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Closers Preseason Preview: AL East

Editor's Note: The above byline is sadly inaccurate. Though posted by the writer whose name appears there, the work and writing of this article is from Luckey Helms.

Welcome to yet another year of fantasy baseball! As the big leaguers start to fine tune their skills for spring training, we’ll be helping you sharpen up the old fantasy toolkit. To start, we’ll explore each division and bring you the best insight on position battles, newly signed setup men, and any potential closers lurking in the wings. At the end of this series, we’ll give a clearer ranking system of the closer world – showing you who to snag, avoid, and root for in 2014… 

Baltimore Orioles

Closer – Ongoing Position Battle (Tommy Hunter & Darren O’Day)

There will certainly be some changes in the Baltimore bullpen this season. After trading away last year’s MLB saves leader Jim Johnson and bailing on Grant Balfour after a recent failed physical, the O's may still be on the market for a closer. That being said, their currently constructed roster sets up for a battle between Tommy Hunter and Darren O’Day, each of whom had their chances last season. Hunter posted a 2.81 ERA and 0.99 WHIP, with four saves and a 7.1 K/9. On the other hand, O’Day had similar numbers (2.18 ERA, 1.00 WHIP), but only converted two saves with his 8.6 K/9. Although Hunter converted a couple more saves last season, O’Day fits the mold of prototypical closer better and may take the job simply because of his ability to get batters to swing and miss more often.  

Bold Prediction – Darren O’Day wins the closer gig during spring training, the Orioles stay away from the closer free agent market (Kevin Gregg, Fernando Rodney, and Francisco Rodriguez), and O’Day puts up numbers similar to Jim Johnson’s MLB-leading 50 saves from last year.

Boston Red Sox

CloserKoji Uehara

Although the Red Sox bullpen went through its share of injuries during last season, they certainly found a ninth inning gem with Koji Uehara. After stepping in as closer mid-season, Uehara owned the ninth and almost every batter he faced. Koji’s effectiveness in 2013 cannot be understated - 4 wins, 1.09 ERA, 0.57 WHIP, and a K/9 of 12.2. Assuming that Uehara carries the same firepower as last season, and the BoSox offense puts him in the right positions, he could prepared for a monstrous 2014.

Bold Prediction – Uehara continues to own the ninth and a new dimension is added to the Red Sox – Yankees rivalry with the race between newly-minted closer extraordinaires (Koji Uehara and David Robertson). With the opportunity to close all season, Uehara earns an All-Star nod and closes the ninth for the AL in July. 

Who’s Lurking? – After initially being named closer in the wake of injuries to Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey, Junichi Tazawa eventually settled into the setup role for Boston. He continued in that role through the postseason, allowing only one run in appearances en route to Boston’s World Series victory and earning the trust of Red Sox Nation. Given the rash of injuries that the Red Sox bullpen suffered through last season, their front office brought in Edward Mujica to provide some always valuable bullpen depth. Despite the fact that Mujica closed for the Cards last season, the Red Sox will look to put him in a less stressful position this season and use him as Uehara insurance.

New York Yankees

Closer – David Robertson

Yes, Yankees fans will certainly miss Mariano Rivera. Unquestionably the best closer in baseball history, it will be strange to see a different pitcher take the mound to close for the Bronx Bombers. Any lingering disappointment about the name on the back of the jersey should be gone once David Robertson starts rolling. As a stalwart in the Yankees bullpen for a few seasons, fans are used to seeing him set up for the best and now it’s time to see if he can succeed him. If his numbers stay as consistent as they have over the past few seasons, Robertson will be a premier closer immediately.

Bold Prediction – If Uehara’s 2014 looks like last season and Robertson inherits the ninth, there may be a battle to see who the new closer king in the AL East is. If the Yankees offense shows up, look for David Robertson to have a Mariano-like year in his first year as Yankees closer.

Who’s Lurking? – If Robertson struggles, the Yankees may turn to reliever Shawn Kelley or Matt Thornton. Thornton has an average career stat-line for a closer (3.53 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 9.2 K/9), but he’s accumulated 18 saves over the last five seasons. Kelley provides an interesting contrast to the journeyman Thornton and carries a 3.77 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, and 9.6 K/9 through his five seasons. While each could be a substitute for Robertson, the Yankees will probably turn to the free agency or trade market if Robertson struggles mightily.

Tampa Bay Rays

Closer – Ongoing Position Battle (Heath Bell, Jake McGee, & Joel Peralta)

With Fernando Rodney still on the free agent market, Tampa Bay seems to be content with letting Heath Bell, Jake McGee, and Joel Peralta battle for the ninth inning. Although it’s possible that the Rays’ front office will snag another closer off the market, each of the three aforementioned pitchers (Bell, McGee, and Peralta) have experience as a closer and can easily earn the job in spring training. For anyone who owned Heath Bell in the last two seasons, they will certainly not forget his recent ability to melt down in the clutch. If the Rays sign a free agent like Grant Balfour, Bell is probably the first to go. With a 10.8 K/9, Jake McGee has the strikeout rate of a typical closer and has grown up in the Rays organization. If he proves his worth in the spring, the job can be his in 2014. With a handful of saves for the Rays in the last three seasons, Joel Peralta is probably the early favorite for the gig.

Bold Prediction – Because McGee and Peralta offer Tampa Bay a solid lefty-righty combo, manager Joel Madden decides to go closer by committee in 2014 and they surprisingly provide the Rays with the AL East’s most dominant bullpen.

Toronto Blue jays

CloserCasey Janssen 

Last season, Casey Janssen performed admirably in the closer role with a solid stat line (2.56 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, 8.5 K/9) and 34 saves. Given his success in the last two seasons, the Blue jays will trust Janssen again and they should expect similar results. A quick glance over Janssen’s past three seasons (2011 – 2.26 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 8.6 K/9 ; 2012 – 2.54 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, 9.5 K/9; 2013 – 2.56 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, 8.5 K/9) proves he’s been a model of consistency in the Great White North.

Bold Prediction – Toronto’s offense starts living up to its potential and Janssen goes from above average to elite given his sheer number of save opportunities.

Who’s Lurking?Sergio Santos and Steve Delabar are both young relievers who have spent the last two seasons with Toronto. Should Janssen fall to injury or inconsistency, Santos and Delabar both offer a Toronto a similar set of skills. Although Delabar has a slightly better K/9, Santos will likely be the first one off the bench to replace Janssen in case of emergency.

If you’re chasing saves in your fantasy league, there’s only one place to check out…for the latest news on closers to grab, stash, start, or bench, be sure to follow @CloserNews on Twitter.




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