Do Orioles prioritize a closer for 2024?

It used to be said that the Orioles worrying about a closer was akin – as opposed to Keegan Akin, which wasn’t said – to putting shiny hubcaps on a rusted Ford Pinto.

They had far bigger issues than worrying about ninth inning leads. Like, trying to get a ninth inning lead.

But we’ve moved past bad teams. The Orioles won 101 games this season. They are expected to be the favorites to win the division again in 2024. Their odds to win the World Series won’t be 100/1.

The Orioles have tried their own relievers in the past, most recently Félix Bautista, who went from imposing setup man to imposing closer and made the All-Star team. Averaged an obscene 16.2 strikeouts per nine innings and entered the Cy Young conversation before tearing the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow and undergoing surgery that removes him from next year’s roster.

Jorge López went from starter to closer before Bautista replaced him. Jim Johnson was a minor league starter in the Orioles’ system and later a closer who saved 50-plus games in back-to-back seasons. Zack Britton was Zach Britton while starting and later closing for the Orioles, going 47-for-47 in 2016 and finishing fourth in Cy Young voting.

Should have been top three.

Left-hander B.J. Ryan had 36 saves in 2005 after replacing Jorge Julio. Armando Benitez moved from setup to closer after Randy Myers left via free agency.

Alfredo Simon, Brad Brach and Mychal Givens tried it.

Tyler Wells was a Rule 5 reliever in 2021 who registered four saves in September after given bigger responsibilities. He is expected to report to spring training as a starter, but there’s always the possibility of reprising his role.

Yennier Cano had eight saves this season. He could be promoted. But that thins out the setup herd, and he was really good at it.

DL Hall could be a consideration if the Orioles move on from the desire to develop him as a starter. They aren’t ready to make that call less than a week after playoff elimination.

He keeps the topic alive by dominating out of the bullpen. That's on him.

The Orioles must come up with a plan, and I’ll say again that it makes more sense to do so before camp or risk being too late to search the free agent and trade markets.

Former Orioles draft pick Josh Hader is a free agent, and bringing the Old Mill High graduate back home would be a cool story. I’ve already accepted my status as second most popular graduate, but this isn’t about me.

This is about money and Hader is gonna get a boatload. The Orioles don’t live in that neighborhood. They speed past it.

Also, Bautista should return in 2025. The Orioles need a one-year replacement. So, let’s hush the Hader talk before it becomes a thing.

Maybe the Orioles search for a one-year solution. Maybe they find the next Lee Smith, minus the Hall of Fame.

The Orioles signed Smith for the 1994 season and he notched 33 saves, made the All-Star team and finished fifth in Cy Young voting. He also was so slow getting from the bullpen to the mound that Major League Baseball considered implementing a Smith clock.

Boog could smoke a ham in the time it took for Smith to throw his first warmup pitch. But I digress …

For every Lee Smith, there’s also a Doug Jones in 1995 or a Heathcliff Slocumb in 1999. He lasted 10 games.

A closer probably ranks behind a starting pitcher among important shopping items or decisions, but it isn’t at the bottom or ripe for ridicule.

This isn’t a '78 Volvo.


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