Colorado Rockies: Who Will Be the Closer in 2017?

The Colorado Rockies made a splash in the pitching free agent market by signing Mike Dunn to a three-year, $19 million deal. Now Dunn has made a bit of a splash himself by saying he would entertain the thought of becoming Colorado’s closer in 2017.

At his introductory press conference last week, Dunn was asked his thoughts about his role with the team.

“I’ve pitched in the seventh and eighth inning my entire career,” Dunn said. “I don’t think anybody’s satisfied with that. You always want to potentially become a closer if you’re a reliever. But ultimately I just want to win baseball games.”

Part of Dunn’s drive also comes from a contract that suggests the Rockies might be thinking of him as a potential closer as well. According to Thomas Harding of MLB.com, a Major League source has indicated “the contract is guaranteed at $19 million, and the deal includes up to $1 million in games-finished incentives, which means Dunn could be Colorado’s closer in 2017.”

The 31-year-old southpaw has just four saves since coming into the league with the New York Yankees in 2009. However, that doesn’t mean that Dunn doesn’t have closing-type stuff in his arsenal. In his career, he’s struck out 389 in 351 innings pitched and opponents are batting .234 against him.

Last season was a bit of an anomaly for Dunn in his career as it marked just the second time had allowed more hits (43) than innings pitched (42.1) and that opponents had hit higher than .230 against him (they hit for a .270 average). Still, despite those numbers, the left-hander finished with a 6-1 mark and 3.40 ERA in 51 appearances.

So could Dunn be Colorado’s closer? Absolutely, but he’ll be competing with Adam Ottavino and his nasty slider for the role. After coming back from Tommy John surgery, Ottavino made an immediate impact on the Rockies last season, appearing in 34 games and earning seven saves in 12 opportunities.

Still, the amazing part is this … Ottavino’s seven saves and 12 opportunities rank third in both categories for the Rockies in 2016. Jake McGee had 15 saves in 19 chances last year while Carlos Estevez went 11-for-18.

In all, McGee, Estevez and Ottavino 33-for-49 in save chances last season for Colorado. It was part of a disappointing season for the Rockies bullpen, which finished last in Major League Baseball with a 5.13 ERA. The bullpen was also tied for 24th in saves with 37 despite being tied for 13th in save opportunities with 65.

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McGee is back and healthy this year while Estevez will be anxious to rebound from a tough end to his run as closer last season. They could be in the closer mix for the Rockies as well when spring training rolls around.

New Colorado manager Bud Black has a wealth of opportunities at the back end of the bullpen. Think about his options. He will have a healthy Ottavino heading into spring training for the first time since 2015, a left-hander in Dunn who averages 10 strikeouts per nine innings in his career, another southpaw in McGee who led the Rockies in saves and was 15-for-18 before he was injured last season, plus a flame-thrower in Estevez who has great potential.

It doesn’t only set the Rockies up well for the ninth inning but also the outs leading up to that. Could Ottavino and Dunn serve as the closer-setup man in whatever order Black chooses? Absolutely. Could Dunn be a left-handed specialist and a rejuvenated McGee or Estevez serve as the eighth-inning guy? Possibly. What about Jairo Diaz (we talked about him here)? Oh the possibilities.

There are a myriad of options when it comes to Colorado’s late innings next season, including Dunn being the closer. For the Rockies, it appears that, for once, the eighth- and ninth-inning cupboard is by no means bare heading into spring training.

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