Ever since the Baltimore Orioles traded All-Star closer Jim Johnson to the Oakland Athletics back on Dec. 2, the team has been searching for his replacement. Options included signing one of the few free-agent closers available, scouring the league for a possible trade, or turning to an in-house option.
And after Fernando Rodney, the most notable free-agent closer that the Orioles were interested in, signed a two-year/$14 million deal with the Seattle Mariners Thursday, all signs point to Tommy Hunter getting the nod to pitch the ninth inning for the O's next season.
If indeed the closer, Hunter will bring a different style to the role. Johnson was a pitcher who leaned on his power sinker and relied on ground balls and disrupting hitters' timing. Hunter, on the other hand, has proven to be a power arm since moving to the bullpen. With a fastball that can hit triple digits, Hunter has become a swing-and-miss pitcher, but is susceptible to the long ball, as is any pitcher that pitches up in the zone.
The Orioles did explore all options in their search to replace Johnson, though. The club agreed to a two-year deal with former Oakland closer Grant Balfour in mid-December, but pulled the offer after citing concerns with the righty's physical.
Soon after the Balfour mishap, Baltimore was rumored to be the leading candidate to sign Rodney, but the two sides could never come together on a deal.
And while Hunter was considered the leading in-house option to be the 2014 closer, Francisco Rodriguez was another possibility from the O's 2013 roster. Rodriguez was once the best closer in all of baseball, setting the single-season saves record when he shut the door 62 times in 2008 for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. But Rodriguez signed a one-year deal with the Milwaukee Brewers, the team that traded him to Baltimore in July 2013, Friday.
Don't expect Orioles manager Buck Showalter to come out and officially name Hunter the closer anytime soon, as he's a coach who loves to see competition in spring training. With that in mind, unless a move is made to bring another viable option in, expect to see big number 29 on the mound for the Orioles in the ninth inning.Back to the Baltimore Orioles Newsfeed