The season has started with a bang for many closing situations. So far, we’ve seen one of the best closers in baseball go down for the season (Nathan), three closers get injured during spring training (Lidge, Street, & Wood), two closers are already on the disabled list (Fuentes & Gonzalez), one closer has apparently already lost his job (Frasor), and one has already been temporarily demoted (Francisco). The point of this article and pretty much all articles posted on the fantasy baseball café is to identify players that could possibility become fantasy relevant at some point during the season. This could be because of performance, injury, trade, call-up, or based on pure raw talent. So, for the first edition of Closer Complex, I thought it would be pertinent to look at the AL closing positions and then focus on the NL for next week.
Baltimore Orioles: After being non-tendered last year by the Atlanta Braves, Mike Gonzalez was signed to be the closer. But from the very beginning he didn’t look quite right and has since wound up on the disabled list. This happening has already left Jim Johnson as the temporary closer. The long-term option is likely going to be the hard-throwing 6’9 Kam Mickolio but Gonzalez will close for the foreseeable future, if effective, when he returns, as Johnson doesn’t fit the closer mold.
Boston Red Sox: As long as Jonathan Papelbon plays in Boston, he’s going to be the closer. There is some speculation that Papelbon’s contract negotiation might force the Red Sox’s hand to trade him but I’m skeptical that that will happen. Of course, the Red Sox do have the best closer of the future in flamethrower Daniel Bard. Still, Papelbon will likely close for the next two seasons at least with Bard likely getting the keys to the castle soon after.
New York Yankees: There seems to be few things as automatic as Mariano Riviera. He defies the odds but at age 40 father time has to come calling at some point. The Yankees know this and have a few young options available. Joba Chamberlain has the most talent in the bullpen but his value might be in the rotation to eventually replace Andy Pettitte. 2009 surprise David Robertson and prospect Mark Melancon are likely next on the depth chart.
Tampa Bay Rays: The Rays signed Rafael Soriano, who is good when healthy and will close when available. J.P. Howell, currently on the disabled list, closed some last year but broke down some and doesn’t have the frame to close on a full-time basis. Look for Soriano and Howell to get the saves in Tampa Bay. But make no mistake closer of the future Jake McGee is the guy to own down the road.
Toronto Blue Jays: What do you say here? The Blue Jays entered the season with Jason Frasor as the closer in an off-season where they signed former Marlins/Cubs closer Kevin Gregg. Frasor has since lost the job to Gregg but the prospect of Gregg putting up great numbers in the AL East does not sound appealing. Casey Janssen is talented and possesses worthy pitches but he’s down the pecking order. Still, there aren’t a lot of high upside arms currently in the pen. Josh Roenicke is their best relief prospect and they also have former relief prospect Merkin Valdez present.
Cleveland Indians: The Indians had a casualty this spring when closer Kerry Wood went down. Enter closer in waiting Chris Perez. Many feel, myself included, that Perez is the future closer on this team. Perez has looked both good and bad this season but you got to think his talent will eventually shine through. Still, he might not quite be ready to be a full-time MLB closer. When Wood returns I think he closes but I believe it is only a matter of time until Perez returns. Jensen Lewis and Tony Sipp could be factors if Perez continues to struggle and Wood isn’t able to return. This team will not contend and I think they’ll show a lot of patience with Perez. Prospect Jess Todd does have the 9th inning chops to close as well in the future.
Chicago White Sox: Jenks remains the big man on campus and looks to remain there for a while. There has been talk that the White Sox will trade him but as long as they’re in contention that probably won’t happen. The team is lucky to have a multitude of capable replacements in the form of lefty flame-thrower Matt Thornton, Tony Pena, Scott Linebrink, and converted infielder Sergio Santos. If anything happens to Jenks I could see Thornton and Pena split duties based on matchups while Linebrink doesn’t quite dazzle and Santos isn’t ready. Prospect Santos Rodriguez is pretty far off but he could have a lot of upside in the future.
Detroit Tigers: For a team not wanting to spend unneeded money, the Tigers did a strange thing in signing the top free agent closer in Jose Valverde. Valverde has been good and the once future closer in waiting and oft injured, Joel Zumaya, has been great so far this season. Uber relief prospects Ryan Perry and Daniel Schlereth round out a highly capable future relief core. But one thing you have to ask is if Valverde will be expendable in the future.
Kansas City Royals: Joakim Soria has surpassed all expectations to become one of the best closers in the game. He even does it without an overpowering fastball. The biggest problem the Royals have had is getting the game to Soria as the rest of the bullpen has been lackluster. Kyle Farnsworth and Juan Cruz have pitched well so far but the middle relief core has collapsed. Look for Carlos Rosa to see a lot of time in 2010 in an attempt to fortify the KC pen.
Minnesota Twins: If any team has reason to be sad it’s the Twins as one of the best players in Joe Nathan is out for the year and his days of dominating the 9th inning may be over all together. Jon Rauch has pitched very well in his stead and Jesse Crain as well as Matt Guerrier have been effective so far in 2010. I still believe Crain has the best arm in the pen and may push Rauch out if he continues his dominance. Prospects Carlos Gutierrez, Ben Tootle, Anthony Slama, and Billy Buckner all look like legitimate future major league pitchers.
Los Angeles Angels: The Angels are another team that has suffered a setback at closer as Brian Fuentes has landed on the DL. Fuentes was very erratic last year and was downright bad near the end of the season. The questions surrounding Fuentes likely led the Angels to sign Fernando Rodney, who is serving as the interim closer. Kevin Jepsen has been a success so far in 2010 and Michael Kohn has a future in the 9th inning at some point.
Oakland Athletics: Reigning AL Rookie of the Year Andrew Bailey was a pleasant surprise last year but it remains to be seen how durable he is going forward. Since much of the A’s pen is currently on the DL (Devine & Wuertz), Brad Ziegler remains the lone backup until the rest of the bullpen recovers. The dynamic prospect arm of Henry Rodriguez remains in the minors and could push Bailey in the future.
Seattle Mariners: It looks like David Aardsma is picking up where he left off. He’s been the best closer in the AL so far and is finally the type of pitcher that earned him his 1st round draft selection in 2003. Will it last? I hope so as he’s bounced around a lot of teams before finding success. Many people are betting on Brandon League to overcome him but Aardsma has earned a very long leash. Prospect Josh Fields will likely see time in the majors in 2010 so be aware of him in dynasty and keeper leagues.
Texas Rangers: Frank Francisco has been demoted and Neftali Feliz has been inserted in the role. Like the Yankees and Joba, the Rangers have a similar decision to make regarding Feliz. Will he be in the rotation or the pen? Still, the Rangers recently came out and said they want Francisco to reclaim the spot and he has pitched well since his demotion. So, you have to think they want Feliz in the starting five moving forward. Former Orioles closer Chris Ray is now on the Rangers and newly drafted Tanner Scheppers is another pitcher with a high-upside arm that could either relieve or start.
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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