Rogue middlemen

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - There are closers who you know will own the position all season long. Pitchers such as Mariano Rivera, Heath Bell and Jonathan Papelbon come to mind, high-paid players whose teams are counting on them to shut the door 40-plus times a season.

However, for every guaranteed 40-save guy there are about 10 others with a tenuous hold on their job at best.

That uncertainty gives the setup men waiting in the wings some fantasy value that they wouldn't otherwise have.

Last season, 49 pitchers had five saves or more, so there are plenty of saves out there to be had if you play your cards right.

The truth is, most closers are walking a tightrope of terror every time they step on the mound. Obviously, the common injury risks associated with throwing high-stress innings can always derail a season, but what's worse is that a closer could also be a few poor outings away from ceding his job to a hot-shot setup man.

Here are the middle relievers most likely to record at least 10 saves this season:

Vinnie Pestano, Cleveland Indians - With Chris Perez' Opening Day meltdown fresh in fantasy owners' minds, Pestano is going to be a hot add this week. The righty had 84 strikeouts in 62 innings for the Indians last year, recording a 2.32 ERA and 1.05 WHIP to boot. Perez also dealt with an oblique strain in the spring, so even if he turns his performance around quickly there is always a chance his injury acts up again.

David Hernandez, Arizona Diamondbacks - There were a ton of saves to be had for the D-Backs in 2011. Closer J.J. Putz had 45, but he missed almost all of July, allowing Hernandez to swoop in and notch 11 saves of his own. Hernandez had solid ratios as well, providing a 3.38 ERA and 1.14 WHIP in 69 1/3 innings. Putz has 151 career saves, but he also has an injury history, so he could go down at any moment.

Jon Rauch, New York Mets - The Mets imported the entire Toronto Blue Jays 2011 closing situation, bringing in Rauch and Frank Francisco for this season. Francisco had 17 saves and Rauch 11 last season. Francisco also closed for Texas in 2009, but he's also only thrown more than 60 innings in a season one time.

Greg Holland, Kansas City Royals - With Joakim Soria out, Ned Yost has anointed Jonathan Broxton the closer over Holland and Aaron Crow. However, the hefty Broxton hasn't been effective since 2009 and he threw just 12 2/3 innings last season, so there's no guarantee he makes it through April. Holland, meanwhile, had a 1.80 ERA and 0.93 WHIP in 60 innings last season, allowing just 37 hits and striking out 74, so he clearly has the dominating stuff to close ballgames.

Mark Melancon, Boston Red Sox - Melancon was thought to be the favorite to close after Andrew Bailey (acquired from Oakland in the offseason) went down with a thumb injury, as he had prior closing experience (20 saves with Houston in 2011). However, Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine decided to use Alfredo Aceves in that role. Aceves was extremely valuable for Boston last season performing in a variety of situations of out the bullpen, so Valentine may choose to place him back in that swingman role if the Red Sox have bullpen depth issues.

Brian Fuentes, Oakland Athletics - Bailey going to Boston also impacted the closing job for his former employer. Fuentes grabbed 12 saves last season while Bailey missed time and has 199 of them in his career, but manager Bob Melvin elected to go with Grant Balfour as his ninth-inning option. However, the ancient lefty has a tendency to hang around despite underwhelming stuff, as he's recorded an ERA under 4.00 in every season since he took over as Colorado's closer in 2005.

Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles Dodgers - Rookie Javy Guerra seized the closing job for the Dodgers last season, getting 21 saves and throwing 46 2/3 innings. But Jensen was even more impressive in 2011, striking out an incredible 96 batters in 53 2/3 innings. If Guerra falters at all, Dodger fans will be calling for manager Don Mattingly to move Jansen and his overpowering stuff to the ninth inning.

Sergio Romo, San Francisco Giants - The bearded wonder Brian Wilson is more likely to shave off his facial abomination than to lose his job because of performance, but he has been dealing with elbow soreness which has his velocity down a few notches on the radar gun. Though he saved 36 games last year, Wilson only appeared in two games after Aug. 15 thanks to the same discomfort in his elbow. Wilson's strikeouts were also way down while his walks increased, contributing to his unsightly 1.47 WHIP. Romo, who sports a similar (though much less publicized) beard, dominated last year with a microscopic WHIP of 0.71 and 70 Ks in 48 innings, so he's ready to go if Wilson's elbow continues to act up.

Mike Adams, Texas Rangers - The Rangers signed Joe Nathan in the offseason to close, so Adams' path is blocked by a player with a ton of experience in that role. Even if Nathan is fully recovered from Tommy John surgery, the Rangers may not want him to throw on back-to-back days, so Adams could find himself pitching in the ninth on more than one occasion. The righty has quietly been the best setup man in baseball since he went to San Diego in 2008, posting a 1.71 ERA and a WHIP under 1.00 in 242 2/3 innings.

Grabbing any one of these understudies could pay huge dividends, especially if you're starving for saves.

Even if they don't ascend to the closer role, they'll likely notch several saves when the head of the 'pen needs a day off, and are sure bets to provide solid ratios and a ton of strikeouts throughout the season.


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