Fantasy Baseball Closer Hot Seat - AL

by Nicholas Minnix on March 9, 2011 @ 18:10:00 PDT

 


In fantasy baseball, the closer position remains volatile. Rarely does every closer hang on to the job for an entire season - injuries, poor performance and managerial decisions cloud a team's bullpen picture.

Should you be concerned about a struggling stopper? Which relievers are climbing the depth chart? Have any injuries popped up? KFFL.com's Fantasy Baseball Closer Hot Seat keeps you informed when you're looking for saves.

Key

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

Baltimore Orioles

Closer: TBD

Understudy: Kevin Gregg, Koji Uehara

Lurkers: Mike Gonzalez

Nunez's nasty, Broxton's boom:

NL Hot Seat | Depth charts

Uehara received a cortisone injection in his elbow nearly a week ago and hasn't thrown since. Buck Showalter nor Uehara appears to be alarmed, despite the Japanese righty's medical history involving that joint. The O's are definitely playing it safe, but the slow goings are indicative of Uehara's reliability, or lack thereof.

If Uehara isn't back soon (he figures he will be), he probably won't have enough time to demonstrate that he's ready to begin the season as the club's closer, perhaps to Showalter's chagrin. He'd also perpetuate fears about the risk involved with him, driving the price down. Gregg has done investors a favor by pitching effectively in ST action. That has to ease his skipper's mind. The bespectacled righty has moved ahead of Uehara in this "contest."

As long as all three listed are uninjured, no job is safe. Fortunately, for Gregg and his buyers, he easily has the least to worry about on that front. He's not an ideal mixed league buy, but he's an acceptable AL-only league target. Don't overlook either of the other two simply because of the latest news, however.

Job security score: TBD

Health score: TBD

Chicago White Sox

Closer: TBD

Understudy: Matt Thornton, Chris Sale

Lurkers: Sergio Santos, Jesse Crain

Nothing major on this front; Thornton remains the leading candidate based on his experience and Ozzie Guillen's trust in the lefty. But it may be worth noting that GM Kenny Williams made his feelings clear about the importance of the game's final frame versus its others: "I've always felt the one-closer theory for the ninth is overrated." Williams' take: Matchups are more important than the order. Relief use remains up to the staff, of course.

Guillen has traditionally relied on one man at the back end. But hey, things change. The two likeliest candidates still appear to be southpaws, though.

Job security score: TBD

Health score: TBD

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Closer: Fernando Rodney

Understudy: Scott Downs, Kevin Jepsen

Lurkers: Jordan Walden, Hisanori Takahashi

Rodney has had a rough go of it (three innings, seven hits, two runs, two walks) early on. Mike Scioscia isn't terribly concerned. "This is spring. He's going to have plenty of time to show what he can do."

For all intents and purposes, Rodney is in effect the club's closer, and so far, that isn't in real danger of altering by the time opening day rolls around. The rest of the names remain in play, however, because the onus is on Rodney to prove that he's worthy of retaining his title. As you know, at some point Scioscia may lose patience. Flier choices are recommended.

Job security score: 3

Health score: 4

Minnesota Twins

Closer: TBD

Understudy: Joe Nathan, Matt Capps

Baltimore Orioles RP Kevin Gregg
Gregg in front

After Tuesday's perfect frame, the right-hander on the TJS comeback trail has put together three scoreless outings. Nathan has reportedly been hitting the low 90s routinely. He tossed plenty of off-speed stuff his last time out. He has been exceptionally pleased with his command.

To reiterate: Nathan remains an attractive buy in his tier given his track record and this stream of positive news. If it hasn't already, though, the good vibes will be reflected in his price. Keep in mind that at some point he could hit a bump in the road. He may also have a somewhat rough beginning to the season. The 36-year-old is not yet accustomed (this time around) to pitching on back-to-back days and other daily rigors that come with his job.

All in all, even if these scenarios were to pop up, they shouldn't do any harm to his value. (His perceived value is another story.) The big picture: He's on track to be a quality contributor.

Job security score: TBD

Health score: TBD

Seattle Mariners

Closer: TBD

Understudy: Brandon League

Lurkers: Chris Ray, Josh Lueke, Daniel Cortes, Manny Delcarmen

Disabled list: David Aardsma

The M's training staff is certainly in no rush to jeopardize Aardsma's recovery, and the right-hander is on board. He expected to be throwing by now, but he hasn't been cleared, despite being able to walk without crutches and put his full weight on the surgically repaired hip for at least a week.

The fact that the next step is to throw is encouraging for roto owners. Because of how Seattle has handled him, he's a fairly safe investment in terms of health. You can finally, definitively write off a mid-April return, but the beginning of May, or shortly thereafter, is realistic.

League remains the odd-on favorite to serve in the interim, although he hasn't had the brightest ST, statistically. Ray has impressed some of the club's brass, but he'll have to do more than that to sniff the job. Lueke has really stood out, but the Mariners aren't inclined to entrust the role to a rookie. And so it goes: League is a boring but acceptable choice in an attempt to cherry-pick a few early-season saves; Aardsma is probably worth a discounted investment.

Job security score: TBD

Health score: TBD

Texas Rangers

Closer: Neftali Feliz

Understudy: Alexi Ogando, Mark Lowe

Lurkers: Darren O'Day, Tanner Scheppers

Seattle Mariners RP David Aardsma
Don't forget his discount

Recently, Feliz expressed that his preference would be to close, but he remains willing to perform in whatever role the organization asks. The right-handed phenom was electric in his last spring outing, which came in the final three innings and featured a new-look slider. There has been speculation that the arrangement of his latest appearance might indicate his 2011 role.

The Rangers have made no such announcement and don't plan to do so for a couple of weeks. Feliz continues to prepare as a starting pitcher. It's hard to believe that the staff would commit to evaluating him as a starter and not allow some slack for uneven performances. Ogando has had a similar reaction to his stretched workload, along with a parallel improvement. There is no talk that he's the closer or a lock for the rotation.

Brandon Webb (shoulder) is basically out of the loop initially, but Texas has the bodies, at least, to fill out the front five. For now, everything is still very much up in the air. One dominant, five-inning game from Feliz, and the mood again changes, doesn't it? This will be a test of patience: What do the Rangers wish to accomplish this season, and what do they want in the long term? The club seems to be having trouble letting go of the fear that they might not be serious contenders without Feliz in the bullpen, a year after they won the AL West. "RP Neftali Feliz" gives them the most self-assurance.

Lowe has received some buzz in camp because he has strung together a few gutsy appearances and considers himself 100 percent healthy. At least one write-up suggested that he's plainly the leading candidate to close should Felix join the rotation because of his experience and observable makeup. Keep Lowe on your radar ... but let's not get carried away. Lowe's "experience" consists of four saves, a bunch of others blown and, still, an injury history. He definitely has the talent, but he also has an Aardsma-like BB/9. Ogando isn't out of the hypothetical running.

Scheppers' back troubles this spring probably all but solidify his Triple-A Oklahoma City rotation spot. Down the road, though....

Job security score: 5

Health score: 5

Toronto Blue Jays

Closer: TBD

Understudy: Frank Francisco

Lurkers: Octavio Dotel, Jon Rauch

Francisco (shoulder) made his first appearance this past Sunday and worked through a bit of trouble to post a scoreless stanza. He's scheduled to pitch again on Thursday. That's encouraging news for the man who is all but certain to be named the Jays' closer to begin the season. ST opposition hasn't been kind to Dotel, and Rauch gets no mention. Frank Frank is your guy.

Job security score: TBD

Health score: TBD

Mound meetings

  • Andrew Bailey (elbow) faced live hitters in a BP session last week and will make his debut in the 2011 Cactus League this week. The Oakland Athletics have remained careful with their closer, but there is nothing to suggest that he's not in good health. And plenty to suggest that he could be a nice fantasy value.
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Fantasy Baseball Closer Hot Seat | AL depth charts | NL depth charts

About Nicholas Minnix

Minnix is baseball editor and a fantasy football analyst at KFFL. He plays in LABR and Tout Wars and won the FSWA Baseball Industry Insiders League in 2010.

The University of Delaware alum is a regular guest on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio and Baltimore's WNST AM 1570.


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