The Pirates just saw their closer walk off the mound in pain. Never a good situation. We can argue all we want about the ‘closer mentality’ and the value of a 1-inning pitcher, but it sure is nice to have that same number nail down each victory. Not only does it stabilize the bullpen usage in front of him, but we get conditioned to associate that guy’s face with winning. So it’s understandable that some fans panic in a moment like this. But it’s a good thing that Neal Huntington won’t.
As already written up by others , the Pirates are not likely to go out and trade for a big name closer. I’ll bet the money under my driver’s seat that the closer question will be answered by a guy already on the 25-man roster. Before Grilli grabbed his arm, Neal Huntington already said that he may add to the bullpen at the deadline (my interpretation: proven mid-bullpen arms). While that quote annoyed some at the time (why not a RF bat?), relief pitchers are affordable and always needed – as evidence by the 9th inning of last night’s game.
This, friends, is the beauty of small-market baseball. It forces sanity onto any GM that actually desires to be sane. Closers are horribly overvalued in baseball. If it weren’t for the invention of the worst fake stat in the world, the ‘save’, so-called closers would simply be the failed starters they discovered they were once they hit AA-ball.
Neal Huntington is a smart man. He doesn’t seem to acquire players for media ‘splash’ value. He seems to know what is reasonably within his power and the limitations of the smaller baseball market. And within those parameters he seems to make moves that contribute to winning – regardless of how far the may stray from ‘conventional’ approaches. Because (please remember) conventional approaches are simply the strategies employed by the dominant class. And in the case of MLB, the dominant class consists of those teams that dominate the media outlets – i.e., New York, Boston, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, etc.; those with $150M+ payrolls: at least two higher-profile free agents over two-times that of Pittsburgh’s payroll, that is. Conventional approaches are actually impossible for about 1/3 of the teams in baseball. And yet, media heads and fanbases often hold teams accountable to the spending standards and acquisition strategies of the Yankees. Things are getting better – thanks to the A’s, Rays, and now the Pirates – but it’s really quite insane to perpetuate the fiction of the big market model.
So let’s smile a little smile at the imposed sanity a $65M payroll will do for a team. Jonathan Papelbon is not walking through that clubhouse door. And thank God for that!