Fantasy Baseball Closer Hot Seat - AL

by Nicholas Minnix on March 30, 2011 @ 18:08:21 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: Committee

Understudy: Kevin Gregg, Koji Uehara

Lurkers: Mike Gonzalez

Koji Uehara's solid spring appearances, albeit in short supply, apparently have been enough to convince Buck Showalter that the right-hander is ready for some closing duty. However, he's not ready for back-to-back action yet, which leads one to wonder if that's a factor in Showalter's initial approach to the use of the back end of his 'pen.

Leading Phil-in, D.C. dual duty:

NL Hot Seat | Depth charts

Showalter doesn't want to name a closer; he'll wait to assess a ninth-inning situation before deploying his arm of choice. Gregg holds, at minimum, the edge early simply because of Uehara's spotty availability. The wily skipper also said he could just as easily throw Gonzalez out there if the opposition is sending a string of lefty bats to the dish. Above all, though, there will be clarity. "Don't hold me to anything." Or not.

You know the story: Gregg has dependable health working for him. Uehara has better pitching working for him. Which of these pitchers' respective weaknesses cashes in the other's ticket first? At least Uehara is a lot less likely to hurt you.

Job security score: 1

Health score: 5

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Closer: Fernando Rodney

Understudy: Kevin Jepsen

Lurkers: Jordan Walden, Hisanori Takahashi

Disabled list: Scott Downs

There's nothing to suggest that Fernando Rodney's blown save on Tuesday has done anything to damage his status as the club's closer. It's just a final reminder that this Angel is on thin condensed water vapor. Roto owners have trouble understanding Mike Scioscia's patience with the righty, and they continue to stock up on Waldens and Jepsens.

Takahashi has had a brilliant spring and could be a lefty killer. Downs (toe), a setup man along with Jepsen, shouldn't be out for long; he's a candidate to snipe a few saves. It might be time to move up the Walden timetable, though.

The former starter enjoyed a fantastic exhibition season and thoroughly impresses Scioscia. The caveat remains Walden's youth and Scioscia's unwillingness to heap responsibility on players who have little experience, or with whom he has little experience. Witness his lack of commitment to a full-time opportunity for Mark Trumbo in Kendrys Morales' absence.

Admittedly, the Hot Seat's Walden timetable has been more conservative than others', so this isn't per se a huge endorsement. Rodney is capable of putting together a month's worth - or three - of reliable performances. Walden (98 mph heat and all) is on the verge of a breakout campaign, though. Having him now will only help, and it may help a lot.

Job security score: 2

Health score: 4

Minnesota Twins

Closer: Joe Nathan, Matt Capps

Nathan didn't exactly pass his first back-to-back test, at the end of last week, with flying colors, but he came out of it well. That's good enough for Ron Gardenhire, who'll use the right-hander to close some games right away. The stubborn skipper did say that he'll rely on Capps, too, initially, because Nathan isn't ready to go three or four days in a row.

Don't think that Nathan is anywhere close to being ready to do that, at least effectively, either. But, by June or July - could be sooner - he should be one of two things: close to his old self, or hurt.

Minnesota Twins RP Joe Nathan
Twin killing at back end

Three February presumptions about the Twins' bullpen ring true as OD approaches: (1) Nathan, a nice fantasy value target, would be the guy, but right away, not exclusively; (2) Capps is a cheap, safe investment and must handcuff, and (3) the rest of it sucks. What do some of those old young guys have to do to get a shot?

Job security score: 5

Health score: 4

Oakland Athletics

Closer: Brian Fuentes

Understudy: Grant Balfour, Michael Wuertz

Lurkers: Craig Breslow, Brad Ziegler, Rich Harden

Disabled list: Andrew Bailey

There are no physical therapists here. But, until one hears otherwise, the forearm strain Bailey suffered a couple of weeks ago remains a yellow light at the crossroads of Bailey's fantasy value because of its potential to be a precursor to further issues.

So far, the righty's recovery efforts and response have quelled fears. On Tuesday, he threw from 80 feet. On Wednesday, he tossed again, although how much is unclear. On Thursday, he's scheduled for more. The frequency of throwing sessions suggests that Bailey feels good. It's not the same as facing live hitters, but Bob Geren sounds confident that Bailey will be fine.

There isn't a target return date, but Bailey could be ready just a couple of weeks into the season. A safer bet is by the end of April, but investors should be breathing easily, for now. Fuentes leads the fill-in crew, although Geren isn't opposed to using him in the eighth if matchups dictate it.

Job security score: 2

Health score: 5

Seattle Mariners

Closer: Brandon League

Understudy: Chris Ray, Josh Lueke

Lurkers: Tom Wilhelmsen, Daniel Cortes

Disabled list: David Aardsma

Aardsma (hip) has been throwing somewhat regularly, and this week he got in his first session from a mound. He experienced some soreness afterward, but it was nothing abnormal, and although the process has been slow, it hasn't been set back. May 1 is the unofficial target. One M's writer penned that the date, a month ago, seemed outlandish, but now it seems conservative.

League steps in until then. He had a so-so spring; command was an issue. Ray is expected to set up, initially, but Lueke, who made an impression on the Mariners' staff in spring action, could get a look as well, if he adapts well to the bigs - and handles the press. (Wilhelmsen, FYI, throws 98.) Don't rule out the possibility of a change of the interim guard ... but don't bank on it. League lovers remain confident in a position that seems pretty weak. He'll probably be the guy for a week or two after Aardmsa returns, though.

Job security score: 3

Health score: 4

Tampa Bay Rays

Closer: Committee

Understudy: Kyle Farnsworth, Joel Peralta

Lurkers: Jake McGee

Disabled list: J.P. Howell

Seattle Mariners RP Brandon League
Truly in another League?

McGee has, shockingly, made the roster. Investors can't count on him to ascend to the closer's role any time soon, but he'll probably need to do so for those who threw down big chips to land the lefty. Joe Maddon knows that McGee is good, but he wants to see it for a while, first.

Meanwhile, Farnsie and Peralta, in that order, remain the only real candidates to head this committee. That's what McGee owners are banking on. Both veterans have matured considerably, without acknowledgment. If you happen to give either a shot, you may be paying pennies on the dollar for quite a few saves. It may not work out, but you can't beat gambles like that.

Job security score: 1

Health score: 5

Texas Rangers

Closer: Neftali Feliz

Understudy: Alexi Ogando

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

Well, that settles that.

Long-term planners: The Rangers will revisit the whole Feliz-as-starter thing by spring training 2012. A lot can happen between now and then (Ogando becomes stellar starter, killer releiver, or neither; Texas targets top free agents), so don't sling bucks. Except at Feliz, if you still have a draft coming in the next few days - money in the bank.

Job security score: 5

Health score: 5

Toronto Blue Jays

Closer: Jon Rauch

Understudy: Jason Frasor

Disabled list: Frank Francisco, Octavio Dotel

Nothing too new here: Rauch will be the man to open the season.

Both Francisco (shoulder) and Dotel (hamstring) are eligible to return from the DL as soon as next Wednesday. Frank Frank has been playing long toss and will throw his first bullpen session on Thursday. Dotel won't be up to speed in time to attempt to usurp Rauch before Francisco returns, in all likelihood.

Will Francisco remain healthy (assuming he returns promptly from his current ailment)? Good question. He can be a solid second-tier closer if he does. Rauch, if he does the job adequately in Francisco's absence, will have dibs on another replacement stint, not Dotel. He'll hold residual value, at least in AL leagues.

Job security score: 3

Health score: 5

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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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