Dodgers manager Dave Roberts says there are “a handful of guys” in LA’s bullpen who can close out games, so he feels no rush to name a dedicated closer.
The Dodgers had Kenley Jansen as their closer for a decade, so while there were sometimes questions late in some seasons about whether Jansen should remain the closer, the went into spring training pretty much every year knowing who their closer would be. Jansen left after the 2021 season, and late last spring Los Angeles traded for Craig Kimbrel, the only active pitcher with more career saves than Jansen.
The Kimbrel experiment didn’t go so well. He struggled all season to find his consistency, and by the time the postseason rolled around, he didn’t even make the roster. Now he’s gone, and LA looks poised to head into the Opening Day without a dedicated closer for the first time in a long time.
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts was talking to the media on Thursday about Daniel Hudson, whose recovery from ACL surgery last summer might keep him from being ready for the active roster to start the season. Hudson is expected to be ready early in the season, though, and a reporter asked Roberts if the big righty will get most of the save opportunities once he’s healthy of if they’d be split between him and Evan Phillips.
Roberts wasn’t willing even to narrow it down to those two pitchers, though.
“I think it’s still fluid. Once Huddy is with us, I think there’s a couple other guys in the mix. I don’t think we need to break camp and say that we have a dedicated closer. I think there’s a lot of, a handful of guys that are gonna be in our ‘pen that I feel can finish games.”
Last year, Kimbrel led Los Angeles in saves with 22, but 11 other pitchers recorded at least one save. Hudson was second with five even though he missed half the season. Hudson has also been a closer before, which is part of the argument for him to serve in that role with LA this year. Another argument is that between his age (he’ll be 36 next week) and his injury history, he might benefit from a more predictable schedule.
Phillips had two saves last year to go along with his 1.14 ERA, but a lot of people believe he’s too valuable in his 2022 role of pitching in the highest-leverage spots to tie him down to the ninth inning. Brusdar Graterol has all the makings of a dominant closer and saved four games last year, but he probably needs to improve his strikeout rate to really claim the closer role.
Other current Dodgers relievers who saved at least one game for the team last year are Alex Vesia, Yency Almonte, Justin Bruihl, Andre Jackson, and Jake Reed. The last three are questionable to even make the Opening Day roster, but Vesia and Almonte are both legitimate options at closer, as is Caleb Ferguson, whom Mark Prior mentioned as a possibility recently.
The good news is, LA’s lack of a dedicated closer is a result of too many good options, rather than not enough.