David Lennon has been a staff writer for Newsday since 1991, when he started covering New York City
John Steinbeck made his reputation writing great American novels, not building bullpens. But today's GMs are finding that one of his most famous lines still holds true in these modern times.
Only a month into this season, almost half of the 30 major-league teams have been forced to switch closers because of serious injury or plain old ineffectiveness. The best-laid plans of mice and men, indeed.
When you then add the costly financial component of such ill-fated decisions, it begs the question: Just how much is a closer worth?
I think we can all agree that Mariano Rivera deserved his latest two-year, $30-million deal, but he stands alone as the top closer in baseball history, not only his generation.
Rivera, of course, also is on the shelf for the remainder of this season -- the last year of that contract -- joining the Giants' Brian Wilson ($8.5 million), the Reds' Ryan Madson ($9 million) and the Royals' Joakim Soria ($6 million) on that high-priced casualty list.
As demotions go, the most notable is the Marlins' Heath Bell, signed to a three-year, $27-million deal last winter.
The average 2012 salary for a closer -- based on 33 relievers who could be characterized as such since the start of the season -- is roughly $4.75 million.
Through Friday, the Indians' Chris Perez ($4.5 million) and the Braves' Craig Kimbrel ($590,000) led the majors with 11 saves each. The next four below them illustrate just how varied those salaries can be: the Orioles' Jim Johnson ($2.62M), the Astros' starter-converted-to-closer Brett Myers ($11M), the Rays' Fernando Rodney ($2M) and the Phillies' Jonathon Papelbon ($11M).
Above all else, one thing every manager wants is a shutdown closer, regardless of the cost. To get the peace of mind it provides in running a bullpen, they seem as if they'd be willing to pay for one out of their own pocket.
"The worst part of your day is figuring out your bullpen that night, especially if you have to figure out the ninth inning, too," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. " . . . When it comes to running the ballclub, the lineup? No big deal. Putting signs on during the game? No big deal. Where the defense is supposed to go? No big deal. But your bullpen is a big deal."
Maddon is among the unlucky group forced to reshuffle things. The Rays picked up Kyle Farnsworth's $3.3-million option to continue closing duties, but he opened this season on the DL because of an elbow strain. Farnsworth, unlike Rivera, will return this year.
Despite being one of the game's more progressive thinkers, Maddon still believes in having the traditional "bona fide" hammer at the end of the bullpen. "You definitely want one of those guys under your Christmas tree," he said. "But if you don't have one, you might be better off doing it by committee, or based on matchup or leverage situations."
The Yankees also have been forced to adjust, but Joe Girardi had the luxury of having Rafael Soriano and David Robertson. Girardi reluctantly anointed Robertson as Rivera's replacement, knowing full well the perils that come along with such titles. "You try to get to the point where there's an order down there," Girardi said. "I think for the most part, clubs like to know."
At least before they have to change it again.
Look who's in charge of making sure the Orioles' Dylan Bundy, arguably the next Stephen Strasburg, doesn't wind up on the operating table like the Nationals' phenom.
Yes, it's Rick Peterson, former pitching coach of the Mets, A's and Brewers. Peterson, now in charge of pitching development for the Orioles, again is working with American Sports Medicine Institute (ASMI) to help scientifically correct mechanical flaws and inefficiencies in Baltimore's staff, chief among them the 19-year-old Bundy, the No. 4 pick overall in the 2011 draft.
"How fortunate is he at this point of his career that an organization has committed to this philosophy?" Peterson said. "We were able to specifically look at his analysis and not only make some adjustments to his delivery but adjustments with his conditioning program. We could also specify what he needs to clean up his delivery."
Mechanical flaws and overwork often are cited as the reason for young pitchers breaking down early. Strasburg had Tommy John surgery before resuming his career. With that in mind, the Orioles are limiting Bundy's pitch and inning count. In Monday's start for Class A Delmarva, he struck out eight before his night was cut short at three innings. In six appearances, he has allowed two hits and one unearned run and struck out 33 in 20 innings.
Consecutive saves by John Axford, whose streak ended Friday, causing his wife to go into labor, according to the closer. Agitated baby already must be a Brewers fan.
Years since a pitcher started on consecutive days, as C.J. Wilson did when a rain delay cut short his first one after 22 pitches. Still holds record as only pitcher to tweet Mike Napoli's cell number.
Runs allowed by Josh Beckett in 2 1/3 innings, matching shortest outing of his career and coming after he went golfing despite injury. Said he couldn't wait to get back to the driving range.
Games with at least four RBIs for Brandon Inge, the first player to do so in a five-game stretch since Lou Gehrig in 1931. On Friday, he did it against Tigers, who released him April 30. But Delmon Young they hang on to.
Million dollars, amount Brad Penny bailed on this week when he asked to be released from Japan's Softbank Hawks after only one start. Beckett might want to inquire about opening in Hawks' rotation.