January 29, 2013
The Keeper Reaper
Relievers for 1/29/30
Mariano Rivera | Yankees
As recently as last offseason, it was difficult to imagine Mariano Rivera as anything other than the ideal keeper candidate as far as closers go. It made perfect sense. While most stoppers have a shelf life comparable to that of an NFL running back, Mo’s run of sustained excellence more closely resembled that of a 40-something placekicker. Sure, he was bound see a decline in performance at some point, but when? Every year, we wondered: “Is this the year?” But it never seemed to arrive.
As it turned out, Rivera didn’t decline in 2012; he simply didn’t pitch much at all. A freak early-season knee injury cost Mo the majority of his campaign, leaving us in the somewhat precarious position of figuring out what to expect from a 43-year-old who won't have seen regular-season action in nearly a year by the time Opening Day rolls around.
That narrative strongly suggests we fantasy types ought to be cautious with respect to Rivera this spring. Are we really suddenly going to let a non-arm injury dissuade us from investing in a guy who had shown virtually no slip in performance through his age-42 season, though? For me, the answer is no.
The unusual nature of Rivera's injury (torn ACL) and his career trajectory make it very difficult to find a useful comparison. But by all accounts, he has been progressing nicely in his rehab and is on track to be fully ready by Opening Day. Again, this is not exactly scientific, but Mo's work ethic and natural athletic talents have always been the stuff of legend, both of which should come in handy as he tries to recapture his form.
Last season may have been Rivera's last were it not for the injury, so it's all but certain 2013 will instead be his swan song. His age and the injury give me pause, but I'm going to assume he'll be his usual self—or very close to it—until he proves otherwise. That, combined with strong job security, makes Mo an excellent keeper option one last time.