Fantasy Baseball: Closer Hot Seat

by Tim Heaney on April 2, 2008 @ 01:13:23 PDT


The official Opening Day also opened up a can of worms for several NL bullpens. Some familiar faces make up the shaky early-season stoppers that resurface for the "It's a marathon, not a sprint" edition of Closer Hot Seat.


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

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

Hot Seat: Injury Concerns

Seattle Mariners

Closer: Mark Lowe

Next in Line: Sean Green

Other Possibilities: Eric O'Flaherty, Brandon Morrow

Disabled List: J.J. Putz (ribcage)

Putz was placed on the DL Wednesday, April 2, after he felt discomfort Tuesday, April 1, when he made a pitch to Texas Rangers shortstop Michael Young in the ninth inning. An MRI performed Wednesday revealed a mild case of costochondritis, an inflammation of the junctions where the upper ribs join the cartilage that holds them to the breastbone. This injury creates a huge hole for owners of Putz, who was on average one of the top three closers drafted. Early reports have stated that the Mariners could institute a closer-by-committee and wait for one of three options to get hot. Lowe has some upside with his mid-90s fastball; he posted a 1.93 ERA with 20 strikeouts in 18 2/3 innings in 2006 before undergoing two elbow surgeries, one later that year and the other on Feb. 27, 2007. The right-hander only pitched a total of 12 2/3 innings at four stops in 2007 because his comeback met several snags. Another option could be the right-hander Green, who posted a 3.84 ERA and 1.63 WHIP in 68 innings last season. The team is likely to rest Lowe on April 2 because he pitched in the team's first two games. If you have the roster space, you might want to stash Lowe for the time being, especially if you own Putz. Green or O'Flaherty can't be ruled out, either.

Durability grade: 5

Job security grade: 4

Los Angeles Dodgers

Closer: Takashi Saito

Next in Line: Jonathan Broxton

Other Possibilities: Joe Beimel

Owners of Saito (buttocks) were able to breathe easier after two perfect outings in non-save situations (including a win with four strikeouts in two innings). The Dodgers staff was concerned that he didn't receive enough time in spring training to properly prepare for the regular season; he ended up pitching just 5 2/3 innings while compiling a 6.35 ERA. Saito will probably still be scrutinized until he can convert several save situations, but for now, it looks like Saito could be on his way back to normal.

Durability grade: 8 (Last week: 7)

Job security grade: 9

Texas Rangers

Closer: C.J. Wilson

Next in Line: Joaquin Benoit

Other Possibilities: Kazuo Fukumori, Eddie Guardado

Wilson recorded his first save of the season Tuesday, April 1, in just 14 pitches, including inducing Seattle Mariners outfielder Ichiro Suzuki into a groundout. One of management's major concerns with Wilson coming into the season was limiting his pitch count, and his performance against the Mariners provided a promising indication that he could be on the way to doing so. His main competitor, reliever Joaquin Benoit, struggled in his outing, walking two with a strikeout while allowing three runs (one earned) in one inning. Wilson strengthened his hold on the job for the time being, but it would be even stronger if he puts together more outings like his first.

Durability grade: 6

Job security grade: 8

Toronto Blue Jays

Closer: Jeremy Accardo

Next in Line: Scott Downs

Other Possibilities: Brandon League, Armando Benitez

Disabled List: B.J. Ryan (elbow)

Ryan threw in a Triple-A game Sunday, March 30, and the southpaw apparently met his goals. Manager John Gibbons told reporters he expected Ryan to return by the middle of April. Accardo has yet to appear because the Jays have not had a save situation as of press time. Downs held the New York Yankees scoreless despite a leadoff triple by outfielder Johnny Damon. Keep a look out for Ryan's progress, and Accardo owners should hang tight; Ryan already had one setback, and Accardo remains a good stash option. 

Durability grade: 8

Job security grade: 9 (without Ryan)

Washington Nationals

Closer: Chad Cordero

Next in Line: Jon Rauch

Other Possibilities: Luis Ayala, Saul Rivera

Cordero (shoulder) was unable to partake in the festivities of Nationals Park's opening night because of tendonitis in his shoulder. He received a cortisone shot Sunday, and he was scheduled to stay out of action before playing catch Wednesday, April 2. Rauch, who posted four saves last season, had a chance to record the first save at the new ballpark, but he allowed the Braves to tie the game with two outs in the ninth. He would likely still be the go-to guy if Cordero's problem lingers, but the team hasn't considered placing their closer on the disabled list just yet. If you have the roster space, you should certainly consider adding Rauch at least for the time being.

Durability grade: 6

Job security grade: 7

Hot Seat: Lackluster Performance

Milwaukee Brewers

Closer: Eric Gagne

Next in Line: Derrick Turnbow

Other Possibilities: David Riske, Salomon Torres

Gagne wasted little time giving his fantasy owners indigestion; he blew his first save opportunity as a Brewer by allowing a game-tying three-run dinger to Chicago Cubs rookie outfielder Kosuke Fukudome before recording a single out on opening day. Gagne recovered to finish the inning and rewarded fantasy owners with an ugly vulture win, but it was certainly not the start his owners were hoping for. Manager Ned Yost called on Riske to close out the game in the 10th inning after the Brewers had retaken the lead, and Riske promptly retired the side. Yost reportedly chose Riske because he was consistently throwing strikes in spring training. Gagne has seemed hesitant to go back to his changeup, instead throwing a 3-1 fastball on Fukudome's home run. The Brewers don't have defined roles for the bridges to Gagne, but the fact that Yost went with Riske ahead of Turnbow in a save situation expresses the team's confidence in him. Don't jump the gun just yet; Gagne's still the man. However, Riske, who recorded four saves with the Kansas City Royals last year, could be an effective NL-only pickup even as just a setup man or middle reliever if he continues to deliver on his spring training precedent.

Durability grade: 6

Job security grade: 7

Chicago Cubs

Closer: Kerry Wood

Next in Line: Carlos Marmol

Other Possibilities: Bob Howry

You only had to look in the dugout across from the Brewers to see the other closer quandary. In his first go-round as Cubs closer, Wood allowed three runs on two hits and a walk in the Cubs' 4-3 loss to the Brewers Monday, March 31. He plunked Brewers second baseman Rickie Weeks in the back with his first pitch, but finished the inning after the downfall. The whispers to install Marmol at the back are already starting to surface, especially given his three strikeouts in 1 1/3 innings of work in that same game. However, it's unlikely that the Cubs would remove Wood from the spot for some time, especially since he has been relatively healthy as of late. Wood owners might just have to wait out his struggles as he adjusts to his new locale, especially since Marmol is likely owned in most leagues. It's also worth noting that the third man in the mix, Howry, has struggled in the season's first two games, allowing five hits and three runs in 2 1/3 innings, which included taking the loss in the opener.

Durability grade: 6

Job security grade: 8

Philadelphia Phillies

Closer: Tom Gordon

Next in Line: J.C. Romero

Other Possibilities: Ryan Madson

Disabled List: Brad Lidge (knee)

In a Flash, Gordon turned the Phillies' first game into batting practice. The 40-year-old right-hander allowed five runs on four hits while lasting just 1/3 of an inning in the Phillies' 11-6 loss to the Nationals in their home opener. At this point, the team is seemingly counting the nanoseconds until Lidge would be eligible to come off the DL - Saturday, April 5, for those keeping track at home. Gordon owners might be able to forgive him if he can give them one or two saves before Lidge returns, but this certainly raises concerns given that Gordon continues to labor through a partially torn labrum. Romero expanded on his strong spring with two strikeouts in an inning of work; if Gordon can't hold down the fort for Lidge, Romero could get a quick look. The Phillies tried to add some support to the bridge by signing right-hander Rudy Seanez Tuesday, April 1. For now, if you need saves, roll the dice with Gordon because the Phillies aren't expected to shake things up unless Lidge suffers a setback.

Durability grade: 8

Job security grade: 9 (without Lidge)

Pittsburgh Pirates

Closer: Matt Capps

Next in Line: John Grabow

Other Possibilities: Franquelis Osoria, Damaso Marte

Capps came in to put out the fire against the Atlanta Braves Monday, March 31, but instead poured gasoline on the blaze. He walked the first two batters - the second forced in a run - before allowing four more runs to score for the blown save. Osoria came in for three innings to earn the win. Like with the previous two, we're not saying to give up on Capps, especially considering a routine fly ball by catcher Brian McCann that should've ended the game was misplayed into a two-run single to tie the score. Don't panic; he gave up more than two runs only twice in 76 appearances last season. He needs to botch many more opportunities to experience a decline in job security.

Durability grade: 8

Job security grade: 9

Arizona Diamondbacks

Closer: Brandon Lyon

Next in Line: Tony Pena

Other Possibilities: Chad Qualls

No one gave an inch on their spots on opening day. After six innings of three-hit ball by starter Brandon Webb, Qualls, Pena and Lyon each tossed a hitless inning to give the D-backs the victory. Qualls and Pena each struck out a batter, but Lyon responded with a pair of punchouts. All in all, it was a promising start to Lyon's season; eight of his 11 ninth-inning pitches were for strikes, a drastic 180 from his abysmal spring performance.

Durability grade: 8

Job security grade: 6

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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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