Fantasy Baseball: Closer Hot Seat

by Tim Heaney on April 9, 2008 @ 09:58:44 PDT


One team's bullpen has produced inclement weather reminiscent of its city's climate as they struggle without their All-Star. Another AL stud could be headed to the sidelines. An NL club finally caved and made a roster move with their stopper. Dire straits might be coming for a SoCal closer. We bring all of this and more to you with the third Closer Hot Seat of the 2008 season.


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

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

Hot Seat: Injury Concerns

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Closer: Scot Shields

Next in Line: Justin Speier

Other Possibilities: Darren Oliver

Injured: Francisco Rodriguez (ankle)

K-Rod's ankles have finally given way underneath his once herky-jerky motion. X-rays showed that there was no structural damage to either of his ankles. K-Rod's velocity has dropped a bit this season, topping off at around 91 mph in the early going. He has said that both of his ankles have been bothering him during the landing in his delivery. The pain showed in a blown save Saturday, April 7, in which he allowed three runs in just one-third of an inning, but he was bailed out by a comeback victory. Rodriguez had to alter his motion as a result of lingering ankle injuries from last year, and there are whispers that he might need a stint on the disabled list.

As doctors examine the results of an MRI, the Angels are expected to continue with a closer-by-committee approach for their next few games. That committee will include Shields, Speier and Oliver, although it almost had an impeachment Tuesday, April 8. Speier didn't exactly provide relief, allowing a game-winning home run in the ninth to Indians designated hitter Travis Hafner on the way to a blown save. Shields and Speier are the more reliable options at this point for relief help in fantasy leagues.

Shields, who was just activated from the disabled list after forearm inflammation, has thrown two scoreless outings (he earned a win in their comeback against the Indians). Besides grabbing one of those two for the short term, Rodriguez owners can only wait out this injury. Rush to the wire and scoop up Shields if you have the room; he's the most reliable option; he has 16 career saves. Speier and Oliver could be worth a temporary look in AL-only formats.

Durability grade: 8

Job security grade: 5 (without Rodriguez)

Philadelphia Phillies

Closer: Brad Lidge

Next in Line: Tom Gordon

Other Possibilities: J.C. Romero

Lidge's first save opportunity of the season (his second appearance in as many days) was an adventure, but he finished the game despite allowing a run with two walks Monday, April 7. Much to the dismay of Lidge's owners, Gordon followed that by recording the save the following afternoon; the team didn't want Lidge on the mound for three straight games. Lidge owners might have to be patient as he fully regains his strength; Gordon could steal a few more chances over the next few weeks. However, Lidge should still be returned to your starting roster.

Durability grade: 6

Job security grade: 8

Seattle Mariners

Closer: Ryan Rowland-Smith

Next in Line: Sean Green

Other Possibilities: Mark Lowe, Eric O'Flaherty, Brandon Morrow, Arthur Rhodes

Disabled List: J.J. Putz (ribcage)

Manager John McLaren said he would go with the "hot hand" to replace Putz; well, the first sign of heat came from an unexpected source for fantasy owners. Rowland-Smith brought stability to a fluctuating situation, recording the last five outs April 8 for his first career save. He was originally slated to take O'Flaherty's lefty matchup innings before being thrown into the fray. Seattle relievers allowed six runs over 7 2/3 innings of work during their recent series with the Baltimore Orioles while wasting sparkling starts by Felix Hernandez and Carlos Silva.

O'Flaherty has struggled to retire left-handed hitters, and McLaren's confidence in him might be waning. Lowe (13.50 ERA and two walks in two-thirds of an inning) blew a save opportunity Sunday, April 6, when he and O'Flaherty allowed a combined three runs in the ninth for a 3-2 loss. Green has proven to be more effective while allowing just one run in 4 1/3 innings, but he has walked five in that span and hasn't had a save opportunity this season.

This is becoming an ugly situation, and despite Rowland-Smith's outing, Putz owners can't be pleased with the replacements thus far. Putz could throw later on in the week for the first time since being sidelined. The Mariners are making efforts to bring up Morrow (shoulder) and Rhodes to the big league club, with Rhodes reportedly expected to be added to the roster later this week. Rowland-Smith would seem to be the guy if McLaren sticks to his promise. Lowe and Green also could be worth a look. Morrow could be worth adding if he's brought up and the situation is still a mess. Rhodes shouldn't be touched.

Durability grade: 9

Job security grade: 2 (without Putz)

Toronto Blue Jays

Closer: Jeremy Accardo

Next in Line: Scott Downs

Other Possibilities: Brandon League

Disabled List: B.J. Ryan (elbow)

Continuing his rehab course, Ryan tossed one inning for Class A Dunedin Monday, April 7, while throwing seven of his 12 pitches for strikes. Ryan has looked relatively strong in his recent outings, and he's expected to pitch an inning for Dunedin again Wednesday, April 9. He likely will make three or four appearances for Triple-A Syracuse after that, and he's on track to return by the end of the month. The Blue Jays haven't been longing for the southpaw, though; Accardo had been nearly flawless before he absorbed the loss in a non-save situation April 8. The Jays posted a 2.94 team ERA through their first six games. Despite his last outing, the right-hander has presented a rock-solid case to be retained in fantasy leagues even after Ryan returns. Downs has continued his momentum from last season (2.17 ERA in 81 appearances) in two scoreless innings so far. He could be a solid pickup in AL-only leagues.

Durability grade: 9

Job security grade: 9 (without Ryan)

Washington Nationals

Closer: Jon Rauch

Next in Line: Luis Ayala

Disabled List: Chad Cordero (shoulder)

The Nationals placed Cordero on the 15-day disabled list, but it was mainly to bring up hurler John Lannan into their starting rotation while giving their closer some extra rest. Cordero is reportedly aiming to return Friday, April 11, and threw a pain-free side session April 5. Washington is merely trying to keep him safe because he has been battling tendonitis since the start of the season. Cordero owners will likely have to wait until the end of this week until he returns, but Rauch has been doing a mediocre job in his absence, saving one of his two chances and allowing a two-run homer in a non-save situation Monday, April 7. Those who scooped up Rauch should not drop him immediately just in case Cordero has problems upon his return; Rauch also makes for a reliable NL-only pitcher.

Durability grade: 7

Job security grade: 9 (without Cordero)

Hot Seat: Lackluster Performance

Arizona Diamondbacks

Closer: Brandon Lyon

Next in Line: Tony Pena

Other Possibilities: Chad Qualls

The closer has resembled more of a fantasy lamb so far this year, converting just one of his three save opportunities. The fact that one of his blown chances led to a win does not bring comfort to those who drafted him. He has allowed four earned runs and two home runs over his last three outings since saving his first opportunity of the season. In fact, other than Brandon Medders, Lyon is the only current member of the Diamondbacks bullpen to surrender a run this year. Despite Lyon's struggles, manager Bob Melvin has bestowed the vote of confidence in him. Meanwhile, Pena's 4 1/3 scoreless frames have included four strikeouts, and Qualls has a .125 batting average against in 5 1/3 scoreless innings. Lyon owners might want to prepare themselves here; Pena and Qualls might have to clean up his mess if he continues this pattern. Fantasy players should look to make roster space for the two setup men if they own Lyon or need reliable relievers. However, because he still holds the job, we can't recommend dropping him.

Durability grade: 7

Job security grade: 5 (Last Week: 6)

Chicago Cubs

Closer: Kerry Wood

Next in Line: Carlos Marmol

Other Possibilities: Bob Howry

Wood has held off the critics by converting his first three save opportunities this season after a rough first outing. The right-hander has allowed just one hit and struck out three in three scoreless appearances since. However, Marmol also had his moment when he recorded the save in the Cubs' 12-inning victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates Monday, April 7, mainly because Wood pitched back-to-back days. Wood seems to have the job in hand for now, and Marmol remains one of the best non-closer relievers in the fantasy world. Hold both of them on your team.

Durability grade: 4

Job security grade: 8

Cleveland Indians

Closer: Joe Borowski

Next in Line: Rafael Betancourt

Other Possibilities: Masahide Kobayashi, Rafael Perez

Despite saving two of his first three appearances, Borowski's most recent loss (a blown save) reminds the Indians that his appearances normally frighten most viewers. Borowski's ninth inning Monday, April 7, included two walks and a grand slam by Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim outfielder Torii Hunter; that debacle followed a tumultuous eighth inning by Betancourt, who had surrendered a homer to - you guessed it - Hunter. The cries for Betancourt to replace Borowski might be quieted once fantasy players see his 8.10 ERA through four games. Expect Borowski to continue going out for the ninth inning for the time being since the alternative isn't looking so good at the moment.

Durability grade: 7

Job security grade: 7

Houston Astros

Closer: Jose Valverde

Next in Line: Doug Brocail

Valverde has allowed five earned runs in four innings pitched this year, with two wins and one save in two opportunities. He was bailed out of his blown save April 7 when shortstop Miguel Tejada hit a game-winning two-run home run. Valverde has had a bit of a wild start, but the 'Stros paid Valverde to be their closer and aren't going to give up on him this early. Brocail has a 2.45 ERA in 3 1/3 innings pitched this season but doesn't look to challenge for the job until Valverde goes through a terrible meltdown. No reason to worry here yet.

Durability grade: 7

Job security grade: 9

Milwaukee Brewers

Closer: Eric Gagne

Next in Line: David Riske

Other Possibilities: Derrick Turnbow, Salomon Torres

Gagne has gagged his fantasy owners once again, blowing his second save opportunity of the season April 8 by allowing the game-tying homer. The carousel was still spinning before that; Torres recorded a three-inning save April 5 after the Brewers had built a 13-2 lead - not a common save situation. Still, Yost continues to tinker with his relievers; he has reportedly reaffirmed that Gagne is the team's closer, but other than long reliever Seth McClung, the roles of the other setup men remain undefined. Riske (4 2/3 innings, one earned run, four K's) remains an option to pitch multiple innings. Reports say Torres (5 1/3 innings, two earned runs, four strikeouts) is reportedly the top option to enter a game with runners on base. Turnbow has not been able to make his case for the setup role because the team feels he would be most effective in one-inning spurts. Riske, Torres and Turnbow all have some value in NL-only leagues at this point. Gagne makes for a scary play, but you still need to keep him on your roster unless the team announces changes at the back end.

Durability grade: 5

Job security grade: 8

San Diego Padres

Closer: Trevor Hoffman

Next in Line: Heath Bell

Other Possibilities: Cla Meredith

The signs are bubbling to the surface for the declining Hoffman. His two saves have been marred by two blown chances with a 12.27 ERA. The cries for Bell are certainly becoming louder; the right-hander has closer stuff, but the Padres would first have to break the loyalty to their future Hall of Famer. That may take quite some time, and Hoffman probably would have to be terrible for a long stretch. He blew two saves at the end of April 2007, but he didn't blow another until Aug. 10. Bell sported a .185 batting average against last season, and Hoffman's figure is already up to .313 this year. Fantasy owners should be concerned when a changeup-dependent pitcher loses velocity and continues to pitch to contact. We can't advise Hoffman owners to jump ship at this point, but if Bell is somehow still available, you might want to make room on your roster for him to handcuff this situation - or steal a potential closer-in-waiting.

Durability grade: 9

Job security grade: 9

San Francisco Giants

Closer: Brian Wilson

Next in Line: Brad Hennessey

Other Possibilities: Merkin Valdez, Tyler Walker

Wilson has had a mixed bag of outings this year: a scoreless save conversion, a shaky non-save chance in which he allowed two runs in two-thirds of an inning, and a blown save in his April 8 appearance against the Padres. Wilson was handed the job this offseason despite a rough 2007 campaign, and there are no signs the Giants will take the role from him this soon. Valdez has allowed four hits and one run in 4 2/3 innings pitched this season, including a spot start April 2 due to inclement weather. He has struck out five while only walking one batter in that time. The former prospect could be in line for a bigger role in the Giants bullpen this year given his impressive start. Walker has been effective with 3 1/3 scoreless innings, including four strikeouts and one walk. Wilson still holds the job at the moment, but his owners will have to cross their fingers every time he enters the game. He remains a No. 3 fantasy option at the position.

Durability grade: 8

Job security grade: 7

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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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