March 22, 2007

Relievers -- the pitchers so crazy they have to be kept in a pen far away from the rest of their teams. Although these guys serve a singular purpose in the fantasy game (unless your league counts holds), they remain one of the most fretted-over groups from draft day, right up to the postseason. Well, my friends, help has arrived.

Every week we will take a look at the noteworthy developments from bullpens around the majors, rounding up all the information available to decide which relievers should be on your roster and which should be on waivers. As Opening Day draws near, we'll get things started this week with a rundown of some of the most interesting closer situations that remain unresolved. So fire up the bullpen cart. (Whatever happened to those things anyway?)

Phillies: Here's a rumor to dispel right off the bat -- Brett Myers is not being groomed to be the closer. Instead, Myers is likely to be the team's Opening Day starter and a key member of the rotation. It isn't unthinkable that Myers might be considered a closing option at some point in the future -- like when the 39-year-old Tom Gordon proves unable to close anymore -- but it isn't likely to be this season. The Phillies would more likely risk letting Ryan Madson or even Antonio Alfonseca and his magical sixth finger take a shot at the job before converting Myers on short notice.

Marlins: Like Boston's situation, this one is also likely to be fixed by a trade. As of right now, Matt Lindstrom is ready to start the season as closer, despite zero major league experience. He has been exceptional in spring games, as have been secondary options Henry Owens and Kevin Gregg. While the next Jonathan Papelbon could be among this trio, chances are Florida will try to swing a trade for a more established closer. If those efforts fail, grab Lindstrom and/or Owens and hope yet another Marlins rookie turns in a performance beyond his years.

Giants: One man that both Boston and Florida have been looking at as the answer to their problems is Armando Benitez. Should the Giants manage to dupe one of those teams into taking the 34-year-old extreme injury risk off their hands, 25-year-old Brian Wilson would probably be bumped up to closer for his sophomore campaign. Wilson had a mediocre first impression with a 5.40 ERA in 30 innings last season, and he has been only slightly better this spring. So, basically, trading away Benitez would do nothing to decrease the overall number of closer dilemmas in the major leagues.

Pirates: With former closer of the future Mike Gonzalez now in Atlanta, the Pirates have a decision to make. They can either stick with Salomon Torres, who had a stellar 1.26 ERA and notched 11 saves in 12 chances last September when Gonzalez's season was cut short by a tired arm, or they can go with one of their promising youngsters, Matt Capps and Josh Sharpless. Torres may seem to be the easy choice, but he has been shaky this spring. Capps has been slightly worse, which leaves Sharpless and his 1.17 ERA and two saves in two chances looking pretty good. Since Torres got it done when it counts, he will still probably get first crack at closing, but if he falters, Sharpless or Capps will take over.

Devil Rays: Given first dibs on earning the closer's job, Seth McClung has done nothing to prove he has an interest in such an honor. His 9.95 ERA this spring is only slightly worse than rival Dan Miceli's 9.53. This is all very troubling, I know. I mean, without a closer, how will the Devil Rays hold on to their non-existent ninth inning leads? Miceli will probably turn out to be the slightly better option, but let's face it -- if you're a fantasy owner waiting with baited breath to see which of these guys will close for the Devil Rays, your team is most likely doomed to a finish similar to theirs.

But, that's what we're here for. So be sure to check back again next week.

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