Joe Nathan's his first spring training appearance with soreness in his surgically repaired elbow raises the obvious question, if Nathan can't pitch to start the season who do the Twins put in the closer's role. Almost anyone in the bullpen could be a candidate on a short term basis. Here is the list in rough order of likelihood:
Jon Rauch - The role of closer is one that puts a lot of pressure on a pitcher, as the veteran in the bullpen Rauch may be the most ready to step up in that role. He is not, by any means, the guy with the best stuff.
Jesse Crain - Based on his performance in a setup role, Crain would appear to be an unlikely candidate. But closers are a different breed. They pitch only one inning, go all out and need to handle pressure. Crain has pitched in that role in college and the minor leagues and his stuff might well hold up better under the lighter load of closing.
Clay Condrey - Like Rauch, he is veteran. Like Rauch, he really lacks the stuff to be a closer.
Pat Neshek - I would rate him higher, but having not appeared at all in the big leagues for a couple years it seems unlikely that he is ready to step in immediately in the closer role. He needs to be eased back into the role.
Jose Mijares - He has the stuff. He is a lefty. But he struggled in the pressure of the pennant race last fall. He does not yet appear to have the maturity and bulldog makeup of a closer. He may not be ready, but then no one else is either.
Matt Guerrier - In some ways, he should be at the top of this list. But I think his promotion to closer would be the peter principal at work. He can be a solid setup guy, but his stuff is not lights out and is not likely to improve in the closer role.
Francisco Liriano - He has the stuff, but he looks to be a potential ace in the rotation.
Anthony (corrected) Swarzak - He has the stuff to pitch in that role, but he may not be ready for the major leagues. Its hard to imagine the Twins putting a rookie in that role. Especially one who has struggled at the major league level.
Glen Perkins - I think he is more likely to be trade bait for a closer than to be handed the job.
Brian Duensing - I don't think they are going to move him out of the rotation and he isn't really closer material anyway.
One thing I think is important to note. The light work load of the closer and the critical situations in which they are used often mean they get better results than the same pitcher pitching more often would in a setup role. So numbers alone don't telly you a lot about who will be able to do the job. Having great stuff helps. But being able to handle the pressure is even more critical. A guy who can't come back the next day after losing a game is a disaster in the closer role where almost every time they are out there they are preserving a win the rest of the team has achieved. Three straight meltdowns can have the whole team pressing. With Reardon, Aguilera and Nathan, the Twins have not seen a lot of that in the past twenty five years. But anyone who remembers Ron Davis, or the brief period in the mid-90's when various pitchers struggled in the closer role, Nathan's arm troubles are alarming.