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Closers: Giants, Mets, Athletics

For all the latest breaking news on closer shakeups, be sure to follow @closernews, where temporary closer demotions quietly morph into permanent ones. 

Giants
We've seen a few shrewdly handled closer committees over the past couple years, two of which now belong to the Giants and manager Bruce Bochy, who deserves plenty of real-life credit for playing matchups toward the end of getting outs and winning games -- rather than being a slave to flimsily defined niche roles such as setup man and closer.

Real-life credit is fine and all, but Bochy's saber bullpen is not going to win him any friends in fantasy circles, as we fake gamers are sick of playing Whac-A-Mole with potential Giants closers. But unfortunately for those who are speculating for saves as the season's final month approaches, they'll have to look beyond San Francisco (unless willing to sacrifice any semblance of roster efficiency), as there looks to be no end in sight to the Giants' mix-and-match philosophy.

Here's the confusing "pattern" with which we have to work: Since July 31, Jeremy Affeldt has two saves, while Clay Hensley and Javier Lopez each have one. Both of Affeldt's saves spanned longer than one inning (1 1/3 and two). Hensley's and Lopez's saves were both of the one-out variety. Lethal setup man Sergio Romo, meanwhile, has none; ditto for ex-closer Santiago Casilla. Nothing is jumping out at me here from which I can confidently infer anything. While Affeldt looks to have had an early edge in the committee, Bochy's willingness to lift him from a save chance on Saturday night in favor of Hensley kind of tells us all that we need to know. No one is promised anything here.

My sense is that any yearly leaguer who is willing to dip his or her toes into these waters must be in contention and desperate to add saves or prevent a close competitor from accruing more of them. In which case, Affeldt is probably the place to start, but short of adding Lopez and Romo -- and perhaps even Hensley and Casilla -- there's bound to be plenty of frustration for owners who are out to mine saves from this bullpen. It's hard to fathom a scenario in which owning three relievers from the same 'pen is a net win for a fantasy roster (even two is pushing it), so perhaps it's best to leave this piecemeal arrangement alone.

Mets
In truth, the 2012 Mets could have had a weekly slot as one of the three featured bullpens in this column. Between Frank Francisco's perpetual mediocrity, Bobby Parnell's inability to seize a closing opportunity when one is presented to him, and Jon Rauch's Jon Rauchness, the Amazin's have plenty of options, but all are flawed in some way such that job security is always a concern, regardless of who's filling in or bailing out at a given moment.

Most recently, a red-hot Rauch was called upon to bail Francisco out of a couple of hairy situations, earning saves in both cases. Fantasy owners are all too familiar with Rauch, and the Mets too were apparently wary of looking too much into his recent run of success, as his unexpected saves didn't translate into any kind of role change. Parnell, similarly, ceded closing chores back to Francisco after being awarded the gig when Frank-Frank was on the DL in June and July.

With little to play for, uninspiring alternatives, and Francisco on the books for 2013, perhaps the Mets are simply disinclined to rock the boat now. Certainly, they would have been within their rights to make a full-hearted change at several junctures this season. With Francisco's ownership down to 62% in Yahoo! leagues, there's roughly one-third of you who have the opportunity to snap up a free closer off the wire right now. It seems woefully naive to point out the discrepancy between Francisco's 6.06 ERA and 3.76 SIERA, but I just did, so if you want to hang your hat on anything -- however glass-half-full it may be -- in hopes that there's some chance of improvement, there it is.

In the meanwhile, Rauch and Parnell are not worth stashing until I see something out of the Mets to suggest otherwise. With so few bats missed, Rauch's nice run may soon end -- and with it, his chances of vulturing some saves. And while I think Parnell has the chops to close, the Mets might not even consider him next in line.

Athletics
I have to admit: When the A's switched back from Ryan Cook to Grant Balfour as their closer for what they said would only be a couple of save chances, I didn't know what the heck to think in terms of laying out a sensible fantasy strategy. Cook had been so good before settling into a nasty post-break slump, and Balfour's career was seemingly on life support when he relinquished closing duties earlier in the season.

So far, it has paid off for the A's. While Cook's sabbatical has extended well beyond the original two save chances that were prescribed, Balfour has banked each of his first four save chances since reclaiming closing duties -- and Cook is showing modest signs of progress, going unscored upon in each of his past three outings.

Whether the A's will once again flip-flop when convenient remains to be seen, but my guess is they'll keep things as is. Age and experience aside, Balfour and Cook are strikingly similar pitchers. Balfour's peripheral line: 7.67 K/9, 3.51 BB/9, 36% GB rate, 3.76 SIERA. Cook's peripheral line: 8.94 K/9, 4.03 BB/9, 42% GB rate, 3.56 SIERA. If anything, Cook looks like a slightly better pitcher, but not by much, and unless Balfour slumps the way he did earlier in the season, the A's will probably look for (finally) some continuity.


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