Keeper league strategy: Closers

This is the second article in today’s three-part series on keeper leagues. It will focus on a nice strategy to help deal with some tricky closer situations.

Closers in keeper leagues

Again, all keeper leagues are different, but if you are in one where your league-mates make a habit of keeping top closers, this strategy will be especially good for you.

In these types of leagues, when auction day (or draft day) rolls around, the number of closers will be limited. Those who haven’t kept a top closer will be bidding against each other for the left-overs… the second tier closers. By default, their price will rise, quite possibly above their raw value. This can trickle down the list of closers until Seth McClung (to take an example from this year) is being auctioned for some crazy amount, like $14.

So how do you avoid this? Do you simply punt saves? Do you overpay for a closer? Hopefully, you won’t have to do either. Hopefully, this draft-day inflation won’t happen. The intelligent owner, though, will prepare — just in case — read the market come draft day, and decide on a course of action.

If you’re out of the running this year, the stats you accrue over the remainder of 2007 make no difference to you. You could, theoretically, drop every player you don’t intend to keep, tank, and it wouldn’t make an ounce of difference. Of course, I don’t advocate this. You shouldn’t have your keepers set in stone yet, although you should definitely have a good idea who they will be. (It would also annoy the rest of your league if you drop a $58 Albert Pujols because you decide he’s too expensive to keep. Might even get you kicked out before you can smoke them all in 2008!)

Knowing this, feel free to drop any overpriced, old, or otherwise unkeepable players and pick up some that fall into the next category: middle relievers with the inside track for a job closing. The owners in your league who are in it for this year might be ignoring these guys. Since you are concerned with next year, take the inside track while you can. Any advantage you can get is one worth pursuing.

When Brad Hennessey gets auctioned for $25 next year, you might be sitting on the Indians’ newly anointed closer Rafael Betancourt for $1. The great news is that it won’t cost you anything in the short term because you’re already out of it! How’s that for value?

Of course, there’s no way to predict who will be closing next year for certain, but you don’t have to. If you’re out of it, you just need to play the odds a little bit. Pick up five guys from the next list and, come March, if any of them have been promoted, decide to make that guy a keeper. That’ll show up that guy who’s keeping Joe Nathan for $32.

Future Closer CandidateTeamCurrent Closer
Rafael BetancourtIndiansJoe Borowski
Akinori OtsukaRangersOtsuka/Benoit/Wilson
Joaquin BenoitRangersOtsuka/Benoit/Wilson
C.J. WilsonRangersOtsuka/Benoit/Wilson
Bill BrayRedsDavid Weathers
Joel ZumayaTigersTodd Jones
Fernando RodneyTigersTodd Jones
Octavio DotelBravesBob Wickman
Rafael SorianoBravesBob Wickman
Eric GagneRed SoxJonathan Papelbon
Carlos MarmolCubsRyan Dempster
Angel GuzmanCubsRyan Dempster
Taylor TankersleyMarlinsKevin Gregg
Henry OwensMarlinsKevin Gregg
Matt LindstromMarlinsKevin Gregg
Chad QuallsAstrosBrad Lidge
Heath BellPadresTrevor Hoffman
Dan WheelerDevil RaysAl Reyes
Luis AyalaNationalsChad Cordero
Jon RauchNationalsChad Cordero
Tony PenaD’BacksJose Valverde
Casey JanssenBlue JaysJeremy Accardo

If I was a gambling man and had to pick five guys off this list, I would probably take Betancourt, Otsuka, Dotel, Soriano, and Marmol — although they are just my guesses. Any of those guys would make very nice closers and fine keepers in most leagues.

Manny Corpas is another guy who you could pickup (once Brian Fuentes starts closing in September and Corpas owners ditch him). He won’t start the year as the closer, but there’s a good chance Fuentes will be traded in July and you’ll get half a season out of Corpas. If none of your other guys pan out, half a season of saves is well-worth $1, if your league works that way.

You might be thinking now, “good strategy, but what if — after everyone sees me using it this year — they copy it next year?” The first thing I would say is that hopefully next year you’ll be in such a good position that you’ll be in first, with a number of great keepers, and won’t have to worry about strategies like these.

If you are in the middle of the pack again, though, it wouldn’t necessarily be bad news for you. If enough people can get closers cheap like this, it could right the auction-day closers market, allowing closers to go for normal value instead of seeing rampant inflation. Need another positive? I’ve got 22 guys on the list above, and I’ve probably left a few guys out. As long as you act early, you should have no trouble getting enough to use the strategy yourself going into 2009.

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