The final days of drafting are upon us, and we are all soaking up last minute tidbits to take the the draft room with us. As usual, with only 30 game-stoppers, the Closer position is getting significant attention in the waning moments of drafting.
Earlier this week we took a look at Jon Rauch, the Atlanta situation and Oakland's Andrew Bailey. As the week has played out more news has emerged on Bailey, and he will now officially start the season on the DL. Our own Joey DeClercq feels that Oakland will their time getting Bailey back on the mound, as the team as a handful of closer capable set-up men. While none of those guys have set the world on fire this spring, we all know how little that means. With Bailey down for now, the guys you want to keep in mind are former closer, Brian Fuentes, who should get the first nod, Grant Balfour, who has the most upside, and Craig Breslow could find his name in the mix as well.
Joe Nathan is high on my list of potential comeback players in 2011, and so far this spring his velocity has proven he still has it. What still seems to be missing though is his breaking stuff. His slider has been hit or miss so far, and this might force Ron Gardenhire to opt for Matt Capps to start the season. I still believe Nathan has the job, though Gardenhire has yet to announce a name. Regardless this gives Capps' value a boost. Velocity is the key after Tommy John surgery though, and for Nathan that's there. The other stuff is about feel, and that simply requires more time. It should come, and Nathan should have a very solid 2011.
Brad Lidge is hurt...again. After a pretty solid 2010, I'm worried for his 2011, not so much because he's hurt, but because he's hurt and for the first time in his career Lidge himself is actually concerned about it. In baseball terms he's no spring chicken at 34. This time around he's got shoulder issues which he's not had before. I'm not writing him off just yet, but he will now go on the "Not On My Team" list of players when I sit down to draft. While Lidge's likely successor is Ryan Madson (at least for now), don't discount Jose Contreras. Madson has an excellent arm, but he lacks the confidence of a closer, while Contreras has shown he can handle the 9th inning heat.
Finally, there is the Tampa Bay Rays closer mess. This is not going to get cleared up before opening day, and in fact it's almost a sure thing that manager Joe Maddon will start the season with a closer-by-committee approach using two or all three of Jake McGee, Kyle Farnsworth and Joel Peralta. I think by the season's second half it should be McGee's gig, but until then we may see Maddon use the others more frequently, making them all minimally useful. For keeper leagues, McGee is your guy.
A couple of quick sleeper names to throw in the back of the brainpan, especially in deeper leagues, or AL/NL only leagues.
From the American League, Baltimore Orioles pitcher Koji Uehara is the name to know. The team has tagged Kevin Gregg as the team's opening day closer, but with an 11.37 ERA and a 2.21 WHIP this spring, look for Uehara to get the nod sooner rather than later.
For National League teams, our sleeper pick comes out of Houston. The name Wilton Lopez is not going to strike fear into anyone, but that said, he was the Astros best relief pitcher in 2010. With Brandon Lyon always a high risk pick and the rest of the bullpen looking like fantasy coleslaw, it would be worth keeping Lopez on your radar.
And in case you missed the fantasy shot heard round the world this week, the Rangers have finally anointed Neftali Feliz as closer. So jack him up on your boards.