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Closer Updates: White Sox, Rays, O's, Royals

It's been a dizzying few days if you've been trying to keep tabs on the murky bullpen situations in hopes of emerging with an extra closer or two on your roster. No fewer than several teams waltzed into Opening Day without a clear-cut stopper, and while some of those situations may have been resolved for the time being, there's still plenty to keep an eye on.

Let's get to it ...

White Sox
Count me among the sad, sappy suckers who are feeling jilted after burning a draft pick on Matt Thornton. Based on his experience, stuff and salary, I assumed he'd emerge the South Siders' closer by Opening Day. But new manager Robin Ventura apparently isn't afraid to try something different, instead calling upon darkhorse Hector Santiago for Chicago's first two save opps, both converted successfully.

Santiago is a tough nut to crack at this point. He split last season as a starter in high Class A and Double-A, and frankly, his peripherals there weren't all that impressive. That being said, Ventura has stated that Santiago is his guy, so we can't afford to be too picky about his minor league stats or how he projects; he's worth an immediate add if he's still on your wire.

Unfortunately, if you're skeptical of Santiago's long-term odds of holding the gig, as I am, there's little recourse you can take at this point. Thornton would seem to be the next in line if Santiago were to falter, as he was with eighth-inning setup man in Santiago's two saves, but Ventura has already proven that he's got his own way of doing things, and it doesn't necessarily fall in line with the type of linear thinking that we fantasy owners typically prefer. Plus, don't forget that the Sox have other good arms at the back end of their 'pen in addition to Thornton, such as Addison Reed and Jesse Crain, who could just easily be next to claim the throne.

The bottom line is, Santiago is the must-own right now, but I'm not sure we can divine an obvious handcuff for him at this point, so this is a situation save-needy owners should watch closely but not necessarily act on.

Rays
If you're feeling queasy, it might be time to ditch the stale Easter candy -- but it's more likely that the prospect of adding Fernando Rodney is making you ill. Though the circumstances are worth examining closely, the fact is that Rodney emerged from the Rays' supposed closing committee with a win and two saves this weekend. Ugh.

On Saturday, the Rays were cruising to an easy win until the trio of Josh Lueke, Joel Peralta (the presumptive closer by many, including yours truly) and Jake McGee slogged the trail of tears to varying degrees of ineptitude through an ugly ninth inning, creating a one-out save opportunity for Fern-Rod, who converted. Similarly, Joe Maddon was trying to wrangle a complete game out of starter Jeremy Hellickson on Sunday until the right-hander ran out of gas -- and with Peralta apparently off-limits after racking up too many pitches on Friday and Saturday, Rodney again got the call, converting for another one-out save.

On one hand, we see two saves in Rodney's column. On the other, we see a guy who wasn't really intended to earn either save.

I say, add Rodney if you can, but don't dump Peralta yet if you own him, and don't break your neck to make roster space if you're in a bind. It may be wishful thinking on the part of this Peralta owner, but something tells me that either the Rays aren't ready to anoint Rodney their undisputed closer, or that he won't be able to the job in the unlikely event that they do. We've all seen Rodney's act before, and while I wouldn't entirely rule out the possibility of the Rays guiding him to some kind of career rebirth, a la Kyle Farnsworth, I'll bet against that one for now.

Don't overinvest in Fern-Rod, and don't entirely count out Peralta.

Orioles
There was never much of a question as to whether Jim Johnson faced any legitimate competition from within his own bullpen -- however coy Buck Showalter might've wanted to play it -- so much as there were some disconcerting reports about him dealing with back pain and diminished velocity in Spring Training. Thankfully, the O's announced the inevitable on Opening Day, officially naming Johnson their closer, and more importantly, he's coming out throwing well in the early going, recording a pair of saves.

Perhaps all he needed was for the lights to come on.

While I sense some overall reluctance among fantasy owners to embrace Johnson as little more than an also-ran closer type, I'm a proud Johnson owner and think he's better than he's given credit for. He posted a 2.39 SIERA last year, preceded by solid a 3.05 in 2010 and 2.91 in 2009. If you own Johnson, enjoy the ride. I'm thinking his upside is something like what Brandon League did a year ago -- not a ton of strikeouts, but solid ratios and plenty of saves. If you're in need of a closer, consider acquiring Johnson at a fraction of what you'd have to pay for an elite or even second-tier closer. 

Royals
It appeared the Royals were leaning toward Broxton to handle the ninth, and indeed they went in that direction. It may be worth filing away: It's my experience that for every Santiago situation, wherein a younger closer is given a shot, there are just as many of these, where a reliable vet with The Experience gets the nod. In this case, underdog Greg Holland remains in the eighth inning despite tearing off a terrific 2011 that saw him finish with a handful of saves, lots of strikeouts and tidy ratios.

Anyway, Brox has had two outings so far, one sketchy and the other pretty good. What can we make of that? Not a whole lot. Brox is the definitive own for now, and with Holland looking less than impressive in his first outing, there's no reason why the Royals should feel motivated to tinker with their roles.

At this point, it's pretty hard to argue Holland should be owned in standard leagues.

Red Sox
Boston's bullpen has gotten off to an horrendous start, with Mark Melancon and Alfredo Aceves both getting hit hard in the early going. Now, manager Bobby Valentine is even alluding to the possibility of returning reliever-turned-starter Daniel Bard back to the 'pen to close. Frankly, I don't think it's all that crazy, other than the potential inconvenience felt by Bard.

If you want to make a stealth add while your leaguemates fumble over one of the four White Sox in line behind Santiago, Bard is your guy. It's by no means urgent at this point, but it's something to consider.

Meanwhile, Melancon and Aceves owners should sit tight. Store 'em on your bench if you have to, but either right-hander could settle into a groove and run with the job, and you don't want to be the guy or gal who gave away a bunch of saves out of frustration.



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