With Giants’ closer Brian Wilson likely out for the season with elbow surgery, there’s been discussion as to what they’re going to do for a closer.
It’s early in the season and there’s no reason to panic, but with a team that has the expectations that the Giants do, it’s never too early to consider contingency plans and lay the groundwork for June/July trades. Wilson is a big loss, but the truth is that the Giants can overcome it if any of the potential replacements—Sergio Romo, Santiago Casilla, Jeremy Affeldt or some combination—can do a reasonably serviceable job of pitching the ninth inning.
What those who dismiss the importance of a closer are ignoring is that Wilson wasn’t an ordinary 3-and-out closer who would pitch one inning by design or demand and is easily whited out with another name written in his stead. Wilson was old-school and willing to pitch two and three innings if necessary and that’s not as easy to replace as a closer in name only who accumulates the save stat.
Tim Lincecum has gotten off to a bad start this season and I’m waiting—waiting—for some lunatic to say that Lincecum be placed in the bullpen to take over as closer.
Trust me, if Lincecum pitches poorly again tonight in his start against the Phillies in San Francisco, it’s going to start.
It’s madness of course. You can’t replace 220 innings even if they’re not as dominant as Lincecum’s been in the past, those innings are imperative. For all the worship doled to the Giants’ starting rotation, it’s highly shaky at the back-end with journeyman Ryan Vogelsong still in danger of being a Cinderalla at midnight story and Barry Zito’s diminished stuff leaving him needing to be perfect to be effective.
For now, I’d use Casilla and see how he handles the job. He throws very, very hard; strikes out a batter per inning; isn’t overly prone to the home run ball; is effective against righties and lefties; and has closed in the minors.
If that doesn’t work, they’re going to have to look for outside alternatives.
Rafael Soriano has been mentioned but he’s never been particularly popular in his clubhouses and the Giants are tight-knit group who put team ahead of individuals—Soriano’s too expensive, blows big games and is not their type of personality.
The one name I would look at is Cubs’ closer Carlos Marmol. The Cubs are going to be bad this season. Theo Epstein is rebuilding and doesn’t think much of the closer role nor does he want to pay a lot of money for saves. Marmol is owed $7 million this season and $9.8 million next season, but there’s no guarantee that Wilson will be back to full strength by the start of 2013 so they’re going to probably need someone for more than one season anyway. He gives up a homer here and there and loses the strike zone occasionally, but racks up the strikeouts and getting away from the Cubs and into a contending situation might be what he needs to get into a groove. Epstein would be perfectly happy taking a decent prospect or two just to clear that salary.
He’s a sane solution and something to think about when—not if, when—someone suggests Lincecum should be moved to the bullpen.