Three-for-all: Royals like possible closer options

Three-for-all: Royals like possible closer options

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- What are they? Three Musketeers? Tres Amigos? Three Stooges? (Just hit me with a hammer.) Three Dog Night? Three Tenors?

If we don't know what to call them, we know who they are -- these three would-be closers. Their names are Jonathan Broxton, Aaron Crow and Greg Holland. Alphabetical order is about the only way to list them, actually, because the Royals still don't know which of those candidates might emerge as the replacement for Joakim Soria.

Soria is bound for Tommy John surgery on April 3 and will miss the season, and manager Ned Yost said on Monday that he doubts that he'll designate a closer by Opening Day, April 6.

"If I see a necessity to do it, I'll do it, but right now I don't see a necessity to do it," Yost said.

Broxton has the All-Star and postseason history as the former Dodgers' closer, Crow was an All-Star reliever last year as a rookie, and Holland established himself as a tough setup guy in 2011. Yost figures he's blessed to have such a trio from which to choose.

"Normally you've got one guy you've got confidence in to get the ninth inning," he said. "Here I've got three guys that I've got confidence in that I can put in the ninth inning of any game and they're going to close it out."

Yost feels that the situation will define itself in time. His approach at this moment is to let things evolve. Try this guy, then that guy, then maybe the other guy and see what happens. Somebody might have a couple of good outings ...

"And the next thing you know, he's in there every time," Yost said.

"There have been many times that I've gone into the season without bullpen roles. We've got a much better bullpen than we've had in the past and a much better bullpen than I've had in the past, so generally you just let it define itself."

Broxton had back-to-back totals of 36 and 22 saves for the Dodgers in All-Star years of 2009 and '10, but he's coming off a season that ended last May 3 with a sore elbow. That resulted in surgery on Sept. 19, and the Royals have eased him back into action this spring. That caution is likely to continue in the early part of the season, although Broxton is throwing hard so far.

All three candidates expressed deep concern for Soria.

"I hate it for him, it's a bad injury to have. He's missing a whole year now," Broxton said. "He's a great pitcher, a two-time All-Star and he's racked up some saves over the years, and it's definitely going to hurt us. We've got some big shoes to fill down there and hopefully we can just do it on a daily basis. It doesn't matter who's closing it out, just so we get the 'W' is all that should matter."

Broxton, 27, is the same age as Soria and got a taste last season of what the closer faces.

"I missed almost all of last year with an injury so it stinks, it's very frustrating coming to the yard every day and knowing you can't get out there and compete," he said. "I know it's going to be hard for him this year, but hopefully we can keep him in good spirits and I know he'll work hard and get himself back."

Crow, 25, got off to a roaring start as a starter-turned-reliever last year and even got slotted as the closer when Soria took a brief respite from the role after a late May slump. But he didn't get a save then or at any other time.

"I have a few blown saves but no saves," he said with a wry chuckle.

Soria was a mentor to Crow and others in the rookie-dominated bullpen of 2011.

"Losing him is a big loss, but between Greg and Broxton and whoever else is in the bullpen, I think it doesn't really matter who's in the ninth inning because the seventh, eighth inning is just as important, I think," Crow said. "So it doesn't really matter to me where I pitch just as long as I have an opportunity to."

This year's bullpen will have new faces, including Broxton and left-hander Jose Mijares, but Crow expects the esprit de corps that existed last year to continue.

"If you're a reliever, I would think anybody would want to have that as their goal to one day be a closer but, on this team, I don't think it really matters. I think everybody in the bullpen wants everybody else to do well," Crow said. "I don't think anybody's jealous of anybody else. I think just going out and winning the game is the most important thing. It doesn't matter who gets credit for the save or the win, just as long as we win."

Holland, 26, had some flashy statistics last year when he was still classified as a rookie although he'd come up in 2010. There was a 5-1 record, 1.80 ERA and 74 strikeouts in 60 innings -- plus the Major Leagues' best mark in denying inherited runners the plate, 6.1 percent (just 2 of 33 scored).

Being in the running for closer was not on his agenda this year.

"I'm not really looking forward to it because it's a big hit," Holland said of Soria's loss. "Not to mention that he's an All-Star and a leader in the clubhouse and down there in the bullpen for us, but it's an opportunity for all of us to show we can hold the fort and help win games. It's unfortunate, but we're looking forward to the challenge. We had a good bullpen last year and we were young and we learned a lot from him and from our own experiences. Plus we've got Broxton and Mijares, and they've been there late in the games and I think we're going to be OK."

Holland has some experience, notching four saves last year.

"Mentally the ninth inning can be challenging, just closing the game out, but if you approach it as just as another inning - that you're just going out there to do a job and hold the lead - if you can take that mentality out there, I think you'll be OK," he said.

Soria, as he surveys the bullpen that he helped nurture, expresses confidence.

"They're old enough to handle themselves. They're ready to be good and to have success," Soria said. "Broxton is a veteran guy, Mijares has been around for a while and they're going to be fine. And they're really a nice group of kids that are going to win a lot of games."

Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.