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What was once a clear picture going into Spring Training has now become a very murky one. Both Blue Jays closer candidates are on the mend; with the recent triceps injury to Sergio Santos and Casey Janssen yet to face a live batter in 2013, the battle for Blue Jays closer is much closer than it appears.
Before I delve into who has a leg up on the closer's role, let me first give you a brief history of the position from the past few seasons.
The closer role is one that was constantly in turmoil for the Blue Jays. All you need to do is rattle off the names from recent years to understand why there were so many problems: Kevin Gregg, Jon Rauch, Frank Francisco, Francisco Cordero ... need I say more?
With the acquisition of Sergio Santos in December 2011, that all seemed to change. Santos had the potential to be a bona fide closer, boasting incredible swing-and-miss stuff and the best out pitch in the majors.
Unfortunately, sometimes the best laid plans go awry. Santos only pitched in six games before being sidelined for the rest of the season with a right shoulder injury. Luckily, Casey Janssen provided some stability to the back end of the bullpen in the absence of Sergio Santos.
Janssen converted 15 straight saves and was one of the few bright spots for the Blue Jays in what was otherwise forgettable season. Now here we are one year later, the role of closer is still one that's in flux for Toronto.
Sergio Santos looked impressive in his first few outings, but his durability has already come into question. And the fact remains that Sergio Santos hasn't worked in back-to-back games since the first two games of the 2012 season. In fact, he also hasn't pitched on zero days rest since September 5th and 6th of 2011.
So it will be paramount for the Blue Jays to build up Santos' strength so that he can appear in consecutive games before Spring Training comes to a close. I believe John Gibbons told reporters something similar, that the end game was to get Santos working in consecutive games before the team heads north.
As if the situation with Sergio Santos wasn't foggy enough, there are many questions surrounding Casey Janssen as well. After undergoing shoulder surgery in the offseason, Janssen still has yet to face a live batter in 2013.
Casey may have thrown off a mound twice since Sunday, but as we know from the ongoing Dustin McGowan saga ... pitching to in-game batters is an entirely different animal altogether.
The Lincoln back to the pen news makes me think Casey Janssen is farther behind than a week
— Clint(@StivBators) March 3, 2013
I subscribe to Clint's theory that Casey Janssen is not progressing as well as the Blue Jays had hoped he would. Hence the curious announcement by John Gibbons that Brad Lincoln will now be a candidate for the bullpen rather than stretched out as a starter.
Casey Janssen made some encouraging comments on Tim & Sid earlier in the week, something to the effect of "if Sergio closes out games, I want to be the best setup guy in the league ... If Sergio's setting up, I want to be the best closer in the league."
Janssen also noted in that interview he was hopeful for Opening Day on April 2nd, but did not really indicate how things were progressing in his recovery. I'll be honest, the anonymity from that statement scares me a little bit.
In a scenario where both Santos and Janssen were both at 100%, the edge would likely go to Sergio Santos. That's not to discount what Casey Janssen did in 2012, but I think ideally Janssen fits in better as the setup man or seventh inning guy in the Blue Jays bullpen .
Although his swing and miss stuff projects extremely well for high leverage situations late and close, I actually prefer Santos in the closer role. One big reason is because Sergio Santos is susceptible to wild pitches ... his devastating slider is a pitch that lends itself to ending up in the dirt.
So if I'm John Gibbons, I'd rather give the ball to Santos with the bases clear in the ninth in a save situation, and let Casey Janssen pitch to contact in the 8th and let the defense do the work.
Some might be worried that the Blue Jays are down a "closer" per sae, but that isn't the greatest concern. What is alarming is the Blue Jays could be missing a stable back-end arm, a mainstay of the Blue Jays relief corps.
One thing that's very apparent is losing either Janssen or Santos would be a big blow to the Blue Jays bullpen. Luckily, there is enough depth with Brad Lincoln, Aaron Loup, Jeremy Jeffress and even J.A. Happ that at least one of them could occupy the spot.
Steve Delabar could likely step in and fill the shoes of Santos or Janssen, but the greater concern is who would then fill Delabar's spot? It's a true domino effect once you subtract either Sergio Santos or Casey Janssen from the bullpen picture ... let alone both of them.
Ultimately, it really doesn't matter whether it's Sergio Santos or Casey Janssen closing for the Toronto Blue Jays. There may be cache that comes with being the team's "closer", but on a successful team, the role is irrelevant so long as everyone is performing to the best of their ability.
What it all boils down to is whoever is healthier come Opening Day will get the ball as the Blue Jays closer. And at this point with just over three weeks left in Spring Training, it's either man's game.