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.


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....


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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 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.


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.


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.


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.

Closer Updates: Brewers, Dodgers, Mariners, Tigers, Padres

Ninth inning drama is great for baseball. It makes things exciting, gives every team hope, and makes heroes out of future Hall of Famers and lifelong benchwarmers alike. It can make middle relievers into household names, bartenders into millionaires...and it can take all that away. Closing is fickle work, and things may have held steady last week, when we went off-format to talk about the year's top perfomers, but things are back to their heart-wrenching normal. There's a reason Rolaids sponsors the Fireman of the Year Award....


Apparently, this is Sparta. Though closer Jim Henderson who, as his owners may remember, was filthy-dominant before his injury, is back from the DL, he's going to be seeing time in other innings for a while. This is a pretty normal thing, as teams like to see what their closers look like and let them shake off any remaining rust before handing them the ball with the game on the line. What isn't normal, though, is the team's reasoning for the decision to leave Francisco Rodriguez in the closer's role for the time being: K-Rod is just two saves from 300. (I told you this was Sparta.) Loving round-numbered milestones as we apparently do, the Brew Crew will let Rodriguez try to get to this one. Though they're being a bit coy with the details, it looks like Henderson will have an opportunity to get his job back after that, but we'll see. To be fair, K-Rod has pitched well enough. 

For now, owners should hang onto both pitchers, while we see how things shake out.


"Finally!" shouted everyone in the world not named Don Mattingly. Seriously, even Brandon League would have pulled himself from the closer's role before now. True, the Dodgers had plenty riding on using League as closer, but the latest meltdown was more than they could handle. After a while it does become pretty tough to justify using a guy with an ERA more than a point higher than his K/9 in the ninth inning while Kenley Jansen rattles around in the eighth. Anyways, though Jansen was already owned in most leagues, his ownership should jump to near 100%, because he could immediately be a top closer. No guarantees: I still suspect that Los Angeles knows worrisome things about his long-term health status, but that's just a guess. If he stays healthy, he should rack up saves, and he will rack up strikeouts.


Ever have your boss tell you to come into her office and "talk about your role" at work? Yeah, that's what poor Tom Wilhelmsen is in for, according to manager Eric Wedge. I can't say what the result of that will be, but the former bartender has exchanged a strict menu of strikeouts for a open bar of runs scored. While the M's don't have a lot of other options in their bullpen, if Wilhelmsen keeps pitching like he has been, other pitchers won't have to be any good to be a lot better than him. I'm thinking my window for trading him has passed, but I'd still give it a shot. His ERA is still a respectable 3.77, so you may get something useful from an owner desperate for saves. If Wilhelmsen is tossed from the role, keep an eye on Carter Capps, who's struck out 34 batters in 28 IP this season.


Before the season, everyone knew the Tigers weren't interested in re-signing Jose Valverde to close. And then nobody else seemed up to the job and nobody else wanted Valverde. It was a marriage of necessity; unsurprisingly, it's on the rocks at the moment. The closer's only blown three saves (he's had 12 chances), but he isn't striking people out (6.26 K/9), he's walking people (3.52 BB/9), and his xFIP is 5.01. In his latest blown save, Valverde didn't even start the inning--that honor went to Drew Smyly, to take advantage of the lefty-lefty matchup. The trouble is, you don't need to play matchups like that when you trust your closer. Though Detroit doesn't look ready to ditch Valverde for Smyly or anyone else, it's clear that the honeymoon period is over. If they do make a change, it wouldn't be a surprise to see a committee develop involving Smyly, Joaquin Benoit, and the rest of the pre-season's suspects.


Luke Gregerson just blew a save opportunity, but it looks like he and Dale Thayer will continue to see most of the opportunities in the current closer committee situation. That may not be for much longer, however, as Huston Street is rehabbing and may be just a couple appearances from a return to the Majors. As the replacements haven't really set the world on fire, I expect the Padres to get Street back into his role as soon as is viable. Of course, Street isn't the healthiest closer on the block, so I wouldn't drop Gregerson or Thayer until Street actually pitches a ninth inning.


As I write just about every week, Jansen is a great add. Now he's an actual closer, so those in even the shallowest leagues should be picking him up, even if it means dropping a mid-level closer to get him. If you're a Wilhelmsen or Valverde owner--or if you're in so much need for saves that you could use some longshot speculative saves--try picking up Carter Capps or Drew Smyly. Also, don't forget about Rex Brothers or Vinnie Pestano as they fill in for Rafael Betancourt and Chris Perez, respectively.

Closer Updates: Top Performers

Last week might have been a dramatic one for our soldiers of the ninth, but this one has stayed the course pretty well. Sure, Addison Reed notched one of the stranger wins in relief history, and the Marlins had to quash trade rumors about Steve Cishek, and Chris Perez might want to hire an attorney, but pitchers who had been struggling like Brandon League, Tom Wilhelmsen, and Fernando Rodney all took steps in the right direction.

As for injured pitchers, keep Vinnie Pestano in for the aforementioned Perez, but Jim Henderson looks to be back as early as tomorrow for Milwaukee. In San Diego, Luke Gregerson seems to be the primary closer and Dale Thayer the secondary in a quasi-committee situation for Huston Street.

Why burn through the roundup so quickly? So we have the chance to take a look at the season's top saves-getters. As we continue into June, we no longer get to talk about hot starts and have to start thinking about good seasons. As the trading season begins, it might help to have an idea about which top closers are worth targeting if you need saves...and which ones you might want to deal away before things head south. 

Alone Above the Wreck

Jason Grilli: 22 SV
Grilli has been a beast this year. He was relatively unheralded coming into the season (this author may have made the mistake of alerting his father to Grilli; said father is now dominating their shared fantasy league), but had pitched seriously well in setup last year. It doesn't look like smoke and mirrors for Grilli, as his 1.01 ERA is actually worse than his FIP of 0.63. His xFIP is a bit of a downer at 1.92. If that isn't enough, he's rocking a 14.51 K/9 and has yet to allow a home run. Grilli remains a great investment going forward, though his rate of save opportunities is likely to go down--he's on pace for 59 of them. 

Mariano Rivera: 21 SV
The Best Reliever in Baseball doesn't have that name because he has the best season of any reliever very often, it's because he has that rare ability to always have one of the best seasons. This year is no exception so far. In fact, his purported final season is shaping up to be one of the best of his career. (Let's hear it for making sure I drafted him one last time!) His 2.26 FIP and 3.09 xFIP aren't as great as his 1.61 ERA, but his 8.06 K/9 and his amazing 0.81 BB/9 should do the job just fine. With the Yankees success, he should see plenty of save opps for the rest of the season, though, like Grilli, it will probably be at a somewhat lower rate than he has so far. Otherwise both these guys will be challenging the record. Rivera is a great bet for quality production over the rest of the year, but his trade value will be inflated due to his well-earned brand name. If you need saves, Grilli might come at a better (but still high) price.  

 You're Not as Brave as You Were at the Start

Jim Johnson: 19 SV
How are you among the saves leaders despite going through a stretch of blowing three in a row? Get a ton of opportunities, of course. Johnson hasn't pitched terribly bad (except that one stretch), and his FIP (3.71) and xFIP (3.54) are both better than his ERA. Moreover, his 7.71 K/9 is much better than what we're used to from him. Johnson is a decent bet for good production the rest of the way, but his non-saves numbers are far from elite. All it will take is a little rough luck--or even normal luck--and his saves total won't be elite either.

Joe Nathan: 18 SV
Nathan's resurgence continues, and Texas is giving him plenty of opportunity to lock down saves. His 8.88 K/9 and 1.85 ERA are excellent, but his 2.59 BB/9 rate might be contributing a little to his not-as-amazing 3.15 FIP and 3.75 xFIP. Though his is a strong candidate for continued success, his peripherals and the likely high trade value associated with his brand and strong team mean he might be an even better sell-high candidate.

Addison Reed: 17 SV
Until yesterday, Reed was all over the closers' leaderboards. I don't feel bad about setting aside his weird extra-innings performance, but then, I wasn't totally sold on his previous success. His 10.67 K/9 rate gives him more value in strikeouts than many closers, and his 2.29 FIP is markedly better than his 3.67 ERA (which his 3.56 xFIP thinks is spot-on). His 3.00 BB/9 is a little high, but not terrible. Now is far from the time to trade Reed, but his short track record of greatness suggests he's at least as good a trade candidate as a keeper.

Edward Mujica: 17 SV
Jason Motte was supposed to be one of the year's top closers, but instead we've got his third-in-line replacement on this list. Mujica has a nifty 1.67 ERA, with a very good 2.36 FIP and 2.83 xFIP. His 8.00 K/9 gets the job done, while his 0.33 BB/9 makes Mariano Rivera look wild. Pitching for the dominant Cardinals, Mujica is a great candidate for continued success. His owners probably know that, but make him a trade target anyway to be sure.

Craig Kimbrel: 17 SV
Kimbrel was expected to be the season's best closer from beginning to end, so I guess this counts as a disappointment. I'll say now that if his owner really is disappointed in his performance, you should jump on that with a trade offer. His 12.34 K/9 and 1.93 ERA put him with the game's elite. His 3.02 FIP isn't terribly optimistic, but his 2.39 xFIP looks plenty good. Expect him to continue in greatness as the season goes on, but his high draft position and name value will probably give him a high price tag.

 You'll Never Settle Any of Your Scores

Sergio Romo: 16 SV
Romo has been almost definitively serviceable this season. None of his stats are with the elite, but none show cracks in his armor either: 9.25 K/9, 1.11, BB/9, 2.59/2.45/2.97 ERA/FIP/xFIP. He rather epitomizes great-but-not-the-best. To me, that means Romo might make a high-quality trade target, as he may not be the best closer on his own fantasy team--or at least not the one who's seemed the best so far.

Aroldis Chapman: 15 SV
Like Kimbrel, Chapman has been a big disappointment so far. This is mostly because of the unreasonable expectations put on him (by his own incredible 2012 season). Chapman leads all closers with a 15.92 K/9, and he's doing it without walking people at rates like Carlos Marmol or Ernesto Frieri. Not that his 4.15 BB/9 is particularly good. His FIP (2.41) is a dead-on match for his ERA (2.42), while his xFIP is a tad better, at 2.29. Having underperformed huge expectations, Chapman might make a good trade target--but his owners are probably still able to enjoy the saves and strikeouts, so he'll probably come at a high price in most leagues.

Rafael Soriano: 15 SV
The Nationals were expected to be one of baseball's top teams, and Soriano one of the top closers. Though Sori has 15 saves, neither expectation has come to pass. Though Soriano has a solid 2.74 ERA, it comes with a mediocre 3.24 FIP, and a downright bad 4.16 xFIP. With just a 6.65 K/9, something seems to be wrong. Either trouble is coming, or Soriano will find his strikeout pitch again. For now, his solid saves and ERA stats make him a very good trade candidate...if you're dealing him away.

Tom Wilhelmsen: 14 SV
Wilhelmsen burst onto the scene from obscurity last season (a pretty common closer story, actually), and was highly regarded by many going into this year. Part of the reason he was so well-liked was the fact that he struck batters out in bunches last year. This season, not so much; he's got just a 6.49 K/9 rate. That alone is enough for me to shop him, but a 4.44 BB/9 and 4.24 xFIP should be enough to convince most everyone else. Sell him while you can, because he won't hold onto that 2.05 ERA much longer.

Well, that's what we get for having a slow news week. Hopefully your opponents don't look terribly far into the numbers when evaluating your upcoming trade offers. We'll look at some of the lower-level performers next time no closers manage to lose their jobs or endanger their careers with injury. Until then, don't forget to check out our Closer Depth Chart and follow @CloserNews on Twitter for up-to-the-minute information.

Closer Updates: Indians, Brewers, Rockies, Mets, Cubs, Dodgers, Rays

It was a more eventful week in the ninth inning than last week, as two teams lost their closers to the DL (and another nearly joined them). There was good news, however, and more of it, as several more closers around the league stregthened their footing as stopper. Or, at least they watched their competitors falter....


Chris Perez hit the DL with "mild tendonitis" and will be replaced by Vinnie Pestano for the time being. Fantasy pundits have been recommending for the last couple years that Cleveland make this move, though Perez might actually have been outpitching his understudy this season. While Pestano claims to have found the mechanical flaw that has kept his velocity down (and his ERA over 5.00), Perez doesn't have a timetable yet. There's nothing to indicate that it will be a long DL stay...but nothing to assure us it will be short, either. Pestano is a good option, even as a short-termer, so he's well worth picking up.


Just when Milwaukee fans thought they finally had their ninth innings locked down with Jim Henderson's sub-1.00 ERA he goes on the DL. Ouch. Literally, as he's got a pulled hamstring. So far, word is that it isn't serious and that the DL stint is mostly so that the team can't give into the temptation to rush him back. I don't blame them: their fill-in options don't inspire much confidence, unless you believe John Axford's got the magic back from 2011 or Francisco Rodriguez does from 2006. The Brewers say they'll do the committee thing in Henderson's absence, but I'm betting that K-Rod gets the majority of the opportunities.


We had a bit of a frenzy to add Rex Brothers last week, when it looked like Rafael Betancourt was going on the DL, but that ended up not being much of a thing. Of course, Betancourt immediately went and blew a save, but that doesn't change anything in the Colorado bullpen hierarchy, so don't get worried.

Update: Betancourt just hit the DL and Brothers will be taking care of the closer's duties. So pick him up if you still can.


Bobby Parnell didn't have much to worry about in the Mets' closing job, but now he has even less, as Frank Francisco is now on the 60-day DL. If you had stashed him in the hope that he'd come back and steal the job, it's time to let that dream die.


Kevin Gregg should never be considered "one of the most secure closers," but he really is at this point. Not only has he been lights-out (weird), but Kyuji Fujikawa will be having Tommy John surgery, so there goes basically his whole Cubs contract. When manager Dale Sveum was asked what he thought about Carlos Marmol closing again, he responded, "I hope not." So he's not likely to threaten Gregg's job.


Brandon League looked just about ready to cede his job to, well, anyone else, not that long ago, but he's in better shape now. He's locked down five consecutive scoreless outings and is up to 11 saves. His overall numbers aren't awesome, but there definitely seems to be a desire to keep him in the ninth instead of Kenley Jansen--who hasn't earned a save in two weeks. So long as League is just good enough not to demote, expect him to keep his job. That probably goes for manager Don Mattingly too, which is good news if you own League. Any new manager could make an easy splash by changing closers. So hang on to League if you've got him, but Jansen is still too good and too close to the job not to be owned in all fantasy formats.


Fernando-mania 2.0 seemed ready to fizzle out for good with Fernando Rodney being so inneffective of late. He's now gone four straight scoreless outings (and three straight walkless) so things are looking up. His overall numbers are still ugly (5.40 ERA, 19 BB in 21.7 IP) but they weren't bad enough for him to lose the job before and they won't be now while he's on a hot streak. Sure, he may lose the job if he gets into trouble, but the Rays have a lot invested in keeping him installed in the ninth, as their other options are not inspiring. He'll be given the chance to right the ship, which is great news if you own him, as you've probably got a lot invested in him too. If he does falter, Joel Peralta is the most likely replacement.


Vinnie Pestano is a must-add right now. While Chris Perez is probably not going to be out very long, you can never be sure. Plus, Pestano is a good enough pitcher that the Indians may decide that he's a better guy to have in the ninth anyway. Francisco Rodriguez is a good pickup too, as he's most likely to benefit from Jim Henderson's absence. Beyond those two, Joel Peralta is still a decent speculative guy if you don't believe in Rodney, and the strikeouts Rex Brothers generates make him potentially useful even if Rafael Betancourt stays healthy all season.

Closer Updates: Orioles, Rays, Dodgers, Nationals, Rockies, Red Sox, Angels

As you can see from the title, there's been a little bit of closer news this week, so we'll get right down to business. Speaking of which, check out @CloserNews for up-to-the-minute info. Also, take a look at our Closer Depth Chart for a league-wide overview of the ninth inning. But anyway, on to business.


Jim Johnson didn't have his best week ever. Three consecutive blown saves are enough to cost many closers their job, but Johnson earned his leash last year and manager Buck Showalter trusted him enough to hand him the ball in extra innings. Johnson earned the win, and there seems to be good reason to think this rough patch was just that and not a sign of impending doom.

For one thing, while his HR/9 rate and his HR/FB rate are much higher now than last year, a reliever's sample size is so small that that includes a whopping three homers allowed, two of which came during his three blown saves in a row. Moreover, while his BB/9 rate has also increased, it was already so low that it had wiggle room. Since his K/9 has increased since last year as well, he still maintains a 3.00 K/BB and is adding value with nearly two extra strikeouts per nine. All in all, he doesn't look like someone about to go Axford on us.


Speaking of impending doom and John Axford, Fernando Rodney appears to be turning into the proverbial pumpkin. His magical season last year has rightly earned him a lot of room for error, but at some point even that will have to be considered used up. Rodney has had bad results recently: he's blown three of his last four saves and looked bad doing it. Rodney has a bad process: his 8.35 BB/9 is rough to look at, let alone experience in the ninth inning. Not only is it worse than the sparkly but unbelievable 1.81 mark he put up last year, it's worse than any of the once-and-again wildman's previous ML rates, including the one that got him demoted by the Angels in 2011. Unless he gets his control under control, Rodney is probably on the way out of the ninth inning, at least temporarily.

Setup man Joel Peralta has gotten the most mention as a possible replacement, while neither Jake McGee nor Kyle Farnsworth have been obviously better than Rodney. Don't expect the Rays to go out of the organization, but don't be shocked if they do opt for a committee.


 The great and tragic drama of Brandon League and Kenley Jansen continues to play itself out, as manager Don Mattingly won't commit to "annointing" a closer. I guess that's technically a demotion for League, as he had already been annointed as closer (which apparently makes you some type of king by fiat). It's mitigated good news for Jansen owners and plenty of reason to pick him up if he's still unowned. Perhaps more reason to grab Jansen is that Mattingly may well play things as close to "the book" as he can while he flails around trying to keep his job. If he is fired, expect the new manager to make the obvious choice and officially install Jansen in the ninth, if only to earn some cheap points with the masses. As this situation begins to resolve itself, you're probably safe to drop League in most (a-hem) leagues. 


Rafael Soriano came into the year as a top closer, and his 2.14 ERA suggests he still is. Though he blew two saves in a row this week (and tossed teammate Bryce Harper under the bus after one of them), he's firmly entrenched as the Nats' closer. There's trouble under the hood, however, as Soriano's FIP is 3.41 and his xFIP an even worse 4.23--Soriano isn't really pitching all that well. Perhaps more pointedly, his K/9 is sitting at just 6.43--the worst since his rookie season in 2002. As a starter. Now, he's got plenty of time to ratchet up the K's, but it might be a good idea to sell him while his ERA still shines as well as it does. Though he's not in imminent danger of losing his job, these things can shift quickly and the Nationals have other quality options in their bullpen.


First, the rumor was that Rafael Betancourt was going on the DL, now it's that he won't. The facts are that Betancourt is having a very nice season (albeit with too many walks) and won't be supplanted by a quick injury, DL trip or no. The other facts are that Rex Brothers is having an even better season (also with more walks than are preferable) and saved the game for Betancourt on Wednesday. While the 38-year-old Betancourt will probably be just fine, this isn't a bad time to add Brothers, just in case. It isn't every team that can replace their closer with someone pitching at least as well, but the Rockies are one of them. In the event something bad happens, Brothers would be a quality setup man. If all stays well, he's still a usable non-closer in many leagues.

Red Sox

Andrew Bailey is back from the DL and back into the closer's role. Sort of. The Red Sox won't use him on back-to-back nights for an while as they let their fragile pitcher reacclimate. That means that Junichi Tazawa (who wasn't exactly a useful pickup during Bailey's absence) may still have the chance to grab some saves--more, certainly, than most setup guys. Keep him rostered until the Sox show us that Bailey is ready for a full workload. Considering his 25:3 K:BB ratio and Bailey's tendency to get hurt, Tazawa remains one of the better setup men to keep on your team.


Bad news for Ryan Madson is good news for Ernesto Frieri. Frieri will need it, as he's issued a ton of walks (6.75 BB/9) in April and May. He strikes a lot of people out too, which is good, but his ERA (2.25) doesn't match his FIP (4.58) or his xFIP (4.71). As long as Madson keeps having setbacks, however, expect Frieri to keep getting the call in the ninth inning. At least until those walks start costing him saves....


Obviously, Kenley Jansen should be owned in all leagues at this point. If you own Fernando Rodney, I'd strongly suggest picking Joel Peralta up as backup (though the Rays do unconventional things whenever given an excuse). In fact, he's the top guy out there as far as speculative closers. If Junichi Tazawa's owner dropped him when Andrew Bailey came back from the DL, pick Tazawa up as he's in a great save-vulturing position. The same is true for Rex Brothers, but less so. Everyone else seems to be staying the course for now, so there isn't any real need to gobble up Orioles, Nationals, or Angels setup guys.


Closer Updates: Brewers, Angels, Diamondbacks, Dodgers, Red Sox

It's been a pretty good week to be a closer. Sure, we've had blown saves, injuries, and even seen one closer scurry out of the clubhouse in his street clothes, but, hey, no one lost their job. In the up and down world of closing ballgames, not losing your job counts as a win for everyone with less prestige than Mariano Rivera (and, to a lesser extent, Jonathan Papelbon and Craig Kimbrel).

With no job losses to present our favorite kind of opportunities, we can safely ignore relievers and the waiver wire for another week, right? 

Sure you can. But I won't, and neither will your leaguemates. Just because no changes have happened yet doesn't mean there couldn't be trouble brewing. With that said, let's start things off with the...


Actually, there isn't really any "trouble" coming down the pike for Milwaukee closer Jim Henderson. There's some bad news for the few John Axford owners still out there, because the Brew Crew just added all-time single-season saves leader Francisco Rodriguez to their beleaguered bullpen. Considering how well Henderson has pitched (10.50 K/9, 5.00 K/B, 1.06 ERA, 1.37 FIP, 95mph fastball), I don't see K-Rod's rusty right arm pushing him out of the ninth any time soon. But considering how unbelievably bad Axford's been (I won't show you the numbers, in deference to his owners), Frankie Rodriguez will likely climb into the top setup slot and become the first backup in line soon. I wouldn't add Rodriguez at this point, but I would drop Ax-man.


Ryan Madson and I had thought this might be a good time to scoop him up, in case the Angels got overexuberant and handed him the closer's job they signed him for. Well, the latest word is that his rehab stint may last "several weeks." One can understand the Angels playing this one cautiously, but I wouldn't be surprised if they activated Madson earlier than that--if he's healthy and dominant in rehab. Keep an eye on what Madson does in AAA, becuase incumbent closer Ernesto Frieri has had a lot of success but will need to cut down on his 6.23 BB/9 before it catches up with him. (To be fair, that number is cut down from where it was a couple weeks ago when I suggested watching his backups.)


Remember when Heath Bell was one of the top closers drafted? Me neither. Arizona GM Kevin Towers did, though, and looked like a fool when he traded to get Bell in the offseason. Maybe we should have trusted Towers' history with relievers, because it's a pretty long track record of success. Thus far, Bell has been outstanding and his fastball velocity and frequency appear to have returned to the levels of the good ol' days in San Diego. Does that mean David Hernandez isn't looming? No. But it does mean that he managed to blow a save Sunday and had enough leash to come back for two in a row Tuesday and Wednesday. If you've got Hernandez, I hope you're counting holds, because Bell has a solid grip on the saves in the desert.


Brandon League is a good-but-not-great pitcher, and he's been pretty shaky so far this season. Kenley Jansen is a dominant strikeout pitcher and he's dominated this season. So why is League still the closer? There are two reasons, one more important than the other. First of all, someone decided that lots of money = infinite money and threw 30 some-odd million dollars at League to close. That's big money for a setup guy and there's some face to be lost by demoting him. That's the lesser reason, I think. The real reason, and the reason they gave all that money to Mr. League in the first place, is the reason they initially traded for him: Jansen's health.

I'm doing a little bit of speculating here, as I am neither a medical doctor nor an employee of the Los Angeles Dodgers, but I think they're giving League as much leash as his performance will allow (maybe more) so that they can keep Jansen as fresh as possible for when they really need him. Earlier this week, Jansen came in to get a big one-out save, but League was back Wednesday to preserve a two-run lead in the ninth. When did Jansen pitch? In the seventh and eighth with a one-run lead--when sabermetricians tell us the Dodgers really needed him.

Hang on to League as long as he's just good enough to justify running out there in the ninth, because I think the Dodgers are trying to maximize their bullpen value by having Jansen available for all (and only) the highest-leverage innings. If that's what they're up to, more teams should do the same.

Red Sox

Junichi Tazawa hasn't pitched since losing the game last Saturday, but, then, the Red Sox haven't brought him any save opportunities since. While the Boston decision makers have seemed confident enough in Tazawa, it looks like Bailey will be coming back no later than Monday, if all goes according to plan. Of course, things may not go according to plan, so don't drop Tazawa just yet. However, if a short-sighted owner happened to drop Bailey, go to your waiver wire and claim him, because he's pitched too good not to return to the ninth inning when he's ready. Plus, the Red Sox probably want to show off whatever stability they can.


Unfortunately, this isn't a big week to find closing bargains. Bailey (and Tazawa, actually) make the best adds, on the off chance they aren't owned yet in your league. Speaking of League, if frustrated owners have dropped him, I'd pick him up, as there's a good chance he gets to snag the easier save chances in L.A. Finally, "several weeks" is a long time for a rehab assignment, but if you've got space on your DL it might be a good idea to lock up Madson. The Angels did sign him with the intent of using him to close, and they may still go that route when he comes back to the Bigs. Of course, they may not, so if you play the wait-and-see game and lose, don't beat yourself up.

And by the way, don't forget to check out @CloserNews on Twitter for up-to-the-minute information, and our up-to-date Closer Depth Chart, for each team's stopper and top backups.

Closer Updates: Diamondbacks, Cubs, Brewers, Red Sox, Angels

The past week has been a relatively quiet one on the closer front. Relatively meaning, of course, that we had an established closer return from the DL to set up for his replacement, another closer slide backwards in his climb back to the ninth inning, one guy start pulling away from the closer-by-committee pack, and another continue to push himself out of job security. So yeah, quiet week.


Last week we mentioned the trouble that J.J. Putz has gotten himself into, and now he's blown another save. The good news for owners is that he saved two successfully and earned a win in the past week, but he's still up to four blown saves, meaning he's just 5/9 in SV/OPP. He hasn't pitched horribly, but he hasn't been great, and that might not be good enough much longer.

Arizona isn't saying anything about demoting Putz, to whom they've allocated a significant contract, but they do have other options. Lucky for Putz owners, the best of those options, David Hernandez, just blew a game himself. Heath Bell "can handle the ninth" because he used to be good at it, and Matt Reynolds has shown himself to be a quality arm. If things don't get better for Putz, expect to see some combination of these three pitchers in the ninth inning for Arizona.


Carlos Marmol (10BB/10.7 IP) is a known walk machine, but this level is bad even for him. He's supposedly still in the Cubbie committee, but for how long? Making matters worse is that six of those have come in his last four appearances, while Kevin Gregg has pitched like a hero. He's saved four games in a row without walking a batter in that span. Looking to before he was inserted into the closing picture, Gregg has struck out six batters in 5.1 IP, with just three hits and two walks allowed. Even better, his last three outings have been perfect. The question is less one of competition between Gregg and Marmol, but about whether Gregg closes when Kyuji Fujikawa returns. 

A word of caution: a few well-timed good innings shouldn't make us forget why the Cubs were able to find Gregg on the proverbial scrapheap in the first place: we're talking about a guy with a lifetime 4.04 BB/9 rate, whose last two season-long WHIP's were in the 1.60's. Proven closer does not mean proven control artist.


John Axford was supposed to be on his way back to the closer's job, but an eighth inning loss to the Pirates pushed his ERA back over 10.00 and him just a little farther from his old line of work. The homer he allowed was his fifth in 10.7 IP this season. Yeah, he's allowed a longball every other inning. Maybe Axford's progress was real and this is just a hiccup on the road back to ninth-inning dominance. Or maybe not. For now, keep hanging on to Jim Henderson.

Red Sox

Joel Hanrahan is back off the DL, but Andrew Bailey is still closing for the Sox. Bailey has been flat-out excellent, and if that doesn't change it's hard to see Hanrahan (who came into the year sporting shaky peripherals) muscling his way back into the ninth inning. Right now, the plan is to let Hanrahan work his way into a setup role, but no farther. While that may change, Bailey is looking like one of baseball's most solid closers at the moment.

The above is what I wrote before seeing that Hanrahan came in for the save Thursday while Bailey was out with bicep soreness. So far it appears that the injury is minor and that Bailey will close when available. Hang on to Hanrahan for now, though I still expect Bailey to run with the job.


Ernesto Frieri (11BB/12.3 IP) has only blown one save, but he could be in for some seriously bad outings if he can't get his wake rate of nearly 9.00/9. The good news is that he's striking out over a batter per inning (15K's), and holding his ERA (2.19) together. There might be a reason that the Angels wanted Ryan Madson to close. I would strongly consider moving him before the blown saves start racking up. Dane de la Rosa and Scott Downs have worked a lot in the eighth inning lately, though Downs's left-handedness gives the edge to de la Rosa.


Gregg (Y!: 37%/ESPN: 66.7%/CBS: 26% owned) is worth picking up in pretty much all formats. David Hernandez (Y!: 16%/ESPN: 7.8%/CBS: 16%) is the best choice for a handcuff to J.J. Putz. The nice thing about picking him up is that he's one of the most valuable setup men around, meaning he won't waste your roster spot while you wait for him to take the job. If you're desperate for saves or worried about Frieri, then de la Rosa (basically unowned) might be a good choice. Keep in mind that Frieri will probably have to blow a couple actual games before the Angels even make noise about a change.

Closer Updates: Cubs, Tigers, Brewers, Red Sox, Diamondbacks, Royals

At this point, the question on everyone's mind is this: will we go a week without the Cubs changing closers? Okay, maybe it's not on everyone's mind, but I'll bet it weighs deeply on yours if you've found yourself drawn into that particular fray. Fortunately, while there might be turmoil on the North Side, things might just be calming down a bit around the rest of the Majors.


Quick, guess the two most recent Cubs to save a game! That's right, Carlos Marmol and Kevin Gregg. If this isn't a mixture for excitement, I don't know what is. Expect strikeouts and lots and lots of walks in the ninth inning while these guys tackle the job. The good news is that Marmol has been pitching well enough to drive his ERA all the way down to 4.35, having not been scored upon since April 6th. The bad news is that his WHIP still sits at 1.80, and he walked five batters and hit one in his last three appearances. I think the Cubs will take any opportunity they can get to let Marmol save games, as his trade value is a lot better if he can be passed off as a "proven closer." If he falters before Fujikawa returns or he is traded, Gregg looks like he'll be in line for most of the saves. Why? Well, why not? It's bad news for Shawn Camp and James Russell, though they aren't officially out of the saves mix.


Speaking of pitchers out of the saves mix...Jose Valverde is back. Up in the Majors, he's already saved a game in his lone appearance and owned in 58% of Yahoo! leagues. Go ahead and snag him in just about all formats. He probably doesn't have the most job security in the world, but I imagine that the Tigers won't want to throw themselves back into closer-uncertainty-land soon after leaving it. He might get more rope than most pitchers of his skill level. On another note, Bruce Rondon is up in the Majors, though his manager seems pretty happy not to be using him in the ninth. If Rondon is lights out and Valverde gets lit up, a change is possible. Sorry, Joaquin Benoit hopefuls... 


Nothing's wrong with Jim Henderson, who's saved the game in his last three appearances, but rumor has it that John Axford might be back in the old job soon. There hasn't been an official timetable or anything, but the Ax Man hasn't allowed a run or walked a batter since April 9th. If he's righting the ship, he'll get the job back, whether Henderson has an 0.90 ERA or not. The only good news for Henderson owners (at least, the ones who don't have Axford too) is that he's pitched well enough to be worth keeping around.

Red Sox

Joel Hanrahan is starting his rehab assignment and is eligible to come off the DL on Monday. The Sox traded for him to be their closer. Andrew Bailey has filled in and done a great job. The Sox also traded for Bailey to be their closer. Management hasn't said anything definitive, other than it might be a fight for the job. So, I guess this counts as bad news for owners of both. Bailey has pitched better this year, but it's probably fair to say than Hanrahan will have to be bad not to win his job back. That's certainly possible. Whatever ultimately happens, expect Bailey to keep the job for several days while Hanrahan is allowed to get back in the swing of things.


J.J. Putz has gotten himself in enough trouble that his manager had to reassure everyone that he was "still the closer." Things got bad enough that Matt Reynolds saved two games last week, one in relief of Putz, the other in relief of David Hernandez. This one is worth keeping an eye on, though Putz managed his fourth save on Thursday to go with the three he's blown. So far, there's no change, and Putz should have a bit more leash left; the veteran closer has proved himself over the years to the point where Arizona probably won't demote him for a bad couple weeks. If his struggles get worse, Reynolds, Hernandez, and Heath Bell may all get a crack at the job.


Nothing but good news for Greg Holland owners, as he's pitched his ERA all the way down to 5.14 with five consecutive scoreless outings. In fact, all the runs he's given up this year came in one inning, pitched across two horrific days. He's got 14 strikeouts in his seven innings pitched and seems to have gotten away from any controversy over his bullpen role. Making things easier for him, Kelvin Herrera has had two disastrous outings and actually pushed his ERA above Holland's. Why all this talk about ERA, you wonder, in this age of better statistical analysis? Closing is about results, not process, and good results keep jobs.


Not as easy a week for speculative pickups, as most of the pitchers involved will be already owned. If Valverde remains available, he's by far the best pickup (unless Holland or Putz are somehow on the waiver wire). Axford is actually less owned than Valverde (just 51% of Yahoo! leagues), so it's a good time to get him. Marmol is on a hot streak and has at least a share of the closing job; he should be owned in more than just 39% of Yahoo! leagues. Leave Gregg and the others alone. Bailey is owned in three-quarters of leagues, and he's worth keeping as a setup man if he continues to pitch as he has. 

Closer Updates: Cubs, Cardinals, Red Sox, Brewers, Astros

Just when you think things are settled in the world of closers...they aren't. This week sent more injuries our way, plus flame-throwing relievers that couldn't cut it, and K-Rod's return as we know it. Here are the saves-chasing updates from around the Majors.


If your closer's team never shows up in this column, so much the better. If your closer's team is the Cubs, well I feel bad for you son, because they've been a mainstay here on Closer Updates and I see no reason why they might leave. The latest issue is that newly anointed closer Kyuji Fujikawa has hit the DL with a strained right forearm. He'll be out until at least late this month, and could be missing more time. Rumor has it that he'd been experiencing pain for some time, so perhaps this explains why his ERA is at a Marmolian 12.46. Speaking of Carlos Marmol, he won't be closing yet (though he's strung together a couple passable outings and gotten his ERA to around half of Fujikawa's); instead, the Cubbies will be going with a committee led by Shawn Camp and James Russell. The Cubs have a lot invested in using either Marmol (for the trade value) or Fujikawa (because they signed him as a free agent) in the closer's role, so expect the committee to last no longer than necessary. I'll be staying away from this mess for now, as half a temporary closer's job on a lousy team just doesn't seem worth the roster space.


No, I don't have any word on Jason Motte's timetable, but that doesn't mean there weren't more changes in the St. Louis bullpen picture. Neither Mitchell Boggs nor Trevor Rosenthal managed to run with the job, despite ample opportunity and talent. If Thursday's usage was any indication, the Cards will turn to Edward Mujica for their ninth inning leads needs. This had been pondered last week, and it looks pretty likely at this point. In case Mujica falters, I wonder if Fernando Salas might get a chance to close again. This is purely speculation on my part (How smart would I feel if I'd been speculating on Mujica two weeks ago!), and he's off to a pretty horrid start, but he did notch 24 saves with a 2.28 ERA two years ago. Maybe Mike Matheny remembers that as vaguely as I do. For the moment, Mujica is definitely the add.

Red Sox

Joel Hanrahan is the latest "safe" closer to land on the DL. He's got a hamstring issue and, like Fujikawa, is tentatively expected back by the end of the month. Also like Fujikawa, he's got a four-digit ERA. Unlike the Cubs, however, the Sox have a strong bullpen, led by Andrew Bailey. Bailey has the all-important Closing Experience, not to mention 12 K's in 7.1 IP, a 1.23 ERA, and an 0.68 WHIP. Even manager John Farrell admits that Hanrahan might not return to the closer's role; it very much looks like Bailey could take the job he was traded for and run with it. He's a great add, but if he doesn't work out, Boston might turn to Koji Uehara, who is lights-out but not generally trusted with a full closer's workload.


Like their NL central kinsfolk the Cubs, the Brew Crew seems destined to appear in this space with some frequency. No big changes here, however: Jim Henderson is holding the job down just fine. If he's on your league's waiver wire for some reason...well, probably it's because you don't count saves or you've just got eight teams or something like that. If not, pick him up already. Francisco Rodriguez is back in the fold, though it will be a month or more before he's even eligible to take the job away from Henderson. Good news if you've been holding onto John Axford (like me): he's pitched more or less capably in his last few outings. We were starting to think this was impossible. Keep the faith if you can spare the roster spot, as Axford remains a good candidate to reclaim the ninth inning at some point this season.


Jose Veras finally got a save opportunity on the woebegone Houston Astros. Naturally, he blew it. So far, however, there are no rumblings about replacing Veras. Owned in only 35% of Yahoo! leagues, he remains a good pickup for someone in dire need of saves. Well, a better pickup than trying to muddle your way through the Cubs' mess, anyways. If he does end up getting demoted, maybe we'll see Rhiner Cruz (who's pitched a lot late in games for the 'Stros) or Hector Ambriz (who's pitched pretty well lately) getting a shot in the ninth. For now, though, it's still Veras.


The top closer add here should be Bailey. He's pitching extremely well and he's got a decent chance to steal his old job (that he never really had) back while Hanrahan languishes on the DL. Edward Mujica is owned in only 32% of Yahoo! leagues and deserves to be snapped up next. After that, you've got Henderson who won't be available in many leagues (so grab him if yours is in the minority). Veras is the next guy to grab, though it might be another couple weeks before he gets a save chance. I really don't recommend getting involved in the Cubs' mess, but if you have to, James Russell is probably the guy, mostly by virtue have having blown a save least recently. 

Closer Updates: Brewers, Cubs, Cardinals, Royals, Tigers

It's been a week of upheaval in the ninth inning, which means mostly bad things for fantasy owners that spent money on saves. Of course, those issues could (or already did) bring a windfall to those canny managers quicker with the waiver wire trigger than real-life managers were to call out new names in the ninth.

As you already know, John Axford is out as closer and still pitching abominably. Jim Henderson (59% owned in Yahoo!/71% in ESPN) will be seen in the ninth for the moment. As with nearly all closer transitions, the new guy will have a short leash as the team sorts things out, though the Brew Crew has few viable options. The team (including Henderson) expects Axford to be reinstalled at some point. Seeing as they did this last year too, I think there's a good chance of that happening. There's even a good chance that he pitches well when it does, though the odds of both seem to go down every time he sets foot on the mound. Henderson is a clear own, but Axford should probably be held onto, except in very shallow leagues.

Another NL central team made a "temporary" change in the closer role this week. Carlos Marmol is out--again, just like last year--but the Cubs hope to reinstate him. The only reason I can think of for that is so that they can trade him for a B-level prospect at the deadline. The problem with that plan (and for Marmol owners) is that this year's replacement is a lot better than the guys who tried to take over last year. Kyuji Fujikawa (ownership: 66% Yahoo!/83% ESPN) may be sporting an 8.10 ERA, but he's already notched two saves and was expected to be a future closer when Chicago signed him. There is a very good chance he keeps the closer job and Marmol gets shipped out of town for minimal return. In the few leagues where he is available, Fujikawa should be picked up immediately. If you have roster space, keep Marmol around for now, but don't hold your breath that he gets the job back.

Jason Motte's injury is appearing very serious, and the team is expecting to make a May 1 decision on Tommy John surgery. Even if he doesn't go under the knife, there's no way to be sure what his timetable might be. If you don't have DL slots or room on your bench, I'd seriously consider cutting him loose. The only thing that gives me pause is the fact that he'll almost certainly close whenever it is that he does return.

In other news, Mitchell Boggs (51% Yahoo!/60% ESPN) is Motte's replacement for now, but he's been more than a little shaky (to the tune of an ERA north of 11.00). Luckily for his owners, Trevor Rosenthal (17% Yahoo!/8% ESPN) earned a blown save for work in the eighth inning earlier this week. Not so luckily for Boggs owners, Rosenthal is still pitching very well and has the mark of a future closer. I would advise picking him up as a precaution. Of course, there are plenty of leagues in which Boggs is still going unowned; don't let yours be one, as he could still right the ship.

Greg Holland has been in a bit of trouble early in the season, with a 12.00 ERA and a 3.67 WHIP through his first three innings. He's managed to get a pair of saves, but that's exactly how many his top competition, Kelvin Herrera (53% Yahoo!/38% ESPN), has. Too bad for Holland's owners that Herrera's WHIP is nearly three full points better, at 0.69 and he has yet to allow a run. Clearly, Herrera should be owned as a handcuff, though Holland has the stuff to be a high-quality closer and hasn't been quite the disaster train that Axford and Marmol have been.

Joaquin Benoit (38% Yahoo!/33% ESPN/owned in all my leagues with daily changes) should be seeing his ownership rates skyrocket. After two weeks of pitching out of the ninth, it's been confirmed that he'll be the primary guy for save chances. While he's not exactly been named "closer," there seems like a good chance that he'll get 80% or more of the Tigers' chances. The situation reminds me of Kyle Farnsworth's 2011 with the Rays, in which he was never really called a closer by the team, but he racked up saves nonetheless. Benoit should be owned in all leagues, as he's an above average reliever and should be relatively safe in the role. Just don't freak out if Octavio Dotel or Phil Coke steals some of the opportunities.



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