Closer watch: American League

I thought it might be helpful to, periodically, look at the bullpen situations of each major league baseball team. I think this will be especially valuable leading up to draft day as it will help you decide which guys are worth speculating on for saves. As I’ve said, I don’t like spending early picks on closers in shallow-to-medium leagues, so these articles should help you figure out which guys are worth taking late in your draft.

American League

CloserFrancisco Rodriguez
Analysis: Unless K-Rod gets injured, he should be the closer. If he does, you need to watch Scot Shields and Justin Speier.

CloserHuston Street
Analysis: A trade is possible and there are still some injury concerns, but if Street’s on the team and healthy, he’s the closer. Next in line would be Justin Duchscherer if he isn’t moved to the rotation (which I don’t think will happen, for what it’s worth) and Santiago Casilla. Andrew Brown would be another possibility.

Blue Jays
CloserJeremy Accardo/B.J. Ryan
Analysis: Reports are saying that Ryan could be ready by the start of the season, but he underwent Tommy John surgery in May and the 18-month mark won’t come until after the 2008 season ends. He’s already throwing, and the Jays certainly want him back before then, but I’m worried they’re rushing him. Accardo could come as a good value, as I think there’s a real chance Ryan comes back ineffective. Casey Janssen would most likely be next in line, although Brandon League should be back and healthy this year as well.

Devil Rays
CloserTroy Percival
Analysis: Manager Joe Maddon has committed to Percival as his closer, but Al Reyes and Dan Wheeler are hanging around if he bombs. They are both candidates to be traded, but they should be on your radar.

CloserJoe Borowski
Analysis: Borowski’s skills are modest, to say the least, and Rafael Betancourt has continued to be a dominant reliever. I would not be surprised at all if this is the year he becomes the team’s full-time closer. One of the better AL setup men to speculate on. Japanese newcomer Masahide Kobayashi could be in the mix as well, although I’m not sure he’s draftable with Betancourt around.

CloserJ.J. Putz
Analysis: Putz is downright amazing, and there should be no question who the closer in Seattle is while he’s healthy. George Sherrill was their second-best reliever last year, although he’s a lefty and is being discussed in trade talks. If it’s not Sherrill, guys like Brandon Morrow and Sean Green would probably be in the mix in the event of a Putz injury. Neither is worth drafting except in really deep leagues.

Closer – Open
Analysis: There isn’t a clear-cut closer right now in Baltimore. Jamie Walker is a possibility, but the Orioles tried really hard to keep him in a setup role last year when Chris Ray went down. Ray and Danys Baez are out for the year, so the Orioles don’t have a ton of veteran options. Chad Bradford could contend, or youngsters like Jim Hoey, Cory Doyne, or even Fernando Cabrera could be options.

There have also been murmurs that the Orioles are looking at Octavio Dotel. If they sign him, he becomes the guy to own. Otherwise, we don’t have much more than speculation to go on, but right now I’m putting my money (hesitantly) on Hoey. He doesn’t have as much experience as the other guys, but he put up great peripherals in limited time in Triple-A last year. More of a process of elimination choice, but anything could happen.

CloserC.J. Wilson
Analysis: Akinori Otsuka was non-tendered and is now said to be undergoing some sort of surgery, so he becomes much less of a threat to come back and challenge Wilson. Joaquin Benoit is another possibility, but the Rangers favored Wilson in the second-half of 2007. He’s the guy to own right now, and he’s been one of the last few closers off the board in many mock drafts. I see good value here. The Rangers signed Eddie Guardado and Masahide Kobayashi from Japan, so if Wilson does lose the job one of these guys is a possibility to step up.

Red Sox
CloserJonathan Papelbon
Analysis: Papelbon is the man in Boston, and if he gets injured Hideki Okajima would be next in line.

CloserJoakim Soria
Analysis: There was talk of moving Soria to the rotation, but that doesn’t seem likely to happen anymore. They didn’t get Dotel back, and they don’t have much else in the pen. If Soria gets hurt, you could watch Ron Mahay, Jimmy Gobble, Joel Peralta, or Yasuhiko Yabuta as potential replacements.

CloserTodd Jones
Analysis: Jones really had an awful year, skills-wise, and it’s hard to see him lasting another year in the closer’s role. With Joel Zumaya out for the season, though, it is possible. Fernando Rodney, right now, represents the biggest threat to Jones. He’s a decent guy to speculate on.

CloserJoe Nathan
Analysis: Another really stable closer situation. If Nathan gets hurt, Pat Neshek is probably second in line. Matt Guerrier, Juan Rincon, and maybe Jesse Crain are other guys you could watch if Nathan goes down.

White Sox
CloserBobby Jenks
Analysis: Jenks is the closer, but if he goes down, Mike MacDougal could step in. Scott Linebrink was signed this off-season, although he showed serious skills deterioration in 2007 with the Padres. He appeared to bounce back in 25 innings with the Brewers, so if he can do that with the Sox, he could be in the mix if Jenks gets injured.

CloserMariano Rivera
Analysis: While the Yankees are saying they could start Joba Chamberlain in the bullpen to start the year to keep his innings down, don’t expect him to take the closer’s job unless Rivera gets hurt. If Rivera does get hurt, there’s a chance Joba could stay the whole year in the pen. If Rivera gets hurt after Joba has a spot in the rotation sealed, LaTroy Hawkins or maybe Kyle Farnsworth would be the top candidates to replace him.

A Hardball Times Update
Goodbye for now.
Draft day bargains

Here are the guys I see as bargains on draft day, guys you should target in the later rounds of your draft (assuming your league isn’t ultra-deep).

  • Joakim Soria
  • C.J. Wilson
  • Troy Percival
  • Jeremy Accardo
  • Rafael Betancourt
  • Todd Jones
  • Fernando Rodney
  • The Orioles
  • Octavio Dotel

This list will be update throughout Spring Training as bullpen situations or the Average Draft Position reports change.

Concluding thoughts

I’m not familiar with every team’s minor league relief prospects, so if you think I missed someone, feel free to let me know. We’ll do the National League tomorrow.

On an unrelated note, I have a new article up at MLB Front Office about ground ball pitchers. I thought that the duel tables that appear at the end of the article were really cool. They give league-wide composite ERAs for pitchers with similar strikeout and walk rates but drastically different ground ball rates. Definitely worth a look.

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