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The Closers In Waiting

Being the last line of defense means constant scrutiny and a lack of job security. A struggling closer will lose their job faster than you can say Jason Frasor. Luckily there is always an eager apprentice waiting in the wings for their shot at ninth inning glory. Below are closer hopefuls most likely to see saves in 2011.

Wilton Lopez - Lopez worked his way into the Astros closing discussion with a 2010 season that saw him become one of the game's better control pitchers. He won't strike out a ton of batters but he keeps enough of them off the basepaths and enough balls out of the cheap seats to be a worthy closer. Houston isn't opposed to putting low strikeout guys into the role as they currently have Brandon Lyon saving games for them.

Jason Motte - Ryan Franklin isn't your typical closer but then again Tony LaRussa isn't your typical manager. Jason Motte fits the closer mould better but that doesn't he will get saves anytime soon. Ryan Franklin has done a fine job finishing games for the Cardinals despite a lack of strikeouts and LaRussa has no reason to change just to follow convention. However, Franklin is 35 and his lack of firepower may catch up to him. Motte can strike out more than a batter an inning and could rival the top closers for Ks.

Ryan Madson - The Phillies stand to have a lot of leads heading into the late innings with the rotation they have. That bodes well for Phillies relievers. Brad Lidge has ninth inning duties right now but he is just a meltdown away from handing the job to Madson. After the season Madson had last year he deserves to be given the role from day one. Lidge is experiencing tightness in his bicep and could miss the start of the year so Madson may take the job and never give it back.

Aroldis Chapman -  The Reds look set on keeping the Cuban missile in the bullpen and it's only a matter of time before they give him the closer role. Francisco Cordero is keeping the seat warm for Chapman in the meantime.It won't be long before we see Chapman and his stuffed cheeks toeing the rubber in the ninth.

Sean Burnett - Nationals supposed closer of the future has struggled this spring and could start the year in AAA meaning Sean Burnett could get the saves in the nation's capital. He induces lots of groundballs while striking out plenty and keeping the walks down. He has the stuff to keep Storen waiting for the role a while longer.

Hong-Chih Kuo / Kenley Jansen - If Jonathon Broxton can't bounce back from his second half meltdown the Dodgers have a pair of capable back-ups in Kuo and Jansen. Kuo has the firepower and command you look for in a closer and would excel in the role. Jansen is a more volatile pitcher who has unhittable stuff but struggles to command it. If he can keep the ball in the strike zone he has the potential to be among the game's top closers.

Mike Adams / Luke Gregorson - If Heath Bell is traded it would be up to either Mike Adams or Luke Gregorson to finish games in San Diego. The two Padres hurlers would be closers on most other teams as both posses above average strikeout rates. Gregorson may have pulled ahead of Adams after the amazing season he had but Adams may still be ahead in the race due to the longer track record.

Daniel Bard / Bobby Jenks - The Jonathan Papelbon trade rumors have been swirling for some time now but nothing seems to be coming of them. If the pursed lipped one does get moved the Red Sox have two capable replacements in Bard and Jenks. Bard would be fantasy dynamite if given the job as his blazing fastball is capable of putting up some stellar strikeout numbers..

Sergio Romo - Brian Wilson is set to miss the start of the season meaning Sergio Romo and his facial hair will give ninth inning duties a shot. He has the stuff to handle the job and will put up great numbers when filling in for Wilson.

Clay Hensley - Clay Hensley pitched well enough to close last year and with Leo Nunez seemingly always on the verge of losing his job it could soon be Hensley's time in Florida. Nunez has apparently looked very sharp in spring training so he appears to have a grasp on the Marlins closing duties. If Nunez gets off to a slow start we might see Hensley getting the ball in the ninth.

Jon Rauch / Octavio Dotel - Frank Fransisco is going to miss the start of the season meaning either Jon Rauch or Octavio Dotel will save games for the Blue Jays in the meantime. Both have experience closing and either one could lay claim to the job. With Fransisco likely back early in the season and the uncertainty which one will close in Toronto I wouldn't advise picking either pitcher.

Brian Fuentes - The injury to Athletics closer Andrew Bailey appears to have opened the door for Brian Fuentes. A 48 save man 2 seasons ago, Fuentes is no stranger to the role and should be able to handle the job well until Bailey is back to 100%.

Matt Capps - If Joe Nathan is not fully recovered from surgery the Twins will hand the keys over to Matt Capps. Capps has experience in the role saving 90 games over the past 3 years. He won't strike out as many as the elite guys at the position but he gets nails down saves and that's what matters most.

Jake McGee - The Rays closer of the future is going to have to live in the present and at present he is not going to get the bulk of the Rays saves opportunities. If he gets hot he could work his way into the role and there is a good chance he could have the job to himself by the end of the year.

Evan Meek - The Pirates announced Joel Hanrahan had won the closing job a few weeks ago pushing Meek into the set-up role. If Hanrahan fails Meek would step into the role but his value would likely be only in the form of the saves he earns. He doesn't provide much by way of strikeout and he had a low .224 BABIP so his WHIP and ERA are likely to rise. His All Star selection will likely cause him to be overrated if given the closer job.