Fantasy fallout: Closers on the move

There has been quite a bit of movement in the closer market over the past few days, so let’s take a look at the ramifications of these moves.

To recap:

  • Salomon Torres announced his retirement. Torres saved 28 games for the Brewers last season, and with a $3.75 million team option, most assumed the Brewers would bring him back and he could begin 2009 as the closer.
  • It seems that Trevor Hoffman and the Padres have cut their ties. Early in the offseason, most assumed Hoffman would either re-sign with the team he’s been with for 15 years or retire. Now, it looks as though he’ll be signing elsewhere.
  • The Florida Marlins traded Kevin Gregg to the Chicago Cubs for pitching prospect Jose Ceda. A Gregg trade was expected, but now we know where he’s going and how it affects those involved.
Let’s check out how these moves affect your fantasy plans.

Fallout: Brewers

With Torres gone, the Brewers could go after a free agent closer or trade for one. Doug Melvin, however, recently had this to say: “We’re not going to spend a big chunk of money on a closer. We’ve found closers in the past. You usually don’t find that out until later (in the offseason).”

However, the other guys who were in the mix in 2008 (Eric Gagne, Guillermo Mota and Brian Shouse) are all free agents, leaving us to wonder who will close in 2009. There was a good article at Brew Crew Ball highlighting the candidates.

The three front-runners seem to be David Riske, Seth McClung and Carlos Villanueva. These were the three guys Melvin mentioned: “We’re going to have to retool the bullpen a little bit. We have Riske back, McClung back, unless he goes into a starting role, and then Villanueva. We do have some holes to fill, but we had holes last year to fill, too.” The Gazette also said that “Melvin mentioned hard-throwing right-hander Seth McClung as an internal option to try as closer.”

Let’s take a quick look at these three candidates:

image

None are awe-inspiring, but Villanueva is clearly best (though McClung took a big step forward this year after pitching just 12 innings in 2007 and then coming over from the Rays last offseason). Riske took a nose-dive this year, though his leverage index (1.30) topped Villanueva’s (1.18) and McClung’s (0.61). Riske wouldn’t last long in the role, although Villaneuva probably could survive if given the opportunity.

I’ll go on the record as saying my choice would be a guy we haven’t mentioned yet: Mark DiFelice (9.0 K/9, 1.1 BB/9 in 189 Double- and Triple-A innings). Todd Coffey would be another option. He’s never been great at the major league level, but he has been great in the minors over the past couple of years and induces a lot of ground balls. Joe Bateman also has a very good minor league record and makes for a solid darkhorse candidate.

Another option for the Brewers would be to sign a low-priced free agent, a la Gagne last off-season. Given how many potential closers seem to be available this offseason, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see someone like Hoffman or Brandon Lyon forced to settle for a cheap contract. The Brewers haven’t had problems going with risky or unproven closers in the past, so unless a situation like this occurs, one of the in-house options we discussed figure to begin the year in the role.

Fallout: Padres

Following Hoffman’s departure, the Padres have two real options: acquire a new closer or give the job to Heath Bell. Since money seems to be very tight for the Padres, since Bell is an excellent reliever, and since the Padres surely know this, giving the job to Bell seems the most likely scenario. Adding another quality reliever (and assuming him as a closer) could help the bullpen as a whole and shouldn’t be ruled out, but it’s unlikely the Padres could acquire someone better than Bell for the pennies they’re willing to spend.

Let’s check out Bell’s numbers:

+------+-----+----+------+------+----------+------+-----------+------+------+---------+------+
| YEAR | AGE | G  | IP   | ERA  | LIPS ERA | WHIP | DIPS WHIP | K/9  | BB/9 | K/BB RI | xGB% |
+------+-----+----+------+------+----------+------+-----------+------+------+---------+------+
| 2004 |  26 | 17 | 24.3 | 3.33 |     2.33 | 1.15 |      1.03 | 9.99 | 2.22 |    1.14 |   45 |
| 2005 |  27 | 42 | 46.7 | 5.59 |     3.23 | 1.48 |      1.29 | 8.29 | 2.51 |    0.59 |   48 |
| 2006 |  28 | 22 | 37.0 | 5.11 |     3.83 | 1.68 |      1.35 | 8.51 | 2.68 |    0.64 |   56 |
| 2007 |  29 | 81 | 93.7 | 2.02 |     3.04 | 0.96 |      1.09 | 9.80 | 2.88 |    0.93 |   58 |
| 2008 |  30 | 74 | 78.0 | 3.58 |     3.81 | 1.21 |      1.24 | 8.19 | 3.23 |    0.38 |   46 |
+------+-----+----+------+------+----------+------+-----------+------+------+---------+------+

He had a bit of a down year in 2008, but he has a very good record and would still be plenty good enough to close games even if he puts up the exact same numbers as in 2008. He is 30 years old now (blame a poorly run New York Mets organization for not giving him an opportunity sooner), so big improvements shouldn’t be in order, but Bell looks like a great keeper and an excellent sleeper for 2009.

Fallout: Cubs

Following the acquistion of Gregg, the Cubs announced that they wouldn’t be re-signing Kerry Wood. That leaves the closer’s role vacant, with Gregg and Carlos Marmol as the two options to fill it. Most of the early reports are saying that the Cubs want Marmol to close with Gregg joining guys like Jeff Samardzija, Angel Guzman and Neal Cotts in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings.

Marmol is vastly superior anyway and is the correct choice. Gregg was solid enough in 2007, but he wasn’t nearly closer material in 2008 and should work in a seventh- or eighth-inning role for the Cubs. This trade destroys his value. He could have closed if he had stuck with the Marlins, or he could have closed if he were traded to another team (like the Mets, who might have just dodged a bullet)

Let’s quickly check out Marmol’s numbers:

+------+-----+----+------+------+----------+-------+------+---------+------+-------+------+
| YEAR | AGE | G  | IP   | ERA  | LIPS ERA | K/9   | BB/9 | K/BB RI | xGB% | BABIP | LOB% |
+------+-----+----+------+------+----------+-------+------+---------+------+-------+------+
| 2006 |  23 | 19 | 77.0 | 6.08 |     5.63 | 6.90  | 6.90 |   -0.64 |   28 | 0.270 |   70 |
| 2007 |  24 | 59 | 69.3 | 1.43 |     3.22 | 12.46 | 4.54 |    1.29 |   30 | 0.264 |   91 |
| 2008 |  25 | 82 | 87.3 | 2.68 |     3.18 | 11.75 | 4.23 |    1.10 |   31 | 0.174 |   78 |
+------+-----+----+------+------+----------+-------+------+---------+------+-------+------+

He was awful in 2006 (mostly as a starter), but has been excellent over the past two seasons after converting full-time to a reliever. His strikeout numbers are enormous (big enough to compensate for his below-average control and extreme fly ball tendencies) and he’s entering his prime, so Marmol looks like an excellent fantasy selection next year. Also, while we’re still looking at small samples, his BABIP and LOB percentage have been excellent over the past two seasons. If those turn out to be repeatable, he should easily be able to beat his LIPS ERAs (which are still very good in and of themselves).

He’s received lots of hype in the past, so it’ll be interesting to see where he gets drafted now that the closer’s role seems to be his.

Fallout: Marlins

This one is pretty straightforward. A Gregg trade was expected, and seeing as how the team let Matt Lindstrom close in his absence last year (and even let him continue closing once Gregg returned from the disabled list), he is the obvious favorite heading into 2009. While his ERA was almost identical to 2007, his skills experienced a big-time regression. Take a look:

+------+-----+----+------+------+------+------+---------+------+-------+------+-------+
| YEAR | AGE | G  | IP   | ERA  | K/9  | BB/9 | K/BB RI | xGB% | BABIP | LOB% | HR/FB |
+------+-----+----+------+------+------+------+---------+------+-------+------+-------+
| 2007 |  27 | 71 | 67.0 | 3.09 | 8.33 | 2.96 |    0.52 |   46 | 0.333 |   73 |   2.9 |
| 2008 |  28 | 66 | 57.3 | 3.14 | 6.75 | 4.08 |   -0.17 |   49 | 0.335 |   76 |   2.0 |
+------+-----+----+------+------+------+------+---------+------+-------+------+-------+

Lindstrom had a great rookie campaign in 2007, but he took a big step backward in 2008. The strikeout rate went down and the walk rate went up, resulting in his K/BB Run Impact falling into negative territory. The low HR/FB rates are nice to see, but at just 124.1 innings, it’s far too early to call it a repeatable skill.

He’s the guy to own at the start of the year, and he receives a big value boost from this trade, but unless changes are made, he won’t be able to keep the job all year. If the Marlins realize this, they could sign a cheap veteran (think maybe Rafael Soriano or Jason Isringhausen) to compete with him or as a backup plan.

Jose Ceda goes (the return for Gregg), is a guy scouts really like and who has posted big strikeout numbers but whose control has been lacking. Marlins GM Larry Beinfest said that “Jose is a big, strong kid with a real live arm. We think he can help us in the back end of our bullpen in the very near future, if not right away.” If Lindstrom struggles and Ceda makes strides with his control, he’s a guy to keep an eye on in the second half of 2009.

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