Brandon League had been performing well of late in non-closing situations, leading to Mariners manager Eric Wedge saying he could soon return to protecting leads in the ninth. But then, we saw League get roughed up his last outing by the Dodgers.
So, who closes tonight if Felix Hernandez does his thing and the awful San Diego Padres somehow manage to keep it close by holding the Mariners off the scoreboard enough? Well, not League.
Tom Willhelmsen should remain the de facto closer until League shows he is absolutely ready to resume the job. Wilhemsen will be the guy taking over as closer if and when League is traded — Stephen Pryor is not quite there yet — and so, you aren’t losing anything won-loss wise in that equation.
But if the goal is indeed to trade League by July 31, then this next move to reinstate him as the closer has to be a permanent one. And that means, the Mariners must be completely sure about it.
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Frankly, given what we saw on the weekend, there is no way the team can be absoutely certain about League closing again. How could it be? He can’t be giving up multiple hits as a closer — period.
So, no. Unless the Mariners are living in a bubble of delusion, they can’t be certain.
That’s why, for now, it’s best to put off any plans to reinstate him.
After all, it’s not like holding League back another week or two is really going to hurt his trade value. Yes, League needs to be closing in order for the Mariners to get something good enough back to make it worth it to deal him in the first place.
But July 31 is still a ways off.
In reality, you only need League to be closing for about a month in order to build his trade value to where it’s going to be highest. That means, the M’s have until the end of the month. Maybe a few days earlier than that to compensate for the All-Star Break. But in any given month, a closer should get enough opportunities to prove his worth.
The absolute worst thing for League’s trade value?
Putting him back in at closer, watching him blow some games and having to yank him from the role a second time.
Right now, the team’s party line will be that League is a closer who went through a rough patch, worked through some mechanical issues and became better again.
And they can stick to that party line with other teams as long as he is indeed better.
But the minute you yank League from closing a second time, that goes out the window. Then you have teams thinking that he really can’t close, that he’s a guy who performs in lesser situations but not the ninth. That maybe he has a case of “the yips” and so on and so forth.
In other words, put League back in there when you aren’t sure about him and you risk destroying his reputation as a closer and any potential trade value if things blow up. The Mariners could lose everything if he goes back out there in the ninth and does what he did versus the Dodgers.
Once that happens, it will be tough to repair the damage, even if League eventually goes back out in July and performs in the ninth.
The Mariners, of course, will never admit this is about trade value. Why would they? They will continue to say it’s about wins and losses. And that’s fine. Indeed, that alone says Wilhelmsen should be out there right now. You don’t need to make an argument in favor of keeping the status quo.
But ultimately, when the League move back to closing is made, the Mariners had best make sure they get it right. Because they won’t get a second chance with this move. Make the wrong call now, they’ll pay for it at the trade deadline.