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May 16: Finding the next Papelbon

Who could have forecasted that Jonathan Papelbon would save 13 games and own a 0.44 ERA through mid-May? Each fantasy writer was posed with the same question: In a volatile closer market, who is the best reliever to buy that has never reached 20 saves in a season?

Cory Schwartz Director of Stats and Fantasy 411 co-host

Jonathan Broxton, Los Angeles Dodgers
First, remember that the road to fifth place is littered with "closers of the future" -- anyone missing Ryan Wagner, Chad Harville or Luis Vizcaino lately? Next, keep in mind that closers are made, not born, as the majority of Major League relievers broke in as starters. With those two keys in mind, worry less about great pedigree and more about great opportunity: Dodgers closer Danys Baez has struggled badly of late, Japanese right-hander Takashi Saito has been successful but is still an unknown, and injured incumbent Eric Gagne is still weeks away. If you're looking for an upside gamble, check out hard-throwing righty Jonathan Broxton, who has averaged more than a strikeout an inning throughout his Minor League and young Major League career.

Mike Siano Fantasy 411 co-host

J.J. Putz, Seattle Mariners and Fernando Rodney, Detroit Tigers
Short term answers are Akinori Otsuka and J.J. Putz. However, Otsuka is too obvious, so I'll go with Putz, who has shown a great strikeout rate this year and has what it takes to close, having done it in 2004. I don't think Eddie Guardado will get the closer job back in Seattle, but I could see him getting traded by the deadline.

Long term, a guy I love is Fernando Rodney, who has six saves even though he's behind Todd Jones. There's also risk with Jones because of age and hamstring problems.

Gregg Klayman Fantasy Director

Jose Valverde, Arizona Diamondbacks
If an injury-riddled 2004 campaign hadn't slowed his development, Jose Valverde would have already reached the 20-save plateau. Valverde has fanned 203 batters in 160 2/3 career innings and has always had an ERA in the 2.00-2.50 range, "save" for 2004. If he can avoid giving up the long ball (three of the four runs he's allowed this year have been solo shots) and cut down slightly on his walk ratio (one every two innings), Valverde will find himself being mentioned among the game's top closers. And since he plays in a weak division, the save opportunities will likely be plentiful for the remainder of the season.

Alex Cushing Fantasy Writer

Rafael Soriano, Seattle Mariners
We all know that J.J. Putz is expected to get the majority of saves in Seattle, but when has he ever shut down opponents at this pace?

Enter Rafael Soriano.

The 26-year-old right-hander's 1.13 WHIP will cost a few bucks, but the window of opportunity to buy him at a decent rate could "close" before long. Having fully recovered from Tommy John Surgery, Soriano has a stellar 25/8 K/BB ratio in 20 1/3 IP. And when you consider how he dominated in Triple-A, he has all the makings of a top-10 closer in the bigs.

Rafael Soriano is a reason to buy relievers based on skill, not opportunity.

And who knows? He may even finish with a better K/BB ratio than Alfonso Soriano.

Dean Chiungos Fantasy Writer

Fernando Rodney, Detroit Tigers
In spite of his 1.59 ERA and 0.94 WHIP, Fernando Rodney gets no respect.

Such is the fate of a setup man named Rodney.

But with closer Todd Jones suffering from a sore knee and an equally painful 5.68 ERA in seven May appearances, a promotion could -- and should -- be in Rodney's future.

The 5-foot-11, 220-pound Dominican has proven he can do the job, notching six saves in seven opportunities. And at 29, he's at a prime age to shoulder the ninth-inning duties.

My advice? Grab the stingy Rodney while he's still cheap.

Tim Ott Fantasy Writer

Chris Ray, Baltimore Orioles
I'm going to have to go with Baltimore's Chris Ray on this one. With his 96 mph fastball, tough slider and competitive demeanor, Ray is looking very much like a bona fide, big-time closer. It remains to be seen how he'll bounce back from, say, serving up a walk-off home run to David Ortiz at Fenway Park, but my feeling is that Ray will survive any hiccups and mostly dominate on his way to 30-plus saves.

Cara Pitterman Fantasy Writer

Todd Coffey, Cincinnati Reds
Picking up Cincinnati's Todd Coffey, who has one career save, could pay off big time. Currently in the setup role, Coffey's been lights out with a 0.79 ERA. Expect him to get the opportunity to save a game here and there, especially since the Reds have remained competitive well into May. Combine that with any sign of regular closer David Weathers faltering, and Coffey's first in line to take over. Even if Coffey doesn't end up as the closer, though, he'll help ERA and WHIP categories with his consistent presence in the eighth inning.

Ben Heller Fantasy Writer

J.J. Putz, Seattle Mariners
Top five reasons to add J.J Putz to your fantasy team:

5. With three blown saves in seven chances and a 5.93 ERA, Eddie Guardado probably won't be getting his job back any time soon.

4. Even if Guardado does reclaim his job, the highly tradable lefty will likely be out of Seattle by midseason.

3. With two saves last week, Putz earned manager Mike Hargrove's vote of confidence.

2. With a 1.83 ERA, a 0.97 WHIP, four saves and 28 K's in 19 2/3 innings, Putz has been absolutely dominant.

1. No big-league player has a better name than J.J. Putz.

Jamie O'Grady Fantasy Writer

Jorge Sosa, Atlanta Braves
By far the most frustrating category to predict and dominate in fantasy baseball, saves endlessly confound, disappoint and shock owners as closers are demoted, promoted, injured and rescued from the proverbial scrap heap. Only the most wily of owners succeed as "saves speculators," and to that end I sheepishly recommend grabbing the Braves' Jorge Sosa from your league's waiver wire. Yes, Sosa sports a "robust" 6.52 ERA and 1.83 WHIP as a starter, but the impending return of Horacio Ramirez to the Atlanta rotation as well as the continuing struggles of incumbent closer Chris Reistma suggest Sosa might become a factor in the not-too-distant future. Championship clubs are born from an occasional risk taken, so consider Sosa a "so-so" option if you're desperate for saves.

Gregg Schwartz Fantasy Writer

Chris Ray, Baltimore Orioles
At 24, Chris Ray has been flat-out nasty in his first season as the Orioles closer, going a perfect 9-for-9 in save opportunities with a 1.88 ERA and a 1.05 WHIP. The flamethrowing right-hander has tossed five consecutive hitless innings and is quickly making O's fans forget about B.J. Ryan's departure.

If you were able to get Ray late on draft day, consider yourself lucky, because it won't happen again. He's going to be one of the game's top closers for many years to come.