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The baseball season is only a few short weeks away, which means were oh-so-close to closer controversy, out-of-nowhere fantasy stars and disbelief that anyone could have been suckered into drafting Brandon Lyon again. It also means it’s time for our first Bottom of the 9th of the season.

We’ll get to a few sleeper candidates for saves in a future article, but now, let’s find some value in the safer options at the position. Sure, you can dip into the waiver wire all season trying to find saves, but wouldn’t it be easier to pay a reasonable price for what could be elite ninth inning options?

Sergio Santos, Blue Jays. This guy absolutely killed it in his first chance closing, racking up 30 saves for the White Sox while posting a 3.55 ERA that smelled a little better than the numbers indicate. Chicago decided to cash out and nab a pretty good prospect from the Blue Jays, who are obviously going to want to recoup some of the trade price they paid by sticking with Santos in the closer role through thick and thin. And when you have a guy that struck out over 13 batters per nine innings while keeping his walk rate south of Carlos Marmol territory, there’s gonna be plenty of thick. Currently the 16th closer off the board according to ADP measured at Mock Draft Central and 184 overall at Fleaflicker, Santos should have no problem find his way into the top 10 at his position by season’s end.

Huston Street, Padres. What’s not to like with Street? He maintained a nice K rate near 9.0 per nine innings while walking just nine batters all year. I tell you that and you’re wondering how much time Street missed last year, but that came from a standard workload of 58.1 innings; he was that much in control. Now he takes his talents to San Diego, which is excellent for a guy that had a 14.5% HR/FB rate last year. The fact that he’s the 21st reliever off the board n Mock Draft Central can be blamed on the possibility of him getting re-cast as a set-up man on a contender at the trade deadline, but there’s nothing stopping you from ringing three months of top-shelf value out of Street before dealing him on July 1, is there?

Rafael Betancourt, Rockies. Slotting in right behind Street on MDC is Betancourt, and there’s simply no reason he should be taken as the 22nd reliever off the board. He pitched 62.1 innings in each of his last two seasons, walking just eight guys in each while averaging 81 strikeouts. Do the math; he averaged — averaged! — higher than 10.0 K/BB over the last two years. Not K/9, K/BB. Only Koji Uehara (another sleeper alert?) managed that level of fantastic over the past two years. Amongst pitchers that pitched both in 2010 and 2011, Betancourt equaled Craig Kimbrel’s 1.77 SIERA (Skill Interactive ERA, which is just what it sounds like it is) as the best in baseball. How many more ways do you need me to tell you that this guy is elite? He’s locked in as the ninth inning guy in Colorado and could be a top-five closer in 2012.

Frank Francisco, Mets. Francisco’s ADP on Mock Draft Central is so low that it’s not even worth mentioning, as it ranks him behind RPs like Francisco Rodriguez, Mark Melancon, Fernando Salas and Leo Nunez, a guy that technically doesn’t even exist anymore. Francisco was yanked around a bit in Toronto, which is causing his low sticker price, but he wasn’t all that bad. He’s always been a high K guy that keeps walks in check. In seven years, 331 games and 334 innings, Francisco has a 9.9 K/9 rate, and no one wants him? He just 32 years old and doesn’t have to worry about losing his job this year — Jon Rauch proved he isn’t a reliable option in the role. Expect Frank Frank to stay the closer all year, rack up 35 saves or so, strike out a ton of batters, and make owners that passed on him for Chris Perez, Matt Thornton and the non-closers listed above look pretty foolish.

Let’s stop there and leave you pondering the sleeper picks to come. If your draft is around the corner, grab a couple of the picks above and consider yourself ahead of the game at RP.

  1. AL KOHOLIC says:
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    ill take those 4 and not worry about it from there,

  2. bazzrall says:
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    as of right now, does Seth Smith have a starting job? or at least rosterable in a 14-team?

    • @bazzrall, Yes, Smith should be the starting LF for the A’s, but if you’re talking about a 14-team mixed, I’m not sure I’d bother with him (unless you start five OFs).

      • bazzrall says:
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        @R.J. White, would you want him more than De Aza or Viciedo? And yes, it is 14-team mixed with 4 OF, 2 Util

        • @bazzrall, I’d probably go with both of them over Smith, unless I was confident enough in the speed of the rest of my team to lose De Aza.

          • bazzrall says:
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            @R.J. White, Alright, thanks.

  3. Steven says:
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    I’ve been using your rankings the last 3 years and have won every single year (Thanks so much). 12 team–C,1B,2B,SS,3B,OF,OF,OF,UTL,SP,SP,SP,RP,RP,P…..I just did a mock draft with 10th pick and ended up with Wieters, Berkman, Kinsler,Jeter, Longoria,Cruz, Bruce,Gardner,Lind,Bumgarner,Lester,D.Hudson, Scherzer,Cahill,C.Lewis, B.Wilson,Street,Francisco…I’m very satisfied with my team i drafted…What do you think?

    • @Steven, I think you have a shot with that team. I’d wager there’s probably one or two stronger teams in your league, but I do like the top-end of your pitching staff.

  4. Ian says:
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    FYI – ESPN has their ADPs out finally. They have Santos ranked way too low and it’s resulted in a 214 ADP. Me likey!

    http://games.espn.go.com/flb/livedraftresults?position=ALL

    Frank Frank’s ADP is 220 on ESPN. Another nice late option.

    Betancourt is something….It’s very rare for a pitcher to collect double digit saves for the first time in his career when he’s over 35, but his peripherals are ridiculous. A 51% FB rate in Coors is definitely a reason for pause though.

    • Grey

      Grey says:
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      @Ian, Agreed…

  5. bruce springsteen says:
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    It’s not only MDC that has Betancourt at #22. Grey listed him there earlier today, right?

    Personally, I hope he has a fantastic year because I have him in a keeper league. But I have reservations (agism!). He’s as old as I am!!!

    • Grey

      Grey says:
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      @bruce springsteen, I did in my post below…

  6. Pops says:
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    If I draft Street I’m handcuffing him to either Cashner or Boxberger.

    • Grey

      Grey says:
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      @Pops, Gregerson…

  7. letsgobravos says:
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    Hold on, so earlier today Betancourt was listed as “brain freeze” to be used at your own risk. Then in this post, he got a glowing review and he’s mentioned as a potential top 5 close this year. Haha, which is the real Betancourt?

    • Grey

      Grey says:
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      @letsgobravos, I didn’t write this post. It’s a differing opinion.

      • letsgobravos says:
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        @Grey,

        Thanks for the quick reply. I noticed you didn’t write this post and figured that was the case, but figured I’d ask for clarification anyway. I’m sure it happens, but I havent seen the commentators here differ that often on a guy this much.

        • Grey

          Grey says:
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          @letsgobravos, Betancourt is polarizing. I see him being drafted like he’s a sure thing… Just went for around $15 today in one of my leagues.

          • bruce springsteen says:
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            @Grey, sounds like a good candidate for “sell high” (for those in keeper leagues who have that option…)

          • Tony says:
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            @Grey, he’s 36 about to be 37, enough said…. wait mariano’s how old… who knows, eff it.

            • Grey

              Grey says:
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              I’m more worried about his Cuddle Boy tendencies…

  8. Side says:
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    Sizemore is out 4-forever wks. (shocker). Duncan worth grabbing late in 16 team league?

    • Grey

      Grey says:
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      More excited about Brantley, but you can grab Duncan very late if you need power…

  9. Tony says:
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    im getting tired of mock drafting….

    • Tony says:
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      @Tony, i went votto/J-up/McCutch tonight…. and i regretted McCutch because it kinda ruined my 3B mojo…. I’m not that high on McCutch grey, gotta put that out there, being a pirate, not the highest BA Avg… i’d rather wait til about the 5-7th rounds and hit up some OF bargains (choo, victorino, etc then adam jones a little later)

      *** that mock isn’t very accurate to what i’ve seen, J-Up never falls that far, i drafted 4 and he came back in the 2nd round? then mccutch into the 3rd? but still…. to each his own right….

      • Grey

        Grey says:
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        Well, Upton and then McCutchen is pretty heavy on OF… Could’ve went a different way in the 3rd…

  10. EDUB says:
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    I would nominate League to this list. Rock solid IMO. only 10 BB’s in 60IP

  11. Jennings has to be grabbed in the 40-60 range in most Yahoo drafts if you want him. On the other hand, Jennings is available in the late 90′s on ESPN. Similar story for Heyward (top 70 on Yahoo) and early 100′s in ESPN. makes me shake my head how these collective /perts can disagree so much. Thanks goodness for Grey! BTW I’m all over Heyward like a fat kid on a Snickers.

  12. matt says:
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    I’m looking for relievers with SP eligibilty, guys who might pick up holds, and who will drive down my ratios… thoughts?

    • @matt, Whomever loses out on the TB fifth job would be good (Niemann/Davis). I also like Alexi Ogando/Matt Harrison in the same situation. None of them are likely to be big holds guys starting out, but you should get value with them throughout the year.

      I’d also look at Marco Estrada, Sam LeCure, Tom Gorzelanny, Ross Detwiler, Kyle Kendrick, and Jesse Litsch if the inflammation passes.

  13. matt says:
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    Thanks.

    I like the look/projections for Sam LeCure, and Kyle McLellan looks to get a bullpen job right out of spring.

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