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Before we get to the closer rankings, a question from reader Nick from Boston:

I have the first pick in my keeper league. The first round is for owners to take their franchise player, unless they don't want to. My franchise player is Miguel Tejada.

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However one owner had Ryan Howard and Albet Pujols last year. She can only franchise one. Should I stick with Tejada, the cream of a weak SS crop. Or should I take whichever she doesn't franchise (obviously Howard, to me).

My inclination/gut says stay with Tejada, but what do you think?

Thanks.

Nick, the smart move is to let Tejada go and pick up Howard. The power potential for the reigning National League MVP is just too strong. He hit 58 homers to go along with 149 RBIs in '06 and also hit .313. While those numbers will be difficult to duplicate this season, he still will finish among the game's elite power hitters.

Meanwhile, Tejada set a career-high with a .330 average last season and set an Orioles' franchise record with 214 hits. However he's hit just 50 homers in the last two seasons combined. You're correct that first base is deeper than shortstop, but SS still has seven or eight very good options. Tejada's certainly a top-five player at shortstop but should not be chosen ahead of Howard. Thanks for your question.

And now the closers:

1. Francisco Rodriguez, Angels - 92 saves over the past two seasons, will approach 100 strikeouts

2. Joe Nathan, Twins - 36 saves, 1.58 ERA and 95 strikeouts in '06

3. B.J. Ryan, Blue Jays - 38 saves, 1.37 ERA and 86 strikeouts in first full season with Toronto

4. Mariano Rivera, Yankees - ERA under two for four straight seasons

5. Billy Wagner, Mets - 40 saves, 94 strikeouts in first season with New York

6. Trevor Hoffman, Padres - At least 40 saves in seven of nine seasons

7. Jonathan Papelbon, Red Sox - 35 saves, 0.92 ERA in first season as closer

8. Huston Street, Athletics - 60 saves over last two years for 23 year old

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9. J.J. Putz, Mariners - Led all AL relievers with 104 strikeouts in '06

10. Bobby Jenks, White Sox - Converted 41 of 45 save chances last season

11. Chris Ray, Orioles - 33 saves, 2.73 ERA in first season as closer

12. Takashi Saito, Dodgers - 107 strikeouts in 78 1/3 innings last season

13. Chad Cordero, Nationals - 2.10 ERA post All-Star break in '06

14. Francisco Cordero, Brewers - Converted 16 of 18 save chances with Milwaukee last season

15. Brad Lidge, Astros - 5.28 ERA in '06, but still managed 32 saves and 104 strikeouts

16. Bob Wickman, Braves - 78 saves over the past two seasons

17. Brian Fuentes, Rockies - 61 saves over the past two seasons

18. Jason Isringhausen, Cardinals - Struggled last year but still managed 32 saves; recovering from hip surgery

19. Tom Gordon, Phillies - 34 saves in first season with Philadelphia

20. Eric Gagne, Rangers - Looking to rebound from two years of injuries

21. Joel Zumaya, Tigers - Ranked ahead of Todd Jones if you believe (like me) he'll finally take over the closer role

22. Todd Jones, Tigers - Job is his to lose; 1.80 ERA post All-Star break in '06; 77 saves in past two seasons

23. Jose Valverde, Diamondbacks - Strong finish to roller coaster year in '06

24. Joe Borowski, Indians - Heads to Cleveland after saving 36 games with Florida last season

25. Jorge Julio, Marlins - Dealt to Florida to become the closer at the start of the season

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