Two years before he became the Yankees closer, Mariano Rivera was a spot starter and middle reliever, and not an especially good one. The next year he became a dominant setup man. The next year he took over the ninth inning. Two years after that he led the league in saves.
Who’s next in line? It really is impossible to say.
Rivera has set the bar impossibly high for the next Yankees closer, and he’s also crafted his own cautionary tale about considering all possibilities and ignoring early expectations.
Two years before Rivera took over, would you have picked him for the job?
As Rob wrote in today’s Pinch Hitter post, Dave Robertson has emerged as perhaps the most legitimate heir the Yankees have ever seen. He’s young and he’s quickly gained legitimate big league experience (with legitimate big league success). I was covering minor league baseball when Mark Melancon was thought to be the Yankees future closer, but it never came together for him in the Bronx, and his greatest role might have been overshadowing Robertson, leaving the Yankees with something of a secret weapon.
Robertson’s not a secret anymore. Joba Chamberlain was never secret and Rafael Soriano is one of the biggest-name relievers in the game. If this really is Rivera’s last season, those three are the most obvious candidates to take ownership of the ninth. But what if Phil Hughes is crowded out of the rotation and thrives again the bullpen? What if some unforeseen circumstance forces Dellin Betances into the big league bullpen, and he dominates?
There will never be another Mariano Rivera. The best the Yankees can do is hope for another legitimate closer, and the best-there-ever-was has taught them to look everywhere.
Associated Press photo