Closer Chaos Already
It seems like I say this every season, but this time I really mean it. I don’t remember a year with this much closer turnover this soon. So just for fun, I figured I’d conduct an official count, and out of 27 teams (we are excluding the Reds, Rangers and Blue Jays, as their projected closers began the season on the DL), ten teams are currently using a different reliever in the ninth inning than the one the majority of fantasy owners drafted as a closer a mere two months ago. And that number could grow to 12 fairly soon, as Tommy Hunter and Addison Reed are on shaky ground right now.
A quick look at these ten situations:
Indians: John Axford was rolling right along in April (2.79 ERA) but after allowing five runs over a four-game span that included two losses and a blown save, Axford was “temporarily” yanked from the role in favor of a committee that appears to consist of Bryan Shaw and Cody Allen. And we all know how much fantasy owners love committees! All kidding aside, I kind of want to believe that Axford’s demotion will be a temporary one, but 13 walks in 15 2/3 innings isn’t going to get it done.
White Sox: Nate Jones was considered the clear favorite to handle ninth inning duties for the South Siders this year, and he was a popular sleeper pick in drafts. But then Matt Lindstrom was named the opening day closer. And then Jones was sidelined due to a back injury that required surgery. Lindstrom hasn’t been terrible thus far, but with three blown saves already to go along with a 1.50 WHIP, he’s no sure thing to hold onto the job long-term.
Astros: Back in March, no one had any idea who would be the Astros’ closer, and not much has changed since. Among Houston relievers, Josh Fields was drafted first in almost all leagues, but he has only two of the club’s six saves. You’re better off avoiding this situation entirely.
Angels: After racking up 37 saves last year and saving a combined 60 games over the past two seasons, Ernesto Frieri was widely considered a borderline No. 1 fantasy closer in drafts this spring. But he got off to an erratic start and the Halos ultimately made a ninth inning switch. Frieri is pitching much better of late though, and he’s already back in the saves picture, for the time being splitting ninth inning duties with Joe Smith. That said, Mike Scioscia probably recognizes that the team is better off with Frieri closing games. And I think Ernesto will regain the full-time stopper role sooner rather than later.
A’s: Oakland’s off-season trade for Jim Johnson hasn’t worked out at all, as Johnson sports a 7.16 ERA and 2.02 WHIP through his first 17 appearances as an Athletic. The club would ideally like to re-insert Johnson into their closer role but he’s giving them little reason for optimism. It’s not totally clear who the A’s closer is right now. Honestly, I don’t think there is one particular closer. Frustrated Johnson owners have little choice but to hold onto him.
Pirates: To be fair, Jason Grilli didn’t lose his job. He got hurt. The only problem is that he happens to have a top-notch setup man as a teammate, and Mark Melancon has done a fine job as Grilli’s ninth inning replacement, today’s blowup notwithstanding. Grilli is making progress in his rehab but his return date is still unknown, and the bottom line is that he’s a 37-year-old with an extensive injury history. Even if Grilli makes a successful comeback and resumes closing, Melancon is still worth a roster spot in 12-team mixed leagues.
Cubs: Entering the season, I actually liked Jose Veras as a decent No. 3 mixed league closer who could be had for a cheap price. Well, I was wrong about that one! Veras’ 2014 stat line is too embarrassing to even include here. He’s back from the DL now but will work in a setup role in front of Hector Rondon. But Rondon isn’t exactly a known commodity, which makes me think that Veras still has a chance to re-enter the closer picture if he gets his act together.
Brewers: Jim Henderson who? Yeah, Henderson was drafted in fantasy leagues with the idea that he would close for the Brewers. It didn’t happen. And there’s a very good chance it won’t happen in 2014, even if Henderson makes a successful return from the DL. At the one-quarter mark of the season, Francisco Rodriguez has been the #1 overall fantasy closer. He’s also been by far the most profitable waiver wire addition.
Mets: So let me get this straight. Kyle Farnsworth saves a game for the Amazins on Monday and then gets released on Wednesday. Huh? Well, the main reason for the release had more to do with the details of his contract, and the Mets wanted to save some money. Actually, his overall stat line wasn’t too bad. So who do the Mets turn to now? It sounds like Jenrry Mejia will get an opportunity, but then there’s Matsuzaka and Familia and…try to avoid this situation if you can. Oh, and I almost forgot that before Farnsworth there was Valverde. And before Valverde there was Parnell.
Rockies: LaTroy Hawkins was slated to be the Rockies’ closer from day one, but the general consensus was that he would lose the job to Rex Brothers within the first month of the season. Instead, Hawkins has converted all nine of his save chances, posting a 2.70 ERA in the process. Go figure.