Rarely do I like to pony up the auction dollars or surrender anything earlier than a 10th round pick on a closer, leaving me scraping the bottom of the barrel (we're talking Brandon Lyon here) for saves. It doesn't always work to perfection, but rolling the dice on a shaky closer or two, grabbing a couple top set-up men, speculating, and paying close attention to each team's bullpen situation has seemed to serve me well over the years.
Who are this year's closer bums and set-up stud? A few I'm keeping an eye on:
Joel Hanrahan (WAS) – Not the sexiest of names certainly, but two things to consider with Hanrahan (actually three) – he'll come cheap, he has zero competition (Steven Shell – seriously? Saul Rivera?), and his strikeout rate is worthy of attention – 9.9 K/9. Yes, we'd like to see a few more ground balls and a few less walks (4.6 BB/9), but don't hesitate to target this former Dodgers top prospect.
Tyler Walker (SEA) – I'll probably make the change from Miguel Batista to Walker in the Closer Grid at some point soon, but the loss of J.J. Putz leaves things up in the air in Seattle. Walker's history (4.52 ERA, 1.43 WHIP) is sketchy at best, but he did strike batters out at a decent clip last season (8.3 K/9) and when your primary competition is Miguel Batista…
Ryan Franklin (STL) – More of a 12-team NL-only speculation here. Franklin's stuff (51:30 K:BB in 78.2 innings) belongs in middle relief, but I'm still not sure Tony La Russa will trust the Jason Motte/Chris Perez due out of the gate.
Huston Street (COL) – Bad park, too many flyballs allowed, down 2008. Sounds like my kind of guy. Street will be competing with Manny Corpas for the Colorado closer job this spring, but as a key guy in the Matt Holliday deal, Street is probably the favorite headed into spring games. Sure, if he were still an Oakland Athletic, Street would be, at best, the third best reliever on that team, but in Colorado, a guy who has shown one-strikeout-per-inning ability and who can keep the ball in the park is a guy with at least a modicum of value.
Edwar Ramirez (NYY) – Monitor the early shoulder bursitis, but one of these days Mariano Rivera has to start a decline, right? Ramirez posted a solid 63:24 K:BB in 55.1 innings for the Yankees last year, and should Rivera suffer a setback in his return from offseason shoulder surgery, Ramirez would seem to be in the mix (along with Damaso Marte) for saves.
Rafael Soriano (ATL) – Just 14 innings last year, but barring another health setback, I can see him taking over for Gonzalez by mid-season, if not sooner.
Jorge Julio (MIL) – Okay, so I'd probably shoot myself if I owned him out of the gate, but his effort in Atlanta (one run in 12.1 innings) shouldn't go unnoticed. For the year, Julio struck out 34 in 30 innings, indicating that maybe there's a little left in the tank. Trevor Hoffman is certainly no guarantee to remain healthy, and the non-Julio set-up options are less-than-enticing.
Jensen Lewis (CLE) – Can Kerry Wood stay healthy in back-to-back years? The Indians' $20 million investment says "yes", but Lewis could be a nice in-season waiver addition. He broke free from the pack in Cleveland last year to convert on 13-of-14 opportunities down the stretch, and at age 24, he's still developing.