CLEVELAND — After declining the contract option of Brad Hand, who went on to sign with the Washington Nationals, the Cleveland Indians enter the 2021 season in search of a new closer.
With that in mind, let's take a look at Cleveland's candidates to replace the three-time All-Star in the back of the Indians' bullpen.
Even prior to Hand's departure, James Karinchak had not established himself as Cleveland's closer in-waiting, but had begun to share some of the duties. Last season, the "Wild Thing" lookalike tallied one save and four games finished, posting a 1-2 record, 2.67 ERA and 53 strikeouts in 27 appearances.
While the 25-year-old has yet to be named Hand's official successor, the hard-throwing right-hander is the clear front-runner for the role. Entering just his second full season at the Major League level, Karinchak possesses the potential to be one of the best closers in the American League moving forward.
While Karinchak's fastball averages a velocity of 95.9 miles per hour, according to FanGraphs, he's not the hardest throwing member of the Indians' bullpen. Rather, that honor belongs to Emmanuel Clase, whose fastball averaged 99.4 miles per hour during the 2019 season with the Texas Rangers.
After being acquired by Cleveland in the Corey Kluber trade, Clase was suspended for the entirity of the 2020 season after testing positive for a performance-enchancing drug. While the 22-year-old will provide Cleveland with an alternative to Karinchak, it seems more likely manager Terry Francona will utilize him as a versatile chess piece in high leverage situations.
While Karinchak and Clase have youth on their side, 29-year-old Nick Wittgren gives Cleveland a more proven option in the back of its bullpen. In two seasons with the Indians, the right-hander has served as the team's primary setup man, totalling a 7-1 record, 2.99 ERA and 88 strikeouts in 80 games between 2019-2020.
In all likelihood, Wittgren will continue his role bridging the gap from the eighth inning to the ninth. But should Karichak and/or Clase falter, he could very well be the next man up.
More Cleveland Indians coverage:
Jeff Ellis further discusses Lindor's revelation in Wednesday's episode of the Locked On Indians podcast, as well as the following topics:
- Shin-Shoo Choo perennially being on the most underrated players in baseball list.
- The 13 pitchers who the Indians will break camp with.