Let's face it. Next year, you would rather that Kevin Gregg will never be given the chance to close a single game for the Orioles. In fact, you could even be like me, in that you hope he starts pitching for another team. Maybe even someone else in the AL East, so we can pummel his crappy fastball or simply let him walk us like everybody else. Last year, he posted a 6.03 BB/9, almost twice the league average of 3.11. His only decent pitch was a slider and even then his k/9 of 7.99 (barely average) and seven blown saves point in one direction: the exit.
Some say that with the recent acquisitions that add up to fierce (in the Tyra Bank's sense) competition for rotation spots, Jim Johnson will stay in the bullpen, despite the late-last-season speculation of a new starting gig. While I confess that I was looking forward to seeing Jimmy getting the chance to put some real innings in, I'm not sure that I like the idea of messing with one of the few bright spots that the Orioles have left.
But is Jim Johnson going to be our closer? At the end of the 2011 season, it sure looked that way. Buck Showalter had finally grown tired of Gregg's failures and thus Johnson got the last handful of chances that the Orioles had to close out a game. There weren't many, but it was still a nice glimpse at what could be. Johnson ended last season a 2.67 ERA, which was nice, even if his FIP was more like 3.22 and he did manage to blow five saves.
It seems however, that Dan Duquette doesn't fully trust Johnson to handle the highly regarded (and subsequently overrated) closing duties for the Orioles. We've had extremely poor luck with signing closers, and yet it looks like we might make another stab at a mediocre and somewhat expensive finisher. Today, MLB Trade Rumors reported that the Orioles have talked to the Reds about Francisco Cordero. Cordero has closed tons of games, the most of any active player besides Mariano Rivera, but you have to wonder how many he will be able to save in the coming season. After all, he turns 37 and Fan Graphs just put up a great article on exactly why any team (and thus the O's) should be concerned about signing Cordero. For one, his k/9 has dropped steadily for the last four seasons, from 12 in 2007, to just 5 in 2011. He has started throwing a lousy slider and is relying heavily on a change up which doesn't seem to be fooling anyone. Sure, he still posted a nice ERA of 2.45 but that was in Cincinatti. Not the AL East. Plus, his BABIP was only .215, compared with the league .298 and his FIP was actually 4.02. If his strikeout rate continues to drop, this makes him even less valuable than Kevin Gregg. Well, almost.
There was talk with Seattle during the winter meetings about Brandon League, but those went nowhere. Too bad, because I like League's velocity and potential almost as I much as I love his hair. All this said, I don't want the Orioles to hire anyone under the agreement that they will be the closer.
Maybe it's the fact that I'm rereading Moneyball right now but Billy Beane's theories surrounding the creation of value in making any decent reliever into a closer seem like they're worth considering right now. Especially after McPhail made the wonderful choice of signing Kevin Gregg to replace good ol' Michael Gonzalez. Clearly, spending more money is not the best answer. So why not take a page from moneyball? Why not create a trade chip? This team needs to worry about getting the lead more than keeping the lead at this point and wouldn't it be nice to mold some of our short term answers into long term solutions? I think that is exactly what Duquette has been trying to do and we know from experience how overrated closers can be. Someone in Camden Chat brought up the very realistic and rather unexciting idea of giving Alfredo Simon a shot at closing duties. Again. Get it? A shot? Well, the idea is better than the joke. But it happened before (I mean Simon closing) and it wouldn't be such a bad idea to try it again. He wasn't incredible before, but his save rate back in 2010 was still slightly better than Gregg's was (81% to 76%) last year, and I truly believe that Alfredo has matured since then. His WHIP, k/9, BB/9, and HR/9 have all improved over the last three years and I see no reason why the big guy can't take another step forward this season. Especially for whatever we end up paying him.
Regardless of who Buck chooses to save games (and let's hope that there are opportunities to be had) I wonder if Duquette will choose to start from within. Another reliever might be nice, but we don't need another Kevin Gregg. Hell, I'm actually tickled with the rumor that we might eat some of his contract just to get rid of him. I encourage the Orioles front office, who I know read my blog religiously and with great interest, to save the money and not hire another washed up closer that can't finish. If it's not going to be great, can we just skip the annoyance of having to shell out more dough just to have our hearts broken yet again? Let our next closer be someone that we already have.