Closing thoughts.

Joe Barlow walks off the field after picking up his seventh save in the Rangers 2-1 win over the White Sox.

Does anyone remember Jose Leclerc?

A few years ago, the Rangers front office made the wrongheaded decision to bestow a long-term contract on Jose Leclerc. Because he had one part of a brilliant season as a closer. 

In 2018, after the Rangers traded closer de jour Keona Kela to the Pirates, they gave the job to Jose Leclerc. Brilliant doesn’t actually do justice to how good he was. 

In eighteen appearances as the closer, he gave up just two hits, and zero earned runs. That offseason, the Rangers immediately signed him to a four-year, $14.75-million contract. For a closer. A position that is an interchangeable drill bit.

Leclerc started 2019 with a few saves. But they were ugly and shaky. It didn’t take long for him to lose the closer job. Then, after the guy who replaced him faltered, Leclerc got the job again. It wasn’t pretty. He got into only two games in 2020 before getting injured, and none in 2021. 

The Rangers paid Jose Leclerc $4 million for 2020, owe him $4.75 million in 2022, then $6 million in 2023, and $6.25 million in 2024. 

He may never pitch again. Or he may come back but not ever close again. Or he may come back and be the dominant closer once again.

Who knows? Closers are fickle.

Since the Rangers made Leclerc their “closer of the future” in 2019, their closers have been Shawn Kelly in 2019, Rafael Montero in 2020, Ian Kennedy then Spencer Patton then Joe Barlow in 2021.

Barlow has been fantastic since assuming the role that Spencer Patton wasn’t ready for. He’s had twelve appearances as the ninth-inning guy, picking up seven saves, usually in clean one-two-three innings. His ERA as a closer is 1.64. His opponent’s batting average is just .128.

Joe Barlow is the Rangers closer of the future. Until he’s not. Which could be the beginning of 2022. Sometime during the middle of the year. Or maybe even 2023. 

The thing is, unless a reliever is Mario Rivera or Trevor Hoffman or a small handful of relievers who have ever played the game of baseball, closers come and go. You can always find one or two sitting on the end of the bench in the bullpen. Not everyone is right for the job, to be sure. But look at all the closers the Rangers have had in just the past ten years, since the glory years of World Series appearances: Neftali Feliz, Joe Nathan, Joakin Soria, Shawn Tolleson, Sam Dyson, Alex Claudio, Matt Bush, Keona Kela, Jose Leclerc, Shawn Kelley, Chris Martin, Rafael Montero, Ian Kenney, Spencer Patton, and Joe Barlow.

That’s fifteen closers in twelve seasons. That tells you it’s not as difficult to find a closer as one would think.

Most of them were pretty dominating while they were closing. Until they weren’t. Then the Rangers found someone else to take their place.

Joe Barlow is coming and shutting the ninth-inning door on the opponents for the Rangers. Here’s hoping he has a long, storied career as the Rangers closer.

But if not, they will find someone else. That’s how closers work.