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News-Herald Assistant Sports Editor Kevin Kleps doesn’t just write headlines and stories. He also checks on his fantasy sports teams. A lot. See if the moves and news from the world of sports affect your fantasy teams.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Fantasy baseball: Week 1 closer chronicles

It wouldn't be the first day of the fantasy baseball season if we didn't have closer drama. And we're not referring to John Axford's less-than-ideal start to the season.

Seattle's David Aardsma, Oakland's Andrew Bailey, Toronto's Frank Francisco, Philadelphia's Brad Lidge and our personal favorite, San Francisco's Brian Wilson, all opened the season on the disabled list.

As usual, owners in 5x5 roto leagues scrambled in the past few days to find replacements -- lending even more credence to the It's Better to Punt Saves on Draft Day Theory.

Because of baseball's midweek start this year, Week 1 will last through next week in most leagues, thus the injuries to Francisco (chest and shoulder) and Wilson (oblique) aren't of much concern. Both could be back as soon as next week, with Jon Rauch serving as Francisco's replacement and Sergio Romo (5-3, 2.18 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, 70 strikeouts in 62 innings last season) the most likely candidate to get saves in Wilson's absence.

If you're looking for a longer-term replacement at closer, the other three teams have much more volatile situations.

Lidge could miss as much as two months because of a posterior rotator cuff strain, and Aardsma is expected to be out until May with a hip problem. The A's haven't give a return date for Bailey, who has a forearm injury, but he likely won't be back for at least a couple of weeks.

All of which brings us to our ranking of the three replacement closers:

1. Jose Contreras, Phillies:
He was 6-4 with a 3.34 ERA and 57 Ks in 56 2/3 innings last season. Lidge hasn't exactly been a model of stability the last two seasons, so we wouldn't be surprised if Contreras has the job for longer than a couple of months this year.

2. Brian Fuentes, Athletics:
He had 24 saves, a 2.81 ERA and 1.06 WHIP with the Angels and Twins last season, and he saved 48 games the year before in Los Angeles. He should be a reliable source of saves until the injury-prone Bailey returns.

3. Brandon League, Mariners: He might have the job longer than Fuentes, but he's much less of a sure thing after a 2010 in which he was 9-7, but blew half of his 12 save opportunities and had only 56 Ks in 79 innings. League has eight saves in seven big-league seasons.

One more quick note on closers: Owners who are relying on Atlanta's Craig Kimbrel and the Angels' Fernando Rodney had to be encouraged by Thursday's games. We know it's early, but neither was guaranteed the job in camp, and both struck out a pair of batters to pick up the save Thursday. Kimbrel, who now has 42 Ks in 21 2/3 innings in his young career, could be a top-10 reliever by season's end.

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