Fantasy Focus: Closing Time

Fantasy Focus: Closing Time

The season is underway and already there have been shakeups in several major league bullpens, thrusting middle relievers into late-inning employment. Having at least three legitimate closers is vital to fantasy success in both head-to-head and rotisserie leagues. To help you sort out each team's stopper situation, a complete list is provided below, with the likely backup(s) listed in parentheses.

Closers within each category are listed in order of preference that is based on job security, injury potential and quality of team.

 

TOP DOGS

 

AMERICAN LEAGUE

NYY – Mariano Rivera (Kyle Farnsworth)…Rivera's still a stud and Bombers will win a ton of games once again.

 

LAA – Francisco Rodriguez (Scot Shields)…K-Rod has become very reliable, pitching for perennial winning squad.

 

MIN – Joe Nathan (Jesse Crain)…Even though Twins won't be in upper echelon for wins, Nathan is money when called upon.

 

OAK – Huston Street (Justin Duchscherer)…Street has quickly risen up AL stopper ladder and will continue to get plenty of chances with solid starting staff.

 

TOR – B.J. Ryan (Jason Frasor, Justin Speier)…Last season in Baltimore was his first full one as closer. Impressive strikeout ratio a huge plus. Also, closing for team that should be improved this year.

 

CLE – Bob Wickman (Francisco Cabrera, Rafael Betancourt)…If he can stay healthy, 37-year old should crank out another 40 on contending club.

 

SEA – Eddie Guardado (Rafael Soriano, J.J. Putz)…No reason why he can't get 35-40 on a decent Mariners team that has some quality starting pitching in a pitcher's park.

 

TEX – Francisco Cordero (Akinori Otsuka, Joaquin Benoit)…His shoulder ailments and subpar ERA and WHIP numbers are cause for concern. Pitching in hitter-friendly Ameriquest is as well. But the Rangers win games and, barring injury, he'll be there to close them out.

 

NATIONAL LEAGUE           

HOU – Brad Lidge (Dan Wheeler, Chad Qualls)…With his monster strikeout totals, Lidge contributes in four of the five traditional stat cats.

 

SD – Trevor Hoffman (Scott Linebrink)…The 38-year old keeps rolling, coming off yet another 40-save campaign. The close, low-scoring games at Petco definitely help, along with the fact that manager Bruce Bochy rarely uses his ace in non-save situations.

 

NYM – Billy Wagner (Jorge Julio, Duaner Sanchez)…Should get plenty of opportunities on improved Mets team with solid middle relievers. Wagner has struggled with injuries in the past, though, including a finger injury in spring training.

 

WAS – Chad Cordero (Gary Majewski)…Last season was his first with a full-time gig, and he preserved nearly 50 wins. Loss of setup man Luis Ayala to injury will hurt, though. Cordero works in a pitcher's park, which translates into low-scoring, contested affairs.

 

MIL – Derrick Turnbow (Matt Wise, Jose Capellan)…Turnbow came out of nowhere last year and appears here to stay. Started off on right foot with opening day save.

 

STL – Jason Isringhausen (Braden Looper)…Closing for the Cards each year is pretty profitable. Izzy just needs to stay injury-free.

 

COL – Brian Fuentes (Jose Mesa, Mike DeJean)…Sure, he pitches in Coors, but this southpaw's sweeping breaking pitch against lefties is deadly. Rockies appear to be improved this year, affording Fuentes ample opportunities.

 

ARI – Jose Valverde (Brandon Lyon)…"Papa Grande" re-established himself last season as the stopper. He'll hang onto it as long as he can stay healthy. D'backs may be .500 at best, but someone has to close out the victories.

 

THE SECOND TIER

 

AMERICAN LEAGUE

BAL – Chris Ray (LaTroy Hawkins)…Closed out the Birds' win on opening day in impressive fashion. Was tabbed the closer in the off-season, now just needs to prove he can finish out games over the long haul. Working under the watchful eye of Leo Mazzone can only help.

 

KC – Ambiorix Burgos (Andrew Sisco)…Handed the reins when Mike MacDougal went down with an arm injury. Will have plenty of time to prove it's his job to lose. Only negatives are lack of experience and likely lack of opportunities.

 

NATIONAL LEAGUE

LAD – Eric Gagne (Danys Baez)…Unsettling threat of injury drops Gagne down into this group. Dodgers were obviously concerned as well when they signed Baez as insurance.

 

CHC – Ryan Dempster (Bobby Howry)…It's not always pretty, but Dempster gets it done. He figures to get plenty of chances on a solid team.

 

ATL – Chris Reitsma (Oscar Villarreal)…There have been rumblings that Reitsma will not last as the closer. Well, he hasn't lost the job yet, and the supposed closer-in-waiting, Joey Devine, didn't make the club despite an impressive spring. Reitsma has had some injury issues recently, which seems to be more of a threat to his job security than anything else.

 

PHI – Tom Gordon (Arthur Rhodes, Rheal Cormier)…Gordon hasn't closed full-time in five years, so it's tough to gauge how he'll handle his return to the late-inning role.

 

PIT – Mike Gonzalez (Roberto Hernandez, Salomon Torres)…Gonzalez is the guy right now, but still needs to prove himself over a sustained period and stay healthy.

 

FLA – Joe Borowski (Matt Herges)…Borowski enjoyed the change of scenery in Tampa Bay last season, after his Chicago meltdown. He really doesn't have anyone pushing him for the job right now, but his save chances on a young team are expected to be limited.

 

SHAKY GROUND

 

AMERICAN LEAGUE

DET – Fernando Rodney (Joel Zumaya)…Looked good in saving opening day win. May go back to setting up, however, once veteran Todd Jones returns from injury.

 

CHW – Bobby Jenks (Neal Cotts)…Manager Ozzie Guillen has made no bones about yanking Jenks should he struggle. Guillen has been temperamental with his stoppers early in his managerial career, resorting to playing the hot hand.

 

BOS – Keith Foulke (Mike Timlin, Jonathan Papelbon)…Staying healthy is the big key here. Red Sox will likely have quick hook should Foulke struggle.

 

TB – Dan Miceli (Jesus Colome)…Closer-by-committee has been uttered on more than one occasion by rookie manager Joe Maddon. Miceli has been a middle guy for most of his career. Colome has closer stuff and impressed at the tail end of spring training.

 

NATIONAL LEAGUE

CIN – Dave Weathers (Todd Coffey)…Save opportunities are few and far between on a team that was last in the league in team ERA in 2005. Weathers again appears to be the default choice when that rare game is on the line.

 

SF – Tim Worrell (Tyler Walker)…Predominantly a setup man during his career, Worrell returns to the role with the same club for which he racked up 38 saves in 2003. It's tough to say if the veteran still has the closer make-up, though, after a couple subpar seasons away from the Bay Area. Plus, Armando Benitez figures to reclaim the job once he returns from injury.

 

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