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Coming into the 2011 season, Ryan Franklin looked to be one of the most reliable relievers around. He wasn’t elite by any means, but at least we knew he was locked into his closing gig. That was more than we could say for about a third of the league, right? Even though he wasn’t considered a top-tier guy, Franklin still just wrapped up a season in which he had a 6-2 record, 1.03 WHIP, 27 saves and two blown saves. When he blew his first save of the season on Opening Day, it seemed like an innocent blip on the radar.

Did I say blip? I meant Red October. After one textbook save six days after his first blown save, Franklin completely fell apart, submarining fantasy teams by blowing his next three save opportunities and getting yanked from the role. Even though Jason Motte had been the vice closer in St. Louis for a while, The Bottom of the 9th pointed you towards Mitchell Boggs in the middle of the meltdown, and he would soon ascend to the closer throne.

Boggs rattled off three straight saves between April 20th and 24th, blew his next opportunity and found himself packing up his desk and moving out of the closer position, as well. It looked like a dumb move at the time, but give credit to Tony LaRussa, as Boggs has made five appearances in middle relief in the month of May and only managed scoreless outings twice.

Eduardo Sanchez picked up the next save, though he did it by allowing two runs to score in what had been a three-run game. That was two too many, and Fernando Salas chalked up the next two save opportunities. LaRussa must not have liked that second one, because Salas would next throw the seventh inning of a tie game a few days later, and then watch Sanchez pick up a save the following day. He recorded a loss the next day in a non-save situation, and by this point you would have thought that got him banished to the fifth inning, but he pitched a third consecutive day and picked up another save. Was this the light at the end of the tunnel? It appeared so, for about a week.

After Sanchez and Salas each picked up one more save, Sanchez officially recorded his first blown save of the season on Friday the 13th by allowing one run on two hits and a walk in Cincinnati. Pitching coach Dave Duncan placed a horse’s head in Sanchez’s bed that night.

O.K., now you have the entire back story (and chances are you’ve rostered one of these clowns at some point of the season, so I apologize for the trip down Memory Lane), let’s figure out who’s closing. Salas didn’t actually get a chance to blow a save yet, so he’s the de facto closer. All bets are off the first time he isn’t perfect, though. Mitchell Boggs would likely get the next chance to close should Salas blow a save, allow a run, have a bad bullpen session or look Duncan directly in the eye. Own Salas, own Boggs too if you have room and pick up Lee Smith as well, just in case.

Seattle: Generally when a closer records losses in four straight appearances while blowing three straight saves, you’d call it kind of a bad week. But Brandon League actually became more locked in as the Seattle closer over the course of the week, as news of David Aardsma’s recovery took a turn for the worse. Now it appears he’ll miss at least six weeks with a strained ulnar collateral ligament, and though Tommy John surgery appears like it’ll be avoided, any sentence involving the words “Tommy John surgery” is not promising. League, who’s allowed eight runs in three innings over the four-game stretch, is still worth owning in fantasy leagues, though I hope you benched him last week for whatever reason. His ERA went fro 2.08 to 7.31 in the four-game span, but he’s still the leader in the clubhouse for Mariners MVP. I kid.

Los Angeles: Normally a strikeout machine, Jonathan Broxton looked like a closer that was off his game over the first month of the season. Doctors discovered a bone spur in his pitching elbow, so the Dodgers sent the struggling closer to the DL. In past years this occurence would mean Hong-Chih Kuo would step into the ninth inning and become one of the top closers in the league, but he ain’t quite right either. Kuo surrendered four runs while recording just one out in his first appearance off the DL on May 1. Three solid efforts later, Kuo gave up a run on May 9 before hitting the DL with anxiety disorder. No one knows when he’ll rejoin the team, and there’s a small chance it will never happen. That puts Vicente Padilla, who has been a very capable starter over the last few years, in the ninth inning. He’s been a little spotty in his first week as the closer, but he now has three saves (and no blown saves) on the season. Pick him up in all leagues, as he shouldn’t be challenged for the role for at least six weeks (Broxton’s estimated return date).

Houston: In another Bottom of the 9th special, we called Mark Melancon the best long-term closing option in Houston while predicting Brandon Lyon wouldn’t reach 10 saves. Here we are on May 16th, and Lyon has four saves, while Melancon is close to being named the closer (nothing official has happened yet, as the Astros understandably don’t carry a lead to the ninth inning too often). I admit that I didn’t see it happening this quickly for Melancon, but Lyon’s trip to the DL paired with Wilton Lopez’s own injury and mediocrity have the youngster looking like the Astros’ best option right now. Will Melancon get the closing role? Is Lopez ready to put up a fight? Will Lyon eventually return to the ninth inning and make a run at topping ten saves? I’d bet on the first two before the last of those questions.

Quick hits

Frank Francisco predictably jumped into the closer gig in Toronto after one Jon Rauch misstep … Sergio Santos hasn’t allowed a run in 18 innings this season. Remember when owners were falling over each other to draft Matt Thornton and Chris Sale? … Ryan Madson is a save machine, with four straight conversions in a seven-day stretch last week … Drew Storen allowed a run in his first appearance this season before turning in 19 straight scoreless appearances. He’s the top-rated reliever in Yahoo leagues; I’d say he’s locked in. By the way, Mariano Rivera ranks second at the position, followed by Santos, Madson and Jonny Venters. If you had that as your top five relievers in fantasy baseball before the season started, you’re a liar.

From Around The Web

  1. What about Jansen in LA? He seems to have the best stuff though his control is a problem. I own both he and Padilla but I think Jansen would be the better closer.

  2. Back To Minors says:
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    Ryan Franklin…reliable and locked in??? what planet were you on this spring??

  3. JG_ism says:
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    I’m glad I was only chewing food and was able to heimlich via chair.
    If I was drinking , I would’ve ruined the computer.

    thanks

  4. Shane says:
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    keeper league, CUT ONE: Liriano, Hellickson, C.Lewis, Anibal, Cueto, Floyd, Jurrjens, Norris… thanks

  5. HangingChad says:
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    keeper league — arod/cano or tex/crawford?

  6. @Frank Kim: Jansen has the best stuff in the LA bullpen, but I wouldn’t count on the team relying on him and his wildness to record saves until he gets consistently better. I agree he could be a top closer eventually, though it doesn’t appear likely to happen immediately. Definitely worth the roster space if you have room.

    @Back To Minors: You’re saying he wasn’t regarded as a safe closer heading into the season? I don’t mean that he was a top-ranked closer by any means, but he appeared to have as much job security in the role as one could have heading into the year.

    @Shane: I like Liriano the least there, even with the no-hitter.

    @HangingChad: Tough one, but it being a keeper league makes me lean toward Tex/Crawford.

  7. Quinn says:
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    Hey Grey,

    In a 5×5 12 team roto league. Me: Wright and Jonathan Sanchez for F. Her and Johnny Damon.

    I’m in 2nd, have basically a 12/12/12/11/11 offense, but am hurting in pitching. Is this a decent trade?

    Thanks,

    Quinn

  8. Will says:
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    Markakis, Maybin, Venable, or wait on Dominic Brown?

  9. Yoyoyo says:
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    Kenley Jansen’s last seven outings: 7.1 IP, 1 H, 0 ER, 4 BB, 15 K.

    On day Dodgers gonna say: control, shmontrol

  10. Will says:
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    or Callaspo or Torres

  11. jackie says:
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    Great work as always. By the way, if you bold the players’ names, it makes the column easier to read.

  12. Eric H. says:
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    @Grey: Even with David Wright having a stress fracture in his back, is it a no-brainer to trade Kimbrel & Capps for Wright & Alex Rios? I’m thinking YES…

  13. Racehorse says:
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    RJ,

    Aside from Storen’s emergence as the Nats closer, along with Tyler Clippard racking up mega strikeouts again in a set-up role, what are your thoughts on Henry Rodriguez? His minor league numbers show after 6 seasons an absolute-tent-popping 11.6 SO/9… and an not so tent-popping 6.5 BB/9.

    If H-Rod were to ever find even a modicum of control, the Nats bully would be downright nasty, ala the Nasty Boys from those Reds teams. Even though Storen, Clippard and Rodgriguez all throw from the right side, who needs a lefty when their stuff is THAT filthy & hairy.

    Thoughts?

  14. Mr2Bits says:
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    Don’t forget about Nunez, Hanrahan and Farnsy actually being reliable closers this year. Goes to show you it’s not worth drafting guys high. Now if only Marmol can get some damn saves it would make me feel better.

  15. MAC DADDY says:
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    16 Team mixed keeper
    I picked up two hopeful keepers for next year (Trout and Chisenhall)
    a) do you like Chisenhall over Freese next year
    b) who do I drop on upside….. a backup 2nd Baseman in Espinosa or backup SP Edwin Jackson I am leaning toward Jackson

  16. AM2 says:
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    Holy Crap Albert Pujols at 3B????

    LaRussa is trying Pujols out at 3rd base….3B has been so weak in fantasy baseball, giving Pujols 3B eligibility is just unfair, especially considering how deep 1B is.

    If you have Pujols (and he picks up 3B eligibility), you go get someone like Smoak or Moreland for cheap, and now you have Moreland/Pujols at 1B/3B instead of Pujols/Alvarez.

  17. IgnatiusJReilly says:
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    Grey and/or any commenters….10 team h2h 8×8 keeper league:I have Fielder,Lind,Sandoval and Smoak w/ 1B eligibility.I was just offered Oswalt for Smoak.what do y’think?

  18. IgnatiusJReilly says:
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    Im kinda’ concerned because Oswalt’s velocity was way down in his rehab start.

  19. pipa says:
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    Is Gaby for Kuroda a fair deal?

  20. Ned Shakeshaft says:
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    Holy crap! Guy in my AL-only league got the literal Cleveland Streamer from Vin Mazzaro. 2.1 IP, 14 baserunners, 14 ER.

    And it’s weekly (bowel) move(ment)s, so he has to run him against the Cards later in the week.

    One of my toughest rivals and I can’t take any pleasure in this. That would be like having some kind of poo fetish.

  21. @Quinn: I’d stick with Sanchez/Wright.

    @Will: I lean Torres, but I can see Markakis too.

    @Eric H.: I’d do that one for sure.

    @Racehorse: Rodriguez has been an on-the-radar guy for a while, but he obviously has some work to do before he can be a reliable, consistent contributor. Who knows whether he’ll get there or not.

    @MAC DADDY: I’d likely drop Espinosa in a short bench and no MI league, but Jackson is the smarter drop otherwise. And I like Chisenhall over Freese in 2012 for sure.

    @IgnatiusJReilly: Take Oswalt without question.

    @pipa: Sure.

  22. MAC DADDY says:
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    I guess my biggest hang up losing Espinosa is that he has out performed my #1 (and keeper) Hill at 2nd base. But I picked him up on waivers so I probably can again.
    Thanks for clearing things up!

  23. agarthered says:
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    Edwin Jackson or Scott Baker going forward?

  24. GrandSlamSingle says:
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    @Ned Shakeshaft: Mazzaro’s already been flushed down to AAA.

  25. pipa says:
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    So you on board with Ludwick? All SD players are available on my waiver wire….14 team mixed league.

  26. Was this article written two weeks ago and just now being published? What size leagues do you play in where Melancon, Padilla, and most of the guys you mention are still available?

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