Ricescapades: Say It Ain't So, Joakim

There's a sinking feeling you get in your gut as a fantasy owner when you wake up in the morning, open the newspaper (or laptop, in this day and age), and read that one of the key players on your fantasy team has gone down with a season-ending injury. The churning in your stomach resulting from the news of whichever crippling injury has downed your star has rendered your waffles and bacon as inedible as the solid wood table upon which you're about to toss your cookies.

Fellow fantasy owners of Joakim Soria, let's all join hands and sing our sad song of loss over our fallen fantasy closer, who decided to undergo season-ending Tommy John surgery on Friday. Maybe the owners of Victor Martinez can join in and we can all have a group therapy session. Seriously, this just sucks. In one major keeper league I play in, I had Neftali Feliz and Soria as my two closers going into 2012. I already lost Feliz to his inevitable shift to the starting rotation, and now Soria is done until 2013. I'm completely without a closer. I'm probably destined to be one of those obnoxious fantasy owners who gets roto updates sent to his phone and who swoops in on any potential closer candidate like a starving jackal, a split second before anyone else in the league.

I'll be damned, though, if I'm going to let it drag me down. I won't scuttle up to other fantasy managers, hat in hand, willing to get raked over the coals for a J.J. Putz or a Joel Hanrahan. Did the Cardinals give up when Adam Wainwright went down last year? Did the Giants tank when Buster Posey got T-boned by Scott Cousins in May? Did the Red Sox suffer an historic September collapse after Kevin Youkilis and Clay Buchholz went down? Er...scratch that last one.

After the jump, a collection of Royals pitchers who may collect some save opportunities in the wake of the cataclysmic Soria injury.

It's easy to forget now that the Royals had a Soria-centric closer drama last season when, in the midst of a particularly horrible stretch of pitching in May, Soria demoted himself from the role. This led to a sudden rush of Aaron Crow waiver wire pickups, as Crow was initially appointed to be the one to take over for Soria in the ninth inning. Sadly, in his brief stint as ninth-inning guy, Crow never picked up a save (he never even got an opportunity) and ended up spending the season as sort of a nondescript, albeit good, middle reliever.

If the Royals decide against experimenting with Crow in the starting rotation, he'd be an interesting closer option. He throws hard as hell and can put away hitters with a plus slider. He struck out more than a batter an inning in his rookie season, always an encouraging sign and one you want to see for a pitcher with the potential to protect leads in the late innings. Of any of the candidates to fill in for Soria, Crow is the one with the greatest potential to turn into a star-caliber pitcher.

Alas, the Royals are slated to go with the less creative, "safer" option in former Dodger Jonathan Broxton. Broxton hasn't been any good in about two years, but since he has the magic "C" stapled to his chest (because he got saves once upon a time, don'tcha know), he enters 2012 as Kansas City's nominal closer.

Broxton has followed the typical closer career path. Start out as a nondescript reliever or failed starter, dominate for a couple years as closer, begin to struggle with injuries, ineffectiveness, or wildness (or all of those at once), and collapse brutally amid a torrent of boos. Broxton was dominant as late as 2009, but in 2010 his career began to derail (perhaps brought on by a delayed case of Matt Stairs-itis) and his 2011 season was an injury-plagued disaster, as it was revealed he had been trying (unsuccessfully) to pitch through pain for more than a year.

Broxton is the uninspired choice as closer, but it looks like he's your man to pick up should you need saves in the immediate future. However, the decreased velocity on all of his pitches since 2009 and the resulting plunge in strikeout rate should have you at the ready to search for his replacement.

Like, say, Greg Holland. Despite the fact that he gave up a huge, game-losing bomb to my man Pablo Sandoval this afternoon, Holland is an intriguing possibility not only because of his strikeout ability, but also because he doesn't give up any home runs. Seriously, he only gave up three home runs in 60 innings of work last season. It likely wasn't a fluke, either, as Holland was equally stingy with the long ball in the minors (just thirteen home runs allowed in 250 minor league innings).

The ability to avoid home runs is a particularly valuable trait for late-inning relief pitchers, because they're often tasked with protecting small leads where homers can be devastating. One or two game-changing home runs can ruin a reliever's ERA, simply due to the fact that they throw so few innings a year. Holland enters the season as the eighth-inning guy, but he's primed to be a terrific closer should Broxton struggle. Keep an eye on this situation, because Holland is the best man for the role, and it may not take the Kansas City brass that long to realize it.

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