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AL closers: Will Joe Nathan regain old job?

7/12/2011

With the National League closer situations taken care of earlier, let's transition to the other league, where at this point only one of the top seven relief pitchers on the Player Rater reside. And I'm worried about that guy.

Boston Red Sox: Jonathan Papelbon is still a top-10 closer, and Daniel Bard is still his setup man. Papelbon saves 36 games, Bard and Bobby Jenks each save two.

New York Yankees: Nothing is wrong with Mariano Rivera. He'll end up the AL's top closer on the Rater. All-Star David Robertson will get twice as many strikeouts. Own the AL version of Tyler Clippard, as well.

Tampa Bay Rays: Kyle Farnsworth has given no indication of losing this job. He saves 34 games. We'll worry about next year ... next year.

Toronto Blue Jays: I've really tried to avoid this mess. I don't think Frank Francisco is very good, though that's not terribly relevant. Opportunity is more important in this instance. No Blue Jay saves 20 games. It's Francisco 15, Jon Rauch 13 and Octavio Dotel three. You'll wish you had looked elsewhere.

Baltimore Orioles: Kevin Gregg always finds a way. He's averaged 31 saves the past four seasons. He has all 15 of Baltimore's saves. He ends up with 26 of the 29. (I'll give three to Koji Uehara. He probably deserved a lot more.)

Detroit Tigers: Jose Valverde has been perfect so far. I fear he has a bit of Francisco Cordero in him -- that is to say, be prepared for potential ugliness -- but I don't see Joaquin Benoit getting in the way. Valverde saves 40.

Cleveland Indians: Chris Perez is due for a bit of peripheral statistic regression, but he's safe for another 15 saves, for 36 total.

Chicago White Sox: I wouldn't have guessed that Sergio Santos, with his 1.52 WHIP a year ago (ERA was a misleading 2.96), would be this good. The fact is I doubt he keeps his current WHIP at 1.11 for long. Ozzie Guillen seems awfully loyal to me, but I would keep Chris Sale on your watch list in August. Santos saves 32, but Sale sneaks in a few.

Minnesota Twins: The eventual AL Central champs -- yep, I just typed that in! -- have options behind Matt Capps, namely former monster closer Joe Nathan. I think the Twins play well out of the All-Star break, don't sell off parts and Capps keeps the closer role for 15 more saves, 30 total. Add Nathan over Glen Perkins, but don't expect more than a few saves for either. Not this year.

Kansas City Royals: Joakim Soria has righted the ship, so to speak, and while there's rampant trade talk looming around him, I expect him to stick around to save 28 games. If you own Aaron Crow, you might want to look elsewhere. There's regression coming. Frankly, if Soria did get dealt I would go with Louis Coleman.

Texas Rangers: Neftali Feliz scares me. I know how good he has been, for the most part, ranking as the AL's top closer on the Player Rater, but I worry about the swiftly dropping strikeout rate, the rising walk rate -- he's already matched his 2010 total in free passes -- and let's face it, the threat of injury. The usage pattern for Rangers relief pitchers, especially Feliz, is bothersome. The Rangers are desperate for right-handed helpers; watch them trade for a few guys, led by Kerry Wood, and fantasy owners are guessing come late-August. I'll give Feliz 32 saves total, plus a DL stint, while Wood and another addition -- a healthy David Aardsma perhaps, or Rafael Betancourt, Jason Frasor or Jason Isringhausen -- get chances.

Los Angeles Angels: Jordan Walden seems to be thriving, but he could use some right-handed setup help. He gets it when Heath Bell lands here and helps the Angels win the division, but I still think Walden keeps the closer role and saves 35 games. Could both Rookie of the Year awards go to closers? I think they will!

Seattle Mariners: Good for Brandon League. Everyone seemed to write him off when he had that really bad week; he lost four games but he's one save off the AL lead. I think he keeps on trucking for 40 saves, which when you think about it between March expectations (Aardsma's "pending" return) and his mid-May, is quite amazing.

Oakland Athletics: I worry a tad about Andrew Bailey staying healthy, especially if/when the last-place Athletics start playing it safe in September. I'll give Bailey, currently at eight saves, another 12, but at the first sign of elbow soreness treat his situation like it could end his season at any point. That doesn't mean he's bad or brittle but a natural reaction to his team looking at 2012. Right-hander Joey Devine is the backup arm to watch. It would seem very Athletics-like for the team to give him save chances and then sell high in December.

Whew, there it is, all the closer situations broken down. Enjoy the second half!