StrategyApril 10, 2009

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Closer Complex: Situations to Watch

By Matthew Robertson

Welcome to Closer Complex, a Café column that focuses on the happenings of various closers and closing situations. I will do my best to steer you in the ways of the closer as well as what I think will and should happen. Hopefully this leads you all to fantasy glory. The main reason why fantasy players are so obsessed with closers is because the position is so volatile and there are only 30 teams in baseball and therefore only 30 possible closers. This means finding that next closer in line is all the more important. For my first article, I thought I’d point out some potential closers that are currently blocked but have the talent and possibly the opportunity to ascend to the closer role sometime this season.

The only definite switch right now, in my opinion, is that Chris Ray will soon reclaim the Orioles closer role from George Sherrill. Ray sat out last year as he recovered from Tommy John surgery and Sherrill did an adequate job filling in but was exposed in the second half for the reliever he really is, which is good but not a true closer by any means. When Ray deems himself physically ready, he will once again be the Orioles closer and he should thrive in the role.

An uncertain closing situation exists in Tampa Bay. What we are certain of is that the current closer for the Rays is Troy Percival, and that in addition to being previously retired, he is oft-injured, 39 years old, and a pending free agent. What we aren’t certain of is who his replacement might be if/when Percival won’t close. Fellow pending-FA Grant Balfour should be the replacement this year but one of their young guns (Jake McGee, Jeff Neimann, or Jeremy Hellickson) could get the gig in the future. This is one of the dynasty decisions that if you pick the right guy, barring an import, you could be getting a closer for many years. Prediction: Balfour ’09, McGee ’10 and beyond.

If Joel Zumaya could ever stay healthy, the Detroit Tigers would have their closer of the present and the future and Fernando Rodney and Brandon would setting up. Instead, both Lyon and Rodney are trying to pitch beyond their abilities and rushed flame-throwing rookie Ryan Perry seems like the only silver lining in sight. Still, Zumaya on the DL won’t hurt you as bad as the Lyon/Rodney combo and I wouldn’t count on the rookie this year.

The Joey Devine injury appears serious and I doubt he comes back this season. Brad Ziegler is the current closer due to his stellar streak last season, but the last month of the ‘08 told an even bigger story as he was hit hard. Ziegler lacks velocity and his success is based on his deceptive delivery, which will be figured out. The real talent in the pen is Santiago Casilla, the correct investment if he can stay healthy. Prospect phenom Henry Rodriguez is starting the year in Double-A and it’s not out of the question that he could see time in the majors. I think he is the best relief prospect in baseball for all you keeper/dynasty leaugers.

Likely one of the best closers in baseball isn’t closing at all as the Cubs saw fit to insert recent acquisition Kevin Gregg in the role over the more talented Carlos Marmol. The logic behind the decision is that Marmol might be able to contribute more by not being saved for save situations. Sound familiar? It should as Lou Piniella did the same thing with the 1990 Cincinnati Reds with Norm Charlton 7th, Rob Dibble 8th, and Randy Myers 9th inning. Just one problem, Gregg isn’t Myers and has looked rough in Chicago so far this season. Marmol will likely be closing before long.

The 9th-inning role for the St. Louis Cardinals has been a highly-debated topic of late. Spring training ended with rookie Jason Motte on top and closer prospect Chris Perez in Triple-A. Well, what did Motte do in his first big league save opportunity? He got pounded! Motte lacks a second MLB-worthy pitch to accompany his fastball, while Perez is still nursing an injury. Vets Ryan Franklin and John Kinney are nothing more than a mediocre band-aid. A new happening is that highly regarded prospect Jess Todd is being converted to relief and should see time in the majors this year. It seems like one of hard-throwing rookies (Motte, Perez, and Todd) will be the future closer in St. Louis. Which one? I still like Perez.

What a difference two good months and seven saves in a row can make because Chad Qualls finished last season with nine saves and eight blown saves. It can actually make someone forget how bad Chad Qualls looked filling in at closer for Houston in ’07. It is likely that if Tony Pena or Jon Rauch had been pitching better when Brandon Lyon was demoted in Arizona, either of them would have been chosen over Qualls. With his performance at the end of the year, Qualls deserves to start the season as the closer but don’t be surprised to see the more talented Pena or Rauch become the man in the 9th sometime this season, with Pena having the edge.

That’s it for this edition of Closer Complex. E-mail any questions to and be sure to check the 2009 Closer Thread for updates.

Matthew Robertson is one of a growing number of fantasy experts who write for the Cafe. He maintains and pilots the Closers Thread in the Leftovers Forum. You can catch up with Matthew in the Cafe's forums where he posts under the name of Havok1517.
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