Fantasy Baseball Closer Hot Seat - AL

by Nicholas Minnix on March 23, 2011 @ 04:15:26 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: Kevin Gregg

Understudy: Koji Uehara

Lurkers: Mike Gonzalez

On Tuesday, in his first appearance in game-like conditions since he received a cortisone shot in his throwing elbow, Uehara pitched a pain-free inning in a minor league game and reported no problems. The frame was comprised of fastballs and splitters only - 12 pitches (11 strikes). He has a legit chance to be ready for opening day.

Wilson, Putz join dinged Lidge:

NL Hot Seat | Depth charts

That positive development doesn't allow Uehara the time to unseat Gregg as the O's opening day closer, though. Gregg has, by his account, righted the ship after some trial-run mechanical adjustments didn't yield warm and fuzzy results.

No secrets here: Gregg remains an at-risk fantasy acquisition. Are you willing to live with negative earnings in ratio categories for the saves he should provide? Baltimore has been cautious with its Japanese backup plan; Uehara should be fine in early April. He seemed like a Buck Showalter favorite. And Gonzalez looms. Gregg is - sort of - calm under pressure.

Job security score: 2

Health score: 5

Chicago White Sox

Closer: Matt Thornton

Understudy: Chris Sale, Sergio Santos

Lurkers: Jesse Crain

Ozzie Guillen formalized what anyone who has followed this situation was expecting: Thornton will begin the season as closer. Sale has had an up-and-down spring, not surprising given his experience. No other reliever on roster has earned the skip's trust the way that Thornton has.

Thornton has proven to be reliable in save situations, and he's a money earner in roto leagues even when he's not getting the final outs. Hopefully, before this news, you viewed him as a logical investment and already had your draft. This hierarchy will always be subject to change, but that's mostly because the ChiSox will have the long haul in mind. This club definitely has a couple of long-term candidates for the role, particularly Santos.

Job security score: 3

Health score: 4

Minnesota Twins

Closer: TBD

Understudy: Joe Nathan, Matt Capps

Nathan is approaching his biggest test. On Monday, the right-hander tossed two innings in a game for the first time this spring. This weekend, the Twins will have him make his initial post-TJS foray into back-to-back outings.

Chicago White Sox RP Matt Thornton
Thornton: It's official

So far, Nathan has looked like an attractive rotisserie target. The crowd has caught up, however, so don't be quick to engage in a bidding war. He's still likely to struggle at times, initially, and won't deliver the shiny numbers you're used to seeing across the board. He's shaping up as a solid investment, and the rates should be at minimum passable, with clear upside. Naming him the closer will simply be a formality, if he passes his biggest test to date.

Job security score: TBD

Health score: TBD

Oakland Athletics

Closer: TBD

Understudy: Brian Fuentes, Michael Wuertz

Lurkers: Grant Balfour, Craig Breslow, Brad Ziegler

Disabled list: Andrew Bailey

It's not certain that Bailey will begin the season on the DL, but for fantasy managers' intents and purposes, it's probably best to consider him a resident. Good news: Dr. James Andrews told the righty that his elbow ligament is in pristine condition. Bailey can begin throwing when he no longer feels pain. The righty prefers to label his status "day-to-day."

Forearm issues as well as elbow debris, which Bailey had cleaned up last fall, are sometimes precursors to TJS. He has already had the procedure once, in 2004, which doesn't necessarily make him a candidate to have it again but does indicate that his arm has considered his profession unduly stressful.

Bid with great caution. But because Bailey possesses high upside, don't let him go for a song. Most of the pain from this strain was supposed to be the result of tearing scar tissue. Fuentes is the proper insurance target.

Job security score: TBD

Health score: TBD

Seattle Mariners

Closer: Brandon League

Understudy: Chris Ray, Josh Lueke

Lurkers: Daniel Cortes, Manny Delcarmen

Disabled list: David Aardsma

Seattle's trainer says that Aardsma (hip) will mount a mound and throw from it next week.

Aardsma isn't by any means an attractive choice, but this injury thing has caused him to go at a serious discount. You hear how attractive it is that Brandon League will close while Aardsma is sidelined until late April, maybe early May. You process the suggestion that League will probably pull a Chris Perez and give you great bang for that buck all year. League has some great component numbers but hasn't yet posted supreme roto stats to accompany them. He has had a pretty rough spring, although no one seems to acknowledge it. He's "winning" an ST battle in the press, but he's looking more like a really poor man's Ryan Madson.

Ray isn't completely out of the picture. More importantly, Aardsma, who is - yes - a disaster waiting to happen to your ratios and possible trade bait, is freaking cheap. If you're willing to draft Fernando Rodney or Kevin Gregg, you must be nuts to pass on Aardsma.

Job security score: 2

Health score: 4

Tampa Bay Rays

Closer: Committee

Understudy: Kyle Farnsworth, Joel Peralta

Lurkers: Jake McGee

Disabled list: J.P. Howell

Farnsie hyperextended his knee in a Monday appearance against the New York Yankees, giving Joe Maddon a scare. After the team's trainer and skipper met with the righty, he tossed a couple of warm-up pitches, felt fine and finished his frame. By the way, it was a pretty clean outing, and he reported no swelling afterward.

Seattle Mariners RP David Aardsma
Mariner a cheap cruise

McGee remains the man who attracts the most dollars on draft day. The Rays, a team that succeeds in part because of its evaluation in undervalued free agents and trade acquisitions, expect to lean on Farnsworth and Peralta most often early on. That could mean in frames prior to the ninth, if that's where the high leverage develops, but it's still an indication of the Rays' expectations. Both imports have had quality springs. Howell could enter the picture this summer, and McGee may be the long-term answer, but let's not continue to overlook the potential end-game values that these two represent.

Job security score: 1

Health score: 5

Texas Rangers

Closer: Neftali Feliz

Understudy: Alexi Ogando

Lurkers: Darren O'Day, Tanner Scheppers, Mark Lowe

Many are hitting the panic button on Feliz's career as a starting pitcher - except, fortunately, the folks in charge of it. Plenty of baseball columns have made it clear: Feliz should remain a closer. They don't run a baseball team, however; they're more worried about contending in one season instead of maximizing the value of their biggest asset in many of them. The sooner that Texas finds out whether he can start or that health concerns will prevent him from starting (not yet a known issue, don't worry), the sooner they can restructure the rest of their organization around it. This kind of decision affects many others down the road.

Lowe, as suspected, is a clear poser in a battle for the role of hypothetical closer. Texas informed Ogando that he'll remain in the bullpen this year. The only decision remains: the big one. We'll find out after Feliz's start on Thursday. Ogando, in the meantime, remains a late-round, low-dollar, high-upside target in fantasy leagues.

Job security score: 5

Health score: 5

Toronto Blue Jays

Closer: TBD

Understudy: Jon Rauch, Octavio Dotel

Lurkers: Jason Frasor

Disabled list: Frank Francisco

Francisco will begin the season on the DL. All signs since that announcement have been encouraging. Dr. James Andrews' evaluation didn't unveil any structural damage. The righty is experiencing tightness is in his pectoral muscle and inflammation in his biceps. The Jays have considered him in good health all along, but they have remained cautious with the offseason trade acquisition. He's scheduled to throw within the next week and will build up in anticipation of being ready sometime in mid-April.

On Tuesday, Dotel (hamstring) threw in a minor league game, striking out two, and had no issues afterward. The Jays will take it easy with him, however. They'd prefer not to see any sort of compensation issue creating a delay.

Rauch has quickly become a popular short-term target, with good reason. He's not a bad end-gamer, especially after he showed some mettle for the Minnesota Twins last year. For as cautious as the Jays have been with Dotel, barring a setback, he'll probably be ready for the start of the season, although probably not in top form. If you're fishing for saves here, there's no clear buy. Regardless, Francisco remains a buy-low target. He didn't shed the warning label just because he looked like Toronto's best choice, but this scare sounds like little more than that.

Job security score: TBD

Health score: TBD

Mound meetings

  • Jonathan Papelbon has done little to dispel concerns about his declining velocity, trade rumors and the arms that Boston has lying in wait. The Boston Red Sox's closer has endured a couple of particularly poor outings in exhibition action. The right-hander chalks it up to his focus on fine-tuning his delivery and the lack of intensity present in many of his spring appearances.
    There's something to his assessment, and Terry Francona concurs. It's still a bit unnerving. Daniel Bard and Bobby Jenks aren't going to take over this role any time soon, and if the BoSox make their projected run to the postseason, Paps will be hard to deal. But sometimes he gets hit, and when he does, he gets hit hard. He's still a decent fantasy investment, but he's not a top-tier closer anymore.
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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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