Monday, December 13, 2004

Closing Time...

Now that Danny Kolb has been traded to the Braves the number of quality closers on the market is pretty much zero.

So, where does that leave our beloved Cubs? It leaves them with 4 internal and 1 external possibilities. Let's break them down real fast...

Kyle Farnsworth - Seemingly has all the tools to be a closer, but he's never really put it all together. He had one good season in 2001, but has been very erratic since then. He has a 95-100mph fastball and a very sharp slider which he has trouble locating at times. Farnsworth has also worked in a change-up the last couple seasons but it's not his best pitch by any stretch of the imagination.

Kyle's biggest upside is the fact that, despite his troubles, he still strikes more then a batter per inning. If he can get his walks down, this ability could make him into a very effective closer.

Kyle is my #1 choice to take over the role in 2005.

Ryan Dempster - Dempster is coming off Tommy John surgery and is expected to play his first full season in a couple years. He was used a reliever last season and didn't look very good. He has 18 K's to 13 BB's. For a closer you usually want to K twice as many batters as you walk since you're only in there for one inning. Dempster has only done this one time, in 2000 when he was an all-star for the Florida Marlins.

Dempster certainly has the stuff to be a closer. John Hendry said this morning in the Sun-Times that "He has got a 94-to-96-mph fastball and a slider that most hitters will tell you is well above average, and he certainly has the makeup and fortitude that's required."

Like Farnsworth, if Dempster can get his control back to 2000 levels he could be a very effective closer.

Ryan would be my #2 choice.

Latroy Hawkins - The argument against making Hawkins the closer is very simple...he's one of the best setup men in the NL. He performed very well in this role with the Cubs last season and was even better when he was with Minnesota. He was forced into the closer role last season when Borowski went down. Now that we have other options for closer, he should be returned to his natural role.

Latroy is my #3 choice.

Joe Borowski - Joe was a very good closer in 2003. Joe was a horrible closer in 2004. After off-season shoulder surgery there's no way to tell how he'll perform in 2005. He could come back stronger then ever (ie: Kerry Wood) or he might come back as a slower version of Borowski 2003. While we all hope it's the former, odds are it's the latter.

Until we know for sure how Borowski will perform he should be used as a backup setup man or a long reliever.

Joe is my #4 choice.

Now, the one external candidate I can see would be Ugueth Urbina. Detroit went out and got Troy Percival this offseason, giving them two established closers. They might be looking to trade one of them.

As most Cubs fans remember, Urbina can be a very good closer at times. He dominated the Cubs in the 2003 NLCS, closing out games 6 and 7. He struggled a bit last season with Detroit, but there were a number of personal issues that could have affected his performance. The downside is his cost. In terms of salary he's easily the most expensive, plus you have to factor in whichever player we would have to give up.

What it come down too with Urbina is that with so many internal candidates he is just too expensive to take a risk on.

So, after all is said and done it looks like one of the Cubs relievers will end up as our closer this season. It will most likely be Farnsworth or Dempster, either one could be great or they could be horrible. We have to hope it's the former because if not we'll be watching the Cubs blow a lead to the Mets in the last week of September yet again.

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