Neftali Perez's possible move puts closer rankings in flux
Closers are always a mess. This year there is no clear No. 1, although Brian Wilson is the best bet, and this week has seen a number of top-tier closers slide in the rankings.
Neftali Feliz has had a change of heart (sort of) and now says he would prefer to start. Andrew Bailey is visiting Dr. James Andrews, moving Brian Fuentes to the top spot. Alexi Ogando and Mark Lowe are no longer no-where men in fantasy.
Ah, just another run-of-the-mill wacky week (er, Monday) for the closer position in Spring Training. And it won't end here.
It is the reason you wait, wait and wait some more if you're not locking up an elite closer early on draft day. That pick you make is liable to go bust before Opening Day by a manager's mere change of heart.
How many closers are elite? Let's just say a handful, such as Wilson, Jon Papelbon, Mariano Rivera, Heath Bell, Carlos Marmol and Joakim Soria.
Even some of those ranked elite might be worthless setup men by midseason; see free-agent-to-be Bell.
Few owners like Papelbon because of his mediocre performance in 2010. Rivera is past his prime and is the age of 40 with a closer-in-waiting behind him in Rafael Soriano. Marmol is alternately a wild card on a year-to-year basis. And Soria pitches for one of the worst teams in baseball. Sure, if the Royals win games, they figure to be close, but how can you be sure they are going to win more than a game or two a week?
Feliz moves from four to six in the closer rankings -- for now. But that fall could be a lot longer once it is officially announced he will be a full-time starter.
To clear up an early spring rush to judgment, Feliz said he always preferred to be a starting pitcher. Armed with 100 mph fastball, he could be a dominant one in the long term. But you never know how your shoulder is going to react with 180-plus innings through 30 starts on it vs. the 69 1/3 he pitched last season in the bullpen.
It makes him less valuable in fantasy because he is less of a sure thing. There are at least 25 starting pitchers you should prefer to have in fantasy, maybe even 30 or 40. As a closer, he was arguably a No. 1A to the Giants' bearded Mr. Wilson.
Adam Wainwright gave us the early spring warning of starting pitcher risk. Feliz is giving us the mid-spring yellow (or red) light on closer risk, if only because they get a downgrade because the manager changes the role on you.
Alexi Ogando is the most likely candidate to close for the Rangers if Feliz remains a starter into the season. Mark Lowe might also be in the mix, but he doesn't have experience with it either, even if he has been a decent setup man before.
The worse-case scenario would be the dreaded bullpen-by-committee. That would just make a further mess of the closer rankings, which are already the hardest to discern in fantasy right now.
There is talk that with the early struggles of Drew Storen this spring, the Nats might have to go with the closer committee with Tyler Clippard and lefty Sean Burnett. That is a far less fantasy-relevant position battle, though.
But how about Oakland? Former AL ROY Andrew Bailey has elbow and forearm stiffness that is sending him to DJA (Dr. James Andrews), who already operated once on his elbow. With Brian Fuentes with the A's on a one-year deal, it certainly looks like it might be time to swap spots with those A's relievers. Grant Balfour is a name in the mix, too.
At least that situation has an answer. The biggest mess might be in Tampa Bay, where J.P. Howell currently tops MLB.com's depth chart but he reportedly won't be ready off shoulder surgery until May. Joel Peralta and Kyle Farnsworth have the most experience, while rookie/TJS survivor Jake McGee has already gotten six strong innings or work in. (Jeremy Hellickson, projected to be the No. 5 starter and not the closer after Matt Garza was dealt, has pitched just one inning because of a leg injury.)
Here are the current closer statuses of all 30 teams as of Tuesday:
Boston Red Sox -- Papelbon set (Daniel Bard and Bobby Jenks setting up)
The Rays, Blue Jays and Orioles still don't have a set closer, so things could change.
Minnesota Twins -- Joe Nathan possible (Matt Capps perhaps closing initially)
This is a far more stable division than the AL East right now, but there is still some uncertainty amid Nathan's hittable spring.
Texas Rangers -- TBD (likely Ogando with Lowe setting up)
This is a division full of sketchy closers. The only set one, Rodney, has been a career enigma. A "Feliz to close" announcement would change a lot of things, though
Philadelphia Phillies -- Brad Lidge set (Ryan Madson setting up)
Kimbrel is this year's potential Bailey/Feliz ROY story. He needs to show some more before he wins the job, though. Venters has been lights out. K-Rod is the Mets closer still but a ridiculous $17.5 million option-vesting with 55 games finished could muddle things.
Cincinnati Reds -- Francisco Cordero is set (Aroldis Chapman lurks as the setup man)
This is another Central division with some more certainty, albeit less fantasy-worthy sure things.
San Francisco Giants -- Wilson etched in stone (Sergio Romo and Jeremy Affeldt setting up)
This is the only division in baseball where all five closers are sure things. It doesn't mean we should rate them all highly.
We will do this exercise one more time before the start of the season, hopefully with far more answers than questions.