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getting-closer-to-finding-a-closer-2 | January | 2006 Articles

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Getting closer (to finding a closer?)

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Opening Day is about 80 days a way. Early reports to Spring Training are barely 30 days away. MLB 2006 is getting closer, but the big question on some Braves fans' minds is: Who is our closer? Jayson Stark's most recent Rumblings and Grumblings looks at a few teams' most gaping holes, and in case my setup isn't obvious, the Braves' ninth-inning role tops the list. When the 2005 season came to an end, it seemed a virtual certainty that Kyle Farnsworth, who still lives in Atlanta, would re-sign with the Braves to assume the closer's role close to home. The Braves were prepared to offer him $15 million for three years (so says GM John Schuerholz after the fact), roughly the equivalent of the $17 million, three-year offer the Yankees pitched when you account for the differences in cost of living between Georgia and New York. But the Braves never got the chance to make their offer, and from the off-season's onset, they've been scrambling to figure out the next-best thing. The Braves first turned to the free agent market, which featured big-name closers like Billy Wagner and Trevor Hoffman, "but they were never interested in overpaying any of them," writes Stark, "just so that the GM wouldn't have to answer questions like this anymore." So the focus was again turned inward. Potentials for the role mentioned at some point this off-season include rookie Joey Devine, new acquisition Oscar Villarreal, and Chris Reitsma, who enjoyed midseason success in the role in 2005. (Before you ask, there's no way John Smoltz is leaving the rotation after last year's success.) Schuerholz hints that the Braves might make a deal for a closer if they believe it's necessary, but also that the Braves might stick with what they've got if they're comfortable. If a move is made, "it will be something that unfolds toward the end of spring training," he says, "if it does at all."

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