After Andrew Bailey's streak of blown saves and gopher balls ( hey, at least in Detroit he did not give up a homer to the lead off batter), he has been demoted from closer for now. Now the question is who will close for the short term and for the rest of the push to the playoffs?? That could very well be two questions with two different answers. Also mudding up the waters is the fact we are not looking for a Plan B to Andrew Bailey, but a Plan C to Bailey and Joel Hanrahan, who is out for the duration after Tommy John surgery. Here are some of the candidates ( not necessarily a complete list):
Andrew Bailey: Of course, not for the immediate short term. Bailey is out per John Farrell. But if putting Bailey back in the set up type role he thrived in beginning 2013 works, he could earn his way back to the end of games. This would become more likely if his successors do not grab the closer role and run with it.
Koji Uehara: Koji has been tabbed by John Farrell as first man out of the chute to try on the closer's robe for size. Yesterday morning on an appearance I made on 92.9 the Ticket, Dale Duff and the other panelist all anointed Uehara as the guy for the job. I am not so sure. Based on Uehara's results this year, I would say yes. But to me three reasons say no. 1/ His age 2/ Farrell's stated desire all year to avoid using Uehara in back to back games to prevent over usage and /or injury. 3/ Who does the job Uehara is all ready filling?
Junichi Tazawa: As far back as late last season, after his spectacular 45/4 strikeouts to walks performance, many including Peter Gammons have been touting Tazawa as future Sox closer. He has the stuff, but will it translate to closing?
Andrew Miller: At this point in time, this is the guy I would try. I know, I know his Red Sox career is filled with base on balls. But he has the overpowering fastball, I prefer in a closer. And more importantly, since a recent change in his delivery which eliminated his high leg kick and replaced it with a slide step, his control has improved greatly and he still trails only Aroldis Chapman in K's per nine innings for all MLB lefties. Miller gave up one run in mop up duty last night in Detroit and it was only the second run allowed in his last ten games. I would not claim Miller is a definite long term solution ( he could be, though) but for now he is pitching the best ball in the pen.
Alex Wilson: I think Wilson definitely belongs in the Boston pen not back in Pawtucket. His role if increased is likely to be helping fill the 7/8th inning role vacated by whomever moves to closer.
Rubby de la Rosa: This is not the short term ( now) answer, but Rubby could be the closer in August and beyond. To make this work, the Sox need to get De La Rosa up and as soon as possible, put him in a set up bullpen role to get his feet wet. Then with any success, put his overpowering stuff at the end of the bullpen for the stretch drive.
No one- This is for the closer is overrated and use your best relievers whenever needed crowd. Any combination of the above could be used to accomplish this. If Uehara is the "closer", at least a modified version of this may be required on days Uehara cannot go the post.
Jonathan Paplebon: This is not a short term answer because there seems to be no way the Phillies will wave the white flag until the July 31 trade deadline, if then. But if the Phillies continue to flounder and the Sox can stay in the race until July 31 this becomes more and more possible.. This week Peter Abraham reported the Phils would want multiple high end prospects and of course you would be taking on the big contract through 2015 ( and he reportedly has a very reachable option for 2016) unless Philadelphia would eat a bunch of it ( usually this comes in return for sending better prospects.) I think Detroit is a more likely landing spot for Paplebon.
John Axford: The Brewers hurler who lost his closer job there earlier this season, has pitched well of late with 17 scoreless games in a row. He should come much more cheaply than Paps, but at what skill level?
Another trade option: It is really too early to tell what teams are buyers or sellers. But there may be other options out there, no one with Paplebon's resume, but a Jesse Crain type, perhaps. Short of an expensive deal for Paps I think the internal options may be stronger.
The last two World Champs of baseball have closed games with Sergio Romo and Jason Motte. So a title can be won without a big name closer, but some answer needs to be sorted out as soon as possible.