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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