Relief Efforts: Team-by-team midseason report

Updated: July 12, 2007, 7:16 PM ET
By Eric Karabell | ESPN.com

Things change every day in major league bullpens. One day your fantasy closer is dominating, the next he's nursing a sore arm or third in line for saves. Eric Karabell breaks down all the key happenings in major league bullpens in the latest Relief Efforts.

Ranking the closers

1. J.J. Putz, Mariners
2. Francisco Rodriguez, Angels
3. Jonathan Papelbon, Red Sox
4. Takashi Saito, Dodgers
5. Joe Nathan, Twins
6. Trevor Hoffman, Padres
7. Billy Wagner, Mets
8. Francisco Cordero, Brewers
9. Mariano Rivera, Yankees
10. Jason Isringhausen, Cards
11. Bobby Jenks, White Sox
12. Eric Gagne, Rangers
13. Jose Valverde, D-Backs
14. Joe Borowski, Indians
15. Matt Capps, Pirates
16. Kevin Gregg, Marlins
17. Bob Wickman, Braves
18. Chad Cordero, Nationals
19. Todd Jones, Tigers
20. Chris Ray, Orioles
21. Octavio Dotel, Royals
22. David Weathers, Reds
23. Jeremy Accardo, Blue Jays
24. Bobby Howry, Cubs
25. Alan Embree, A's
26. Brad Hennessey, Giants
27. Antonio Alfonseca, Phillies
28. Dan Wheeler, Astros
29. Manny Corpas, Rockies
30. Gary Glover, Devil Rays

Ranking the middle relievers:

1. Scot Shields, Angels
2. Hideki Okajima, Red Sox
3. Rafael Soriano, Braves
4. Pat Neshek, Twins
5. Jonathan Broxton, Dodgers

Better than you think:

Santiago Casilla, Athletics
Justin Miller, Marlins
Carlos Marmol, Cubs

Slipping...:

Armando Benitez, Marlins
Darren Oliver, Angels
Juan Rincon, Twins

Keep an eye on:

Randy Messenger, Giants
Saul Rivera, Nationals
Casey Janssen, Blue Jays

The All-Star break is over, and a few of your favorite closers struggled in San Francisco. Francisco Cordero and Billy Wagner allowed home runs. J.J. Putz allowed one as well. Francisco Rodriguez allowed walks, until finally closing the door. Does any of it matter in fantasy? Um, I'll say no. But this week's topic in Relief Efforts does! Let's go team-by-team and project the saves.

Arizona Diamondbacks: All-Star Jose Valverde has 26 saves, and has converted his last five chances. He's allowed only one run in the last month. I trust him now. I'll give him 45 saves, 2.66 ERA. Brandon Lyon is next in line, but Valverde will be fine. It's time to stop worrying about the previously erratic Valverde.

Atlanta Braves: There's little question Rafael Soriano has been better than Bob Wickman, and would be a fine closer, in my opinion. But this remains Wickman's job. He'd have more than 20 saves if not for the DL stint. I say the Braves stay in the NL East race until late-September, and Wickman picks up 18 more saves. Soriano gets two. Next year, Rafael.

Baltimore Orioles: Chris Ray is no longer safe, that's for sure, but he's still the No. 1 option for saves in Baltimore. I expect he could lose some saves here and there the rest of the way, and the O's will look to upgrade next spring. Ray has 14 saves. In a Braden Looper with-the-Mets kind of way, I can see a total of 28. Maybe Paul Shuey and Chad Bradford pick up two or three saves each.

Boston Red Sox: I think Jonathan Papelbon nearly ends up leading the AL in saves, personally. He has a bunch of closers to pass, but he's not showing any weaknesses, plus he's added a cutter and could become even more dominant. Don't worry about the injury and drop in performance from last season. I'll give him 44 saves. Hideki Okajima, incidentally, finishes with an ERA of 2.10. Look, it's tough to sustain a sub-1.00 ERA all year.

Chicago Cubs: Now it gets interesting. Bob Howry has done a decent job filling in for Ryan Dempster, but it appears the incumbent closer's return is imminent, possibly as soon as this weekend. I expect Lou Piniella to go right back to Dempster finishing games. Dempster's at 16 saves now, I'll project another 16 more.

Chicago White Sox: One of the few things not wrong with this team has been the work of Bobby Jenks, who is second to Mark Buehrle in team ERA. That's right, nobody else, even in a few innings, has an ERA better than 3.00 on this squad. Jenks hasn't been wild at all. I'll give him 42 saves.

Cincinnati Reds: While the pending return of Eddie Guardado could throw a wrench into this prediction, or a deadline day trade to a contender could, I'm changing my mind on David Weathers, and predicting another 14 saves, for a season total of 31. Fourteen is also the number of saves Weathers had in his first 14 seasons before joining the Reds. There's no telling who's next in line if it's not Guardado. Nobody on this team has double digits in holds, amazingly enough. Even Tampa Bay has Shawn Camp with 11.

Cleveland Indians: Just because Joe Borowski has a 5.35 ERA doesn't mean he's had a bad season. Nobody in the AL has more saves, and this team is on its way past 90 wins. Borowski hasn't allowed a home run in more than a month, and he's permitted one walk in his last 23 appearances. He's fine. Enjoy his 46 saves.

Colorado Rockies: This is a tricky one. Do I predict Brian Fuentes to get his job back soon and stay healthy, plus remain as effective as he's generally been the last few years? Or do I go with second-year flamethrower Manny Corpas to pitch as well as he did the first half? I'll say it's a combo. Fuentes returns to closing in a week, but stumbles in August. Corpas ends up with nine saves. Fuentes, who has 20 saves now, gets another 11 more.

Detroit Tigers: A smart move for a fantasy owner who needs saves is to e-mail the person who owns Todd Jones in your league, point out the awful ERA and WHIP, plus the fact that Jose Capellan is throwing darts (7 K's in 4 1/3 innings as a Tiger) and there's talk Joel Zumaya could pitch again this year, and make a low-ball offer. Jones ends up with 41 saves, and a 4.69 ERA.

Florida Marlins: Kevin Gregg has done a nice job, actually. His June wasn't all that pretty, especially the home runs and the walk rate, but it's still his job. Let's take this angle: I rule out Armando Benitez and Taylor Tankersley. The former has not pitched well in awhile, the latter is in the minors (think Andrew Sisco, 2006). Henry Owens should be back soon, but there's no indication the job will be returned to him. That leaves Matt Lindstrom. I do think he gets a look in September, and picks up four or five saves. But Gregg, already at 18 saves, ends up at 30.

Houston Astros: I still think one of the more amazing stats that would belong in this feature is the zero in the saves column for Brad Lidge. When will he get a save? I say it's next week. I don't know if he's 100-percent healthy, or 100-percent over the Pujols-induced problems, but I'll give him 12 saves. Remember, he's still trade bait. Dan Wheeler has 11 saves now, finishes at 16. Chad Qualls, you're on the wrong team.

Kansas City Royals: There's always the chance Octavio Dotel gets dealt to a contender in the next few weeks, but I think he sticks around, continues to thrive, and has a pretty decent season. He'll pass the save total of Joakim Soria soon, and end up around 18. Soria is on the wrong team, as well.

Los Angeles Angels: Contact the K-Rod owner in your league and tell him how wild he looked Tuesday in San Francisco. Nah, that probably won't work. Francisco Rodriguez and Scot Shields remain terrific. Shields ends up leading the AL in holds, Rodriguez falls two short of Borowski for AL save honors. That's 20 more saves, if you're counting.

Los Angeles Dodgers: Four walks, 47 strikeouts. Now that's a heck of a rate, isn't it? Takashi Saito is not losing his job to Jonathan Broxton. My only question is if the current No. 2 closer in fantasy's Player Rater (after Seattle's Putz) ends up at No. 1? I'll say he ends up fourth, still terrific, and with 40 saves.

Milwaukee Brewers: I kind of want to predict a messy second half for Francisco Cordero. He was always a bit messy in Texas, with a higher WHIP than most closers, and a bunch of wins because he'd blow a bunch of saves. Look for more of this in the second half, with Valverde-like peripherals, yet another 16 saves. Cordero ends up at 43.

Minnesota Twins: Nothing to worry about here, though Joe Nathan will end up saving fewer games than the previous year for the third straight season. He saved 44 games his first year in the Twin Cities, then 43, 36 and this year he closes at 34. He should have more saves, but don't blame him.

New York Mets: Like Nathan, Billy Wagner probably deserves more than the 17 saves he's got, but it's not like the pitcher has done anything wrong. He'll flirt with 100 strikeouts, but end up around 35 saves. By the way, Aaron Heilman will win 10 games in relief. We only see a few guys do that each year.

New York Yankees: This team is dead last in the majors in saves. Hard to believe, isn't it? I'd call this bad luck for Mariano Rivera and his fantasy owners. The Yankees do have 42 wins, after all. The Royals, with only 38 wins, have managed to produce 24 saves. Wow, are the Royals only four wins behind the Yanks? OK, separate article. Rivera has all of his team's 11 saves, but I predict a big second half for him and the Yankees. Rivera earns 19 more saves, finishes with 30.

Oakland Athletics: At least we can rule out two of the potential save suitors, as Justin Duchscherer is done for the year, and Rich Harden probably is right behind him. I know, it's shocking that Harden is back on the DL, after making one start. Shocking. Expect Huston Street to return soon, within a few weeks, and take the closer role back. I don't want to predict recurrence of his nerve injury, but I don't expect him to get overworked either. Street finishes at 20 saves (he's at nine), and Alan Embree gets 16. Santiago Casilla chips in with two more.

Philadelphia Phillies: This situation could go in a number of directions. First of all, it appears Tom Gordon is returning this weekend, ahead of schedule. He'll end up beating Brett Myers back to the bullpen. I expect Gordon to be worked back into a high-pressure role slowly, so Antonio Alfonseca gets more chances. By the time Gordon is ready to close, I think Myers returns (about two weeks), and goes immediately back into the closer role. Myers stays healthy enough for 12 more saves, while Gordon gets five and Alfonseca four. Yep, three Phillies end up in double digits in saves. How often does that happen? I recall the 1999 Red Sox did it (Tim Wakefield, Derek Lowe and Tom Gordon!), but I'd bet it's rare.

Pittsburgh Pirates: Salomon Torres can whine about losing the closer role all he wants, but he's not getting it back. He might never get another chance to close. Matt Capps has nine saves, and enjoys another 17 more. Hey, you would've taken a 26-save season when you spent a buck on this guy in March, wouldn't you?

San Diego Padres: Trevor Hoffman is 39, and he's on pace for 47 saves, which would rank second for his career. I'm not really surprised by this, I just wanted to point it out. Hoffman ends up at 44. Sorry.

San Francisco Giants: I'd like to predict Brad Hennessey loses the role, because he doesn't have that so-called closer stuff, and the Giants seem to know he's not long for the job next season. The problem is, there's no obvious choice waiting for a chance, unless one still considers Brian Wilson relevant. He might be, it's tough to tell. Those 19 walks in 19 1/3 innings don't impress. Randy Messenger doesn't have closer makeup either, but he's pitching well enough to warrant a look should Hennessey falter. As it is, Hennessey has only five saves in his two months as closer. I'll give him 10 more.

Seattle Mariners: He's the No. 1 closer in fantasy right now. I know K-Rod ended up with the save Tuesday in San Fran, but Putz was the chosen one. I vaulted Putz to the top of the rankings. That's where he is on the Player Rater, too. Expect 45 saves.

St. Louis Cardinals: I can't say for sure how Jason Isringhausen is feeling, but his statistics show no signs of hip or any other problems. Now that stellar setup man Ryan Franklin (who would have thought that would ever be written?) is locked up for a few more years, we might never see Izzy in the eighth inning. That's a good thing. This solid season will continue. Izzy gets 33 saves.

Tampa Bay Devil Rays: Flip a coin. Honestly, if Al Reyes doesn't come back soon, the worst team in baseball could get downright embarrassing. This is a bullpen that sports a hideous 6.12 ERA and 1.78 WHIP. It has 19 losses, and 18 saves. Gary Glover is the only reliever other than Reyes with a save, and he'll get the future chances until Reyes comes back. When will that be? It could be in a few weeks. If you're so desperate for saves that each one counts, then Glover can help you. Who knows, he might be OK in the role, even though his stats don't support it. Reyes is at 17 saves, I'll give him 12 more.

Texas Rangers: I don't think Eric Gagne will get traded. Just a hunch. He'd probably be too expensive for other teams to acquire. Gagne looks healthy and very effective, so I'll say he picks up another 15 saves, ending up at 27. Akinori Otsuka could be on the move, though, which means the new handcuff to Gagne would be Joaquin Benoit.

Toronto Blue Jays: Jeremy Accardo has certainly hit some speed bumps over the last few weeks, allowing runs in three of six outings and walking a batter in five of those games. I think he'll keep the job though, and double his save total to 22. Maybe Casey Janssen finds a way to pick up four or five saves.

Washington Nationals: I don't ever want to assume a player will be traded. Chad Cordero would fit the description of movable, though, since he's affordable, pitched well of late and is on a team that doesn't really need him. Of course every team could use a Cordero, but the Nats are headed for the cellar with or without him, and they have suitable replacements on hand, like Jon Rauch and Saul Rivera. Cordero's at 15 saves. I'll say he doesn't get sent packing, and finishes with 28 saves.

Your thoughts

Jay (Georgia): "Please help with strategy. I am at the top of my very competitive league right now. One of the few categories I do not lead in is saves (about the middle of the pack). I have a huge lead in home runs and I have been offered Billy Wagner for Prince Fielder. This is not a trade I would normally consider, but it may make sense in my circumstance. What do you suggest in deciding when to accept an unequal trade that might close out a championship? For your additional information, we are in a NL-only keeper league and I could save Fielder one more year with a low-draft round."

Eric: I always go for the championship, then worry about future repercussions later. Like you, I understand that this might not be an even trade on paper, but if you need saves, it's a wise move. Saves are a very specialized category, but really, they aren't all that tough to get. A few current closers probably will lose their jobs. It happens to a few guys each month. Plus, you always can deal for help, even overpay if you have to. Make the deal.

Eric Karabell is a senior writer who covers fantasy sports for ESPN.com. E-mail him by clicking here and check out his daily blog at this link.

Eric Karabell | email

ESPN.com Senior Writer

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