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Closer Updates: Thornton, Wilson, Francisco, Kimbrel

We’re eight days away from the start of the season, so let’s check in on some ninth inning situations around the league…

Matt Thornton | White Sox

Ozzie Guillen did us all a favor and said that Thornton will be his guy in the ninth inning this year, clearing up some uncertainty. The hard-throwing lefty was in the fourth tier of our preseason rankings because we just weren’t sure how many save opportunities he’d get, but now that he has the job his value skyrockets. Thornton’s maintained a sub-3.00 ERA, a sub-3.00 BB/9, and a 10.00+ K/9 over the last three years, something only six others have been able to do (min. 100 IP and counting the retired Billy Wagner). Thornton isn’t a top tier closer yet, but he’s definitely one of the five or six best saves options in fantasy in my eyes.

Brian Wilson | Giants

Our top ranked reliever coming into the season, Wilson strained his oblique sometime last week and was scheduled to undergo tests on Monday. Unsurprisingly, the guy who threw the last pitch of the 2010 says says he’ll be ready for Opening Day, though he acknowledged that he’s going to wait a few days before throwing again just because there’s no point in risking a more serious injury. If Wilson is still a question mark a week from now, then start worrying.

Frank Francisco | Blue Jays

Frankie Frank had to visit Dr. James Andrews to get the tightness in his pectoral and biceps looked at, and the good news is that it’s just inflammation with no structural damage. He’ll begin a throwing program this weekend, but manager John Farrell he’s unlikely to be ready for Opening Day. Octavio Dotel is working his way back from a hamstring issue, and they’re taking it slow and steady with his rehab. If both guys start the year on the disabled list, then Jon Rauch becomes the odds-on favorite for early season save opportunities while Jason Frasor waits for the first false step.

Craig Kimbrel | Braves

The preseason favorite to replace Wagner this year, Fredi Gonzalez threw a wrench in the works earlier this month and said he’s going to use both Kimbrel and Jonny Venters in the ninth inning, depending on the matchups. This isn’t unprecedented, and in fact the Braves did it just two years ago with Rafael Soriano and Mike Gonzalez. Kimbrel’s being drafted as if he’s the primary closer in most leagues (14th-15th round or so) while Venters has gone a few rounds later, but having to carry two players to get one team’s saves is a bit of a waste. The only thing you’ll really be able to do early in the season is to track each player’s usage and effectiveness, it’s likely one of the two will get a firm grasp on the job at some point.