2012 Season Preview: The Closer

Reviewing the Yankees 2011 int'l signings
Second Lefty Poll: Rapada or Cabral?
(REUTERS/Steve Nesius)

By now, as he enters his 18th season, Mariano Rivera has had nearly every sports accolade showered upon him. Considered the greatest reliever of all time, Rivera has been a constant for the Yanks in the ninth inning since 1997, and he was a force the season before. Now, five World Series and five Presidential elections later, Rivera is just as good as ever. He just allowed his first Spring Training hit on Sunday.

Rivera’s career has been, by any stretch, an odd one for baseball analysts to comprehend. For years, they’ve predicted a decline. He threw 80 innings as a 31-year-old in 2001 and appeared in only 45 games the next season. Joe Girardi has limited Rivera’s innings over the last few years, but even while throwing around only 60 innings, Rivera is still at the top of his game.

Last year, at age 41, Rivera with his cutter managed to strike out nearly a batter an inning while issuing just eight walks all season — two of those intentionally. He gave up just three home runs all season and made his fourth straight All-Star team en route to a season with 44 saves and a 1.91 ERA.

So what can we expect from Rivera? Over the past few years, his velocity has dipped to the low-90s, but his pinpoint control and the movement he gets out of his pitches has allowed him to excel. As analysts see his pitches grow less fine and slow down, the end is always near for Rivera, but the end has never arrived.

We could then worry about what a 42-year-old closer may bring to the Yanks, but that’s not the storyline that will surround Rivera this year. Earlier this spring, with rumors of an impending final season and subsequent retirement swirling, Rivera announced, well, nothing. He knows what he’s going to do, but he’s keeping it to himself. We’ll just have to wait it out until Rivera is good and ready to announce his plans for 2013.

Of course, by saying nothing, Rivera seemingly speaks volumes about his future. Observers in Tampa feel he is savoring Spring Training more so this year than ever before. He has his family in tow, and he’s treating it like a year to remember. These are signs that scream “the end is near.”

If it’s the end, Rivera will earn his toasts. He’ll take his farewell tour through the league, and the calm professionalism with which he does his job will be long remembered. The Yanks will try to find another closer, something they haven’t had to do since the mid-1990s, but as life moves forward, so too will baseball. Rivera will become part of the Yanks’ rich history.

Maybe Rivera will surprise us all. Maybe he’ll announce that he’s never going to quit. But with Andy Pettitte set to return, the Yanks could be set up for a literal storybook ending. No closer has saved more games for a starter in baseball history than Rivera has for Pettitte. So the season — and Rivera’s career — could very well end with Number 42 nailing down a save for Number 46 one more time. What Yankee fan would have it any other way?

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Reviewing the Yankees 2011 int'l signings
Second Lefty Poll: Rapada or Cabral?
  • pat

    This might be the year he finally unleashes the changeup thus prolonging his career well into his 50’s.

    • Ted Nelson

      Then the knuckleball takes him into his 60s…

      • Robinson Tilapia

        With the gyroball and Eephus pitch, he could be around for YS4.

        • jsbrendog

          mariano rivera >>>>>>>>>>> jaime moyer soooooo….just sayin….

  • The209

    whimsical

  • hogsmog

    The storybook I’m reading has him closing a win for Pettitte in game seven of the WS, but there’s also a few unicorns and leprechauns in here, too.

    • Rey22

      Game 4 will do. Just sweep up that series. AJ Burnett can be the losing pitcher for the surprise 2012 Pittsburgh Pirates, just for fun.

      • jsbrendog

        this would be insane. can aj go 6 shutout while pettitte goes 8 and the yanks score one run off reliever dan mccutcheon? that makes it a party. oh and they score cause tabata bobbles a ball in the of

        • hogsmog

          No, they score off a GARDNER TRIPLE STEAL.

  • bill

    Got chills thinking about the possibility of Mo closing out another World series and Pettitte being the winning pitcher in that game, seems as if that would almost be asking too much from them at this point

    • Jesse

      Jorge Posada comes out of retirement mid-season and catches the final inning of that aforementioned game.

      Ok, maybe that’s going a little far…

  • http://fendersonandhampton.com Cuso

    Why does everything seem pretend in Late March?

    I feel like someone is going to tell me on April Fools that it’s actually Groundhog Day and we have 6 more weeks of meaningless Colonial League Basketball League games on Regional Sports Networks.

  • Robinson Tilapia

    Hadn’t made the Pettitte/Mo’s last year connection until now. Wonder if that had a role in his return.

    • Ted Nelson

      There are rumors that Mo called him or spoke to him at ST or something I think.

    • DM

      The story was something like — AP shows up in camp, Mo is unaware of what’s been going on, but playfully pesters AP into making a comeback. I don’t think he played a serious role.

  • Don W

    A look back. Please remember these old stories the next time you’re ready to thrown a young and inexperienced player under the bus. Refreshing to think many of the same hacks we complain about today were hacks back in the day as well.

    http://www.nytimes.com/1997/04.....eners.html

    http://articles.nydailynews.co.....ano-rivera

    • jsbrendog

      i dont even want to know what they wrote about some kid named mariano rivera the starter when he got crushed in 1995

  • CJ

    Mike Francesca was reviewing the book Driving Mr Yogi about the relationship between Guidry and yogi. In the book, Mariano was almost traded, in a deal he hadn’t heard if but couldn’t remember details. Anyone read it? And know the details of a trade involving Mo?

    • http://riveraveblues.com Benjamin Kabak

      We revisited those potential trades here and here. He was almost traded twice.

    • Craig

      I think it was with Seattle for Randy Johnson in ’95.

      • AndrewYF

        I mean hey, having prime-age Randy Johnson would have been just fine.

  • Ramondo A Stallings

    Just like you should always do in life, take every moment he pitches and enjoy it and never take it for granted b/c I do believe the end is near and we have been spoiled for many amazing years!

  • Ted Nelson

    With some glare on the screen the guy reaching through with the bat on Mo’s right looks a bit like Swisher (upon closer inspection he doesn’t at all).

  • jsbrendog

    oh my gawd iu get all tingly thinking about pettitte starting game 162 against the red sox and going 8 and mo nailing it down.

    this is why i bought tickets to all 3 sox games in october as soon as presale opened. im going to be there, on my feet, screaming “MA-RI-ANO. MA-RI-ANO” while the stadium shakes and the air shimmers.

    efff and yess.

    • CS Yankee

      Too bad for you that they’ll be 14 up & saving both guys for the matchup between the winner of the Rays & Angels WC.

  • Duh Innings

    If Mariano Rivera retires after this season, the Yanks should go with a dual closer for 2013. This takes the pressure of filling Mo’s cleats off the dual closers as it wouldn’t be just one guy who has to succeed Mo and do what will ultimately not be as good a job as Mo or the way Mo did it no matter how good he (the new closer) is. If one guy sucks, the other guy can pick him up, or someone else can replace the guy who suck, or a third closer could be brought in for a “closer by committee”. This could work to the Yanks advantage as the opposition’s last men up would see a different look from the closer all the time, two or three closers. Maybe the Yanks would have CC face a lefty batter or two on his throw day like I remember the Yanks had Pettitte do once not too long ago. CC for the lefty who leads off the ninth, batter pops up on the first pitch, CC faces the next guy lefty or righty???

    That dual closer should be Robertson and either Soriano unless he opts out (which I hope but doubt he does) or David Aardsma if the Yanks pick up his 2013 club option which they’ll probably do as he is a veteran with some closer experience (albeit limited) and is better than a last man in the bullpen, unless he absolutely has nothing left. If it was Robertson-Aardsma we could nickname them The Davids or The Dual David, and that’d be a funny allusion to a retired Mo who is Goliath among relievers and pitchers in general haha. It could be all three.

    ‘Something to consider. I say go in-house as it’s risky to bring in a guy from another organization, especially if he has little or no postseason experience or World Series rings. Jonathan Paplebon would’ve been the PERFECT outside the organization / free-agent signing successor to Mo but he’s a Phillie now and through 2014.

  • Duh Innings

    Oops, I meant Paplebon is signed through 2015 with a vesting option.