It’s a year of big changes in the closer role. Sure, Mariano Rivera still celebrates the opening strains of “Enter Sandman” in New York. Jonathan Papelbon is in Philadelphia. Joakim Soria is contemplating elbow surgery in Kansas City. Ryan Madson has yet to pitch in a spring game after being signed by the Reds.
In Chicago, new manager Robin Ventura has yet to name his closer after dealing Sergio Santos to Toronto. Veteran option Matt Thornton is the favorite to win the job. He converted only three of his seven save opportunities last year, though he did continue to strike out batters in bunches (63 in 59 2/3 IP). Thornton successfully converted 8-of-10 opportunities in 2010.
Prospecting fantasy owners are hoping to see youngster Addison Reed get a shot at the role. Reed pitched to a ridiculous 1.26 ERA in 43 minor league games last season across four levels before earning a late-season call-up. He struck out 111 batters in 78 1/3 innings of work.
Jesse Crain is the third man to watch. He’s been slowed by a strained oblique, but may still factor into the decision.
My gut says that Thornton gets the first look with Reed in the setup role. However, Thornton’s made his career in the setup role, so I would not be shocked to see Robin Ventura flip-flop roles once Reed acclimates completely.
I’d bypass Thornton and head to Reed a couple rounds later to round out your staff. At worst, you get a huge strikeout total and strong peripheral numbers out of a setup man. At best, he eventually gets the nod and saves a bunch of games in this rebound season in Chicago.