The Washington Times - March 13, 2009, 12:01AM

Don’t use high draft picks on closers. The demanding nature of the role causes many hurlers to break down, rendering guys you expected to be studs useless. It’s also foolish to pay a premium when saves so often come cheap in fantasy baseball. At least a third of all closers lose their jobs every year - and some of their replacements lose theirs, too - meaning you’ll have at least 15 or so chances to snag one off waivers. When drafting closers, talent is your first consideration and chances of retaining the job is a close second. Expected team success is an overrated factor.

1. Francisco Rodriguez, NYM

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K-Rod set a new single-season saves mark with an unheard-of 62 last season and notched 40 or more in each of the previous three years. Entering his seventh full season at 27, he has fanned more than a batter per inning in every one of his big league campaigns. It’s easy to feel confident about a guy with a 2.35 career ERA and 1.11 career WHIP, and the contending Mets should provide him with plenty of save chances.

2. Jonathan Papelbon, BOS

The Red Sox closer established a new career high with 41 saves in 2008 and, incredibly, walked just eight batters all season while fanning 77. Even more astounding is the fact that his 2.34 ERA and 0.96 WHIP were full-season career worsts.

3. Joe Nathan, MIN +

Super Joe lived up to his nickname once again in 2008, saving 39 games to go along with a 1.31 ERA, 0.91 WHIP and 74-to-18 K-to-walk ratio. He has saved 35-plus games in each of the past five years and is a good bet to do so again in 2009.

4. Mariano Rivera, NYY +

As great as Papelbon’s command was last year, Rivera’s was even better as he matched Pap’s 77 K’s and walked only six. He’s 39 but is coming off one of his most dominant seasons ever (39 saves in 40 chances, 1.41 ERA, 0.67 WHIP).

5. Joakim Soria, KC

Soria may go down as one of the best Rule 5 picks ever when it’s all said and done. After saving 17 games as a rookie in 2007, the Mexicutioner emerged as an elite closer in 2008 with 42 saves, a 1.61 ERA, 0.86 WHIP and 66 K’s in 67 1/3 innings.

6. Brad Lidge, PHI

Lidge has been disastrous at times in the past, but was nothing short of dominant in 2008. The flame-throwing righty converted all 41 of his save opportunities for the Phils last season and fanned an impressive 92 batters in 69 1/3 innings.

7. B.J. Ryan, TOR

Ryan returned from Tommy John surgery in 2008 and looked like his old self, saving 32 games and fanning 58 in as many innings. He’ll likely get stronger as he gets further removed from the procedure, but the Jays look primed for a down year.

8. Carlos Marmol, CHC

Marmol has dazzled in a set-up role and should inherit the closer’s role vacated by Kerry Wood. First-time closers are never a sure thing, but the 114 K’s Marmol notched in 87 1/3 innings last year suggest he’s up to the challenge.

9. Jonathan Broxton, LA

Broxton took over as LA’s closer at midseason and looked impressive in notching 14 saves. The 6-foot-3 right-hander uses his near-300 pound frame to generate some serious heat, as evidenced by his 88 K’s in 69 innings last season.

10. Kerry Wood, CLE +

The one-time phenom was great in his first year as a closer, notching 34 saves to go along with an impressive 84-to-18 K-to-walk ratio. The Indians should provide plenty of save chances, but Wood’s injury history is a scary thing to consider.

11. Brian Fuentes, LAA

If the Angels provide Fuentes with half as many save chances as his predecessor he’ll be a valuable fantasy property. The lefty lost his job to Manny Corpas in 2007 but bounced back with 30 saves and a 1.10 ERA for the Rockies last season.

12. Jose Valverde, HOU

Valverde averages more than a K per inning and has saved 91 games over the past two seasons. On the other hand, he blew seven saves last year. He gets the job done more often than not, though, and should be a top closer again in 2009.

13. Bobby Jenks, CHW

Jenks saved only 30 games last season after topping 40 the two previous seasons, but registered a 2.65 ERA and 1.11 WHIP. That he K’d just 38 batters is surprising, but he plays for a contender and has a history of getting the job done.

14. Francisco Cordero, CIN +

As you might gather from his 3.30 career ERA and 1.36 career WHIP, Cordero is annually among the leaders in heart-attack saves. He’s saved 34 or more games in four of the past five years though, and is a good bet to do so again this year.

15. Brian Wilson, SF

Wilson’s 4.62 ERA and 1.44 WHIP in 2008 don’t inspire confidence, but the 41 games he saved in his first season as a full-time closer do. With a good rotation and weak lineup, the Giants should play plenty of close games in 2009.

16. Matt Capps, PIT

Capps missed two months with shoulder issues in 2008 but still managed to save 21 games for a bad Pirates club. His 0.97 WHIP and superb 39-to-5 K-to-walk ratio are encouraging, and he should make for a good mid-round bargain.

17. Trevor Hoffman, MIL

The all-time saves leader looked finished while posting a 5.08 ERA in the first half last year. He rebounded to finish with a 3.77 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 30 saves and 46 K’s in 45 1/3 innings, and it appears there’s still some gas left in his tank.

18. Matt Lindstrom, FLA

With former closer Kevin Gregg traded to the Cubs, Lindstrom will take over as Marlins closer. He went 5-for-5 in converting save chances last September and posted a 1.86 ERA after the All-Star break, so he should be up to the challenge.

19. Heath Bell, SD

Bell has excelled while setting up Trevor Hoffman the past two years and will likely inherit the closer’s role in San Diego. His 1.23 career WHIP and 278 K’s in 279 1/3 career innings make the 31-year-old righty a good bet for success.

20. Chad Qualls, ARI

Qualls took over as D-Backs closer last September and went 7-for-8 in save opps while fanning 13 in as many innings and not giving up a single earned run. Since Arizona is a contender with a strong staff, Qualls could top the 30-save mark.

21. Mike Gonzalez, ATL

Gonzalez bounced back from Tommy John surgery to save 14 games, post a 1.20 WHIP and fan 44 in 33 2/3 innings last season. He once went 183 straight appearances without blowing a single lead. He could be a great sleeper pick.

22. Joel Hanrahan, WAS

Hanrahan took over as closer in August last season and converted 9 of 12 save opps the rest of the way. He fanned 93 in 84 1/3 innings, suggesting he has the stuff to succeed. The Nats will be bad, but he has little competition for his job.

23. Frank Francisco, TEX

Francisco was dominant in 2008, posting a 1.15 WHIP and fanning 83 in 63 1/3 innings. He converted five save opps down the stretch and is favorite for saves in Texas, though he does have C.J. Wilson and Eddie Guardado to contend with.

24. Brandon Lyon, DET

Lyon saved 26 games for the D-Backs last year, but posted a 4.70 ERA and lost his job late in the summer. He looks like the favorite to serve as Tigers closer, but beware competition from right-handers Fernando Rodney and Joel Zumaya.

25. Manny Corpas, COL

Corpas stole the Rockies’ closer role from Brian Fuentes in 2007 but gave it back last year. He opens 2009 as the favorite for saves in Colorado, but will always be only be a couple bad outings away from losing his job to Huston Street.

26. George Sherrill, BAL

Sherrill saved 31 games last season, but his 4.73 ERA and 1.50 WHIP are good indications of how scary a lot of them were. Beware in-season competition from Chris Ray, whose recovery from Tommy John surgery is going very well.

27. Troy Percival, TB +

Percival saved 28 games in 2008, but only one after Aug. 13 because of back issues. He had surgery in December but should be good to go for Opening Day. Grant Balfour and Jason Isringhausen are waiting in the wings if he falters.

28. Brad Ziegler, OAK

Ziegler used his deceptive delivery to post an incredible 1.06 ERA as a rookie. He also notched 11 saves and enters 2009 as the early favorite for saves in Oakland because his competition, Joey Devine, has struggled with elbow issues this spring.

29. Chris Perez, STL

Perez, a 23-year-old fireballer, breezed through the minors and had some success in the Cardinals’ closer role last season. He has plenty of competition this season - Jason Motte, Josh Kinney, Ryan Franklin - but looks like the favorite right now.

30. Miguel Batista, SEA

Somebody’s got to close for the Mariners, and while Roy Corcoran, Tyler Walker, Mark Lowe, Chad Cordero and David Aardsma have been considered, Batista - who has 38 career saves - should have the job at the beginning of the season.

THE BEST OF THE REST

31. Jason Motte, STL
32. Joey Devine, OAK
33. Chris Ray, BAL
34. Huston Street, COL
35. Jose Arredondo, LAA
36. Jeff Samardzija, CHC
37. Fernando Rodney, DET
38. Tyler Walker, SEA
39. Jensen Lewis, CLE
40. C.J. Wilson, TEX +
41. Grant Balfour, TB +
42. Rafael Soriano, ATL
43. Jon Rauch, ARI
44. John Grabow, PIT
45. J.J. Putz, NYM
46. Takashi Saito, BOS
47. Bob Howry, SF
48. Kevin Gregg, CHC
49. Cla Meredith, SD
50. Aaron Heilman, CHC
51. Leo Nunez, FLA
52. David Riske, MIL
53. Jared Burton, CIN
54. Octavio Dotel, CHW
55. LaTroy Hawkins, HOU
56. Saul Rivera, WAS
57. Hong-Chih Kuo, LA
58. Jeremy Accardo, TOR
59. Ryan Madson, PHI
60. Juan Cruz, KC
61. Damaso Marte, NYY
62. Jesse Crain, MIN
63. Roy Corcoran, SEA
64. Josh Kinney, STL
65. Jason Isringhausen, TB +
66. Joel Zumaya, DET +
67. Eddie Guardado, TEX +
68. Chad Cordero, SEA +
69. David Weathers, CIN
70. Scott Linebrink, CHW
71. Scot Shields, LAA
72. Rafael Perez, CLE
73. Hideki Okajima, BOS
74. Mark Lowe, SEA
75. Ryan Franklin, STL
76. Dan Wheeler, TB
77. J.P. Howell, TB
78. Casey Janssen, TOR
79. Tony Pena, ARI
80. Jesse Carlson, TOR
81. Matt Thornton, CHW
82. Brad Hennessey, BAL
83. Danys Baez, BAL
84. Bobby Parnell, NYM
85. Joe Smith, CLE +
86. Steven Shell, WAS
87. Manny Delcarmen, BOS
88. Cory Wade, LA +
89. Rafael Betancourt, CLE
90. Sergio Romo, SF

PROSPECTS TO KEEP AN EYE ON

1. Jose Ceda, FLA
2. Jeff Sues, PIT
3. Mark Melancon, NYY
4. Jeff Stevens, CHC
5. Daniel Bard, BOS
6. Ryan Perry, DET
7. Josh Fields, SEA
8. Carlos Gutierrez, MIN
9. Cody Satterwhite, DET
10. Henry Rodriguez, OAK

 

FANTASY PREVIEW SCHEDULE

Monday, Feb. 23 - Intro & Catchers
Wednesday, Feb. 25 - First Basemen
Friday, Feb. 27 - Second Basemen
Monday, March 2 - Third Basemen
Wednesday, March 4 - Shortstops
Friday, March 6 - Outfielders
Monday, March 9 - DH-only
Wednesday, March 11 - Starting Pitchers
Friday, March 13 - Relief Pitchers

Jay LeBlanc is an assistant news editor at The Washington Times. He can be reached at jleblanc@washingtontimes.com.

Photo by the Associated Press