Friday, May 04, 2007

Fantasy Journal: Closer I Am to Fine*, by J-Christmas

“It went okay, but I had closer problems all year.”

This was a wise friend of mine’s assessment of his lone fantasy baseball season. I, a virgin fantasy player, had gone to him earlier this year seeking advice before the draft.

Instead of really taking his words to heart, though, I recklessly followed my own path. Now those words have come back to haunt me.

I’m having closer problems.

To my credit, I kind of tried to stack my bullpen during the draft. I did take a closer – albeit a 39-year-old with a bad right shoulder, Philadelphia’s Tom “Flash” Gordon. Then I drafted 2 stud middle relievers, Joel Zumaya (Tigers) and Cla Meredith (Padres). The only problem: those guys don’t get saves. The rest of my pitchers were starters.

Once I realized my mistake, I started scrambling through the free agent scrap heap looking for potential closers. I scoured the fantasy advice columns for the buzz on who might lose his job, and who might take it. I even asked my sportswriter roommate, Mark “Bronson Arroyo” Goodman, to send me text messages whenever he saw a potential closer hit the market.

That’s how I ended up with a ragtag group of sometimes-maybe-closers like Derrick Turnbow, Henry Owens, Ryan Franklin, Joakim Soria, and Mike Gonzalez. Guys who throw heat inconsistently and live on the edge. Guys I would probably never have heard of if not for this weird game called fantasy baseball.

Despite another piece of advice, though, I refused to trade for a closer. I guess I’m a conservative manager in that sense. I’ll dig through the trash, but I don’t make trades.

So despite my cheap-ass efforts, my team languished in last place in the saves category for all of April, and close to last place overall. I couldn’t stop thinking that saves were holding me back.

But little by little, as I accumulated temporary closers and Flash Gordon unsteadily accumulated 5 saves, I started to claw my way out of the save cellar. Today it finally happened: I took over 11th place in saves!

The euphoria didn’t last long. This morning I also noticed a little sticky note with a fiery burst next to Flash’s name on my roster. In Yahoo land, this means breaking news (no pun intended). The note read: “Gordon is returning to Philadelphia to get checked out after feeling pain in his right shoulder.”

Goddamnit! Unsteady as he is, Flash owns 50% of my team’s 10 saves. I can already feel my #11 ranking in saves slipping away like a greased-up Easter egg.
I shouldn’t feel too sorry for myself, though. It’s been a rough start to the season for closers. Brad Lidge had another meltdown (the “sign Dan Wheeler!!!” text got to me too late). Eric Gagne had another physical breakdown. Bob Wickman soon joined Gagne, B.J. Ryan, Octavio Dotel and Jorge Julio on the disabled list. Even Mariano Rivera is suddenly throwing like a large steaming piece of dog poop.

Basically, the closer situation is a crapshoot. (Pardon all the fecal terms.) I’m tempted to just give up on it, accept that I’ll be last in saves, and focus on the other stats. After all, I’m now in 8th place overall, ahead of my mortal enemy Team Zambia, which is all I really care about.

But I’m obviously fated to obsess over closers all year. So I’ll keep tossing and turning at night, checking the waiver wire in the morning, and throwing shit at the bullpen to see what sticks.

*The title for this piece was going to be “Closer I Am to Find,” which I thought was a witty pun referencing both the Indigo Girls song from middle school and that nonexistent superstar closer I’m searching for. But halfway through this thing, I realized the words to the song are actually “Closer I am to Fine,” which makes a lot less sense, unless I’m going to fine Tom Gordon for having a mashed potato shoulder. Whatever.

-That explanation made no sense to me either. – Ed.

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Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Miami’s Draft Struggles Didn’t End with Quinn, by Adam Zwecker

The Dolphins’ draft choices this year were enough to make fans miss the Wannsteadt-Spielman Era. Granted, Ted Ginn could turn out to be valuable as someone who can return kicks while learning how to play football, a-la-Devin Hester. But what doesn’t make sense is, if the Dolphins were set on taking Ginn over Brady Quinn or some can't-miss prospect like Patrick Willis (a better, faster Zach Thomas) or Darrelle Revis/Leon Hall or even Joe Staley, why didn’t they trade down to select Ginn a few spots later, and accumulate some draft picks? Of course, with the way they draft and Miami’s tendency to give away draft picks for injured quarterbacks nearing retirement, I suppose it wouldn't have done much good to trade down anyway.

All in all, the Dolphins could have had (1) Brady Quin (possibly the best QB in the draft), (2A) Ryan Kalil (best center in the draft), (2B) Charles Johnson (one of the top three or four DEs in the draft), and (3) Tank Tyler (the third-best DT in the draft) or Ray McDonald (a DE/DT tweener perfect for a 3-4 front) – all on the first day.

Watching the draft unfold, I thought there was a strong possibility Miami would take a QB like John Beck or Trent Edwards (who went in Round 3) with their second round pick in Round 2 and then select center Samson Satele in the third where he was better value. I guess after the heartbreak of seeing Ryan Kalil go one pick before to Carolina, Miami freaked out and reached a little for Samson. Kalil, for his part, will be an All-Pro anchor of Carolina’s line and an above-average player as a rookie a-la-Nick Mangold. That is pretty hard to find these days in a center. Satele is more of a project. He is tough as nails and will at the very least be a good guard/center backup, but he has a strange frame with short arms and played in June Jones’s Tecmo Bowl-style fun-and-gun offense in Hawaii where he never had to run-block or make calls at the line. Hence, he will take some time adjusting to the NFL and might not be a starter this year were it not for the Dolphins’ pitiful O-line situation, as the team has just 3 starters on the roster.

As for the late rounds, I also liked the center from Central Michigan, Drew Mormino, they plucked in the sixth, but I couldn't believe they grabbed him and that no-name 270-lb fullback from Hawaii in the 6th when they could have taken Brandon Siler (the star MLB from the Gators’ defense) and Ben Patrick (the third best TE in the draft – Randy McMichael minus the attitude). They both ended up going in the 7th and I thought all of Miami’s last 5 picks in the 6th and 7th rounds were likely going to be undrafted free agents, particularly FB Reagan Mauia and the punter Brandon Fields.

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