The closing pitcher is one of the most valuable players on any Major League Baseball team. When a game is on the line, every team wants to know the guy taking over the mound is going to bring his A-game and allow them to pin up another game in the win column. Likewise, one thing an opposing offense does not want to see is a big time arm coming out of the opposing team’s bullpen.
Fans are always looking for the big hitter or the starting pitcher to play an extraordinary game. Sometime it happens, sometimes it does not. No matter what, the closer is going to be sent in to win the game. It might very well be the most stress-inducing position in baseball. Just like a kicker in football, the closer is either a hero or a goat. There is no in between. They only get so many chances to prove themselves to fans and making too many mistakes could mean their jobs.
With spring training just around the corner, we wanted to look at which of these specialized pitchers are going to be bringing in the most cash for 2014. All of these players are worth a pretty penny. Some of them are absolutely studs, some are new to this particular position in the game’s rotation, and some could use a bit of improvement. No matter what, these guys have a huge responsibility and they are going to have to prove themselves worthy of their hefty contracts this season.
10 Jason Grilli - Pittsburgh Pirates - $4.25 million in 2014
One of the big reasons for the Pirates' success in 2013 was closing pitcher Jason Grilli. The right hander threw 74 strikesouts and opposing hitters only posted a .214 batting average against him. He is scheduled to earn $4,250,000 in the 2014 season. If Grilli is going to earn this money, he is going to have to appear in a few more games this season. Last year, he only made appearances in 54 games and only pitched 50 total innings. When you do the math though, Grilli averaged throwing at least one strikeout in every inning he pitched. It is very possible we will be seeing more of this type of dominance this year.
9 John Axford - Cleveland Indians - $4.5 million in 2014
John Axford is going to make $4,500,000 in his first season with the Cleveland Indians. Last year, the relief pitcher spent time on both the Brewers’ and Cardinals’ rosters. He is not only going to be with a new team this year, but he will also try his luck as a closer. As a relief pitcher, he posted seven wins and seven losses and a 4.02 ERA. He had 65 strikeouts in his 75 appearances. It remains to be seen if Axford’s position change will improve these stats, but perhaps not having to pitch as long will keep him fresher throughout the year.
8 Aroldis Chapman - Cincinnati Reds - $5 million in 2014
The Cincinnati Reds are sitting on a stud. Closer Aroldis Chapman sent batters walking back to the dugout 112 times last season. That is the highest number of strikeouts of anyone on this list. He was almost impossible to hit last season. Not only did he have a great strikeout total, opposing hitters only posted a .164 batting average against him. The left hander was used in both a closing a relief pitcher’s role last season which accounts for his four to five win-loss record. His versatility and dominance are definitely worth the $5,000,000 he is going to make in 2014.
7 David Robertson - New York Yankees - $5.21 million in 2014
Like Chapman, David Robertson is another player who can play as either a closer or a relief pitcher. Last season the Yankees used him mostly in a relief role, but he is listed as the most likely candidate to close out games for the 2014 season. Robertson was solid last year. He had five wins to only one loss, and posted an ERA of 2.04 with 77 strikeouts and an opposing batting average of .213. He only had three saves last season, so it still remains to be seen if he can handle the pressure game in and game out as the guy meant to shut down the other team’s lineup in the final innings. If he can, the Yankees will see no problem with the $5,210,000 they are going to give him.
6 Sergio Romo - San Francisco Giants - $5 million in 2014
Giants’ right hander, Sergio Romo, is going make $5,000,000 in 2014. If he is going to be worth this amount he is going to have to play better than he did last year. In 2013, Romo appeared in 65 games and only recorded 38 saves. He was also credited with eight losses. As a closer this cannot happen. If your team is ahead, you cannot give up the game. Romo definitely has the ability to turn it around this season. His 58 strikeouts and .226 opposing batting averages shows he is capable of good things. Unfortunately, the only stat that truly matters is wins and losses.
5 Joakim Soria - Texas Rangers - $5.5 million in 2014
Joakim Soria will be the Rangers’ closer this year. Last year, the right hander appeared in 26 games and had an ERA of 3.80. His record shows he was undefeated, but that is only because the reliever was credited with one win and no losses. Still, Soria should have no trouble fitting into his role and should be able to earn his $5,500,000.
4 Joe Nathan - Detroit Tigers - $9 million in 2014
Now we are stepping into the group of guys who make the really big bucks. Tigers’ closer, Joe Nathan, is going to bring in $9,000,000 in 2014. Nathan was an absolute stud in 2013 with the Texas Rangers. The Tigers’ right hander had six wins and two losses, posted an ERA of 1.39, and recorded 43 saves. In his 64.2 innings pitched he threw 73 strikeouts and boasted a mere .162 opposing batters average. He is the type of big time closer all teams want. The problem is that most teams are not willing to pay for a player of Nathan’s caliber.
3 Jim Johnson - Oakland Athletics - $10 million in 2014
Jim Johnson is now on the Oakland Athletics and is listed as the team’s closing pitcher. Last season with Baltimore, Johnson pitched 70.1 innings and had 56 strikeouts and 50 saves. However, if he wanted to improve on his eight loss total, he will need to decrease both his opposing hitter’s batting average and his ERA. Whether or not Johnson wins more games, he is still going to make $10,000,000 and can spend his time in sunny California as opposed to the chillier Maryland.
2 Rafael Soriano - Washington Nationals - $11 million in 2014
Rafael Soriano is the final pitcher teams are forced to see when facing the strong Washington Nationals’ bullpen. Soriano, who is going to get paid $11,000,000 this season, recorded 43 saves last season. He appeared in 68 games and recorded 51 strikeouts, an opposing batting average of .251, and an ERA of 3.11. If the Nationals are going to bring home a World Series title it is going to be because of their strong arms and good defense. Soriano is a major piece of their puzzle and is only going to get better.
1 Jonathan Papelbon - Philadelphia Phillies - $13 million in 2014
Philadelphia Phillies’ right hander, Jonathan Papelbon, is one of the most dominant closing pitchers in the game. Last season, Papelbon had a career low 29 saves as well has having a pretty high ERA. Despite this, he still managed to post five wins and only one loss. He is scheduled to make $13,000,000 in the 2014 season. There is no reason to assume the “down” year in 2013 will carry over to this season. Papelbon is still one of the best the game has to offer. When you are one of the best, the expectations are higher. Perhaps he just did not live up to those expections, because he did not have a bad year by any stretch of the imagination.