February 27, 2011
BRADENTON—Joe Maddon has been known to invent words from time to time. The Rays manager did so again on Sunday.
Add this one to your dictionary until Merriam-Webster publishes its next version:
"Unanointed is when you give someone a title and then take it away," Maddon said before his Rays lost to the Pirates 10-3 in a Grapefruit League game at McKechnie Field. "I'd prefer not to unanoint anyone."
Maddon was speaking in a response to a question about the Rays' scrambled bullpen situation. The six pitchers who led the team in relief appearances last season left via free agency over the winter as the Rays reduced their payroll from $72 million to $50 million despite winning the American League East.
Leading the defectors was closer Rafael Soriano, who topped the AL with 47 saves and was second with a 5.914 WXRL behind only the Royals' Joakim Soria (6.529).Also gone are Dan Wheeler, Joaquin Benoit, Lance Cormier, Grant Balfour and left-hander Randy Choate.
That leaves long man Andy Sonnanstine as the last man standing the Rays' pen with six spots open this spring. Thus, Maddon has decided he will start the season with a committee approach to closing even if someone pitches lights out during the exhibition season.
"We have to go the committee route because I just don't think you can fairly evaluate pitchers off spring training games," Maddon said. "Obviously you watch everyone and evaluate them but I don't think you can read too much into results in spring training. I just don't think we are in a position to anoint a closer when the season starts. I'm not saying someone couldn't emerge as the closer during the season but I'd hate to anoint one prematurely and have to unanoint him."
Though Maddon is a free thinker, he would prefer a traditional bullpen structure with a closer, set-up men, middle relievers and a long guy. He understands that, from a psychological standpoint, relief pitchers like to know their roles.
However, it is hard to identify a clear-cut closer candidate on the Rays' roster. Veteran Kyle Farnsworth has a touch of closing experience in the major leagues, journeyman Joel Peralta has closed in the minor leagues and Adam Russell and left-hander Jake McGee have big arms but not much of a major-league track record.
"We'll go with a committee and see what happens from there," Maddon said. "If we need to use various relievers in the ninth inning according to matchups, we'll do that. If one guy emerges as a closer, we'll use him in the ninth. We'll do whatever we feel is best for our ballclub."