StrategyAugust 14, 2009

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Closer Complex: It’s Never Too Soon, Part 1

By Matthew Robertson

Many fantasy owners are probably coming to terms with the fact their team is out of contention this season. For dynasty and keeper leagues, this means it’s time to cut your losses and prepare for next year or for great teams to reload and continue their reign of success. With that in mind, I thought it might be a good time to identify some potential closers for next year. Now, some of these relievers are likely successors on their respective teams, some could be off-season acquisitions, while some are simply darkhorse predictions that might not be on your radar.

The first nominee is also probably the most well known. Former closer Billy Wagner is currently recovering from Tommy John surgery but his rehab stints in the minors have gone well and he’s slated to rejoin the Mets before the end of the season. Now if the Mets were in contention, Wagner would likely of been a welcomed cog in the New York bullpen. But since that is not the case, the Mets will hope that they will be able to trade the hard-throwing reliever. Even if Wags is not traded, he will almost assuredly be on a new team next year if he proves to be healthy. At 38, Wagner likely won’t be in for a long-term deal when compounded with the fact that he hasn’t proven that he is still capable. Being a lefty and a power reliever works in his favor as he’s almost a lock to nail down a late-inning role from a team looking to buy low. Wagner is also currently on the disabled list in most fantasy leagues, which makes him a great pick up and stash for next year. For some reason I think he might be more expensive in reality than some might think. A smart GM like Billy Beane may try to add a veteran like Wagner with some upside. Also, a return to Houston might be a nice business decision for the Astros.

Jose Valverde has continued to express his desire to test the free agent market and once again the Astros somehow felt a false sense of contention and have since regulated themselves to being content to settle for a compensation draft pick. This means that the Astros are likely not going to be able to resign Valverde and will enter the season closer-less or will acquire one during the offseason. So, who are the likely successors? Personally, I think the highest-octane arm currently relative to the Astros organization is Felipe Paulino but they still have thoughts of him being a starter. Prospect Bud Norris has pitched effectively in relief but I think he’s better in the rotation. Some may think Chris Sampson might be the likely heir to the 9th inning but his lack of stuff just doesn’t successfully translate to that role.

Continuing with the veteran closer theme, the displaced and oft-injured B. J. Ryan remains a possibility for teams looking for the lefty reliever to possibly recapture his former form. Ryan, the former Toronto closer, is only 33 years old and appeared reasonably healthy but extremely rusty after being signed and the released by the Chicago Cubs. He was un-scored upon his minor league stint but was unable to show the control needed to show he was a worthy investment. Still, the fact that Ryan’s effectiveness derives not from overpowering velocity but instead from deception means that his road to recovery could be quicker than most. As long as he’s pitching his normal 88-90 mph, Ryan could benefit many teams in search of relief. Watch for Ryan to again be a low investment for a team with nothing to lose. I think he’d be a great pickup for a shallow bullpen such as the Pirates

Guess who is trying to make a comeback? If you answered Keith Foulke, you’re correct. Last involved with the Indians, the soon to be 37-year-old changeup artist is presently playing in the Independent Atlantic League on the Newark Bears. Foulke has pitched in 34 games so far with modest results but his 49K/11BB ratio makes me think that he may have a little something left to offer. Now, the IAL is likely on par with Class-A Advanced minor league ball, so those numbers need to be taken with a grain of salt, but the fact that Foulke has netted 52 innings is noteworthy. I’m not saying that Foulke is going to singlehandedly win your league next year but he’s a deep sleeper option for NL-only or AL-only leagues, and his arsenal isn’t that much different than Trevor Hoffman’s. A pitching-friendly National League team like the Nationals might make him an intriguing option.

On the international market, I’m currently only confident listing NPB’s Yakult Swallows pitcher Ryota Igarashi as the only impact reliever likely to come over to the major from Japan. Igarashi has recently earned and declared his free agency for next season and has laid his eyes on the major leagues as his next place of employment. What kind of reliever will the 30-year-old Igarashi prove to be as a big leaguer? Well, there is a certain lore surrounding him as he own the fastest pitch ever to be thrown by a Japanese pitcher at around 99 mph. So, trying to find a comparison to Igarashi is somewhat difficult, as a few similar high-velocity pitchers from Japan have made the jump to the US but most of them were starters and not hard throwing fireballers. He is not without warts, as he has lost some velocity in recent years as a result of TJ surgery in 2007, but his results have still be positive. He’s too interesting not be signed as a free agent and if he can harness his control, he could be a closer candidate in time.

Stayed tuned next week for the conclusion of It’s Never Too Soon.

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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