The possibility of the Astros making a move for a new closer has been an item for discussion since the season ended. First, Houston let the injured Roberto Osuna, who only pitched in four games in 2020, become a free agent rather than go to arbitration and risk having to pay him big bucks to not pitch. Second,
while Ryan Pressly did a workmanlike job as the closer in 2020 (1-3 / 3.43 ERA / 12 saves – tied for fourth in the majors / 1.333 WHIP), his 75% save percentage was below par and he was nowhere near the excellent reliever he showed in 2018 (1-0 / 0.77 ERA / 0.600 WHIP) or 2019 (2-3 / 2.32 ERA/ 0.902 WHIP) as the Astros setup man.
With high profile closers like Liam Hendricks and Brad Hand out on the market, it has been a natural progression to look at the Astros and wonder about their interest in bringing in someone to close and moving Pressly back to his natural “position”. Recently the Astros have been linked to the White Sox closer, free agent Alex Colome. Five Teams Showing Interest In Alex Colome – MLB Trade Rumors
Colome has been a very good closer since 2016 (17-17 / 2.62 ERA / 138 saves), but is coming off a season (2-0 / 0.81 ERA/ 12 of 13 saves) that may overstate how good he is and how much he makes.
Of course, this all comes back around to the basic question of how much value the closer has to the team, especially in the playoffs. The Astros won the 2017 World Series while their closer Ken Giles went 0-1 with a 27.00 ERA and never pitching after Game 4. The Dodgers lockdown closer, Kenley Jansen saved 2 games in that series, but famously blew the save in Game 2 (Marwin Gonzalez‘s dinger) and lost Game 5 (Alex Bregman‘s walk-off single). In 2019, Jose Altuve walked off the ALCS with a huge homer off of big-time Yankee closer Aroldis Chapman. Their opponent in the World Series, the Washington Nationals were only thereafter Brewers’ stud closer and former Astro farmhand Josh Hader spit up a 3-1 lead in the 9th inning of the Wild Card game. Both Liam Hendriks and Brad Hand have had failures in the postseason and neither have even pitched in a World Series. Probably the only true playoff lockdown stud was the Yanks Mariano Rivera who went 8-1 with a 0.70 ERA and 42 saves in his career, but even he let the D’Backs come back and win the 2001 WS on Luis Gonzalez‘s bloop single to center in the seventh game.
Still, it is a long road through the season and having a reliable closer is important, especially in preventing the kind of hangovers blown saves can cause to a bullpen. And with a bullpen like the Astros have that will include a number of youngsters, having a veteran on the back end can be a comforting thought.
Looking at the Tampa Bay Rays where Astros GM James Click came from might give some hints to what he may think about the subject of closers. The Rays were quite innovative in the use of their bullpen as they championed the concept of “openers” – using a reliever to start the game and flipping over to another pitcher to take over for the bulk of the game. In 2019, the Rays had 11 pitchers pick up saves, led by Emilio Pagan (20), Diego Castillo (8) and Jose Alvarado (7). In 2018, the 7 pitchers who had saves for the Rays included Astro Austin Pruitt (4) and possible future Astro Alex Colome (11).
Does this mean that Click will be more interested in having a variety of arms available to close for skipper Dusty Baker? In-house options include Pressly and young bullpen arms like Enoli Paredes and Blake Taylor. If they pick up another starter, could they look at moving young stud Cristian Javier into the mix? If Josh James ever gets healthy and learns control could he and his 14.7 K/ 9 IP from 2019 move to the back of the bullpen? What about young Bryan Abreu, who showed a lot of promise in 2019? And the big whale of a question might revolve around someone we thought we would never see pitch for the Astros again, Justin Verlander. Verlander claims he wants to come back from TJ surgery and pitch again in 2021, likely out of the bullpen. If you had a Hall of Famer in your bullpen would you use him for mop-up duties or possibly to wrap up the back end of big games? Just saying…
So, this is your turn…..
- Do you think the Astros go out and get a closer in this off-season?
- Who would you like to see them pursue?
- Do you think they get additional bullpen help but stick with Pressly or another in-house option to close?
- Who would that in-house option be?
- Any chance that Verlander returns to pitch in 2021 and if he does, would he be the new closer?
- Any thoughts on the overall value of closers, especially in the playoffs?