FantasySmackTalk.com takes an in-depth look at the National League closer situation. The National league features a few middle-relievers turned closers worth targeting on draft day, a nice selection of proven veterans, as well as a few guys who you may want to avoid.
Brandon Lyon is out, enter Chad Qualls. Tony Pena and Jon Rauch both had a shot at taking over the job, but poor springs by both of these guys widened the gap between them and Qualls. It seems likely that Arizona may mix things up a bit during the season so monitor this situation if you are counting on Qualls. FST Advice: This is another closer situation to avoid if you can, Qualls should secure the job if he can post similar numbers to his ’08 season, but Pena will step in if he can’t.
Latest reports out of Colorado say that Street will start the season as the Rockies closer over Manny Corpas. Street, who was acquired from Oakland as a part of the Matt Holliday deal, showed some inconsistency the last two seasons, but looks to be the better option in the 9th for the Rockies. FST Advice: Ironically enough, Taylor Buchholz might be the Rockies’ best reliever, but it looks like he is third in line for saves. He may be worth an add if you are looking for a quality reliever. Looks like Street has the job, but we’d guess he’s on a short leash.
Last season, Takashi Saito’s injured elbow moved Broxton into the closer’s role sooner than expected. He did not disappoint as he converted on 14 of 17 chances with a 3.13 ERA. Broxton’s 100 MPH heater and nasty slider put him near the top of the list in NL closers this year. The Dodgers also have one of the leagues best relievers last year with Hong-Chih Kuo. With a 2.14 ERA and a 96/21 K/BB ratio in 80 innings last season, Kuo looks to be the only one putting any pressure on Broxton. FST Advice: We like Broxton this year, in fact we’ve liked for a couple years, look for Broxton to put up some nice numbers this season.
Bell is replacing all-time saves leader Trevor Hoffman, who had an unpleasant end to his Padres career. Bell posted great numbers and ’07 and respectable numbers in ’08. His 3.58 ERA in ’08 was mostly attributed to s three-day span in July, in which he gave up seven runs in two innings. His job security would be pretty solid if it were based on performance alone, but the cash-straped Padres may be looking to deal him for prospects if they are sitting at the bottom of the standings in July. With that being said, the good news for Bell owners is they also don’t have money to sign anyone to replace him. Mike Adams, who will start the season on the disabled list following shoulder surgery, and Cla Meredith would fill in for Bell if he misses any time. FST Advice: We like Bell and he should fill in nicely for Hoffman. The Padres look to be in a lot of close games this year so Bell should get ample save opportunities.
Last season Brian Wilson had 41 saves on a Giants team that only won only 72 games. Even more amazing is that he did it with an ERA of 4.62 and a WHIP of 1.44. During the offseason the Giants released Correia, Hennessey, and Walker who would have posed the biggest threat to Wilson. Newly acquired Jeremy Affeldt would probably fill in if Wilson can’t get the job done this year. FST Advice: Don’t be fooled by the 41 saves last season. He can’t pitch like that this year and expect to have similar success, although there is no immediate threat to take over his job.
With Kerry Wood out of the picture, Lou Piniella has named Kevin Gregg over Carlos Marmol as the Cubs’ closer to start the ’09 season. This is a rather bizarre decision as the ex-Marlin Gregg blew 9 saves in 38 chances last season, while Marmol posted a 2.68 ERA and 114 strikeouts in 87.1 innings. FST Advice: If you drafted Marmol don’t panic, he still remains the hotter long-term closer choice and we expect he will be closing games at some point this season.
Cordero’s huge contract with the Reds has helped stabilize a shaky bullpen and he should be a lock as their closer for the foreseeable future. Converting on 34 saves in 40 chances last year we’d guess you can expect about the same this season despite an dreadful spring. Cordero has posted a 15.43 ERA in his first 7 innings pitched. Jared Burton has pitched great this spring and looks to be the favorite to fill in if something happens to Cordero. FST Advice: Cordero’s lousy spring should be a slight concern, but we think he still remains a safe pick and should rebound quickly.
Valverde had a great ’08 season, converting 44 saves with a 3.38 ERA. Recently added LaTroy Hawkins will provide some late inning support and its a toss-up between him and Doug Brocail as to who would be next in line to take over as closer. FST Advice: Valverde is a top 10 closer and in a contract year, look for him to have another solid season.
Salomon Torres closed out the ’08 season as the Brewers closer, but retired in the offseason, leaving a vacancy soon to be filled by the newly acquired Trevor Hoffman. With 554 saves and counting, Hoffman will start the season on the DL and it may be a sign of things to come for the 41 year-old. He will be the closer once he returns from injury, but until then Carlos Villanueva appears to be management’s favorite to fill in. FST Advice: Hoffman may have a little gas left in the tank, but if you own him you may want to consider Villanueva as insurance. Villanueva also qualifies as a SP, so that’s a nice little bonus.
Capps converted his first 15 saves chances last season, then blew five of seven before landing on the DL. He missed nearly two months due to a shoulder injury, but still converted on 21 of 26 save opportunities with a 3.02 ERA and WHIP of 0.97. John Grabow filled in for Capps last year and if needed, he appears to be the favorite fill in again this year. FST Advice: Capps owners can relax as there is that there is no immediate threat to take over his job, however save opportunities may be slim on what looks to be another bad Pirates team.
It looked like Chris Perez was going to be the closer for the Cards but his control issues opened the door for a battle with Jason Motte. Tony La Russa confirmed that Motte would “get some chances to close some games,” which leads us to believe that the door is still open for guys like Ryan Franklin and Josh Kinney. It appears that Perez is out of the mix for now. FST Advice: Motte is the only guy worth owning right now, but monitor the situation to see if a clear cut favorite starts to emerge.
Another closer in a contract year, Gonzalez has shown he can be dominant. During one stretch in his career he made 183 appearances, mostly as a middle reliever, without blowing a lead. Converting on 14 of 16 save opportunities last year, Gonzalez opens the ’09 season as the Braves closer. With Rafael Soriano healthy and hungry to get back into the 9th inning, we see Gonzalez on a short leash. FST Advice: Gonzalez does have a lengthy injury history, so Soriano may be worth the add if you have an extra roster spot.
Florida is optimistic that Matt Lindstrom will be ready for opening day. To cut costs the Marlins moved ’08 closer Kevin Gregg to the Cubs and in typical Marlin fashion, have a bullpen stocked with cheap young arms ready to take over if called upon. Leo Nunez, who was acquired in the offseason from the Royals, is the obvious candidate to close if Matt Lindstrom isn’t ready for Opening Day, but his poor spring may open the door for Logan Kensing or possibly Renyel Pinto. FST Advice: With a lot of eager talent ready to step in, Lindstrom will need to prove he can perform under pressure. Its Lindstroms job to lose, but monitor this situation closely.
After losing All-Star closer Billy Wagner for the year, the Mets blew away all expectations and landed offseason deals with Francisco Rodriguez and J.J. Putz. Coming off a record-breaking 62-save season last year, Rodriguez should get plenty of save opportunities with the Mets. J.J. Putz is the obvious choice to replace if Rodriguez misses time. Putz has been a proven closer in Seattle and has notched 55 saves the last two seasons. FST Advice: If you took an early round pick for Rodriguez you should be fine. Don’t expect 60 saves this year, but he’s still an elite fantasy closer.
Lidge was another closer overshadowed by K-Rods record-breaking season in ’08. WIth a perfect 41 saves in 41 chances and 0 losses you can’t get better than that. Oh yeah, not to mention a perfect 7 for 7 in postseason play as the Phillies won the World Series. Ryan Madson and Chad Durbin look to take over for Lidge if he falters, but at this point it seems highly unlikely. FST Advice: Lidge is another top option closer this season and should have another great year.
Chad Cordero and Jon Rauch are no longer in Washington, which leaves Joel Hanrahan as the ’09 closer. Hanrahan has shown he is more effective as a closer than a starter and overall he fanned 93 batters in 84 innings last season. At this point its tough to say who would take over if Hanrahan loses the job, but Saul Rivera or Joe Beimel appear to be likely candidates. FST Advice: Avoid this situation if you can, its tough to say how long Hanrahan will hold the job and if he does how many save opportunities will he actually get in Washington.