As Susan pointed out earlier this afternoon, the Indians non-tendered Chris Perez, which means the team is currently interviewing candidates to be the next Vice President of Ninth Inning Operations. From our vantage point here at the tail end of October, there is no clear front-runner to inherit the closing job from Perez, even though I’m sure everyone has their preferred choice (you should all know mine by now, but we’ll get to that). Though it is still incredibly early, I need to something to take my mind off the fact that the Red Sox won another championship, so let’s go through the options:
EDIT: The commenters got me; I totally forgot about Cody Allen AND assumed Joe Smith was still Arbitration-eligible. Fixes should have been made.
Tier 1: The In-House Favorites
1. Vinnie Pestano – A year ago, Pestano would have been the slam-dunk choice to succeed Perez in the ninth inning, but Pestano suffered through a disastrous 2013 season and wound up making 14 appearances in Columbus. For our AAA team. Though the thought process seems to be that Vinnie will benefit from an offseason of rest and conditioning, there are far too many questions about his ability and health to simply hand him the job. I will break down Pestano’s struggles in a later article this offseason, but suffice to say he walked way too many batters in 2013 and his slider just wasn’t the same. It’s purely a gut feeling, but I don’t think Pestano is the heir-apparent to Chris Perez in the eyes of the Indians organization. At best, he’s going to have to prove it in the Spring.
2. Joe Smith – Probably the safest choice of the in-house options for the closer role, Smith is also probably the one with the lowest ceiling. He’s been outstanding as a set-up man the in 2011, 2012, and 2013, but he does have a few warts in his game that make him a less-than-ideal closing candidate. First, he throws sidearm, which means he dominates right handers (RH career OPS vs. Smith = .605), but he is much less effective against left handers (career OPS vs. Smith = .717). Essentially, the concerns we have about Justin Masterson are true for Joe Smith, and those concerns tend to be amplified late in games. Do you really want Smith on the mound in the 9th inning versus Big Papi or Prince Fielder?
2. Cody Allen - An absolute workhorse for Terry Francona in 2013, Allen was used often out of the pen in high-pressure situations. While I question his ability to be dominant in the 9th inning, it seems the organization sees him as the heir apparent to the closer’s throne. Even if he is tabbed early on as the closer (or the favorite to be closer), I think he will still have to earn the job against Pestano and others.
Tier 2: Free Agent Additions
1. Brian Wilson (Currently with LAD) – I don’t know what it would take to get Wilson (probably more than he’s worth, but no more than they’d have to pay Perez if they kept him), and what his demands would be in terms of contract length and so on, but this is an extremely intriguing option. This is a guy who has been on the mound in the World Series, who loves to perform outrageous antics (the fun kind, not the oops-someone-sent-my-dog-a-large-quantity-of-illegal-drugs kind), and who would fit in really well with this bullpen. My only reservation is that he’s spent his whole career in the National League and he’s never been truly dominant for a long stretch of time.
Still, though, in terms of bullpen continuity, this could be a perfect fit.
Tier 3: Trade Targets
Honestly, I don’t see a trade on the horizon… at least not one that will deliver a guy capable of closing in 2013. It’s not realistic to trade proven talent for a bullpen arm, and I don’t think the Indians are in the market to deal away a prospect when they have two good in-house options and a good option out there in the free agent pool. I could be wrong, but I just don’t see any good targets.
Tier 4: The Dark Horse
1. Carlos Carrasco - Carrasco isn’t going to close in 2014, but I still think he has the stuff and the mental makeup for the role (though I’m generally alone on that last point). If Pestano or Smith is promoted up a level, look for Carrasco to move into a setup role, and if he dominates like I think he can, you may hear his name pop up for emergencies, injury replacement, or as the closer in 2015. It could happen!