Fantasy Baseball Closer Hot Seat: Cubs, Brandon League, Heath Bell, more

by Tim Heaney on May 29, 2012 @ 15:30:06 PDT


What are the odds that you still own the relief pitchers you rostered in your fantasy baseball draft?'s Fantasy Baseball Closer Hot Seat series gives you no-nonsense ratings of performances, injuries and managerial decisions in MLB bullpens. Get your arm loose: Let's find fantasy baseball players in your rotisserie or head-to-head baseball league who'll get saves.

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

Chicago Cubs

Closer: Casey Coleman, James Russell, Shawn Camp
Understudy/Fill-in: Carlos Marmol

Rafael Dolis was booted from the closer role over the weekend after having a Marmolian moment: hitting a batter with the sacks jacked to plate the losing run. Soon after, he boarded the bus to Triple-A Iowa. Cut him loose in all mixed setups, and he's worthy of ditching in most NLs, as well.

Who thought we'd yearn for Marmol to regain the gig? Dale Sveum isn't ready to give the ninth-inning slot back to the slider-happy righty, who was activated from the DL on Memorial Day. Chicago instead wants him to recalibrate during seventh-frame and matchup situations.

For now, we're left with a mishmash of Coleman, Russell and Camp - a frustrating backend law firm. The protection of Monday's four-run advantage went Camp, Russell (two lefty bats, two righties) and Coleman (one righty, three switch hitters) in recording the final seven outs. It wasn't a save circumstance, but had it been, Sveum said it still would've gone to Coleman.

Sveum's proclamation hardly cements the right-hander's status, but it's telling. Southpaw Russell had two days off before that contest. Northpaw Camp threw 31 pitches Saturday but was fresh for his three-pitch cameo yesterday.

Coleman has been stuck in role limbo; he competed for but lost out on a rotation spot this spring. The 24-year-old rejoined the big club a few weeks ago as a long reliever, given his starter's arsenal and stamina, but has slowly worked into late-game implementation, though not in tight spots until his last two appearances.

Failed SPs often turn into effective RPs, even closers, because their stuff often plays better in short spurts. Coleman has followed that pattern so far. He's not necessarily a punchout artist, but his craftiness should play in his favor. He'll need to get ahead on the first pitch more often, however, to gain favor with Sveum, who cited strike-throwing as reason for booting Marmol and Dolis as bullpen anchors.

Sveum pegged Russell as a tandem partner with Dolis when Marmol was deposed, but skip didn't follow through. Of course, Chicago doesn't generate many chances, so that added to the frustration of Russell speculators. It helps that he faced two right-handed bats yesterday, however, and since this situation has moved to another contingency plan, he might be considered more heavily.

Camp, chiefly a sinker-slider worker, isn't a flamethrower but has bumped his K/9. He can thank using the slide piece more often and conserving his changeup. He pounds the zone, but his typical penchant for creating ground balls could make him a necessary employment in earlier setup spots, which could jeopardize how much he'll contribute in the saves column.

During his brief rehab work, Marmol said he reportedly grew more comfortable with using his fastball in conjunction with his slider. The staff wants him to be more aggressive on the plate.

The short-term play dictates the order on the depth chart, but it's highly volatile and doesn't boast a long shelf life. Maybe Dolis returns to the picture, but he's essentially at the back of the line.

Scoop up Marmol immediately if he was ditched. You're safer betting on him regaining the role down the road than emptying your pockets for a few rides on what's looking like a nauseating carousel.

Job security score: 1
Health score:

Seattle Mariners

Closer: Tom Wilhelmsen
Understudy/Fill-in: Brandon League

After a rough Friday BS in which his own throwing error contributed to his woes, League was temporarily "pulled back" from closing, per Eric Wedge. Most of his trouble on the year has come during a four-game stretch in which three were horrific outings, two of them the BS variety.

He left pitches up in his latest botched chance - not good for someone who lives down in the zone. Such issues plagued League and cost him the job last May, as well, during a similarly ugly spell, but he needed only one non-save outing to regain Eric Wedge's trust and get back on track in an excellent season. Maybe he fixed some things in his recent bullpen sesh with Wedge and pitching guru Carl Willis. It's reasonable to believe the length of his sabbatical will resemble that of last year's.

Wedge didn't name a replacement "because Brandon is our closer. We'll match up with what we think works." Fantasy owners should start - and finish, in mixed cases - with Wilhelmsen, considering his right-handedness, high-leverage role and closer-like skills. A few rough outings contributed to his 4.44 ERA, which doesn't reflect his makeup as much as it signifies the volatility of reliever ratios.

The News Tribune's Larry LaRue names Charlie Furbush, Lucas Luetge, Shawn Kelley and Steve Delabar as candidates, as well, but they reside in a tier clearly below Wilhelmsen. Maybe Furbush or Luetge could sneak in a southpaw-slanted save or two, but the combination of Wilhelmsen's importance and the likely short timeline of League's benching minimize the urgency to grab anyone from this lot outside desperate single-universe standpoints.

Job security score: 1
Health score:

Miami Marlins

Closer: Heath Bell
Understudy/Fill-in: Steve Cishek, Randy Choate

Bell is getting rung. He had to be removed during save chances Friday and Saturday to be picked up by saves from Cishek and Choate, respectively. Though Bell got the job done with a clean, two-strikeout inning Monday, questions remain about his effectiveness and Ozzie Guillen's loyalty to the right-hander.

Sure, Guillen stood by Bell over the weekend and went with him Monday, but he has wavered on the level of that security all year in determining the best option for the Miami Marlins. Ozzie disagreed with Bell's pitch selection from Friday's meltdown. Bell disagreed with skip's disagreement.

There seems to be a gap in the communication between the two; Bell and Guillen don't talk much compared to how often Bell chatted with former manager Bud Black. Guillen, a former shortstop, doesn't feel the need to because he "(doesn't) know anything about pitching." It could be that Bell merely needs emotional reassurance - not necessarily tactical advice - from his authority figure. Randy St. Claire and Bell had a temporary breakthrough earlier in the year with Bell's mechanics, and maybe they can hash things out in more detail regarding approach, as well.

Notions of a Dr. Phil-style reconciliation, however, can't alone rescue Bell's power. He's in the strike zone more often than he was last year, but his opponents' 4.6 swinging-strike percentage pales in comparison to 8.3 from last year, which was in itself a big step down. He's doing what Guillen wants him to do, but his stuff, especially his heater, is more hittable. His lack of trust in it caused the friction with his manager.

Cishek is the preferred option if you're waiting for another shakeup. Choate would probably be employed if Cishek were unavailable and/or if a slew of lefty lumber loomed. Bell owners should pair Cishek with him and hold on tight. If this lingers into midsummer, you'll have to watch out for the suspended Juan Oviedo as a handcuff, as well.

Job security score: 2
Health score: 5

Mound meetings

New York Mets RP Frank Francisco
Game conditions? Brilliant!

So ... Tyler Clippard is the main interim interim Washington Nationals stopper, right? Though Sean Burnett may still factor in, Clippard's back-to-back notches Friday and Saturday should give him the title. He has the skills to hang on to the gig even after Brad Lidge (hernia) returns in a few weeks, but maybe Davey Johnson would want to return Clippard to setup work, the reasoning he used when he initially assigned Henry Rodriguez to the role.

Hang on to Clippard and Lidge; they each have room to contribute in the category until Drew Storen (elbow) returns, which Washington hopes happens around the All-Star break.


Scoreless save conversions on Saturday and Sunday (three K's, one walk, no hits) will give the Arizona Diamondbacks' J.J. Putz some breathing room after his recent troubles. David Hernandez is the stash but not an urgent pursuit in most mixed leagues.


We're seeing the good version of the New York Mets' Frank Francisco lately: In his last six games (five saves), he's allowed just one run and struck out seven. Three walks and four hits were squeezed out against him, too, but that's expected; he ain't Jonathan Papelbon.

Still, the results are showing as he's becoming more comfortable throwing his bullpen sessions off a mound instead of flat ground. Using his bullets in proper pitching angles and game-ready circumstances has aided his preparation. He's staving off Bobby Parnell and Jon Rauch for the near future.


Scott Downs (Friday and Sunday) and Ernesto Frieri (Saturday) have proven to be an effective real-life tandem for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and a slightly frustrating fantasy committee. Downs came in during the seventh inning Saturday when a barrage of lefty sticks was due up, so that opened up for Frieri.

Both relievers must be owned. Jordan Walden probably won't get a word in edgewise as long as the other two are dealing, but he's still worth a deep-league speculation if you have tuck-away room.


A pair of spotty weekend appearances for Alfredo Aceves (including a Sunday blown save) shouldn't jeopardize his gig. The BS was his first since April 21. Since then and before the weekend, he had gone 9-for-9 in opps over 15 appearances, with a 0.96 ERA and 19 K's in 18 2/3 frames. That established cred, and the Boston Red Sox's lack of reliable alternatives mean his owners shouldn't worry at the moment.


Kenley Jansen came on to attempt a four-out save Saturday with two on and yielded a bouncing ball down the third-base line that wound up as a double and scored the tying run. He retired the side in the next frame and wound up with the win after the Los Angeles Dodgers walked off. No panic here.

Other notable weekend saviors

Chris Perez (17), Indians
Fernando Rodney 2 (16), Rays Sat. BS mixed between 2 clean IP
Jonathan Papelbon (14), Phillies
Santiago Casilla 2 (13), Giants
Brett Myers (12), Astros
Joel Hanrahan 2 (12), Pirates
Joe Nathan (11), Rangers
Jonathan Broxton 2 (10), Royals
Matt Capps (10), Twins Recovered from ugly BS Fri. but had to work around 2 BB Sat.
Jose Valverde 2 (9), Tigers
Rafael Betancourt 2 (9), Rockies
John Axford (8), Brewers 7 scoreless IP since 5/11 but only 2 SV opps (both notched)
Addison Reed (5), White Sox
Rafael Soriano 2 (5), Yankees David Robertson (oblique) returning soon, but Sori making case to stick
Casey Janssen (4), Blue Jays
Aroldis Chapman (3), Reds
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Fantasy Baseball Closer Hot Seat | AL depth charts | NL depth charts

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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