Posts tagged ‘Heath Bell’

Tuesday: 05.24.2011

Fixing the Contenders – American League

As we near Memorial Day (less than a week away) and turn the calendar to June, we usually see the MLB standings start to stratify a bit with the contenders separating themselves from the rest of the pack.  That may not happen in the 2011 season, at least not for a while.  Right now there are just three teams who are 10+ games out two of which are the Minnesota Twins and Chicago White Sox, a pair of teams many still refuse to bury given the uncertainty of the Cleveland Indians and the expectations on those two teams coming into the season.

The other is the Houston Astros who were out of it before the season started.  Only three other teams are more than five games away from .500 (Padres, Dodgers and Cubs) so there could be a dearth of sellers as trading season in the MLB heats up.  Nobody really thought Seattle was going to be much of anything this year, but alas their rotation is running five deep headlined by two aces (Felix Hernandez & Michael Pineda; Erik Bedard, Jason Vargas & Doug Fister round out an impressive rotation) meanwhile Jamey Wright, David Pauley and Aaron Laffey have been nails out of the pen masking the fact that they still have a completely horrible offense.  The pitching has them just one game below .500 and a game and a half out of the division lead.

Similarly, expected bottom-feeders Arizona (23-23), Pittsburgh (22-24), Kansas City (22-24) and Baltimore (21-24) continue to linger.  While the league lacks a truly great team, there are still a group of contenders to be found within the 30, teams that should be focusing their attention on 2011 and doing what they can, whether internally or through trade, to get those October playoff tickets printed as soon as possible.

Today, I will go through the contenders who are ripe for a trade and identify the potential move(s) they could make.  I have seven teams on the list.  There are eight other contenders who I didn’t feel needed to make a significant trade because they are either getting some significant pieces back from injury and/or have the available talent in their minor leagues to fill their holes.  Or, at least in one case, I simply didn’t see a move to be made.  That doesn’t mean that it is a perfect team, just that their path to improvement is either a minor trade or sticking with what they have already.

Cleveland Indians (30-15)

Team Needs: 3B, SP, RP

Let’s start with the league’s best team record-wise.  Wow, that reads weird when in reference to the 2011 Cleveland Indians, but you can’t deny the fact that they have the best record in the baseball after 45 games.  If this team stays as is, I can’t see them holding on for 162.  I just don’t buy in the pitching outside of Justin Masterson, and he isn’t without his flaws (lefties still destroy him).  I think Masterson can be a solid pitcher, but their “best” pitcher to date, Josh Tomlin, will not hold up at all, in my opinion.  The 1.2 HR/9 will soon bite back in a big way and the 4.5 K/9 is just too low for this kind of success.

Jack Hannahan’s hot start (hitting .284 w/.837 OPS on May 3rd) has bought Lonnie Chisenhall some time to try and iron out his issues against southpaws (.208 in 48 AB), but now Hannahan has returned to Hannahandom (.238, .691) and it is time to give Chisenhall a shot.  It actually works out where they wouldn’t have to throw him in the fire right away against lefties as Hannahan is actually crushing them with a .387 average and 1.135 OPS in 31 at-bats.  They could run a straight platoon and improve their lineup.  Currently rated 4th or better in runs, average, on-base and slugging, the Indians lineup is performing beautifully to date, but you can never have too much offense.

To fix their starting pitching, I think they need to focus on someone who can miss some bats. With Alex White and his team-best 7.8 K/9 headed to the disabled list for up to three months with a finger injury, Masterson is the leader with a 6.7 K/9.  That is barely above the AL average of 6.5 among starters, so they should call up the Astros and inquire about a trade for an arm.

TRADE: Prospects Joe Gardner and Zack Putnam to the Houston Astros for Wandy Rodriguez – A pair of upper minors arms who ranked 9th and 17th in the org. list from Baseball America for the 32-year old lefty.  With two years left on his contract plus a 2014 option, Wandy won’t come cheap, but given his age the Astros should be open to trading him as he won’t be a part of their next great team.  Their minor league system is disgustingly low on talent so it’s time to start replenishing in earnest via trade.

They might still need to shore up the bullpen a little bit, too.  But that may be handled internally with the recent call up of Josh Judy, who struck out 20 in 17 innings at AAA prior to his call up.  Elsewhere, Nick Hagadone, their #10 prospect, has recently hit AAA after striking out 24 in 23 innings at AA and he could be there to shore up the relief corps early in the summer.

Moves:

  1. 3B – Promote Chisenhall up to platoon w/Hannahan
  2. SP – Trade Gardner & Putnam for Rodriguez, W
  3. RP – Judy recently called up; Hagadone en route

New York Yankees (25-21)

Team Need: SP

The Yankees are having the exact issue that everyone thought they would back in Spring Training with C.C. Sabathia as their top starter and a giant question mark after that.  Bartolo Colon has been a godsend with a strong ERA (3.77) and WHIP (1.20) and great skills (8.8 K/9, 3.7 K/BB) backing the rates up, but how long will it last for the 37 year old?  A.J. Burnett and Ivan Nova have been up and down while Freddy Garcia, filling in for Phil Hughes, has been better (3.12 ERA) than his skills suggest as a 34-year old journeyman.

There is nothing at the AAA level that stands to be any better than what they have and Manny Banuelos in AA has gone more than five innings just once in his eight starts so he isn’t the savior that fans want him to be after seeing him excel in Spring Training.  That leaves the trade markets.  And while delusional fans might think Felix Hernandez is available, he’s not.  But they should venture out for a trade.

TRADE: Prospect Adam Warren to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Hiroki Kuroda – The 36-year old veteran is a free agent after this year so despite how well he has pitched since coming over to the States in 2008, he won’t net the Dodgers an overwhelming return of prospects.  That said, Warren was just outside of the top 10 on org. lists and the Yankees system is a deep one so that’s not chopped liver.  He has struggled with his control at AAA (27 K, 24 BB in 45 IP), but he is still just 23 years old and the Yankees have moved him aggressively (just 54 IP in AA).

The Dodgers system has a crap-ton of pitching and while you can never have too much, they might opt for a bat instead and I could see a toolsy, raw bat like Melky Mesa being dealt for Kuroda.  Mesa has 16 extra-base hits out of just 30 (.204 avg in 147 AB), seven stolen bases but also caught seven times and 16 walks aiding a solid 83-point AVG-OBP split, but also 50 strikeouts (34% K rate).  The 24-year old has been much better lately (.290/.372/.507 in May) after a horrid April (.129/.209/.256) which may elevate his trade stock a bit, though front offices focus more on pure talent & projectability than stats when it comes to prospects.

The Yankees might need more than one starting pitcher so they could also be in for someone like Jon Garland, Livan Hernandez, Aaron Harang or Francisco Liriano, too.  Again, they have a remarkably deep system so trading for a second level arm like one of the above (can you believe Liriano is now regarded as a second level arm?!) as well as a bigger impact arm would be doable.

Moves:

  1. SP – Trade Warren or Mesa for Kuroda
  2. SP2 – Trade David Adams for Harang

Detroit Tigers (24-23)

Team Need: RP

Relief pitching was supposed to be a strength of the 2011 Tigers after signing super-setup man Joaquin Benoit and pairing him with Jose Valverde at the back end of the bullpen.  The constant stream of power arms drafted and traded for recently was supposed to fill any gaps from starter to Benoit with guys like Ryan Perry and Daniel Schlereth, specifically.   Al Alburquerque has been a pleasant surprise with a 15.3 K/9 in his 15 innings, but walks have been a problem (11) for the rookie.

Chance Ruffin is doing well in his debut season as a pro, but he is just 22 and in AA, so the chances of him as a savior are slim.  Plus, the bullpen is young enough already.  Charlie Furbush was just called up from AAA and thrown right into the fire on Monday night after a Phil Coke injury in the fourth inning left the Tigers scrambling.  He responded admirably with 3.7 shutout innings striking out three and walking one.

He has been huge strikeout guy as a starter in the minors (9.5 K/9 career, over 10 the last two years) and he has a legitimate shot to keep those kind of rates in short stints out of the pen.  But with no reliever toting a sub-3.00 ERA, the Tigers will need more than one arm to cure those bullpen woes.

Thankfully for the Tigers, relief pitching is usually one of the most plentiful items in the trade market year in and year out.  And oftentimes, it is the cheapest commodity to acquire, too.  The Padres seem like a great trade partner as I count five arms that could (and should) be up for trade ranging from ace closer Heath Bell to the reborn Pat Neshek.

TRADE: Bruce Rondon and a throw in C-rated (or lower) prospect to the San Diego Padres for Mike Adams – Rondon is a 20-year old flamethrowing reliever (14.6 K/9), but control is a big time issue right now (8.6 BB/9).  He is allowing next to nothing when it comes to hits (1.6 H/9), though, so he has a 1.62 ERA and 1.14 WHIP.  Adams is 32 years old and a free agent after this year.  Plus he comes with loads of injury risk having never put together back-to-back full seasons.

As such, I’m not sure the Padres could really ask for too much from a prospective trade partner even given how great he is when he does pitch, especially this year with his otherworldly 10.5 K/BB in 22 innings.  His 8.7 K/9 is pretty good, but it’s the disgusting 0.8 BB/9 that is powering his insane season.

Luke Gregerson is five years younger, but also a free agent after the season.  He might draw a little more in return than Adams, but he hasn’t been the Gregerson from 2009 and 2010 so far this year.  His strikeout rate has seen a precipitous drop from 10.2 to 6.0 and he has become a lot more hittable allowing 10.3 H/9 (after 5.4 last year).

I can’t see the Tigers trading for Bell as the cost would be too much and Valverde isn’t going anywhere while Neshek would be too much of an injury risk having pitched just 34 innings since 2008 including his 12 this year.

Moves:

  1. RP1 – Promoted Furbush
  2. RP2 – Trade Rondon + PTBNL for Adams, M

 

Oakland A’s (22-25)

Team Need: Bats… about nine of them.

I covered the A’s a good bit last week specifically tied to them addressing their need of a bat (or several!) so I won’t do an entire re-hash.  Internally, I think Jemile Weeks should be called up soon because he is healthy for once and hitting really well in AAA while Mark Ellis is not.  Ellis had a stretch where he had multi-hit games in three out of six (10-for-24) and it moved his average up to a blistering .208.  That wouldn’t cut in 1968 much less now (OK, it might cut it in ’68… but it really doesn’t in ’11 even with the down hitting).

If they don’t want to try Weeks out just yet, then they should look to Adrian Cardenas, who continues to hit well having raised his batting average yearly since 2007 up to .357 this year while finally adding some pop, too, with a career high slugging percentage of .478.  He has shown a strong eye at the plate throughout his career as well, especially at the high minors with 136 walks to 150 strikeouts in 306 games at AA and AAA.  One of the two prospects deserves a look to jumpstart their anemic offense if they want to realistically contend this year.  I also think a trade is in order as they match up really well with another team in contention.

TRADE: Andrew Bailey to the Cincinnati Reds for Yonder Alonso – I covered this in great detail in this piece about Bailey a week ago.  Assuming he comes up back healthy and as good as we’ve seen him, this is a great fit for both teams involved.  Alonso doesn’t really have a future in Cincinnati being blocked by Joey Votto, Chris Heisey and Jonny Gomes and the Oakland bullpen is stocked.  Alonso can move directly into Daric Barton’s spot at first or into the outfield which would allow Josh Willingham to take Barton’s place.  Either way, Barton’s vomit-inducing .280 SLG has to get out of the everyday lineup.  They just can’t expect to win with that lack of production at a power position.  Hell, you can’t really take it on at any position, but especially first base.

The A’s could make another move closer to the deadline, but it would hinge on Brandon McCarthy and Tyson Ross coming back from their recent injuries to pitch like they were before getting hurt and recently returned Josh Outman to pick up where he left off in 2009 (which he showed he might do on Monday night with 7 strong innings).  That would give them some rotation depth which they could flip for another bat.

TRADE: McCarthy to the Detroit Tigers for Brennan Boesch – Starting pitching isn’t a primary need for the Tigers, but you really can’t have too much and the back end is tenuous with Phil Coke (who left his last start injured) and Brad Penny, meanwhile their outfield has developed some depth with Casper Wells and Andy Dirks joining the club.  Plus Magglio Ordonez will be back at some point which would give them six outfielders plus Don Kelly for three spots (DH is locked up by Victor Martinez most days).  This one would really be contingent on McCarthy’s health, of course.

Boesch isn’t tearing the cover off of the ball or anything, but David DeJesus has been awful and Boesch has at least shown the capability for some power in his time as a major leaguer.  McCarthy was a million dollar flier for the A’s and netting a 26-year old outfielder with some potential would probably be much more than they truly expected when they took the gamble on the former top prospect pitcher.

Moves:

  1. Bat1 – Trade Bailey for Alonso
  2. Bat2 – Trade McCarthy for Boesch

That covers the American League contenders.   I left out the Rays, Red Sox, Rangers and Angels, all of whom are contenders in my eyes, but don’t have an obvious trade scenario for a high-impact move.  The Rays, Red Sox and Rangers have pretty deep systems to attack needs or can be expected to play better once their current set of 25 begins to meet expectations (Evan Longoria, Dustin Pedroia, Carl Crawford; Josh Hamilton and Nelson Cruz returning from injury).

Meanwhile the Angels don’t have a glaring flaw they can attack via the market.  There aren’t any major first basemen available that would be a huge upgrade over Mark Trumbo.  If Vernon Wells performs anything like expected upon his return from the DL, he will help their power woes and they could shore up their pen via trade, but Scott Downs, Rich Thompson and Jordan Walden give them a solid trio and they can probably manufacture one more reliable arm without having to make a move.

Next up, the National League contenders.

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Monday: 05.23.2011

Sunday Twidbits: May 22nd

Here are this week’s MLB Sunday Twidbits which is something I’ll be doing every Sunday throughout the baseball season.  It’s a simple exercise whereby I tour the league giving a statistical tidbit per team on Twitter feed (@sporer).  Sometimes a team or two will get more than one if I have more than one nugget I really want to share, but every team will be represented at least once.

Cin –  Jay Bruce is 12-for-26 w/3 HR, 6 RBI, 6 R in his last 7; hitting .319 w/7 HR in May. Hope you were patient thru slow April (.237, 4 HR).

Cle –  Asdrubal Cabrera has 200% more HRs (9) than last yr (3); topped last yr’s RBI total (29 in 97 G) w/his 31st in his 44th gm.

Cle2 –  A.Cabrera is the latest member of the Paul Sporer Year Early Team; loved him for a breakout. I’m tellin ya, my ’11 rosters=’12 cheatsheets

Cle3 –  Josh Tomlin has the largest ERA-FIP disparity in MLB. He will implode bc .175 BABIPs & 85% LOB%s don’t last. Trade now… for anything.

NYM –  Carlos Beltran hitting .281/.380/.534 is = or > career #s & on pace for 28-88. Scared of inj? Trade for full value as #s warrant nice return.

NYY –  Brett Gardner was hitting .145 on Apr 28 & popping on wires; hitting .369/.455/.492 w/14 R, 11 RBI, 3 SB and 1 HR since.

NYY2 –  Gardner (cont.) – Cut guys after 62 AB & you deserve to lose… regardless of lg. format.

Hou –  With Astros O exceeding expectations, Michael Bourn‘s value is higher than usual. Elite SBer (59 pace), but also on pace for 100 R.

Tor –  Need Ks but can afford a bit of an ERA hit? Buy Brandon Morrow. He’s -0.10 on ERA, but huge in Ks, espec. if cat. is bunched in your lg.

Tor2 –  Jays getting .186/.242/.291 at 3B w/25th-worst D. Brett Lawrie & his .346/.403/.633 line w/11 HR, 29 XBH & 9 SB CAN’T be far off. Speculate.

TB –  Might consider selling Jeremy Hellickson & his wobbly 3.18 ERA. Built upon sub-2.0 K/BB, .250 BABIP & 6% HR/FB (43% FB); 3.81 FIP = danger.

TB2 –  Hellickson (cont.) – If you’re contending in kpr lg w/cheap Helly, even better to trade bc you could net an absolute mint.

Flo –  Leo Nunez has been arguably baseball’s best closer this yr. in a yr when it’s been espec. rocky. His skills last yr. predicted future success.

Tex –  Elvis Andrus was 32-47 SB last yr. along w/.301 SLG causing some to sour on the 22 y/o SS. He’s 15-15 SB & on pace for 55, 3 < than Hanley.

Phi –  Dom Brown punished AAA SPs going .341/.431/.537 in 11 G. Could be worth spec in offense-starved ’11 despite sub-.200 car. avg (in 66 AB).

Det –  DET bullpen is toting a 6.03 ERA w/only Valverde doing well. Schlereth has 3.00 ERA, but sub-1.0 K/BB & 6.58 FIP. Need Benoit to compete.

Pit –  Andrew McCutchen is hitting .311/.378/.554 in May w/3 HR, 12 RBI, 13 R & 3 SB. Slow April is behind him.

Was –  Jason Marquis has rejoined us on Earth in May w/6.26 ERA; control has left him (3.1 in May; 1.3 in Apr). I never believed, no reason to now.

Bal –  Nick Markakis is hitting .329 in May & .433 in last 7. .278 OBP (B.Roberts-.273) out of leadoff spot has stifled RBI opps during stretch.

Col –  Jhoulys Chacin has carried ’10 skill over (same K/BB), added a ton of GB (47% to 59%) & become COL ace. ERA might tick up a bit from 2.66.

Mil –  Jonathan LuCroy isn’t widely owned at any outlet yet has an .863 OPS w/4 HR & 18 RBI in 100 AB; .320 AVG WILL sink, but pwr worth spec.

LAD –  Don’t let a pair of stars fool you, LA is a must-start against for even your marginal SP. NL’s worst offense in May; 2nd-worst all yr by R.

Chw –  Matt Thornton has allowed 1 ER in 5.3 IP across 6 APP in May. Santos has just 1 meltdown, but mark my words: Thornton will close again in ’11.

StL –  Jaime Garcia‘s emergence & rise of Yadier Molina, Jon Jay & Allen Craig on O has more than made up for Waino loss; resulting in NLC lead.

KC –  May has brought Jeff Francoeur‘s descent into Francoeurdom (.239); though HRs stick & could lead to 6yr high. Has real value in pwr-less 11.

Atl –  Remember when Nate McLouth was “back”? Was hitting .287/.384/.417 thru 5/4. Hitting .143/.226/.196  w/1 HR, 1 RBI & 4 R since.

Atl –  If McLouth has a 30+ G stretch of .287 during the season, no one bats an eye, but to start seas. some think it means more. It doesn’t.

LAA –  Jordan Walden has labored thru May (6.75 ERA in 8 IP) w/3 BSv, but also 3 SV & 9 K. Only lefty Scott Downs has excelled, but unlikely for role.

Oak –  Trevor Cahill has allowed >2 ER just once. K rate has come back down (6.3 K/9 in May), but still capable of big K gm (5-7-1-6)

SF –  Remember worrying about Tim Lincecum? Velo is highest in 3 yrs (93), ERA career best (2.06), allowed 0-1 ER in 6 of 10 GS. Remains elite.

Sea –  After posting an 8.56 ERA in first 3 starts, Erik Bedard has a 1.97 ERA & 0.97 WHIP in last 5 w/7.3 K/9 & 2.4 K/BB. Widely available.

SD –  SD has 4 RP w/21+ IP of 1.16 WHIP or better and 2.6 K/BB or better. Doesn’t incl. Bell & Gregerson. Expect major activity at trade deadline.

Min –  Jason Kubel is the only Twins player with 50+ AB w/an OPS over .708 which also means he’s the only one w/an OPS higher than Joey Bats’ SLG!

Ari –  Ryan Roberts is on pace for 25 HR, 21 SB, 81 R and 74 RBI yet still not fully owned. Check your wire. Better than 1.0 K/BB is impressive, too.

Chc –  Matt Garza has used massive K & GB surges (11 K/9, 48% FB-both car. highs) to post solid 3.72 ERA, but HR correction (2.4 HR/FB%) will sting.

Chc2 –  Garza has a sky-high BABIP (.362) bc of terrible IF defense, but regression of BABIP & LOB% will only balance HR/FB at best. Hold, don’t buy

Chc3 –  After another big April, Kosuke Fukudome doing his usual slide back. .226 in May with 1 (!!!) RBI. He had 2 in April. That’s hard to do.

Bos –  Some people hate owning DH/U-only guys so David Ortiz & his 32 HR pace (& .294 AVG) could be had at a nice price. Inquire.

Thursday: 03.17.2011

2011 Closer Tiers

Here’s a look at my 2011 closer rankings.  I’m going to do my Middle Reliever article soon so the top 7th and 8th inning guys will get their coverage there.  I mentioned a few in here, but none of them are ranked unless they are in a committee to close.

Stat consideration in order of importance: Strikeouts, Saves, ERA, WHIP.  I would take a few less saves for a ridiculous strikeout rate.  Closers can impact ERA a decent bit (at the truly elite levels), but their WHIP impact is often insignificant (even at its worst, more on that later).

Tier 1

Joakim Soria – He has an incredibly rock solid skills profile over the past four seasons and yet he is still just 27 years old.  His inferior team hasn’t prevent him from two 40+ save seasons and in non-40 save season he struck out 69 in 53 innings (he wasn’t the full time closer in the first of his four seasons).

Carlos Marmol – Too many outlets greatly overrate the impact of a reliever’s WHIP (and ERA for that matter) on your team’s bottom line.  Take Marmol’s awful 1.46 WHIP in 2009 and add it to a standard team with 1250-1300 innings and it increases the WHIP by 0.01.  You can’t tell me that his otherworldly strikeout rates for a reliever don’t more than cancel out that negligible impact.

Heath Bell – Similar to Wilson, he’s on a team that can win, but when they do it’s close because they aren’t powered by offense.  This has led to 42 and 47 save seasons the last two years for Bell.  He’s also notching better than 10 strikeouts per nine with elite ERA and WHIP totals to boot.

Neftali Feliz – After a back-n-forth Spring Training and rampant speculation about whether or not he was going to start or close, he has finally been locked down as the closer again.  He was brilliant last year and I expect no different in 2011.  He has devastating starter’s stuff which plays pretty well in one-inning bursts.  Remember that with the tiers, I see everyone within a tier relatively similarly.  So if you wanted to take Feliz first in an AL-Only (or mixed for that matter), I support that.  I ranked them how I prefer them, but there’s little difference one to the next.

Mariano Rivera – He’s a freak, even at 41. The Ks dropped last year (6.8 K/9), but ratios remained absurd and I’m not betting against him.  K rate dropped to 6.6 in 2006 and then he reeled off three straight seasons above 9.0 at ages 37 through 39, so don’t let the 41 years make you believe he can’t bounce right back again.  He almost deserves his own second tier because there is a little risk with anyone his age, but I’ll give him the T1 respect.

Tier 2

Brian Wilson – He’s just on another level right now delivering near-Marmolian strikeout rates (10.3, 11.2 last two years) with great ratios and high save counts (on a team that wins, but not with offense meaning more close games).  Update: Injuries move him down, but still worth drafting pretty high.

J.J. Putz – Last year Putz looked a lot like the guy who notched 36 and 40 save seasons back in 2006 and 2007.  Once an elite closer, Putz quickly earned a closer’s role this offseason and there is no reason to believe he won’t once again become a big time stopper.  He’s being a little overlooked so far this draft season.  If you want to skip the first wave, jump on Putz a few rounds after.

Matt Thornton – Rightfully given the job to start the season, Thornton has been an elite reliever for three years now though many might not realize it as he has just 13 saves in that time.  Posted a ridiculous 12.0 strikeout rate last year, but even if he’s “only” at the 10.6 he averaged the two years before, he is still an excellent investment.

Jonathan Papelbon – For all his issues (ascending walk rate, ERA and WHIP; dropping save totals), his strikeout rate is actually ticking up yearly since 2008 (10.0, 10.1, 10.2) and at 29, he’s still well within in his prime.  As annoying as Papelbon can be personally, he could be an undervalued fantasy asset this year as his demise is being overrated.

Francisco Rodriguez – We are seeing a lot risk in this tier which says a lot about the state of closers in the 2011 preseason.  K-Rod is no different, but it’s hard to deny the talent.  The main concern is that if the Mets don’t trade him, they might game his playing time to avoid a vesting option for 2012 (needs to finish 55+ games).

Tier 3

Jonathan Broxton – He is inexplicably being written off for three bad months.  He was brilliant through June 26th with a sub-1.00 ERA and 48 Ks in 33 innings.  The wheels came off the next day with a 4-run outing and he was never the same the rest of the year.  No way I’m going to write off a 27-year old with as much talent as Broxton just yet.

Jose Valverde – An up and down season in 2010 that was essentially four great months and two horrible ones.  Elbow soreness likely caused some of the issues that led to 8.25 and 7.00 ERAs in July and August, but he bounced back with eight strong innings in September.  He looks good so far in Spring Training so I’d be comfortable investing in a standard Valverdian season.

Andrew Bailey – He might have crept into Tier 1 if it weren’t for the major injury scare a few days ago during a spring outing.  We are being told he’s fine for now and doesn’t need surgery, but the uncertainty of his elbow plus his injury track record make him a frightening investment.  Handcuff Brian Fuentes here.

Joe Nathan – He might ease into the role for a few weeks in April, but I think he will be the full-time closer no later than May given health.  Like Putz, I think we’ll see a quick return to form and Nathan will once again be a reliable premier asset.

Chris Perez – He came into his own last year and started paying dividends on his top 100 prospect status from 2008 (97) and 2009 (91).  Control is the missing element in his game to this point (4.3 BB/9 in 162 career IP), but at 25 years old there is still plenty of time.  His stuff is undeniable and he should feel secure in the job.  You should feel secure when investing.

Tier 4

Huston Street – The skills are there, always have been, but it’s hard to rely on him being there for you all season.  That lack of consistent health is why he has just two 35+ save seasons in his six years in the majors.  Each of the other four has yielded 23 or fewer.

John Axford – Burst onto the scene last year for a huge rookie season taking over for Trevor Hoffman with nearly 12 strikeouts per game and 24 saves in 27 chances.  His control needs work (4.2 BB/9), but that and a deep track record are the only missing ingredients for an elite closer.

Joel Hanrahan – You may be shocked to learn that Hanrahan has improved his strikeout rate each of his four seasons in the big leagues and had a career-best 3.4 BB/9 last year.  He’s been given the job for now, but Evan Meek looms if he fails.  The skills are there, but does he have the fortitude to closer?  I’d bet yes.

Leo Nunez – He had a career year in his first as the full-time closer which is enticing, but can it last?  He makes a strong secondary or tertiary closer on a team with a T1 in mixed leagues.  I also like him as a cheap option in an NL-Only if you don’t like investing a ton in saves.  I like him a lot more than most and I think he’s being a bit underrated.

Tier 5

Brad Lidge – A sore biceps tendon has caused a preseason scare, but Lidge asserts it’s something he has dealt with before and writes it off as no big deal.  Even still, he’s far from “Lights Out” these days despite the still impressive strikeout totals.  Tread cautiously. Update: Injuries also move him down as he’s now set to start the season on the DL.

Frank Francisco – He’s closed before and posted 3.2 K/BB rates or better each of the last three years, but a sore pectoral has cast some doubt over him, especially in light the depth of competition in Toronto.  If healthy, he could be a cheaper option that pans out very nicely.

Francisco Cordero – His eroding skillset belies the gaudy save totals (79 the last two years) as his strikeout rate has dropped in each of the last three seasons coming in below 8.0 each of the last two seasons.  Mix that in with his age (36) and legitimate competition behind him (Aroldis Chapman and Nick Masset) and Cordero becomes a risky proposition.

Craig Kimbrel/Jonny Venters – Listing them together because they are set to share the job for now.  I think one will emerge, but who knows who?  Venters was brilliant in 83 innings so it seems like he’d be more reliable, but Kimbrel really impressed with 40 strikeouts in 21 innings.  I wouldn’t be afraid to invest in either or both if the prices weren’t out of whack.  They only rate this low because saves are the guiding factor of these tiers.  From a pure skills standpoint, both can be elite relievers.

Kevin Gregg – Middling skills combined with legitimate competition on hand (namely Koji Uehara) make Gregg a risky option.  Throw in a mediocre at best team in the league’s toughest division and this could get ugly.  That said, he held on for 37 saves in the same division last year.

Ryan Franklin – Regression popped his ERA last year, but he tightened up the control a lot yielding an even better WHIP than 2009.  Still, I don’t like closers with lame strikeout rates especially if I can’t count on excellent ERA and WHIP.

Tier 6

Alexei Ogando – My main concern is that Ron Washington seems to lack much confidence in him and this whole Neftali Feliz melodrama might not be over yet, either.  Buying Ogando while things remain pretty uncertain could represent a nice bargain as I think he is the clear choice behind Feliz if he does end up a starter (which he should if Texas is smart… and they generally are…)

Jake McGee/Kyle Farnsworth – Manager Joe Maddon is firm on going with a committee marginalizing the value of both of these guys, who would otherwise be pretty valuable if they were the lone closer.  Their skills and team situation is better some of the other committees found in T6 so they still rate above them even as a tandem.

Fernando Rodney – I can’t envision a scenario where he keeps the job all year long.  Any one of Jordan Walden, Kevin Jepsen or Scott Downs would be better options.  Of course, they will probably get their shot in reverse order of how I listed them.  Downs is on the DL right now, but Rodney should at least hold it through April.

Brandon League/David Aardsma – League is a placeholder until Aardsma is healthy after having hip surgery in January.  I loved League heading into last year after his 2009 season, but he pretty much flopped and made his 2009 skills (9.2 K/9, 3.6 K/BB) look like an outlier.  Don’t buy both.  If you buy one, it should only be as a third option regardless of league format.

Drew Storen – A rough spring is putting his grasp on the job in serious doubt as manager Jim Riggleman obviously doesn’t realize how worthless Spring Training numbers are in the grand scheme.  Add in the myriad of options (none particularly good) behind Storen and he becomes a serious risk.

Brandon Lyon – A lesser version of Ryan Franklin on a much lesser team.  Wilton Lopez lingers, too, but I’m not sold he keeps the 0.7 BB/9 he displayed in 67 innings last year.