Fantasy Baseball Closer Hot Seat - AL

by Tim Heaney on April 1, 2009 @ 01:00:00 PDT


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

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

AL East

NEW - Baltimore Orioles

Closer: George Sherrill

Next in Line: Chris Ray

Other Possibilities: Jim Miller, Jim Johnson

A recent quote from Sherrill in The Baltimore Sun:

"(Ray) has looked good this spring," Sherrill said. "If that's something they want to do, that's fine. All I want to do is win. I don't care what my title is."

See? Even Sherrill agrees with us!

This nearly reinforces our original prediction that Ray, who has been hot this spring, will take over the role at some point this year. The word is out, unfortunately, meaning you may not be able to sneak Ray past anyone anymore. Still, reaching a round or two for Ray is probably worth it.

Sherrill remains a last-ditch selection for a No. 3. His leash will probably be short.

Durability Grade: 8

Job Security Grade: 3 (last week: 4)

Boston Red Sox

Closer: Jonathan Papelbon

Next in line: Takashi Saito

Other possibilities: Hideki Okajima, Manny Delcarmen

As long as he's able to healthily scowl after recording an out, Paps will have this job. You can't find a much better K rate among closers.

Although the former starter has shown concerns about his shoulder, you should take him with almost no trepidation. He's making an effort to use his fastball less this spring in order to be healthy for when it counts, and he's returning a slider to his arsenal.

He's usually among the first three stoppers taken, if not the first, which is justified.

Saito, coming off elbow injuries, is a good stash option in deep mixed setups that value setup men.

Durability grade: 8

Job security grade: 10

New York Yankees

Closer: Mariano Rivera

Next in Line: Damaso Marte

Other Possibilities: Jose Veras, Brian Bruney

It's same old, same old - a lot of old, in fact, but Mo's inner child shone through once again in 2008; the 39-year-old approached a career-low ERA and set career bests in WHIP and opponents' batting average. Expecting that line again may be a bit lofty, but Rivera (shoulder) has put up similar stats at advanced ages already.

Sure, his recent arthroscopic shoulder surgery may cause a bit of concern, but you should not be overly worried about his performance. He was sharp in first outing, throwing 11 pitches, eight for strikes, as he retired all three batters he faced. The cutter is still there even as Father Time fights back. Despite this small risk, he's a top-five closer that you may be able to acquire somewhat cheaply.

Marte (shoulder) has been suffering from inflammation in his left shoulder but might pitch in a game within the next few days. Along with Marte, Veras is reserved for deep AL-only tables. Watch for a Mark Melancon call-up during the season for a potential Joba Chamberlain 2007, part deux.

Durability Grade: 7

Job Security Grade: 10

Tampa Bay Rays

Closer: Troy Percival

Next in Line: Dan Wheeler

Other Possibilities: Grant Balfour, J.P. Howell, Joe Nelson, Jason Isringhausen

Percival (back) is listed at the top here, but many are counting down until his next injury. Back problems for a 39-year-old don't go away, but he has been solid this spring and is confident he'll be ready for Opening Day.

Most of the Rays' 2008 saves were shared between Percival, Wheeler, Balfour and Howell last year, and that will probably happen again in '09. The Rays have the talent to repeat their abundant opportunities.

Manager Joe Maddon included Izzy in the discussion this week while also saying they'll be cautious with Percy early.

This group will typically be addressed in the late rounds of mixed processes. Wheeler may be the best option to take first, merely because of his strikeout potential. Percy doesn't offer upside, but he's a desperation pick in deep mixed leagues - you'll need a backup plan if you're relying on him.

Balfour and Howell make for nice post-draft pickups if you want to employ non-closers for a bit, and they can easily pilfer chances in this setup. Don't forget about Izzy and Nelson, either, for your watch list.

Durability grade: 5

Job security grade: 8

NEW - Toronto Blue Jays

Closer: B.J. Ryan

Next in Line: Scott Downs

Other Possibilities: Jesse Carlson, Jeremy Accardo

Here we go again. Ryan's velocity has been down this spring, but he insists it isn't due to injury. Despite his rough outings, he has been satisfied with how he has pitched; he has been making adjustments to his mechanics, and he has admitted to relying less on his heat in recent years.

This is a bit of an issue despite Ryan's assertions, especially since his walk rate skyrocketed last year. Manager Cito Gaston is concerned about the lefty's struggles; Downs could steal some save chances, become co-closer or even close while Ryan attempts to figure things out in a different role. That makes Downs a nice speculative pick in deep drafts.

Accardo fell off the wagon in exhibition play and was optioned to Triple-A Las Vegas. You can leave him off mixed radars for the moment and keep a casual eye on him in deep AL communities.

Durability Grade: 7

Job Security Grade: 7 (last week: 9)

AL Central

Chicago White Sox

Closer: Bobby Jenks

Next in Line: Octavio Dotel

Other Possibilities: Scott Linebrink

Jenks' voluntary decrease in velocity has inadvertently scared many fantasy owners into thinking the near 28-year-old is already declining. He has become more of a pitcher, and though his strikeout totals have dwindled, his ERAs have done the same while he has kept his WHIP reasonable over the last two years.

The Doughboy is arguably one of the last stable No. 1 closers, but be sure to account for his lack of dominance.

Dotel still whiffs enough batters to earn deep mixed consideration for an in-season rental.

Durability Grade: 9

Job Security Grade: 10

Cleveland Indians

Closer: Kerry Wood

Next in Line: Jensen Lewis

Other Possibilities: Rafael Betancourt, Masahide Kobayashi

Wood seemingly found his niche last year, finally tapping into his (almost) full potential. Does that mean he's a No. 1 fantasy closer? Eh. We'd like to see it again. He still had a 3.26 ERA despite his sparkling control.

His security is pretty solid, though, especially after his new paycheck. As long as you bank on him taking at least one 15-day vacation this season, you won't be too upset if you can take him at proper middle-rounds value. He's a No. 2 option.

Lewis should be an AL-only target because of Wood's injury penchant; deep mixed players can keep an eye on him after the draft, too. Single-universe managers should count on at least a partial rebound from Betancourt, also.

Durability Grade: 5

Job Security Grade: 9

NEW - Detroit Tigers

Closer: Fernando Rodney

Next in Line: Brandon Lyon

Other Possibilities: Ryan Perry

Disabled List: Joel Zumaya

It didn't even take Lyon a half-season to lose his job this time. Manager Jim Leyland named Rodney his Opening Day closer Wednesday, April 1. Lyon's poor spring was likely a big factor in the decision.

In going with what we have predicted, Rodney hasn't yet been named the FULL-TIME closer. You still can't put too much stock into this battle given the options Leyland has at his beck and call.

Rodney is the default choice if you're looking for a No. 3 stopper from here, but that level of fantasy utility is a stretch. Drafting Lyon outside of AL-only setups would be setting your team back since the save opportunities were his only means of contributing on a safe basis.

Perry should be atop your saves watch list for the waiver wire - his spring surge has given him a roster spot, and the former University of Arizona stopper has nasty stuff.

Durability Grade: 7

Job Security Grade: 7

Kansas City Royals

Closer: Joakim Soria

Next in Line: Kyle Farnsworth

Other Possibilities: Juan Cruz, Ron Mahay, Joel Peralta

Soria is quickly becoming a safe fantasy option. He has a wide-ranging pitch variety that has given him a 2.05 ERA and a 3.71 command ratio in his first two major league seasons. Still, given his seemingly fluky 21.5 percent hit rate from '08, he may have set too high a standard for a repeat of his 1.60 ERA.

The low-end No. 1 stopper will be set up, among others, by an intriguing acquisition. The wiry Cruz, like Soria, can pile up K's, but he still carries some control questions. Farnsworth had a brief go in the role with the Detroit Tigers last year but didn't impress.

Durability Grade: 9

Job Security Grade: 9

Minnesota Twins

Closer: Joe Nathan

Next in Line: Luis Ayala

Other Possibilities: Jesse Crain, Matt Guerrier

You want stability? Welcome. Nathan (shoulder) keeps on chugging: five straight years as a closer with ERAs below 3.00, WHIPs 1.02 or lower, and opponents' batting averages .209 or lower. Shoulder soreness suffered early in Spring Training doesn't appear to be an issue, either.

Barring injury, there isn't a concern for a coup here, either. Move along.

Durability Grade: 9

Job Security Grade: 10

AL West

NEW - Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Closer: Brian Fuentes

Next in Line: Jose Arredondo

Other Possibilities: Scot Shields

Fuentes suffered through decreased velocity and an ugly 12.27 ERA in his first 3 2/3 innings, but he has bounced back slightly. In his last outing, he pitched a one-two-three seventh inning Thursday, March 27.

In case you have forgotten, Fuentes went in and out of the closer role with the Colorado Rockies. In no way is his role untouchable if he encounters those problems for long stretches during the season.

Over his shoulder he sees Arredondo, a closer in waiting who dominated last season. Shields is a warrior that has been somewhat on the decline but still posts a big workload. Both understudies will probably record multiple saves this season, making Fuentes a No. 2 fantasy fireman at best.

Durability Grade: 7

Job Security Grade: 8

NEW - Oakland Athletics

Closer: Brad Ziegler

Next in Line: Russ Springer, Santiago Casilla

Other Possibilities: Michael Wuertz

Disabled List: Joey Devine

Devine (elbow), scheduled to be co-closer, will begin the season on the disabled list, finally succumbing to recurring pain. He fought problems in the same elbow last year. Ziegler will assume the majority of ninth-inning duties, with Casilla and Springer possibly mixing in.

Knowing manager Bob Geren, seeing situational opportunities for the other relievers wouldn't be surprising. When (if?) Devine comes back, this will once again be messy.

Though we still aren't impressed by Ziegler, especially with his lack of dominance, the wacky tosser is the man now. As a No. 3 closer, he presents some semblance of stability with Devine's absence, but relying on him for a bigger fantasy role is playing a deadly game.

Durability Grade: 8

Job Security Grade: 8 (last week: 7)

NEW - Seattle Mariners

Closer: TBD

Next in Line: Brandon Morrow

Other Possibilities: Mark Lowe, Chad Cordero, David Aardsma, Miguel Batista, Roy Corcoran, Shawn Kelley

Our fantasy advice has also reached the Seattle Mariners.

Morrow heeded the advice of his drafters and accepted a move to the bullpen. How long will this last? Hopefully long enough so he can be named closer eventually. His role for the moment is undetermined, but it's only a matter of time....

They finally cut ties with the Tyler Walker Experiment, and Aardsma has struggled after a promising start to the spring.

As much as Lowe has improved this spring, they'll probably go with a lot of scotch tape before Morrow is ready to go.

If you're OK with waiting a few weeks, draft Morrow as a No. 3 closer. He may be a bit overvalued, but his potential shown in the role last year is worth a small reach. For those yet to pick their team: No one else is worth drafting at this point in mixed leagues.

Durability Grade: N/A

Job Security Grade: 1

Texas Rangers

Closer: Frank Francisco

Next in Line: C.J. Wilson

Other Possibilities: Warner Madrigal, Derrick Turnbow

Though Francisco has a history of playing with chairs, his current seat might not be musical. He certainly has an applicable K rate on his resume (11.79 last year), and he also drastically improved his control, which although fluky is hopeful.

He doesn't pitch toward contact as often as Wilson, so that should help at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. Frankie is a No. 3 stopper for mixed drafts.

Wilson shouldn't be touched given his penchant for walks that was displayed in full last year. Righty Joaquin Benoit (shoulder) won't be an immediate threat; he'll likely miss the first half of the season.

Madrigal is intriguing but unpolished. Turnbow is a reclamation project but is working with new Rangers pitching coach Mike Maddux, Turnbow's former advisor with the Milwaukee Brewers.

Durability Grade: 8

Job Security Grade: 8

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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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