Issue: Closing time
Analysis: With All-Star closer Andrew Bailey gone, the most compelling competition at camp — and, with apologies to both infield corners, most likely Oakland’s most difficult decision — revolves around the ninth inning.
Granted, there might not be all that many ninth innings of great consequence for the A’s if a few worst-case scenarios come to fruition. For instance, if the unproven starting pitchers, Yoenis Cespedes and Manny Ramirez don’t come up big, ninth-inning leads could be very few and far between.
But for every worst case, there’s a best case. It is possible, though perhaps unlikely, that the pup pitchers carve, the Cuban crushes and Manny mashes.
That ninth inning sounds a lot more interesting now, doesn’t it?
So who’s it gonna be? The top three candidates appear to be Brian Fuentes, Grant Balfour and Joey Devine, each bringing their own set of best- and worst-case scenarios.
Devine seems to be getting the least attention early in camp, but the best of the best-casers from this angle has the gifted 28-year-old righty winning the job and fulfilling the promise he represented before arm trouble cost him the co-closer’s job (with Bailey) during spring 2009.
Fuentes, 36, has made four All-Star teams as a closer, but he’s 36 and his best days are far behind him. He’s an All-Star closer no more. He’s a setup man.
Ditto Balfour, whose competitive nature sometimes serves as a detriment. He’s closed before, but he’s not a closer.
In 2008, Devine posted a 0.59 ERA in 42 games. If he’s healthy, he’s a closer. In mind and body. He’s your best case.
Every Thursday throughout spring training, we’ll take a look at one major issue involving the Giants, one involving the A’s, and offer analysis.