Spring training is still two weeks away and we donâ€™t know exactly which way managers are leaning, but educated guesses are perfectly acceptable at this point on the calendar.
Closers are volatile. They blow up with little notice and a few bad outings are enough to earn them a demotion. Imagine if the same were true for position players. White Sox fans and fantasy GMâ€™s could have been spared months of Adam Dunn at bats, but instead Adam got to play more often than not and Matt Thornton was the early season whipping boy because Juan Pierre dropped a couple of fly balls. It makes little sense.
Letâ€™s take a look at some of the pre-season closer battles and try to handicap exactly who fantasy GMâ€™s should be looking at in the late rounds in this weekâ€™s Blown Opportunities.
San Francisco – Brian Wilson, Sergio Romo, Jeremy Affeldt, Santiago Casilla
Brian Wilson was shut down at the end of 2011 with elbow issues and is currently rehabbing. Heâ€™s on track to be ready for spring training, but fantasy GMâ€™s need to be careful with him until he shows heâ€™s capable of keeping the closer job. Sergio Romo is a must handcuff for those drafting early.
Florida – Heath Bell, Juan Carlos Oviedo, Edward Mujica, Michael Dunn
Heath Bell earned a fat contract by turning in three consecutive years of 40+ saves. His K/9 fell from 11.06 in 2010 to 7.32 in 2011, but he didnâ€™t suffer the drop in velocity associated with a drop in K/9. It looks like he relied on his defense in 2011. Itâ€™s too bad the Padres D wonâ€™t come with him to Florida. The relief pitcher formerly known as â€œLeo Nunezâ€ is next in line with Edward Mujica and the power arm of Michael Dunn flanking him.
San Diego – Huston Street, Luke Gregerson, Andrew Cashner, Ernesto Frieri
Huston Street, welcome to San Diego. Huston is probably going to like pitching in Petco a lot more than he liked pitching in Coors. Street is the clear favorite, but Andrew Cashner has to be the dark horse candidate for saves if Street struggles.
St. Louis -Jason Motte, Fernando Salas, Mitchell Boggs, Lance Lynn
Jason Mottehas the job for now and has everything fantasy GMâ€™s should look for in a closer, but heâ€™s also shown the ability to pitch his way out of the job. Fernando Salas is a smart handcuff here.
Cleveland – Chris Perez, Vinnie Pestano, Dan Wheeler, Tony Sipp
Chris Perez is going to have every opportunity to keep the Indiansâ€™ closer job because they donâ€™t really have anyone ready to step in behind him. Vinnie Pestano quietly put together a solid season(12.19 K/9, 3.48 BB/9 in 62 innings), but he was prone to the gopher ball last year. Dan Wheeler would be a sneaky late round play because heâ€™s really the only veteran option with any kind of closing experience on the roster. Perezâ€™ K/rate is the stuff of nightmares and heâ€™s lost about 2.5 MPH off his fastball since 2008.
New York (NL) – Frank Francisco, Jon Rauch, Ramon Ramirez, Bobby Parnell
This couldnâ€™t have worked any better for Jon Rauch. It feels like Rauch enters every year as a set up guy and manages to vulture 10-15 saves. Heâ€™s second in line behind Frank Francisco. Heâ€™ll get a shot at saves at some point in 2012.
Texas – Joe Nathan, Koji Uehara, Mike Adams
Joe Nathan was in and out of the closerâ€™s role in Minnesota, but managed to end the year with competent numbers. He saved 14 with a 4.84 ERA and 1.16 WHIP with 43 Kâ€™s in 44 â…” innings. His velocity was noticeably down last year and he turns 37 this year. The days of the Nathanest of Joes coming in and making batters look foolish for an inning are pretty much over. Koji Uehara was an excellent set up guy in 2011, has closing experience from 2010 and should get the first chance at saves if(when) Nathan falters.
Oakland – Grant Balfour, Joey Devine, Fautino De Los Santos, Brian Fuentes
Oakland will be holding a three-way competition in spring training with Andrew Bailey in Boston. Grant Balfour enjoyed a solid 2011 campaign with a 2.47 ERA and 1.03 WHIP with 59 Kâ€™s in 62 innings. He saved two and held 26. Joey Devine still has a tremendous porn name and was once viewed as a future closer before injuries derailed a promising career. Fautino De Los Santos was viewed as an uber-prospect as a starting pitcher before injuries forced him to the bullpen. DLS struck out 43 in 33 â…“ big league innings last year, but he gave up 18 walks. Brian Fuentes is also lurking in the weeds and threatening to blow up ratios and convert ugly saves. The rumor is that Oakland is rooting for DLS, but Balfour is the early favorite.
Los Angeles(NL) – Javy Guerra, Kenley Jansen, Matt Guerrier, Mike MacDougal
Javy Guerra enters spring training as the favorite for the Dodgers closer role, but Kenley Jansen is quite possibly the best set up guy in baseball. Jansen will either overtake Guerra on the depth chart or rack up bunches of Kâ€™s and holds in 2012.
Colorado - Rafael Betancourt, Matt Lindstrom, Rex Brothers, Matt Belisle
How old do you think Rafael Betancourt is? 28? 29? Dude is 36! This is his first and probably last shot to win a regular closing job. He racked up eight saves in limited duty in 2011 and turned in a solid 2.89 ERA and 0.87 WHIP with 72 Kâ€™s in 62 â…“ innings. Heâ€™s not as shaky as he looks. Rex Brothers enters 2012 as the closer for when the Rockies fall out of contention. Matt Lindstrom is on the outside looking in at this point.
Baltimore – Jim Johnson, Kevin Gregg, Darren Oâ€™Day, Alfredo Simon
Kevin Gregg should be called the cockroach because he just wonâ€™t die. Gregg has been blowing saves and killing ratios for years, but he somehow manages to keep his job as closer. That could change this year because it sounds like Baltimore wants to give Jim Johnson every opportunity to win the job out of spring training. Darren Oâ€™Day is always lurking as a save vulture and Alfredo Simon is finally cleared of the murder charges that hung over his head last year.
Chicago (AL) – Matt Thornton, Addison Reed, Jesse Crain
Matt Thornton has struggled as a closer. Addison Reed has one year in professional baseball and Jesse Crain was ridden into the ground last year. At least these guys have had a little success at the big league level, unlike….
Houston – Brandon Lyon, Wilton Lopez, David Carpenter, Henry Sosa
Brandon Lyon is coming off a lost season that featured a torn labrum and a detached biceps tendon. Wilton Lopez is probably the most competent reliever of the bunch, but he hasnâ€™t closed since he was in High-A. David Carpenter has been tabbed as a â€œcloser of the future.â€ Usually thatâ€™s code for â€œHe throws hard, but has no idea where itâ€™s going.â€ Henry Sosa is basically a two-pitch pitcher who doesnâ€™t have any real bullpen experience at any level. Even with all these questions, the Astros are still in better shape than…
Seattle – Shawn Kelley, George Sherrill, Chance Ruffin
Seattleâ€™s bullpen is a mess right now. They donâ€™t have David Aardsma under contract and they donâ€™t really have an heir apparent. Shawn Kelley was their top set up guy, George Sherrill has closed in the past and Chance Ruffin is a a prospect with a big fastball. This looks like a stay away until a front runner emerges or David Aardsma puts pen to paper.