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Hot Stone League

Larry Stone gives his take on a wide array of baseball issues and weighs in about the Mariners, too.

May 29, 2012 at 10:06 AM

Why Brandon League is worth resurrecting as closer

leaguewillis.jpg

(Photo by Associated Press)

(Here is today’s minor-league report, with news of a strong Danny Hultzen outing yesterday for Jackson. And speaking of Jackson, I just received a press release that James Paxton has gone on the seven-day DL with what is being called a “right knee contusion.” He left his start Friday in the third inning because of knee soreness. RHP Taylor Stanton comes up from High Desert to take Paxton’s place on the roster). Oh, here are the minor-league reports from the Memorial Day weekend, right here, and here, and here.

I know there is a lot of sentiment out there to not just run Brandon League out of the closer’s job — which Eric Wedge has done, temporarily — but to keep him out. This recent tweet by Mike Salk of ESPN 710 is indicative of that sentiment:

I hate being reactionary and I reserve the right to change my mind on this when I calm down, but I’m ready for Pryor. Now.

That’s a perfectly understandable sentiment as you watch victories slip away in the ninth inning against the Indians, Rays, Indians (again) and Angels (most recently, and perhaps most agonizingly). The “Pryor” referred to is Stephen Pryor, the minor-league phenom who throws 100 mph and has a 0.00 ERA in eight games with Tacoma (with 14 strikouts and five hits allowed in 11 innings). The same Stephen Pryor who had seven saves and a 1.12 ERA for Jackson this season, and combined has a 0.67 ERA in 19 minor-league games with 38 strikoeuts in 27 innings.

It’s becoming increasingly clear that Pryor has emerged as the Mariners’ closer of the future. And probably the very near future. But as frustrated as everyone rightly is with League right now, I think that future can wait a few more weeks. Not that Pryor shouldn’t come up to the majors, mind you. I’d have to think his arrival is getting very close, particularly with Steve Delabar giving up another key home run last night. But there’s nothing wrong with having Pryor break in in a setup role while the Mariners try one more time to get League right.

The reason is obvious — a functioning League has trade value. Not huge, blue-chip prospect trade value, but value, particularly in a year of such volatility regarding closers around baseball. There figures to be a decent market for a hot closer, and League showed last year that he can right himself after a terrible stretch, such as the one he is in the midst of now. Following his 0-4 stretch with three blown saves in four consecutive appearances May 8-13, League had a 1.19 ERA over his final 47 appearances and was 28-for-30 in save opportunities.

It’s a couple of weeks later in the season, but League still will have six solid weeks to show teams that he has straightened out. As a pending free agent, League’s days are numbered with Seattle, particulary with not only Pryor but also Carter Capps and Tom Wilhelmsen in the organization as potential replacements at near the mimimum salary. His pending free agency will likely lessen League’s trade value, but contending teams with issues tend to get panicky and sometimes do things which they might regret later, all in the name of chasing the playoffs. And keep in mind that with the second wild-card team added, even more teams will be in contention at the deadline, which should make it a seller’s market for the few teams with chips to deal and no concens about contention. The Mariners are looking more and more like they’ll fall into that category.

I mentioned Carter Capps earlier. Another closer named Capps (Matt Capps, no relation) was dealt from Washington to Minnesota at the 2010 deadline. He netted Wilson Ramos, who has emerged as the Nationals’ every-day catcher, and a pretty good one. (Granted, Capps had one more full season before free agency, but it was still an overpay by Minnesota). Also at the 2010 deadline, the Pirates sent Octavio Dotel, then their closer, to the Dodgers for James McDonald, who this year has emerged as one of the top starting pitchers in the National League. In 2009, the Dodgers acquired Orioles closer George Sherrill at the deadline to be a setup man. They sent a top prospect, Josh Bell, to Baltimore. The Orioles envisioned Bell as their third baseman of the future. It didn’t work out — maybe the Dodgers knew something — as Bell flamed out and is now in the Diamondbacks organization. But the Orioles did get a good prospect. Another recent closer traded at midseason was Jon Rauch, who went from Washington to Arizona in 2008 for Emilio Bonifacio, who was later traded again to the Marlins and is a useful player for them.

Last July, Francisco Rodriguez was traded from the Mets to the Brewers, and Mike Adams from the Padres to the Rangers (both to be used as setup men), each netting two prospects. The Mets deal was mostly a money dump, but the Padres got two pitchers they like. Time will tell on that one.

The Mariners should take one more shot at making Brandon League a tradeable commodity. The Stephen Pryor era can wait a little longer to commence. Remember, if the Mariners trade League in late July, they’d still have two solid months this season to break in Pryor and determine if he’s going to be the man in 2013.

Here is a poll from seattletimes.com:

Would Ichiro benefit from the Mariners giving him more days off?

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