The Rays Closer Carousel

By David Hill

If it seems as though the closer position has been a carousel during the Joe Maddon era of the Rays, it would be because it has. In fact, since Maddon took over as manager in 2006, the Rays have had a different pitcher lead the team in saves every year: Tyler Walker, Alberto Reyes, Troy Percival, J.P. Howell, Rafael Soriano, Kyle Farnsworth, and Fernando Rodney.

Furthering the transitionary nature of the position, only J.P. Howell had been on the team the previous year. Aside from Howell, Alberto Reyes was the only other player to even be in the system at any time prior to leading the team in saves, when he spent two months with the Durham Bulls before being released on June 1, 2004.

This method obviously has had success, and not just for the Rays. The Atlanta Braves had a tendency to switch closers almost every year from 1991 to 2010, with 13 different pitchers leading the team in saves. The Oakland A’s have had 8 different closers since Dennis Eckersley left after the 1996 season.

This season, at age 35, Fernando Rodney is having by far the best year of his 10 year major league career. Signed as a reclamation project to hopefully fill out the bullpen, he has emerged as a force to close out games, much like Farnsworth did the previous year. Like Farnsworth, Rodney also received a one year contract with a team option for a second year.

Does this mean that Rodney will be closing games for the Rays next season? Not necessarily. There is always the potential for injury, as what happened to Farnsworth, or Rodney just returning to his averages. Jake McGee was drafted to be the ‘closer of the future’, and may one day actually take that job for his own. Or, the Rays could sign yet another veteran reliever after a couple of down seasons on the off chance that he turns it around.

As well as Rodney has pitched this season, he may not automatically be the closer even next year. The Rays have had success finding various pitchers to fill that role, and may end up continuing the trend.