So far this season, the Tigers have gone from a bullpen by committee to bringing back the proven, maybe not always relyable, Jose Valverde. The Brewers have replaced proven John Axford before he can record a save this season. Jimmy Henderson (2-0, 5 saves, 0.90, 14 Ks in 10 IP) is now finishing off games for the Crew. Carlos Marmol was thought to have finally lost his job in Chicago, but new closer Kyuji Fujikawa (1-0, 12.46, 2 saves, 4 Ks in 4 IP) has not gotten the job done either. The early struggles and injury to Joel Hanrahan in Boston have led to Andrew Bailey (1-0, 5 saves, 1.59, 20 K in 11 1/3 IP) regaining his job as closer. Here are the top ten closers who may have to watch over their back this season. Even though some have gotten the job done to this point, the strength of those who also pitch in the pen may take its toll.
10. Seattle Mariners: Tom Wilhelmsen (0-0, 6, 0.90, 7 Ks in 10 IP) took over last season for Brandon League, who was traded to Los Angeles. The reason Wilhelmsen may have to watch over his back is the number of solid arms in the Mariners bullpen. Charlie Furbush (0-1, 0, 4.70, 13, 7 2/3) throwns mid 90s and has a closer makeup. Stephen Pryor (0-0, 0, 0.00, 7, 7 1/3) and Carter Capps (1-1, 0, 5.11, 16, 12 1/3) will keep the pressure on Wilhelmsen, especially if the Mariners continue to flounder in the standings.
9. Texas Rangers: Joe Nathan (0-0, 7, 1.08, 9, 8 1/3) probably has little to worry about right now. He is pitching like it. Injured RHPs Neftali Feliz and Joaquim Soria are on their way back though and are proven replacement options if Nathan were to falter. Perhaps Nathan could become a trade possibility if he is pitching well because of the Rangers potential depth. That hinges on Feliz returning to the bullpen upon return, something that is not etchedin stone.
8. Chicago White Sox: Addison Reed ( 1-0, 7, 0.90, 10, 10) is not particularly overpowering. He certainly gets a long leash, especially since he has taken to the closer's role since grabbing it last season. Matt Lindstrom (1-1, 0, 2.79, 8, 9 1/3) is the primary choice to take over if Reed falters.
7. San Francisco Giants: Brian Wilson is the perfect example of a no doubt closer who now needs a job after his recovery from Tommy John surgery. Sergio Romo (1-1, 8, 1.74, 13, 10 1/3) was Wilson's primary set-up man and is now the closer who finished off the 2012 World Series title for the Giants. Romo's job seems safe, but if he falters, Santiago Casilla (2-2, 1, 2.31, 8, 12 1/3) is very capable of taking over the reigns.
6. Arizona Diamondbacks: JJ Putz (1-0, 4, 4.50, 13, 10) has done a great job since taking over as the D'Backs closer. One of the stengths of this team, however, is the depth in the bullpen. David Hernandez (1-1, 0, 3.38, 13, 10 2/3) will be a MLB closer someday and Heath Bell (2-0, 1, 4.50, 14, 8) is always an option in spite of his terrible 2012.
5. Kansas City Royals: The Royals have already made a move at the closer position. Greg Holland (0-1, 5, 5.14, 14, 7) has been replaced by Kelvim Herrera (2-2, 2, 5.79, 15, 9 1/3). The heir has seemed to be Tim Collins (1-0, 0, 1.17, 9, 7 1/3) who is a hard throwing lefty who has better career strikeout numbers than he has shown early this season. Though Holland and Herrera give the Royals some depth, they will be setting up for Collins before the season ends.
4. Colorado Rockies: The reason Rafael Betancourt has been closing games for the Rockies for the past couple season is the fact that Colorado has not had many better options. Though he is off to a good start (1-0, 7, 1.74, 7, 10 1/3), is will be a matter of time before he hits a slump. Matt Belisle (1-1, 0, 2.92, 12, 12 1/3) has developed into a very reliable late inning reliever and it will be a matter of time before he gets a chance in the closer's role and does not give it back. Plus, Betancourt has proven he can be a solid 8th inning reliever.
3. Chicago Cubs: The worst MLB closer since 2011 has been Carlos Marmol. The shelf life finally ran out after his 2010 season (2-3, 38, 2.55, 138, 77 2/3) as he has been replaced temporarily by free agent acquisition Kyuji Fujikawa. It is obvious by his numbers though (1-0, 2, 12.46, 4, 4 1/3) that Fujikawa may have a hard time holding on to this job. Though he deserves a chance, it will not be as long of one as Marmol got. While Marmol will probably not be an immediate option, he looms as long as he is still a Cubs pitcher. Rafael Dolis (1/3 IP, 0 runs) has made just the 1 appearance this year, but is a hard throwing RHP that may be able to embrace the role.
2. Los Angeles Dodgers: This one is an obvious move. Brandon League has had the track record of being a closer and that is why he currently holds the job. Kenley Jansen was the 3rd most dominant relief pitcher in the National League last season. If there starts are any indication (League: 0-0, 6, 4.00, 3, 9 to Jansen: 1-0, 1, 1.50, 15, 12), a change should be expected very soon.
1. Detroit Tigers: Detroit Tigers? They just brought back their closer from last season Jose Valverde. And Valverde pitched a scoreless 9th inning the other day. I have said before that the best closer on the Tigers' roster has been there the whole time. He just has not gotten used yet. It is not Bruce Rondon or Joaquin Benoit. It is Al Alburquerque. Alburquerque (0-0, 0, 1.69, 18, 10 1/3 IP) has never recorded a MLB save but has been a dominant reliever for parts of the past two seasons. He was injured in 2012, but was very good (0-0, 0.68, 8, 13 1/3) when he was healthy. He pitched in 41 games for the Tigers in 2011, going 6-1, 1.87 with 67 Ks in 43 1/3 IP. He deserves a chance and should get one should Valverde struggle. Odds point to Jose to struggle at some point this season.
In conclusion: here are ten pitchers who have a chance to unseat their incumbent closer by season's end: Charlie Furbush (Mariners), Joaquim Soria (Rangers), Matt Lindstrom (White Sox), Santiago Casilla (Giants), Tim Collins (Royals), David Hernandez (Diamondbacks), Matt Belisle (Rockies), Kenley Jansen (Dodgers) and Al Alburquerque (Tigers).