Analyzing the Battle for the Blue Jays Closer Job

As spring training comes to a close, the Toronto Blue Jays have their roster and depth chart pretty well set. The offense will led be by Josh Donaldson and Jose Bautista, and the rotation will be headlined by Marcus Stroman and Marco Estrada.

The question that remains for the Blue Jays is who is going to be getting the call for the ninth inning this season. The first candidate is last year’s closer Roberto Osuna, and his competition is newly acquired veteran Drew Storen. The loser of the battle will likely be the setup man, with Steve Delabar, Brett Cecil, and Ryan Tepera serving as the main middle relief options.

Entering the 2015 campaign, the Blue Jays had two young power arms in the form of Osuna and Miguel Castro. At the time, Castro was viewed as the better arm and was given the closer job to begin the year. That experiment was short-lived, however, as Castro struggled throughout April and was optioned to Triple-A in early May. At that time, the Blue Jays began using a closer-by-committee system, although they weren’t winning many games and when they did it was often by a large enough run differential that a closer wasn’t necessary. Cecil’s save on May 4 was the only Blue Jays save between April 28 and June 12.

As the month of June began, Toronto began to heat up and also began to win games by closer margins. Needing someone to shut the door in the ninth, the Jays turned to Osuna, who had been working mostly in the seventh and eighth innings to that point and with great effectiveness. Throughout the rest of the season, Osuna served as the Jays closer, registering 20 saves in 23 opportunities. In the postseason, Osuna recorded a save in his only opportunity, but also suffered a loss in the decisive Game 6 of the ALCS.

Storen represents the contrary of Osuna last season, starting as the Washington Nationals closer before being subsequently replaced by Jonathan Papelbon. As a matter of fact, Storen’s last four seasons have been a complete roller coaster. In 2011, Storen recorded 43 saves before missing over half of the 2012 campaign due to surgery to remove bone chips from his elbow. Storen shared the closer duties with Tyler Clippard for the second half of 2012 and was named the closer for the postseason, in which he infamously yielded four runs to the Cardinals in the top of the ninth in Game 5 of the Division Series.

The following year the Nationals signed Rafael Soriano to be the closer, and Storen’s struggles throughout the year found him getting optioned to Triple-A in late July for a couple weeks. Storen responded with a lights-out 2014, posting a career-best 1.12 ERA while working mostly as the Nationals setup man. Last year, he served as the Nationals closer up until they acquired Jonathan Papelbon right before the trade deadline. Storen made it very clear he was unhappy about being moved back to the setup role, and his performance reflected that as he was 0-2 with a horrendous 9.22 ERA after the trade.

In early January, the Blue Jays acquired Storen from the Nationals in exchange for outfielder Ben Revere, leading to the debate on who should win the closer job. Osuna’s advantages include his effectiveness in the role last year, along with his youth and promise. For Storen, his experience in the role and veteran savvy could potentially give him the upper hand.

The X-factor in this decision is, oddly enough, one of Storen’s weaknesses. Last year, Osuna proved to be reliable in any role whether that be closing, setting up, or just pitching in the middle innings. Storen, on the other hand, was terrible in the eighth inning while he was outstanding in the ninth. The benefit of Osuna’s youth is that he can still adjust to any relief role, while Storen is clearly better off as a closer. Add in the fact that Toronto is going to be competitive this season, and it makes the most sense for the veteran Storen to be in the role he is most comfortable in and can be the most effective in.

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