Commentary

Relief Efforts: Who's next for saves in Atlanta?

Updated: April 16, 2008, 12:54 PM ET
By Eric Karabell | ESPN.com

If there's any team that can seemingly overcome the loss of not only its closer, but also the fellow who was next in line, it has to be the Atlanta Braves. For years we've watched manager Bobby Cox trot out strange, unknown names to close, and he'd turn the guy into a pretty decent stopper who would end up pitching in October. It got annoying for Phillies fans, for example, as the team always seemed to overpay for someone to get saves or had to watch Mitch Williams' wildness. The Braves didn't even try to get a name closer, and it always worked out. I mean, look at this list of names who led the Braves in saves from 1991 through 2005:

Juan Berenguer was 36 when the Braves induced 17 saves from him in 1991, the first season of 15 straight division titles. He was out of baseball a year later. Fellow veteran Alejandro Pena had closed a bit in the bigs before Cox turned to him, but he wasn't Dennis Eckersley, either. Lefties and right-handers alike got their chance for Cox, from Mike Stanton to Greg McMichael to Kerry Ligtenberg. Honestly, other than the John Smoltz experiment, which worked out beautifully, no other team has turned to unknowns to close the way the Braves had, whether or not they had so-called "closer" ability -- whatever that is. I'd say Mark Wohlers had it, and once in a while John Rocker did.

MannyAcosta
AP Photo/Tony DejakManny Acosta could be next in the long line of anonymous Braves closers.
Does Manny Acosta have it? Does it matter?

In a chat last week, I surmised that Acosta and Peter Moylan were each in line for saves after Rafael Soriano was placed on the disabled list with elbow tendinitis. I would've mentioned it in the April 9 Relief Efforts, but the Soriano injury came from nowhere hours after it was posted, naturally.

The Braves' theory was Moylan had his 2007 stats on his side for future opportunities, and Acosta was the one who had that closer stuff. In fact, Acosta would've been in line for a save a few days earlier when Soriano was originally scratched and had Cox's confidence, much to the surprise of many. However, the struggling Braves have had one actual save chance in the past week, and Moylan got it.

Now Moylan has joined Soriano on the shelf with a right elbow strain, and with a visit looming to meet Dr. James Andrews, I'd say you shouldn't expect the Aussie submariner back anytime soon, if at all this season. If there's any manager who wouldn't be worried about this, it would be Cox. Incredibly, a season ago this team had so many possibilities for closer who could have slid right into the role, but one by one, they all found their way somewhere else and not closing. It's all about the timing. Octavio Dotel sets up Bobby Jenks in Chicago. Joey Devine seems to have a future in Oakland. Tyler Yates, Oscar Villarreal and Chad Paronto would all probably be in line ahead of Acosta if they were still around. But they're not.

Don't laugh. While everyone and their plumber rushes to the waiver wire to sign Acosta, a move I agree with, it's hardly assured Acosta will thrive in the role or be Cox's fancy. At this point, let's discuss what options Cox does have at his disposal.

Manny Acosta: It's not like he's been lights-out, you know. If he were, that certainly would make his transition to closing look smarter. As colleague Will Harris pointed out in his If You're Hardcore article late last week, Acosta has had control problems in the past, and it kind of looks like he still has them. He also gives up home runs. This doesn't mean he can't be a good closer, just that the chances seem great that he'll lose the role quickly. The other thing that would worry me if I was trading something good to get Acosta is that he's pitched only once since April 8, and before that his last appearance was April 3. Sure, the Braves have trailed a lot, but c'mon, get the guy work. Or is he hurting as well?

Blaine Boyer: I won't laugh if you name anyone in the current Braves bullpen as a contender for saves, by the way. Boyer doesn't have a track record for closing, but he leads the Braves in strikeouts. He's a relief pitcher. In 7 2/3 innings, Boyer has fanned 13, and I took a chance on him Tuesday in our office's 18-team auction league, just to make sure. There are so few free agents there. Why not? Boyer didn't walk people this spring, a nice change from his 2007 numbers at Triple-A Richmond, when he issued 50 free passes and struck out 62. The case can be made he was still working his way back from missing all of 2006 with shoulder surgery. I'll buy it. I think if Soriano and Moylan are out awhile, he's going to get chances.

Matthew Berry and Nate Ravitz talk with Buster Olney about the Indians' and Braves' closer situations among other topics in today's Fantasy Focus podcast.
Listen to the Fantasy Focus
Chris Resop: Let's just say he's done a better job in left field than on the mound. OK, maybe that's not fair, as he was only in left field for one batter, as part of a nifty Cox switcheroo that resulted in Resop losing the extra-inning game anyway. On the other hand, Resop could, in theory, be the next Kevin Gregg, someone the Angels felt they had no use for, a seemingly ordinary right-handed innings eater with decent K rates. Oddly enough, Resop was traded to the Angels from the Marlins for Gregg. Resop has allowed 8 hits and 5 walks in 5 2/3 innings, so I'd think Boyer is safely ahead of him.

Jorge Campillo: Um, who? Now 29, Campillo once threw hard and was an undrafted free-agent find by the Braves in 1996. He toiled in the Mariners' system much of this decade as a starter, and missed 2006 after Tommy John surgery. You might remember this guy as the one who threw at Vladimir Guerrero's head last September, earning a four-game suspension. He'll probably end up back in Richmond within a few days.

John Smoltz: Don't even think it. The Braves' rotation depth is being tested, and there's no chance Cox does a Brett Myers with his aging Hall of Famer and moves him back to the closer's role, unless the pitcher asks for it or injury dictates it. I don't think the balky shoulder he's dealing with will force a role change.

Anyone else?: Buddy Carlyle was recalled from Triple-A Richmond Tuesday, but I think it's Tom Glavine insurance for the rotation. Jeff Bennett is there, too, so maybe he's Chuck James/Mike Hampton insurance. Either way, I think Cox keeps them as starters. As for the lefties in the bullpen, Will Ohman has had enough trouble getting lefties out, but he could be a situational ninth-inning guy. Royce Ring was once thought to be a closer candidate when the Mets acquired him years ago, but he's been inconsistent and lacking command ever since. If Mike Gonzalez was healthy, he'd be next in line, but he had Tommy John surgery last June. You'll see and hear his name mentioned for a return this June, but I'll take August as the over/under. It takes more than a year for pitchers to come back and pitch well from this surgery.

Ultimately, I think Acosta gets the first chance, Boyer is lurking, and for all we know Soriano could return in two weeks or two months and usurp them both. I still think Soriano ends up leading the Braves in saves, with around 25.

Now, to the rest of the ample closer news.

Buying low

Reliever Rankings

Rafael Betancourt has 12 career saves, and a chance to get a whole lot more with Joe Borowski out indefinitely.

1. Jonathan Papelbon, Red Sox
2. Joe Nathan, Twins
3. Mariano Rivera, Yankees
4. Bobby Jenks, White Sox
5. Billy Wagner, Mets
6. Francisco Rodriguez, Angels
7. Takashi Saito, Dodgers
8. Francisco Cordero, Reds
9. Joakim Soria, Royals
10. Jose Valverde, Astros
11. Jason Isringhausen, Cardinals
12. Matt Capps, Pirates
13. Huston Street, Athletics
14. Manny Corpas, Rockies
15. Brad Lidge, Phillies
16. Trevor Hoffman, Padres
17. Kevin Gregg, Marlins
18. J.J. Putz, Mariners
19. George Sherrill, Orioles
20. Kerry Wood, Cubs
21. B.J. Ryan, Blue Jays
22. Rafael Betancourt, Indians
23. Eric Gagne, Brewers
24. Todd Jones, Tigers
25. Brian Wilson, Giants
26. C.J. Wilson, Rangers
27. Rafael Soriano, Braves
28. Troy Percival, Rays
29. Chad Cordero, Nationals
30. Brandon Lyon, Diamondbacks
31. Carlos Marmol, Cubs
32. Jon Rauch, Nationals
33. Joba Chamberlain, Yankees
34. Manny Acosta, Braves
35. Mark Lowe, Mariners
36. Tony Pena, Diamondbacks
37. Scot Shields, Angels
38. David Riske, Brewers
39. Santiago Casilla, Athletics
40. Chad Qualls, Diamondbacks
Brian Wilson, Giants: So much for this team getting blown out every night. The Giants aren't going to win 100 games, but I don't think they'll lose that many, either, and that seemed to be the main concern of fantasy owners who avoided Wilson in March. He's not a lights-out guy, but he's earned four saves already, in the team's six wins. I think it's a harbinger this team will give him plenty of save chances, since they won't win a lot of games by a score of 10-5. I could see 30 saves here, so see if you can move a big-name closer for Wilson and a bat.

Selling high

B.J. Ryan and Jeremy Accardo, Blue Jays: Sorry, but not only am I not a believer in the strikeout lefty who is back after Tommy John surgery, but I also think his replacement is having arm problems as well, helping to explain his numbers. Ryan was supposed to be treated carefully when he was activated off the DL, but he was thrust right into a save situation, and after allowing a leadoff Marlon Byrd triple, Ryan wiggled his way out and didn't allow the tying run. Meanwhile, the struggling Accardo pitched in the seventh inning of that game. Lefty Scott Downs hurled the eighth, and right-hander Brian Wolfe started the ninth in a tie game. Regardless, Accardo wasn't close to closing that game. Jason Frasor might have passed Accardo in the hierarchy. For now, Ryan is the sole closer when healthy, and he should be 100 percent owned, but I don't think he's going to remain healthy all season. I think he was rushed back.

Who's next?

Jon Rauch, Nationals: Let's just say I wouldn't cut this guy yet. While Rauch doesn't seem to be pitching like he did in 2007, he's clearly the next in line, and Chad Cordero is not throwing as hard as he or the team would like. In fact, Cordero came off the DL this past weekend and like Toronto's Ryan, despite warnings to the contrary, went right into a save opportunity. In this case, however, Cordero wasn't left in there to escape the jam. He allowed a two-out walk, a Chipper Jones double and a Mark Teixeira intentional walk before being pulled for Rauch. Doesn't seem fair, does it? Rauch threw one pitch for the save. After the game, it was announced Cordero's fastball failed to reach 87 mph. Maybe he's just working his way back from a sore shoulder, but I would hold on to Rauch a bit longer in fantasy. The Nats want to use Cordero as trade bait, not for a run at a division title, so sending him back to the DL to get him really healthy would seem the smart play.

Meaningless save of the week

Bob Howry, Cubs: On Sunday at Philadelphia, the Cubs used Carlos Marmol and Kerry Wood for 10 outs to get the game to extra innings. You know Lou Piniella didn't want to use Howry to save the game, after watching him throw batting practice to opposing hitters to open the season, and the night before mopping up a 7-1 loss in Philly. Still, with Michael Wuertz and Sean Marshall having been used earlier in the game, Kevin Hart tired, and long man Jon Lieber the last guy standing, Howry got the call. To Piniella's delight, he retired Geoff Jenkins and Jayson Werth. Then, he allowed a Chase Utley double, intentionally walked Ryan Howard, but instead of having to face dangerous Pat Burrell, defensive replacement So Taguchi was in the game. Howry won the battle. Don't start thinking it's a harbinger of more saves. Wood is pitching very well, and Marmol is very clearly next in line. Howry is probably the seventh-inning guy, but even that remains unclear.

Holding on

Ryan Franklin, Cardinals: I'm in a dynasty league in which holds are a category, and very late in the draft, like round 39 out of 40, I selected Franklin. The commish of the league laughed at me. In fact, he asked me, since the selection was made on auto-pick, if I had meant to take Franklin, offering me the chance to select another. As if! Franklin was 10th in the majors in holds a season ago with 25, and his 3.04 ERA and 1.01 WHIP, while shocking to those who remember this guy from his days in Seattle and Philly, oddly seemed legit under the tutelage of Dave Duncan. Franklin is currently leading the majors in holds with six, and while he's managed to strike out three hitters in 7 2/3 innings (or 23 outs), he's getting the job done again. I have no concerns about Jason Isringhausen, so Franklin might not save more than one or two games, but as a 30-hold guy, I believe. Also, if you need saves and enjoy the Cardinals, Kyle McClellan is this year's find. He is tied with Franklin at six holds.

Bullpen to watch

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Cleveland Indians: Joe Borowski wasn't pitching well, but I didn't think he'd lose his job so quickly based on performance, especially with setup man Rafael Betancourt struggling as well. However, it turns out Borowski was dealing with a strained right triceps, which in this case could be the Tribe's way of saying they had no idea why their closer's velocity is down, but as long as he's off the active roster, they don't care. It's not like Borowski was throwing 95 mph a year ago. Borowski's days of closing would appear over, assuming someone steps up to seize the job. Betancourt had dominant numbers in 2007, but has already allowed two home runs (half his 2007 total) and has been very hittable. It's his job. If Betancourt struggles, and there's no indication these are long-term problems, Japanese import Masa Kobayashi and southpaw Rafael Perez would seem to be next in line. Perez has struggled so far, and Kobayashi hasn't been used in a high-pressure situation all year, with his last four appearances coming in clear losses. I don't want to type the name Jorge Julio and closer role in the same sentence, but stranger things have happened. Jensen Lewis should be ahead of him, but he's unproven and blew Tuesday's game against Boston, and we know managers not named Bobby Cox think experience is important for the role. It's why Borowski managed to keep the closer job as long as he did. For more on this situation, check out Tuesday's Out of the Box.

Briefly

No worries in Halo land, as Francisco Rodriguez avoided the DL, and has saved a few games since his return. Scot Shields also seems to remain the top setup guy ahead of Justin Speier. … George Sherrill leads the majors in saves. How many of you had him in the save leader pool? … Trevor Hoffman has lowered his ERA into triple digits, at 9.57, after saving Monday's 1-0 win over the Dodgers. I'd buy low. He'd have to get really lit to lose this job. … The Rangers' C.J. Wilson has allowed one hit and one walk in his past five games, covering five innings. That's good. He's also fanned only one hitter. Not so good. … J.J. Putz threw off a mound Sunday and said he felt good, as he recovers from rib cage inflammation. He's eligible to return from the DL this week, and with the state of the Seattle bullpen, it wouldn't shock me if he's rushed back. … The Dodgers' Takashi Saito didn't look so good allowing a Nate McLouth three-run homer Monday, but they were the first earned runs and hits he had allowed all season. It's just one bad inning. … Same with Jose Valverde, who managed to retire one hitter in Philly on Tuesday. His first pitch was taken deep by pinch-hitter Chris Snelling. He also allowed a Pat Burrell home run, and Pedro Feliz won the game with a double. Valverde was overrated from day one based on his 2007 save total, but he's a safe closer who should get 35 saves. The Astros have frighteningly shallow bullpen depth. Doug Brocail? … Finally, it's nice to see Duaner Sanchez back on the mound. The hard-throwing Mets right-hander missed the 2006 playoffs and all of 2007 with shoulder problems from a taxi accident. Aaron Heilman remains the top setup man for Billy Wagner, but for how long? Holds could be coming Sanchez's way.

Eric Karabell is a senior writer for ESPN.com fantasy. You can e-mail him here.

Eric Karabell | email

ESPN.com Senior Writer

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