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Case Closed : Jon Rauch is the new Twins Closer …Or is he ?

Joel F. Antol
With Joe Nathan seemingly set to be out for the entire 2010 Twins campaign and the possibility of haveing Tommy John hanging over his head the Twins now find themselves in search of a temporary (or maybe permanent ) closer. That pitcher would have big shoes to fill considering that Nathan has been one of the game’s best. Since coming to the Twins in the infamous Pierzynski trade Nathan has put up no less than 36 saves including a carrier high 47 in 2009. According to most analysts the loss of Nathan may have already cost the Twins the AL Central.
It appears that former third round draft pick and Olympic gold medalist Jon Rauch is the front runner. Rauch had a stellar second half of the year after joining the Twins in a trade from the D-Backs, going 5 -1 with an ERA under 2 in 17 games. But is Rauch the best candidate for the job? His is 26 for 44 in his career SVO . On two separate occasions Rauch was considered to be a team’s full time closer going into the season (Washington and Arizona) only to lose his job mid season. Even with his 6’11, 290 pound frame, he may not have what it takes to close games.
The Twins have to other internal options. Last season right handed pitcher Matt Guerrier led all Twins pitchers in games (79) and innings (76.1), his numbers were comparable to Nathan’s. Guerrier has been consider the teams top setup man yet has fallen short in his few save opportunities only converting 4 of his 14 career chances. The Twins also have left hander Jose Mijares. In his first full season with the Twins Mijares was used mostly as a left handed specialist, with a .244 average against he was highly effective in his role. The youngster is already considered a top reliever in the Twins organization. His inexperience may be his biggest problem, I just don’t fell he can take on that load quiet yet.
There was one outside option I think the Twins didn’t consider seriously enough and now it may just be too late. John Smoltz found himself without work late into spring training so he went out and found it, earlier this week he signed a contract with TBS. In a statement he said he hasn’t quite closed the door on pitching in the majors again but he didn’t leave much room for change. The former Cy Young winner told the Atlanta Journal –Constitution “I think everyone understands that with the [broadcasting] role I have now, I don’t mind saying the chances [of pitching] are pretty slim. I don’t know what slim means. Maybe I make that announcement in 10 days. Maybe in 30 days. Just let me get through this week. I can’t imagine it will go on that long. But there are a lot of things swimming through my head right now.” Maybe if the Twins would have offered the future hall of famer an incentive laden contract to fill their closer spot he maybe have put his television career on hold. Not to mention the fact that he could have been an extra attraction to the new Target Field, and with a young pitching staff the guidance in the clubhouse would have done the Twins wonders.
There had been serious talks about a possible trade with the Indians for the pitcher formally known as Kid K - Kerry Wood. But his contract is almost as inflated as his era. Not only would the Twins most likely have to give up a major league ready player to help fill their young line up, not to mention a high level pitching prospect. On top of that the likelihood of the Tribe offering any relief to the 10 million he is owed this year is almost nonexistent . In his first season not in a Cubs uniform Wood was less than impressive collecting only 20 saves and putting up a 4.25 ERA, the risk factor seems to have very little pay off.
In an off season where the Twins were uncharacteristically buyers, signing all of their arbitration eligible players plus giving contracts to Jim Thome and Orlando Hudson, to not go out and sign or trade for an outside replacement may turn out to be the best move they haven’t made. With the anticipation of the resigning of 2009 AL MVP Joe Mauer any access baggage isn’t needed. With almost two weeks till opening day, expect a lot of waffling on who should get the full time closer nod. But if all else fails Twins icon “Every Day” Eddie Guardado is looking for work after being released by the Nationals last week.

1 comment:

  1. Maybe Neshek will get some consideration for the closer role if he can be as nasty as he was before TJ surgery. Good thing the Twins did not go after Wood...he's out 6-8 weeks.