Closer Chronicle: Week 2

Can I have a redo? The closer landscape was turned upside down in Week 1, with several closers losing their jobs – and some without even throwing a single pitch. Brewers manager Ron Roenicke wins the tightest-lips award after surprising everyone and naming Francisco Rodriguez the closer over incumbent Jim Henderson. White Sox manager Robin Ventura revealed his closer plans, too, declaring veteran Matt Lindstrom the closer over Nate Jones, who was placed on the disabled list later in the week. The infirmary also took the Mets’ Bobby Parnell, who could miss the entire 2014 season with Tommy John surgery. Three closer changes would represent an improvement from Week 1. Fingers crossed.

Tier 1

Craig Kimbrel, Braves
Kenley Jansen, Dodgers
Greg Holland, Royals

No changes at the top. Kimbrel started the year with a “Kimbrel” – that’s three up, three down via three strikeouts. With so much closer turmoil during the first week, Kimbrel being Kimbrel is something we’ve come to expect and should continue to expect from the Braves closer going forward. He almost belongs in a tier of his own. Jansen has issued a free pass in three out of four appearances, but it’s too early to panic. He’s right there with Kimbrel. Holland has three scoreless appearances, including two games with two strikeouts. He’s the best in the AL in my book.

Tier 2

Trevor Rosenthal, Cardinals
Koji Uehara, Red Sox
David Robertson, Yankees
Jason Grilli, Pirates
Glen Perkins, Twins
Joe Nathan, Tigers

Rosenthal looks like the real deal. He could easily finish the year with a double-digit strikeout rate and 35-plus saves for the Cardinals. Uehara has a negative FIP, so I probably look foolish for keeping him in Tier 2, but I still have reservations about him finishing a full season after logging 88 innings – including the postseason – a year ago. And although these are weekly rankings, part of my job here is to predict future performance, however difficult that may be. I obviously still like Uehara. Robertson looks comfortable in the ninth inning post Mariano Rivera; he has two saves already, although the strikeouts haven’t been there. Grilli and Perkins each have a blown save; they combined for six blown saves in 2013. Both should be fine. Nathan has been shaky and his velocity is down. The good news for his owners: Detroit’s bullpen is bad (like really bad), and no one is taking the job from him anytime soon. That being said, I don’t see Nathan being an elite option any longer – and he was probably drafted as one.

Tier 3

Addison Reed, Diamondbacks
Sergio Romo, Giants
Grant Balfour, Rays
Ernesto Frieri, Angels
Steve Cishek, Marlins
↓ Jim Johnson, Athletics

Reed didn’t have the greatest opening series in Australia, but he came back and saved his first one with the new team. You have to take the good with the bad as a Reed owner, but – make no mistake about it – he’s an extremely valuable end-game option with the chance for a double-digit strikeout rate. Romo had a rough spring, posting a 12.38 ERA and allowing 11 hits in eight innings. He followed that up with a messy save in his 2014 debut, allowing a home run to left-hander Miguel Montero. Last season, the Giants closer had an uninspiring slash line of .276/.312/.433 against left-handers (compared to .182/.229/.282 against right-handers). Giants manager Bruce Bochy is already on the record of saying he’ll use left-hander Javier Lopez in the ninth inning in situations that call for a lefty, which could cut into Romo’s save opportunities. Balfour, Frieri and Cishek are all solid options, and their order is merely a reflection of their teams’ ability to score runs (in my estimation). Of course, the Marlins’ offense is looking a lot better than any one of us could have predicted. Cishek represents my favorite trade target in the early going. Johnson has made three appearances with his team, resulting in a blown save and two losses. Yuck. Oakland’s new closer has allowed six hits, three walks and five runs in two innings. He’ll need to right the ship in a hurry.

Tier 4

John Axford, Indians
Jonathan Papelbon, Phillies
Rafael Soriano, Nationals
Joakim Soria, Rangers
↑ Fernando Rodney, Mariners

I know that Axford isn’t a favorite closer option amongst fake gamers, but so far so good for the Indians new closer. He’s currently 2-for-2 in save chances and while all the saves won’t be pretty, the strikeouts will be there. Papelbon allowed three runs on four hits and two walks in his first save opportunity, but followed it up with a perfect ninth inning three days later. Soriano has looked good so far, but his velocity is down and he’s not generating many swings and misses. Soria and Rodney haven’t had much work, but both have a save early on. Rodney moves up a tier as a result of Week 1’s closer casualties.

Tier 5

↑ Huston Street, Padres
↑ Tommy Hunter, Orioles
Francisco Rodriguez, Brewers
Sergio Santos, Blue Jays
Jonathan Broxton, Reds

I still don’t trust Street for the long haul, but play him while you can; I’d keep Benoit nearby. Hunter is Baltimore’s best bet, and while I think O’Day would succeed in the ninth, it sounds like Hunter has the job locked up in Baltimore. Rodriguez has all the experience, including 306 career saves, and it would take a collapse to make Jim Henderson relevant again. Roenicke says he wants Henderson back in the role eventually, but if K-Rod is going good than it won’t matter. It’s been a bumpy ride for Santos, but I still believe. The Blue Jays closer has two handshakes already and there’s no definitive timetable for Casey Janssen (back). Santos has the stuff to close, but he can get wild at times, as he’s already shown with three walks in 2 1/3 innings. Broxton will be activated from the 15-day DL on Tuesday and inserted immediately into the ninth, according to Reds manager Bryan Price. He should be your first priority for saves off the wire, but he’ll take the back seat once Aroldis Chapman returns.

Tier 6 (next in line)

LaTroy Hawkins (Rex Brothers), Rockies
Matt Lindstrom (Daniel Webb), White Sox
Jose Valverde (Kyle Farnsworth), Mets
Josh Fields (Chad Qualls), Astros
Jose Veras (Pedro Strop), Cubs

It’s Hawkins’ job to lose, but I think he can hold off Brothers, who will need to work on his control before being handed the reigns to the ninth. Lindstrom doesn’t do any one thing particularly well, so I’m not expecting him to keep the job. As I mentioned in the intro, Valverde, aka Papa Grande, is back. The 36-year-old right-hander came out of retirement last year and earned nine saves in Detroit, but he wasn’t long for the job. I could see a similar outcome in New York, but there isn’t a clear-cut closer in waiting. Qualls and Fields have each earned saves for the Astros while Jesse Crain is working his way back from injury. I like Crain the most for the long term, but Fields for the short term. Veras is the new Marmol. He blew his first save chance and needed Strop to come in and clean up his mess on Sunday, which included four walks. Oh, Cubbies.

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