Well replacement might be a tough word, because no one is going to ever replace the supreme production supplied by Mariano Rivera.
Replacing someone was as great as Rivera in their own line of work is the ultimate no-win situation. It rarely works out the same way, and no one usually remembers the replacements.
Quick: Who replaced Lou Gehrig at first base? Who replaced John Wooden at UCLA? Answers below.
Mariano is the greatest closer of all time. Not the greatest relief pitcher (that would be Rollie Fingers because of his multiple inning durability), but Mo is the one pitcher you want on the mound for three ninth inning outs holding a one run lead.
Finding a new closer is going to be a difficult challenge as no one knows how long Rivera will continue to want to pitch.
At age 40, Rivera has shown no signs of vulnerability. He still sports one of the best closer ERAs with 1.05 and 20 saves, and a WHIP of 0.641. He also retired an incredible 24 straight batters in the month of June.
Still highly effective, how long will Rivera want to pitch? Similar to Derek Jeter and Andy Pettitte, the Yankees will allow Rivera to make up his own mind when he wants to leave the game.
Rivera has mentioned that signing a series of one-year deals (similar to what Pettitte has done) would be acceptable to him.
I believe Rivera will pitch at least two more seasons after 2010. The “Core Four” will begin to gradually leave the team after this season (Pettitte retiring) and after 2011 (Jorge Posada not being re-signed).
If I were Mo, I would not want to retire the same season as another long time Yankee does.
I believe Rivera will then leave after the 2012 season, which makes getting my preferred replacement very difficult, as that guy is available sooner than the 2013 season.
Here are the five top candidates for the eventual new Yankees closer spot, and Joba Chamberlain is NOT on the list.
5 – Mark Melancon, Yankees Scranton AAA team
If they ever give this guy a chance of more than a couple mop up appearances, then he will show the Yankees that he will be the eventual closer.
Mark Melancon was drafted in 2006 with the idea of becoming the eventual Yankees closer. He was the very effective closer for the University of Arizona, a pitcher with a great mound demeanor and a bulldog want-the-ball attitude.
He has done everything you could ever want and need in the minors, including some dominating times in Triple A.
Melancon does three things you want in a relief pitcher: 1) He throws strikes, as he only walked 35 batters in three minor league seasons coming into 2010; 2) he strikes out hitters with his 95 MPH fastball and knee-buckling curve; and 3) he can go multiple innings.
He has struggled a little this season, but most of the damage has come in a few different games in his 34 appearances this year.
He deserves more of a major league opportunity than Chad Gaudin or Dustin Moseley.
And when he gets more of an opportunity, he will show the Yankees that he can and will perform the function that he was drafted for in 2006.
Being the Yankees future closer.
Odds of being the next Yankee closer – 50:1
4 – Jose Valverde, Detroit Tigers
Valverde was a relatively unknown closer who toiled for the Arizona Diamondbacks and Houston Astros for five and two seasons respectively, before signing with the Detroit Tigers prior to the 2010 season.
Valverde saved 47 and 41 games in 2007 and 2008, and has not slowed down since joining the senior circuit.
He sports a miniscule 0.92 ERA this year, allowing a scant four earned runs in 39 innings. Valverde has a WHIP of 0.821, walking 3.7 per nine innings, but allowing very few hits. Hitters are batting .125 off of him this season.
His strikeout rate has steadily declined over the years from a high of 12.6 per 9 IP in 2006 to a “measly” 8.3 per 9 this season.
Have no fear as Valverde usually gets two strikes on most hitters he faces, and finishes them off with a strikeout or weakly hit ground ball off his devastating splitter.
But one thing hurts Valverde’s chances of becoming the next Yankee closer.
Mariano will likely pitch two more seasons after 2010, and Valverde will be a free agent after 2011.
With the lack of quality closers available, some team will overpay for Valverde, and it is very likely he re-signs with the Tigers.
At the grand age of 34 when he becomes a free agent, I do not see Valverde accepting an eighth inning role for a year or two so he can eventually close with the Yankees.
And unless Rivera retires after one more season, I do not see the Yankees aggressively going after Valverde.
Odds of being the next Yankee closer – 20:1
3 – Jonathan Broxton, Los Angeles Dodgers
He is the current Los Angeles Dodgers closer.
Broxton is big and strong (6’4″ and close to 300 lbs!) with a massive lower body that screams high heat. He can register the guns all the way up to 100 MPH, and regularly hit 98-99 on the gun in closing the All-Star game out last night for the National League.
Over the last two seasons (his only two full years as a closer), Broxton has struck out about 13 hitters per nine innings, while having a WHIP around 1.000.
Those are two great traits for a dominating closer.
Like Jose Valverde, the only issue is that Broxton can become a free agent after the 2011 season, and will have many suitors vying for his work.
If Rivera wants to continue pitching, will the Yankees fork over big money for Broxton over four years, using him as a very highly paid set up guy for a season or two, then letting him close once Rivera retires?
This could happen as Broxton will only be 28 when he reaches free agency.
Will having the opportunity to eventually close for the New York Yankees be enough of a luring card for Broxton to forego his closer role for a year or two?
Or, since Rivera will be 42 in 2012, could both he and Rivera alternate as closer two years from now?
Broxton is the perfect fit for the Yankees, but what does scare me is his arm action, which is shown above. This type of action is ripe for injury, and not something which should be taken lightly, especially for a guy who throws as hard as Broxton does.
He is the perfect candidate to step right in as the future Yankee closer, but the timing of his free agency hurts his overall chances.
Odds of being the next Yankee closer – 7:1.
2 – Joakim Soria, Kansas City Royals
Since he closes for the lowly Kansas City Royals, Soria is the best closer in the game that no one really talks about.
But people have been noticing him work lately as many have Soria pegged as possibly being traded to the Yankees as a set up man to Rivera for 2010.
Soria has put up dazzling numbers with a 162 game average of 2.13 ERA and a 0.994 WHIP with 37 saves. He walks only 2.5 per nine IP while striking out over 10 per nine IP.
He is signed through the 2011 season, with three club otions for 2012 ($6M), 2013 ($8M) and 2014 ($8.5M).
I do not believe the Royals will be wanting to pay Soria $8 million per in 2013, and could trade the closer to the Yankees sometime in 2012. If Soria is still effective two years from now, the Yankees will certainly have enough trade chips to whet the Royals’ appetite.
And two years after 2010 is when Rivera is likely to retire. But his odds decline a little as another team needs to be involved, and it is not just a straight free agent signing.
Odds of being the next Yankees closer – 5:1
1 – Huston Street, Colorado Rockies
Basically this deal works timing wise more than anything.
Huston Street will probably be a free agent after the 2012 season, just when I believe Mariano Rivera will retire.
When healthy, Huston is nothing less than very effective. He throws strikes, changes speeds and strikes out hitters at a good (although not great) rate.
Street just does not allow many hitters to get good contact off him. His career WHIP is 1.023 in 343 career innings.
Street is signed through 2012, but has a player option for $9 million in 2013. Assuming he is healthy and still effective at the then age of 28, if Street knows Rivera is retiring and the Yankees (among others) need a closer, Huston would be smart to decline the option and become a free agent.
The Yankees could easily give him a multi-year deal at $10 million per.
Street was rumored to be coming to the Yankees near the 2009 trade deadline, but the Yankees will have to wait a few seasons for his eventual arrival.
Odds of being the next Yankee closer – 3:1.
Honorable Mention – Current Yankee Farmhands
I would always allow a younger player to get an opportunity over a major league free agent, but the future job of Yankee closer is going to have so much scrutiny, it might not be a good idea to have a young player in that role.
It would not be fair to that youngster, and not fair to the fans, who would demand instant success. The role of closer is not allowed to have any failures, especially coming off the retirement of Mariano Rivera.
But the Yankees do have an abundance of young pitchers with strong arms, routinely hitting 95 MPH, with good control and two out pitches.
If the eventual closer was from the current ranks of farmhands, one of these young pitchers would likely be the next one:
Andrew Brackman – this 25 year old stands 6’10” and has finally become the prospect he was once destined.
Now two years removed from Tommy John surgery, Brackman has been successful this year as a starting pitcher at High A Tampa, andwas then promoted to Double A Trenton.
He finally harnessed the one negative in his game—pitching control. Cleaning up some mechanical issues has allowed Brackman to reduce his walks to only 16 in 80 innings in 2010.
During the debacle which was his 2009 season in Low A Charleston, Brackman’s only success was when he was sent to the bullpen. While better than normal his first handful of relief appearances, his last four stints were stellar.
He did not walk anyone over those ten innings, allowing only six hits with no runs, HBP, or wild pitches while striking out nine.
Brackman has now begun to throw a sharp slider at 87 MPH to go along with his hammer curve and fastball which has now hit 96 MPH.
With all the Yankees’ starting pitcher prospects in the system, Brackman might be better suited in the bullpen.
History has already shown he can succeed there.
Graham Stoneburner – this guy has what it takes to be successful as a major league bullpen arm. He has a fastball at 95-96 MPH and a nasty slider which generates lots of swings and misses.
Here is my report on him from one of his Charleston starts.
He walks relatively few hitters, allows few hits and has one of the best WHIPs in the entire minors. He has also struck out exactly a batter per inning so far in 2010.
He was promoted so far this year from Low A Charleston to High A Tampa and likely will stay in steamy Florida State League all season.
It is only Single A baseball, but Stoneburner continues to impress the Yankee brass with his stuff and mound presence.
If he does not consistently generate a third pitch, like his improving change up, Stoneburner could make his major league debut in the bullpen as soon as next season.
Tim Norton – a real long shot as this 27-year-old has spent most of his career on various disabled lists, including missing the entire 2008 season with a shoulder injury requiring surgery.
But I have liked his pitching style since seeing him in short season Staten Island in 2006.
But when he recently returned this season, he was nothing short of dominant, striking out well more than one per inning and having a WHIP well below 1.000. Norton has scrapped his splitter, which I have always said harms shoulders more than any other pitching factor.
But Norton, who has a serious nasty pitching mentality to dominate, is hurt again and on the Double A Trenton disabled list.