As part of TSN.ca's 2013 MLB Season Preview, we will be rolling out stories this week on five pressing questions facing the Toronto Blue Jays this season. The third question facing the team: Who should be used to fill the closer position short and long term?
With the pressure on, late in a close game, one of the key ingredients of a contending Major League Baseball team is having a closer to bring into the action and nail down the final three outs.
Prior to the 2012 season, the Blue Jays sent pitching prospect Nestor Molina to the Chicago White Sox in exchange for closer Sergio Santos, expecting him to assume the same role in Toronto.
Santos was coming off a 30-save season for the White Sox but was only able to close out two games for the Blue Jays - posting a 9.00 earned-run average - before a shoulder injury kept him on the sidelines and eventually forced him to have season-ending surgery in July.
Reliever Casey Janssen stepped into the role and finished the season with 22 saves in 25 opportunities and a very strong 2.54 ERA.
However, during the off-season Janssen had minor surgery to repair soreness in the joint at the top of the shoulder, where the blade meets the collarbone.
He was also forced into a 10-day shutdown at the beginning of March, once again due to soreness in his shoulder.
Santos and Janssen both appear as though they should be healthy and ready for opening day which could give the Jays a very strong end of the bullpen tandem, assuming they are used in that fashion.
The last element in any closer debate is the possibility of looking outside the organization for a veteran arm.
Former Detroit Tiger Jose Valverde - who was perfect in the role in 2011 - before struggling and eventually being benched in 2012 is currently looking for a job.
Ex-San Francisco Giants closer Brian Wilson posted 48 saves in 2010 and 36 in 2011 before losing almost the entire 2012 season to injury. He is currently a free-agent and could be an end-of-game solution.
The Blue Jays have options both on their roster and in the free agency pool, the question is, what should they do about their closing position in the short and long term?
TSN.ca's Scott MacArthur has been following the Jays all season and believes that Casey Janssen will get the job but that the Jays have options.
He writes: It appears, as I write this, as though both Casey Janssen and Sergio Santos will be ready to break camp with the Blue Jays.
The closer's job, at least to start the season, is Casey Janssen's. He earned it last season when he converted 22 of 25 save opportunities after Santos went down with a shoulder injury just a couple of weeks after opening day. When you talk to Janssen about the role, he perks up. The guy's a competitor and he thrives on the pressure of pitching in the ninth inning. The aforementioned numbers back that up.
Janssen isn't your prototypical closer in that he doesn't throw high-90s gas but he's got nasty breaking stuff, especially his curveball and slider, and in the last three seasons he's struck out 183 hitters in 188 innings. He misses bats.
Should Janssen's surgically-repaired shoulder break down, or should he falter, Santos is waiting. So is Steve Delabar, a flamethrower in his own right.
Toronto has options in the ninth inning. The bullpen, in general, will be intriguing to watch over the course of the season. The Jays' starters should, given their talent, log a lot of innings but in this day and age having a solid relief corps is key. Don't be surprised if GM Alex Anthopoulos tries to upgrade the bullpen at some point.
What do you think?
Should it be Janssen or Santos that is counted on to close games for the Blue Jays this season? Or would the Jays be better off looking outside the organization for a veteran arm to fill that role?
As always, it's Your! Call.