Team-by-team closer breakdown
Tristan H. Cockcroft [ARCHIVE]
ESPN.com
April 12, 2012
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"Stealth" and "Looming" categories all season, if only for a lack of viable alternatives.

New York Mets

The Mets signed the 2011 Toronto Blue Jays closers to serve as the same for them in 2012, and thus far, they've remained true to that plan: Frank Francisco is the closer, Jon Rauch as his primary setup man. Francisco is fine -- health is a more significant question than skill -- but Rauch might face competition for his role in time. Ramon Ramirez, Bobby Parnell and Miguel Batista could each figure into the late-inning mix, and if it happens before Francisco gets hurt, NL-only owners might find a sneaky value. This is a bullpen to track but not to act upon today.

New York Yankees

It's as cut-and-dry as they come: First-ballot Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera is the closer, David Robertson is his primary setup man, Rafael Soriano gets the seventh inning. Maybe Joba Chamberlain will join the mix in 2013, if he's healthy.

Oakland Athletics

Although Grant Balfour's spring -- 6.75 ERA, 1.95 WHIP, .346 batting average allowed in seven appearances -- made it a somewhat surprising decision, the right-hander was tabbed the closer at the Cactus League's conclusion, and he has thrived in his new role since. It was the right decision, considering his performance the past two seasons, and if he continues to perform at his current level, this might be a bullpen in which there is no debate. But let's debate the contenders for future shots in this role anyway: Brian Fuentes has the experience to build a case, Ryan Cook appears to be one of the team's more highly regarded relievers and Fautino De Los Santos probably remains the long-term future for the team.

Philadelphia Phillies

Jonathan Papelbon is paid to close, while Antonio Bastardo, thanks to his breakout 2011, is locked in as Papelbon's primary setup man. Perhaps Michael Stutes could put himself into consideration for the No. 2 role with a hot start to the season, and Justin De Fratus could be a long-term candidate to close. Neither of the latter two seems especially likely to sniff a save chance this season, though. After all, Chad Qualls remains firmly in their way.

Pittsburgh Pirates

It's closer Joel Hanrahan, then a lot of question marks. This is not the bullpen from which to handcuff; Chris Resop is a productive enough setup man, but he has an injury history that makes him a risky stash. Jason Grilli has sleeper potential working the seventh but more so as an ERA/WHIP helper in NL-only leagues.

St. Louis Cardinals

Just as he was during the 2011 postseason, Jason Motte has been fine as the Cardinals' unquestioned closer, his job security greater than most might give him credit. Primary setup man Fernando Salas is off to a rockier start, besides, though he remains the most likely fill-in if one is needed.

San Diego Padres

Huston Street is the closer, but the talk of the Padres' bullpen has been winter acquisition Andrew Cashner, who has all the makings of Street's eventual replacement. Cashner has averaged 98.5 mph with his fastball and has appeared in the eighth inning or later in all three of his games, not allowing a run in any. He's already shaping up as the next in line to Street, who in addition to being an injury risk is a midseason trade candidate, leaving Luke Gregerson and Ernesto Frieri to battle for the honor of seventh-inning reliever.

San Francisco Giants

Brian Wilson, for so long as he remains healthy, is the Giants' unquestioned closer. But who might fill in should the right-hander get hurt? Santiago Casilla and Sergio Romo have pitched the best thus far, albeit in limited action, while Jeremy Affeldt has struggled in his three appearances. It'll be quite a debate as to whether Casilla or Romo should get the gig in the event of a Wilson injury; I remain firm in my assessment that Casilla is a stronger choice, even if it's close. If there's any bullpen critical to track in the early weeks, this is it.

Seattle Mariners

While Brandon League faces no immediate challenge to his closership, the pecking order behind him in the Mariners' bullpen might be relevant in AL-only leagues if he gets hurt at some point. Tom Wilhelmsen appears to have grabbed the primary setup role, making four appearances with a 1.59 ERA already, with Steve Delabar looking like the primary seventh-inning option.

Tampa Bay Rays

As unbelievable as it sounds, Fernando Rodney -- yes, that Fernando Rodney -- appears to have stepped up as the Rays' fill-in closer, at least for the projected four to six weeks that Kyle Farnsworth (elbow) is expected to miss. Rodney has been a volatile finisher in his career, but he has faced eight batters so far this season, retired all eight and totaled three saves and one win in the process. The Rays seem to have a magical touch with relievers -- Farnsworth before Rodney another example of that -- so maybe there's something to this Rodney thing. Pick him up but brace for a potential implosion and prepare to shed him immediately in the event it happens.

As for who might fill in should it happen, Joel Peralta possesses the skills to close, and Jake McGee has been discussed as a future closer candidate. Peralta is the smartest choice, but then wasn't he in the first place when Farnsworth got hurt? That he's not closing today has me somewhat skeptical.

Texas Rangers

Although Joe Nathan was signed to close for the Rangers this season, he has struggled in two of his four appearances thus far and might go under the microscope in the near future. The team has plenty of viable alternatives: Mike Adams, one of the most effective relievers in baseball the past three seasons; Alexi Ogando, the former starter who has dominant short-relief stuff; and Koji Uehara, once briefly a Baltimore Orioles closer. Adams is the A-No. 1 choice to take over if Nathan continues to falter, and even in a setup capacity Adams has the skills to contribute in ERA/WHIP in mixed leagues.

Toronto Blue Jays

Sergio Santos might already have two blown saves in three tries, but credit the Blue Jays for remaining faithful with him, giving him a chance to close on Wednesday, an opportunity he successfully converted. Veteran Francisco Cordero, Santos' primary setup man, has considerable closer experience, so fantasy owners might expect Cordero to get a look should Santos continue to struggle. The situation bears watching, but clearly Santos has a lengthier leash than most expected; he might have to blow another 2-3 chances in the near future to face a challenge from Cordero. Still, it's smart to handcuff these two if you have the opportunity.

Washington Nationals

It is impossible to glean anything from the Nationals' first week of game action, because their save chances have been sporadic. From that angle, it's smart...
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