Fantasy Baseball: Closer Hot Seat

by Tim Heaney on March 26, 2008 @ 01:14:25 PDT


Even in this short first week of action, some closer situations have already warranted inclusion in KFFL's first Closer Hot Seat of the 2008 regular season. Here are several new closers and several injury situations for you to keep an eye on before the MLB returns to the States.


Durability grade: 1 (very injury-prone) to 10 (extremely durable)

Job security grade: 1 (very shaky) to 10 (firm grasp)

Hot Seat: Injuries

Philadelphia Phillies

Closer: Tom Gordon

Next in Line: Ryan Madson

Other Possibilities: J.C. Romero

Disabled List: Brad Lidge (knee)

Lingering effects from arthroscopic knee surgery will prevent Lidge from starting the season on time. Gordon is now set to assume the closer duties while Lidge recuperates on the 15-day disabled list. Lidge is eligible to return April 5, so this isn't expected to be a significant absence. The 40-year-old Gordon appears to be healthy this spring despite continuing to pitch with a slightly torn labrum in his right shoulder. He should not be considered a long-term option unless Lidge suffers a setback, but he could help tide you over with a few saves. Lidge owners might want to use a roster spot on Gordon if possible, but they should still keep Lidge stashed in a DL slot. Gordon's value also increases in NL-only leagues. Madson has posted three saves over the last two seasons and improved his ERA to 3.05 last year after a tumultuous 5.69 figure in 2006. Romero was already tabbed as the top left-handed setup man for the coming season and has three career saves.

Durability grade: 5

Job security grade: 7 (without Lidge)

Texas Rangers

Closer: C.J. Wilson

Next in Line: Joaquin Benoit

Other Possibilities: Kazuo Fukumori, Eddie Guardado

Inheriting the closer spot after a mildly successful 2007 campaign, Wilson (biceps) looks to be back on track after struggling to take the mound this spring (three innings at press time). One unsettling fact about Wilson: The former starter averaged 17.6 pitches per inning last season while saving 12 of 14 opportunities. Wilson needs to cut down on his walks (33 in 68 1/3 innings last year) to be a more comfortable option, but he's the man at the moment. For those still drafting, Wilson is usually one of the last stoppers to come off the board and is considered a No. 3 closer. Benoit (shoulder), who split save opportunities with Wilson near the end of the last season, has had a similarly slow spring (just two innings of work), but he posted 9.55 strikeouts per nine innings last year. He should be on your waiver wire watch list; he could pick up a few saves this season. Fukumori had double-digit saves in his last four seasons in Japan, and he could be a deep sleeper if injury problems persist or control issues arise for Wilson and Benoit.

Durability grade: 6

Job security grade: 6

Toronto Blue Jays

Closer: Jeremy Accardo

Next in Line: Armando Benitez

Other Possibilities: Brandon League

Disabled List: B.J. Ryan (elbow)

Accardo once again becomes a fantasy stand-in after Ryan (elbow) was shut down to extend his recovery from Tommy John surgery. Ryan will be left off the team's opening day roster while he stays in Florida to rehab, and general manager J.P. Ricciardi recently said Ryan will be out until at least mid-April and refused to put a definitive date on a return. Fantasy players already know Accardo's potential at the back end; he recorded 30 saves with a 2.14 ERA while replacing Ryan last year. Accardo makes for a great No. 3 fantasy reliever, but the Jays will likely slide Ryan back in once he's completely healthy. Ryan owners should be a bit concerned; he was trying to make a 10-month recovery from a procedure that normally takes 12-18 months of rehab time. Accardo's setup crew is a bit slapdash at the moment. Benitez was recently acquired as insurance, but he could open the season at Triple-A Syracuse so he can regain his pitching form while his visa status could determine how quickly he comes up with the big club. Reports indicate League could also be considered for the eighth-inning spot. He posted a 6.17 ERA in 14 appearances in injury-limited work last season but has only allowed four home runs in the last two seasons.

Durability grade: 8

Job security grade: 9 (without Ryan)

Hot Seat: New Closers

Baltimore Orioles

Closer: George Sherrill

Next in Line: Jamie Walker

Other Possibilities: Chad Bradford, James Hoey

This was almost a selection by default. Sherrill, acquired from the Seattle Mariners in the Erik Bedard trade, has arguably the best closer makeup of all the available relievers. He averaged 11.03 strikeouts per nine innings last season in setup work for the M's while posting a 0.99 WHIP and a .179 batting average against. The southpaw held right-handers to a .212 average, which was much improved from a .297 figure in 2006. However, Sherrill was mainly a situational pitcher last year and out of his 73 appearances, only 23 lasted one inning or more. Sherrill is expected to man the fort until reliever Chris Ray (elbow) returns, which is scheduled for August. Even then, the team might not rush Ray into action. Walker saved seven games last season amidst a committee approach, but the team wants to keep his relatively effective control as the setup bridge. Sherrill could be a source of 20-plus saves this year, but he could also experience growing pains coming out of the gate if he can't adjust to pitching the entire ninth inning.

Durability grade: 8

Job security grade: 9

Chicago Cubs

Closer: Kerry Wood

Next in Line: Carlos Marmol

Other Possibilities: Bob Howry

Wood's steady spring (a 3.60 ERA with 10 strikeouts in 10 innings pitched) was enough evidence for manager Lou Piniella to give him the closer job to start the season. The decision was also aided by Howry's poor spring performance (7.56 ERA in 8 1/3 innings pitched) and the team's desire to keep the electric Marmol in his setup role. Piniella recently said he had confidence that Wood could pitch on back-to-back days or even for three straight games; this could temporarily quiet concerns about his durability. Can Wood's stuff make him a steadily dominant pitcher if it's released in small spurts? Despite an empty saves column for his career, Wood likely has control over the job as long as he can stay healthy, which given Wood's injury history is a bit of a dicey proposition. Marmol can still help your fantasy team as a high-strikeout reliever and is a smart handcuff to the injury-prone Wood. 

Durability grade: 5

Job security grade: 8

Hot Seat: Keep Your Eyes Peeled

Arizona Diamondbacks

Closer: Brandon Lyon

Next in Line: Tony Pena

Other Possibilities: Chad Qualls

This job isn't up for grabs at the moment, but it has certainly experienced some disturbing spring signs. Lyon has a ghastly 16.20 ERA in 6 2/3 innings pitched; he has allowed 16 hits in that time and has struck out only one batter. The main knock on Lyon has always been his lack of strikeout ability, and his tendency to pitch to contact has resurfaced at the worst possible time. Pena, who has a 4.05 ERA in 6 2/3 innings this spring, has been scooped up in most drafts as fantasy players are pretty much predicting a Lyon meltdown. We're not saying that this will happen anytime soon; we just hope that Lyon owners have covered their tracks.

Durability grade: 8

Job security grade: 6

Los Angeles Dodgers

Closer: Takashi Saito

Next in Line: Jonathan Broxton

Other Possibilities: Joe Beimel

Saito (buttocks) has been hobbled by both a strained calf and tightness in his buttocks, and recent reports say that Broxton would be the first in line to receive save opportunities if Saito misses any time. That has been something Broxton owners have been longing to hear; however, the 38-year-old closer posted an outstanding 2007 season and should hold the job as long as his body holds up. Age and durability have been a concern for Saito and his owners this spring, and Broxton was already being drafted in the late rounds of most normal-sized leagues as a strikeout reliever. However, Saito threw without discomfort in a recent simulated game and will likely see at least one more spring outing. Don't rush to acquire Broxton yet, but certainly watch for any setbacks for Saito.

Durability grade: 7

Job security grade: 9

Atlanta Braves

Closer: Rafael Soriano

Next in Line: Peter Moylan

Other Possibilities: Mike Gonzalez

Gonzalez (elbow) enters the picture with reports of a quicker recovery from elbow surgery than expected, and the team thinks he could be on track for a return before the original estimate in June. Gonzalez said he hopes to return to action by the first week of May as he recovers from the Tommy John surgery he had last May. Soriano had a late start this spring due to elbow problems, but he has finished strong (seven strikeouts in a nine-out stretch) and looks to be on track for this season. Gonzalez held the job early last season before he was injured, and if he proves to be effective he would most likely be the closer if Soriano falters or becomes injured. Don't be too alarmed, but if Soriano owners have roster space, Gonzalez could make for a low-risk insurance pickup.

Durability grade: 6

Job security grade: 9

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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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