The Washington Post put together an excellent infographic that shows how many closers other teams have had during Mariano Rivera’s time with the Yankees. At first glance, it’s a bit confusing, but it’s very clear after reading the index at the top.
The Cubs have had 11 saves leaders since 1997, the year Rivera inherited the closer role from John Wetteland, and five other teams had 10 saves leaders in that 14-year span.
The graphic sends the message that filling the closer role is generally a difficult task for teams. I know we’ve all been saying it for a few years now, but one day Rivera will wear out and the Yankees will need to find a replacement.
The Yankees have done their best to prepare for that day by signing Rafael Soriano this offseason, but the terms in his contract allow him to opt out after this season or the next and take a $1.5 million buyout. So he’s not a guaranteed successor to Mo.
Plus, Mo might have another three years left in the tank, meaning the Yankees would have to re-sign Soriano (probably for more money) after his current contract expires.
Jonathan Papelbon of the Red Sox is a perfect example of how hard it is to find a replacement for Mo. Papelbon was considered a top 3 closer in baseball for five years. He was dominant, just like Mo. Last year, however, his ERA climbed to 3.90 and he blew eight of 45 save opportunities.
Some extra fuel for die-hard Yankees fans: Papelbon’s spring training performance doesn’t indicate he’ll rebound in 2011 (10.50 ERA, 6 IP, 4 H, 7 ER, 2 HR, 5 BB, 5 K.)
Rivera’s consistency and durability make him the greatest closer of all-time. Some compare with him for five-year or even 10-year spans, but not 14.
(Hat tip to Aaron Gleeman for infographic link)