April 2012

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Closer Updates: White Sox, Rays, O's, Royals

It's been a dizzying few days if you've been trying to keep tabs on the murky bullpen situations in hopes of emerging with an extra closer or two on your roster. No fewer than several teams waltzed into Opening Day without a clear-cut stopper, and while some of those situations may have been resolved for the time being, there's still plenty to keep an eye on.

Let's get to it ...

White Sox
Count me among the sad, sappy suckers who are feeling jilted after burning a draft pick on Matt Thornton. Based on his experience, stuff and salary, I assumed he'd emerge the South Siders' closer by Opening Day. But new manager Robin Ventura apparently isn't afraid to try something different, instead calling upon darkhorse Hector Santiago for Chicago's first two save opps, both converted successfully.

Santiago is a tough nut to crack at this point. He split last season as a starter in high Class A and Double-A, and frankly, his peripherals there weren't all that impressive. That being said, Ventura has stated that Santiago is his guy, so we can't afford to be too picky about his minor league stats or how he projects; he's worth an immediate add if he's still on your wire.

Unfortunately, if you're skeptical of Santiago's long-term odds of holding the gig, as I am, there's little recourse you can take at this point. Thornton would seem to be the next in line if Santiago were to falter, as he was with eighth-inning setup man in Santiago's two saves, but Ventura has already proven that he's got his own way of doing things, and it doesn't necessarily fall in line with the type of linear thinking that we fantasy owners typically prefer. Plus, don't forget that the Sox have other good arms at the back end of their 'pen in addition to Thornton, such as Addison Reed and Jesse Crain, who could just easily be next to claim the throne.

The bottom line is, Santiago is the must-own right now, but I'm not sure we can divine an obvious handcuff for him at this point, so this is a situation save-needy owners should watch closely but not necessarily act on.

Rays
If you're feeling queasy, it might be time to ditch the stale Easter candy -- but it's more likely that the prospect of adding Fernando Rodney is making you ill. Though the circumstances are worth examining closely, the fact is that Rodney emerged from the Rays' supposed closing committee with a win and two saves this weekend. Ugh.

On Saturday, the Rays were cruising to an easy win until the trio of Josh Lueke, Joel Peralta (the presumptive closer by many, including yours truly) and Jake McGee slogged the trail of tears to varying degrees of ineptitude through an ugly ninth inning, creating a one-out save opportunity for Fern-Rod, who converted. Similarly, Joe Maddon was trying to wrangle a complete game out of starter Jeremy Hellickson on Sunday until the right-hander ran out of gas -- and with Peralta apparently off-limits after racking up too many pitches on Friday and Saturday, Rodney again got the call, converting for another one-out save.

On one hand, we see two saves in Rodney's column. On the other, we see a guy who wasn't really intended to earn either save.

I say, add Rodney if you can, but don't dump Peralta yet if you own him, and don't break your neck to make roster space if you're in a bind. It may be wishful thinking on the part of this Peralta owner, but something tells me that either the Rays aren't ready to anoint Rodney their undisputed closer, or that he won't be able to the job in the unlikely event that they do. We've all seen Rodney's act before, and while I wouldn't entirely rule out the possibility of the Rays guiding him to some kind of career rebirth, a la Kyle Farnsworth, I'll bet against that one for now.

Don't overinvest in Fern-Rod, and don't entirely count out Peralta.

Orioles
There was never much of a question as to whether Jim Johnson faced any legitimate competition from within his own bullpen -- however coy Buck Showalter might've wanted to play it -- so much as there were some disconcerting reports about him dealing with back pain and diminished velocity in Spring Training. Thankfully, the O's announced the inevitable on Opening Day, officially naming Johnson their closer, and more importantly, he's coming out throwing well in the early going, recording a pair of saves.

Perhaps all he needed was for the lights to come on.

While I sense some overall reluctance among fantasy owners to embrace Johnson as little more than an also-ran closer type, I'm a proud Johnson owner and think he's better than he's given credit for. He posted a 2.39 SIERA last year, preceded by solid a 3.05 in 2010 and 2.91 in 2009. If you own Johnson, enjoy the ride. I'm thinking his upside is something like what Brandon League did a year ago -- not a ton of strikeouts, but solid ratios and plenty of saves. If you're in need of a closer, consider acquiring Johnson at a fraction of what you'd have to pay for an elite or even second-tier closer. 

Royals
It appeared the Royals were leaning toward Broxton to handle the ninth, and indeed they went in that direction. It may be worth filing away: It's my experience that for every Santiago situation, wherein a younger closer is given a shot, there are just as many of these, where a reliable vet with The Experience gets the nod. In this case, underdog Greg Holland remains in the eighth inning despite tearing off a terrific 2011 that saw him finish with a handful of saves, lots of strikeouts and tidy ratios.

Anyway, Brox has had two outings so far, one sketchy and the other pretty good. What can we make of that? Not a whole lot. Brox is the definitive own for now, and with Holland looking less than impressive in his first outing, there's no reason why the Royals should feel motivated to tinker with their roles.

At this point, it's pretty hard to argue Holland should be owned in standard leagues.

Red Sox
Boston's bullpen has gotten off to an horrendous start, with Mark Melancon and Alfredo Aceves both getting hit hard in the early going. Now, manager Bobby Valentine is even alluding to the possibility of returning reliever-turned-starter Daniel Bard back to the 'pen to close. Frankly, I don't think it's all that crazy, other than the potential inconvenience felt by Bard.

If you want to make a stealth add while your leaguemates fumble over one of the four White Sox in line behind Santiago, Bard is your guy. It's by no means urgent at this point, but it's something to consider.

Meanwhile, Melancon and Aceves owners should sit tight. Store 'em on your bench if you have to, but either right-hander could settle into a groove and run with the job, and you don't want to be the guy or gal who gave away a bunch of saves out of frustration.



Silver League Update: Trader Jack Would Be Proud

A week of baseball is behind us, and I'm already having to remind myself that early-season trends don't hold up forever. Sometimes the Royals win six games in a row; sometimes Tuffy Rhodes hits three homers in the first game. And, as usual, my fantasy team starts out in the gutter. Statistics suggest that about a quarter of us are already at or near the bottom of our leagues' standings and half of us are losing our head-to-head matchups, so I'll tell everyone what I'm telling myself: Don't panic! It's the first week, and weird things happen. I've just got to promise myself not to drop Carlos Marmol until the Cubs do ...

Mirroring my place in Silver League standings is the Spirit of St. Louis, buoyed by David Wright (a steal in the sixth round!), Yoenis Cespedes (it looks like he can hit Major League pitching, after all), and some speculative saves from temporary closers, St. Louis is off to a fantastic start. 

The new baseball season is still too young to reveal its real trends, or which players are taking real steps forward or back, but that hasn't stopped us from making three trades and hoards of waiver wire claims. I don't normally advocate early-season (let alone preseason) trades, but every rule has its exceptions. The first of our trades came right on the heels of the draft, with the JamesRiverTrophyCarp sending Adam Wainwright to the Spirit of St. Louis for Mariano Rivera. Nothing against Rivera (no, don't panic after his blown save), but I like this trade for St. Louis for the exact reason he made it: a quality starter is always more valuable than a reliever because you can always find more saves. Case in point, Henry Rodriguez and Fernando Rodney have already saved more games for St. Louis than Rivera would have. If you can get a top starter or position player for a closer, do it and take advantage of unsettled closer situations in Washington, Tampa Bay, and Chicago, or gamble that Chris Perez loses his job or Javy Guerra keeps his.

The trades got somewhat, ah, bigger after that. Not every league has an owner that always seems to want to make a deal, but every league should. Ours is McRuder, and he's completed two massive trades. I don't know if he's got anyone from the draft left on his team. The biggest blockbuster was between McRuder and Busey's Bandits, and it involved a swap of first-round picks. McRuder sent Joey Votto, Ryan Zimmerman, Allen Craig, Jeremy Hellickson, and Justin Masterson to Busey's for Robinson Cano, Jon Lester, and Jason Heyward. McRuder freed up logjams at first and third in the trade, but both sides seem to have come away well enough. If Votto and Cano are more or less even, the trade is Lester and Heyward for Zimmerman, Craig, Hellickson, and Masterson--not a bad haul for the bandits, but a lot depends on Heyward and Zimmerman. It'll be a while before we know this trade's winner.

McRuder didn't stop there, and after a week or so of offering trades back and forth, he pried Dan Haren from me. Haren's bad start notwithstanding, I'm still not sure I haven't made a mistake. There's an old rule about whoever got the best player won the trade, and I'd much rather be on the quality side of a quantity for quality deal. Every player's got his price, I guess, and Haren's was Max Scherzer, Sean Marshall, Mike Minor, and Heyward. "You gotta go bold," I said to myself as I pressed the accept button, telling myself that I was upgrading three roster spots while hurting just one.

The problem with a trade like this is that, while Haren is almost certainly going to be excellent this year, all of the players I got are question marks. Sure, Heyward might build on his rookie year and be great. Maybe Marshall will hold the closer's job all year and Minor will deliver on the promise he flashed, well, in the minors. Maybe Scherzer will turn those strikeouts into good ERAs and WHIPs. Or maybe they'll all be bad. If everything goes right, maybe I helped my team a lot, but McRuder doesn't have nearly as many question marks as I do. 

If someone is offering you quantity-for-quality trades, hold out as long as you can, unless you're facing serious holes in several positions. Roster slots are valuable commodities, especially in the beginning of the season when we still don't know which players will break out and which players will crater. By the same token, value is value, and if you can improve your team by moving a first or second-round pick, do it.

Not every league is as active as the Silver League has been, but usually the beginning of the season is when casual owners are most engaged -- and most susceptible to panicky mistakes. If you can profit from someone else's desperation -- or just trade quantity for quality, go for it. Otherwise, trust the work you did for your draft, and watch the waiver wire for opportunities. It's a long season, and nobody's won or lost yet.


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This Week In Streaming Strategy

We're only a handful of games into the 2012 season, but it's never too early to pick up some extra fantasy points. Picking streaming options is a bit difficult in the early going, since pitching rotations haven't quite been settled due to extra off-days, but here are a few matchups and players to both use and avoid when it comes to setting this week's lineups.

* Reid Brignac, Matt Joyce, Carlos Pena, Luke Scott. The Rays are scheduled to face right-handed starters in five of their six scheduled games next week, so these four left-handed bats are in good position to produce, even though a couple of those righty starters include the likes of Justin Verlander and Josh BeckettSean Rodriguez is the first-choice shortstop in Tampa Bay, but you would expect Joe Maddon to play the percentages and give Brignac the majority of the starts this week. Switch-hitter Elliot Johnson could also get a couple of starts at second base ahead of right-handed-hitting starter Jeff Keppinger this week. 

* Danny Espinosa. The Nationals are one of six teams who play all seven days next week, and the Nats are set to face right-handers in all but one of those seven games.  That doesn't bode well for Espinosa, a switch-hitter who has performed better against lefties over his career. While most of Washington's right-handed opponents this week are no great shakes (i.e. Bronson Arroyo, Mike Pelfrey, Dillon Gee), it might be wise to give your backup second baseman a look if he has a more favorable matchup than Espinosa over this stretch.

* Yu Darvish. Just in case you thought about giving Darvish a "wait and see" benching as he begins his Major League career, his first two starts are against the Mariners at home and then at pitcher-friendly Target Field against the light-hitting Twins. You could hardly have asked for a better set of opponent to ease Darvish into the big leagues. 

* Matt Moore. Like Darvish, Moore is also a two-start pitcher this week, but his opposition is much stiffer.  Moore is scheduled to start on Tuesday against the Tigers and then on Sunday against the Red Sox, both road outings.  You could argue that this is pretty tough competition for a pitcher who, as heralded a prospect as he is, will be making just his second and third regular-season starts. My counter to that (admittedly strawman) argument is that in two 2011 starts, Moore tossed five shutout innings at Yankee Stadium and then shut out the Rangers on two hits over seven innings during the ALDS.  Have no fear in starting Moore in the unfriendly confines of Comerica and Fenway Parks. 

* Daniel Descalso. The left-handed-hitting side of the Cardinals' second base platoon could be a busy man this week. St. Louis is scheduled to face right-handers in five of their six games this week, leaving little room for Descalso's platoonmate, Tyler Greene

* The Twins. Not to paint Minnesota's roster with too broad a brush here, but look at the six starters the Twins are lined up to face this week --- C.J. Wilson, Jered Weaver, Dan Haren, Matt Harrison, Darvish and Neftali Feliz.  Even though the Twins will be at home for all six games, it's hard to see this questionable lineup generating much of an attack against these pitchers. Obviously you'll keep Joe Mauer in your lineup every day, and Josh Willingham and Justin Morneau are fairly safe bets, but for borderline fantasy starters like Denard Span, Ryan Doumit, Alexi Casilla or Jamey Carroll, go with another roster option if you have one available.


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Stock Watch: Buy & Sell Analysis

Happy Opening Week, and welcome to the weekly RotoAuthority Stock Watch:

Sell

  • Geovany Soto - Hitting eighth for a weak-hitting Cubs team.
  • Rafael Furcal - Stolen bases in first two games of the season and leading off the Cards. His value may never be higher; sell high if you can, but don't just give him away since the leadoff spot for the Cards is a valuable spot.  He's worth more than his pre-season ADP, but still a nice sell-high candidate based on his age and injury propensity.
  • David Freese - The same reasons he was overrated in preseason ADP still exist. Huge start to the season could lead to an excellent return. See if you can package him with something for Brett Lawrie or Aramis Ramirez.
  • Matt Thornton - Robin Ventura is to Thornton as Mike Scioscia was to Mike Napoli. The White Sox closer is a huge question mark, and Thornton pitched on Opening Day in the eighth inning with the White Sox losing.
  • Lucas Duda - Popular sleeper pick went hitless on Opening Day with two strikeouts and five left on base. More concerning, he hit sixth, with Josh Thole and Ruben Tejada hitting after. Duda may never see a pitch to hit with that lack of protection.
  • Erik Bedard / Johan Santana - Both starters looked good on Opening Day and, more importantly, are still healthy. Inquire with pitching-starved owners as to what you can get for these two while they are healthy.
  • Colby Rasmus - Raz went 0-for-7 on Opening Day, hitting ninth in Toronto's lineup. Don't panic, but if you can get full price in a deal, it might be a good idea to pull the trigger.

Buy

  • Javy Guerra - He earned a clean save on Opening Day, and Kenley Jansen gave up two runs following a 5.00 ERA in the Spring. Guerra's leash as closer is extended, and he seems poised to hold the job unless his poor performance dictates a change is necessary. A nice idea would be to trade Marmol (Opening Day loss and trade candidate) for Guerra and a hitting upgrade.
  • Jesse Crain / Hector Santiago - Addison Reed and Thornton pitched in the seventh and eighth innings, respectively, in the White Sox loss on Opening Day, which may signal that Crain or Santiago are in line for saves.
  • Adam Dunn - After a miserable 2011, he hit a mammoth home run and took a walk on Opening Day hitting in the third slot. Paul Konerko is protecting him in the lineup, which is also a positive.  Dunn may be on the verge of a comeback season.
  • Brandon Belt - Looks in line to get the majority of at-bats at first base and may run away with the job with a hot start. He has big upside for a late-round pick. Target an owner that drafted Belt after already locking up the first-base and corner-infield slots.
  • Vinnie Pestano - The hard-throwing right-hander may be one Chris Perez blowup away from the closer job.
  • Ryan Doumit - Started in right field on Opening Day, which shows that the Twins want his bat in the lineup. Good low-end first catcher or high-end second catcher in mixed leagues.
  • Ian Desmond - The shortstop had the game-winning hit on Opening Day, leading off for the Nats. If he can hold that spot in the lineup, he should be in line for nice contributions in runs and steals.
  • Jim Johnson - He was finally officially named closer and got a save on Opening Day.
  • Edwin Encarnacion - Double-E was sandwiched in order between Jose Bautista, Adam Lind and Lawrie. It's a good place to be.
  • Giancarlo Stanton - He's off to a slow 0-for-8 to start the season, and hitting in a park that looks like it could be Petco II. But, his power plays in any park, so see if a panicky owner might move him.


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Braves Tab Randall Delgado As Fifth Starter

The Braves traded innings-eater Derek Lowe in the very first deal of the offseason because they felt they had the pitching depth to replace him. Even when Tim Hudson went down with a back injury, Atlanta still had the depth in place to fill his spot internally. Tommy Hanson, Jair Jurrjens, Brandon Beachy, and Mike Minor are locked into the top four rotation spots, meaning that fifth spot is going to one of the kids. Dave O'Brien of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has the news...

Delgado, 22, made seven effective starts for the Braves last summer. He pitched to a 2.83 ERA in 35 innings, but high pitch counts had him out of the game very early. Only once did he record more than 15 outs in a game despite averaging 89 pitches per start. Baseball America ranked him as the team's third best prospect behind the man he beat out for the fifth starter's job (Julio Teheran) and the presently injured Arodys Vizcaino. They also consider him to be the 46th best prospect in baseball while Keith Law is a bit more bearish; he ranked Delgado 98th. "His best offering is a plus curveball with sharp downward bite, and he also has a solid changeup," wrote Baseball America in their subscriber-only scouting report, while also acknowledging that he needs to work on commanding his 92-94 mph fastball.

Dan Syzmborski's ZiPS system isn't Delgado's biggest fan, projecting him to pitch to a 4.74 ERA with seven wins and 121 strikeouts in 29 starts (151 2/3 innings) this summer. Nothing about that makes you want to run out and add him to your fantasy roster, and truth be told it's always tough to rely on a kid pitcher in your fantasy rotation (unless his name is Matt Moore). With Hudson due back in early-May, Delgado's time in Atlanta's rotation is limited barring another injury. Remember, Jurrjens isn't exactly My. Durable. That said, Delgado can be useful for reasons beyond his control.

The Braves' early-season schedule is favorable as far as matchups are concerned. Their off-days are spaced out, so they will need their fifth starter at least three times in the first three weeks of the season. Delgado's first starts are likely to come at Houston against the lowly Astros, against the Mets at home, then at the low-offense Dodgers in Chavez Ravine. The Mets have a sneaky good lineup, so that's probably one to aoid. You can beef up your counting stats (and possibly your ERA and WHIP) by spot-starting Delgado against the Astros and Dodgers however, and matching up against subpar offenses is the best way to deploy shaky back-end starters in fantasy leagues.



8 Things to Watch As The Season Begins, Again

So, here it is: Opening Day. Wait, no, that's tomorrow. Tonight is Opening Night. No, no, that happened in Japan. Tonight is Opening Night In America? Sure. Touché, MLB. 

The little things we've been doing to occupy ourselves between our drafts and today can come to a close. No more relentless refreshing of Rotoworld. No more sheepish perusals of preseason data. Yes, the real deal begins tonight. Sort of. 

Saturday is the first full docket of games. Unlike fantasy football, where a Sunday makes up roughly 6% of the season, Saturday will comprise 0.6% of the total statistics accrued. Lest we forget. While I try not to overreact to April results (Chris Shelton), here are 8 things I'll be watching:

Francisco Liriano. 33 K/5 BB in 27 innings of the aforementioned preseason. The ultimate fantasy Siren. I'll be watching Liriano's K/BB, along with his fastball velocity and location. Liriano's fastball consistently hit 93 MPH in his most recent spring start. His average fastball velocity in 2011? 91.8. As Liriano has said, he was dealing with an injury in 2011. A repeat of Liriano's mind-blowing 2006 is a pipe dream, but another 2010 (9.44 K/9, 3.02 SIERA) is possible. See my resplendent associate Steve Adam's recent article on Mr. Liriano here

Closers: Rays/Mets/White Sox/Red Sox/Royals. Beneficent coworker Dan Manella just posted at length on these volatile bullpen scenarios. I'll add that Robin Ventura is being particularly shifty, and we won't know the identity of the White Sox closer until the first save situation. The White Sox play at 2:05 PM EDT on Friday, so be ready to check on things after 4:30 PM. Additionally, Kyle Farnsworth could be headed to the DL; don't forget about J.P. Howell, who performed admirably in the role in 2009 and had a nice spring. 

Cincinnati Reds LF. This is more relevant to NL Only leagues, but I'll be curious to see the playing time split between Ryan Ludwick and Chris Heisey. If Heisey gets all of the AB against righties, he could be an intriguing play. 

Ian Stewart. Can he manage his nagging injuries and come back from the dead? It looks as if he'll have every chance in Chicago. In his age 27 season, I'll be looking for signs of power from Stewart in April. 

Kansas City Royals. Can they live up to the hype? Everyone is on the Eric Hosmer bandwagon, but Billy Butler might have a better year. How do they perform out of the gate?

J.D. Martinez. Keith Law believes Martinez is a 4th OF. I haven't seen much of him on tape, but it's difficult to ignore his numbers in the minor leagues. He made solid adjustments in his second time through AA. Can he do the same in the majors this year? With his incredible LD prowess (27.6% in 226 PA), if Martinez improves his eye, he could provide excellent profit. Watch his K/BB and contact rate in April. 

Ryan Doumit.  Can he stick in RF? Gardenhire seems prepared to give him a long look. If Doumit can approach 500 PA, he could be the steal of many drafts. Monitor his playing time in April. 

Andrew McCutchen. Everyone seems to think McCutchen is going 30/30. I think he's overrated. His contact rate fell as he swung for the fences last year. Steamer's projection is realistic: .271/83/18/75/23. McCutchen went for $30 in Tout Wars Mixed. Is he really any better than Shin Soo Choo, who went for $21? Choo's Steamer: .276/82/18/78/16. Tim Dierkes has wisely been snagging Choo much later in drafts. Give or take a few steals, they're the same player. Can McCutchen keep the contact rate up along with the HR/FB? I'll be curious to see as April unfolds. If he cannot, do you really want 5-8 more HR at the expense of 25 points in BA?


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Closer Updates: Red Sox, Mets, Nats, Royals

I suppose it's true what they say about closers being such a dicey fantasy investment. We've just flipped our calendars to April and there are already a handful of situations in flux -- with more certain to follow over the course of a long season.

I'll be weighing in weekly with a closers piece now that the season is under way, but for more timely updates, be sure to check in with @closernews. It'll be the feel-good follow of the summer for you on Twitter. You can also refer to our Closer Depth Chart if you're looking to handcuff setup men for standard leagues or seeking holds in leagues that count that stat.

Anyway, on with the latest in the closersphere ...

Andrew Bailey, Red Sox
Well, I think it's high time we officially labelled Bailey as injury-prone (unless he already was and I missed the memo). In his first season with the Sox after being acquired from the A's via trade this winter, the right-hander will likely see the DL before he throws a pitch for Boston, as he's reportedly been told he needs right thumb surgery (no word yet on timetable for missed time, but it sounds like it could be substantial). If true, that makes three straight seasons in which Bailey has been shelved, which is a shame for his owners (past and present) because he's pretty dang good when he's on the hill.

Now, being the good reader that you are, I'm sure you've already tabbed over to the aforementioned Depth Chart, saw Mark Melancon listed as Boston's probable next-in-line, and dashed over to your local waiver wire to nab a closer on the five-finger discount before your leaguemates even knew what happened. Unfortunately, as these things tend to go, the Sox have already mucked it up (for fantasy purposes), with reports surfacing that Alfredo Aceves will be in the mix for saves, too.

Argh.

If you're wondering which guy you should grab, my answer is yes. If you have four good closers, you can probably abstain. If  you have three, maybe throw a dart at one. If you have two or fewer, give serious consideration to adding both.

Yes, chasing closers is a dirty biz.

Frank Francisco, Mets
Well, this didn't take long, either. The annually injured Fran-Fran was headed for an MRI on his bothersome knee Monday, although he's apparently not worried about a DL stint. So, I suppose his outlook appears far rosier than Bailey's, but this doesn't sit well with me nonetheless. I mean, one doesn't undergo an MRI no reason, right?

As with the Red Sox, the Mets' bullpen situation could get hairy if Francisco is out for any substantial period of time. Ramon Ramirez and Jon Rauch would be candidates to take the ninth-inning reins, but Bobby Parnell apparently wouldn't be, as the Mets prefer to keep him available for some kind of swing role. You'll recall that Parnell was given a stab at closing last year and didn't perform especially well, although he's apparently tweaked his repertoire to strong results this spring.

The bottom line is, I wouldn't bother moving on this right now unless I were absolutely desperate -- and even then I'd wonder whether I could put that roster spot to better use. Remember, none of those guys is exactly a Kenley Jansen type, and the latest report is that Francisco will be ready for Opening Day.

Drew Storen, Nationals
Things got a little sketchy for Storen a couple weeks ago, as the young right-hander of 43 saves in 2011 was shelved due to elbow problems. Fortunately, it doesn't appear to be too serious, as he threw a bullpen session without problem on Sunday. That's a really good thing because I was dreading the prospect of adding Brad Lidge or Henry Rodriguez (OK, confession: I did add Lidge in one league). 

Storen hasn't yet been officially added to the DL. That's probably a formality, but perhaps Washington is holding out hope that he can be ready by Opening Day or a few days thereafter? In any event, don't count on him missing a substantial chunk of time.

Tellingly, though, Tyler Clippard would not be The Guy, contrary to what was long ago presumed. Nats manager Davey Johnson made it a point to share that he prefers to have the option of deploying Clipp in two-inning stints in the seventh and eighth innings.

If you can figure out a way to shoehorn H-Rod or Lidge onto your roster, more power to you, but if not, I wouldn't sweat it. Storen should be back shortly, and neither of his replacements is especially good.

Jonathan Broxton, Royals

Contrary to this genius' prediction, a report surfaced last week that the Royals are learning toward giving Brox the ninth-inning nod over Greg Holland. We'll see how that goes, but I guess when it comes down to it, you've got a 50-50 chance of calling these things accurately. I still think Holland should get the call, as he was excellent last year while Broxton hasn't been the same pitcher in a year and a half.

If you need one badly enough and are still deliberating, try the Guns of Broxton. If you get stuck holding the bag, you can blame Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com.



Position/Role Battles: The Rockies' Third Baseman

The Rockies signed Casey Blake as a veteran insurance plan at third base, but Blake's release earlier this week indicates that Colorado will go ahead with (at least) one of their young players at the hot corner.  It just won't be the young player that fans have their eye on, however; top prospect Nolan Arenado will begin the season in the minors. Arenado had a difficult Spring Training and doesn't turn 21 until mid-April, so the Rockies are content to give him more minor league seasoning while they make do at third until he's ready.  That time could be sooner rather than later if Colorado is in a pennant race and Arenado is hitting well at mid-season.

But, we're getting ahead of ourselves.  Arenado getting called up in August won't help your fantasy team right now, so let's explore the Rockies' options at third base.

The Favorites

* Chris Nelson.  Taken ninth overall in 2004, Nelson didn't reach the big leagues until his seventh pro season, and he has a mediocre .254/.284/.376 line in 216 career plate appearances. He was originally drafted as a shortstop but, since Troy Tulowitzki is blocking the way in the majors, Nelson has played second and third base over the last two seasons. 

Despite this underwhelming resume, Nelson could prove to be more than just a seat-warmer for Arenado.  Nelson is just 26 and, though it's easy for stats to be inflated in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, he has an .889 OPS over the last two seasons at Triple-A Colorado Springs. If Nelson can hit, however, the job should be his more or less for the rest of the season. 

* Jordan Pacheco. The 26-year-old began his minor league career playing all around the infield but has spent the last four years primarily as a catcher. Pacheco played five games at third base last year in Triple-A and has been further learning the position this spring. While his defense is still a work in progress, Pacheco's bat has been on fire this spring, posting a 1.060 OPS in (small sample size alert!) 50 plate appearances.

Pacheco's versatility will probably give him a roster spot but his only chance at consistent playing time is at third.  It's hard to see him getting that time, though, since Nelson is the better defender and has a better minor league track record at the plate. It seems like Pacheco will only get a crack at a starting gig if someone else falters, be it Nelson or...

* Brandon Wood.  It wasn't long ago that Wood was considered to be one of baseball's up-and-coming young stars.  Ranked as the third-best prospect in the game by Baseball America before the 2006 season (and ranked eighth and 16th, respectively, over the next two years, as well), Wood was supposed to be a fixture at third or short for the Angels by this time in his career, but he simply hasn't hit at the Major League level. In 751 plate appearances, Wood has the batting stats of a pitcher --- a .186/.225/.289 slash line and a strikeout-to-walk rate of nearly 7:1.  The Angels gave up on Wood last season, and after being claimed off waivers by the Pirates, they outrighted him off their 40-man roster in October.

Is it too late for Wood?  Colorado doesn't quite think so.  The team gave him a bit of extra attention than usual for a minor league signing, setting Wood up to work with hitting coach Carney Lansford and overhauling his swing.  The results haven't manifested themselves during Spring Training, but there is hope that Wood can still break out at age 27.  You can't blame the Rockies for taking a chance on a player with Wood's pedigree, just in case he's an Alex Gordon-type late bloomer.

The Fallbacks

* Jonathan Herrera: The Rockies have Herrera slated for a utility role this season after he was part of their revolving door at second base over the last couple of seasons.  Herrera showed a solid glove playing second and has 25 appearances at third over his short career, but "late-inning defensive replacement" may be his ceiling given his lack of a bat.

* Michael Cuddyer: This would obviously be the last-ditch plan should none of Colorado's other third base options pan out.  Cuddyer hasn't played third since 2010 and was a below-average fielder (a -9.0 career UZR/150 rating) when he did man the hot corner in Minnesota. If Cuddyer has to be moved to third, that would also create a hole in right field for the Rockies. It would take some seriously dire straits for Cuddyer to play third in 2012, and if faced with the situation, the Rockies would probably just call up Arenado rather than shift Cuddyer and potentially weaken themselves at two positions.  On the off-chance that Cuddyer does play a bit of third, then it bumps his fantasy value up a tick since he'd qualify at another position.

Fantasy Outlook: It's really anyone's guess as to how Colorado's third base situation will play out.  Nelson, Pacheco and Wood are all right-handed hitters so there's no obvious platoon to be found (Herrera is a switch-hitter but he hasn't hit well from either side). Manager Jim Tracy may have to go with his gut when filling out the eighth spot in his lineup every day; I guess the one bonus to drafting a Rockies third baseman is that they'll get a few extra walks batting in front of the pitcher.

Of these options, I'd say Nelson is the only one that could provide some fantasy value.  First of all, he's out of options, so he has a better chance of simply making the roster than Pacheco or Wood.  Secondly, Nelson is considered to be a solid defensive player, so even if he can't hit, his glove might keep him in the lineup since Colorado might well not have any other options with any more pop.  I certainly don't expect Nelson to match his Triple-A numbers but I think the Rockies would be satisfied with a solid glove and an OPS in the .730-740 range.

Nelson and Wood are somewhat in the same boat as ex-first rounders still looking to break out as they reach their primes.  While neither player has had an extended chance at the Major League level, Wood's futility in 751 PAs paints a more dire picture than Nelson's futility in 216 PAs.  With Nelson, I think there could still be room to grow --- for Wood, it's hard to escape that "Quadruple-A" label.

The fact that I've used the word "dire" twice in this post is a sign that you should probably avoid drafting a Rockie to fill your third base spot. If you're desperate, however, it's very likely that the winner of the job will be available on your waiver wire for a rock-bottom price. If Nelson is announced as the starter before Opening Day, there's some potential there for you to throw caution to the wind and pick him up for your bench.



Michael Pineda And The Yankees' Rotation

By the time you read this, you will have already drafted. Probably. If you haven't, you already know to downgrade Michael Pineda in your rankings (I'd put him somewhere near Chris Carpenter) and hope that someone else takes him in the fifth round.

Most of us, though, are playing in leagues that already had their draft (thanks a lot, early opening games in Japan) and Pineda is owned in 77% of Yahoo! fantasy leagues and 96% of the deeper CBS leagues. Chances are, if you don't have him, someone in your league does. So, what should you do about it?

Let's start with the injury itself, called alternatively "right shoulder inflammation" and "tendinitis." Obviously, this is not good, but it was better than some of the other possibilities, affording GM Brian Cashman a sigh of relief as the MRI showed no problems with the labrum or rotator cuff. Cashman also said, "we'll probably keep a ball out of his hands 10, 15 days." Of course, picking a baseball back up isn't the same as returning to the rotation; Pineda will have work to do before he gets on a mound and rehab starts to make before he pitches in the Majors again.

CBS Sports estimates that he'll be out until "at least mid-April," which is technically true, but sounds way too optimistic: early to mid-May seems more likely if there are no major setbacks. Additionally, the Yanks are sounding like they intend to be extra-cautious with their talented new pitcher and have little immediate need to rush him back. I wouldn't be shocked if his return were more like midseason.

Perhaps as worrisome as the injury itself are manager Joe Girardi's comments from before Pineda was placed on the DL: that he might have started the season in Triple-A anyway. Whenever Pineda returns, it seems likely that someone else will have to lose a rotation spot to accomodate him.

Even worse for Pineda's owners, his return will likely come after Andy Pettitte's comeback date of May 1. The Yankees and Pettitte wouldn't have gone to all the trouble of a big comeback if he was going to be a long reliever or a lefty specialist -- he'll either be in the rotation or back with his family. Though he's inexplicably absent from Yahoo!'s player universe, he's already owned in 31%  of CBS leagues. It's too early to say with much certainty what Pettitte's value will be, but league average with Yankee-level run support has fantasy value. It may not be better than what Pineda would give when he returns, but that won't stop Pettitte from blocking him in the rotation unless he's just awful. I wouldn't say Pettitte's worth a draft pick or an immediate pickup, but his comeback road needs to be watched. 

So, what do you do with Pineda if you already own him? How do you take advantage of the situation if you don't? First of all, don't panic and trade or release Pineda. He's still better than anyone but CC Sabathia in that rotation; if he comes back strong, you'll still have the pitcher you drafted. Unfortunately, you might be stuck with little or nothing for your investment, but Pineda's hardly the only pitcher to give you that risk.

Picking up Pettitte won't help Pineda's owners immediately, but other Yankees might fit the bill. Obviously, Sabathia is already owned in your league, and Hiroki Kuroda probably is. But Ivan Nova (owned in 50% of Yahoo! leagues and 78% of CBS leagues) and Phil Hughes (19/65) might be available, and Freddy Garcia (5/11) probably is. One of those three will be losing his rotation spot to Pettitte, and another may lose it when Pineda returns, but all are secure for April.

If you do own Pineda, any of the three could be good for a few spot starts in April. Personally, I like having any Yankee pitchers I can get onto my team because their strong lineup and bullpen make them great targets for wins. Garcia and Nova don't add many strikeouts, but in deeper leagues, beggars can't exactly be choosers.

Even if you don't own Pineda, this seems like a great opportunity to grab Hughes -- especially if you're in a Yahoo! league. I'm not exactly sold on his great spring meaning he's back to the 2010 version of himself, but I'd use a waiver claim to take that chance. More importantly, because Hughes has the highest ceiling of the three, he's got the best chance to stay in the rotation through the returns of Pettitte and Pineda. If he's pitching well, it will probably be really well. If he's not ... well, you'll drop him before the Yankees will. Nova and Garcia, on the other hand, just have to be their average selves to be worth bumping to the bullpen or minor leagues. They could easily be less valuable to the Yankees than to your fantasy team.

Finally, this could be a nice time to buy low from a frustrated leaguemate. If you can get Pineda cheap, stash him on the DL, and pick up another Yankee as insurance, you'll have turned someone else's problem in to a big opportunity.





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