Closer watch: National League

Today we’ll look at the National League closer situations. As I said yesterday, I’m against taking closers early, so hopefully these lists should help you pick out guys to speculate on late in your draft or for a couple of bucks at auction.

National League

CloserJose Valverde
Analysis: The Astros traded for Valverde for a reason. They weren’t confident in Brad Lidge but still felt like they needed a good closer. Valverde fills that need, and he likely won’t be replaced unless he gets injured. Since mid-2007, the Astros have traded Lidge, Dan Wheeler, and Chad Qualls, leaving them with few other quality relievers. If Valverde gets injured, Geoff Geary might become the guy to own.

CloserRafael Soriano
Analysis: Soriano is the man in Atlanta, although Mike Gonzalez is expected to be back in the middle of the season. Until the Braves are confident he’s fully healthy, Peter Moylan is probably next in line.

CloserEric Gagne
Analysis: I haven’t heard an official announcement yet, but it’s difficult to see the Brewers giving Eric Gagne $10 million without giving him first crack at — and a pretty long leash with — the closer’s role. Still, there’s been talk that it could be Derrick Turnbow. I’m drafting Gagne, although Turnbow is a decent setup guy to speculate on. David Riske is probably #3 in the Milwaukee pen. They also have Salomon Torres, Seth McClung, and Guillermo Mota, but it would take a lot for them to get involved in the saves mix.

CloserJason Isringhausen
Analysis: Isringhausen has got a firm hold on the job, but he also has an injury history. Ryan Franklin is listed as the top setup man right now, although Russ Springer and Randy Flores showed better skills last year. Don’t worry about any of them unless Izzy gets hurt.

Closer – Open
Analysis: Kerry Wood is probably the favorite for the role, although Carlos Marmol and Bob Howry are also in the mix. Some nice insight from Rotoworld: “For the second year in a row, the 30-year-old opted to stay with the Cubs despite promises of more interesting offers elsewhere. In return, the Cubs figure to give him the first shot at taking over their closer’s role.” I’d take a late round flier on Wood, although Marmol is much more talented and could just as easily have the role all to himself by mid-season. Both are worth taking in medium-depth leagues, and Howry is a decent pick in deeper leagues.

Closer – Open
Analysis: It’s been said that newly acquired Chad Qualls will not be in the saves mix initially. He becomes the #3 guy in the desert as Tony Pena and Brandon Lyon battle for the job. Lyon had the better ERA last year, but Pena had the better LIPS ERA. I’ve heard Lenny Melnick say on a couple of occasions that he thinks the D-backs prefer Lyon because Pena is more capable of pitching two innings while they don’t believe Lyon can. Lyon was once a starter, although he only through 2+ innings three times last year.

Both are decent picks at the end of a draft. I’m probably taking Pena first, though. Juan Cruz had a better LIPS ERA than both Pena and Lyon last year, but I haven’t heard anything linking him to the role as he’s sometimes used for 3+ innings.

CloserTakashi Saito
Analysis: One of the most top heavy pens in baseball. Saito is the closer and was excellent in 2007, but he will be 38 on opening day and has some real talent behind him. Jonathan Broxton is the biggest concern, although Jonathan Meloan is also good.

CloserBrian Wilson
Analysis: Brad Hennessey was the closer for most of 2007, although Wilson got 6 saves after August 20. Hennessey got 7 saves in this time frame, although Manager Bruce Bochy has said Wilson is likely to be his closer. He’s shown problems with his control in the minors and hasn’t put up much better than a league average strikeout rate in the majors. He is worth speculating on, but be aware that he could easily lose the job with a poor start. Hennessey is still around, as is Tyler Walker, so he has competition.

CloserKevin Gregg
Analysis: Crowded bullpen in Florida. Gregg is the closer, but he has plenty of competition. Taylor Tankersley was talked about last off-season, but he had a less-than-stellar 2007. Henry Owens had the job a little in 2007, but his skills haven’t translated to the majors yet. Justin Miller actually had the best LIPS ERA of the group, but Matt Lindstrom was also very good and could be the #2. Keep an eye on Lee Gardner and Renyel Pinto as well. Gregg is the guy to own, but pay close attention to how the others are used in April.

CloserBilly Wagner
Analysis: Wagner has the spot locked down, but if he gets hurt Aaron Heilman could step in. I’m still hoping the Mets will sign Octavio Dotel, who would be in the mix if he is. Dark horse candidate is Joe Smith.

CloserChad Cordero
Analysis: Cordero has the spot locked down, although a trade is a definite possibility, as it has been for a while now. Jon Rauch is the likely #2, although there’s talk that he could be traded as well. After those two, you’ve got Luis Ayala and guys like Ryan Wagner and Jesus Colome who were once highly touted.

CloserTrevor Hoffman
Analysis: I have a hard time seeing the Pads turning away from Hoffman, but Heath Bell is dynamite, and Cla Meredith is talented as well. Hoffman will likely go too high to be drafted, but Bell is a decent guy to speculate on late.

Closer – Brad Lidge
Analysis: People are concerned about Lidge in Citizens Bank Park given his 16% and 13% HR/FB in 2006 and 2007, respectively. Still, from 2003-2005 it was never higher than 10%. It won’t be that low in 2008, but it would take a decent-sized implosion for the Phils to switch gears on him. Tom Gordon is most likely second in line. After that, it’s anyone’s guess really. After all, manager Charlie Manual used Antonio Alfonseca in the role for a while in 2007. J.C. Romero maybe? Ryan Madson had the best LIPS ERA last year, so he might be a better guess.

CloserMatt Capps
Analysis: Capps has the job secured. Damaso Marte is probably the #2, but you don’t need to worry too much about him unless Capps gets hurt.

A Hardball Times Update
Goodbye for now.

CloserFrancisco Cordero
Analysis: Cordero is absolutely the closer, but all the same characters from last year are still around. None are good enough to overthrow him, but if he gets hurt there could be a battle. That bullpen is chock full of average. Every single reliever with at least 20 IP had a LIPS ERA between 4.00 and 5.00 last year.

David Weathers would be the likely replacement given his time in the role last year, but Jared Burton (EDIT: Added Burton, forgot about him), Bill Bray, Mike Stanton, Jon Coutlangus, and Todd Coffey could be considered.

CloserManny Corpas
Analysis: Corpas is the clear favorite for the closer’s role now, but Brian Fuentes still lurks. There’s been talk of a Fuentes trade, which would further solidify Corpas’s hold on the role.

Draft day bargains

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

  • Rafael Soriano (might be going a bit too soon)
  • Eric Gagne
  • Brian Wilson
  • Tony Pena
  • Brandon Lyon
  • Kerry Wood
  • Carlos Marmol
  • Heath Bell

Closing thoughts

As I said yesterday, 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.

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