Fantasy owners looking for closers with a long track record of success won’t be able to turn to all-time saves leader Mariano Rivera after this season. Rivera had 638 career saves at the All-Star break. Only four active closers have 250 saves, and only two of them are likely to be closers in 2014.
Joe Nathan, Texas Rangers (328 career saves at the break)
Nathan had at least 35 saves for six straight seasons before undergoing Tommy John surgery and missing all of 2010. The following season, Nathan had only 14 saves. But he returned to form in 2012 with Texas, saving 37 games, and already has 30 saves this season. At 38, he is putting up better numbers than ever, with a 1.36 ERA, 0.756 WHIP and 9.5 K/9.
Francisco Rodriguez, Baltimore Orioles (303)
Rodriguez, who pitched for the Milwaukee Brewers for the first half of the year, holds the single-season record for saves with 62 when he was with the Angels. He had four straight seasons of at least 40 saves from 2005-8 and seven straight seasons of at least 23 saves from 2005-11. He stopped closing after going to Milwaukee late in 2011, but returned to the closer role in May after Jim Henderson went on the DL. Now that Henderson is back, Rodriguez has continued to close, finishing the first half with nine saves, a 1.19 ERA, 1.06 WHP and 9.9 K/9. The Brewers, however, were showcasing Rodriguez in hopes of trading him to a contender that might not use him as a closer. And that’s exactly what happened – he was recently traded to the Baltimore Orioles.
Jose Valverde, Detroit Tigers organization (286)
Valverde went into 2013 with seven straight seasons of at least 25 saves, but also no job until the Tigers signed him to a minor-league contract in April. After saving nine games in 11 chances, Valverde blew a save on June 12, allowed four earned runs in one inning on June 19 and was designated for assignment. Valverde allowed six HR in 19 1/3 IP. Valverde is 35, now pitching for Detroit’s AAA team in Toledo and has no assurance of getting another chance to close in the majors. Those who play in fantasy baseball leagues for money or for fun should skip drafting him.
Jonathan Papelbon, Philadelphia Phillies (277)
Papelbon went into 2013 with seven straight seasons of at least 30 saves, but unlike Valverde continues to be very productive. Papelbon had 20 saves in the first half along with a 2.33 ERA and 0.91 WHIP. But Papelbon also had five blown saves and a 7.9 K/9, well off of his career mark of 10.6. If the Phillies fall out of the playoff race, there is speculation that Papelbon could be traded, but even if that happened, Papelbon would continue to close. Papelbon holds the record for reaching 200 saves in the fewest number of appearances, breaking the record previously held by Mariano Rivera. He is arguably the best bet as a closer in fantasy baseball leagues for money.