Miami Marlins


Closer Updates: Committees, Injury Returns, Strugglers, and the Early Trading Block

Jason Grilli might have blown his first save, but that doesn't mean he's in hot water. Arguably the season's best closer so far, he won't be making it into any of this week's categories of concern--not even as a trade target, with the Pirates nestled into the second NL Wild Card. Grilli's owners may be lucky, but below are four categories of closers worth worrying about.

Committees

The pernicious closer-by-committee might be favored in sabermetric circles, but it never gets much love from the mainstream media. Why? Because of those of us who play fantasy baseball, I bet. We might have been part of the "sabermetric revolution" at its beginning, but there's nothing we hate more as a group than the closer-by-committee. All those saves going to waste, spread out across three or four fantasy teams....

Brewers

Last week, Jim Henderson made it back to the Majors from the DL, but he didn't slide right back into his old role. Instead, Francisco Rodriguez was allowed to chase the 300-saves milestone. Well, K-Rod is still chasing it, stuck as he is on number 299. Not that Rodriguez hasn't pitched well, but it'd be nice to get this situation down to a single closer. More than likely, Henderson reclaims the job after K-Rod finally gets that big save, but there's no way to be sure. Keep running both pitchers out there for now, as neither will hurt your ratios in the eighth or ninth innings, despite Henderson's eighth inning blown save.

Tigers

Jose Valverde didn't have to fall very far to fall out of favor in the Motor City. The good news is that none of us spent a high draft pick on him. Other than that, it looks like manager Jim Leyland will play whatever matchups suit him, at least until he gets so tired of reporters' questions that he just names Bruce Rondon closer out of frustration. The committee cast has changed a bit since the beginning of the season, with Rondon and Al Alburquerque in AAA, and Octavio Dotel on the 60-Day DL. Expect Valverde to continue getting a few saves, while Joaquin Benoit, Drew Smyly, and Phil Coke share the job with him. Benoit is the group's early leader and a good choice for a pickup, the Tigers seem likely to have a closer high on their spring shopping list. In fact, it wouldn't be a shock to see them swing deals for more than one reliever before the deadline.

Mariners

This is easily the ugliest of the committee situations. Tom Wilhelmsen is no longer the team's closer, though they seem to hold out hope that he'll sort out his struggles. In the meantime, he's already blown a save as a committee member. Other possibilities for saves include Carter Capps, Charlie Furbush, and Oliver Perez. (Yes, the Oliver Perez who was once a promising lefty strikeout pitcher who completely imploded, signed a big contract with the Mets, imploded again, and threw a temper tantrum about going to the bullpen.) None is a great option, though Capps is likely to get the most save opps going forward, thanks to his right-handedness, though he coughed up a pair of runs without recording any outs in yesterday's brutal loss to the Angels. Any pitcher who does emerge from this quagmire with a closing gig is a decent investment, because the Mariners aren't in the position to seek outside help in relief. In fact, they're probably just frustrated that Wilhelmsen couldn't stay good long enough to get traded.

Injury Returns

It's never exactly clear what will happen when a closer returns from the DL. Sometimes the replacement keeps the job, sometimes the old guy takes it right back, sometimes the old closer is eased back into his role, and sometimes a committee develops. The plan for the teams below seems to be to reinstate the old closer, but you never quite know for sure.

Indians

I bet you never thought you'd be excited for Chris Perez to come take his job back from Vinnie Pestano. The Indians have scuffled hard since Perez's injury, though Pestano finally recorded his second save of the year. Perez won't be coming back immediately, following a terrible rehab appearance and flawed mechanics. If he gets his delivery sorted out quickly, he'll be back in the ninth just as quickly. If he happened to get dropped in your league, snatch him back up.

Rockies

Rafael Betancourt is inching his way back to the Majors and is scheduled to face hitters today. If everything goes well, he could be back relatively soon. It's far too early to drop Rex Brothers, but don't expect him to keep Betancourt from getting his job back when he does return. And it's advisable to hang onto Brothers after that, though, as he's pitched to a great ERA and Betancourt isn't exactly the healthiest closer in the ninth.

Diamondbacks

Heath Bell has been surprisingly good for Arizona. Not, you know, great, but better than we expected. The homers have given him trouble, and his job could be in danger if J.J. Putz comes back. And Putz might just be back soon, as he began his rehab assignment yesterday--a lot earlier than was initially expected. While he may take a little while in the minors, he could also be back in the Diamondbacks' closer role quickly. He was dropped in many leagues, but I'd advise picking him back up if you've got the room to stash him.

Strugglers

A couple of the early season's best closers have hit some serious rough patches and owners should monitor their situations.

Red Sox

Andrew Bailey has pitched horrifically in his last few outings, to the tune of an 11.25 ERA in his last four appearances. Manager John Farrell says that Bailey has "some work to do," but "for the time being...is definitely our closer." Well, doesn't he sound excited to keep Bailey in the ninth, and admits that he would consider other options, "at least temporarily." Bailey is clearly on a short leash, so Junichi Tazawa and Koji Uehara might be good choices for anyone speculating on saves. Update: Bailey has used up his short leash and is out as closer for now. Pick up Tazaway or Uehara.

Phillies

Jonathan Papelbon is the sort of name you don't expect to have to write very often in a column like this, but he's blown two saves over the course of three days. They're just his first two blown saves of the year, but keep an eye on him. Fortunately for Papelbon and his owners, he should have a long leash given his contract and track record. Though the Phillies appear not to be contending this year, they say they aren't considering dealing Papelbon or their other expensive players.

Early Trading Block

Major League teams aren't likely to be making trades for almost another month, but fantasy owners need to be quicker with the trade trigger. After all, when a closer is traded into a setup job in the real world, his fantasy trade value pretty much hits zero. Any closer on a non-contending team is a good candidate to get traded away, though teams with 2014 ambitions are more likely to hang on to their relievers if they're young and inexpensive. Right now, two closers are generating the most trade buzz.

Marlins

Shockingly, the Fish aren't contending this year for anything but worst team in baseball. They might even beat the Astros for that one. Steve Cishek has been pretty good for them as their closer, but a team playing under .300 doesn't need a good closer. Expect Cishek to get dealt to a contender. Unfortunately, he's unlikely to close for any of them. If you've got him, it would be a good idea to deal him early, even for a mediocre return.

Twins

Glen Perkins is a little more complicated than Cishek, as there are contending teams for which he might close. Like the Tigers. The Red Sox could hypothetically be interested in his ninth-inning services too, but if he is dealt, he's most likely going to set up. He should command more than Cishek on the trade market, but he's also a good one to deal. 

Dont' forget to check out @CloserNews on Twitter for all up-to-the-minute updates on closers around baseball.



Shutdown Corner: NL East Closer Roundup

Last week, we started rolling out closer roundups for every division in baseball. This week, we're heading to the National League East, to look over the projected closer situations for all five teams. If you missed last week's review of the American League West, here's a link.

We're rating each closer on a tier, and here's the 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.

Washington Nationals: Rafael Soriano

The big closer news from the past week is Rafael Soriano (finally) signing a two-year, $28 million deal with the Washington Nationals, ostensibly to be their new closer. Soriano had been linked to the Tigers and a few other teams, but the Nationals ponied up the big bucks to bring him on. It's very likely that he displaces former closers Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard ... in fact GM Mike Rizzo said as much when introducing Soriano in a press conference.

Soriano brings closer experience and, best of all, real skill to the Nationals, who now have a pretty scary bullpen. After a dismal 2011 with the Yankees, one that included DL time, Soriano did well as the only non-Mariano Rivera full-time closer for the Bombers since about 1996. He saved 42 games, and did so posting a 2.26 ERA and 24.7% strikeout rate. Not too bad.

The minor problem here is that Soriano probably wasn't as effective as he looked in 2012. FIP (or Fielding Independent Pitching) says that Soriano didn't do the strikeout-walk-homer thing quite as well as his ERA indicated, giving him a 3.32 FIP for the season -- a big difference. Soriano benefitted from a great LOB% (88%), which helped him limit runs despite a high walk rate.

Still, Soriano was paid a lot of money to be the last line of defense for the Nationals, and we should expect him to thrive in the ninth. He's not a top-tier closer at this point, but he is likely to have a good season, especially outside of the tough environment of Yankee Stadium and the AL East.

Projected Tier: Tier 2 (moderate-to-high effectiveness, high cost to bring in / stability)

Next in line: Tyler Clippard or Drew Storen

Atlanta Braves: Craig Kimbrel

I wrote quite a bit about Craig Kimbrel in an earlier edition of Shutdown Corner, and the news hasn't changed in the past two weeks.

He's the best closer in baseball.

He's coming off what may have been the best season by a closer in modern history.

He strikes out everybody.

The only question with Kimbrel is whether he'll look like a "normal" closer in 2013, or if he's got another season of sheer dominance left in his right arm. I'm guessing that it will be something in between 2012 and a regular elite closer season. But it's unlikely, especially with Aroldis Chapman moving to the starting rotation, that any closer is as good a bet as Kimbrel.

Projected Tier: Tier 1 (coming off an world-class season, no sign of slowing down)

Next in line: Jonny Venters

Philadelphia Phillies: Jonathan Papelbon

Again, I waxed poetic about the power of Papelbon two weeks ago, and precious little has changed since then. Jon was very consistent (for the most part) in his time with Boston, and little changed in a move to Philly. He threw 70 high-quality innings, striking out a beastly 32.4% of batters faced and racking up just a 2.44 ERA and 1.06 WHIP. While a higher percentage of his fly balls left the park, he's dealt with pitching in hitters' parks before, and this didn't seem to slow him down much in terms of FIP (2.89).

Papelbon already has 257 saves in just seven years closing, which is remarkable. It speaks to his consistency and durability in a position not known for either. Homers and age threaten to bring down this bastion of beatdowns, but I think there's at least another high-end season waiting in the wings for Paps.

Projected Tier: Tier 2 (high reliability, high performance, age could be an issue)

Next in line: Antonio Bastardo

New York Mets: Frank Francisco

Last season, the New York Mets bullpen was pretty ugly. Frank Francisco, who suffered through injuries and ineffectiveness, was pretty ugly too. Frank^2 did score 23 saves in just 48 games, which isn't too shabby, but his ERA of 5.53 and WHIP of 1.61 made things pretty scary. Worst of all, Francisco had surgery in December to remove a bone spur from his pitching elbow, so he may need time to recover from the surgery.

Dan Syzmborski's ZiPS projection system sees Francisco as a reasonable option, posting a 3.78 ERA with a 25.6% strikeout rate, which would be a nice improvement from his 2012. Me, I'm not quite so bullish. Bobby Parnell is probably the better reliever at this point, and he isn't dealing with elbow surgery issues. Much like Ryan Madson in Anaheim, I think that Francisco will get the manager's benefit of the doubt if he starts the season healthy, but by the end of the season the younger arm (in this case Parnell) will own the ninth.

Projected Tier: Tier 4 (low reliability, low-to-medium performance, stiff competition)

Next in line: Bobby Parnell

Miami Marlins: Steve Cishek

Though the Marlins are projected to be one of the worst teams in baseball history next season, they actually are pretty set at the closer position. Steve Cishek inherited the job last season, and acquitted himself fairly well. He only notched 15 saves in his 68 appearances, but he posted a 2.69 ERA and a career-high 24.7% strikeout rate.

Cishek has a career 2.57 ERA and 2.85 FIP, and does two things very, very well. Cishek gets strikeouts at a serious clip (24.3% over his career), and he keeps the ball in the park (0.29 HR/9 over his career). Walks can be an issue -- I know, stop me if you've heard this before about a closer -- but if his walk rate is closer to his 2011 performance than his 2012 performance, he'll be a very solid option in the ninth.

He, along with Giancarlo Stanton, might be the only solid pieces on this Marlins team.

Projected Tier: Tier 3 (moderate performance, little competition, awful team)

Next in line: Ryan Webb (?)

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 a look at the AL East.

All data from FanGraphs.



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: Giants, Blue Jays, Rangers

We've got the latest on all the @closernews closer news, so unless you want to walk off the mound a loser, read on ...

Giants
The headliner since we last spoke came this weekend, when news broke that Giants closer Brian Wilson sustained a serious injury, one that San Francisco skipper Bruce Bochy ham-handedly phrased as "structural issues." Yes, that's one way of putting it, Boch. The short of it is, The Beard is very likely headed for a second Tommy John surgery, in which case he would be sidelined for the year and perhaps into next.

Of course, we wish Wilson the best and hope to see him back at full strength as soon as possible. Apropos of nothing, may I suggest this excellent piece by Andrew Baggarly of CSNBayArea.com for an interesting look at Wilson, which somehow manages to both strip away and prop up Wilson's "Beard" persona.

Anyway, what do we make of this unfortunate situation from a fantasy perspective? Well, Bochy wasted no time in announcing that he'd be deploying a closer-by-committee of Sergio Romo, Santiago Casilla and Javier Lopez, much to frustration of owners everywhere. It's my experience that fantasy types tend not to appreciate ambiguity in these kinds of situations.

The way it plays out may be simpler than it appears at first glance, though. Lopez can probably be discounted as a seriouus closing candidate on account of his LOOGY profile, unless it should work out that he's brought in to face a tough lefty for the final out of a game. That leaves us Romo and Casilla, and though Romo would be the rightful successor as one of the dominant relievers in baseball, he must be handled gently on account of his propensity for injuries, as Baggarly notes in the above-mentioned article. We can debate it from an old school-new school perspective all we want, but frailty is not a virtue for ballplayers -- especially not for closers, who are supposed to get their Dale Earnhardt on on the mound.

In fact, Casilla is the trendy own, and I think it has merit. Recall that the Giants faced life without Wilson for a substantial chunk of the second half last season on account of an elbow strain (ominously enough). During that time, the bulk of save opportunities went to the right-hander Casilla, a strong-armed reliever whose shiny surface stats have seemed to belie rather pedestrian peripherals for a couple years running now (3.66 SIERA vs. 1.74 ERA in 2011, for example). Casilla will likely get first crack, and although I worry about whether he can run with the job, he's the better pickup.

Blue Jays
Sergio Santos got off to a slow start as a Blue Jay, allowing four earned runs in his first three innings of work. Then, he had the indecency to tend to the birth of his child, which left his ugly small-sample-size numbers to linger on his owners' stats sheets like two-week-old Easter candy.

The good followers at @closernews pinged us with a few questions regarding Santos before he bounced for paternity leave. Though we've seen even the most entrenched closers receive ye olde demotion over the years, I'm not yet worried about Santos' job security. For one, the Jays made a point of trading for him and his team-friendly contract this offseason, so you know he's Their Guy for the foreseeable future. For two, Francisco Cordero ain't much of an alternative at this juncture of his career. I mean, what would be the point?

Unless Santos is injured -- and I have absolutely no reason to believe that -- bet on him bouncing back now that Mary's dropped his baby girl. I hesitate to ignore that whole correlation-causation rule, but would it shock you if Santos' poor early production had something to do with an impending addition to his family? We can't say that for sure, but don't do anything crazy like dropping or selling low on Santos. Sit him down for an outing or two, if you're really concerned.

Rangers
Like the Blue Jays and Santos, Texas has seen newly acquired closer Joe Nathan scuffle in his first few outings as a Ranger. Ron Washington quelled any concerns with an unequivocal declaration as to the identity of his closer (hint: it's Nathan), but this is a situation I'm watching a little more closely.

Nathan is old and two years removed from Tommy John surgery. The latter concern may not be worth mentioning considering the usual time frame for pitchers to fully recover from the procedure, but at Nathan's advanced age, it may be fair to wonder whether he's looking at a different time table. After all my 29-year-old legs tire when I hike up more than two sets of subway steps at a time, so I can't even imagine whipping a baseball at 93 mph eight years from now coming off TJ.

That being said, the Rangers lavished two guaranteed years and $14.75MM on Nathan this offseason, so the last thing they want at the one-percent mark of the deal is a closer controversy. Nathan will receive every chance to get right. It took Neftali Feliz till August-ish to hit his groove last season, and though he presented the Rangers several opportunities to look elsewhere, they never did.

But what if Nathan doesn't get right? Could it finally be the year for Mike Adams? This is one to keep tabs on.

Marlins
Heath Bell's first few outings in Florida Miami haven't gone, um, swimmingly, either. The chubby stopper has allowed two runs in two of his four outings this season, and in one of the others, he issued three free passes. Ugh.

Bell's peripherals took a pretty drastic downturn last season, so this is not an altogether shocking development. Is he hurt? That's hard to say. His velocity is down about one mph, but that's in a very small sample, and ... it's one mph. That being said, let's wait a few more outings till we write off Bell as another free-agent flop (joining Ryan Madson). The Marlins -- perhaps even moreso than the Rangers -- have every incentive in the world to stick with their closer till his arm falls off because of the roundly criticized contract they signed him to during their offseason feeding signing frenzy.

Ironically, Bell was one of the beneficiaries of the Marlins' awkward hey-look-at-us-we-have-money campaign. Now, we'll get to see how serious they are  in handling him if it comes down to wins and losses.

Edward Mujica is my pick to succeed the Heater in the event something should go down (although Steve Cishek would be a candidate too, I spose), and while I have my cursor on the add-drop button, I'm not acting until Bell turns in another clunker.




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