Checking out Gagne, 2008 closers

Good for Eric Gagne, I say, in convincing a major league baseball team that he's worth $10 million for a season, but I'm not going to fall for this in fantasy. I don't care how well Gagne throws in March, I'm not buying. He can't stay healthy and effective at the same time. The Brewers were in the midst of a second-half swoon, so they probably didn't notice Gagne would have fit in perfectly with their team, the way he looked in Boston. I'm not particularly intrigued by Derrick Turnbow or David Riske either, but someone has to get the saves. I bet all three of them get some, and as all fantasy baseball owners know, that can't be good.

You should know I'm not the fella who's going to take the first closer in any draft anyway. Won't happen. I won't take the second, third or fourth save guy, either. Nothing against J.J. Putz, Joe Nathan or the other top options, but I feel like I can find saves about 10 rounds later, if not more. I'm saddened that Bob Wickman is no longer an option, but I guess Todd Jones will have to go at it alone for my teams this season, with a few Joe Borowski types sprinkled in. It doesn't just seem like half the closers change every major league season, it's actually true, and that makes it difficult for me to invest a high pick or any serious auction dollars.

Still, even in December, fantasy owners are thinking about the 2008 season, as am I, and where to get saves remains one of the most intriguing topics. Granted, a bunch of these situations can and will change, but let's take a look at the closer situations around the league. Most of them are filled, so we'll group those guys into classes, and examine the open situations.

Best of the best closers: J.J. Putz, Jonathan Papelbon, Francisco Rodriguez, Joe Nathan, Takashi Saito, Mariano Rivera, Billy Wagner, Trevor Hoffman.

Notes: Putz and Papelbon are the top guys on my list, but no matter how good they were and should remain, I can't burn a third- or fourth-round pick on a closer. Look for Saito, Rivera and Hoffman last a bit longer than normal, mainly because of age. Fantasy owners seem to avoid drafting old guys, even when this trio of closers are healthy and safe.

Safe closers for the middle rounds: Jose Valverde, Bobby Jenks, Jason Isringhausen, Francisco Cordero, Rafael Soriano, Manny Corpas, Kevin Gregg, Huston Street, Matt Capps, Chad Cordero, Joakim Soria.

Notes: I'll likely want to secure a closer or two from this group, but not all of them will come cheaper than those in the top class. Valverde, Jenks and new Reds closer Cordero, for example, while terrific in 2007, weren't exactly dominant the year prior. There were many questions. I don't expect a total regression, but some. I'll take Izzy a few rounds later, especially since most fantasy owners still think his hip is a problem. It's not.

The bottom 11, one by one:

Joe Borowski, Indians: Don't look at the 2007 ERA, all that matters are the saves. There are terrific setup men here, led by Rafael Betancourt and newcomer Masahide Kobayashi, but don't assume one of them will pry away the saves.

Todd Jones, Tigers: Amazing how these top AL Central teams will be relying on Borowski and Jones, while the Red Sox and Yankees have better options. I'd think Jones is closer to losing his gig, except there is nobody to take it. If only Joel Zumaya didn't decide to move boxes that fateful day. I'll still predict 30 saves for Jones.

Brad Lidge, Phillies: I think we all agree he needed a new beginning, but certainly we must remain cautious due to his durability, psyche and potential to allow home runs. People hit a lot of them in Philly. I doubt Lidge will fall this far in most drafts, which means I won't be getting him.

Brian Wilson, Giants: I actually think Wilson is one of the big closer sleepers for 2008, but he belongs in this class because it's not a given he will close. He destroyed right-handed batters (.145 batting average) but got lit by lefties, so he'll have to fix that, but in the back of my mind the Giants always seem to be one of those teams that finds some Armando Benitez type rather than promoting from within. Wilson isn't old enough for them.

Eric Gagne, Brewers: This can be viewed in a number of different ways, I admit that. In Texas, while on a one-year deal, Gagne thrived. His ERA was 2.16 and he overpowered hitters. When transferred to an actual pennant race, Gagne flopped. Boston couldn't use him in the playoffs. The pressure won't exactly be at a fever pitch in Milwaukee, but there are way too many red flags for me to trust him as more than a late pick.

Troy Percival, Rays: See Gagne. Really, the guy retired and missed a year and a half, throws a few nice months in St. Louis and now we trust him again? And why does a team like Tampa Bay take a chance like this and give him two years? It's possibly Percy and Gagne remain healthy and pitch well, but when you own them, you'll always have some doubt. In deep AL-only leagues I'll be taking a shot on Al Reyes.

Joaquin Benoit, Rangers: Texas could give Benoit the job, and let lefty C.J. Wilson get some chances as well, or they could go out on the market and get a name guy, some sad case like Octavio Dotel. The Rangers said they were interested in Gagne, which would make me think they're still looking. Benoit did fine, and he's had a few nice seasons in the bullpen. I think he could be fine. If he gets the chance. I doubt Akinori Otsuka is healthy enough to close, or even still on the team in the spring.

B.J. Ryan, Blue Jays: Word is he will be ready for the spring, but I am very skeptical. The problem with drafting Jeremy Accardo as high as his stats would warrant is Ryan is being paid to close, and I doubt this would be like Brian Fuentes in Colorado. Ryan will close when healthy.

Bob Howry, Cubs: Lou Piniella doesn't even want anyone to know what he's thinking. It seems obvious Ryan Dempster will be in the rotation, which I suppose is a good thing for fantasy, so now we only have to watch him mess up our teams every fifth day, but the Cubs have options. Based on the numbers, Carlos Marmol would be the best option. Howry has closing experience. Kerry Wood would really be a great story if he could pitch more than 25 innings. I bet Howry and Marmol split these saves.

Chad Qualls, Astros: By attrition, Qualls would be the new closer if nobody else is acquired. Lidge is gone, Dan Wheeler was sent to Tampa, and the Astros haven't signed another potential closer yet, unless former Blue Jays minor leaguer Ryan Houston counts. I'd think the Astros are still looking, but if you're drafting this month, and I don't know why you would (though I do have a draft next week), Qualls would be your guy.

Jamie Walker, Orioles: I don't really think the lefty Walker is a closer. He's a lefty setup man, one who can get right-handed batters out, but the Orioles, even their current sad state, have to do better. I don't think Chad Bradford is who they want to settle on either. Former Indians fireballer Fernando Cabrera picked up a save in September, but also allowed 14 earned runs in 10 innings. Someone has to be acquired. I'd say the chances of Dotel ending up here are possible, or he could go to a team like the Tigers and Mets and aim for a playoff spot.

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