Open Competition for Cubs' Closer Role

Once the Cubs let Kerry Wood walk, it seemed as though the coast was clear for Carlos Marmol to take over as one of baseball's dominant closers. After all, the 26 year old has struck out 223 batters in 166 innings during the course of his relief career. In those innings, he's only allowed 91 hits and 44 earned runs (2.39 ERA).

He's also got closer stuff, with the blazing fastball and knee-buckling slider. I'm not worried about the proverbial closer's mentality, because he saved seven games with Wood sidelined last season. Plus, he's gotten himself out of much tougher jams than needing three outs with the bases empty before.

Apparently, though, Marmol's still going to have to beat out Kevin Gregg in Spring Training in order to win the closing duties in 2009, according to Cubs manager Lou Pinella.

"Let them compete," Piniella said. "I feel comfortable with Marmol, there's no question. But we traded for this other young man, and he was a closer over there with success. Give him a chance, too."

I really hope Pinella's either just trying to push Marmol harder, or thinking about using Marmol in his "put out the fire" role from last year. If he's somehow tinkering with the notion that Gregg might actually be the better pitcher, however, I'm pretty sure he's lost his marbles.

Gregg is sometimes a good reliever. He sometimes has good stuff. "Good" isn't really a word associated with Marmol, though, unless you are referring to something unrelated to his skills as a pitcher. Gregg lets more guys on base, strikes out many less, and gives up more runs. The only thing he's done better thus far is rack up more saves. He has saved 61 games in the past two seasons as the off-and-on closer for the Marlins.

As I alluded to above, Marmol was in his proper role last year for the Cubs, where he was brought in as a situational "closer." What I mean by that is that if there was a bases loaded jam in the seventh inning, Marmol entered to put out the fire. If you needed five outs, he'd stay in the game and get them for you. In this role, he was much more valuable to the Cubs than the closer, Wood.

Other than losing a potential fantasy baseball monster, I wouldn't be all too opposed to Pinella using Marmol and Gregg in this manner for 2009. The only issue I have is that an open competition insinuates the better pitcher is going to "win" the closer job. In that case, no matter what happens in Spring Training, Marmol should already have the job locked up. There's no question which pitcher is already better.

Open Competition for Cubs' Closer Role originally appeared on MLB FanHouse on Wed, 21 Jan 2009 14:35:00 EST . Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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