Fantasy Baseball Closer Hot Seat - NL

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

 


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Key

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

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

NL East

NEW - Atlanta Braves

Closer: Mike Gonzalez

Next in line: Rafael Soriano

Other possibilities: Peter Moylan, Manny Acosta

Last season, Gonzalez returned from Tommy John surgery and eventually saved 14 games despite a shaky post-break run (5.09 ERA, 1.48 WHIP and 14 walks in 23 innings). Soriano, of course, was hurt.

Gonzo is more stable than many realize. The southpaw went 24-for-24 in save chances for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2006. He's nasty, he feels great, and he has an outstanding opportunity to exceed expectations as a No. 2 fantasy closer.

Soriano is nearly 100 percent and should be in for a great year if the nerve transposition he underwent last season has indeed solved his problems. His velocity was down, but this week he said he felt like the juice was coming back, and he believes he'll be ready for Opening Day. So does manager Bobby Cox.

Moylan is ahead of schedule in his return from TJ and, as he rounds into form, should give Atlanta a pretty nasty back end.

Durability grade: 7 (last week: 6)

Job security grade: 8

NEW - Florida Marlins

Closer: Matt Lindstrom

Next in line: Leo Nunez

Other possibilities: Logan Kensing, Renyel Pinto, Jose Ceda, Ryan Tucker, Scott Proctor

Well, it was lining up this way, but the Marlins are unsure if Lindstrom (shoulder) will be ready for Opening Day after he suffered a right rotator cuff strain in the World Baseball Classic. He threw Tuesday, March 31, and is slated to pitch in a minor league Thursday, April 2. In regard to injuries, risk is dissipating.

Florida has several who, despite not being experienced closers, could step in should Lindstrom falter or miss an extended period. Nunez, Proctor, Kensing and Pinto have all been mentioned at one time or another. Proctor (elbow) will start the season on the DL and be out until at least May 1.

Keep Ceda, who arrived in the Kevin Gregg deal, and Tucker in mind. They each fit the profile of future closer: They're converted starters who throw hard; they too have issues with control.

Durability grade: 8

Job security grade: 6

NL Central

NEW - Chicago Cubs

Closer: Kevin Gregg

Next in line: Carlos Marmol

A simple switcheroo on the depth chart complicates many fantasy players' plans for 2009. It seems that manager Lou Piniella favors keeping Marmol in the one- or two-inning setup role in which he excelled last year.

Gregg's experience and spring performance (9 1/3 innings, zero earned runs, four hits, two walks and 13 K's) prompted Sweet Lou to go with the veteran right-hander. For the most part, Piniella has historically stuck with his man. Fantasy managers looking expecting Marmol's eventual ascension to the role may be disappointed.

For those still drafting, Gregg is a mildly risky selection as a midrange No. 2 stopper; his flyball rates have fluctuated in recent years, and Wrigley Field will be unkind if he gives them up at the rate he has this spring. Marmol will probably be the most valuable setup man in fantasy leagues, and handcuffing the two around the same round isn't a bad idea.

Durability grade: 8

Job security grade: 8

NEW - Cincinnati Reds

Closer: Francisco Cordero

Next in line: David Weathers

Other possibilities: Arthur Rhodes, Jared Burton

A sharp drop-off in his command is a problem for Cordero, but his health is no longer a big concern. He has been building arm strength, and his last couple of outings have been very good.

Still, walks plus launching pad (Great American Ball Park is second only to Cape Canaveral) equal trouble. There are other signs of decline here; Cordero seems to have more downside than upside, but it would take a complete disaster for the right-hander to lose his job.

Durability grade: 8

Job security grade: 10

NEW - Milwaukee Brewers

Closer: Carlos Villanueva

Next in line: Seth McClung

Other possibilities: David Riske, Todd Coffey, Jorge Julio

Disabled list: Trevor Hoffman

Hoffman will begin the regular season on the DL with a strained oblique. This is just the latest sign of his age and dwindling fantasy value. He is expected to go on a rehab assignment April 9, though, and be activated April 11.

Manager Ken Macha has said Villanueva is the likeliest arm to replace Hoff in the interim. McClung is likely the No. 6 starter, in essence. Riske and Coffey have also been mentioned. Villy is the best fantasy pickup here.

He pitched extremely well as a reliever last year and was considered a candidate to close before the Brew Crew signed "Hell's Bells." Villanueva is a decent option as a late-round draft pick in deep mixed parties, and his value will probably skyrocket in NL setups. An oblique strain is Exhibit A of a lingering malady, so Villanueva could have long-term value.

McClung is your NL-only desperation backup plan; he may have value one way or another.

Durability grade (Hoffman): 6

Job security grade: 9

NEW - Pittsburgh Pirates

Closer: Matt Capps

Next in line: John Grabow

Other possibilities: Tyler Yates, Craig Hansen

In September, Capps returned from a shoulder injury and saved four contests; he finished with 21. The injury raised an eyebrow because of Capps' innings total for the previous two seasons (159 2/3), but he'll likely receive a more typical slate for a closer from now on.

The typically control-friendly Capps has awarded nine free passes in 10 1/3 camp frames. That's four more than he walked in 53 2/3 innings last year! Still, in early March, he mused that the ball feels like it's exploding out of his hand, like he's throwing harder than he ever has.

The Pirates aren't very good, but a pretty dependable closer isn't easy to come by. Capps is a solid No. 2 fantasy closer, and he has upside, but the control issues are becoming a mild concern.

Durability grade: 8

Job security grade: 10

NEW - St. Louis Cardinals

Closer: Jason Motte

Next in line: Ryan Franklin

Other possibilities: Chris Perez, Josh Kinney, Brad Thompson

As predicted, the Cards enter 2009 without naming a solitary closer. Manager Tony La Russa prefers to keep his options open, as we saw last season. St. Louis reassigned Perez to minor league camp; Motte, already considered the unspoken favorite for save chances, has a golden opportunity.

Rightfully so considering his nasty stuff and his exhibition performance. It goes without saying that Motte should be the first pitcher taken among this lot. He has posted a 1.59 ERA and struck out 16 in 11 1/3 spring frames. He has touched 98 mph on the gun often.

Target Motte, but buying low on Perez isn't a bad idea in very deep leagues. Don't make Motte anything more than your No. 3 fantasy reliever; even there, don't consider him a failsafe plan given the volatility of this situation.

Franklin, who served well in an interim role but has limited fantasy upside, isn't worth a pick except in NL setups.

Durability grade: 10

Job security grade: 5

NL West

NEW - Colorado Rockies

Closer: Manny Corpas, Huston Street

Disabled list: Taylor Buchholz

The battle has warmed up now that Street has bounced back from injuries and a poor start. He hasn't walked a batter since March 6 and posted a five-inning run of perfect baseball. Street's flyball rate is still disturbing considering that he'll make his home at Coors Field.

On the other hand, Corpas has seemed the slight favorite to take this job with his strong spring performance (nine innings, one run, seven hits). He may have an edge because of manager Clint Hurdle's familiarity with him, too.

Hurdle will announce the winner of this competition Thursday, April 2.

If your league mates are uninformed, you can probably draft Corpas later than Street, who has more name recognition but might not have the job. It seems likely that each will record saves at some point, and neither should be a free agent in a respectable fantasy baseball league.

Buchholz will miss the first month of the season because of a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. He'd be next in line if it weren't for the injury.

Durability grade: 8

Job security grade: 10

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About Nicholas Minnix

Minnix is baseball editor and a fantasy football analyst at KFFL. He plays in LABR and Tout Wars and won the FSWA Baseball Industry Insiders League in 2010.

The University of Delaware alum is a regular guest on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio and Baltimore's WNST AM 1570.


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