Reports out of Minnesota on Tuesday morning are that Twins’ closer Joe Nathan might be done for the year. Nathan has a torn ulnar collateral ligament and will decide whether to have surgery within the next two weeks.
The Twins will now have to shuffle the deck in their bullpen, and are staring at the harsh reality that they do not have an experienced closer on their roster. Jon Rauch has the most recent experience closing games, but his career has been far from consistent.
Fantasy owners will now need to make a dramatic change in their drafting strategy. Nathan has been one of the very few closers that has consistently produced over the past five seasons; only Mariano Rivera has consistently closed for one team as long as Nathan has in Minneapolis. If a “sure thing” existed in fantasy baseball, it was that Nathan and Rivera would get you 35 saves with a low ERA.
With Nathan now out of the equation, just as draft season starts, owners need to re-think the value of closers on their rosters and the value of closers in the draft. Clearly, the scoring system in your fantasy league should determine the value of closers on your roster, but the volatility in the area makes it hard to buy a winner every year. Throwing in (pun intended) the annual random 25 save guy (see anyone closing for Washington, Pittsburgh, Florida or Houston), the value of an elite closer can be overstated.
But taking Nathan out of the equation changes things.
Rivera is now, clearly, the one elite closer on the board. If your league values ERA and saves, Rivera’s value is now elevated.
Every other closer, though, now becomes more of a crap shoot than they already were in your draft. If your draft follows the trends of nearly every other draft, Rivera will go relatively early (third or fourth round) and then, in the sixth or seventh, someone will take another closer. Whomever breaks the seal on closers is then responsible for a cascade of picks that grossly overvalue a position with marginal impact in most scoring systems.
Certainly there will be hype for closers like Carlos Marmol of the Cubs now, who have ridiculous stuff and could strikeout nearly two batters per inning pitched. But not many teams have enough middle-inning relief depth to make the 35 innings from a closer over the course of the season enough to swing your ERA or WHIP totals.
Reality for fantasy owners is that the Nathan injury should push the entire closer market DOWN your draft board. With one fewer sure thing on the board, the limited gross impact on a team’s weekly production, and the reality that you can usually grab 50 saves off waivers in any season by acting quickly, you should look to add quality starting pitching over closers and avoid the impulse to be “that guy” when the next person on Yahoo! or ESPN’s rankings tells you that Jose Valverde’s a good idea.