It's not anything like official, but Mariano Rivera's been dropping hints that 2012 will be his last season. Which seems perfectly reasonable, considering he's 42 years old. Which seems utterly unreasonable, considering he's still arguably the best relief pitcher in the majors. Will he really quit, even after a good season? And if so, what shall the poor New York Yankees do? Newsday's Ken Davidoff:
"You never know," David Robertson said Tuesday of his teammate. "He could Brett Favre us. That's all I'm saying."
Said Rafael Soriano: "He's gonna come back and pitch for two more years."
These two pitchers, the most obvious candidates to succeed Rivera if he carries out his hints, claim they'll just focus on their current jobs and not sweat the long-term future. And if you're wondering how Brian Cashman and his baseball operations group should proceed, I'd offer them the same advice:
Don't worry about the specifics of who will close in 2013 and beyond. Keep doing what you're doing, which involves collecting as many quality arms as possible.
To that short list -- and Robertson's the OBVIOUS choice if he's healthy a year from now -- Davidoff adds Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes, current Red Sox reliever Mark Melancon, and prospects Dellin Betances and Diego Moreno.
The point being that there's no shortage of good arms in the organization, and eventually -- probably in 2013 but maybe not -- the Yankees will have to do what almost every other team does every year or two, and find a suitable pitcher to protect small and moderate ninth-inning leads.It's not really so difficult.
We know that closers come and closers go, but this graf from USA Today's Bob Nightengale did sort of surprise me:
Fifteen of the 30 major league teams might open the season with new closers. Outside of the New York Yankees' Mariano Rivera, who hinted he might retire after 2012, no closer has held his job longer than four full seasons with his current team. Three - the San Francisco Giants' Brian Wilson, the Kansas City Royals' Joakim Soria and the Chicago Cubs' Carlos Marmol - have lasted at least two full seasons as closer.
And Marmol and Soria both suffered through rough patches last season. Soria actually lost his job for a week and finished with a 4.03 ERA; Marmol lost his job for two weeks and finished with a 4.01 ERA.
Those guys are good pitchers. If they can pitch poorly enough to lose their jobs for a stretch, what happens to lesser relievers? Right. They get shuffled out of the closer's role for good, if they have a bad month or two. Two months for a closer is 20-25 innings. You happen to pitch relatively poorly in 20 innings -- three starts for a starting pitcher -- and you might be done. Especially if you're a young pitcher. Audition over, welcome to set-up duties and a much smaller paycheck when you're a free agent.
Anyway, when Rivera does retire, the Yankees will just have to do what everyone else does. Yes, Dave Robertson. But pitching like Dave Robertson for one or two years straight is tricky enough. Pitching like Mariano Rivera forever is very nearly impossible. It's happened once in 30 years, and might not happen again in the next 30.