Leo: Who will save the day?
The Cleveland Indians made no secret of their pursuit for offense this winter and they are looking everywhere for help. Last month, the Tribe acquired 25 year-old Padres OF Aaron Cunningham for bullpen prospect Cory Burns. The Indians (needing to open a 40-man roster spot for Cunningham) designated reliever Josh Judy for assignment, exposing him to waivers, and he was claimed by Cincinnati. Cleveland is hoping Cunningham, a .231 major league hitter, but .306 minor league hitter, will be a “sleeper addition” that can help the big league club (much like Jack Hannahan). However, the loss of Judy and Burns eliminates some of the organization’s bullpen depth and creates a vacancy in the back of the Clippers ‘pen. It’s no coincidence that Columbus has won championships each of the last two years when blessed with solid closers (Vinnie Pestano in 2010).
Josh Judy, 26, was the Clippers closer for much of last season, saving 23 games in 28 attempts. He struggled early in the season, posting a 6.43 ERA in May, but after raising his delivery point (getting the ball elevated higher than his ear before releasing it) Judy became a very reliable weapon at the back of the Clippers bullpen. He finished with a 2.68 ERA in 38 appearances.
Cory Burns, 24, seemed to be on the fast track to either inheriting the Columbus closer role (if Judy made the major league roster) or wrestling it away from the competition. He set an Akron franchise saves record last season (35 in 37 opportunities) and got an appetizer-sized portion of Triple-A hitters during the Governors’ Cup playoffs. Burns carries a remarkable 2.02 ERA over 130 career minor league games.
Now, the search is on for a new closer. The early candidates include Zach Putnam, C.C. Lee, and Nick Hagadone.
Zach Putnam saved nine games last season and has the “stuff” to pitch in that role. He has often times been in the setup role for Mike Sarbaugh over the last two seasons and despite suffering a few pitfalls, has been solid. The biggest concern surrounding Putnam is his streakiness, he allowed runs in consecutive games on a few different occasions and allowed 15 earned runs over 18 appearances in July and August.
Chen-Chang Lee is the organization’s reigning “Minor League Pitcher of the Year” after posting a stellar 2.27 ERA in 21 games with the Clippers. He did not allow an earned run in his first nine Triple-A appearances and statistically was better late in games (5.40 in 6th inning, 1.93 in 7th inning, 1.74 in 8th inning, and 1.50 in 9th inning). Lee, however, can’t easily overpower hitters with his fastball and with his lower arm angle delivery, some of the club’s powers-that-be may think he’s better suited for a different role.
Nick Hagadone looks like a closer at 6-5, 230 and throws hard enough to make hitters take notice. The lefty held Triple-A hitter to a .228 average over 48.1 innings and, at times, showed why Cleveland pursued him in the 2009 Victor Martinez trade with Boston. Like all the others on the verge of making a major league roster, he is looking to show the club he’s consistent enough for the big league. Maybe that audition will come in the Triple-A ninth inning role.
The Indians bullpen is currently among the best in baseball, which is why the Aaron Cunningham move was possible for General Manager Chris Antonetti. Like any team, the Indians gave away pieces where they have depth in order to acquire talent in an area that they are lacking. Only time will tell if this move will pay off.
In the meantime, we’ll wait to see who will be the next closer under the lights at Huntington Park.
Talk to you again soon!