Clearing The Bases
When it comes to relief pitchers, I’m of the mind to wait. Last season by the middle of May, 15 of the 30 closers that were slated to have that job for their team at the beginning of spring training lost that job due to one reason or another. Injuries (Rivera, Wilson, Soria, Madson) took them out of the role. Poor performance (Bell, Walden), cost a few others. Saves can be found during the season. Personally I like to get one bona fide number one closer, but not until the double digit rounds or for more than $12 in an auction league. After that, I’ll be patient. This is not to say I wouldn’t love to have Craig Kimbrel, I would, but I’m not willing to pay that price (27th overall ADP). No thanks, in my opinion that is absolutely crazy, I want my hitters. Keep in mind there a quite a few starting pitchers who will qualify as relief pitchers, obviously they won’t get any saves, but if you need IP or Wins, they could help there.
1. Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta Braves: Was there ever any real doubt about him being number one. If there is one closer I would think about reaching for, Kimbrel would be it. The reason why is because of his high strikeout total, so in some ways he actually helps in two categories. Not to mention the Braves should give him more than his fair share of save opportunities.
2. Rafael Soriano, Washington Nationals: The Nationals may have gone to the World Series last season if they had Soriano as their closer. Not that Drew Storen isn’t good at the job himself, but he did implode at an inopportune time. As a Yankee fan this is blasphemy, but Soriano made the Yankees forget about Mariano Rivera when he went down with injury. He was lights out and almost perfect. With that starting rotation for Washington and a bullpen highlighted by Tyler Clippard, Storen, and Soriano, the sky is the limit for this organization.
3. Fernando Rodney, Tampa Bay Rays: Rodney had a terrific season for the Rays in 2012 and he wasn’t even slotted to be the closer. Kyle Farnsworth had the job until injury gave Rodney the chance. Can he duplicate the numbers from last year (48 saves, .60 ERA, 1.07 WHIP), unlikely, but he doesn’t really have to. Just do your job, keep shooting those imaginary arrows and his fantasy owners will be thrilled. One thing about the Rays, with that pitching staff and that offense, they are going to play a ton of low scoring games.
4. Jonathan Papelbon, Philadelphia Phillies: I really Papelbon is starting to decline. He’s still a good closer, but no longer elite. That’s not a knock on Papelbon, he’s still good, still someone I wouldn’t mind as my number one closer, but something just seems off to me. His fastball velocity is down a little over a MPH but his peripheral numbers are still very good. Once again he plays for a team that should give him plenty of opportunities. One thing to watch would be his walk rate, it did climb a bit last season although not enough to panic about.
5. Jason Motte, St. Louis Cardinals: Motte is a tweener to me. Not sure if he is in my top tier of fantasy closers, or if he starts the next tier. Motte throws hard, sometimes finding the strike zone can be a problem but he’s going to miss bats. Motte’s one bugaboo is the long ball. He gave up nine HRs last season, something you don’t like to see in a closer, but once again he’s another closer I’m happy with to anchor my team, but he’s the last one. Everyone else on this list has some warts and will come with a buyer beware tag.
6. Sergio Romo, San Francisco Giants: Now we start the next tier. Romo took over the closer’s job last season after Brian Wilson was lost due to injury. It’s his job as Wilson is still unsigned. Romo took over the job and did well, leading the Giants to a World Series championship. Can he do it again? My answer is yes as I have him sixth overall, but remember, after Wilson went down, he wasn’t the first choice for SF, Santiago Casilla was.
7. Mariano Rivera, New York Yankees: Yes Mariano Rivera is the best closer ever. Yes he is a first ballot Hall of Famer. He is also 43 years of age. Also coming off a season where he tore his ACL in May and didn’t pitch again. Also playing for a team that is aging at a rapid rate and is unlikely to be as good as they once were. To many question marks for me, let someone else grab him.
8. Aroldis Chapman, Cincinnati Reds: Chapman would be considerably higher on this list if he was still a closer. Not a big fan of this move by Cincinnati although I do understand that a starting pitcher is more valuable than a closer. Next problem is Chapman will more than likely be on a pitch count and innings limit. Not much fantasy value as a starter, some as a reliever, especially if you believe he will eventually close once again.
9. John Axford, Milwaukee Brewers: Axford almost lost his job on numerous occasions last season, blowing saves will do that to a closer, but in the end he is still their closer. Axford throws hard, but it’s straight, sooner or later hitters are going to time a fastball no matter how hard you throw if it doesn’t move. The good news is that Francisco Rodriguez is no longer on the team and there really isn’t anyone else in the bullpen to challenge him for the job.
10. Joe Nathan, Texas Rangers: After two injury filled seasons, Nathan was pretty much back to his old self with a 2.80 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 37 saves, and a fastball velocity averaging 94 MPH (his highest in four years). No reason to think he can’t put up those kind of numbers once again.
11. J.J. Putz, Arizona Diamondbacks: Putz had a solid season in 2012. Problem is this wouldn’t seem to be as good a team this year as last, which could lead to less save opportunities. Putz still Ks more than one batter an inning and rarely beats himself with the free pass. He’s a nice closer to target later in your drafts.
12. Joel Hanrahan, Boston Red Sox: Hanrahan was acquired from the Pirates during the off-season. He will be the initial closer, but the Red Sox are not short of other candidates should he falter, and let’s face it, pitching in the fish bowl which is Boston can lead to quite a bit of anxiety. Andrew Bailey who was acquired for Josh Reddick last season is still on the roster as is Daniel Bard.
13. Jim Johnson, Baltimore Orioles: Johnson may drop in some drafts due to everyone remembering his struggles versus the Yankees in the ALDS, but once again he’s a nice option later on in your drafts. The Orioles are unlikely to win quite as many one run games or extra inning games this season as they did last, but they will play quite a few close games which certainly will help a closer. One knock on Johnson, his K rate isn’t the best, about two for every three innings pitched.
14. Greg Holland, Kansas City Royals: Holland took over the job once Jonathan Broxton was traded, who took over the job when Joakim Soria was hurt. Holland did okay in this limited role last season. How will he handle the full-time job? The Royals are expecting to challenge for a wildcard spot this season and a few blown saves could easily force the team to switch closers. Most teams like a veteran in this spot, but there doesn’t seem to be one on the current roster, but Wade Davis could be an option.
15. Kris Medlen, Atlanta Braves: Medlen will be the number two starting pitcher in the Braves rotation this season. Like Chapman he’s not going to get any saves but could help in the wins and K categories. Unlike Chapman however, he has quite a bit of value as a SP and is likely to be drafted in the Top 25 as such.
16. Addison Reed, Chicago White Sox: The White Sox seemed to play musical closer for a while last season. Matt Thornton was given a chance. Chris Sale was given a chance before he became the ace of the staff. Hector Santiago was the sleeper for a while. What I’m trying to say is even though Reed has the job now, a slow start could see this merry go round happen again.
17. Jonathan Broxton, Cincinnati Reds: Might have Broxton a little higher if I was positive the Chapman experiment as a starter was going to work. Broxton has been up and down the past couple of seasons, but this Reds team is one of the best in the National League. Broxton did a good job of keeping the ball in the ballpark, a must for a closer, assuming he keeps the job, it’s hard not to see him get 30+ saves.
18. Chris Perez, Cleveland Indians: Perez could also be a little higher on this list but I keep hearing this little rumor that the Indians may trade him, especially if they get off to a slow start, and it would seem unlikely that he would be a closer for a different team. His relationship with team management is not something to write home about either.
19. Alexi Ogando, Texas Rangers: Like Chapman and Medlen, Ogando is penciled in to the starting rotation for Texas. After only throwing 66 innings last season, Ogando is likely to be a pitch count and innings limit also. He has upside, but probably not someone you can count on to pitch in your fantasy playoffs.
20. Brandon League, Los Angeles Dodgers: Have no idea why the Dodgers decided to give League the big contract, good to have money I suppose, but Kenley Jensen is a better pitcher, Javy Guerra is there also. With the expectations the Dodgers have, a stumble or two by League could find him back in a setup role.