Closer watch: National League

Some bullpen situations have changed over the past few weeks, and we’re now taking Leverage Index into consideration, so let’s take another look at the bullpen situations for each team.

National League

AstrosUpdated -
CloserJose Valverde
Analysis: The Astros traded for Valverde for a reason. They weren’t confident in Brad Lidge but still felt like they needed a good closer. Valverde fills that need, and he likely won’t be replaced unless he gets injured. Since mid-2007, the Astros have traded Lidge, Dan Wheeler, and Chad Qualls, leaving them with few other quality relievers. If Valverde gets injured, off-season signee Geoff Geary might become the guy to own. Of the remnants of the 2007 bullpen, Dave Borkowski had the highest gmLI, 0.97.

BravesUpdated -
CloserRafael Soriano
Analysis: Soriano is the man in Atlanta, although Mike Gonzalez is expected to be back in the middle of the season. I had originally though Peter Moylan was probably next in line until the Braves are confident Gonzalez is fully healthy, but upon deeper investigation found that he was just fifth in gmLI last year (0.80). He was used the most often (90 IP), but was also pretty lucky (1.80 ERA to 4.41 LIPS ERA).

In 2007, Manny Acosta was second behind Soriano with a 1.18 gmLI, and Tyler Yates was third with a 1.05 gmLI. Watch this situation carefully in the opening weeks of the season. In the event of an injury, Soriano’s replacement is not clear at the moment.

Brewers
CloserEric Gagne
Analysis: I haven’t heard an official announcement yet, but it’s difficult to see the Brewers giving Eric Gagne $10 million without giving him first crack at — and a pretty long leash with — the closer’s role. Still, there’s been talk that it could be Derrick Turnbow. I’m drafting Gagne, although Turnbow is a decent setup guy to speculate on. David Riske is probably #3 in the Milwaukee pen. They also have Salomon Torres, Seth McClung, and Guillermo Mota, but it would take a lot for them to get involved in the saves mix.

CardinalsUpdated -
CloserJason Isringhausen
Analysis: Isringhausen has got a firm hold on the job, but he also has an injury history. Ryan Franklin is listed as the top setup man right now and was second behind Izzy with a 1.27 gmLI in 2007, although Russ Springer and Randy Flores showed better skills. Franklin is the #2 for now, but that could change.

CubsUpdated -
Closer – Open
Analysis: Kerry Wood is probably the favorite for the role, although Carlos Marmol and Bob Howry are also in the mix. Some nice insight from Rotoworld: “For the second year in a row, the 30-year-old opted to stay with the Cubs despite promises of more interesting offers elsewhere. In return, the Cubs figure to give him the first shot at taking over their closer’s role.”

I’d take a late round flier on Wood, although Marmol is much more talented and could just as easily have the role all to himself by mid-season. Both are worth taking in medium-depth leagues, and Howry is a decent pick in deeper leagues. Marmol is younger, more talented, and a sexier choice, but keep in mind that Howry led the Cubs in gmLI in 2007 with a 1.60 mark. Marmol’s was 1.14. We could see a shift, though, as Marmol gains more trust and experience in 2008.

DiamondbacksUpdated -
CloserBrandon Lyon
Analysis: Lyon has officially been declared the closer, as some had speculated. I’ve heard Lenny Melnick say on a couple of occasions that he thinks the D-backs prefer Lyon because Pena is more capable of pitching two innings while they don’t believe Lyon can. Lyon was once a starter, although he only threw 2+ innings three times last year. He did lead the team’s remaining relievers in gmLI last year, though, with a 1.54 gmLI.

If Lyon goes down or doesn’t perform well (entirely possible, given his 4.62 LIPS ERA in 2007), Tony Pena could be next in line. Chad Qualls is more talented, though, and could just as easily fill in. Draft Lyon now, but don’t be afraid to take Qualls or Pena in deeper leagues.

DodgersUpdated -
CloserTakashi Saito
Analysis: One of the most top heavy pens in baseball. Saito is the closer and was excellent in 2007, but he will be 38 on opening day and has some real talent behind him. Jonathan Broxton is the biggest concern, although Jonathan Meloan is also good. Broxton is so good that he has a little value based on skills alone, and if he ends up as the closer he would be quite valuable.

Giants
CloserBrian Wilson
Analysis: Brad Hennessey was the closer for most of 2007, but Wilson got 6 saves after August 20. Hennessey got 7 saves in this time frame, although Manager Bruce Bochy has said Wilson is likely to be his closer. He’s shown problems with his control in the minors and hasn’t put up much better than a league average strikeout rate in the majors. He is worth speculating on, but be aware that he could easily lose the job with a poor start. Hennessey is still around, as is Tyler Walker, so he has competition.

MarlinsUpdated -
CloserKevin Gregg
Analysis: Crowded bullpen in Florida. Gregg is the closer, but he has plenty of competition. Taylor Tankersley was talked about as a potential closer last off-season, but he had a less-than-stellar 2007 after starting the year on the DL. Still, he led the team (excluding Gregg) with a 1.31 gmLI. Renyel Pinto was next with a 1.25 gmLI.

The difference in gmLI among the rest of the guys wasn’t significant, ranging from 1.09 to 1.12. These options include Justin Miller — who actually had the best LIPS ERA of the entire bullpen in 2007 — Matt Lindstrom, Lee Gardner, and Henry Owens, who had the job a little in 2007, but whose his skills haven’t translated to the majors yet. Gregg is the guy to own, but pay close attention to how the others are used in April.

MetsUpdated -
CloserBilly Wagner
Analysis: Wagner has the spot locked down, but if he gets hurt Aaron Heilman could step in. I forgot to mention Duaner Sanchez last time, who could be in the mix if he proves he’s healthy. Dark horse candidate is Joe Smith, who I absolutely love in the long-term.

NationalsUpdated -
CloserChad Cordero
Analysis: Cordero has the spot locked down, although a trade is a definite possibility, as it has been for a while now. Jon Rauch is the likely #2, although there’s talk that he could be traded as well. After those two, Saul Rivera had the highest gmLI: 1.28. After that you had Jesus Colome with a 1.11 gmLI and Luis Ayala with a 1.05 mark. Once highly-touted Ryan Wagner could be a dark horse candidate.

Padres
CloserTrevor Hoffman
Analysis: I have a hard time seeing the Pads turning away from Hoffman, but Heath Bell is dynamite, and Cla Meredith is talented as well. Hoffman will likely go too high to be drafted, but Bell is a decent guy to speculate on late.

PhilliesUpdated -
Closer – Brad Lidge
Analysis: People are concerned about Lidge in Citizens Bank Park given his 16% and 13% HR/FB in 2006 and 2007, respectively. Still, from 2003-2005 it was never higher than 10%. It won’t be that low in 2008, but it would take a decent-sized implosion for the Phils to switch gears on him. Tom Gordon is most likely second in line. After that, it’s anyone’s guess really. After all, manager Charlie Manual used Antonio Alfonseca in the role for a while in 2007.

If it’s not Alfonseca, J.C. Romero maybe? Ryan Madson had the best LIPS ERA in the Phillies bullpen last year (aside from Brett Myers), so he might be a better guess. Looking at 2007 gmLI, Alfonseca’s was 1.45, Mike Zagurski’s was 1.26 (though he had just 21 IP), and Madson’s was 1.06. Romero’s was 1.14, but that includes 20 innings with the Red Sox.

PiratesUpdated -
CloserMatt Capps
Analysis: Capps has the job secured. Damaso Marte is probably the #2, but you don’t need to worry too much about him unless Capps gets hurt. John Grabow might be an option too, as he had an identical gmLI to Marte in 2007 (1.17).

RedsUpdated -
CloserFrancisco Cordero
Analysis: Cordero is absolutely the closer, but all the same characters from last year are still around. None are good enough to overthrow him, but if he gets hurt there could be a battle. That bullpen is chock full of average. Every single reliever with at least 20 IP had a LIPS ERA between 4.00 and 5.00 last year.

David Weathers is the likely replacement given his time in the role last year, but there are several other unspectacular relievers hanging around. By 2007 gmLI: Gary Majewski (1.46), Mike Stanton (1.24), Jon Coutlangus (1.17), Jared Burton (1.07), Todd Coffey (0.98). Bill Bray could also be involved, although he only threw just 14.1 major league innings in 2007.

Rockies
CloserManny Corpas
Analysis: Corpas is the clear favorite for the closer’s role now, but Brian Fuentes still lurks. There’s been talk of a Fuentes trade, which would further solidify Corpas’s hold on the role.

Draft day bargains

Here are the guys I see as potential bargains on draft day, guys you should target in the later rounds of your draft (assuming your league isn’t ultra-deep).

  • Rafael Soriano (might be going a bit too soon)
  • Eric Gagne
  • Brian Wilson
  • Brandon Lyon
  • Kerry Wood
  • Carlos Marmol
  • Heath Bell
  • Chad Qualls
  • Tony Pena
  • Derrick Turnbow

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