posted a 3.61 ERA but a 3.72 FIP and his extremly low .252 Batting Average with Balls in Play (BABIP) suggests he is in for some regression in 2018.
He was one of the most reliable closers in the NL last season, but Hazen will have to balance the risks that are associated with Holland against his reliable peripheral stats from last season.
Brandon Kintzler broke out during the first half of 2017. In his second season with the Minnesota Twins, the 33-year-old right-hander posted a 2.78 ERA and a 3.69 FIP in 45 games. He saved 28 games and finished 41.
The Twins surprisingly traded their All-Star closer to the Washington Nationals, who were in need of bullpen help. The right-hander did not close for Washington but still posted a respectable 3.46 ERA and 3.93 FIP in 27 games.
Unlike most late-inning relievers and closers, Kintzler was effective because he pitched to contact. He only struck out 4.9 batters per nine innings in 2017, but he still held opponents to a lowly .296 OBP thanks to an effective sinker that he threw 74 percent of the time according to Brooks Baseball.