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Relief update: Rankings, news, sleepers ...

3/29/2010

Toronto Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston could have made things a whole lot easier not just for those who cover his team but also fantasy baseball owners by clearing up his closer situation a month ago. Instead, he waited until Sunday to utter these words: "Jason Frasor was my closer last year, and he hasn't done anything to lose the job." Well, sounds pretty official now. Sorry to bother you, Cito!

Of course, while Frasor might not have done anything to lose the job, closers regularly lose their ninth-inning saves role for reasons less than having to compete with someone like Kevin Gregg. In fact, it was one year ago that the Cubs acquired Gregg, and he did push semi-incumbent closer Carlos Marmol to the set-up role, at least for a few months. Now Gaston is acting like Frasor closing was obvious all along. Well, maybe to him it was. But not to me.

Eric's updated RP ranks

1. Mariano Rivera, Yankees

2. Jonathan Broxton, Dodgers

3. Jonathan Papelbon, Red Sox

4. Joakim Soria, Royals

5. Francisco Rodriguez, Mets

6. Heath Bell, Padres

7. Trevor Hoffman, Brewers

8. Francisco Cordero, Reds

9. Andrew Bailey, Athletics

10. Brian Wilson, Giants

11. Jose Valverde, Tigers

12. Billy Wagner, Braves

13. Bobby Jenks, White Sox

14. Rafael Soriano, Rays

15. Chad Qualls, Diamondbacks

16. Brian Fuentes, Angels

17. David Aardsma, Mariners

18. Carlos Marmol, Cubs

19. Ryan Franklin, Cardinals

20. Frank Francisco, Rangers

21. Mike Gonzalez, Orioles

22. Brad Lidge, Phillies

23. Matt Capps, Nationals

24. Huston Street, Rockies

25. Chris Perez, Indians

26. Jason Frasor, Blue Jays

27. Matt Lindstrom, Astros

28. Leo Nunez, Marlins

29. Octavio Dotel, Pirates

30. Jon Rauch, Twins

31. Franklin Morales, Rockies

32. Ryan Madson, Phillies

33. Brandon Lyon, Astros

34. Kerry Wood, Indians

35. Matt Guerrier, Twins

36. Joba Chamberlain, Yankees

37. Fernando Rodney, Angels

38. Mike Adams, Padres

39. Kevin Gregg, Blue Jays

40. Neftali Feliz, Rangers

With that, I welcome Mr. Frasor to the top 30 of what very well could be my final preseason closer rankings. And below, I discuss the five most compelling bullpens to watch in fantasy baseball this season, including the one north of the border.

Toronto Blue Jays: Frasor led the Blue Jays with 11 saves last season, and if he pitches well enough, there's no reason he can't more than double that mark, at the very least. One might point out that the Blue Jays as a team produced a mere 41 save opportunities last season, easily the lowest in baseball. But that's not really something we can consider a trend; in 2007, for example, no AL team had more save chances. Forget about playing in the mighty AL East or the fact that Roy Halladay was tossing complete games. Frasor will get chances, and there are plenty of reasons to believe he'll pitch well.

So why is this bullpen compelling? For one, Gregg is still there, at least for now. The fact is all these pitchers are, sadly for Blue Jays fans looking to purchase jerseys, temporary. Frasor has been linked this offseason to a few teams, among them Marmol's Cubs, where a reliable set-up man is in demand. Scott Downs also would appear to be available for the taking. Frasor could save 30-plus games ... but he also could end up on a contending team if he pitches too well and the Blue Jays perform as projected, which is not so well.

Minnesota Twins: Gaston apparently knew all along who his closer is, but it's pretty clear Twins manager Ron Gardenhire does not. He knows it won't be Joe Nathan, however. This weekend Gardenhire announced a closer-by-committee system, which frankly rarely works. What ends up happening is someone pitches well enough to usurp the role from the problematic grasp of the other members. This really doesn't help Jon Rauch or Matt Guerrier. It could be Jose Mijares or Jesse Crain as well, and while Gardenhire mentioned only those four pitchers to reporters, the name Pat Neshek was conspicuous by its absence. Neshek leads all the team's relievers in strikeouts, and appears fully recovered from Tommy John surgery.

My guess is Rauch gets the first chance to close if an opportunity presents itself next week. Then again, if the ninth inning features left-handed hitters, it would be Mijares. Gardenhire alluded to the possibility of someone from outside the organization being brought in, but it would be shocking if the San Diego Padres dealt Heath Bell this early in the season. Wait until July. I'll say Rauch leads the Twins in saves, with around 20 or so.

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Cleveland Indians: This bullpen is compelling because Chris Perez can do a better job than Kerry Wood as the closer, and he'll get the chance to immediately. Perez was provided a save chance Friday, and he struck out the side. I think he's going to thrive, and Wood could finish with fewer than 10 saves this season ... even if he's midseason trade bait.

Florida Marlins: This team has had seven closers in the past eight seasons, so those investing in Leo Nunez should be careful. Sure, it might not seem obvious who is next in line to close, but it rarely is. I could see Burke Badenhop being this season's Nunez ... and, with his poor home run rate, Nunez being this season's Gregg.

Chicago White Sox: I think Bobby Jenks is relatively safe as the closer, but since it's manager Ozzie Guillen running the show and he has been known to switch things up on a whim, I could also see Jenks either losing the role or getting traded. This is a notably deep bullpen, with Matt Thornton, J.J. Putz and Scott Linebrink available. I'll say Jenks keeps the job for a while, but Thornton makes my list of top-10 set-up men with saves in their future.

Also watch: Matt Lindstrom will start the year as the Houston Astros' closer, not Brandon Lyon. But who expects that situation to remain fluid? ... I see 35 saves for Francisco Rodriguez, but someone has to step up for the New York Mets in the eighth inning. Current set-up option Jenrry Mejia is only 20 years old! ... I finally ended up with Brad Lidge in an auction over the weekend. Maybe he misses a week or two of April, but I see 30 saves coming from him. ... Watch Mike Adams of the Padres. Hopefully he's still healthy by the time Heath Bell is moved. ... I expect Drew Storen to be the Washington Nationals' closer at some point this season, but it would help Matt Capps and his job security if he has a good April. If he doesn't, Mike MacDougal could bridge that gap.