Who should the Blue Jays turn to as their closer next year?

Casey Janssen earned the opportunity last season to begin 2013 as the Toronto Blue Jays closer. (Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

Now that the whirlwind in Toronto is winding down, Blue Jays fans are starting to piece together their ideal rosters for next season. One question that comes up in the bullpen is who will be named the Blue Jays’ closer on opening day? Sergio Santos was imported for his abilities as a closer, but after being sidelined by injury, Casey Janssen stepped up and proved himself as a major-league level closer as well. With two contending pitchers, who should the Jays turn to in 2013?

The 2011 acquisition of Santos was a hit with Jays fans. Traditionally, the Jays’ bullpen had been a liability. For years, there was an outcry among the Toronto faithful to import a proven closer who could bolster the bullpen. Santos was brought in to cut down on blown games.

Oddly enough, Santos had spent some time in the Jays’ farm system as an infielder before moving to Chicago and taking a shot at pitching. Santos spent two years with the White Sox as a reliever and then as their closer. In 2011, he made the move to closer and managed an impressive 30 saves in only his second season in the majors. Santos had only six blown saves for the year, and threw a remarkable 1.45 strikeouts per inning pitched (92 K/63.1 IP). Santos made a mark on the league as a hard-throwing closer with a great change-up. Jays fans craved a reliable closer, and Santos seemed to fit the bill.

The 2012 season opened with a lot of excitement in Toronto. Santos got his first crack at the mound in the opening game of the season. The game was a 16-inning marathon, and with a dwindling bullpen staff, Santos made an appearance in a non-save situation. Two days later, Santos took the mound in his first save situation with the Jays and gave up the tying run in the bottom of the ninth. Santos blew another save in Boston just two days later. It appeared he started to get things together when he finally picked up saves one and two before the end of April, but was promptly moved to the DL with a nagging shoulder injury. As time progressed, the injury never fully healed and Santos lost the season to shoulder surgery in July. Santos finished 0-1 with two saves in only six appearances.

Obviously, that was not the opening Jays fans had hoped for. Their supposed savior in the bullpen blew his first two saves of the season, and then only a few weeks later was sidelined indefinitely.

The role of closer for the Jays was then delegated to the bullpen. Francisco Cordero was the Jays’ closer in 2011 and presumably would have picked up the slack, but some very poor outings and three consecutive blown saves lost him that role within only two weeks of Santos’ injury.

The closing duties fell to long time Jays reliever Janssen, who spent time bouncing around the Jays bullpen beginning in 2006. Statistically, Janssen was a standard middle reliever. He wasn’t an all-star, but wasn’t a great liability either. From 2006-2011 he carried a 3.81 ERA and a WHIP of 1.329. After the Santos injury and the spectacular failure of Cordero, Janssen was given a shot. He logged back-to-back saves in his first two appearances as closer. Up to mid-August, he converted 100 percent of his 15 save opportunities, before finishing the season with 22 and only three blown saves. More impressive: He lowered his ERA to 2.54 and WHIP to 0.864 for the season.

It turned out to be somewhat of a breakout year for Janssen; statistically, he pitched much better than his past performance had recorded. More important was he stepped into the elite AL East and held his own as a closer. Nearly half (10) of his 22 saves were against AL East rivals.

Unfortunately for him, and for the Jays, Janssen was bitten by the injury bug after the season. In a season that plagued the Jays with pitcher injuries, Janssen became another pitcher to undergo surgery in 2012. After the season, he underwent shoulder surgery to alleviate some soreness he experienced in his throwing arm.

Both Santos and Janssen are expected to return in time for spring training. Assuming they are both healthy, the Jays will more than likely stick with Janssen as their closer. After such a strong performance last season, it would be a waste to take him out of that spot. No doubt Santos will be waiting in the wings should Janssen get hurt or have a string of bad outings. For now, the spot should be Janssen’s to lose.

The irony of this situation is Jays fans have been crying out for years they needed a top-caliber closer. When they finally brought in Santos, a 30-save pitcher, fans were relieved. After appearing only six times in 2012, the Jays turned to Janssen, a player they’ve had in the system for years. Oddly enough, Janssen is currently the longest serving player on the Blue Jays roster.

With all the big-name pickups the Jays made this offseason, a strong closer becomes even more important for a contending team. In Janssen and Santos, the Jays have two pitchers who are fully capable of filling that role. Moving forward, they need to stay healthy and avoid any sophomore jinxes. Fans already are excited about the revamped Jays, and a strong closer combination of Janssen and Santos will help put them over the top.

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