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Who's Next in Line for 500 Saves?

Last night Yankees closer Mariano Rivera joined Milwaukee's Trevor Hoffman as the only men to tally 500 or more saves in a career. Hoffman hit 500 in 2007 and has collected all but 19 of his record 571 saves as a member of the San Diego Padres from 1993 to 2008.

Rivera has the distinction of having made all his saves for just one team while also collecting multiple World Series rings, something Hoffman is still searching for. Despite not being the all-time leader, many view Rivera as the best closer ever and reaching 500 just cements that.

The question now, however, is will we ever see another pitcher register 500 saves?

It's easy to understand why no one has reached 500 before since it wasn't until the 1970's and 80's that bullpens became specialized with relievers having defined roles. Now that there are such things as closers, the question becomes can a pitcher stay healthy and be on a winning team long enough to get enough opportunities?

Pitchers arms are fragile so what sticks out most about Hoffman and Rivera is their relative durability. Both have had brushes with pitching mortality but have come out on the other side. Both have also pitched for winning teams, Rivera even more so. But a simple look at Eric Gagne shows just how quickly it can all come apart for a closer.

Gagne was lights out for the Los Angeles Dodgers before injuries took their toll and have forced him to bounce around from Texas to Boston to Milwaukee. Gagne tallied 194 saves and a Cy Young Award between 2002 and 2004 for the Dodgers but after injuries, has collected just 26 saves over two seasons with three teams and hasn't pitched this season.

Of course what we often see now is potential franchise closers being traded or leaving winning teams for bigger pay days. Colorado Rockies closer Huston Street falls into the first category, having been traded by the Oakland Athletics to the launching pad that is Coors Field. Street has adjusted nicely, currently sitting at 19 saves for the season.

Former Rockies closer Brian Fuentes falls into the latter category, having chosen to leave Colorado for the Los Angeles Angels (and opening the door for Street) following last season. The Angels were in need of his services because their previous closer, Francisco Rodriguez, left for more money with the New York Mets.

It is Rodriguez who seems to have the best chance to someday join Rivera and Hoffman. The man they call K-Rod is just 27 years old, has 238 saves so far, sits at 20 for 2009 and has successfully closed out 40 or more games in each of the past four seasons. Add in the fact that he's playing for a team that can afford to stay competitive and the only thing standing in the way is his health. Given the violent and unorthodox delivery he uses, he seems to be an injury risk but so far that really hasn't been an issue for him. If Rodriguez stays healthy, he stands a good chance of challenging for 500.

Of course, 400 would be just as impressive, only two other pitchers, Lee Smith (478) and John Franco (424) have reached that plateau. The next closest active pitcher is Billy Wagner at 385.

Wagner seemed a shoo-in for 400 until it was learned that he would need Tommy John surgery in 2008. Wagner, who will turn 38 in July, hasn't pitched since August of 2008 and figures to be out all of this season as well. Add to that the fact that he probably won't have a job when he comes back (the Mets likely won't need his services as long as they have K-Rod) and it seems unlikely, though not impossible, for Wagner to corral 15 more saves.

All of this is to say, enjoy Rivera's latest feat because there's a strong chance we may not see 500 for quite some time.

By CJ Holley  |  June 29, 2009; 12:06 PM ET
Categories:  Angels , Brewers , Dodgers , Mets , Padres , Rockies , Yankees  | Tags: billy wagner, brian fuentes, closers, colorado rockies, eric gagne, francisco rodriguez, huston street, los angeles angels, los angeles dodger, mariano rivera, milwaukee brewers, new york mets, new york yankees, san diego padres, saves, trevor hoffman  
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