Closer watch: American League

Some bullpen situations have changed over the past few weeks, and we’re now taking Leverage Index into consideration, so let’s take another look at the bullpen situations for each team.

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. I’d heard some talk that Speier was the new #2, but he wasn’t last year according to Leverage Index (1.52 to 1.41). Things could definitely change, so watch it closely in April. As far as talent and age are concerned, the two are comparable. If I’m buying one, it’s Shields right now: longer record of good skills, was the #2 last year.

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. I can’t believe I left out Alan Embree last time, but he’s #3.

If Duchscherer is moved to the rotation, the A’s have several other quality options. I like newly acquired Joey Devine, but Santiago Casilla (1.42 gmLI) had a prominent role in last year’s pen. Andrew Brown showed some skills last year, but his gmLI was just 0.93. That might improve in his sophomore year, though. Definitely an interesting bullpen to watch if Street doesn’t prove healthy or is traded.

Blue JaysUpdated
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. We already know from last year that J.P. Ricciardi can lie like the best of them, and he seems to be inching towards retracting his former claim already.

The most recent from Ricciardi: “[Ryan] threw his second bullpen recently. Until I’m told different, he’ll be with us in spring training and ready to start the season. If we have to hold him back a month based on what we see, we’ll do that.”

Jeremy Accardo could be a great value, as I think there’s a real chance Ryan doesn’t return for a while or comes back ineffective. Casey Janssen would be next in line unless Ryan is healthy, in which case Ricciardi said he would like to move Janssen to the rotation. Brandon League should be back and healthy this year, so he could wind up as the #2 if Janssen moves to the rotation and Ryan ends up being ineffective and is deactivated. That might be a bit of a stretch, though.

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, possibly into closer roles, so they should be on your radar and make decent picks in deeper leagues.

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 the #3, although I’m not sure he’s draftable with Betancourt around. Rafael Perez was #3 in Leverage Index last year (1.41) and showed great skills, so if you’re going to take a third Indian reliever, he might be the one to get.

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 next in line until he was traded to Baltimore, which now leaves their #2 a little uncertain. Sean Green was next in Leverage Index last year (1.47) followed by Brandon Morrow (1.28). It looks like Morrow will remain in the bullpen following the recent trade with the Orioles, so watch how he and Green are used in April and May. I’d put my money on Green as the #2 for now.

CloserGeorge Sherrill
Analysis: With the recent trade, the Orioles’ closer situation seems to have been resolved. Sherrill is the favorite for the job, but there are some decent guys behind him. Jamie Walker is a possibility as the closer in waiting, 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 count them out. Chad Bradford is the second veteran contender, and he led the team in Leverage Index last year (1.74). Youngsters like Jim Hoey, Cory Doyne, or even Fernando Cabrera could also be options.

Perhaps the most likely option of all, aside from Sherrill, is Greg Aquino. He’s shown decent skills in the National League, but the switch to the American League and his proclivity for walks and homers might be too much for him to hold onto the job for long, even if he does get a crack at it at some point. Sherrill should be drafted in all leagues, and you could speculate on some of the other guys in deeper leagues if you wish.

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. You could also add Brett Tomko to the list, although he’ll initially be competing for a spot in the rotation.

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. Joel Zumaya might actually be back by mid-season, but it would take several successive events for him to overtake Jones. Worth a flier in deep leagues, though, because of his talent and Jones’s lack thereof. Fernando Rodney, right now, represents the biggest threat to Jones until Zumaya proves his health. I remember hearing reluctance from the Tigers on moving him into the closer’s role, but he’s an okay guy to speculate on.

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CloserJoe Nathan
Analysis: Another really stable closer situation. If Nathan gets hurt, it might get a little fuzzy. On the surface, you’d think Pat Neshek was second in line. Great numbers last year, second on the team (behind Nathan) in Leverage Index (1.40).

From manager Ron Gardenhire, on July 5, 2007: “[Neshek] has the mentality. He has the ‘no fear’ to go to the ninth inning. Absolutely, no doubt. How long can he maintain that, you just don’t know. You just put him out there and let him try. But, yes, he has the makeup for that.”

From manager Ron Gardenhire, on December 3, 2007: “I think [Neshek] could do the job part time, but no, we think he still has some things to learn, still get better at getting both sides of the plate out, all those things. That’s not an option that we’re looking at. If we were forced into it, we would try a lot of different things. I don’t count on him as my closer, no.”

Seems like he envisions him in that role in the future, but not right now. If Nathan is traded in July, maybe he’ll have decided that Neshek is ready by then. If not, Matt Guerrier, Juan Rincon, and maybe Jesse Crain are other guys you could watch. Guerrier had a gmLI of 1.07 and Rincon’s was 0.97. Crain didn’t throw many innings (16.1), but had a 1.17 gmLI in that small sample size. His skills weren’t great, though, and he’s more of a darkhorse.

White SoxUpdated
CloserBobby Jenks
Analysis: Jenks is the closer, but if he goes down, newly signed Octavio Dotel would probably be in line for the job. If Dotel gets injured — which is entirely possible — Scott Linebrink, another off-season signee, would probably be #3. He showed serious skills deterioration in 2007 with the Padres, but he appeared to bounce back in 25 innings with the Brewers. Mike MacDougal could be #4. With the uncertainty around Dotel and Linebrink, there’s an off-chance he could end up having value this year, especially when you consider that he led the 2007 Sox with a 1.82 gmLI.

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.

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
  • George Sherrill
  • C.J. Wilson
  • Troy Percival
  • Jeremy Accardo
  • Rafael Betancourt
  • Todd Jones

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

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