Fantasy Baseball Closer Hot Seat - AL

by Tim Heaney on March 30, 2010 @ 17:00:00 PDT

 


Fantasy Baseball Closer Hot Seat: AL | NL

Fantasy baseball closer depth charts: AL | NL

In fantasy baseball, the closer position remains volatile. Few closers hang on to the job for the entire season. Injuries, poor performance and managerial decisions cloud a team's bullpen picture.

Should you be concerned about a struggling stopper? Which setup men are climbing the depth chart? Any lingering injuries popping up? KFFL.com's Fantasy Baseball Closer Hot Seat series keeps you informed when you're looking for saves.

Key

Job security (JS) score Health (H) score
1 (unstable) to 5 (untouchable)
1 (injury-prone) to 5 (durable)

 

Baltimore Orioles

Closer: Mike Gonzalez

Understudy: Jim Johnson

Gonzalez, unsurprisingly, was bugged by injuries last year during a platoon closing situation in Atlanta. Dominance is innate for the lefty. Spring back issues don't appear serious. The fact of the matter is health concerns were already helping keep his value down, making him pounce-worthy as a No. 3 mixed stopper.

Johnson proved capable of closing last year but was shaky down the stretch; he's the most immediate understudy, but his skills aren't inviting.

Job security score: 4

Health score: 3

Boston Red Sox

Closer: Jonathan Papelbon

Trade whispers shouldn't keep Paps from being one of the first closers taken. He fixed control issues in the second half of '09 and will aim to be less reliant on his fastball heading into 2010.

Job security score: 5

Health score: 5

Chicago White Sox

Closer: Bobby Jenks

Understudy: Matt Thornton, J.J. Putz

Chicago White Sox RP Bobby Jenks
A trimmer Jenks could be a steal

Last season Jenks had issues with home runs but increased his strikeouts. A horrid July made his numbers look much worse, and two freak injuries shortened his season. There's no indication he'll lose the job unless a trade occurs. Jenks has improved his physique, which will help ease tension with the organization.

He has had lingering issues in his right calf, but an MRI revealed that there's no structural damage. Jenks is expected to be ready for Opening Day. He's reliable even with his speed bumps and probably undervalued. This injury might even lower his price, making him a potential acquisition at a No. 3 mixed closer price that can perform as a No. 2.

Reports say the ChiSox would split closing duties between Thornton and Putz if Jenks isn't ready. Both are plausible deep-league speculations, with the more LIMA-friendly Thornton the better target; he served in the role briefly last year and should help your ratios even if not closing.

Job security score: 4

Health score: 4

Cleveland Indians

Closer: Kerry Wood (inj.)

Understudy: Chris Perez

Lurkers: Rafael Perez, Tony Sipp

Wood is expected to be out until the beginning of May with a moderately strained muscle on the right side of his upper back.

Consider Chris Perez a No. 3 closer on draft day and an immediate pickup in leagues that have already selected their rosters. Expect the Tribe to give him a long leash considering the shakiness of the rest of their 'pen. Wood can still be drafted in the final rounds of any league as a stash commodity. It's safe to think he'll return to the role when healthy.

Job security score: 2

Health score: 4

Detroit Tigers

Closer: Jose Valverde

Valverde brings stability and durability, and no real challenger exists. He came back strong from his calf injury last year. He's a sneaky value No. 1 option in many leagues.

Job security score: 5

Health score: 4

Kansas City Royals

Closer: Joakim Soria

His schedule often included two-inning outings last year to keep him active, but many are devaluing this skilled, entrenched stopper. He's among the top five mixed closers and offers only a slight drop-off from the tier above him.

Job security score: 5

Health score: 4

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Closer: Brian Fuentes

Understudy: Fernando Rodney

Lurkers: Kevin Jepsen

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim RP Brian Fuentes
Fuentes not a heavenly option

Fuentes is overvalued. Too many things are working against him - among them his hittable stuff, the Rodney acquisition and Jepsen's emergence. The Halos might restrict how many games he finishes so they aren't stuck with him for 2011.

It's best to avoid drafting Fuentes if possible because of the likely cost. If not, be more urgent in securing Rodney or Jepsen, in that order.

Job security score: 3

Health score: 5

UPDATE - Minnesota Twins

Closer: N/A

Understudy: Jon Rauch, Matt Guerrier

Lurkers: Jose Mijares, Jesse Crain, Pat Neshek, Francisco Liriano

Joe Nathan had Tommy John surgery and will miss the 2010 season.

Manager Ron Gardenhire said he'll start the season by using a committee approach in Nathan's place. Minnesota might explore outside options, but Rauch should be your first in-house draft target; he has more closing experience than other potential Twins replacements. He's no better than a shaky mixed No. 3, but the news might make him a slight value buy in AL leagues.

Guerrier was a little lucky last year, and his skills don't suggest long-term success in closing games. Crain has workable skills but has not recorded more than one save in an MLB season. There has been talk of Liriano serving in the role, but they look set on giving him a try as a starter.

The southpaw Mijares is likely to receive chances in lefty-heavy spots, potentially giving him more opps than the non-Rauch righties. However, that still isn't enough to count on Mijares for a frequent contribution that would make him anything more than a low-end No. 2 in ALs.

Job security score: N/A

Health score: 4

UPDATE - New York Yankees

Closer: Mariano Rivera

Understudy: Joba Chamberlain

Rivera keeps himself in great shape for a 40-year-old and is keeping his spring workouts light to repress the threat of age. Sure, it's hard to expect the vet to keep an ERA under 2.00 again, but expecting him to crumble isn't realistic, either.

Chamberlain's failed rotation bid augments his fantasy value as Mo's likely backup. Joba's bullpen skills, which always trumped his starting prowess, can help you without saves anyway and make him an intriguing late-rounder in mixed; many might devalue him because he isn't starting.

Job security score: 5

Health score: 4

UPDATE - Oakland Athletics

Closer: Andrew Bailey

Understudy: Michael Wuertz

Lurkers: Brad Ziegler, Joey Devine

Bailey has legit closer (read: non-Ziegler) skills and should stop what had become a bullpen carousel. Even with a normalization of his opponents' BABIP and strand rate, he can still put up top-10 closer numbers.

As enticing as Bailey is, beware drafting him before more stable options, especially after his bout with tennis elbow. Though reports say he'll be ready for Opening Day, Bailey admitted his '09 workload jump might be slowing him this spring; that adds to the risk of making him your top closer. Drafting him as your No. 2 or 3, however, would alleviate the potential loss if this injury becomes a problem.

Wuertz (shoulder) will start the season on the DL but won't miss much time. He has always possessed the skills but was a bit lucky last season. He might be slightly overvalued as a LIMA investment, but until Joey Devine is healthy for an extensive period, Wuertz is next in line. The soft-tossing but effective Ziegler would jump to the on-deck saves circle if the other two are incapacitated.

Job security score: 4

Health score: 4

Seattle Mariners

Closer: David Aardsma

Understudy: Mark Lowe, Brandon League

Seattle Mariners RP David Aardsma
A for Aardsma, R for risk

Despite boasting closer-type talent, Aardsma was lucky during his emergence. His flyball and strand rates corrected themselves as the year went on, and he started to wear down. He has too many questions to be a No. 2 mixed closer, which is often his value. There are more reliable stoppers with a track record in his tier; if Aardsma falls and could be had as a No. 3, that would alleviate the potential loss if he can't hang onto the job.

Lowe made strides last year, too, but he was wildly inconsistent. League deserves a hard look. The fireballer harnessed his changeup, and his opponents frequently dent the dirt. Look his way after closers dry up.

Job security score: 4

Health score: 4

Tampa Bay Rays

Closer: Rafael Soriano

Understudy: J.P. Howell

The righty has the skills. Problem is, his owners don't get them without a few injury stints. Tampa Bay is calling him their ninth-inning option, so you won't have to worry about a platoon situation like there was in Atlanta.

There'll be some skepticism. Mixed leaguers must avoid making him their saves anchor, but he'll be worth more than his mid-round price if healthy.

Rays skipper Joe Maddon doesn't mind mixing up things if his closer is unavailable. The improving Howell is worth speculation, though some fortunate '09 indicators will probably regress to the mean.

Job security score: 3

Health score: 3

UPDATE - Texas Rangers

Closer: Frank Francisco

Understudy: Neftali Feliz

Lurkers: Chris Ray

Francisco's biggest deterrents are injuries and a scary flyball tendency. His dominance eases the latter. C.J. Wilson stepped in often last year, but Texas is placing him in a rotation spot. Francisco best serves as a low-end No. 2 mixed closer due to the risks involved, but the club has one fewer vulture alternative.

Texas eventually wants Feliz in the rotation, but they're keeping him in the 'pen to help his development. There's a hint of closer allure here, and he's worth a late-round selection in deep mixed. Ray has come on strong this spring and is assured a relief spot, but he'll probably start out pitching earlier in games. He's deep AL-only speculation.

Health score: 3

Job security score: 4

UPDATE - Toronto Blue Jays

Closer: Jason Frasor

Understudy: Kevin Gregg

Lurkers: Scott Downs

Frasor was named the ninth-inning man and should be drafted as a No. 3 mixed stopper. The incorporation of a splitter-changeup combo transformed his arsenal last season, and he posted eight of his 11 saves after taking over the role full-time in August.

Gregg and Downs, in that order, remain speculative assets in deep mixed and AL-only setups. Downs can help your deep team without saves chances; Gregg's value is fueled by closure opps, though, and he isn't as helpful without them.

Job security score: 2

Health score: 4

Fantasy Baseball Closer Hot Seat: AL | NL

Fantasy baseball closer depth charts: AL | NL

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About Tim Heaney

Tim's work has been featured by USA Today/Sports Weekly, among numerous outlets, and recognized as a finalist in the Fantasy Sports Writers Association awards. The Boston University alum, who competes in the prestigious LABR and Tout Wars, has won numerous industry leagues in both baseball and football.

He appears frequently, including every Sunday, on Sirius XM Fantasy Sports Radio, as well as every Wednesday on 1570 AM WNST in Baltimore.


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