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Closer Updates: Balfour, Soria, Perez, Thornton

It's never too late to squeeze in an extra mock or 10, but for the most part, real draft season is finally upon us. Only about a week remains till Opening Day in Japan, and you'll want to have conducted your draft by then so as to account for the players who will partake in those ballgames. After all, every stat accrued counts.

Now that the drafts count, remember to study up on the latest in injuries and role battles. It seems obvious, but at some point we've all been part of a draft in which some slacker selects a recently DL'd type in the 12th -- to the snickers of everyone in the chat forum.

On that note, here's the latest on a few bullpen situations you'll want to be apprised of heading into the big day.  For up-to-the-minute bullpen updates, follow CloserNews on Twitter.

Grant Balfour, Athletics

Jon Heyman threw us a curveball, guessing incorrectly that Brian Fuentes would be named the Athletics' closer about 20 minutes before manager Bob Melvin announced Grant Balfour had the job.  Hopefully you weren't finishing up a draft during the interim of those two tweets.  Fantasy owners had been preferring Balfour slightly, but were avoiding the situation in general until the 19th round.  Balfour has only 10 career saves to Fuentes' 199, but is clearly the superior pitcher.  He now belongs in that uncomfortable closer-drafting period, around picks 170-210, and is as good a bet as Chris Perez, Kyle Farnsworth, Frank Francisco, Javy Guerra, Matt Capps, Matt Thornton, Jim Johnson, and Brett Myers.  - this paragraph by Tim Dierkes

Joakim Soria, Royals

Soria exited his latest ineffective Cactus League appearance mid-inning due to pain in his pitching elbow. Sure enough, he underwent an MRI, which revealed damage to his ulnar collateral ligament. That ligament, folks, is the one that can lead to Tommy John surgery, a procedure Soria's already had earlier in his career.

While a second TJ is not confirmed for Soria, this is obviously not an encouraging development. Even if he can avoid surgery, I would expect him to be out well beyond Opening Day, leaving the door open for Jonathan Broxton or Greg Holland to take the reins as closer (I'm omitting Aaron Crow for now, as it sounds like he will be splitting his season between the bullpen and rotation).

Of those two, I'd like to see Holland get a shot at closing. His surface stats were superb last season, and the peripherals (2.22 SIERA) suggest it was no fluke. With a booming strikeout rate and very solid control, Holland is more than capable of holding down the job. As for Brox, well, we all have that T-shirt. He was once an elite stopper, but he hasn't been the same guy since that outing -- you know, that 48-pitch debacle in June 2010. He was terrible in the second half that season and missed basically all of last season. Even if he's fully healthy -- which I hope he is -- is it fair to expect him to return to his old form?

In any event, we'll have to get official word from the Royals on Soria's status -- and his potential replacement -- but be sure you're up to speed before your draft.

Chris Perez, Indians

CP has recovered quickly from an oblique injury suffered early in camp. The right-hander threw a bullpen session this weekend, is slated to return to Cactus League action this week, and projects to be ready by Opening Day.

That's a net win, because injuries aren't cool, but for fantasy purposes, the Tribe could do far better. Perez was one of the worst closers in baseball last season by the peripherals, with very little daylight between his low strikeout rate and high walk rate. SIERA sure wasn't impressed: 4.65.

Vinnie Pestano is waiting in the wings, and he racks up Ks by the bunches, but for now, it looks like Perez is still the man. Don't make Perez anything more than one of the last -- if not the last -- closers off the board, but hey, we all need saves, and he has the job if he doesn't suffer any further injury setbacks.

Matt Thornton, White Sox

Sox skipper Robin Ventura (still not used to calling him that) tabbed Thornton as the tentative leader to close before camp even opened, and with Opening Day not far off, the first-year manager's word looks to be holding true.

Chris Sale, who vultured some saves from Sergio Santos last year, is now out of the picture because he's in the starting rotation. He was never expected to be a threat, though, because his transition has been in the works since last season. Instead, rookie Addison Reed was thought to be Thornton's stiffest competition, but his lack of The Experience seems to have earned him no favors with Ventura. Surprisingly, it's Jesse Crain who is also vying for saves, although he has been dealing with an oblique strain, presumably giving Thornton a leg up.

Thornton is the guy to target until further notice, and frankly, he could be a good value pick. After a disappointing start to 2011 (marred by some bad luck, too) that ultimately saw him demoted from the closer's role, the lefty pretty much bounced back to his career norms. If Thornton gets the job again out of camp, I wouldn't expect that to happen again. Draft with relative confidence.

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