Potential bargain closers for 2012
The Rockies have averaged more than 40 saves over past three seasons
After being part of committee, Jason Motte was named sole closer in 2012
Since 2004 only Mariano Rivera has more saves than Francisco Cordero
Solving the closer quandary can make or break your fantasy season. Uncover the next great thing out of the pen, and you'll shoot up the standings. Overdraft a bust and not only will you see your saves fall off the table, but also will be saddled with the headache of deciding if a bounceback is possible or if you should cut bait. While choosing a closer can often be a lesson in futility, uncovering one in the bargain basement is among the most satisfying feelings for a fantasy owner. With a dozen teams starting out in 2012 with a different ninth-inning man than the one who ended 2011, there are plenty of opportunities to scoop up a cheap source of saves. So these are the 10 best closer situations to take advantage on the cheap this season:
Rafael Betancourt, Rockies: For most of his nine previous big league seasons, Betancourt, 36, was an effective setup man but rarely saw closer opportunities. That changed last year when he filled in admirably while Huston Street was on the DL, racking up a career-high eight saves. Now Street is in San Diego and Betancourt is alone as Colorado's ninth-inning option. He'll be a steal on a team that's averaged over 40 saves over the past three years.
Jason Motte, Cardinals: The World Champs lost Albert Pujols but retained enough pop and pitching to be a contender in a weakened NL Central. There will be opportunities for the fireballing Motte. Motte, who converted 10 of 14 save chances, including the postseason, as part of a six-headed closer situation last year, has already been anointed by new manager Mike Matheny as the unchallenged closer.
Kenley Jansen, Dodgers: First, it was Jonathan Broxton keeping Jansen out of the ninth inning, and now it could be Javy Guerra, but there's little doubt that before all is said and done, Jansen and his career rate of 1.7 strikeouts per inning will be an effective closer. Last season he converted five of six save chances and allowed just one run in 19 appearances between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
Jesse Crain, White Sox: With Sergio Santos traded to the Blue Jays, the White Sox have three leading closer choices: Look to the past and re-insert Matt Thornton into a role in which he was dreadful last year; give it to Addison Reed, an unproven rookie; or hand it to Crain, a veteran who excelled in a setup role in his first season on the South Side. One of fantasy baseball's best win vultures, Crain is the best bet for the most saves on the South Side this season, but ...
Addison Reed, White Sox: For the long haul, Reed is the White Sox's closer of the future. A former teammate of another pretty good young pitcher, Stephen Strasburg, at San Diego State under the tutelage of Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn, Reed possesses a 96 mph fastball and struck out 155 while walking only 20 in 1081/3 innings. However, he's no lock to make the Opening Day roster, and depending on how either Crain or Thornton perform, could spend a majority of the season as a low-impact player. Or new manager Robin Ventura could do what the Angels did with Jordan Walden and hand him the job outright and let him learn on the job. In any case, he's someone to target, especially in keeper leagues.
Francisco Cordero, Blue Jays: Since the start of the 2004 season only Mariano Rivera has more saves (320) than Cordero (302). Coming off a season in which he had 37 saves with a 2.45 ERA, and despite his comments to the contrary, don't look for Coco to go quietly into a setup role behind Sergio Santos. The latter, a former shortstop, did quite well in his first taste of closing action last year for the White Sox, but he did blow the same number of saves Cordero did last year -- six -- and did so with an ERA more than a run higher than the veteran. Last season, John Farrell had multiple changes of heart in the closer role and this season will not be any different. Any thoughts that the job is Santos' unchallenged are off base.
Frank Francisco, Mets: The Mets Golden Anniversary season could see them fall like lead to the bottom of a much-improved NL East, but Francisco has the potential to be a bright spot. He already has competed with and beaten Jon Rauch for a closer job last season with the Blue Jays and was solid for the Rangers in 2009 before being displaced by Neftali Feliz. The main concerns are the Mets lack of victories and possible competition from former Giants setup man Ramon Ramirez, but neither should keep you from drafting Francisco.
Koji Uehara, Rangers*: The asterisk is due to the fact that this only applies should the rumored deal sending Uehara to the A's actually happens. With Texas he's no challenge to the newly-signed Joe Nathan, but in Oakland he'll immediately become the frontrunner for saves in a bullpen race that features current leader, Grant Balfour, ex-closer Brian Fuentes and perennial closer-in-waiting Joey Devine. Uehara's experience closing and knack for keeping runners off base (his 1.33 walks per nine innings is the lowest among all active pitchers with at least 75 career innings pitched) give him the edge to finish games for the intriguing A's.
Matt Lindstrom, Orioles: Buck Showalter has many options at the end of games for the Orioles, and none is better than Lindstrom, who served as the closer in Florida and Houston before ending up as Huston Street's setup man in Denver last season. He has the edge over Kevin Gregg, whom Showalter apparently lost faith in, and Jim Johnson, who succeeded in the role at the end of last season but enters 2012 hampered by back issues and doesn't strikeout enough batters (58 in 91 innings) to remain in the role long term.
David Carpenter, Astros: Houston's final season in the NL is shaping up to be just as ugly as 2011, when the team lost more than 100 games for the first time. That limits the value of whomever closes, whether it's the up-and-coming Carpenter or veteran Brandon Lyon, who hasn't pitched since June. However, Carpenter's potential for 15-20 saves makes him attractive in your draft's end game, especially in keeper leagues.