2011 Keeper Rankings: Closers

Is there any position worse to try and project 2-5 years down the road?
 

Death, taxes and closer turnover. It’s inevitable. Every single season top-end closers fall (Jonathan Broxton) while mid-tier and end-game closers emerge as extremely valuable assets (Carlos Marmol and Rafael Soriano). There are very few Mariano Rivera’s in the baseball world, so take this list for what it is. Job opportunity/security weighs extremely heavily in the 2011 closer keeper rankings.

Note: These are not positional rankings for 2011 and do not consider players with no major league experience (there are plenty of sources of prospect rankings for that). These players should help fantasy teams in 2011 as well as the foreseeable future. The number next to the player’s name represents his age on opening day 2011.

 
*Indicates there are notes on that player. If there are any players not commented on that you would like clarification on, feel free to leave a comment and I’ll answer the best I can.
 
The No-Doubts
Brian Wilson
Joakim Soria
Mariano Rivera*
Neftali Feliz*
Heath Bell
Carlos Marmol
Joe Nathan*
Jonathan Papelbon
 
Mariano Rivera is getting up there in age, but he’s too good not to be considered a top keeper over the next couple of seasons.
 
There are some rumblings that the Rangers will look at Neftali Feliz as a starter, which would hurt his fantasy value in my opinion. I’m just not sure his walk rate would transfer and his fly ball rate over more innings concerns me as well.
 
Joe Nathan is 36 years old so regardless of the arm injury, which just about all pitchers recover fully from, his fantasy keeper value is just outside the elite.
 
The Maybes
Craig Kimbrel*
Jonathan Broxton*
Francisco Rodriguez
Jose Valverde
Chris Perez
Brad Lidge
Houston Street
Drew Storen
John Axford
 
No matter what happens to start the 2011 season, I believe that Craig Kimbrel will be the long-term closer for the Braves.
 
If Jonathan Broxton’s velocity is still down this spring, I’ll have to take a look at dropping him in the rankings a little.
 
Deeper Keeper Considerations
Chris Sale/Matt Thornton*
Joel Hanrahan/Evan Meek*
J.J. Putz
David Aardsma/Brandon League
Kevin Gregg
Frank Francisco
Francisco Cordero
Brandon Lyon
Leo Nunez
 
Given Chris Sale’s crazy arm action, I believe his long-term value (health) is better served in the bullpen, where he could be a shut-down closer. White Sox pitching coach, Don Cooper, was outspoken about Stephen Strasbug’s mechanics last season, so it will be interesting to see his take on Sale this spring. Matt Thornton has closer’s stuff, but my gut feeling is that Ozzie Guillen prefers to use him in earlier, high-leverage, game situations, rather than save him for the ninth.
 
My money is on Joel Hanrahan getting the most saves in Pittsburgh this season. Hanrahan has far better strikeout potential than Evan Meek and Meek benefited from an extremely low .224 BABIP against last season. If Hanrahan can continue with the improved control he showed in 2010, he could be a long-term solution at closer for the Pirates.
Could be closing in the future
Daniel Bard*
Rafael Soriano*
Joaquin Benoit*
Jason Motte
Jordan Walden*
Jake McGee*
Bobby Parnell
Dan Cortez*
Sam Demel
 
Daniel Bard has the stuff to close, no doubt, but don’t discount the fact that Bobby Jenks will be around in 2012 as well.
 
Rafael Soriano can opt-out of his new contract after each of his first two years.
 
If Joaquin Benoit can continue to stay healthy, he’s a good bet to take over should Jose Valverde leave via free agency (The Tigers have a $9M club option).
 
It was only 15.1 major league innings, but Jordan Walden’s average fastball was 98.8 MPH. The swing-and-miss stuff is there and he has found more consistency since being converted to a reliever and using only his fastball/slider combo.
 
Jake McGee has very good strikeout numbers as a starter in the minors, so there is a good chance he can hold above average strikeout numbers as a reliever in the majors. As of now, he’s a sleeper candidate for saves in Tampa Bay.
 
Dan Cortez has top-end stuff, but has struggled with command and control both on the field and off. In the bullpen, he could be a shut-down reliever, but he’ll have to keep his mental game just as sharp as his slider.

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