Fantasy Baseball: Closer Hot Seat

by Herija C. Green and Tim Heaney on July 30, 2008 @ 10:10:44 PDT

 


The MLB trade deadline will arrive less than 24 hours after this report is published, meaning last-minute swaps could alter some of the arrangements you see below. An abundance of questions still exist with almost half the bullpens in the majors, and as usual, we try to sort through the muck in this week's 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

Chicago Cubs

Closer: Carlos Marmol

Next in line: Jeff Samardzija

Other possibilities: Bob Howry, Chad Gaudin

Disabled List: Kerry Wood (finger)

Wood has shown flashes of his old DL self as a blister on his right index finger has lingered long enough to prevent him from coming off the DL when eligible Tuesday, July 29. He had to wear a protective device on the finger when he threw a bullpen session Monday, July 28. Manager Lou Piniella doesn't know when Wood will return, meaning Marmol should continue to be the interim closer.

The righty has not allowed a run in his last five outings, during which he has recorded two saves. However, despite striking out nine in his last four appearances (five innings), he has also walked five in that period. The Cubs could turn more frequently to Samardzija, who recorded a two-inning save Sunday, July 27, and has impressed the Cubs with his raw arsenal. Marmol is still the best bet here until Wood returns, but Samardzija could be added by fantasy owners parched for saves since he could at least see the occasional chance.

Durability grade: 9

Job security grade: 8 (without Wood)

Los Angeles Dodgers

Closer: Jonathan Broxton

Next in line: Hong-Chih Kuo, Chan Ho Park

Other possibilities: Joe Beimel

Disabled list: Takashi Saito (elbow)

Broxton has not relented in his fill-in tenure, converting his fifth straight save opportunity since the injury to Saito. He has walked just one batter while fanning 10 in his last nine outings (nine innings). The burly righty has seemingly put any doubts to rest for now.

The news - or lack thereof - is that Saito has not yet decided if he will have surgery on the sprained ligament in his throwing elbow. He just came back from visiting his family in Japan and said his elbow is pain free. He's aiming to pick up a ball sometime within the next two weeks, but there's still no change to the original six-week recovery estimation. The uncertainty surrounding his situation keeps Broxton safe, but his owners should be prepared if Saito does come back late in the season - especially by picking up the hobbled stopper as insurance if he was hastily discarded.

Durability grade: 9

Job security grade: 8

Pittsburgh Pirates

Closer: Tyler Yates, John Grabow, Denny Bautista

Next in line: None

Other possibilities: None

Disabled list: Matt Capps (shoulder)

The trade of lefty Damaso Marte (New York Yankees) created another opening at the back end, which could turn into a choppy carousel. Yates was the first to hang on for the ride as he recorded the save July 29 in a perfect inning of work.

Manager John Russell was impressed, but he isn't prepared to give Yates the job full time and reiterated after the game that the fresh arm will be used in subsequent opportunities. Yates hadn't pitched in three days, so he was on call. Bautista has entered in the eighth inning in his last two outings; Grabow appeared once in the seventh and once in the eighth in his last pair. Capps is scheduled to return sometime in September, so it could be another month at the ninth-inning amusement park.

Yates didn't falter in his one shot in the role, so any mistakes by Grabow or Bautista could open the door for Yates until Capps returns. If you need saves, get in line and take a chance on one of these pitchers, but don't expect to win much fantasy help until Russell settles on one option.

Durability grade: 9

Job security grade: 3

Hot Seat: Lackluster performance

Arizona Diamondbacks

Closer: Brandon Lyon

Next in line: Jon Rauch

Other possibilities: Tony Pena, Chad Qualls

The arrival of Rauch doesn't seem to have foiled Lyon; in fact, he has rebounded a bit since then, tossing two straight scoreless one-inning outings, with a save in each, allowing just one hit while striking out four. Lyon's leash was tightened a bit when his performance slipped and Rauch came to the desert. Lyon had blown two of his last three opportunities before the trade.

Rauch hasn't budged with his new team, having already tossed 2 1/3 scoreless innings with two strikeouts and just one hit allowed. His last two appearances came in the eighth inning. Stay tuned; Lyon appears safer than last week, but Rauch is still lurking. If you haven't already done so, you should try to lock up this job by acquiring either Lyon or Rauch in a trade, depending on which reliever you already own.

Durability grade: 9

Job security grade: 7 (last week: 6)

Atlanta Braves

Closer: Mike Gonzalez

Next in line: Rafael Soriano

Other possibilities: Blaine Boyer, Jeff Bennett, Will Ohman

Disabled list: Manny Acosta (hamstring)

The Braves have not had a save opportunity since Soriano returned from the disabled list July 21. Gonzalez was roughed up July 29 for five runs - one earned - in a non-save situation and has given up a run in three of his last five outings. Soriano allowed an unearned run of his own July 29 while suffering the loss. He has allowed just two hits and one walk in his three innings since returning; he has struck out four in that time. Sadly, Gonzalez's four saves are the most among the seven pitchers who contributed to that column for Atlanta this season.

A closing tandem wouldn't be a surprising development, but for now, Gonzalez appears to have the closer job to himself. If you can own both Soriano and Gonzalez, you would likely have the Braves job locked up for the rest of the season if both stay healthy. Gonzalez is the better reliever to own right now, but be aware that the possibility of a timeshare exists.

Durability grade: 6

Job security grade: 7

Cleveland Indians

Closer: Masahide Kobayashi, Rafael Perez

Next in line: Rafael Betancourt

Other possibilities: Jensen Lewis, Edward Mujica

The fact that opportunities have been few and far between for Kobayashi magnifies his failures, such as when he allowed two runs on three hits without recording an out Friday, July 25, while trying to protect a three-run lead. Manager Eric Wedge summoned Perez from the bullpen, and he retired all three batters he faced and kept the inherited runner at second from scoring to notch his first save of the season.

That outing marked the second time in four post-break appearances that Kobayashi has allowed multiple runs; his 12.00 ERA, 2.33 WHIP and one save in the second half don't instill much confidence. However, Perez followed up his save by allowing two runs of his own in an inning of work to take the loss July 27. Wedge said before the July 29 game that he's going to mix and match his options each night, which clouds the picture even more. Kobayashi remains the best bet for saves in Cleveland, but his hold on the job appears tenuous, and this situation is still messy for fantasy purposes.

Durability grade: 8

Job security grade: 4

Detroit Tigers

Closer: Fernando Rodney

Next in line: Joel Zumaya (triceps)

Other possibilities: Todd Jones, Ryan Perry

They finally flipped the switch in Motown, sliding Rodney in to replace Jones as the closer. However, Rodney's performance in two non-save situations hasn't kept that lever firmly in place. Rodney has allowed an earned run in each of his last two outings, walking three in 2 2/3 innings. His four strikeouts in that time showcased his strikeout ability - something the erratic Jones failed to demonstrate; he has struck out only 46 in his last 101 innings dating back to the start of last season.

Zumaya has been battling triceps tightness - partially caused by throwing curveballs - but pitched July 29. He seems to be hampered, though, as he has given up a run in four of his last five outings (seven innings), though only three of those were earned. Rodney has yet to have a save opportunity since the change was made, so there won't be much movement until then. Don't consider Rodney the answer to all your saves troubles, especially since the Tigers could still acquire a reliever before the trade deadline. Zumaya should be on watch lists in mixed leagues because he also has closer stuff and could replace Rodney down the road if needed. It doesn't seem likely that they would return to Jones this season, but the other two haven't instilled confidence.

Durability grade: 7

Job security grade: 6

Milwaukee Brewers

Closer: Salomon Torres

Next in line: Eric Gagne

Other possibilities: David Riske, Brian Shouse

Torres has struggled a bit recently, blowing a save July 21 and taking the loss Monday, July 28. It's his more recent outing that is a concern as he issued three walks in just one inning of work. He has still been good in July but not nearly as dominant as the rest of the season; he has a pair of losses and a 3.75 ERA, which is his highest monthly ERA this season.

Meanwhile, Gagne has quietly been solid since returning from the disabled list in early July. He has posted seven scoreless outings in eight appearances, yielding just three hits and two walks in those seven innings of work. He was lit up in his other outing, though, and no change appears imminent. However, with the Brewers in the midst of a pennant race don't expect much ninth-inning loyalty from manager Ned Yost if Torres starts to break down.

Durability grade: 8

Job security grade: 7

St. Louis Cardinals

Closer: Jason Isringhausen

Next in line: Ryan Franklin

Other possibilities: Kyle McClellan, Russ Springer

After watching Franklin absorb two losses and two blown saves in a span of three appearances, while getting rocked for six runs (five earned) on 10 hits in five innings in the process, manager Tony La Russa had finally seen enough. He reinstated Isringhausen as the team's closer and moved Franklin back into a setup role.

The move clearly had more to do with Franklin's struggles (2-2, 6.59 ERA, 1.83 WHIP in July) than Isringhausen's dominance. In fact, the 35-year-old has been touched up for six runs in his last six appearances and carries an ugly 6.23 ERA in July. He hasn't saved a game since May 5 and has blown six of his last nine opportunities, including four straight. That being said, his return to ninth-inning duty gives him value in all formats, and Franklin is now droppable in shallow mixed setups. The Cardinals could be in the reliever market before the trade deadline, though, so fantasy owners should be prepared in case Izzy loses some or all of his save opportunities.

Durability grade: 6

Job security grade: 7

Seattle Mariners

Closer: Brandon Morrow

Next in line: J.J. Putz

Other possibilities: Sean Green, Mark Lowe

Putz slowed his return to the closer role when he blew a save chance and absorbed the loss July 29 by allowing two runs while only recording one out in the ninth inning. He has flubbed his last two save opportunities, though his other chance came in the eighth inning. The righty has allowed three earned runs in 2 1/3 innings but has not walked a batter in his five outings since his return.

Morrow was fresh because he had not pitched in three days before recording a save July 28, but the club is deciding whether to start his expected transition to the rotation. The move would clear the way for Putz to reclaim the ninth-inning job, but he needs to be 100 percent recovered from his elbow problems for that to happen. It's late in the season, so the club might wait until next year to shift Morrow into a starting role, especially if Putz continues to struggle.

Those who own Morrow shouldn't count on him closing throughout the rest of the season, but Putz isn't making a strong case for the team to start making the move. Putz should eventually see increased time in the ninth, though, so his owners should hang on to him since they have already waited this long.

Durability grade: 7

Job security grade: 5 (last week: 4)

Texas Rangers

Closer: C.J. Wilson

Next in line: Eddie Guardado

Other possibilities: Frank Francisco

Disabled list: Joaquin Benoit (shoulder)

Wilson continues to struggle to close out games, blowing two more saves in the past week. The Rangers offense bailed him out July 29, scoring twice in the bottom of the ninth to give Wilson his first win of the season, but his constant flirting with disaster late in games is not what a team fighting for a Wild Card spot wants to see. Manager Ron Washington has been mum on any potential changes, but one has to believe with each successive shaky outing that Wilson's leash becomes progressively shorter.

The obvious fallback option would be Guardado, who, aside from getting ripped for four runs in two-thirds of an inning Wednesday, July 23, has allowed just one run in his other 19 appearances. Francisco has been arguably the team's most dominant reliever this season, but he's unlikely to get the call were the Rangers to make a switch. Now might be a good time to shop Wilson to see what kind of value you can return, or at least scoop up Guardado as a nice little insurance policy.

Durability grade: 8

Job security grade: 6

Washington Nationals

Closer: Joel Hanrahan

Next in line: Saul Rivera

Other possibilities: Luis Ayala, Jesus Colome

Allow us to (sort of) quote a famous Zen saying: "If a closer inherits a job, and the team never wins, does he still hold fantasy value?" While no one can ever truly know the answer to such an ancient riddle, the Nationals and Hanrahan are certainly putting it to the test. Washington has gone 0-7 since trading relief pitcher Jon Rauch to the Arizona Diamondbacks, helping them secure the league's worst record.

Hanrahan has worked two scoreless frames over the last week, but until the Nats carry a lead into the ninth inning everything remains status quo.

Durability grade: 8

Job security grade: 8

Hot Seat: Trade rumors

Baltimore Orioles

Closer: George Sherrill

Next in line: Jim Johnson, Jamie Walker

Other possibilities: Chad Bradford, Fernando Cabrera

Disabled list: Chris Ray (elbow)

With the trade deadline looming and the Orioles reportedly still asking for a king's ransom to pry Sherrill away, it appears the southpaw will remain with the club and continue as their closer. Of course, things change quickly around the deadline, so keep on top of the situation. Johnson could be the replacement if a trade happens; he has a 1.85 ERA in 58 1/3 innings this year but has struck out just 32 to go with 24 walks.

Durability grade: 9

Job security grade: 10

Colorado Rockies

Closer: Brian Fuentes

Next in line: Manny Corpas

Other possibilities: Taylor Buchholz, Matt Herges, Casey Weathers

Speculation continues to swirl about whether the team will deal Fuentes by the deadline. The southpaw has been rock solid at the back end of Colorado's bullpen this year, and the team is reportedly going to wait until the last minute before deciding whether or not to move Fuentes. If he stays, he continues as their closer. If he goes, look for Corpas (2.38 ERA, 1.06 WHIP in July) to reassume the role he lost earlier this season.

Durability grade: 9

Job security grade: 10

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About Herija C. Green

A graduate of the prestigious Top Gun school, Green's ego writes checks his body can't cash. When he's not overdrawing his ego's bank account, Green enjoys games of beach volleyball, riding his Kawasaki Ninja motorcycle, and buzzing the tower (whether the pattern is full or not). He resides in the Danger Zone and yes, Ice... Man, he is dangerous. He also writes.


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