It has been a week in the Year Without Rivera, and David Robertson's blown save has already sent the media into a frenzy of how he may not be able to handle the 9th inning, or whatever that narrative is. As scary as life without Mo there to lock down the final inning seems to be, even with such a viable pitcher to take over in the meantime, the Yankees are certainly not alone in having to throw a new closer into the fire this season.
Fourteen of the thirty teams in Major League Baseball have already been forced to make a change in closers this year for one reason or another. Some have been due to long-term or season-ending injuries, but a good number have been because of continued ineffectiveness. The fact that it is the beginning of May, and already almost half the teams in MLB have had to make a switch in the 9th inning is completely astounding.
Injuries have been a huge issue for closers so far in 2012, with three needing Tommy John Surgery before we even make it to the All-Star Break. Sergio Santos of the Blue Jays, Huston Street of the Padres, Kyle Farnsworth of the Rays, Drew Storen of the Nationals, and Andrew Bailey of the Red Sox could all return to pitch this season, but how effective they will be post-injury will certainly be a question until proven differently.
While injured players are a part of baseball, the number of closers needing to be replaced due to being just plain bad is kind of ridiculous. The Red Sox replaced the injured Andrew Bailey with Mark Melancon, who had to be replaced by Alfredo Aceves after giving up 11 earned runs in two innings before being sent to AAA. Francisco Cordero took over the closer role in Toronto after the injury to Sergio Santos, but he has since been replaced by Casey Janssen after Cordero turned a 3-2 lead into a 7-3 loss Tuesday evening.
Possibly the biggest disappointment in the closer spot so far has been Proven Closer Heath Bell. The Miami Marlins gave Bell three years and $27 million dollars to close out games for them, so his ten walks and eleven earned runs in 9.2 innings so far in 2012 is not likely what they planned on paying for. It would be nice to point and laugh at that, but Rafael Soriano exists, no matter how much we try to wish him away.
It has been a long time since the 9th inning was a question for the Yankees, but even now, things are not nearly as bad as they could be. Mariano Rivera has been amazingly durable and unbelievably effective for nearly as long as I can remember. Losing Rivera was a huge blow to a team that had already had numerous injuries, but the fact that the Yankees also have a David Robertson to fall back on is a luxury many teams can only wish for. Robertson has been one of the best relievers in baseball, and was the guy everyone presumed would take over after Rivera retired anyway. What better way to show you are up to the task than a test run before Mo (hopefully) returns in 2013?
As the season continues, this list is likely to be ever-changing. Heath Bell and Carlos Marmol will likely get their jobs back at some point, if for no reason other than they are paid too much money to be just another guy out of the bullpen. If we're just playing the odds, the chances of another closer getting injured, whether temporarily or for the season, is a pretty good bet as well. It's just kind of crazy to think that we have just played a month of the season and this is where we already stand.
It is true that most relievers are extremely fungible, but I won't begin to minimize the impact of losing Mariano Rivera. While Rivera would be one of the best examples of a non-fungible relief pitcher, David Robertson could be one heck of a temporary, and perhaps permanent, replacement in the closer role. I'm sure he'll blow his share of saves, most of them do, but when you look around at the closers and their replacements around baseball right now, maybe we aren't so unlucky after all. Even still, get back to us soon, Mo.