Talented Mr. Roto: Save the best for last
Columnist explains that there's no need to overpay for saves
Whether it's the price of gas, the cost of living, or just a middle of the rotation starter (think Gil Meche), the cost of doing business continues to rise.
We're always looking to save where we can. Like over at ESPN.com, where we've just launched a brand spanking new whiz bang every-feature-you-could-possibly-want FREE League Manager service.
ALL of it's free. Free live scoring, free everything. Seriously. Go ahead. Try to give us money. You can't. In fact, sign up today to play at ESPN.com and be entered into a drawing to win tickets to the 2007 Home Run Derby and All-Star Game.
Or, you can just practice drafting in our free mock draft lobby. Whichever option you choose, a few truths remain self evident. First, I am a company man. As soon as I am done here, I'm learning how to say ground ball/fly ball ratio in Spanish for ESPN Desportes.
And second, not only should you save money on where you and your league play, but I don't want you paying for saves. That's the actual point of this column -- where to find cheap saves.
Let's start with a number. That number is zero. Now let's put that number in context.
Name the number of closers who have been in the top five of saves the last three years in a row.
Francisco Rodriguez, Trevor Hoffman and Mariano Rivera have made the list two of the past three years, but that's it.
Here's another number: 252.
That's the number of saves that Joe Borowski, J.J. Putz, Jonathan Papelbon, Akinori Otsuka, Chris Ray, Takashi Saito, Ambiorix Burgos, Jorge Julio, Salomon Torres, Tyler Walker combined for last year, none of whom started the year as the no-questions-asked closer and many who were merely setup guys when you drafted.
There are ALWAYS saves to be found, OK? They might be ugly, but they are there. From now until the end of time, you do not need to waste precious money or a draft pick on saves.
The uncertainty of the position is why some folks say, 'Well, that's why you gotta get a rock-solid guy so you don't have to worry.' To which I say, 'Fine. Just tell me who the rock solid guys are, because the guys who owned Brad Lidge last year would like a word with you.'
Eric Gagne was the man. Until he wasn't. Everyone loved Derrick Turnbow, and then it was only the guys in the outfield bleachers at Miller Park, since they had a good shot of getting a ball when he was on the mound. Francisco Cordero ruined many a team before he got to Milwaukee and got back to being good.
Here's some places to look for cheap saves:
The Obvious Guys
Joel Pinero, Red Sox: Just because he is a soft tosser and seemingly washed up does not mean he won't get a bunch of saves. Known as the "Todd Jones rule," having the gig is often the key. I'm not saying he keeps it all year or that it won't be ugly, but I do know he's the guy as of today and he'll be cheap come draft day.
Seth McClung, Devil Rays: He walks too many guys and is pitching for Tampa Bay. Those are the negatives. The positives are that he converted six of seven save opportunities after the All-Star break, he lowered his batting average against each month, and you won't have to reach to get him.
Mike MacDougal, White Sox: They say Bobby Jenks has lost a lot of weight this offseason. But is it a good thing? What if, like Samson and his hair, Jenks gets his power from his girth? If he falters, former KC closer Mike MacDougal is the next obvious choice to step in.
Keith Foulke, Indians: He once was an elite closer. And Joe Borowski was once Joe Borowski. If I had to choose between the two, I'd actually take Joe, but luckily, both will be cheap enough that I can afford both of them.
Joel Zumaya, Tigers: It's not if, it's when.
Joe Nelson, Royals: I'm not convinced Octavio Dotel is healthy and that he keeps the job even if he is. Just like Cleveland, both Dotel and Nelson will be dirt cheap come draft day, and Nelson converted 9 of 10 save ops after the break last year.
Scot Shields, Angels: He's a stud you want regardless of role and considering K-Rod's injury potential, a must have if you own Francisco Rodriguez -- or just want to get one up on his owner. 84 strikeouts in 87 innings pitched last year along with 7 wins last year with a 2.81 ERA and 1.17 WHIP? I love Scot Shields.
Justin Duchscherer, Athletics: Nine saves last year while filling in for Huston Street, he's the Oakland version of Scot Shields. A great setup guy that is a must-own for Street owners or their enemies.
Akinori Otsuka, Rangers: From the What Have You Done For Me Lately files, Akinori had 32 saves last year to go with a 2.11 ERA, and what happens in the offseason? They sign Eric Gagne. Well, Gagne hasn't stayed healthy the last few years, and we know Otsuka can do the gig. It's worth a few bucks to find out if he gets that chance at some point.
Mike Gonzalez, Braves: Wickman has the gig for now, but Gonzalez is all kinds of yummy. You heard me. He logged 64 strikeouts in only 54 innings last year while converting 24 saves with a 2.14 ERA. He'll get a handful of saves just pitching to lefties anyways, and there is a very reasonable chance that Wickman gets hurt or loses the closer gig, both of which he has done before.
Taylor Tankersley, Marlins: An insane 10.10 K/9 rate plus three saves, two wins and 22 holds in 49 games last season means a late-round flyer could pay huge dividends.
Kerry Wood, Cubs: Instead of talking about Wood, who we all know only needs to stay healthy, let's talk about current closer Ryan Dempster, who had nine blown saves and a 4.80 ERA last year. Oh and Dusty isn't there anymore, so there's no loyalty factor either.
Salomon Torres, Pirates: With Gonzo (I call him Gonzo) going to the Braves, the job falls to Torres, who has done it before. Owners got three wins, 12 saves and 20 holds last season for Torres in a variety of late-inning roles, and he'll be dirt cheap while folks drool over Matt Capps. (More on him in the next section).
Jorge Julio, D-backs: Jorge Julio has 99 career saves, 16 of which came last season when Jose Valverde was injured. Again.
Jonathan Broxton, Dodgers: Mmmmm, Jonathan Broxton. The kid is all sorts of terrific. After the All-Star break last season, Broxton had a 54/16 K/BB ratio in 40 IP along with a 1.80 ERA. Saito is no spring chicken and this is another case of not if, but when. Whatever you pay for Broxton, it'll be the cheapest you ever pay for him going forward.
Julian Tavarez and Craig Hansen, Red Sox: The reason Piniero is going to be so cheap come draft day is there's a very good chance he'll flame out. And if they decide to keep Papelbon in the rotation, it will be because one of these two cats is closing games. Tavarez has closed before in short-term stints -- 22 career saves -- and Hansen has long had that closer of the future label since he was a closer in college at St. John's. Hansen is the sexier pick, but don't be surprised if Tavarez has 10 saves or so at the end of the season.
David Aardsma, White Sox: He's got Bobby Jenks and Mike MacDougal ahead of him, but Mac is wild ,and if something happens to Jenks, the White Sox might turn to Aardsma, the former All-American closer at Rice University who had 29 saves in the Minors.
Tom Mastny, Indians: Four saves. He was brilliant last year after the Wickman trade after everyone else came up short. Then... not so brilliant. The Tribe brought in Borowski and Foulke, but neither are Rivera or Hoffman and Mastny is still young.
Chris Reitsma and Arthur Rhodes, Mariners: They're called cheap saves for a reason, kids. Reitsma has been a closer before during stops in Cincy and Atlanta, and Rhodes has long been a very good setup guy who has been a so-so closer over the years when given the chance. Both are backing up J.J. Putz, who had been mediocre prior to last year, more than doubling his strikeouts from the previous two seasons. Maybe he turned the corner, maybe it was just a career year. Worth a flyer to find out.
Rafael Soriano, Braves: He might very well be the most talented pitcher on staff. It's always been health, not stuff for Soriano, and if Wickman falters and they decide to keep Gonzo (I still call him Gonzo) pitching situationally, Soriano, who has a career 177/53 K/BB ratio, can do the job.
Antonio Alfonseca, Phillies: Tom Gordon continues to defy time, but he'll hit the wall eventually, and if it's this year, it's worth noting that former Marlins closer Antonio Alfonseca is now on the roster. It's called digging deep for a reason, kids.
Mike Stanton and Bill Bray, Reds: Can we just say that David Weathers currently has the gig and leave it at that? Bray is the guy I really like long term here as he was one of the keys to the Felipe Lopez/Austin Kearns trade.
Matt Capps, Pirates: Torres has the gig for now but lots of folks like Capps more long term and here's why: a 56/12 K/BB last year, 21 saves in the minors two years ago and a 9-1 record in relief last year.
Dan Wheeler, Astros: In case Lidge still ain't Lidge.
Someone you haven't even heard of yet: This much I know: Saves always come into the league, and there will be someone that isn't on this list or any list anywhere. But if you're paying attention, you'll jump on him. And then you won't have to pay for saves.
Matthew Berry -- The Talented Mr. Roto -- is the Sr. Director of Fantasy for ESPN.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.