StrategyJune 19, 2009

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Closer Complex: Injury Intrigue

By Matthew Robertson

Injuries, injuries, and more injuries. Over the past week, there have been a plethora of injuries to closers. Many of these closers are well established and in no danger of losing their role upon returning, but a few situations warrant a closer look. Those expecting Ryan Madson to somehow overtake Brad Lidge are sadly out of luck as Lidge will still be the closer when he gets back from injury. However, there are a few situations that deserve our attention in the latest Closer Complex.

The most recent closer injury occurred when Toronto closer Scott Downs was injured while attempting to run out a ground ball. The next day, he went on the disabled list, and this turn of events has left many questioning who will be his successor. Manager Cito Gaston has hinted that Jason Frasor will cover the ninth inning while Downs is on the DL, but let’s look at some of the possibilities. There are some other guys in the bullpen who already have closing experience, including B.J. Ryan, Brandon League, and Jesse Carlson. Newly promoted Jeremy Accardo shouldn’t be much of a factor (despite his save last night). Carlson is a lefty who closed some during last year’s flux, but unless there is an extreme situational match-up (e.g. Utley, Howard, Ibañez), I doubt he gets a shot. League was long thought to be the Closer of the Future for the Blue Jays and his 100 mph fastball explains why, but he has been inconsistent so far. League has the most upside in the bullpen, so he may still become a closer one day. Ryan is the high-priced reliever whose inability to stay healthy resulted in him losing the closer position. Ryan has been in Gaston’s doghouse recently, but I’m sure GM J.P. Ricciardi would love to see Ryan back at the helm. Of the Toronto relievers, Frasor has been pitching the best, and I think that’s why he’s going to get first crack at the job. However, the fractured big toe that Downs suffered can be a pesky injury, and if he can’t come back soon, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Ryan closing in Toronto.

Arizona closer Chad Qualls has been suffering from both an injury and poor performance. He’s been dealing with an ailing right forearm as well as a mechanical flaw that he says is the reason for his recent bad outings. Qualls was given a week off in an attempt to both avoid the disabled list and hopefully fix his delivery. This absence has given fellow teammate Tony Pena an opportunity to pitch in the later innings. Remember that prior to last year, Qualls was not a reliable or proven closer. The Diamondbacks overall performance has limited the amount of closing opportunities presented, and it is because of the team’s losing pattern that both Pena and Qualls have been rumored to be trade candidates. The D-Backs may trade one, but I doubt they will trade both. If Qualls goes down due to an injury, trade, or performance issues, then Pena will undoubtedly close. This could give Arizona the opportunity to recall power-armed rookie and 2008 first-round pick Daniel Schlereth to help in late inning duty.

Just a few quick notes: J.P. Howell is the man to own in Tampa Bay, and Mike Gonzalez still has a foothold on the closer’s position in Atlanta, even though Bobby Cox continues to play match-ups when necessary.

Matthew Robertson is one of a growing number of fantasy experts who write for the Cafe. You can catch up with Matthew in the Cafe's forums where he posts under the name of Havok1517.
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