Like Heath Bell, Qualls, who was traded from Houston to Arizona in the package for Jose Valverde, was among the league's better setup men before inheriting the closer job this spring. He recorded more than 20 holds in each of the last four years, thanks in large part to his power sinker, which should help him find similar success as a closer.
Morrow is difficult to rank because he's such an unknown. Drafted fifth overall as a starter in 2006, he spent all of 2007 in the Mariners' 'pen (walking 7.1 men per nine innings), was converted back to a starter late last year, then opened this season as the Mariners' closer and is now on the DL with biceps tendonitis (though the injury is reportedly minor). He has the stuff (upper 90s fastball, excellent splitter and slider, average changeup) to dominate if the Mariners will stop jerking him around. Like Joba Chamberlain, he'd be better utilized as a starter, but could be among the best of the game if left in the 'pen. Stay tuned.
Texas Rangers Age: 29 | Salary: $1.615M Acquired: Trade with White Sox
A failed minor-league starter, Francisco was moved to the bullpen by the Rangers (his fourth organization) in 2004 only to lose most of 2005 and 2006 to Tommy John surgery. He finally put it all together in a setup role last year, pitching well enough to land the closer's job this spring. He has the stuff (mid-90s fastball, good curve and splitter) to succeed, provided he can continue to throw strikes. So far, so good, as he's walked just two batters and shares the major-league saves lead with Heath Bell.
After being acquired from the Pirates for slugging first baseman Adam LaRoche, the left-handed Gonzalez lost most of 2007 to Tommy John surgery, but came back strong in the second half of last year. Fragile righty set-up man Rafael Soriano will get the odd save opportunity as the Braves remain careful with Gonzalez's left arm, but both can be dominant when healthy and could become trade-deadline targets, as both are in their walk year.
Chicago Cubs Age: 31 | Salary: $4.2M Acquired: Trade with Marlins
When the Cubs let Kerry Wood leave as a free agent, it appeared they'd give the closer job to setup ace Carlos Marmol. Then they traded for arbitration-eligible Marlins' closer Gregg, gumming up the works with an inferior pitcher. Then again, maybe it was a brilliant move designed to keep Marmol in the highest-leverage situations, which don't always come in the ninth. Prior to last night's game, Marmol led Cub relievers in Average Leverage Index (2.10 to Gregg's 1.58).
When healthy, Ryan will convert about 89 percent of his save opportunities, but he's increasingly unable to stay healthy. Most observers could see his 2007 Tommy John surgery coming, and while his quick recovery and strong 2008 season were encouraging, his missing velocity this spring and current DL stay -- due to either inflammation in his trapezius or his overall ineffectiveness, depending on who you believe -- is not.
Oakland A's Age: 29 | Salary: $405K Acquired: Minor league free agent
Joey Devine was supposed to be Oakland's closer, but he's out for the season following Tommy John surgery, so the job reverted to Ziegler, who was a conventional starter in the independent Northern League at age 24 and a record-setting submarining reliever in the majors at age 28. Ziegler is susceptible to lefties, but his mid-80s junk gets pounded into the ground with such regularity (he's allowed just two homers in 70 major-league innings while converting more than a third of his double-play opportunities) he can work around them, at least until Andrew Bailey claims the job.
Given the Rays fertile farm system and the other talented arms in their bullpen, it makes little sense for them to use the formerly washed-up and oft-injured Percival as their closer. Percy has posted a 4.25 ERA and walked 5.1 men per nine innings as a Ray, but then he's also converted 88 percent of his save opportunities with the team. Still, he's not a part of the team's future, and it's a tossup as to how much of their present he'll be healthy enough to enjoy.
Rodney aged four years when his real birth certificate was found and lost another year to Tommy John surgery in 2004. Since rebooting his career at age 28 in 2005, he's been a solid setup man for the Tigers, but he's also been a typical hard-thrower prone to wildness (6.7 BB/9 last year) and the longball. If Joel Zumaya can ever stay healthy, Rodney will likely return to the earlier innings.
After emerging as a LOOGY (or Lefty One Out Guy) in Seattle, Sherrill was acquired by the Orioles in the Erik Bedard-Adam Jones trade as a stop-gap closer while Chris Ray recovered from Tommy John surgery. Despite a high ERA and walk rate, he acquitted himself well in the role last year, converting 84 percent of his save opportunities, but Ray is now healthy again, as is Danys Baez, and Dave Trembley just announced Monday Sherrill will have to share the job.
Street lost the A's job to Brad Ziegler last year and, after being flipped to Colorado in the Matt Holliday deal, almost immediately coughed up the Rockies job to Manuel Corpas, only to just as quickly have Corpas hand it back. That may say more about Clint Hurdle as a manager than Street as a closer, given Street's perfect save percentage this season. Then again, Street blew 23 saves over his last three seasons with the A's for a troublesome save percentage of 76. Street closed in college, but he looks like the rare quality pitcher who can't handle the job in the majors.
Formerly a starter in the Mets' system, Lindstrom moved to the 'pen after suffering a stress fracture in his pitching arm in 2005. After being flipped to the Marlins in a minor deal, he emerged as a 27-year-old rookie setup man with a 100 mph heater in 2007. But he saw his walk and strikeout rates head in the wrong direction last year and he has struggled in the early going following a rotator cuff scare in the WBC. One extremely bad outing against the defending world champs has soured his season stats thus far, but it's too early to dismiss that as a fluke given the other red flags. Leo Nuñez lurks.
The former Mariners starter moved to the bullpen in 2006. He thrived in the middle innings under Dave Duncan over the last two years and served as the Cards default closer at times last year, converting roughly three quarters of his save chances. With dueling closers of the future Jason Motte and Chris Perez having thus far punted the job due to performance (Motte) and injury (Perez), Franklin and his absurd chin beard have tightened their grip on the job.
Hanrahan just lost the Nationals job, but with no obvious candidate to replace him (Kip Wells? Julian Tavarez?), the Nats and Sabermetric-friendly manager Manny Acta will take it game-by-game. That would be an acceptable solution if the Nationals didn't have the worst bullpen in the National League.
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