Fantasy Baseball: Closer Hot Seat

by Tim Heaney on May 28, 2008 @ 09:00:24 PDT

 


A resurgence in Milwaukee didn't last long as an injury has forced another change at the back end. Cleveland's prodigal son closer returns to surprisingly effective results. Two major bullpen players are expected to reenter Atlanta's picture soon. This is just a sampling of what's ahead in the latest Closer Hot Seat.

Key

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

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

Hot Seat: Injury Concerns

Atlanta Braves

Closer: Rafael Soriano

Next in line: Manny Acosta

Other possibilities: Blaine Boyer, Will Ohman, Jeff Bennett

Disabled list: Mike Gonzalez (elbow), John Smoltz (shoulder)

The Braves are expected to activate Soriano before the team's game Wednesday, May 28, after he threw a successful bullpen session the previous day. Soriano should become the team's closer upon his return, but that title may not last long if Smoltz's rehab goes as scheduled. The veteran is expected to start a rehab assignment Thursday, May 29, for Single-A Rome if he's deemed fit after reportedly suffering from flu-like symptoms. A smooth performance there could bring Smoltz to the majors this weekend at the earliest. Gonzalez is expected to begin a 10-day minor league rehab stint May 28, and his return could throw another wrench into the works. Soriano should be the man for now, but Smoltz's return will likely put an end to Soriano's monopoly on saves since the team could split chances between the three. Their return should push Acosta out of the closer picture entirely, but all members of the returning trio are worth owning in deeper leagues.

Durability grade: 6

Job security grade: 8

Cleveland Indians

Closer: Joe Borowski

Next in line: Rafael Betancourt, Masahide Kobayashi

Other possibilities: Rafael Perez

Borowski returned to a desperate Indians bullpen and unexpectedly provided stability. Last year's AL saves king ran off two scoreless outings, including a save in his first game back May 24. As for Kobayashi, after recording back-to-back saves earlier in May, he blew a save and has taken the loss in his last two decisions. He has been tagged a bit of late, allowing a run in three of his last five outings. Betancourt has settled down since being removed as the interim closer, throwing four consecutive scoreless appearances. Borowski is the unquestioned closer at the moment. Kobayashi and Betancourt could still help teams in AL-only formats, but they figure to receive few chances to close unless JoeBo has a significant setback in health or performance.

Durability grade: 8

Job security grade: 9

Hot Seat: Lackluster Performance

Colorado Rockies

Closer: Brian Fuentes

Next in line: Taylor Buchholz

Other possibilities: Matt Herges, Manny Corpas

Immediately after earning our highest job security grade last week, Fuentes blew a save by giving up two runs Wednesday, May 21. However, that was his first blown chance since regaining the closer role April 24. Other than that gaffe, he has only allowed two earned runs since inheriting the job. If that consistency wasn't enough, he had struck out a batter in eight straight appearances before a one-pitch outing put an end to the streak Tuesday, May 27. Still, he continues to be a steady - if not spectacular - contributor to the strikeout column. Buchholz has gained some pub because of his solid ratios this season (0.75 WHIP and .141 batting average against) along with manager Clint Hurdle's affirmation that he would receive save opportunities. Buchholz has had just one attempt so far - a successful opportunity May 4 - and that's not enough to devalue Fuentes' firm grasp on the role.

Durability grade: 9

Job security grade: 9

Milwaukee Brewers

Closer: Salomon Torres

Next in line: Guillermo Mota

Other possibilities: Brian Shouse

Disabled list: Eric Gagne (shoulder)

With Gagne being placed on the disabled list May 23 with shoulder tendonitis despite claiming he didn't need two weeks to recover, manager Ned Yost said Torres would receive the majority of the save opportunities in Gagne's absence. Torres has responded with two straight converted saves and his fourth win of the year. His last reign as interim closer didn't last long, but the veteran has established himself as a reliable fill-in. No other pitcher has received a chance to close things out since Gagne went down, and even with Yost's history of assigning situational saves, Torres looks to be the best option for the time being. Torres was already a factor in NL-only leagues, and his steady performance makes him worthy of ownership in deeper mixed leagues.

Durability grade: 8

Job security grade: 7 (without Gagne)

Texas Rangers

Closer: C.J. Wilson

Next in line: Eddie Guardado

Other possibilities: Joaquin Benoit

A rough stretch earlier this month prompted doubts regarding Wilson's effectiveness as closer, but the southpaw quelled those uneasy feelings with back-to-back hitless saves. His ERA had ballooned to 5.40 after his May 12 outing in which he allowed four runs in two-thirds of an inning to the lowly Seattle Mariners; his latest save brought his current figure down to 4.57. Guardado continues to be effective in a setup role and hasn't allowed a run in his last seven outings. Manager Ron Washington has maintained that Wilson would be the closer, and this latest string of successful outings bolsters Washington's endorsement for now.

Durability grade: 9

Job security grade: 6 (Last week: 5)

St. Louis Cardinals

Closer: Ryan Franklin

Next in line: Russ Springer

Other possibilities: Chris Perez, Kyle McClellan, Randy Flores

Disabled list: Jason Isringhausen (hand)

Franklin recorded a scoreless save Friday, May 23, by walking two and striking out the side. While not the most comforting pattern, Franklin has walked six and struck out seven in his last four trips to the mound. However, he is perfect in three save opportunities this month. Isringhausen has thrown against live hitters several times this past week, but manager Tony La Russa said the vet's return has an open-ended timetable. The 22-year-old Perez became a hot commodity as a potential fireman when the team purchased his contract from Triple-A Memphis May 16, and the prospect has not disappointed. He has allowed one hit and struck out five in 4 2/3 innings, including a three-strikeout frame in the ninth inning May 24. Perez should have already been scooped up in NL-only leagues and could be a speculative pickup in deep mixed formats. However, La Russa recently said that he won't force Perez into the closer's role and expressed confidence in Franklin's abilities. Franklin has done the job despite his recent control issues and doesn't look to be in serious jeopardy at the moment.

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 LABR and Tout Wars, has won numerous industry leagues in both baseball and football.

During baseball and football season, he appears on Sirius XM Fantasy Sports Radio on Thursdays and Sundays, and every Wednesday on 1570 AM WNST in Baltimore.


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