Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers are listening to fantasy baseball owners: In the saves picture to open 2012, they're not ruling out the reliever who led all of the majors in K/9 last season ... and for any season for pitchers with at least 50 frames tossed.
Not as secure as you'd think
Javy Guerra saved 21 games for the Blue last year. Will he save another one? His high velocity hasn't consistently translated to strikeouts. He was never really one for control and relies on contact fortune more than Jansen, the converted catcher who has been a pitcher for only a few seasons.
Guerra stands as the clubhouse leader, but Jansen has the skills to do a better job. Sure, Jansen walks a bunch of enemies, too, but you'll take that sacrifice as long as he keeps those punchouts coming.
All that matters, unfortunately, is who Don Mattingly chooses, though that can't prevent you from believing Jansen would be the majority stopper, taking over sometime during the year. His already elite profile would see a Craig Kimbrel-like surge with those all-important SVs next to his name. He might last long in many rooms - or, at least, long enough for you to pounce. -TH
Addison Reed, Chicago White Sox
House money says Matt Thornton will start the 2012 season as the White Sox's closer. Makes sense, since, like it or not, he has the most closing experience among the options Robin Ventura will consider.
Unfortunately, his most recent dip into that role came when he botched everyone's expectations of him locking it down in 2011. Thornton's stuff was off, some bad luck made the situation worse, and Ozzie Guillen wasn't willing to wait as long as Thornton's owners hoped. Naturally, the southpaw wound up excelling when returning to his old setup role and rectifying his location, but by then, Sergio Santos was commander of the saves ship.
The ChiSox shipped Santos north of the border, however, knowing they have Reed in tow. The closer for Stephen Strasburg at San Diego State has the fastball, K/9 and BB/9 to provide lights-out service.
Unless Thornton, the less desirable Jesse Crain or someone else fails to claim the role coming out of Florida, Reed won't be handed saves until sometime in the middle of 2012. You're not crazy to hope he doesn't win the job before your draft so you can grab him at a discount.
People scream about what sample sizes can't show you; well, Reed's 2011 display justifies taking a shot on him when others will go for more immediate saves. Thornton will reward those who draft him in the short term, and naturally, taking the likeliest option offers the best chance for long-term reward. But Reed will come cheaper and has just as much a shot of tallying the most South Side saves. -TH
Vinnie Pestano, Cleveland Indians
Saves bargain hunters are lauding Chris Perez as one of the few secure stoppers you can nab without paying a ransom. Unfortunately, his profile isn't as fortified as common knowledge dictates. Perez's closures, as frequent as they might be, often trim cuticles. His control improved, but it still hovers near 4.00 BB/9, and he was more hittable than in past seasons. What caused his massive K/9 dip? A miniscule velocity loss and a glaring decrease in the inducement of empty hacks stand out. Is that an approach alteration or a sign of an impending storm of correction?
Plus, thanks to a strained oblique, Perez might not be ready for the season. Pestano would be the likely option to step in. He has fewer concerns among his peripherals: Because of his K's, you feel more comfortable with his high left-on-base percentages than Perez's. He has the punchout ability to post those numbers consistently.
Perez is the preferred future of the position but isn't locked into it. Does Manny Acta value the means over the end? Maybe not, but Pestano has the foundation to provide a safer route to closing out contests. That could eventually matter if Cleveland sees a flaw in Perez or just wants fewer heart palpitations.
If he heads into the season as stopper, Pestano will be a strong buy with at least short-term value. His statistical offerings play nice even without saves. Perez carriers should handcuff the two. Oblique injuries can resurface easily, and it wouldn't be shocking if Perez either takes longer to return than expected or feels residual physical pain that costs him his job and/or active duty. Too bad the cat's out of the bag, but Pestano is worth a grab. -TH
Rex Brothers, Colorado Rockies
Rafael Betancourt offers tantalizing peripherals for a discounted closer; he's a much more effective pitcher than when he had extended closing opportunities years ago with the Cleveland Indians. But if his fastball velocity, which carries his approach, tails off in his age-37 season, his fly-ball and zone-pounding tendencies could be exposed in more crucial situations, especially at Coors Field.
Kenley can, if he gets the chance
Brothers doesn't boast Betancourt's control, but he's effectively wild. Sometimes, that's all you need to close. His rapid ascension through the minors tells of his potent K ability. The Rox found the collegiate starter at Lipscomb University to be a much better employee out of the 'pen, and he hasn't disappointed.
Betancourt is merely a long-term bridge to the southpaw who's wasting no time establishing himself as Colorado's punctuation understudy. If Brothers gets the chance, his overpowering profile says he can run away with the gig. -TH
David Carpenter, Houston Astros
Brett Myers was recently named closer for Houston, but he reeks of inseason trade bait at some point. In the event he exits or falters, Brandon Lyon (shoulder) and Wilton Lopez would earn consideration, but neither boasts the traditional high-K, blow-batters-away profile that Carpenter has.
The 26-year-old former St. Louis Cardinals farmhand excelled in 34 MLB games last season: 9.43 K/9, 4.23 BB/9, 2.93 ERA. He's vulnerable for a painful regression in runs per nine and left-on-base percentage, but his skills play well for the role. The talented but flawed Juan Abreu has upside similar to, if not greater than, Carpenter's, but the 'Stros got an extended chance at the elder statesman last year and would likely be more inclined to give him the keys if Myers fails or leaves town.
The Myers proclamation is almost a good thing for the forward-thinking fantasy picker; Carpenter will slip even farther beneath radars. In mono leagues, he remains a solid stash. In mixed leagues, don't lose track of him. -TH
Huston Street, San Diego Padres
A nightmare season, especially in the unfriendly ambience of Coors Field, cost Street the closer job toward the end of 2011. He logged another DL stint and never regained the gig from Rafael Betancourt.
Street couldn't have moved to a better location to rectify what bugged him last year. His sinkers didn't dip as much as he would've liked. The fly-ball woes that were launched in Denver should at least be tempered by San Diego's calmer skies and ballpark. His splits at home - in a fluky May and during a pre-injury August stint - dragged the rest of his numbers down.
Even with his unsightly numbers, he blew just four of his 33 save opportunities in purple. He's only 28; seems older, right? The Pads' bullpen trumps Colorado's, as well. Street stands to yield No. 1 mixed closer value you'll snag as a No. 2; the bargain makes up for his injury-filled past and leaves plenty of room to make fantasy money off it. -TH
Frank Francisco, New York Mets
Health and lack of ground-ball inducement has been essentially the only thing holding Frank Frank back from being an upper-echelon closer in recent seasons. His basement seasonal numbers over the last four: 9.41 K/9 (2011), 3.69 (2008), 73.5 left-on-base percentage (2009). Even more encouraging was the nearly 1 mph boost he saw in four-seamer velocity, per Pitch f/x.
Francisco will once again lead the saves dance with Jon Rauch trailing; a repeat of their tango in Toronto last year would have Francisco come out as the better pitcher when both are healthy.
Though his opponents' frequent flyer miles fell in line with previous years, he was actually a bit unlucky when it came to homer allowance, compared to rates in recent seasons. His sinkerball has been effective in the last two campaigns, and if he can stay on the field, his location should be better.
Let others worry about his expected innings; take the skills at a discounted rate, run away, and adjust if you have to during the season. -TH
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 competes in Tout Wars and LABR and has won several industry leagues in both baseball and football.
During baseball and football season, hear him every Wednesday on 1570 AM WNST in Baltimore. On Thursdays, he visits 106.1 FM WMTI in New Orleans and Sirius XM Fantasy Sports Radio, where he often crashes other shows, as well.