SleepersNovember 30, 2005

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Sleeper Watch

By Arlo Vander

Since the end of the season, quite a few of Braden Looper’s keeper and dynasty league owners had been hoping against hope that the Mets would spend their entire off-season war chest on sluggers such as Carlos Delgado and Manny Ramirez. Having thus depleted the coffers, they would then be unable to add a premier closer this winter, perhaps forcing the team to bring Looper back as the bullpen stopper for another season. Those hopes were predictably dashed this week when the team signed Billy Wagner to a reported four-year, $43-million contract.

Without saves in his stat line, Looper’s fantasy value is close to zero, even in deep NL-only leagues. There might be a silver lining on the horizon, however. There’s a chance that Looper could be closing in 2006 after all.

A number of other teams will be in the market for a closer this off-season. Baltimore, in particular, might be a good fit. The Orioles just lost BJ Ryan to Toronto, and could be looking for an inexpensive stopgap to hold the fort until top bullpen prospect Chris Ray is ready to take over.

That scenario is by no means a done deal, of course. Baltimore will have quite a few other options, such as Todd Jones, Tom Gordon, or Octavio Dotel. But with Looper’s value at a low, trading for the right-hander now might be a risk worth taking for fantasy owners hurting in the saves category. If you can acquire him for a cut-rate price from a discouraged owner and Looper ends up finishing games next year, at Camden Yards or elsewhere, you’ll be ahead of the game. And if he does wind up in middle relief, you won’t have lost much.

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