Death Taxes and Closer Turnover: This Could Get Messy

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On draft day 2010, the closer ranks were as thin as they had been in years.  Joe Nathan went down early making matters even worse.  Kerry Wood, fresh off of a sub par season, started the season on the DL and Houston Street has been moving along at a snails pace, recovering from a shoulder strain. 
 
Then you have the Ryan Franklin’s of the world who owners just don’t trust. 
 
Already this season we’ve seen closers blow saves like they were going out of style.  Jonathan Papelbon, Joakim Soria, Jose Valverde, Frank Francisco, Jason Frasor, Rafael Soriano, Mike Gonzalez (twice!), etc. 
 
If you enjoy chasing saves (and pain) then you may be having a little bit more fun this season because things could be getting very messy very quickly.
 

In Texas, the Rangers have a shut-down bullpen arm that throws 98-100 mph.  The problem is that he doesn’t pitch in the ninth…yet.

 
Frank Francisco blew his first save chance of the season allowing a game tying home run to Vernon Wells followed by a Lyle Overbay triple, an Edwin Encarnacion sac-fly, an Alex Gonzalez double, a John Buck walk, then a Mike McCoy RBI single.  That was it for Francisco.
 
Francisco has been a fairly good reliever over the past two seasons, but he did miss some time last year with bicep tendinitis.  While he has only thrown 1.2 innings this season, one negative that stands out is Francisco’s lack of velocity.  Last season Francisco had an average fastball of 93.5 mph, which would go above 95 mph at times.  So far this season his average fastball is sitting at about 91 mph and he hasn’t touched 95 (velocity chart).  This is something to keep your eyes on in his next few outings. 
 
One thing is for sure.  If Neftali Feliz continues to blow hitters away and Francisco struggles, there could be closer turnover in Texas sooner rather than later because this team is expecting big things in 2010.  I’m make my move on Feliz now.
 
In Baltimore things may be even worse.  This offseason the Orioles signed Braves semi-closer Mike Gonzalez to take over their ninth inning duties.  In his first game with his new team he blew the save allowing a single, a double, an intentional walk and a game winning single.  Then, in the Orioles home opener, Gonzalez came in to save the game.  he walked the leadoff hitter, Edwin Encarnacuion, who advanced to second on a wild pitch, then allowed an RBI double to left-handed hitting Travis Snider.  A sac-bunt and a sac-fly later, Gonzalez had given up the lead and consequently the game.
 
The name Jim Johnson is already being whispered and picked up in fantasy leagues across the globe.  However, let’s remember that Johnson himself is no shut-down bullpen arm.  Last season Johnson posted a 4.11 ERA (4.30 FIP, 4.10 xFIP), 1.37 WHIP, 73 hits in 70 innings and only 6.3 K/9. 
 
For now it seems that the Orioles don’t really have a great option to replace their $6M closer, who is also signed through 2011.  Pick up Johnson just in case, if you have the roster space, but don’t go out of your way to get him just yet.
 
When Jason Frasor was named the Blue Jays closer this spring many wondered what Kevin Gregg’s role would be, as he was supposedly signed to close.  After Frasor’s first outing, a blown save, many wondered if he had already blown his opportunity.  Alas, Frasor kept his job and nailed down a save two days later, followed by another save the day after that.
 
However, after two straight saves, it wasn’t Frasor who got the ninth inning call on Friday, but rather Kevin Gregg.  Gregg nailed down the save, but rest assure that Frasor will keep his job.  Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston was going to give Frason the day off no matter what after working him in three straight ballgames. 
 
Though Kevin Gregg got the save in Frasor’s place, Gaston said that Scott Downs would also be used on Frasor’s off days based on matchups. 
 
These are just a few examples of potential closer turnover in 2010.  Things aren’t looking good early so check back here for more DT/CT all season long.