Early look at the ninth inning

There has been a lot of movement on the closer’s market so far this winter, so I thought today would be a good time to take a quick look at how this has affected each team in baseball. Who looks like a great late-round pick, and who figures to disappoint? Here’s a breakdown (as organized as I could be) of how I see each team’s situation. If you have any questions, feel free to e-mail me or comment.

Current situations

| TEAM         | CLOSER              | OTHER POSSIBILITY?    | FA POSSIBILITY?   |
| Angels       | Jose Arredondo/Scot Shields                 | Possible          |
| Athletics    | Joey Devine         | Brad Ziegler          | Unlikely          |
| Blue Jays    | B.J. Ryan           | Trade/Scott Downs     | Unlikely          |
| Indians      | Kerry Wood          | Entrenched            | Not Possible      |
| Mariners     | Brandon Morrow      | Several*              | Possible          |
| Orioles      | George Sherrill     | Trade/Ray/Johnson?    | Possible if trade |
| Rangers      | Frank Francisco/C.J. Wilson                 | Possible          |
| Rays         | Dan Wheeler         | Percival/Balfour      | Unlikely          |
| Red Sox      | Jonathan Papelbon   | Entrenched            | Not Possible      |
| Royals       | Joakim Soria        | Entrenched            | Not Possible      |
| Tigers       | Fernando Rodney     | Joel Zumaya           | Possible          |
| Twins        | Joe Nathan          | Entrenched            | Not Possible      |
| White Sox    | Bobby Jenks         | Trade/Several**       | Unlikely          |
| Yankees      | Mariano Rivera      | Entrenched            | Not Possible      |
| Astros       | Jose Valverde       | Trade/Doug Brocail    | Unlikely          |
| Braves       | Mike Gonazalez      | Secure                | Unlikely          |
| Brewers      | Villanueve/Riske/McClung/Julio              | Possible          |
| Cardinals    | Chris Perez         | Very risky (FA)       | Likely            |
| Cubs         | Carlos Marmol       | Entrenched            | Unlikely          |
| Diamondbacks | Chad Qualls         | Tony Pena/Jon Rauch   | Unlikely          |
| Dodgers      | Jonathan Broxton    | Secure                | Possible          |
| Giants       | Brian Wilson        | Secure                | Very unlikely     |
| Marlins      | Matt Lindstrom      | Secure                | Unlikely          |
| Mets         | Francisco Rodriguez | Entrenched***         | Not Possible      |
| Nationals    | Joel Hanrahan       | Very secure           | Unlikely          |
| Padres       | Heath Bell          | Very secure           | Unlikely          |
| Phillies     | Brad Lidge          | Entrenched            | Not Possible      |
| Pirates      | Matt Capps          | Very secure****       | Possible if trade |
| Reds         | Francisco Cordero   | Entrenched            | Not Possible      |
| Rockies      | Huston Street       | Manny Corpas          | Very unlikely     |

* Brandon Morrow would close if things stay as they are, but if a starter is moved he could stay in the rotation and there would be a battle for the ninth inning.
** There’s talk of maybe trading Bobby Jenks. If he is moved, I’d say Octavio Dotel would be the favorite to close, with Matt Thornton and Scott Linebrink also options.
*** Francisco Rodriguez will definitely close games, but manager Jerry Manuel said J.J. Putz could also get a lot of opportunities. I’ll believe it when I see it.
**** Like Jenks, Matt Capps could get traded, though it isn’t the most likely scenario. If he is traded, John Grabow might be the favorite to close.

Current free agents

Here are a list of guys who are free agents and could find themselves closing games in 2009 (or are at least more likely to than their free agent peers).

And here are the teams who are currently in the market for a closer (or could conceivably be in the market for one):
  • Cardinals
  • Angels
  • Dodgers
  • Tigers
  • Brewers
  • Mariners
  • Padres
The Cardinals still might be the most likely landing place for Fuentes, though they seem to be standing pat on their offer or maybe even backing off. It would make sense for Fuentes to land with the Cards and Hoffman with the Angels or Dodgers.

As the rest of the teams looking for closers would be small-market teams only able to make small investments, the remaining closer options could sign on cheaply with these teams or with a bigger market team for more money but as a setup man. In the first scenario, these guys would be draftable but would have shorter leashes than they might other years with bigger contracts. In the second, their value would depend on the closer ahead of them.

Closing thoughts

It’ll be very interesting to see how this all plays out, but hopefully this was a succinct explanation of where things stand as of right now and will allow you to start honing in on potential sleepers for 2009. As you know, I am a big proponent of waiting on closers in mixed leagues, so here are the guys I’m currently taking at the end of mock drafts:

If you end up with three of these guys, I think you will be in great shape going into the year. Of course there’s still a lot of off-season left, but right now I’d be very happy with that. In the recent Rotoworld Mock Draft, I was able to get Devine, Hoffman, and Wheeler after Round 19. As the season approaches, Hoffman’s value could go up if he signs on as a closer (which I expect him to).

I’m generally staying away from these guys, at least for now, unless they are the only guys left on the board (in which case I would definitely take Perez and might take Lindstrom, Sherrill, and possibly Zumaya or Villanueva but leave the rest):

I might also consider Scot Shields, Manny Corpas, or J.J. Putz if my preferred guys are gone, my sleepers at other positions are gone, and the league setup warrants.

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Wouldn’t be surprised to see Chris Ray closing for the Orioles again next year. He should be back from his Tommy John.

Derek Carty
Derek Carty

Laying in bed this morning I thought the same thing.  Forgot him when I was writing this up last night.  I changed that on the chart.

Thanks, Grant!

Derek, above in this article you said: “I am a big proponent of waiting on closers in mixed leagues” In the article you referenced detailing that strategy you said: “To quickly address the caveats: in very deep mixed leagues or fairly deep AL and NL-only leagues, this logic does not apply as much.” So, what strategy do you recommend in an AL/NL only league?  In those leagues, the waiver wire during the season is so thin that you have to grab a guy a few weeks before he actually gets the opportunity to save.  Any thoughts about how to maximize… Read more »
D Wrek
D Wrek

One thing Im seeing in deeper leagues, is back up closers being drafted before actual closers.  For expample in my 11 NL league last season, Carlos Marmol was drafted before Brandon Lyon.

Not saying I agree or disagree, but just a trend I have seen the last couple of seasons.  Or maybe its always been there and I just started noticing smile

Derek Carty
Derek Carty
neo, This is something I’m sure I’ll end up writing an entire article about later in the off-season.  Essentially, though, it depends on how deep the league is, how your waiver system works, your overall strategy for the year, and how skilled you believe you are in picking out those soon-to-be-closers a few weeks early. In a mixed league, it’s not that top closers aren’t generally worth their high-ish draft picks.  They actually are.  The reason I avoid them is because, in most setups, I believe that I can acquire nearly equal value for a fraction of the price either… Read more »
Derek Carty
Derek Carty
D Wrek, I’ve noticed this too, and it’s something I have no problem engaging in given the proper circumstances. I believe I’ve mentioned this in articles before, but late in a draft, I’m not big on taking a closer with poor skills.  Even if he starts the year closing games, a closer with terrible skills isn’t a good bet to last more than a couple of months.  I’d much rather take a player who won’t begin closing games but has great skills and is sitting behind a guy with poor skills. Last year, this meant taking a guy like Rafael… Read more »