Joining the party
Chris Sale, White Sox (Yahoo! 25%, ESPN 12%, CBS 20%)

In few places has the dichotomy between fantasy baseball and “real” baseball been laid out more clearly than when Chicago manager Ozzie Guillen spoke to the Chicago Sun-Times last weekend:

The way Sale is throwing the ball, it can be the opposite too. It can be two righties [at bat] and Santos is in the game and one lefty [batting], if I need a lefty to get somebody out, I will bring in Sale. If there is some situation where I think Sale is the guy to face whoever is at the plate, he will face him. I’m going to go with the best guy out there for a particular hitter.

For all of Ozzie’s flaws, this is exactly what you should want to hear from your manager. Forget the conventional “closer” business, which often leads to disasters like Clint Hurdle refusing to use Joel Hanrahan through 19 innings simply because the Pirates never had a lead to hand him. Use the pitcher who is appropriate for the situation rather than what tradition calls for, and more often than not, you’re going to come out ahead.

Of course, while that’s great news for White Sox fans, it’s something of a concern for fantasy owners who had expected plenty of saves from Sergio Santos and have now had to see Sale pick up two saves this month, with some uncertainty ahead.  After surviving a rough patch in mid-June, Santos has been excellent, so there’s little worry that he’s in danger of being replaced, though it sounds like Sale is a decent bet to sneak in now and then to pick up some opportunities (it should be noted that each allowed late-inning runs against Cleveland on Tuesday, allowing the Indians to tie in a game that Chicago eventually won in 14 innings).

Sale has been so good of late—in 31 1/3 innings over the last two months, he’s allowed four earned runs and a 34/6 K/BB—that he’s nearly worthy of a roster spot even if the saves aren’t there. Guillen’s outlook suggests that he might get some chances, and in a market that hasn’t seen a real closing shake-up in quite some time, that qualifies as big news.

Jeremy Affeldt, Giants (Yahoo! 2%, ESPN 1%, CBS 2%)
With massively underrated setup man Sergio Romo on the disabled list and headed for tests on his elbow and closer Brian Wilson now dealing with back spasms and another disastrous blown save (this time against Atlanta, on Monday) in a very disappointing season, the Giants are suddenly at a place where save chances might appear for some of their lesser-known bullpen arms. Based on matchups, that’s likely to be a “pick a name out of a hat” situation, and we could see Affeldt, Javier Lopez, Santiago Casilla, and Ramon Ramirez all in the mix (though I have a hard time backing up Casilla for anything, after seeing what was kindly named “The Worst Plate Appearance in Baseball History”).

For now, we’ll go with the reliable Affeldt, who has collected three saves this year and 25 over his ten-year career. With Romo out and Wilson now shut down for a few days, the door is open for short term saves.  Since Affeldt isn’t really going to help you in terms of peripherals, he’s certainly not a must-add, though for those absolutely desperate for saves, this is a situation that bears close attention.

Sticking around
Bobby Parnell, Mets
(Yahoo! 11%, ESPN 9%, CBS 22%) beat writer Anthony DiComo’s tweet on Tuesday, following Jason Isringhausen’s 300th career save on Monday, said it all:

According to Collins, the transition to Parnell as closer begins now.

This has been expected for a while since Isringhausen has little future in New York and the Mets are eager to see if Parnell can assume that role in 2012 and beyond. That, plus Parnell’s generally solid season, accounts for why he’s been mentioned in this space several times since Francisco Rodriguez was shipped off to Milwaukee. Of course, the problem is that Parnell hasn’t had a great lead-up to the job; in the last 30 days, he has a 17/7 K/BB, which is fine, but he’s also allowed 22 hits and 11 earned runs in 14 innings.

Still, he’ll get the opportunity for the rest of the season, and his early-season work proves that the ability is there if he can just get the consistency to go along with it. Don’t expect a top-tier reliever, but also don’t scoff at the idea that there’s now a closer on the wire available in a huge majority of leagues.

Rafael Betancourt, Rockies (Yahoo! 26%, ESPN 36%, CBS 24%)
Despite initial reports that Huston Street might avoid the disabled list, he was ultimately sidelined by his right triceps strain, joining Matt Lindstrom on the sidelines. As I noted last week, Betancourt has been a quietly solid reliever for a number of years now and would likely be a perfectly acceptable solution in the 9th inning. So far, that’s been the case, as Betancourt easily converted his first chance last week and struck out two of the three Cardinals he faced in a non-save situation on Saturday. On the season, Betancourt’s K/BB stands at an excellent 58/8, so while his tenure in the role depends on how quickly Street and Lindstrom get healthy, he’s a must-add in all formats right now. As you can see, his ownership rates have quickly shot up, so we’ll likely be saying goodbye to him next week.

Vinnie Pestano, Indians (Yahoo! 4%, ESPN 0%, CBS 5%)
Chris Perez picked up two saves over the weekend without allowing a baserunner, which is nice. He’s also struck out just two men in his last 5 2/3 innings, however, and I just have no idea how he’s managed to survive this long. Pestano has run into some control issues of his own recently—one walk in each of his last four games—and as long as Perez keeps pulling out miracles, the Indians probably won’t make a change. I just can’t shake the feeling that Perez is going to implode in a spectacularly public fashion sometime soon.

Saying goodbye
David Robertson, Yankees (Yahoo! 18%, ESPN 7%, CBS 14%)
No, there’s nothing wrong with Robertson, who struck out two over three nearly perfect innings in the last seven days. There’s also nothing wrong with Mariano Rivera, so it’s time to graduate Robertson from the list. If he’s still available in your league, he’s worth an add.

AL-only VP
Jim Johnson, Orioles (Yahoo! 3%, ESPN 0%, CBS 3%)
I know that I wrote about Johnson here a few weeks ago, and I do try not to repeat myself. Of course, Johnson’s still owned by roughly no one, and Kevin Gregg did face six batters on Sunday without retiring a single one, so there’s reason to revisit it. Like Perez, Gregg seems to be doing just enough to get by without being so overwhelmingly bad that he forces a change, and it should be noted that he had reeled off five consecutive scoreless appearances prior to his Detroit disaster. Also note this, however: Gregg hasn’t struck out a single batter since he whiffed Andruw Jones to end the 8th inning back on July 31. Through Tuesday, he’d faced 23 batters in August and failed to retire a single one via the K. Johnson has had some troubles of his own lately, but on the whole he’s been better than Gregg and is likely first in line if Buck Showalter finally decides he’s seen enough.

NL-only VP
Kerry Wood, Cubs (Yahoo! 4%, ESPN 1%, CBS 5%)
I had been planning to include Wood here as the NL-only Value Pick simply on the basis of his recent performance, including a Cubs-record eight consecutive strikeouts.  Then he picked up the save on Monday—when Carlos Marmol was unavailable—and watched as Marmol loaded the bases on Tuesday before blowing the game on a Brian Bogusevic walk-off grand slam. That alone isn’t enough to boot Marmol from the role since he’d converted nine straight saves after briefly losing the job in July, but it does have to give Mike Quade some heartburn about sending Marmol out in the 9th—you know, aside from the usual heartburn associated with having such a noted (un)control artist as your closer.  Either way, when you’re into the single-league picks, you hope for good peripherals with an outside shot at some saves. Wood is in position to provide just that, though Sean Marshall remains in the mix.

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Any thoughts on people who are likely to close in 2012, but aren't this year? Parnell seems a prime candidate, but is there anyone else?
Rex Brothers is a favorite of mine. Possibly Aroldis Chapman, if he's not starting. And who knows what'll happen w/ the White Sox.
"Forget the conventional “closer” business, which often leads to disasters like Clint Hurdle refusing to use Joel Hanrahan through 19 innings simply because the Pirates never had a lead to hand him." I am shocked to keep reading such nonsense from supposedly intelligent baseball pundits. Hurdle's choice of relievers held the opponent without a run until the 19th inning, for Chrissake. How much more can you ask than that? If Hanrahan had been the one to hold them scoreless in, say, the 10th, 11th, and 12th, instead of the pitchers who did, would that have made any difference in the outcome? Not the slightest little bit. Not at all. Yogi said making predictions is hard, especially about the future. It would have been pretty hard for any of these geniuses to guess in advance which of the 19 innings was going to be the most crucial. Instead, in retrospect, these jokers act as if they would have known to keep Hanrahan on the bench the whole time the game was tied. And they are all sure they would have had the foresight at just the exact right moment to guess that a run was going to score in the 19th, at which point they would have brought Hanrahan in to save the day. What a crock.
If we're talking about that game specifically, Daniel McCutchen was in his 6th inning of relief, and ended up throwing 92 pitches. I don't think anyone would argue that McCutchen is a better pitcher than Hanrahan, so how did it help the team to lose with a tired McCutchen while their best reliever never saw the mound?
Yes, I am talking about that game specifically. I will grant you that Hanrahan is a better pitcher than McCutcheon. So if you were to write the exact same reply but substituted the words "6th inning" with any of these: "1st inning" or "2nd inning" or "3rd inning" or "4th inning" or "5th inning," your comment would remain equally as true. It would have been every bit as "appropriate" to bring Hanrahan in earlier. The reality is that if you had brought Hanrahan in at any of those points and he threw an inning or two before being removed, you would have still had a tie game later. It wouldn't have made any difference at all until the 19th inning. So your entire argument about McCutcheon's 6th inning rests upon knowing during that game that he would throw shutout ball for five innings and then would then need to be replaced. Exactly then, and no earlier, or you would have realized no gain from bringing in Hanrahan. And you can ONLY know any of that in hindsight. Acting as if McCutcheon "seeing the mound" is of any value itself is where your logic runs off the tracks. Knowing which inning is the high leverage inning is the key. You cannot look at the 19th inning in isolation. You have to compare it to all the other opportunities to have brought in Hanrahan and explain why you would have rejected those, but pulled the trigger in the 19th. Of course, there is no way you can argue with a straight face that you would have known to save him for the 19th because it was more important than the earlier innings. If you can recognize that limitation to your argument it would be much more fair. But then, you would have to admit that when to bring Hanrahan in was a guessing game rather than a decision based on pure logic. Which causes your point to lose its punch. So to bash Hurdle because he did not know then (like you know now) that the 19th was the key inning is irresponsible, and would fail as a valid argument in Logic 101.
To clarify, I'm not suggesting that I or anyone else knew that the 19th inning was going to be the one where the game ended. It's just that if Hanrahan > McCutchen, which we do agree on, then Hanrahan should have pitched before McCutchen. McCutchen is your "break glass in case of emergency" arm if the game goes that long. I would have used Hanrahan in the 10th (and maybe 11th) innings, and to your point that if Hanrahan had been the one holding the Braves scoreless instead of the other guys, the idea is that Hanrahan is far, far more likely to do so. Just because the other Pirate relievers managed to throw that many scoreless innings doesn't mean the process was correct.
I would have to disagree that ones best reliever should always go in first in any close game. And I bet that when you think about it you would probably agree with me. Like you, I would also like to see a pitcher like Mariano Rivera used in a high leverage situation earlier than the 9th inning. But to bring him on a regular basis at the start of the 6th or 7th inning of a tie game doesn't make any sense either. I'll stress again that the key is "high leverage." If the tying and winning runners get on base, it makes a lot of sense to bring him in, whether in the 7th, 9th or 11th. But to use hime to start the 7th or 11th innings really doesn't make any more sense than to always have him start off the 9th. It is okay both to use your best reliever earlier, or when your other pitchers are mowing guys down, to save him for later. So we really aren't that far apart in our view. I just think it is unfair for you and Rob Neyer to bash Clint Hurdle mercilessly for his decision. Reasonable people can disagree, and Hurdle's managing was well within the realm of reason.