With this article, I am not trying to predict free agent activity and trades. Instead I want to give you an early look at the players with closer skills who have the eyes of their respective teams as potential closers. In addition I'll be evaluating the present closers for weaknesses that may not be apparent on the surface. Most of this will be done with AL & NL-only leagues as the context but it should have tons of value for mixed leaguers also.
Jim Johnson has been closing for the Orioles since they traded George Sherrill to the Los Angeles Dodgers just before the trading deadline. He is a solid reliever with a high groundball rate. His K9 is decent but not spectacular. Johnson has done nothing to lose the role this year and would probably continue to do a solid job as the closer next season. However, Chris Ray is still on this team. He was the closer before he was hurt and has the flashy K-rate that managers love to see. Unfortunately, Ray has never been as good as he looked according to FIP, mostly due to poor walk rates and relatively few groundballs. But lately Ray has concentrated on using his two-seam fastball which has greater movement than his harder but straighter four-seam fastball. The results have been extremely good for him. If this keeps up he'll be hard to keep out of the role.
2010 Prediction: Jim Johnson remains the closer to start the season, but Chris Ray will be forever rumored to take the job and will by mid-season.
Boston Red Sox
Though his strikeout rate remains high, Jonathan Papelbon's three year decline in K9 and this year's loss of control is becoming a much discussed issue in Boston. Papelbon refuses to sign a long term deal with the Red Sox, insisting that he will become a free agent after the 2011 season. He is looking for Mariano Rivera money, that the Red Sox and Theo Epstein have been reluctant to give to relief pitchers. Meanwhile, Daniel Bard has reached the majors and his stuff is just as good as Papelbon's. There have already been rumors and talk of a Papelbon trade so that Bard can take over as closer. Having watched Bard frequently, I do not think the Red Sox would lose much by making the change.
2010 Prediction: Papelbon will keep the job after the Red Sox explore trade possibilities this winter. But if his stuff continues to degrade, the Red Sox will not hesitate to make the change to Daniel Bard.
Chicago White Sox
Bobby Jenks has had injury issues this season, including missing time after the removal of kidney stones. His K-rate is back where it should be at close to a strikeout per inning. But the reduction in his groundball rate and a freakishly high HR/FB has led to a surge in his ERA. Matt Thornton has become next-in-line thanks to superb performances over the last two seasons. Octavio Dotel becomes a free agent after the season and is likely to find a new team. Bobby Jenks will be due a big raise in arbitration this season but the White Sox can afford to pay him.
2010 Prediction: Jenks is not the best closer, but he seems like one of the safer ones for fantasy owners. If anything developed, Thornton would step in without a hitch.
I have always loved Kerry Wood but he has not been good this season. The main problem is his control. Wood has never been considered a control pitcher but after last season it seemed like being in the bullpen clicked with him. It could be the change in leagues, or the nagging injuries that have always plagued him, but realistically his walk rate looks like it has always looked which is a problem. Joe Smith, Tony Sipp, Chris Perez and Rafael Perez are all options if they decide to make a change. The favorite looks like Chris Perez who has control problems of his own. Wood has a vesting option in his contract at 55 games finished which I have a feeling the Indians will try to avoid. So we might see someone besides Wood seeing some save chances over the next five weeks.
2010 Prediction: Kerry Wood will be shopped at the Winter Meetings but the Indians will find few buyers. Wood starts the season as the closer with Perez a popular sleeper pick.
2011 DARK HORSE SELECTION: Tony Sipp - This kid has the stuff to close without question. He has been up and down all season. He had a terrible month of July but has been Lights Out in August. He had Tommy John Surgery in 2007 and took some time to get his mojo working but he is certainly on right now. This time next season everyone will want him.
The Tigers always seem to have bullpen issues. Fernando Rodney has held on to the job without any problems this season but the Tigers will almost certainly try to upgrade their bullpen after the season and Rodney will be a free agent. Ryan Perry is the closer of the future but he should probably be pitching at double-a Erie this season and in triple-a in 2010. Brandon Lyon has closer experience and has had a solid season, but I see him as a set-up man next season if he remains with the Tigers. Joel Zumaya should be an option only as a reserve on very deep rosters in very deep leagues.
2010 Prediction: No one on the present roster will take the job from Rodney if he stays. But the Tigers will be looking to trade for or sign a closer if they can do so without breaking the bank. Wouldn't the idea of a Tigers/Red Sox trade be interesting? I sincerely doubt that the Tigers would allow Rodney to leave only to sign Lyon on as their closer. If everyone leaves Ryan Perry will be forced into the closer role.
Kansas City Royals
With Joakim Soria the Royals have one of the better closers in baseball. Unfortunately, the Royals have a terrible reputation when it comes to protecting their players from injury and properly diagnosing and treating them after they occur. Soria suffered from some mysterious ailments that the team refused to discuss in much detail. It has greatly reduced Soria's innings this season and thus his impact on fantasy teams. Kyle Farnsworth would close if Soria was unavailable.
2010 Predictions: The Royals need to make improvements all over the field. I would be shocked if they did much to address the bullpen beyond Soria and Farnsworth. Soria is the unquestioned closer for the Royals.
Brian Fuentes has continued the Angel tradition of collecting a ton of saves after replacing Francisco Rodriguez. He won't break K-Rod's record but should easily surpass 40 saves this year. There is no doubt that given health Fuentes will start 2010 as the closer. But with Fuentes being less than awe inspiring it would not shock me if a change came in 2010 if he were ineffective. Jose Arredondo is still the next best option. His inflated ERA is the result of a bloated BABIP of .363, but his solid .332 FIP is a sign that he is still a very good pitcher.
2010 Prediction: Brian Fuentes will be the unquestioned closer to start 2010. Jose Arredondo is the future.
Joe Nathan is one of the top three closers in the game. The Twins are moving into a brand new stadium next season so any thoughts of trading one of their most popular players should be out the window. Matt Guerrier and Jose Mijares can both make claims on being next in line but most likely they'll need to wait until 2012 before it begins to look like a possibility. The Twins traded a player to be named later for Arizona's Jon Rauch on Friday to add depth to their bullpen, but it would take a disaster to find him in a position to get saves.
2010 Prediction: Joe Nathan is the closer. There is no doubt. I like Guerrier as the future closer but in fantasy years that is decades away.
New York Yankees
The Yankees have a Hall-of-Fame closer who should be just fine through the end of his contract in 2010. The question then becomes how much and how many years with the Yankees be willing to invest in a 41-year old reliever like Mariano Rivera. The Yankees have plenty of in-house options to replace Rivera should he decide to retire. But if he continues to pitch I cannot see anyone outbidding the Bombers for his services. The future at closer in New York could come from almost anywhere. I would cross both Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes off the list of possibilities, they'll be in the rotation. My favorite to take over the role is David Robertson, who still has some control issues but a K-rate over 13.00 makes up for quite a bit. Mark Melancon, Brian Bruney, and half a dozen names from the minors could be closing in a few years. This is a team where speculation on what the future holds will be both expensive and risky.
2010 Prediction: Mariano Rivera has another World Series MVP in his future. David Robertson and Mark Melancon will both emerge as great set-up relievers and possible closers.
When Joey Devine was unable to go this season Brad Ziegler stepped into the role and performed decently but still managed to lose the role to Andrew Bailey who has pitched great. Michael Wuertz also managed to collect a few saves. The A's have a solid and deep bullpen that should only improve when Devine returns next season. Though Bailey has done nothing to lose the job this season, he will need to re-win the job next spring. Billy Beane could very well trade Bailey or Ziegler if the return is good enough.
2010 Prediction: Joey Devine will emerge as the closer the Athletics meant him to be since acquiring him. Health will always be a consideration for Devine owners, so Ziegler and Wuertz will see plenty of bids.
I have been really proud of myself for calling David Aardsma as the Mariners closer (you should see the size of my head). But Aardsma is not a long-term closer. His walk rate is still bloated (5.17 BB9) and he's been a bit lucky that those walks haven't done more damage. The Mariners are slowly putting together a nice collection of arms. Brandon Morrow will be a starter next season and will stay a starter long enough to get through the ups and downs of starting (which means the entire season). Sean White, Shawn Kelley, Josh Fields and Mark Lowe are all possibilities but I have a feeling that the next long term closer for the Mariners isn't in the picture just yet.
2010 Prediction: David Aardsma won't be quite as good next year but he'll start the season in the role and keep it all year.
Tampa Bay Rays
After struggling to find a permanent closer for the last few years, J.P. Howell emerged this season as a legit option. Howell is far from the perfect closer. His walk rate is mediocre. He looks lucky with a 86.8 percent LOB and a .259 BABIP. But I can see the Rays going with him next year rather than invest resources to bring in a more established option. Long term the closer willcome from the farm system. Mostly likely from the group of very good starters they have trapped at triple-A. Jeremy Hellickson, Jake McGee, Wade Davis and Jeff Neimann will battle for the last spot in the rotation next year and the losers are likely to find roles in the bullpen. These are not your typical fifth starters.
2010 Predictions: The Rays will have another Spring Training battle of potential closer candidates. Howell will be the established favorite with an edge in earning the role.
Frank Francisco has been a great closer for the Rangers when healthy this season. But his frequent DL stints have spotlighted C.J. Wilson as another fine possibility. Both get the job done with plenty of strikeouts. Francisco's stuff is a bit better but Wilson is more durable and induces groundballs.
2010 Prediction: Frank Francisco remains the number one option. C.J. Wilson will be a nice alternative when Francisco requires a few days off. Wilson makes a nice speculation pick.
Toronto Blue Jays
Cito Gaston gave us hints that he wanted Scott Downs as the closer all winter and throughout Spring Training. If you listened you were not surprised when B.J. Ryan was quickly replaced. Downs has been very good but injuries have been a problem. Jason Frasor has been a fine replacement when needed but the Blue Jays would probably look elsewhere when Downs becomes a free agent after the 2010 season. But with the Blue Jays you never know. They dump contracts and say they are raising the payroll in essentially the same breath.
2010 Prediction: Downs will begin and end the 2010 season as the Jays' closer.
Chad Qualls is a free agent after next season, so considering that the Diamondbacks tried to trade him before the deadline (and still could in a quite active waiver period) they should have a new closer in 2010. The D'Backs have several good young arms in their bullpen that could replace Qualls. Juan Gutierrez and Esmerling Vasquez both have the stuff if not quite the guile at this point. The pitcher I like for the role has the stuff, a cool story, and a Rollie Fingers mustache too boot. Clay Zavada is my pick. In addition to a nice strikeout rate he has prevented the long ball despite not inducing many groundballs.
2010 Prediction: Chad Qualls will be a free agent after the 2010 season and will probably be traded before Opening Day. Clay Zavada will become the new closer.
Mike Gonzalez and Rafael Soriano have basically been co-closers this season. Neither has been especially bad but Soriano has been much better statistically. Both will be free agents after the season. The Braves could re-sign one of the two or another free agent closer but their bullpen could still use a bit more depth. The side-arming Peter Moylan is probably the most likely in-house option but it is a bit of a stretch to see him in the role.
2010 Prediction: The Braves 2010 closer is not yet on the roster.
After a season of speculation the Cubs finally gave Carlos Marmol the closer role after Kevin Gregg experienced an inconveniently timed streak if awfulness. Ironically, Marmol has been just as awful (if not worse) since gaining the role. "We'll continue to give him the ball," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said. "But boy he makes it tough on himself." The Cubs are looking incapable of making up the games they need to get back into the Wild Card race. They have almost no chance at catching the Cardinals for the division. So, giving Marmol the role for the remainder of the season makes some sense. Gregg is a free agent after the season and will be in demand as a mid-priced closer option.
2010 Prediction: He'll be pissed about it, but once again Carlos Marmol will have to earn the closer role in Spring Training. In addition to whatever free agent options the Cubs bring into the mix, he'll have to compete with Angel Guzman and Jeff Samardzija as well. Marmol is the odds on favorite but I'll be bidding on Guzman and Samardzija instead.
Francisco Cordero has been very effective as the Reds closer. Although many have speculated that the Reds would be looking to trade away some salary after the season, I do not believe that will be the case. It certainly won't be Cordero who is traded. Nick Masset is probably the closer-in-waiting and a nice option should I be wrong about the Reds intentions. Masset has a decent but uncloser-like K-rate of 7.74 this season and a high groundball rate of 54.2 percent. He would probably be of use to NL-only league owners even without a regular opportunity for saves.
2010 Prediction: Francisco Cordero will remain the closer in Cincinnati.
It was not hard to predict that Huston Street would be a solid closer for the Colorado Rockies. being effective has never been as much of a problem as staying healthy. In the spring rumors flew around that the Rockies only acquired Street to trade him and there seems to have been some truth to that notion. But when the Rockies found themselves in the playoff hunt and one of the favorites to win the Wild Card, the idea of trading Street was pulled off the table. Manny Corpas, who was the player predicted to take over as closer at some point this season was disappointing to say the least. In addition to a 5.88 ERA (3.54 FIP), he suffered a variety of injuries. Corpas' most recent problem was an infection that occurred in his surgically repaired elbow. He'll miss the rest of the season as a result. Matt Daley and Rafael Betancourt have both been solid set-up men. Betancourt is the likely fill-in should anything happen to Street at this point. The Rockies hold a reasonable option on Betancourt for the 2010 season and they seem likely to retain him. Street is in his last year of arbitration and could still be traded after the season.
2010 Prediction: Street stays on for the 2010 season and is once again a solid saves option for fantasy owners.
Leo Nunez has done a decent job as the closer since Matt Lindstrom went down with injuries. Lindstrom had been on the verge of replacement before getting hurt anyway. However Lindstrom is back and has pitched much better of late. The Marlins have been pretty open about shopping for a veteran closer but with the Marlins the price is most often too high. Dan Meyer, the former top prospect of the Braves and Athletics has been priceless in the pen and has been mentioned as a potential closing candidate. As a lefty the Marlins may prefer him in a set-up role.
2010 Prediction: Matt Lindstrom is reinstalled as the closer even if Nunez finishes the 2009 season in the role.
Injuries prevented Jose Valverde from providing his fantasy owners with a satisfying season but statistically he has been the same pitcher he's always been. he provides tons of strikeouts with a mediocre walk rate. Valverde is unsigned and a potential free agent after this season but the Astros almost have to re-sign him because they have no prospects or even much in the way of a veteran reliever that could fill the role on a full-time basis. LaTroy Hawkins was a nice fill-in this season but he's a free agent again after this season and is likely to make a lot more money elsewhere.
2010 Prediction: The Astros will try to re-sign Valverde but may go for a cheaper option instead like Kevin Gregg or Mike Gonzalez. They have almost nothing in the way of an in-house option.
In his first full season as the regular closer, Jonathan Broxton has been very good. He has a killer strikeout rate (13.28) and a very nice groundball percentage (54 percent) that combine to make him one of the better closer's available. The Dodgers have built a very nice bullpen around him. George Sherrill was a pretty good closer himself and is now Broxton's set-up man. Guillermo Mota has been solid but is a free agent after this season. Ramon Troncoso has a good arm and should continue to develop into a solid reliever in his own right. Hong-Chih Kuo could be one of the better pitchers in baseball if he could stay healthy and available.
2010 Prediction: Jonathan Broxton is one of the better closers in baseball.
Trevor Hoffman was great this season for the Brewers. He has a very good chance at signing on as a closer somewhere for the 2010 season and it could be to stay in Milwaukee. The Brewers haven't developed any obvious closer candidates but Todd Coffey looks like he could handle the role. Coffey was frequently touted as a potential closer in his Cincinnati days. He owns a 3.87 K/BB with a groundball rate of over 50 percent.
2010 Prediction: Hoffman sticks around as the closer for one more season.
New York Mets
It is safe to say that the 2009 season has been a disaster for the New York Mets. But at least they can say that in a season where 20 different Mets went on the disabled list (including first baseman Carlos Delgado, shortstop Jose Reyes, third baseman David Wright, center fielder Carlos Beltran, starters Johan Santana, Oliver Perez, and John Maine as well as set-up man, J.J. Putz) closer Francisco Rodriguez stayed relatively healthy. That is not to say that K-Rod has not been a little disappointing. His strikeout rate fell for the fifth straight season even as his walk rate rose for the third straight season to a career high 5.12 BB9, resulting in a career high 4.07 FIP. I suggested he might have an arm injury in Spring Training due to reports of his declining velocity on his fastball, though it rebounded slightly this season to 92.7 from 91.9 in 2008 with the Angels. I still think of K-Rod as a closer to avoid investing too heavily in owning.
2010 Prediction: Rodriguez will remain the Mets closer as long as he is healthy and able to do so.
He was almost the perfect closer in 2008 but Brad Lidge has been a disaster in 2009 with nine blown saves and a bloated ERA. Almost every appearance has been an adventure. The team has used DL stints, brief breaks from the role to try an jar Lidge back into the pitcher he can be. Nothing has worked. Lidge has done this before. With the Astros, Lidge was often on and off as a great closer and then inexplicably awful. Unfortunately, when called on to close Ryan Madson (the theoretical next-in-line) has also failed to impress. Madson has been okay in his eighth inning role but has five blown saves of his own. The Phillies failed in their attempts to add a veteran closer to their pen before the deadline and nothing appears to be imminent on the trade front. But there is another option. Brett Myers is due to return from a minor league rehab assignment very soon. Myers was a solid closing option in 2007 and the rotation has been fine without him.
2010 Prediction: Thanks to a pricey contract Lidge returns as the closer. But September of 2009 and the playoffs are an entirely different story. I'm betting on Myers to close 2009.
The Pirates are becoming a difficult team to predict. I never thought they would trade the reasonably signed Nate McClouth for a collection of B and C prospects. They traded just about every position player who wasn't a first or second year player in exchange for sometimes promising but usually disappointing prospects. I think this was backwards thinking on their part. I know they were trying to add depth to their system but they've already proven that they can produce decent major league role players. Where the Pirates system has always failed them is in developing star level players. The players worthy of building around. This is why I would have preferred fewer top level prospects rather than so many players similar to the ones they already have. But they do have Andrew McCutchen and he looks like a star, but all by himself he just isn't enough. Closer Matt Capps was often involved in trade rumors but has remained a Pirate thus far. Capps is arbitration eligible this season which is likely the reasoning behind offering him in trades. Or maybe, Capps is still a Pirate because his 6.23 ERA/ 5.03 FIP is awful. Capps has been worked to death in his time with the Pirates and would probably benefit from a few months off. Unfortunately, the Pirates don't seem to have anyone remaining with closer worthy skills.
2010 Prediction: The Pirates fail to trade Matt Capps and he remains their closer.
San Diego Padres
The Padres seemed to be shopping Heath Bell pretty aggressively. I have no idea why. Bell is one of the better closers in baseball and he made just over one million dollars this season. Even with the raise he is due next season he should remain one of the better bargains in baseball. But I have to admit the Padres have usually underwhelmed me with their baseball decisions though they have excelled at finding relief pitchers. Mike Adams who has been around the block and been called the closer of various futures pitched great for the Padres this season before suffering a shoulder strain. The club is insisting that this shoulder strain has nothing to do with the torn labrum that required off-season shoulder surgery. I have my doubts about whether that is true or not. Adams was in the middle of his best season and would have become the closer had Bell been traded. With Bell sidelined, Edward Mujica moves to the top of the next-in-line list. Mujica has the stuff but is short on experience.
2010 Prediction: The Padres will realize that Bell is more than worth his salary and let him remain as closer for another season. Mike Adams will be worth drafting next season but will remain an injury risk.
San Francisco Giants
Brian Wilson has been a fine closer for the Giants. He has a decent strikeout rate. He walks a few too many but is not in disaster territory. He also induces groundballs at around a 50 percent rate. He also comes very cheap. The Giants have no reason to make a change. The bullpen around Wilson is strong with a nice mix of veteran experience and live young arms. Brandon Medders, Sergio Romo, Jeremy Alfeldt and Bobby Howry are all solid relievers and decent options to close if the need arose.
2010 Prediction: Brian Wilson is a lock to remain the closer for the Giants.
St. Louis Cardinals
This spring everyone was declaring their loyalty to one or the other Cardinals reliever. Popular opinion had Chris Perez and Jason Motte both seeing time as the closer this season. But the thing that so many missed (and I know they missed it because of the high prices attached to Perez and Motte) is that Tony LaRussa was not fond of the idea of either one of the players as his closer. I am not a big fan of Tony LaRussa and Dave Duncan for reasons that have little to do with their levels of ability. But one thing I've learned is that LaRussa usually says exactly what he means. This spring he went about his thinking of what was required in a closer. Basically he stated that he did not like the idea of rookies in such an important role. He believed that a great quality in an effective closer was intimidation. He didn't believe that any rookie could intimidate professional hitters. If he couldn't have that intimidation factor he wanted a track record of success that no rookie has for obvious reasons. Knowing that LaRussa trusted Ryan Franklin as his closer in 2008, it was a cinch to predict that Franklin would be LaRussa's choice in 2009. That Franklin has been outstanding in the role is just gravy. The Cardinals hold an option on Franklin for 2010 at $2.75 million.
2010 Prediction: Another Tony LaRussa trait? Trusting veterans to continue doing what they have always done until they prove otherwise. Ryan Franklin will remain the Cardinals closer in 2010.
Mike MacDougal has been attempting to become somebody's closer for a long time. For reasons mostly concerning his lack of control, MacDougal has failed over and over again. So while MacDougal has been rather effective (despite still dicey control and a severe loss of dominance) for the Nationals, it is difficult to believe that he will remain the closer for very long. I believe the Nationals have two excellent possibilities for closing. Tyler Clippard and Sean Burnett both have the stuff, though Clippard could still wind up in the rotation.
2010 Prediction: Despite Mike MacDougal''s best efforts, Tyler Clippard closes for the Nationals.
Under Not Fantasy Sports but Still Awesome!
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