Chicago White Sox


Shutdown Corner: AL Central Closer Roundup

Baseball players are showing up at Spring Training sites, everyone! And as spring gets within reach, I'm posting closer roundups for every division in baseball. This week, it's the mysterious, murky, up-for-grabs American League Central on the hot seat. As always, you can check back in on our previous roundups: AL WestNL East, AL East and NL Central.

If you haven't been following along at home, here's our closer tiering system for the pre-season:

  • Tier 1: World-class reliever, capable of putting up a season for the ages.
  • Tier 2: Very good closer, both stable and effective.
  • Tier 3: Average closer, may be lacking either stability or effectiveness.
  • Tier 4: Poor closer, either completely ineffective but stable, or very unstable.

Chicago White Sox: Addison Reed

Last season, Addison Reed -- a guy who was highly hyped as a sleeper closer by many fantasy mavens -- made good on most of his promise and held down the White Sox closer job for most of the season. While he turned in 29 saves, the rest of his numbers weren't quite as stellar as owners would have hoped: a 22.7% strikeout rate was lower than anything he'd posted in the minors by a fair bit, and his ERA sat at an ugly 4.75, despite peripherals that gave him an FIP of 3.64.

On the bright side, Reed is still young for a closer at 24, and will have the ninth inning all to himself this season. He's ensconced in his position now, and he still projects to improve upon last season's rate stats and K totals. This is a guy who just doesn't have the actual performance to move up to Tier 2 yet, but is on the leading edge of Tier 3 closers. He could have a big season.

Projected Tier: Tier 3 (needs more strikeouts / consistency to be a upper-echelon closer)

Next in line: Jesse Crain

Cleveland Indians: Chris Perez

After 2011, I swore I'd never draft Chris Perez again. The Cleveland closer has a history of cardiac saves, and Perez had more meltdowns in 2011 than the Springfield nuclear power plant. So you can imagine my surprise when 2012 was a pretty great season for Perez. Last year, Perez was actually pretty reliable, posting solid rate stats (3.59 ERA and 1.13 WHIP), watching his strikeout rate rebound (up to 24.4%) and grabbing a career-high 39 saves.

Nevertheless, I'm still a little wary about drafting Perez again this season. While he's a good bet to grab you saves, his performance is still a bit too up-and-down for my taste, without some of the upside of other closers. And, of course, the Indians don't look to be contenders this season, and could very likely trade their expensive closer to a team closer to the playoffs. When factoring in Vinnie Pestano's readiness to close, Perez might only be a closer for half the season.

Projected Tier: Tier 3 (Perez is unstable, and always close to being traded)

Next in line: Vinnie Pestano

Detroit Tigers: Bruce Rondon

In truth, Bruce Rondon's name is here as a placeholder, because the Tigers are really giving no strong indication who will close for the team in 2013. With Jose Valverde (likely) leaving via free agency, Jim Leyland has yet to commit to a new stopper for the team in 2013. With plenty of decent-but-not-great options in the bullpen, trying to guess on the Tigers' closer before Spring Training kicks off seems like a fool's errand.

If we (as fantasy owners) are lucky, though, Bruce Rondon will be the guy for Detroit. Rondon has a big 10o+ mph heater, and if it plays up in Spring Training, the team may want to give him a shot at the ninth inning. We're still not entirely sure if Rondon can consistently get his big fastball over the plate, but if he can, he could be a huge strikeout machine in the mold of an Aroldis Chapman. And Rondon could certainly be a keeper for future years, provided he stays healthy.

But yeah, I wouldn't draft a closer from Detroit this year. I think it will take them a few months to figure out who owns the ninth, if they ever do.

Projected Tier: Tier 4 (too unstable to call at this point)

Next in line: Brayan Villarreal, Joaquin Benoit, Octavio Dotel, Al Alburquerque, Phil Coke

Kansas City Royals: Greg Holland

Without too much fanfare, Greg Holland has been one of the best relievers in baseball over the past two seasons. Last season was the first in which Holland was a "real closer" for part of a season, but the 27-year-old hurler did himself proud. A 31.5% strikeout rate puts him in the top tier of late-game hurlers, and a 2.25 FIP means that we can continue to expect big things going forward. While he's still prone to too many walks and hits (1.37 WHIP last year), he's probably one of your best bets when it comes to mid-level closers.

I'd be comfortable drafting him in the 5-10 range among closers for next season. Don't break the bank to add him (he's not going to put up a Craig Kimbrel season, most likely), but he's probably going to be better than most other late-inning options next season.

Projected Tier: Tier 2 (solid strikeout rate, not much competition, recent track record is great)

Next in line: Aaron Crow

Minnesota Twins: Glen Perkins

Many Minnesota fans must be breathing a sigh of relief that the Matt Capps era is over in the Twin Cities. Though Perkins was once another unremarkable Twins starter, he has reinvented himself as a reliever, one who features a solid fastball-slider combo able to get whiffs at an above-league-average rate. I know. It is weird to see that written about a Twins pitcher.

Perkins has posted very sharp rate stats over the past two years, with ERAs sitting right around 2.50 and a 2012 WHIP of just 1.03. Not too shabby. When you factor in the fact that the Twins don't have a strenuous competition for the job, and that the team doesn't seem likely to add another bullpen piece to oust him, Perkins looks to be sitting pretty for 2013.

The only tough question with Perkins is whether or not he'll get the number of save opportunities necessary to make him an upper-tier closer. My guess is that, well, that's tough to guess. But if Chris Perez got 39 saves last season for the lowly Indians, there's a pretty good chance that Perkins could get 30 for the Twins in 2013. Don't hesitate to draft him.

Projected Tier: Tier 2 (good strikeouts, good rate stats, homers can beat him up)

Next in line: Jared Burton

As always, check out @CloserNews on Twitter for up-to-the-minute closer updates, and find me at@bgrosnick for everything baseball. Shutdown Corner will return next week with the last installment of the Closer Roundup series: a look at the NL West.

All data from FanGraphs.



Go Bold or Go Home: Draft Adam Dunn Over Paul Konerko

By every significant metric, Paul Konerko had a better 2012 season than Adam Dunn.  Though Dunn enjoyed a big comeback from his legendarily disastrous 2011 campaign, Konerko was clearly the superior overall hitter.  As such, I expected that Konerko would probably be a higher choice on most 2013 draft boards but all things considered, both players fall within my general grouping of "second-tier first basemen."  If you adopt the strategy of drafting the harder-to-fill infield positions first, then Dunn and Konerko are the type of guys you turn to by the 9th or 10th round to fill your 1B or utility spot.

I was surprised, then, to learn that early drafters didn't only have Konerko going earlier than Dunn, but going WAY earlier.  According to Mock Draft Central's latest average position ranking, Konerko is the 12th-ranked 1B-eligible player, with an average draft position of 80.48 (77th overall).  Dunn, if you can believe it, was the 21st-ranked 1B-eligible player, with an ADP of only 193.55 (188th overall).  Sixteen percent of drafters didn't take Dunn at all, if you can believe it.

Granted, ADP isn't foolproof this early in the fantasy drafting season.  For example, Corey Hart is three spots ahead of Dunn, but that will obviously change given that he'll be on the DL until May.  That said, I'm stunned that Dunn was given so little credit by Mock Draft Central's early birds.  The two players immediately following Dunn are the tantalizing-but-unproven Eric Hosmer and the human decline phase known as Ryan Howard.  At the risk of sounding like an old-school sportswriter that lives and dies by counting stats....you're taking these guys over a player who hit 41 home runs last year?

Not only do I think this gap between Konerko and Dunn should be much smaller, I think it shouldn't exist at all.  If you have to draft just one White Sox first base-eligible player this spring, make it the Big Donkey.  Here are a few reasons why...

* More 5x5 Value.  I noted earlier that Konerko beat Dunn in "every significant metric" in 2012, yet that wasn't exactly true.  While Konerko provided more offensive value in real life, Dunn outpaced Konerko in the stats you actually use in your fantasy league.  Konerko's .298 average swamped Dunn's .204 mark, but Dunn hit more homers (41 to 25), drove in more runs (96 to 75), scored more runs (87 to 66) and even stole more bases, albeit by a negligible 2-0 margin.  Since many leagues use walks as a sixth category, that's another big win for Dunn, as he received 105 free passes to Konerko's 56.

It's easy to be critical of Dunn's traditionally low batting averages but beating Konerko is four out of five categories (or five out of six) is hard to ignore.  Dunn had a .246 BABIP in 2012 and a .240 BABIP in 2011, so perhaps he's also due for a bit of a turn-around in actual average.  If he can hit close to the .250 career average that he owned between 2001-2010, then Dunn's value will rise even more.

This is twice now that I've cited counting stats in my pro-Dunn argument.  Geez, I feel like the Fire Joe Morgan guys should tear this column apart.

* Consistency.  You might think this sounds odd given that Dunn is just a year removed from one of the most famous sudden declines in baseball history, while Konerko has been the model of consistency even in his mid-30's, averaging a .304/.384/.530 line over his last three seasons, a.k.a. his age 34-36 seasons.  Let's not forget, however, that Dunn's collapse in 2011 was so shocking simply because Dunn had been so money-in-the-bank for the previous 10 years.  The fact that Dunn rebounded in 2012 makes his 2011 performance all the more bizarre since now it might have been just a blip on the screen, rather than the first sign of a decline.  It's like Wile E. Coyote fell off the cliff, hit the canyon floor and then just bounced up back to the road and chased the Roadrunner again like nothing had happened.  While it's fair to say that Dunn isn't quite all the way back (his .800 OPS in 2012 is the second-lowest of his MLB career), I'm willing to write off his 2011 as just an aberration. 

So if Dunn is consistent again, does that necessarily make him more consistent than the reliable Konerko?  Maybe.  It's interesting to note that both players' 2012 seasons were largely built from their performances in April and May.  Konerko held a 1.097 OPS through his first 51 games and a .258/.329/.409 line in his remaining 96 games, while Dunn had a .950 OPS throgh his first 52 games and then hit .190/.307/.416 over his last 99 games.  That's a big drop for both guys, but Dunn's decline be partially explained by his low BABIP, while Konerko's BABIP was a healthy .312.

* Age.  Using BABIP numbers to excuse one second half slide and raise eyebrows at another might not be much, but when you're dealing with a first baseman who's going into his age-37 season, any sign of decline is a red flag.  Konerko himself recently admitted that his 2012 season "was kind of one of those years where it was smoke and mirrors for most of it," which could be modesty or competitiveness talking, but it could also be an athlete being frank about coming close to the end of his career.  Dunn is no spring chicken himself, but ironically, his bounce-back in his age-32 season somewhat mirrors how Konerko rebounded at age 33, hitting well in 2009 after a disappointing 2008 campaign.  You're rolling the dice on any first baseman (and really, any player) once they pass 32, so you might as well go with the younger option.

Konerko might've had the better season, but his slight dip in form was a warning while Dunn's return to form was a relief.  I think we can count on at least a couple more three-true-outcomes seasons from Dunn while Konerko's 2012 was just troubling enough that a sudden decline wouldn't be a surprise.  If you do find yourself looking for a safe 1B pick in the 9th or 10th round of your draft, I would pick Dunn, since I think you'll know what you're getting.  With Konerko, I'm just not sure. 



Closer Updates: Yankees, White Sox, Marlins

Has anyone seen my ACL? I seem to have left it on the warning track at The K. If found, please ping us on Twitter at @closernews, where you'll find all the latest updates on closers. On with the updates ...

Yankees
Bullpens are inherently volatile, this year seemingly more than ever. But the Yanks are the last team I expected to be writing about in this space based on Mariano Rivera's stubborn refusal to age or decline, kind of like Mickey Rourke except the exact opposite. Unfortunately, Mo finally proved mortal last week, going down as if he'd be been hit from the Texas School Book Depository while shagging batting-practice flies.

Rivera, of course, is (almost) definitely out for the season after undergoing surgery. We wish him a speedy recovery.

Luckily for the Yankees, they have two strong candidates to take the reins in Mo's stead: David Robertson and Rafael Soriano. Unluckily for fantasy owners, the Bombers have played it cool in naming one of them the undisputed closer, with manager Joe Girardi suggesting both will see save opps.

The Yankees haven't yet encountered a save chance since Mo went down, so there's little evidence from which we might infer anything, but I'm siding with popular opinion here in guessing that D-Rob will emerge as the go-to guy. He's the Closer Of The Future (COTF), and frankly, he's damn good -- one of the best relievers in MLB right now. Soriano's ERA is tidy at the moment, and his bloated contract might have a say in the matter, but his strikeout and walk rates continue to trend in the wrong direction.

Bottom line: Robertson is the guy you want. You can add Sori, too, but I wouldn't break my neck if I were in a roster squeeze.

Dodgers
I'd finished this piece by the time the news broke Monday evening that Kenley Jansen had officially been named Dodgers closer. But I have to say, after touting Jansen for the past year or so, I didn't mind updating the piece.

For Jansen to finally claim the throne, incumbent Javy Guerra had to stumble, and at first glance, Guerra does in fact appear to have slumped badly after a hot start. But looking a little closer, Guerra seems to merely be the victim of some poor luck -- not to mention his manager's inability to recognize said misfortune. There's a huge disparity between Guerra's 5.84 ERA and his 2.35 SIERA, mostly fueled by an insanely high .485 BABIP and very low 61.9% strand rate. Those numbers won't last.

But Guerra's loss is Jansen's gain, and with all due respect to Jav-Guer, it should be a lot of fun to watch Jansen in his new role, as he's capable of reeling off a season not unlike what Craig Kimbrel did a year ago. Guerra can be safely cut; hopefully, his owners didn't spend too much for him on Draft Day.

White Sox
We could probably break the Pale Hose's week-to-week closer dealings into a separate column, but alas, here were are, discussing a pretty surprising twist.

Chris Sale was a sometimes closer in 2011 before being moved to the rotation this season. He got off to a terrific start pitching every fifth day, so I assumed he'd be there for a good while, but he was apparently experiencing elbow tenderness. The South Siders responded by moving him back to 'pen, the dubious logic being that the barking elbow would subside with more appearances that require greater exertion but fewer pitches. I'm not sure it adds up, but we shall see.

Anyway, Sale becomes Chicago's closer, quite the sweet consolation prize for owners like myself who were enjoying his starting contributions. He should fare well as a closer, and perhaps his (re)appointment will finally furnish the White Sox with some ninth-inning stability. If everything breaks right for them, they might not be appearing here for a while.

I'm fine with cutting Matt Thornton (though I'll be holding onto him in my holds league), and Hector Santiago can be safely dropped. Consider keeping a close eye on fireballer Addison Reed, though, especially if Sale doesn't get off to a fast start (or is injured). Reed has come out strong, and he might be next up in this little carousel.

Marlins
Mercifully, the inevitable came to pass with Heath Bell's demotion from the closer's role this weekend. The Fish stuck with their big-money stopper as long as they could before finally conceding that he needed to get himself straightened out in some low-leverage sitches.

Ozzie Guillen tabbed Steve Cishek as Bell's temporary replacement, although that was put on hold by Hi-Ci's three-inning appearance on Friday night. So when a save opp cropped up on Sunday, and Cishek was unavailable, Oz called on Vinia Edward Mujica, who converted without much trouble. I like both pitchers, but since Guillen said Cishek would be his first choice, I'd prioritize them accordingly if either right-hander is still on your league's wire.

Meanwhile, Bell owners shouldn't cut bait. The Marlins will want to shoehorn him back into the role as soon as they can, if only to save face on their big offseason investment. I'm not especially optimistic he'll reclaim past glory, but stranger things have happened.

Quick-ish Hits
The Cubs' bullpen has dissolved so that the body can't even be properly identified with dentals. Kerry Wood is fresh off the DL and pitched poorly in his first outing back. Rafael Dolis and James Russell are not closer types, and Carlos Marmol may have gone completely off the rails. Shawn Camp is a darkhorse but isn't an ideal choice considering he was scooped up by the Cubs in early April after he was cut by the Mariners, a team whose bullpen isn't exactly the second coming of The Nasty Boys. This one could be frustrating all season.

Andrew Cashner flopped in his first outing since Huston Street was placed on the disabled list (albeit in a non-save situation). Cash Money's output has never seemed to catch up with his ridiculous raw stuff, so I'm not especially high on him. Luke Gregerson is not the same pitcher he was a couple years back and needs to be handled carefully, as he's injury prone. Brad Brach has a strong minor league track record, but that has not yet translated in his limited Major League experience. With Street sounding confident about a quick return, this might not be worth the trouble, either.



Closer Updates: White Sox, Angels, Nats, Marlins

Henry Rodriguez ought to watch his back, because Chad Cordero has designs on a comeback to Major League Baseball. More on Washington's situation and others below, but first a gentle reminder to give a follow to @closernews on Twitter for all the latest breaking news.

White Sox
Named Chicago's closer after a heated spring competition, Hector Santiago never really found his rhythm once the curtain went up on the regular season. Manager Robin Ventura offered the rookie left-hander a vote of confidence after an epic meltdown last Wednesday (three earned in one-third of an inning), but no one really believed that, right?

Indeed, our skepticism was rewarded when old friend Matt Thornton was called upon for a four-out save on Sunday, which he converted without incident.

But does it signify a clean handoff? The answer, unfortunately, is probably not. I'd expect Ventura to cycle through a few different guys before maybe settling on one, so Santiago owners shouldn't lose heart yet. If you have the roster flexibility, just bench him for the next week or so -- until we've seen how Ventura divvies up the next couple save opps. Thornton, meanwhile, should be added by saves-needy owners, and fireballer Addison Reed is probably worth a look, too. Just know that there's bound to be some frustration, no matter which one you own, at least in the short-term.

Angels
Jordan Walden's unexpected -- and apparently temporary -- demotion sure felt like a panic move, didn't it? Don't get me wrong: Walden hasn't pitched especially well. But the guy has one blown save in two opportunities.

Unless there's something going on behind closed doors with Walden -- an injury or some other tomfoolery -- this one smacks of desperation, a feeble attempt at appeasing a bloodthirsty mob that's furious over the Halos' slow start.

In the meanwhile, Scott Downs takes over closing duties, and he should be added where available. Walden owners are within their rights to be steamed, but take heart and stow this young flamethrower on your bench. Seeing as he's the Angels' anointed Closer Of The Future (COTF), I'd expect him to regain the gig sooner rather than later. Downs is a perfectly adequate reliever but shouldn't be much less prone to the occasional flareup than Walden is.

It's worth noting that the Angels are kicking tires on potential trades involving closers, in which things could get hairy. If this frightens you enough to consider flipping him now, I don't blame you, but know that his value is pretty low right now considering he's not closing.

Nationals
Brad Lidge has been placed on the DL, and so what was a supposed closer platoon last week has quickly been streamlined into a one-man show led by Rodriguez.

H-Rod has mostly done the job so far, but I'm not especially high on him. (My colleague Tom Warman disagrees, which gives me serious pause because Tom is a sharp fantasy mind. But alas, I have to stick with my gut). Rodriguez's stuff is nasty, but he lacks control, which can lead to ugly meltdowns -- like the one he suffered Saturday night in Los Angeles. Plus, although I'm not a scout, he showed a Benitezian lack of composure as the game slipped away. Sounds like a powder keg, don't it?

The surface stats look pretty now, but don't be surprised if they've peaked, so if you're comfortable in saves or have other needs, H-Rod could make for a decent trade candidate. That being said, stranger things have happened than a guy like Rodriguez tearing off an extended hot streak, and since I firmly believe all closers should be owned, I have no problem holding onto him.

Marlins
 I wrote about Bell two weeks ago, and it's amazing how little the story has changed. He continues to stink, and the Fish continue to run him out there for save opps. His Rotoworld page is pretty depressing, actually, between the headshot and string of bad-news updates.

Can he snap out of it? I'm not optimistic. He's either injured or has fallen off a cliff age-wise, and I'm afraid neither of those scenarios is especially good news for his owners. But the only option for his owners now is to stash him and wait it out. Since the Marlins continue to use him as closer, something will eventually have to give here, and it'll get sorted out. Meanwhile, speculators are left to throw a dart at Edward Mujica or Steve Cishek, either of which could take the reins if Bell goes down. Cishek'll be your trendier pick du jour because of his better season stats to date, but Mujica is more of a sturdy veteran type. Recall, if you will, that the Fish were cagey as all heck last summer when naming a temporary replacement for then closer Leo Nunez (now Juan Carlos Oviedo).



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.



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.



Position/Role Battles: The White Sox Closer

With Sergio Santos now in Toronto, the White Sox find themselves looking for another regular closer.  Two veterans and one very promising young arm stand out as the top candidates to take over as Chicago's new ninth-inning man, so let's break down their cases and fantasy value...

Matt Thornton: After years of quality set-up work out of the White Sox bullpen, Thornton got his shot at the closer's job in the wake of Bobby Jenks' departure last winter.  Unfortunately for Thornton, his promotion was short-lived.  He suffered through a horrific April, posting an 8.36 ERA in the month and blowing his first four save opportunities, not actually racking up a save until May 11.  By that point, Santos had emerged and Thornton returned to his usual setup role.

The good news for Thornton is that for the last five months of the season, he was as dominant as ever --- a 2.45 ERA and 53 strikeouts in 51 1/3 innings from May 3 to Sept. 28, holding opposing hitters to just a .574 OPS.  It's very possible that April 2011 was just a poorly timed rough month for the southpaw, rather than a sign that he can't handle closing.  New Chicago manager Robin Ventura may share this opinion, recently noting that Thornton was "probably" the leading closer candidate going into Spring Training (though pitching coach Don Cooper was a bit surprised by Ventura's statement).

On paper, Thornton seems like the most capable ninth-inning option for the White Sox.  I would guess he'll at least start the season with the job and get every opportunity to prove that last April was just a fluke.  Though Thornton is 35 years old, he has been consistent enough in recent years that a sudden drop off the cliff performance-wise would be unlikely.  Thornton will probably get a second crack at closing, barring a huge Spring Training from...

Addison Reed: The 23-year-old Reed has been nothing short of dominant in his short pro career. A third-round pick in the 2010 draft, Reed has quickly shot through Chicago's system after posting a 1.41 ERA, an 0.74 WHIP, and 155 strikeouts (against just 20 walks) in 108 1/3 innings pitched over two minor league seasons.  Reed's dominance earned him a call to the Major Leagues last September, where he recorded a 3.38 ERA and 12 strikeouts in 7 1/3 innings of work.

It's easy for Sox fans to be tempted by the thought of a dominant rookie seizing the job and becoming the team's closer for the next decade-plus, but while Reed has looked great in his two years as a pro, it's still just two years of experience.  Chicago has no particular need to rush Reed into a major role right away and might even think Reed's development would be better served closing games in Triple-A rather than staring the season in the big leagues.

Keep an eye on Reed during Spring Training, since if he's blowing away the Cactus League as easily as he did the minors, he may force Chicago's hand.  And, needless to say, if you're in any kind of keeper league or futures league, Reed is a must-buy if he isn't locked up on someone else's roster already.

Jesse Crain: Last winter, Crain said that the chance to close games was one of the reasons he chose to leave Minnesota and sign with the White Sox. In Crain's limited opportunities to close in 2011, he struggled badly in the role, blowing six of seven possible saves.  This was the only statistical black mark on an otherwise very solid year for Crain (a 2.62 ERA and a career-best 9.6 K/9 rate in 67 games) but it continues a disturbing trend that stretches back to Crain's time with the Twins. In 23 career save opportunities, Crain has converted just four saves --- a ghastly 17% conversion rate.

In fairness to Crain, he has never been asked to close in his eight-year career. If you believe in "the closing mentality," Crain's change in mindset and preparation knowing that he would be the first choice with a ninth-inning lead could do wonders for him.  Still, Crain seems like an emergency option who would only find regular closing chances if Thornton and Reed both struggled.

Fantasy outlook: No matter who wins the job, the White Sox closer should clearly be the #2 saves option in your fantasy bullpen. Draft a more proven, stable closer as your top saves-getter to give you the breathing room to take a bit of a flyer on Chicago's closer.  Thornton is the favorite at this point but the situation is definitely fluid.

Unlike some of our other Position/Role Battle cases, the Chicago closing battle isn't a zero-sum game, especially if you're in a league that tracks holds. Your ideal "holds guy" is a pitcher who not only collects holds but also racks up strikeouts and has other strong peripherals.  Thornton has been one of baseball's best and most consistent setup men over the last six seasons, averaging 20 holds a year and a 3.29 K/BB ratio in that stretch. Crain's overall career numbers are a bit more hit-and-miss, but he's been stellar the last two years, and Reed's minor league potential speaks for itself.  If you draft Thornton or Crain and they don't end up as the closer, you'll have the nice consolation prize of owning a solid holds guy.  The same goes for Reed unless the White Sox send him back down to Triple-A.

The other x-factor is that we don't yet know how Ventura (a rookie to not just the Major League managing ranks but to any level of pro coaching) intends to deploy his bullpen.  Will Ventura use the standard practice of having one primary closer, or could he mix things up?  Between Thornton and Crain, the possibility exists for a lefty-righty closing platoon depending on matchups, so Ventura has some room to be creative with the closer's job. 

This, of course, might be great for Chicago's chances of winning games, but it's not what you want from the standpoint of fantasy stability.  If Thornton wins the closer's job and you draft him, don't hesitate to also pick up Crain or Reed as a handcuff.  Best-case scenario, you get both a top closer and a top holds guy, mirroring those shrewd fantasy owners who handcuffed Craig Kimbrel and Jonny Venters last year.



Closer Report: Chicago White Sox

The White Sox will once again employ Bobby Jenks as their closer.  He's being drafted in the 14th round, which isn't too pricey.  Jenks had sharp peripherals in 2009, aside from a 1.5 HR/9.  He did post the highest flyball rate of his career, so that will be a mild concern entering 2010.

The other concern is that Jenks could be traded.  He's earning $7.5MM, and has been named in past rumors.  If Kenny Williams pulls the trigger, keep an eye on J.J. Putz and Matt Thornton.  Putz has the closing experience, but hasn't been dominant since '07.  Thornton is the whole package, but sometimes teams don't like to use lefties in the closer role.  I consider Putz the mild favorite, but it really depends on how each are throwing at the time of a Jenks trade.



A Look At Gordon Beckham

The White Sox called up top prospect Gordon Beckham; he's playing third base and batting eighth today against the A's in his debut.  He will play regularly for the Sox, and could see time at second base, shortstop, and the hot corner.  Fantasy leaguers, of course, hope he gets middle infield eligibility.  Ozzie Guillen seems willing to stick with Chris Getz at second base though.

It was a short stay in the minors for Beckham, who was drafted just a year ago.  He's played only 44 games in the high minors, displaying good doubles power.  He's only attempted three steals in 58 games in his minor league career, so I wouldn't look for SBs.

Beckham's minor league work this year translates to .276/.314/.448 in the bigs.  Scouting reports praise his power, but those doubles will have to start clearing the wall for it to translate to fantasy baseball power.  Like Andrew McCutchen, I can't say I expect big things from Beckham in fantasy as a rookie.  Both players seem like guys who won't kill you but won't be much different from other waiver wire fodder.



Carlos Quentin: Overrated?

Carlos Quentin is being drafted in the late third/early fourth round (position 37.76).  He's being picked 14th among outfielders.  Is this he a good pick at that point in the draft?

I'd say that if Quentin is able to muster a .290-30-100-100-5 season, he's worthy of being drafted in that spot.  Those are lofty heights, but the guy hit five home runs in his worst month this year.  If he wasn't coming off a wrist injury, I'd feel OK about him as the 37th pick.

Quentin has Jason Bay and Nick Markakis being taken before him, Alex Rios, Vladimir Guerrero, and Matt Kemp after.  Once again I really like Kemp.  He does it all, and should come close to 20 HR and 30 SBs.  I think Kemp has top five outfielder potential in 2009.

That's my other qualm with the early pick for Quentin.   I prefer to build my offense around power/speed guys, and Quentin doesn't bring the SBs.  I don't see him as a bust by any means, but I can't see myself taking him with my fourth-round pick.  It just seems like I'd be "buying high."




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