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The All-Bargain 2012 MLB Free Agency Team

 

Monday November 21, 2011

MLB reports – Jonathan Hacohen:  Every baseball offseason, we all seem to fall into a familiar trap.  The focus always seem to be on the “prize” free agents, while bargains always seem to be had (especially when the big spenders have reached their budgets).  So while Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder, Jose Reyes, C.J. Wilson and company are the majority of the headlines- are they truly the difference makers? Getting quality players that are more economical may in fact have a stronger impact on a team that is looking to compete.  It allows for a team to fill needs while devoting financial resources to other resources, including scouting, signing draft picks and locking up younger players before they hit free agency.  Remember: a team has many expense areas but only a certain amount of money to go around. Devoting $100 million+ to 1 player tends to significantly limit a team, regardless of the strength of such a player.  “Spreading the wealth” so to speak, will limit the risk of putting all the eggs in one basket.  It is a similar to diversification of stocks.  A well-rounded portfolio will tend to outperform most others.  But if those assets can be acquired at a reduced cost, the return will look even better.

Now, imagine that we were going to build a starting lineup based purely on free agents.  What available free agents would give a team the best bang for the buck? If we were to look at the 2012 MLB free agency list, our All-Bargain team would probably look a little something like this:

C:  Ryan Doumit (starter) and Jose Molina (backup): At approximately $5 million combined, Doumit and Molina should offer fairly solid production at a reasonable rate.  Doumit also offers versatility by playing first and some outfield.  If (and when) Doumit gets injured, Molina can handle the starting chores for a stretch with a minor leaguer backing up.  In my estimation Doumit has the potential to breakout in a Mike Napoli manner.  He has the skills and power.  The guy just has to stay healthy.  As far as overall offense and defense from the catching position, there are fewer solid backups that Jose- part of the great “Catching Molinas.”

1B:  Carlos Pena:  This one area that I am prepared to splurge.  For all the talk of the low average, Pena should offer good power, a solid OBP and gold glove defense.  At approximately $10 million per season, he will still be a bargain to the other heavyweights at the position.  This is one area that you need top-notch offense and Pena should deliver again in 2012.

2B:  Kelly Johnson:  See Carlos Pena but at a more reasonable ticket price.  Johnson has a strong knack for getting on base and has excellent power for the position.  He is a gamer that will always have a spot on my team.

SS:  Ramon Santiago:  You can’t fully appreciate what Santiago offers unless you watch him on a daily basis.  Few infielders have a glove as strong as his.  While not the most gifted offensive player, he can chip in the occasional big hit while holding his own as a #8 or #9 hitter.  Another versatile player to have on the roster.  Options are always good.

3B:  Kevin Kouzmanoff:  The “Crushin’ Russian” is on the squad.  Yes, I am still holding out hope that he will come together.  I would take a chance on a breakout.  At the very least you will get good “D” and some offense at a bargain basement price.  If he doesn’t come together, I would grab Casey Blake or Wilson Betemit to sit on the bench if they come dirt cheap.

CF:  Grady Sizemore:  I like the style of Ruben Amaro Jr. and Pat Gillick.  I would have been at Sizemore’s house on the first day of free agency as well.  Given his high upside and apparent health, I would sign him as quickly as possible.  If you get even 75% of the old Sizemore, you still have a likely All-Star.

LF:  Raul Ibanez:  I’ve heard about his defense.  But I am still signing him.  Rauuuuul will come at a fraction of his last big contract.  The man owns his own rejuvenation chamber and still has the body of a 35-year old.  Strong leader, 20+ home runs and all at a maximum of cost $5 million per season.  Mark him sold.

RF:  J.D. Drew:  Hungry for one more big contract?  With Scott Boras as his agent, this on-base machine should be hungry to prove that he is healthy and productive.  He may cost $3 million per season.  Well worth the risk.  Just to cover ourselves, Johnny Damon is also coming on board as a 4th outfielder.  Between Sizmore, Ibanez, Drew and Damon, we should be able to run out an outfield most days.  If David DeJesus or Rick Ankiel are prepared to hang around as 5th outfielders/designated hitters, we may find some spare cash for them as well.

DH:  If we are talking non-National League team, then we HAVE to grab Josh Willingham as our designated hitter.  Or even a right fielder if we must.  The Hammer still carries a heavy bat and should anchor the offense.  He still has a couple of more productive years in him.  He should come at a relative bargain price considering 25+ home run bats are not easy to come by.

SP:  Chris Capuano, Bruce Chen, Aaron Harang, Paul Maholm, Brad Penny, Dontrelle Willis:  From these six selected starters, we should have ourselves a fairly decent rotation.  Pitching is one of the most difficult areas on any roster to fill, especially starters.  You have to catch lightning in a bottle and hope many factors, especially health, work out.  Maholm and Harang should be our “aces” with approximately 12 wins a-piece.  Capuano will be the third starter, who should be even better with another healthy year under his belt.  Between Chen, D-Train and Penny, we will count on veteran inning-eaters who are able to squeeze out wins.  Not the team’s greatest source of strength, but all six of these pitchers combined will cost less per season that C.C. Sabathia on his own.

RP:  Matt Capps, Jonathan Broxton, Jeremy Accardo, Shawn Camp, Fernando Rodney, Damaso Marte, J.C. Romero:  Going with the Tony La Russa formula, we are putting together a veteran pen with several closing options.  If at full strength, Broxton should be the ninth inning guy.  Otherwise, the role will fall to Capps or Rodney.  Accardo and Camp should be decent middle relievers with Marte and Romero balancing out the pen.  Used to their capabilities, our pen should help us contend.

Conclusion:  Building a team on a budget is not the easiest process.  This team will cost us likely north of $80 million dollars, but should stay under the magical $100 million mark.  Considering it is a team built from scratch and based on availability, “Team MLB Reports” should be a veteran squad that stays in the pennant race.  Even with the relative slim pickings in some areas, this year’s free agency squad offers value at most positions.  While no teams will be built based solely on free agency this year, there are enough complimentary parts that any Major League team can find good value.  It is just a question of shopping smart and buying at the right time.

Jonathan Hacohen is the Lead Baseball Columnist & Editor for MLB reports:  You can follow Jonathan on Twitter (@JHacohen)

Please e-mail us at: MLBreports@gmail.com with any questions and feedback.  You can follow us on Twitter and become a fan on Facebook .  To subscribe to our website and have the daily Reports sent directly to your inbox , click here and follow the link at the top of our homepage.

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MLB Free Agent Closer Carousel

Friday November 11, 2011

Rob Bland (Baseball Writer – MLB reports):  Every one of the MLB’s franchises will be looking for bullpen help, and most will be looking to add a major contributor to the back-end.  The closer position is one that is seen as the most underrated as well as the most overrated job in all of baseball.  On one hand, some people may over-value a closer’s “makeup” and poise, where others say “it’s the same as pitching at any point in the game.”  While I like to sit somewhere between these two concepts, most fans like knowing that their team employs a “proven veteran closer.”  All you have to do is look at the St. Louis Cardinals of 2011 to notice that is not necessarily the case.  Their closer was Jason Motte, although Tony La Russa refused to officially anoint him so.  Motte had 12 career saves going into the postseason, 9 of which were in 2011.  However, the fireballer was dominant in the postseason, and helped to bring in another World Series title to St. Louis.

In 2007, the Boston Red Sox employed a closer by the name of Jonathan Papelbon, a 2nd year closer, and they went on to win the World Series.  There are several other times where a homegrown closer has led his team to a championship, Brian Wilson of the 2010 San Francisco Giants being another recent one.

There are many closers without a set home for 2012, with Papelbon headlining that list.  It has been said that Papelbon is looking for a 4 year contract, and could even get a 5th guaranteed year on the open market.  Much of the early talk about closers this off-season has surrounded Ryan  Madson, formerly of the Philadelphia Phillies.  It was rumored that he had agreed with the Phillies to a 4 year, $44M contract with a 5th year as a vesting option.  It was said that the Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. was awaiting approval from team president David Montgomery.   It has recently come to light that Amaro Jr. has vehemently denied these rumors.

Frank Francisco, Francisco Rodriguez, Heath Bell, Jonathan Broxton, Joe Nathan and Francisco Cordero are all closers who may be looking for new homes in 2012.  Also available are Matt Capps, Jon Rauch, David Aardsma, and Takashi Saito.

The Boston Red Sox, Philadelphia Phillies, San Diego Padres, LA Dodgers, Cincinnati Reds, Toronto Blue Jays, Minnesota Twins, Florida Marlins and Houston Astros are some of the teams who figure to be in the market for a closer, if not to upgrade.

Because of the Madson fiasco that has been taking place, I doubt he re-signs with the Phillies.  The Phillies seem to have moved on to their next target, Papelbon.   All Papelbon has done in his 6+ seasons with the Red Sox is accumulate 219 saves with a 4.43 K/BB ratio.  His career ERA sits at 2.33 while his FIP isn’t far off at 2.60, showing just how good he actually is.  I think a 4 year deal worth $51M and a vesting option of $15M would likely get the job done.

Madson’s early “almost signing” may have set the bar for Papelbon, and Madson will be looking for something in the same range. He may have to settle for a bit less as the Phillies look to get the signing done quickly.  Madson took over for Brad Lidge, who battled injuries in 2011 as the Phillies closer.  A 3.88 K/BB ratio and a ground ball rate close to 50% ensured a very successful season where his FIP was 2.25.  4 years and $40M should get it done, and I see him going to the LA Dodgers.

Francisco Rodriguez (K-Rod) was traded at the deadline from the Mets to the Milwaukee Brewers, but didn’t get an opportunity to close out games.  His displeasure with the situation was coming out, even though incumbent closer John Axford was performing extremely well, and the club was on its way to a playoff berth.  The Miami Marlins (still doesn’t feel right to say) are looking to be huge spenders this off-season, and I see no difference with K-Rod.  Rodriguez  has 291 saves in his career, including a single season record 62 in 2008 with the LA Angels of Anaheim.  I see the 30-year-old signing a 3 year deal worth $30M to usurp the incumbent Marlins closer, Juan Oviedo (previously known as Leo Nunez).

Heath Bell is a closer who has had tremendous numbers over the last three seasons, albeit in ultra spacious Petco Park as his home field.  His K rate dipped this year, and may have been a bit lucky with a .261 BABIP.  San Diego Padres GM Josh Byrnes has already said he would likely offer arbitration to Bell, a Type A free agent.  Bell has also said in the past that he would accept arbitration, as he likes San Diego.  This presents a slight problem for the cash-strapped Padres, who prefer to keep their payroll lower.  Bell will be due a raise from the $7.5M he made in 2011, so a $9-10M 1 year deal will likely be in place here with the Padres.

Joe Nathan is a special case, because he had an option of $12.5M declined by the Minnesota Twins, who would still like to bring him back.  Nathan did not pitch in 2010 after undergoing Tommy John Surgery, and threw 44 2/3 mediocre innings in 2011.  However, over his last 27 innings, he gave up only 20 hits, 5 walks and 10 runs, really finishing strong and proving he is healthy again.  The downfall is that by spring training, he will be 38 years old and clearly looking at the end of his career.  The Toronto Blue Jays are looking for a closer to anchor a bullpen that will see a lot of turnover, and Nathan could be had for $4M and a club option for 2013.

Jonathan Broxton is another closer looking to establish his value.  The hulking 6’4” 300 lb closer had a disappoint 2011 season, and just had surgery to remove loose bodies from his elbow in September.  His K rate has steadily declined from the career high of 13.50/9 IP in 2009.  His ground ball rate, BB/9, ERA and FIP have all suffered at the same time.  Broxton will likely get a one year, incentive-laden deal to prove he is healthy.  He will likely have to settle for a setup man role, and I think he could work with the Mets in spacious Citi Field.

Francisco Cordero has had a 13 year career that started in Detroit, then took him to Texas, Milwaukee then finally Cincinnati.  The Reds recently declined his $12M option, but GM Walt Jocketty has said he hopes to bring the closer back.  However, I don’t see him donning the Reds jersey any longer, as the soon to be 37-year-old will look to move on and close out his career.  While his fastball still averages 93 mph, it is 3 mph slower than Cordero’s prime.  Because of this, his K rate has dipped to 5.43/9IP from 12.22/9IP in 2007.  While his stats have declined, he has averaged 39 saves the last 5 seasons.  He will probably settle for a one year deal worth $6M, where the Minnesota Twins will sign him.

It’s a carousel in the closing world, as more teams are beginning to put less stock in having an established closer at the back of a bullpen.  Homegrown closers are becoming a more popular choice, but some teams look for that slight edge, and if it means overpaying for a pitcher who will throw roughly 5% of the team’s innings, they will do so. 

***Today’s feature was prepared by our Baseball Writer, Rob Bland.  We highly encourage you to leave your comments and feedback at the bottom of the page and share in the discussion with our readers.  You can also follow Rob on Twitter.***

Please e-mail us at: MLBreports@gmail.com with any questions and feedback.  You can follow us on Twitter and become a fan onFacebook .  To subscribe to our website and have the daily Reports sent directly to your inbox , click here and follow the link at the top of our homepage.

The Minnesota Twins 2011: What Went Wrong

MLB reports:  With the daily moans and groans filling my message box on the state of the Minnesota Twins in 2011, I decided to dig deeper today to analyze what is ailing this team thus far in the season.  A steady team that is a perennial contender every year, 2011 has been an unmitigated disaster thus far for the Twins.  The Twins record currently stands at 12-21, last in the AL Central.  The team is 10.0 games out of first, battling for the basement with the White Sox, who are 14-22.    I will be looking at the team’s overall statistics and then view individual players that have flopped and those that still offer hope.  To a very special Twins fan out there, I am sorry about the state of the team in 2011, but this article is for you.

Record:

With their 12-21 record, the Twins have the least amount of wins in baseball.  At home, they have been a respectable on 4-6, but 8-15 on the road.  Ouch.  The Twins are 3-7 in their last 10 games and currently are on a 3-game losing streak.  A 10-game hole in early May is still fixable, but the Twins have to be careful not to slide too much further or a 15-20 game deficit could result.  For a team that was expected to be a playoff contender, 2011 has turned into a nightmare for the team and it’s fans.

Team Offense:

The Twins have the 3rd worst offense in baseball, just ahead of only the Nationals and Padres.  In the American League, numbers like this just don’t cut it:

  • .230 AVG:  3rd last in majors
  • .292 OBP:  last in majors
  • .320 SLG:  last in majors
  • 15 total Home Runs:  last in majors
  • 46 Doubles:  2nd last in majors
  • 104 Runs scored:  last in majors
  • 93 RBIs:  last in majors
  • 93 Walks:  3rd worst in majors
  • 354 Total Bases:  last in majors

Sitting at the bottom on near bottom of almost every major offensive category, the Twins clearly have had little offense this year.  They are not hitting, walking, scoring or driving in  runs and hitting home runs.   At these kinds of numbers, a team cannot expect to win many games.  At 12 wins thus far, the Twins will need to get the bats going if they hope to climb back into contention this year.

Individual Hitters:

Looking at the Twins hitters, it is quicker to summarize which players are playing well than those that are not.  Literally only 2 Twins hitters have had good numbers this year, while all of the rest of the batters have either been injured or underperformed this year.  Jason Kubel has been the rock all season.  With a .347 AVG, .397 OBP, .508 SLG and 3 home runs, Kubel has shown good production this year.  Span has also been decent, with a .298 AVG, .361 OBP and 17 runs scored.  Essentially every other hitter has been missing in action, from Morneau, to Cuddyer, Young and Thome, the bats have been ice all season.  Valencia has been decent with 3 home runs and 18 RBIs, but a .229 AVG will just not cut it.  The health of Mauer will help, with a rebound from Morneau, Young and return by Nishioka to help ignite the offense.  Unfortunately the team may need to look on the open market for some offensive help if they want to improve their numbers.  Otherwise, runs may be difficult to come by all year.

Team Pitching:

For all the hitting woes the Twins have endured this year, the pitching has not been much better.  With the 3rd worst pitching staff in baseball, only the Orioles and Astros are below the Twins.

  • 4.62 ERA:  3rd last in baseball
  • 168 Runs allowed:  2nd last in baseball
  • 178 strike outs:  last in baseball

The above numbers are fairly indicative of the Twins pitching.  They are giving up a lot of runs and not striking out many batters.  Another recipe for disaster.  However, looking at the individual pitchers on the team, not all is doom and gloom.  The bullpen has been fairly steady and the Twins have received decent to good outings from some of its starters.  For a team built around pitching, hope still exists on the mound.  If the pitching can continue to return back to form, all the Twins will need is some offensive support to jump-start its team.

Starting Pitching:

The Twins starters have been as good as they have been bad all year.  Pavano and Liriano have been abysmal all year (except for Liriano’s no-hitter, which still came with a tag of 6 walks allowed).  Blackburn has been steady and Baker/Duensing have been very solid.  It is ironic that the team’s top 2 starters have caused the most problems for the team this season.  Both with ERAs over 6.60, both Pavano and Liriano have to pick up their games if the team is to contend.  Kyle Gibson, the team’s top pitching prospect has been decent in AAA, with a 1-1 record, 3.66 ERA and 1.03 WHIP.  If he keeps it up, Gibson may get the call this year if the team needs an additional arm.  While the prospect does need some more seasoning, the state of the other arms will tell.  Kevin Slowey has also pitched well in relief and having come off the disabled list, could take a turn in the rotation if called upon.

Bullpen

The Twins bullpen has actually been very good this year.  Matt Capps has taken on the closer role and run with it, sitting at a 3.14 ERA and 5/6 in save opportunities.  Glen Perkins has been a rock setting-up, with a 0.55 ERA in 15 appearances.  Mijares also has been successful most nights, with a 3.18 ERA in 16 appearances.  The problem child has been their former closer to start the season, Joe Nathan.  With an 8.18 ERA, 8/9 BB/K ratio, Nathan has clearly not yet regained the form that made him an all-star closer.  Thrust too soon into the closing role, Nathan and the Twins dug a hole for themselves that has been hard to climb from.  Expect Capps to keep the role for the majority of the year and the bullpen to continue to improve, together with the starting pitching for a team known for its pitching.

The Verdict:  The season is still young and it would be foolish to write off the Twins at this early stage of the year.  There is nowhere to go but up for this team.  With so much talent on its roster, the Twins are due for a hot streak soon.  Hitting and pitching are contagious and as the Twins have shown this year, slumps tend to affect most players at the same time.  But assuming that the majority of the players can get hot at the same time, 7-8 game winning streaks could be in order.  The AL Central has been tough to figure out this year, with the Indians and Royals playing much above expectations and the rest of the teams playing much below.  Everything comes in cycles and once the Twins start hitting the hot weather, expect the team to heat up as well.  The numbers show that the team has done little from a hitting and perspective in 2011.  A continuation of these efforts would bring about one of the worst seasons in team history.  But the end is not here yet and the next month or so will be more telling of where the team is headed.  That is one of the things we all love about baseball: we never know what is going to happen.  Good luck to the Twins and we hope to see you battling for the playoffs come September.

Thank you for reading my feature on the Minnesota Twins.  Please contact me if you have any questions and suggestions for future topics.  The E-mailbag will be posted Wednesday so please be sure to get all your MLB and fantasy baseball questions in by e-mailing me at:  mlbreports@gmail.com
Please e-mail us at: MLBreports@gmail.com with any questions and feedback.  You can follow us on Twitter and become a fan on Facebook .  To subscribe to our website and have the daily Reports sent directly to your inbox , click here and follow the link at the top of our homepage.

MLB Closers Report 2011: Who is in, Who is out

MLB reports:  I get several messages a day on the state of the closers in major league baseball.  Questions asking me which players have a closing job, which are about to lose their job and which players are most likely to get save opportunities.  In my fantasy baseball days, I used to call it fishing for closers on the waiver wire:  waiting for a closer to underperform and/or get injured and lose their job and immediately pick up the heir-apparent to the throne.  How are the thirty major league teams doing in the closer department?  Let’s take a closer look at each team and find out:

1)  New York Yankees:  Mariano Rivera

With seven saves in eight opportunities and a 1.93 ERA, Mo is as automatic as they come.  Even at his advanced age, Mariano is a #1 fantasy closer, if not the top closer.  Rafael Soriano is the next in-line, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.

2)  Colorado Rockies:  Houston Street

Although health is often a concern with Street, seven saves in seven opportunities with a 2.03 ERA is not.  Street has really come into his own in Colorado and as long as he can stay healthy, he is becoming nearly automatic out on the mound.  Add in fourteen strikeouts and Street is as dangerous as they come.  Lidstrom has been spectacular as well to start the year, but with health and performance issues surrounding him in the past, Lidstrom at best is a filler in case of an injury to Street.  A solid #2, Lidstrom will form a solid 1-2 punch with Street all season long (on the field and likely on the DL at some point).

3)  Atlanta Braves:  Craig Kimbrel

The youngsters debate should be over.  Six saves in seven opportunities and a 0.96 ERA.  2/14 BB/K ratio.  Kimbrel is clearly the man in Atlanta.  While Venters is very talented and the next in line should Kimbrel falter, the rope for Kimbrel grows by the day.  Atlanta appears to have found its closer for the next decade.

4)  Cleveland Indians:  Chris Perez

With the hot start of the Indians, Perez has been enjoying the ride.  Six saves in seven opportunities and a 2.25 ERA.  One area for concern:  four strikeouts in eight innings pitched.  Although Perez is becoming craftier on the mound, low strikeouts for a closer generally leads to disaster.  The Indians have some decent arms in the pen, including Rafael Perez.  But the Perez of choice is Chris.

5)  San Diego Padres:  Heath Bell

The second coming of Trevor Hoffman, Bell is a perfect five for five in save opportunities with a 1.00 ERA.  Having Bell on the Padres is like driving a brand new Mercedes while living in a bachelor apartment on the wrong side of the town.  An unnecessary luxury in many observers’ estimation.  Beware that a hot Bell will have trade rumors surround him all summer long.  The Padres have literally 4-5 closing options in the pen, so this situation is far from settled if Bell is dealt.  I could see Neshek, Qualls, Gregerson and Adams all getting their shot.  For now Bell is a top five closer unless he leaves San Diego.  If I had to watch one reliever it would be Neshek, who has come back from injury and could claim the job in the event he is called upon.

6)  Los Angeles Dodgers:  Jonathan Broxton

Broxton somehow is a perfect five for five in saves but with a 5.19 ERA, the end is likely coming near.  The hope for many baseball analysts, including my own, is that Broxton can turn it around and reclaim his form.  Kuo, once healthy, is the likely pick to take over the role.  My dark horse pick is Mike MacDougal, the veteran who has extensive closing experience.  A 1.13 ERA for MacDougal is outstanding, but his 5/6 BB/K ratio is nothing to write home about.  Guerrier may also get a look, but Kuo is the consensus pick to take over at some point.  I would like to sit here and guarantee that Broxton will recover and return to form, but I can’t promise that.  It could happen, but with each passing rocky outing, even I am starting to have my doubts.  My plan would be to remove Broxton from the role and let him work out in his kinks.  In the interim I would insert MacDougal to steady the ship and then re-insert Broxton in July.  That would be my plan, but not necessarily the same script for the Dodgers.  Keep a look out as this mess is far from settled.

7)  Philadelphia Phillies:  Jose Contreras (Breaking News:  Now Ryan Madson)

Running an eight inning scoreless run, a perfect five for five in saves opportunities with nine strikeouts, Contreras has become the man in Philadelphia.  But running a close second is Ryan Madson, a 1.00 ERA and 2/10 BB/K ratio.  The long-term solution is Madson and any hint of a Contreras downturn will insert Madson in the role.  I expect this to happen any week now and once Madson becomes the closer, he should keep it until Papelbon joins the team next year (yes, it will happen).  Please do not say Brad Lidge though, that story has been written and re-written too many times.  Injuries and production problems is the story of Lidge.  Hopefully the Phillies are smart and do not go down that road again.  The moral of the story:  Contreras today, Madson soon and Papelbon next year.

(P.S. As I am writing this, Contreras has been sent to Philadelphia for an exam and is on the DL.  Ryan Madson is the closer, funny how quickly things can turn)

8)  Kyle Farnsworth:  Tampa Bay Rays

Another closer with a perfect five for five saves record, Farnsworth owns a 1.23 ERA and zero walks allowed on the season.  I am not sure who this person on the mound is and what he has done with the real Kyle Farnsworth, but whoever this imposter is on the mound I would keep him.  All kidding aside, I am a Farnsworth fan and have wished him well for years.  But after watching him implode in nearly every stop on his major league tour, I remain somewhat skeptical.  Jake McGee, my closer pick has started off slow but with improved numbers down the road could grab the job.  Same with Peralta, although walks tends to hurt his value.  The Rays will be riding Farnsworth like a rented mule until he cannot close anymore.

9)  Neftali Feliz:  Texas Rangers

Another five for five in saves opportunities, Feliz with a 1.08 ERA has a stranglehold on the job.  Recently placed on the DL with a sore shoulder, the Rangers will turn to some combination of Darren Oliver and Darren O’Day , perhaps even Rhodes, until Feliz returns.  Don’t sweat this one, Feliz will be back soon and continuing his climb to the top of the ranks of MLB closers in 2011.  Of concern is Feliz’s 5/6 BB/K ratio, which will have to change for Feliz to be ultimately effective as the closer.  Walks tend to do very bad things to closers in the 9th but based on the the talent in his arm, Feliz will be the go-to-guy this year again.

10)  Brian Fuentes:  Oakland Athletics

Fuentes was signed to be a solid lefty in the pen and fill-in closer for the A’s.  Five for six opportunities, Fuentes has been steady for Oakland but sports a brutal 4.66 ERA.  Just like Jonathan Broxton in LA, Fuentes is likely on borrowed time unless he becomes more automatic on the mound.  Add a 5/7 BB/K ratio and the Andrew Bailey watch will continue in Oakland.  While I see Bailey getting the job in the short-run, Fuentes will find a way to reclaim the job by the summer and possibly to the end of the year.  Don’t look now though but Ziegler has not been scored upon this year and could put up a fight as well.  Keep an eye on this situation as it unfolds.

11)  Joel Hanrahan:  Pittsburgh Pirates

Five for five in saves, 2/8 BB/K ratio and a 2.70 ERA translates to increased job security for Hanrahan.  Much like Heath Bell, as Hanrahan performs well he becomes a luxury on a rebuilding Pirates team in need of prospects.  Essentially keeping the seat warm for 2010 all-star Evan Meek, look for Hanrahan to be dealt sometime in the summer and for Meek to take over the closer’s role in 2011 and for the foreseeable future.

12)  Brandon League:  Seattle Mariners

Yet another closer that is five for five in saves, League is holding down the fort until the return of Dave Aardsma.  The 3.68 ERA is ok, but three strikeouts in 7 1/3 innings is not.  League has shown good control with only one walk, but changes are still likely coming in Seattle.  Expect the Mariners to deal Aardsma and/or League during the summer if Aardsma can return and show health.  Given that Aardsma is no guarantee, there is a good chance that League can keep the role for the majority of the year.  But I would not bet on it given his shaky track record… I actually expect a dark horse to emerge at some point in this race.

13)  Carlos Marmol:  Chicago Cubs

Five for seven in saves, Marmol has the security of a long-term deal and is clearly the closer in Chicago.  His 2.53 ERA is interesting, but more telling is his 7/15 BB/K ratio.  Few closers can touch Marmol’s heat and if he could just lower his walks totals, he would become a top-five closer in baseball.  But the walks will unlikely go away this year and expect some interesting moments with Marmol as he works towards 30+ saves in 2011.  Kerry Wood is the next-in-line in case, think of him as Marmol insurance.  Marshall has been steady as well and the one surprise is Samardzija with a 3.65 ERA, but his 14/14 BB/K ratio shows the heat is there but the control is not.  But the Cubs are Marmol’s team.

14)  Leo Nunez:  Florida Marlins

Totals?  Five for five in saves, which appears to be a standard at this point in the season.  Nunez has a 2.00 ERA and is off to a hot start in Florida.  As the summer months approach, I cannot see Nunez sustaining these numbers and a few bad outings could cost him his job very quickly.  For a strong run, I appear the Marlins making a trade or picking a new horse for the job.  Webb, Dunn and Hensley may all get looks this year, but are unlikely long-term solutions.  Until then, the job is Nunez’s to lose.

15)  Jonathan Papelbon:  Boston Red Sox

For a guy on the heat seat, all Papelbon has done is go five for five in saves, with a 2.16 ERA and a 2/11 BB/K ratio.  Papelbon is as automatic as they come and with his first run into free agency on the horizon, do not expect Papelbon’s role to change in 2011.  Papelbon has an incentive to be a fantasy closing superstar and the Red Sox will happily ride him to first round picks as compensation in the off-season.  While Bard is the heir-apparent with Bobby Jenks always lurking, do not expect this move to happen until 2012, unless injury strikes.  Papelbon will look really good in Philadelphia next year.  Remember you heard it here first.

16)    J.J. Putz:  Arizona Diamondbacks

Putz has been everything that Kirk Gibson could have imagined in Arizona and more.  Five for five in saves (yes, another one), 1.13 ERA and 0/10 BB/K ratio.  Expect Putz to be an all-star this year as he leads a young Diamondbacks team back to respectability.  With no plan b’s on the horizon, Arizona will live by the Putz and die by the Putz.

17)  Joakim Soria:  Kansas City Royals

Ok…ok…ok…. let’s not get too excited people.  Soria’s five saves in six opportunities comes along with a 5.59 ERA and a 5/5 BB/K ratio.  Add ten hits allowed in 10 2/3 innings and you have some pretty ugly numbers for a top-three closer.  With the three-headed monster of Collins, Crow and Jeffress looming, I can foresee some fans starting to call for the head of Soria as the Royals continue to excel.  Don’t see it happening.  I cannot see the Royals continuing their hot start and I cannot foresee anyone unseating the great Soria.  The young Royals pitching squad needs Soria and unless he literally implodes, which I don’t see happening, Soria will be the closer for the next few years.  As the Royals build to be contenders in the next 2-3 years, they will rely on a healthy and productive Soria to carry their bullpen.  Soria is the Royals closer and do not get any other ideas on the subject.

18)  Brian Wilson:  San Francisco Giants

The Giants were the feel good story of 2011 and while the “fear the beard” motto was cute in its time, I think this story is done.  Wilson has to get away from the beard and concentrate on what he does best:  close ball games.  Although five for six in saves this year, Wilson sports a brutal 7.94 ERA a pedestrian 4/6 BB/K ratio.  The World Series champion Giants will give Wilson a lot of rope and I cannot foresee him losing his job.  But with the World Series letdown could come a return to earth for several players, including Wilson.  While he will still get 30+ saves, his numbers are showing that a market correct is in order.  Wilson needs to get re-focused…he is the only game in town as the closer for the Giants.

19)  Brandon Lyon:  Houston Astros

The poster boy for mediocre closers, Lyon remains a frustration year-in and year-out.  Four for six in saves opportunities, with a 4.32 ERA, 13 hits allowed in 8 1/3 inning and a dismal 2/3 BB/K ratio, Lyon is better suited to middle relief than closing.  Lyon is a veteran on a young Astros team and while experience is supposed to help the young pitchers, his stats are hurting the team.  With Melancon and Fulchino pitching so well, a changing of the guard is coming in Houston.  Right now my money is on Melancon becoming the closer by May.

20)  Francisco Rodriguez:  New York Mets

Together with Papelbon, K-Rod had many doubters going into the year.  Legal troubles and a declining team and numbers looked to spell the end for Rodriguez.  His four saves in five opportunities has been great, together with his 2.35 ERA.  His 6/13 BB/K ratio is showing that the arm and heat are back, but so is his wildness.  K-Rod will get 30+ saves in my estimation, but may not so pretty getting there.  Frankie is getting paid the big bucks and will have the job for 2011.

21)  Jose Valverde:  Detroit Tigers

The king of hot starts, Valverde has been four for four in saves on a very inconsistent Detroit Tigers team in 2011.  His 1.04 ERA and 2/9 BB/K ratio have been spectacular.  Valverde will have the job this year as he works towards another free agency run at seasons-end.  Benoit is the closer in waiting and while he will have the job in 2012, will be the filler when called upon.  The Tigers will stick with Valverde, period.

22)  John Axford:  Milwaukee Brewers

Pitching for a contending Brewers team, Axford’s numbers have not cut it this year.  Three for five in saves, 7.36 ERA and a 6/8 BB/K ratio means that Axford is closing on borrowed time.  I still expect Axford to get a little more rope to straighten himself out, but not for much longer.  While Saito was my pick to take over the role at the start of the season, and poor health and inconsistency have plagued him.  Same with LaTroy Hawkins, another failed closer in the Brewers’ pen.  The dark horse for the role is Kameron Loe, the former Rangers starter and Japanese baseball survivor.  Look for Loe, who has been the Brewers best reliever season to get the role any day now and to run with it into the forseeable future.

23)  Drew Storen/ (Sean Burnett):  Washington Nationals

I know your first reaction:  is Sean Burnett not the closer?  A 3.24 ERA, three for four in saves and 0/6 BB/K ratio- is that not closing numbers?  Perhaps, but Burnett is like a mirage in the desert.  You think you are seeing water, but its all an illusion.  Storen with a 0.77 ERA, two for two in saves, six hits allowed in 11 2/3 innings and 4/8 BB/K ratio is the man.  Storen has been groomed for the position is whole life and was drafted as a closer to become the Nationals ninth inning stopper.  Burnett may still get the occasional opportunity but his saves opportunities are coming to an end.  As Storen becomes nearly automatic, the job will be his for the next decade in Washington.

24)  Matt Capps:  Minnesota Twins

The Twins originally said they would bring Joe Nathan along slowly after missing a year due to surgery.  What did they end up doing?  Throwing him straight into the fire and destroying his pitching confidence and stats line.  With a 9.82 ERA and 6/5 BB/K ratio, do not expect Nathan back in the role for a LONG time.  Capps, acquired from Washington for catching prospect Ramos has now taken over the closing duties.  Three for four in save opportunities, 4.09 ERA and a 0/5 BB/K ratio shows that Capps is ready to run with the job.  Minnesota is well-known for steady starting pitching and I look for Capps to finish with a steady amount of saves.  He may not blow hitters away anymore, but with continued control look for Capps to keep the job for most of 2011.

25)  Francisco Cordero:  Cincinnati Reds

For all the doom and gloom coming out of Cinci for Cordero, he has continued to put up great numbers.  Three for three in saves, 2.00 ERA, a stingy five hits in nine innings pitched and 4/7 BB/K ratio.  The changing of the guard is coming though for the Reds as you look at Chapman’s numbers.  Throws 100+ MPH heat, nine scoreless innings, two hits in nine innings with a 7/9 BB/K ratio.  This is another case that unless the incumbent implodes or gets injured, he will retain his role.  The Reds rely on the Veteran Cordero and Dusty Baker is very loyal to his foot soldiers.  Chapman is still showing wildness and the best course is to let him continue to develop as Cordero keeps saving games.  A change is coming in 2012 but until then, Cordero is the Reds closer.  If you like to gamble though, Chapman has a decent shot at the job… he is the heir apparent and the first reliever in line if needed.

26)  Jon Rauch:  Toronto Blue Jays

One of several new additions to the Jays pen, Rauch originally was supposed to keep the role warm for Frank Francisco until he returned from injury.  Rauch on the season has a 2.08 ERA and is three for three in saves opportunities.  While his 4/6 BB/K ratio is pedestrian, Rauch will have the job for the majority of the year in my opinion.  While Francisco has the heat and the strikeout numbers, he has shown to be very inconsistent and erratic in the closers role from his time in Texas.  Francisco will possibly get a shot at the role at some point early on this season, my money is still on Rauch.  With so many closing options in Toronto including Dotel and Frasor, this situation is very difficult to handicap.  At the end of the day, you either believe in Francisco or Rauch as the closer.  My gut is saying Rauch.

27)  Jordan Walden:  Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

The next, great Angels closer, Walden has taken to the role and run with it.  Ten scoreless innings, three for three in saves, three hits allowed in 9 1/3 innings and a 5/10 BB/K ratio are all impressive.  Fernando Rodney, the veteran closer will be breathing down his neck the whole season.  If not for his 8/7 BB/K ratio, Rodney has a 2.08 ERA of his own and only blown save on the season.  As with all young pitchers, Walden will run into some trouble along the way.  The question will be how he handles adversity.  This is one team that I have faced several arguments on this season.  I see Rodney taking back his job while Walden continues to be groomed into the next big thing.  For me, experience and knowledge tends to usually win out and Rodney has an advantage in both departments over Walden.  The job is Walden’s today and for quite some time, but 2-3 blown saves in a week can change things in a hurry.  Another situation to keep an eye on.

28)  Mitchell Boggs:  St. Louis Cardinals

Where is Ryan Franklin?  One for five in save opportunities and with a 7.88 ERA.  Complaining about the fans of St. Louis won’t appease Cardinals management either.  The 27-year-old Boggs is the newest closer on the carousel, with two saves in two opportunities, 1.59 ERA and outstanding 3/13 BB/K ratio.  There are many people jumping on the Boggs bandwagon and for good reason.  The kid is apparently coming into his own and has taken the job by the reigns.  As is the case with Walden, we do not have enough of a track record to know the long-term potential of the kid.  Again, 2-3 blown saves in a week can change the situation in a hurry.  I still expect Franklin to straighten himself out and perhaps reclaim the job later in the year.  But based on his solid work to-date, the closer in St. Louis is Boggs and the job is literally his to lose.  Keep one eye open, just in case.

29)  Kevin Gregg:  Baltimore Orioles

Pitching in the Brandon Lyon sea of mediocrity, Gregg has been up-and-down this year for the upstart Orioles.  Two saves in three opportunities, 4.50 ERA, and 4/6 BB/K ratio are nothing to write home about.  Mike Gonzalez with a 10.80 ERA does not appear to be healthy and recovered to be able to compete for the role.  Jeremy Accardo has a 2.08 ERA but an alarming 6/4 BB/K ratio.   Koji Uehara, with a 1.35 ERA and 3/7 BB/K ratio is my pick for the Orioles closing job when Gregg inevitably begins to break down.  The Orioles are lucky to have several options, with Simon originally being my original dark horse until legal troubles slowed down his season.  But based on track history, I really like Uehara’s chances to claim the job by June, if not sooner.

30)  (Jesse Crain):  Chicago White Sox

I certainly saved the worst for last and the White Sox have had their share of bullpen woes in 2011.  With one team on the season, Sale and Thornton have not been the saviors that Sox fans were expecting this year.  With ERAs north of 6.00, neither one is likely to take the role anytime soon.  Ohman and Pena have been fairly weak as well and the last two realistic survivors are Santos and Crain.  Much press has been written on Santos, the converted pitcher who has pitched 9 2/3 scoreless innings with five hits allowed a 5/13 BB/K ratio.  While many experts are already picking Santos, I am looking at the dark horse, Jesse Crain to take the role.  The former Twin had a steady 2010 year and has started this year with a 1.74 ERA and spectacular 2/11 BB/K ratio.  Santos is the darling of Chicago with his flame throwing ways, but the more experienced Crain appears to be just what the doctor ordered in Chicago.  A situation that is far from unsettled, Thornton or Sale could grab a hold of the job at any time with some steady consecutive outings.  But based on current numbers and future outlook, if you want my pick- it will be Crain.  With such a strong offense and steady starting pitching, the Sox cannot afford to lose too many games in the 9th if they hope to take the AL Central.  That is where a veteran as the anchor will prove to be best solution in the bullpen.

The state of closers is always a heated discussion in baseball circles every year.  Probably the most volatile position in baseball, approximately 30% of opening day closers will still have their jobs by years-end.  With injuries and failures, closers can come and go on a weekly basis.  Today’s failed starters can be tomorrow’s superstar closers.  Next week’s stoppers can also be minor league filler by August.  All baseball fans, whether fans of teams or fantasy players, all get driven to the point of insanity because of closers.  For every Mariano Rivera, there will be three Jordan Waldens, five Jonathan Broxtons and seven Brandon Lyons.  I hope that you enjoyed reading the state of the union on MLB closers today.  Although situations may have changed while I wrote this article (see Contreras) and even tomorrow, remember to keep an open mind and focus on where the next closers will be.  The most effective relievers in the bullpen will usually get the first crack- it is the ones that can succeed under pressure that will keep their jobs.

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