- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
Big league managers don't always make what others perceive as the best choices when deciding who should and who should not be the designated closer for their teams. In fact, one might argue, when faced with a less-than-obvious choice, they seem to rarely do so. But those decisions are pretty important and dictate fantasy value. For example, did I particularly want to recommend and own Detroit Tigers right-hander Jose Valverde? Absolutely not! But he's the one getting closing opportunities, and so far, so good, he types with fingers crossed. Now here come the Arizona Diamondbacks with an injured J.J. Putz and does manager Kirk Gibson choose the perfectly reasonable setup man with strong numbers the past few seasons?
Well, his words suggested he didn't make a decision at all, but his actions clearly went with right-hander Heath Bell. Fantasy owners -- and Diamondbacks fans! -- might not like it, but Bell is the one to own.
Most people will simply assume that Bell, who hasn't been very good since 2011, and even then his numbers were misleading, will cough up the job and the deserving setup man David Hernandez will swoop in and save many, many games. Sorry, but I'm not buying that. As noted myriad times with Valverde, Bell doesn't need to be particularly good to keep the job. Gibson clearly wants the experienced closer, for better or worse. I don't expect Bell to pitch well, but let's be fair on a few things. Last year is over, when his ERA ended up over 5, and this year he has struck out 20 hitters in 14 1/3 innings and walked only three, and two of them came in one game. Don't get me wrong: Lefty hitters are going to torch Bell (.409/.458/.727 line), and he wouldn't even make the bullpen of perhaps a third of the big league teams, but he's closing, and we have to deal with it.
It hasn't helped that Hernandez has been less than perfect this season, but I wonder if it even matters. Managers don't have to choose the superior relief pitcher. We talk about the Los Angeles Dodgers and their arrangement constantly. Who would say Brandon League is better than Kenley Jansen? I can't make the case. But Wednesday night Jansen was pitching in the eighth inning of a tied game, allowing a Paul Goldschmidt home run and that led to Bell saving his third game of the season, second in as many nights. Say it out loud and it seems ridiculous: Heath Bell is a closer in the major leagues again. Kenley Jansen is not.
Fantasy owners should add Bell, keep Hernandez in mind for when he struggles and part with Putz, who may need surgery that could very well end his days as a closer. Those asking for Gibson to give lefty Matt Reynolds closing chances aren't paying attention. He won't. It's Bell until it turns into a Carlos Marmol-type deal, and then Hernandez should get a chance. But I doubt it happens in the next week or two. All the Bell issues from his Miami Marlins season of 2012, when right-handed batters hit .317 off him with 17 of the 44 hits going for extra-base hits, all the walks against lefties, they're relevant, but not really. Closing is about opportunity, and half these guys fake it anyway.
Here is what else is happening in the maddening world of closers:
• Dodgers manager Don Mattingly suggested earlier this week that he's contemplating a change to Jansen, but I doubt Wednesday's outing helps. League has blown only one save this season, though he's not overpowering anyone. I still think he leads the Dodgers in saves.
• Atlanta Braves stalwart Craig Kimbrel has had his own hiccups recently, blowing three of his past five save opportunities. In that five-outing span he's allowed eight hits in 4 2/3 innings, three runs on three home runs. His stuff is still there, but I've seen the home runs and it looks like location is the problem. His command is excellent. I wouldn't worry here, but any shot right-hander Jordan Walden had of being next in line is probably gone now with his recent woes. Eric O'Flaherty has never saved a game, but he'd be next.
• The Boston Red Sox lost a pair of closers Monday in Andrew Bailey and Joel Hanrahan. Armed with a pair of excellent setup men in Koji Uehara and Junichi Tazawa, manager John Farrell wasted little time in making the surprise choice, the more unheralded and inexperienced Tazawa. Time will tell if it works or if Farrell flip-flops like many managers. Tazawa is younger than Uehara and possesses strikeout potential and groundball tendencies, but as soon as either Bailey or Hanrahan returns -- who knows when that happens -- the experienced options will likely supplant him. I still predict Bailey, even if another DL stint lurks later in the summer, leads the Sox in saves, so I'd hold him over Hanrahan.
• Chicago Cubs manager Dale Sveum has been using Kevin Gregg to close for two weeks, so why he felt the need to make an official proclamation this week is unknown. Gregg is like Heath Bell. He was awful last season and it's doubtful he'll suddenly thrive, but for now he needs to be owned in all leagues. He still hasn't allowed a run. I wouldn't bother holding onto Carlos Marmol or Kyuji Fujikawa at this point in 10-team formats.
• The best 1-2 relief combination in baseball might be with the Pittsburgh Pirates, as Jason Grilli (league-leading 13 saves) and Mark Melancon (league-leading 12 holds) have combined to allow only two earned runs in 31 innings, while striking out 40. Impressive. If Grilli falters, there's no question who is next in line here.
Eric Karabell has the latest news on closers, including Heath Bell taking over in Arizona with J.J. Putz on the disabled list.