Who will be the closer for the Tampa Bay Rays this season? That’s a question that might not be answered until the season is under way. Over the past six years, four of which were playoff seasons for the organization, the number one closer role bounced around annually, until last year, when Fernando Rodney earned the slot for a second year in a row. Now, Rodney is a free agent, and it appears the Rays will be writing in another name to lock down the ninth inning.
A little history regarding the title of “closer” in Tampa Bay:
- 2008 – the first season the Rays finished over .500, and also the first time the club made the post-season. For that matter, this was the best year in Tampa Bay history, both in total wins, with 97 during the regular season, and in post-season, as they made it to the first and only time, only to lose to Philadelphia. Closer? Trey Percival led the way with 28 in 32 opportunities. Dan Wheeler added 13 in 18 chances. Lost in the World Series.
- 2009 – team record: 84-78. Closer? J.P. Howell was 17 of 25. Eight other arms added 24 saves in 35 opportunities. Result? Forty-one saves in sixty chances. Not a real good saves percentage. Missed the playoffs.
- 2010 – team record: 96-66. Rafael Soriano led the way with 45 saves in 48 opps. Team total: 51-63. Lost in the LDS.
- 2011 – team record: 91-71. Kyle Farnsworth was 25-31, and the team was 32-44. The fewest save opportunities in the past six years for the Rays. Lost in the LDS.
- 2012 – team record: 90-72. Fernando Rodney had a season for the ages. Arguably the best year a closer has ever had. Surely deserving to be in the conversation. Total saves: 50-58. Best in Rays’ history. Missed the playoffs.
- 2013 – team record: 92-71. Rodney couldn’t follow up his near-perfect 2012 season, but who could follow that up. The righty with the cap askew was 37-45. Total saves: 42-60 for the team. Again, just over 2/3 of saves were closed out. Not what the Rays were looking for, I’m sure. Lost in the LDS.
So, who will get the ball in the ninth this season? Will Heath Bell re-invent himself? How about Jake McGee? Will he find the magic potion to hold the role of stopper? To be sure, he is a southpaw with a fastball that regularly touches ninety-eight MPH. In the past, pitching coach Jim Hickey has taken some off the scrap heap, and others develop. This season, several will compete for the responsibility.