New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera announced on Saturday that he will call it a career after the coming season, his 19th in the big leagues. There was little doubt about his plans after missing most of last season with a torn ACL in his right knee, and he is now 43 years old.
Rivera is one of the best closers in major league history, with an all-time leading 608 saves right now, and fantasy baseball owners have held him in similar high regard. From 1997-2011, he had at least 28 saves in each season (40 or more eight times) with an ERA below 2.00 11 times in those 15 campaigns.
Rivera’s name recognition and track record puts him back on the fantasy radar, but can he put together one last terrific season in 2013?
Rivera only pitched in nine games in 2012 after injuring his knee in early May, converting five out of six save opportunities while posting a 2.16 ERA and solid peripherals (8.6 K/9; 2.2 BB/9). His walk rate was over 2.0 for the first time since 2005, but overall not much can be taken from such a small sample size (8.1 innings).
Rivera also made his spring training debut on Saturday, with two strikeouts in one inning of work against the Atlanta Braves. Apart from the results he has from here on out during the spring, there’s little reason to doubt that Rivera will pitch effectively once real games start.
The Yankees have had their lineup riddled by injuries, with outfielder Curtis Granderson (right forearm) and first baseman Mark Teixeira (right wrist) most recently being added to the list. If they struggle to score runs, that could lead to tighter games and more save opportunities for Rivera early in the season.
Rivera presumably will hit the ground running at the start of the season without any restrictions on his workload, as long as he continues to avoid setbacks with his knee of course, but I think it’s possible Yankees’ manager Joe Girardi avoids using him on back-to-back days early in the season if possible.
Age and durability concerns make Rivera a risky fantasy option, but he is likely to be a relative value in drafts and auctions for the first time in recent memory. I don’t expect him to do what he did in his prime this season, but 30-35 saves with an ERA between 2.00-3.00 and excellent peripherals is a reasonable expectation for him.
Brad Berreman is a contributing writer at Rant Sports.com. Follow him on Twitter @bradberreman24.