Boston Red Sox


Closer Updates: Riding the Trade Winds

Rumors continue to swirl around baseball this time of year, and no position receives more attention than relief pitchers. Why? Even the best are expendable on a bad team, and even pitchers of marginal greatness are assets on contenders. Everyone who spent the last two decades watching playoff baseball knows how important strong bullpens are for the October teams. For fantasy owners, this can be a mix of good and bad news. How your team fares is all about how prepared you are for the upcoming month. After all, a fantasy team doesn't need to be on the top of the standings to need more saves...or on the bottom to profit from trading away relievers.

Mid-season trades can create quite a lot of upheaval, often leaving two teams with new closers. Whenever a closer is traded away (except for other closers, hypothetically) a new one is created to fill the void he left and everyone scrambles to the waiver wire to get him. Better yet, stay on top of the rumors and try owning a new closer before he gets the job. The downside of this is that the best trade candidates don't usually have great backups.

The other trade fallout happens on the team that acquires the new closer: either that team's old closer is deposed (bad news for his owners), or the new pitcher is suddenly the setup man (bad news for his owners. Most often, good teams have an established closer by this point in the season, and they're looking to use bad teams' stoppers to shore up their 'pen. Yes, you should trade away any closers at risk for this situation.

At-Risk Closers

Keep in mind that trade rumors can change quickly and that not all of these closers will get dealt into setup situations. Why do you think we link to MLB Trade Rumors right at the top of the page? Here are just a few of the storylines circulating as I write this: Steve Cishek and Mike Dunn are drawing interest for the Marlins, who don't want to deal themthe Yankees are pushing to deal Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughesthe Mets probably want to keep Bobby Parnell and are releasing setup man Brandon Lyonthe Phillies would rather buy than sell Jonathan Papelbon; and all the Brewers' relievers are drawing interest. So, seriously, refresh MLBTR all day long and a couple times during the night just in case, because all these could have changed by the time you read this.

Steve Cishek and his setup man Mike Dunn could get dealt, but odds are they won't both be traded away. And since Cishek is under team control until 2017, the lowly Marlins could rationally think of him a piece on future good teams. He's one that I'd take a risk and trade for at low cost. His value won't be that high, as the Marlins don't do much winning, but it's looking pretty unlikely that he gets traded away. That's good, because he wouldn't be closing anywhere else (except maybe Detroit).

Jose Veras is a pretty good reliever. Not amazing, so if he gets traded, don't expect him to take over the ninth inning reins. In head-to-head leagues, I'd trade him away, but hold onto him in Roto-style. Wesley Wright might get the save opps if Veras is dealt, but there's no need to pick him up until that happens. Frankly, it'd probably be an open audition anyway.

Francisco Rodriguez has had a resurgent closing experience with Milwaukee. As a guy with playoff-tested moxie and at least some leftover brand name, I'll make the bold prediction that he gets traded to Detroit and closes for them. He's on the fringe of being good enough (in reality and appearance) to close on other contending teams in the event of a trade, so I'd hold on him. If he is traded, expect Jim Henderson to get his closing gig back.

Like Rodriguez, Glen Perkins has a good chance of beating out incumbent closers for the ninth inning. He's even less likely to be traded in the first place, so hold him if you got him. Your risk is relatively low if you trade for him, but it isn't nonexistent.

It almost seem taken for granted that Kevin Gregg will be dealt, and that Blake Parker, James Russell or Pedro Strop will take over the ninth. Maybe, maybe not. Gregg might close for the Tigers, but I don't think any other contender will let him close unless someone gets injured. If you can get any return for him trade him away, in head-to-head formats, and probably in Roto too.

Bobby Parnell's trade rumors might say he's staying now, but the Mets don't have any real need for a competent closer, and you have to think they'd move him for a decent prospect. Parnell doesn't have the raw saves totals or the history of closing to push other closers out of a job; for that reason I'd trade him away.

The Mariners don't look likely to find a partner willing to overpay for Tom Wilhelmsen, so he may stay with the club and close for the rest of the year. Or he might continue his periodic implosions. If you find a fellow owner willing to value him like Seattle does, trade him away. Most of us, however, will just have to hold on. If he's dealt or demoted...we'll, we've examined this mess before.

With the Blue Jays presumably expecting to have a better 2014 than this year, they probably don't want to deal Casey Janssen. If the tea leaves swirl in a new direction, I still wouldn't be worried, as Janssen is good enough to continue closing for several contenders. Unless he starts getting connected with teams like the Yankees and Rangers who have well-established closers, I would hold, or even trade for him. If he is dealt, perhaps final All-Star balloter Steve Delabar would take over.

Jonathan Papelbon seems less and less likely to get dealt in real life. I suggest you trade for him while the rumors are still lingering, and he's still got a low saves total, and the stigma of his blown saves is still recent. On the off chance that he's dealt, Antonio Bastardo is a good pitcher to own.

Greg Holland hasn't seen his name come up in the rumors, but the Royals are always in danger of seeing their season fall apart. You can safely hold him for now, but keep an eye on the news. Kansas City actually has several capable relievers, so it's hard to know who to pick up.

Potential Buyers

Everyone knows the Tigers are buyers. Joaquin Benoit may be on the final All-Star ballot, but that might not be enough to convince the team that he's their stopper. Obviously, keep Benoit around, but be ready for him to be replaced before the first of August.

With the struggles that Jim Johnson has had, I wonder if the Orioles will be in the relief market this month. There hasn't been much noise about that, but maybe they're just playing it quietly. Johnson would probably have to struggle after a trade is made to lose his job, but he's used a lot of a long leash this season.

The Red Sox may have two of the best Japanese relievers in the world in Koji Uehara and Junichi Tazawa, and an ex-closer in Andrew Bailey, but that might not stop them from loading on more arms for the pennant race. If they add someone with more closing clout than Uehara, don't expect them to hesitate to make (another) change.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again (all month long, probably), but the best way to come out of the trade crucible ahead is to keep up with the rumors on MLBTR and to follow @CloserNews on Twitter.



Closer Updates: Committees, Injury Returns, Strugglers, and the Early Trading Block

Jason Grilli might have blown his first save, but that doesn't mean he's in hot water. Arguably the season's best closer so far, he won't be making it into any of this week's categories of concern--not even as a trade target, with the Pirates nestled into the second NL Wild Card. Grilli's owners may be lucky, but below are four categories of closers worth worrying about.

Committees

The pernicious closer-by-committee might be favored in sabermetric circles, but it never gets much love from the mainstream media. Why? Because of those of us who play fantasy baseball, I bet. We might have been part of the "sabermetric revolution" at its beginning, but there's nothing we hate more as a group than the closer-by-committee. All those saves going to waste, spread out across three or four fantasy teams....

Brewers

Last week, Jim Henderson made it back to the Majors from the DL, but he didn't slide right back into his old role. Instead, Francisco Rodriguez was allowed to chase the 300-saves milestone. Well, K-Rod is still chasing it, stuck as he is on number 299. Not that Rodriguez hasn't pitched well, but it'd be nice to get this situation down to a single closer. More than likely, Henderson reclaims the job after K-Rod finally gets that big save, but there's no way to be sure. Keep running both pitchers out there for now, as neither will hurt your ratios in the eighth or ninth innings, despite Henderson's eighth inning blown save.

Tigers

Jose Valverde didn't have to fall very far to fall out of favor in the Motor City. The good news is that none of us spent a high draft pick on him. Other than that, it looks like manager Jim Leyland will play whatever matchups suit him, at least until he gets so tired of reporters' questions that he just names Bruce Rondon closer out of frustration. The committee cast has changed a bit since the beginning of the season, with Rondon and Al Alburquerque in AAA, and Octavio Dotel on the 60-Day DL. Expect Valverde to continue getting a few saves, while Joaquin Benoit, Drew Smyly, and Phil Coke share the job with him. Benoit is the group's early leader and a good choice for a pickup, the Tigers seem likely to have a closer high on their spring shopping list. In fact, it wouldn't be a shock to see them swing deals for more than one reliever before the deadline.

Mariners

This is easily the ugliest of the committee situations. Tom Wilhelmsen is no longer the team's closer, though they seem to hold out hope that he'll sort out his struggles. In the meantime, he's already blown a save as a committee member. Other possibilities for saves include Carter Capps, Charlie Furbush, and Oliver Perez. (Yes, the Oliver Perez who was once a promising lefty strikeout pitcher who completely imploded, signed a big contract with the Mets, imploded again, and threw a temper tantrum about going to the bullpen.) None is a great option, though Capps is likely to get the most save opps going forward, thanks to his right-handedness, though he coughed up a pair of runs without recording any outs in yesterday's brutal loss to the Angels. Any pitcher who does emerge from this quagmire with a closing gig is a decent investment, because the Mariners aren't in the position to seek outside help in relief. In fact, they're probably just frustrated that Wilhelmsen couldn't stay good long enough to get traded.

Injury Returns

It's never exactly clear what will happen when a closer returns from the DL. Sometimes the replacement keeps the job, sometimes the old guy takes it right back, sometimes the old closer is eased back into his role, and sometimes a committee develops. The plan for the teams below seems to be to reinstate the old closer, but you never quite know for sure.

Indians

I bet you never thought you'd be excited for Chris Perez to come take his job back from Vinnie Pestano. The Indians have scuffled hard since Perez's injury, though Pestano finally recorded his second save of the year. Perez won't be coming back immediately, following a terrible rehab appearance and flawed mechanics. If he gets his delivery sorted out quickly, he'll be back in the ninth just as quickly. If he happened to get dropped in your league, snatch him back up.

Rockies

Rafael Betancourt is inching his way back to the Majors and is scheduled to face hitters today. If everything goes well, he could be back relatively soon. It's far too early to drop Rex Brothers, but don't expect him to keep Betancourt from getting his job back when he does return. And it's advisable to hang onto Brothers after that, though, as he's pitched to a great ERA and Betancourt isn't exactly the healthiest closer in the ninth.

Diamondbacks

Heath Bell has been surprisingly good for Arizona. Not, you know, great, but better than we expected. The homers have given him trouble, and his job could be in danger if J.J. Putz comes back. And Putz might just be back soon, as he began his rehab assignment yesterday--a lot earlier than was initially expected. While he may take a little while in the minors, he could also be back in the Diamondbacks' closer role quickly. He was dropped in many leagues, but I'd advise picking him back up if you've got the room to stash him.

Strugglers

A couple of the early season's best closers have hit some serious rough patches and owners should monitor their situations.

Red Sox

Andrew Bailey has pitched horrifically in his last few outings, to the tune of an 11.25 ERA in his last four appearances. Manager John Farrell says that Bailey has "some work to do," but "for the time being...is definitely our closer." Well, doesn't he sound excited to keep Bailey in the ninth, and admits that he would consider other options, "at least temporarily." Bailey is clearly on a short leash, so Junichi Tazawa and Koji Uehara might be good choices for anyone speculating on saves. Update: Bailey has used up his short leash and is out as closer for now. Pick up Tazaway or Uehara.

Phillies

Jonathan Papelbon is the sort of name you don't expect to have to write very often in a column like this, but he's blown two saves over the course of three days. They're just his first two blown saves of the year, but keep an eye on him. Fortunately for Papelbon and his owners, he should have a long leash given his contract and track record. Though the Phillies appear not to be contending this year, they say they aren't considering dealing Papelbon or their other expensive players.

Early Trading Block

Major League teams aren't likely to be making trades for almost another month, but fantasy owners need to be quicker with the trade trigger. After all, when a closer is traded into a setup job in the real world, his fantasy trade value pretty much hits zero. Any closer on a non-contending team is a good candidate to get traded away, though teams with 2014 ambitions are more likely to hang on to their relievers if they're young and inexpensive. Right now, two closers are generating the most trade buzz.

Marlins

Shockingly, the Fish aren't contending this year for anything but worst team in baseball. They might even beat the Astros for that one. Steve Cishek has been pretty good for them as their closer, but a team playing under .300 doesn't need a good closer. Expect Cishek to get dealt to a contender. Unfortunately, he's unlikely to close for any of them. If you've got him, it would be a good idea to deal him early, even for a mediocre return.

Twins

Glen Perkins is a little more complicated than Cishek, as there are contending teams for which he might close. Like the Tigers. The Red Sox could hypothetically be interested in his ninth-inning services too, but if he is dealt, he's most likely going to set up. He should command more than Cishek on the trade market, but he's also a good one to deal. 

Dont' forget to check out @CloserNews on Twitter for all up-to-the-minute updates on closers around baseball.



Shutdown Corner: AL East Closer Roundup

Welcome back to Shutdown Corner, folks. We're rolling through closer roundups for every division in baseball, this week focusing on the five teams in the AL East. We've previously reviewed the AL West and NL East, if you're interested in that sort of thing.

And, if you haven't been following along at home, here's our closer tiering system for the pre-season:

  • Tier 1: World-class reliever, capable of putting up a season for the ages.
  • Tier 2: Very good closer, both stable and effective.
  • Tier 3: Average closer, may be lacking either stability or effectiveness.
  • Tier 4: Poor closer, either completely ineffective but stable, or very unstable.

Baltimore Orioles: Jim Johnson

Jim Johnson was the major-league leader in saves for 2012, racking up 51 for the surprising Baltimore Orioles during their playoff run. But despite the gaudy save numbers and 2.49 ERA, Johnson's a nice candidate to turn into a pumpkin next season. Johnson doesn't strike out nearly the amount of hitters that a closer needs to in order to be effective. Johnson had just a 15.3% strikeout rate, not an exciting number, and the fourth-worst of all qualified relievers. He was almost the worst strikeout reliever in baseball. Don't draft him for Ks.

Fortunately for Johnson and the folks who draft him, Pedro Strop isn't exactly banging down the door to take Johnson's job. Buck Showalter is probably locked into Johnson, so he'll get all the rope in the world with which to hang himself. If you want saves, and care less about strikeouts and rate stats, Jim Johnson's your man.

Projected Tier: Tier 3 (low strikeout rate, settled into role)

Next in line: Pedro Strop

New York Yankees: Mariano Rivera

I know, I know, he's the greatest closer in baseball history. His peripheral stats are phenomenal, and he's racked up nearly 40 wins above replacement despite only throwing 1219 and 2/3 innings over his career. Then you can toss in about 15 more RA9-Wins because the guy gets weak contact and can bear down with runners on.

This year, Mo is coming off a missed season, thanks to a brutal knee injury. Word is that he's about ready to return, and he's likely to be elite when he comes back. He's basically always been elite. However, if there's any chance that Rivera is still dealing with injury, or if the knee trouble causes an injury cascade, then Mo may not be as effective as we're used to ... or he may be out and David Robertson will be owning the ninth.

That having been said, Mariano is still an elite closer, based on prior body of work. Actually, I'm only giving out one Tier 1 grade this pre-season, and it's going to Craig Kimbrel. But, if anyone else was close, it was Mo. He is a monster, and while his K-rate dipped in 2010, it rebounded nicely in 2011 and what little 2012 he pitched.

Respect Mariano, everyone. Ignore him at your own risk.

Projected Tier: Tier 2 (phenomenal skill, injury risk)

Next in line: David Robertson

Toronto Blue Jays: Casey Janssen

Important news: Casey Janssen is probably better than you think. More than a few roto heads got a nice boost in the middle of the season thanks to Casey's solid performance and 22 saves as the closer after Sergio Santos flamed out before the season even started. Janssen checked all the boxes for solid closer performance, with only a few blown saves (three all season), high strikeout totals (27.7% k-rate), and a sparkly 0.86 WHIP.

So why aren't I rating Janssen higher?

The important thing about Janssen's status as closer is that the Jays have other options in the 'pen. Esmil Rogers, Brad Lincoln, Sergio Santos, all these guys could have strong seasons, and the Jays may be looking to make a quick change if the team isn't getting good closer production. If Janssen were on a different team, he'd probably be up a tier, maybe even two. But on the win-now Jays, the team may look to add another reliever, or move Janssen out of the ninth if he hits a rough patch. Plus, it's not like he has the track record that would give his skipper irrational confidence in his abilities going forward. There's always the possibility of performance decline, especially on the wrong side of 30.

Projected Tier: Tier 4 (small room for error, doesn't have "proven closer" title, only two years of above-average performance)

Next in line: Sergio Santos

Boston Red Sox: Joel Hanrahan

Do you want to know a secret? Joel Hanrahan was actually pretty terrible in 2012. I know, the guy had a 2.72 ERA and stacked up 36 saves for the Pirates. But when you dig a little deeper, a few very concerning peripherals speak to a poor season. Hanrahan walked 14.2% of the batters he faced, which is a HUGE number. That's more than five walks per nine innings, and completely unacceptable.

Hanrahan also gave up a host of homers (1.21 HR/9), and that works out to a 4.45 FIP. By FanGraphs' WAR metric, Hanrahan was actually worse than a replacement-level reliever. That's not what anyone wants from a closer.

Now, I don't think Hanrahan will be quite as bad as he was last season, his BB% and HR/FB numbers should regress closer to his true talent level. At the same time, Fenway isn't exactly the best place to try and 

Projected Tier: Tier 3 (big strikeouts, high walks and home runs, huge potential for performance variance)

Next in line: Andrew Bailey

Tampa Bay Rays: Fernando Rodney

Probably no player -- and definitely no closer -- was as much of a surprise last season as Fernando Rodney. Rodney really hadn't been a good reliever since the '06 and '07 seasons, but in his first season in Tampa, Rodney was the best reliever in the AL. The strikeouts jumped up (27% strikeout rate), the walks dropped down (5.3% walk rate), and he stranded almost every runner who hit the bases. The result: an otherworldly 0.60 ERA.

But let's be real, this had to be somewhat of a mirage.

First of all, Rodney is entering his age-34 season, and has literally no history of performance at this level before this big season. Second, his peripherals led to a 2.13 FIP, which is still great, but doesn't reflect 48-save, under-one-ERA performance for next season. I just can't imagine he'll have another elite season, and the Rays have a whole host of solid relief options surrounding him (Jake McGee, Kyle Farnsworth, Joel Peralta), so don't draft him too early.

Projected Tier: Tier 3 (lots of competition, 2012 performance doesn't appear to reflect prior performance)

Next in line: Jake McGee and Kyle Farnsworth

As always, check out @CloserNews on Twitter for up-to-the-minute closer updates, and find me at@bgrosnick for everything baseball. Shutdown Corner will return next week with a look at the NL Central.

All data from FanGraphs.



Closers: Dodgers, Padres, Red Sox

For all the latest on closers and their potential rehab setbacks, be sure to follow @closernews on Twitter.

Dodgers
It appears that the only obstacle to a long stretch of dominance for Kenley Jansen may be his own health. Having claimed closing duties early in the season, the hard-throwing right-hander was authoring a terrific campaign, sitting on a 2.54 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, 25 saves and 86 strikeouts in just 56 2/3 innings through last week. Then, out of nowhere, the bad news broke that Jansen would be out indefinitely after suffering a recurrence of the heart condition that sidelined him for a month last season and for a spell during Spring Training this year.

Dodgers manager Don Mattingly has been noncommital about naming a proper replacement for Jansen, saying that Ronald Belisario and Brandon League, both right-handers, would share closing duties in Jansen's absence. It's only been a week since Jansen went down, so it might be too soon to infer much from a small sample of games, but the Dodgers have been involved in several close games in that time, and there are some interesting trends to note. While Belisario is enjoying a better season than League and was called upon for the first post-Jansen save chance, he has since been used in situations not typically reserved for closers, including pitching the top of the ninth with his team trailing on Sunday and then making a one-out appearance in the seventh inning on Monday that eventually led to a League save.

So while these small-sample trends make League the better add than Belisario at the moment, I don't think we can say this one has necessarily been settled, especially considering Mattingly's original declaration at the outset.

Of course, all of this may be moot depending on what happens with Jansen. The Dodgers were expected to make an announcement as soon as Tuesday as to whether he would return at some point this season. My initial instinct is to guess that he'll be shut down, considering he's dealing with such a serious medical condition, but that is mere speculation. In the meantime, League is where I'd look first for a replacement, and then to Belisario.

Padres
With Huston Street's DL stint creeping up on a month, his owners got some bad news over the weekend. Street apparently suffered something of a mild setback during his rehab from a calf strain, and there's still no timetable in place for his return. With about a month remaining on the season's calendar, there's still time for Street to return and accrue a handful of saves for his owners, but the window is closing.

I said when Street went down that the Padres probably wouldn't be in a huge rush to get him back on the mound -- because of Street's recently signed extension and the team's place in the standings -- and that appears to be the case. This can only be a good thing for owners of interim closer Luke Gregerson, who should see a handful more save chances before Street elbows him back into a setup role. Gregerson blew a save chance on Monday and has allowed runs in back-to-back outings, but I'm thinking he should get another go-round before Bud Black considers making a(nother) change. There's only so short a leash you can place on your closing candidates before you've cycled through them all.

Hold onto Gregerson if you own him now, and if he's still kicking around on your league's wire (only owned in 18% of Yahoo! leagues), give him a long look if you're in need of saves. He should have the gig for at least another week and perhaps more, and he should do a fine job.

Red Sox
Short of an official announcement, it was nonetheless all but certain last week that Andrew Bailey had overtaken Alfredo Aceves as Red Sox closer following Aceves' brutal August and team-imposed three-game suspension. But just in case there was any lingering doubt, the Red Sox since then announced that Aceves would be starting over the season's final month, clearing the way for Bailey to man the ninth inning, just as they'd planned when they acquired him last offseason from the Athletics.

I will admit, I had this one wrong. When Bailey was nearing his return, Aceves was still pitching capably and the Red Sox were still on the fringes of playoff contention. What would be their motivation to make a switch? Well, Aceves played his cards about as poorly as one can, and Boston's season went completely off the rails.

Bailey is owned in only 62% of Yahoo! leagues, so be sure to snap him up if he's fallen through the cracks in your league. It's hard to say whether he's back to his old form considering he's made only eight appearances so far this season since returning from the disabled list, but the upside is enough to warrant the benefit of the doubt. Now, if only the Sox could get him a save chance ...



Closers: Red Sox, Padres

As soon as you're done with your three-game suspension, be sure to check out @closernews on Twitter for the up-to-the-minute updates on breaking bullpen situations.

Red Sox
Andrew Bailey's tough debut season in Boston might actually be ending on a high note. Alfredo Aceves? Not so much. Bailey, only a couple weeks back from a season-long stint on the disabled list, appears poised to overtake Aceves as Red Sox closer.

In a very small sample of just 5 1/3 innings through Monday's action, Bailey's peripherals have been underwhelming. But he's mostly managed to keep runs off the board, posting a 1.69 ERA. That's not enough of a sample for us to definitively declare that the old Bailey has returned, but often times, perception is reality in the bullpen's version of 'Game of Thrones,' and the fact is that Bailey's surface stats indicate that he is back on top of his game.

Aceves, meanwhile, has seen an otherwise decent season go completely off the rails over the past month. In fact, as recently as the tail end of Bailey's minor league rehab stint, I touted Aceves as likely to hold onto his job, what with there being little incentive for an out-of-contention team to demote an adequate closer. But since then, Aceves' ERA has jumped from 3.57 to 4.60. Since Aug. 1, the right-hander has posted a 10.24 ERA in 9 2/3 innings of work, with 10 strikeouts, 13 hits and four walks. Oof. The timing, of course, couldn't have been worse, what with Bailey -- whom the team anointed its closer of the future when it acquired him in an offseason trade with the Athletics -- looming as his rehab stint wound down. Then, Aceves' on-field frustrations culminated in off-field mishap -- some kind of door-slamming altercation with manager Bobby Valentine -- which resulted in a team-imposed three-game suspension. When it rains it pours, Alfredo.

Valentine, as he is wont to do, has been coy about Bailey's and Aceves' respective roles once the latter's disciplinary sabbatical has run its course (he should be back in uniform Tuesday night). But the tea leaves all point toward Bailey seeing the lion's share, if not all, of the team's save chances for the season's balance. He wields knockout stuff when he's on top of his game, and as mentioned earlier, Boston acquired him last offseason with designs on having him pitch the ninth, a role he manned capably for the A's in his three seasons with them. Aceves, on the other hand, was thrust into closing mostly by chance when Bailey went down with his injury and Mark Melancon was demoted to the minors after a horrible start to the season. In fact, Aceves is a former starter whom the Red Sox probably had pegged as a long reliever/emergency starter.

Finally, it's worth noting that the Red Sox are in reboot mode now since the trade that relieved them of Adrian Gonzalez's, Carl Crawford's and Josh Beckett's respective burdensome contracts, so the thinking here is that they'll probably be looking to put every player in his right place with an eye toward 2013. Bailey's place is almost certainly closing; Aceves' may be on another team, as he's clearly fallen out of favor.

Aceves owners should hold on till he's been activated and officially given the boot, but in the meantime, Bailey should be scooped up in all leagues. This situation shouldn't take more than a couple days to resolve itself.

Padres
Speaking of being done dirty, poor Dale Thayer learned that interim closerships apparently wait for no man, woman or child, as Friars manager Bud Black has suddenly taken a liking to Luke Gregerson in the ninth inning. LG first earned a save on Sunday while Thayer was still on the paternity list. Easy enough. But Dale-lightful was back in uniform on Monday, and with a save situation taking shape for the Padres in the latter innings of their tilt against the Braves, Black called upon Thayer to set up in the eighth before handing the ninth-inning save chance off to Gregerson, who converted. Interesting.

Gregerson's saga has been a weird one. He boasts "closer stuff" but has been passed over in favor of the journeyman Thayer for closing duties during both of Huston Street's DL stints this season. Well, "passed over" may not be an accurate way to phrase it. Recall that Gregerson was given first crack at closing for the Padres during Street's first DL stay, but he blew the save. Enter Thayer. When Street went down for a second time, there was no such opportunity to be had for Gregerson; the Padres simply handed over closing duties to Thayer.

So, why the aversion to Gregerson in the first place, and why have the Padres seemingly had a change of heart now? One fairly common response to the first question is that Gregerson's reliance on the arm-taxing slider renders him a less-than-ideal candidate to be pegged to the constraints of a narrowly defined role like closing, which could call for him to pitch three or sometimes four days in a row. However, he's pitched on three consecutive days four times this season, which isn't excessive but is plenty enough to prove the Padres aren't shy about doing it. Maybe the Padres felt like he didn't have the mental makeup to handle the gig after he blew the aforementioned save? And the second question of this mystery is equally perplexing. Perhaps the Friars simply realized that Gregerson is a better pitcher than Thayer? (he is)

In any event, all the debate may not amount to much. Street is expected to soon begin a minor league rehab stint, after which he should return to closing. In the meanwhile, Gregerson is a worth an add if you're duking it out for every last save you can get your hands on. Thayer owners should sit tight for one more save chance to see how it plays out, but if he's skipped over again, cut away.



Finally Healthy, Kalish Back In Boston

Carl Crawford (elbow) and Jacoby Ellsbury (shoulder) have been two of fantasy baseball's top outfield producers over the last few seasons, but the duo has played just seven total games -- all by Ellsbury -- for the Red Sox this year. Boston has been forced to use a dozen different outfielders to cover for their injuries so far, but it wasn't until this week that they were finally able to call on their top internal option: Ryan Kalish.

Kalish, 24, missed most of last season and the start of this season with a pair of surgeries: one for a bulging disc in his neck, the other for a torn labrum in his left (throwing) shoulder. He raked in 15 minor league games after coming off the DL -- .345/.449/.655 with five homers -- and has three singles in 12 plate appearances since being recalled three days ago. Kalish has started each of the last three games in center field and the plan is to keep running him out there over the next few weeks.

This isn't Kalish's first time in the show. He played 53 games for the 2010 Red Sox and hit a respectable .252/.305/.405 with four homers and ten steals (in eleven chances) in 179 plate appearances. The power-speed combination was his calling card all throughout the minors and is part of the reason why Baseball America considered him one of the game's top 100 prospects prior to the 2008 season. Kalish has 93 steals (in 113 chances) and 45 homers in just over 400 career minor league games, though a broken hamate bone in his wrist sapped his over-the-fence power for a few years earlier in his career.

Ellsbury took batting practice the other day for the first time since getting hurt and Carl Crawford recently started a throwing program, so those two are on the mend. Their returns are not imminent though, so Kalish's job is safe for the time being. I wouldn't expect a ton of homers just because they're hard to hit, even in Fenway Park, but Kalish has real sleeper potential in the other four traditional 5x5 scoring categories. He should hit for a solid average but even if he slumps into the .250-range, there will still be stolen bases, runs scored, and runs driven in to count on. Those last two categories are a gimme given the lineup around him. I'm a fan and although Kalish technically isn't a prospect, he's a young player with upside and a lot to offer fantasy owners.



Middlebrooks Gets A Chance With Youkilis Hurt

Red Sox third baseman Kevin Youkilis has visited the disabled list five times since the start of the 2009 season, including his current stint due to a back strain. He's 33 years old, has hit just .205/.307/.345 since last year's All-Star break, and has a $13MM club option in his contract for 2013, so you can't fault the team for starting to think about their long-term future at the hot corner. That future is top prospect Will Middlebrooks, who was called up to the show yesterday and made his big league debut against the Athletics last night.

Middlebrooks, 23, went 2-for-3 with an infield single, a double, and a walk in his first Major League game on Wednesday. He had a monster month of April in Triple-A, whacking nine homers to go with a .333/.380/.677 batting line in exactly 100 plate appearances. That comes on the heels of a .285/.328/.506 showing (23 HR) at mostly Double-A in 2011, the breakout season that propelling him from interesting guy to the 51st best prospect in the game according to Baseball America.

The biggest concern about Middlebrooks' game is his plate discipline, or lack thereof. He really didn't improve on it a great deal during his short time in Triple-A either. His career walk rate coming into the season was just 7.5% of all plate appearances, right in line with his seven walks in those 100 minor league plate appearances this year. His 18 strikeouts are a touch below expected given his 26.8% career strikeout rate coming into the season. It typically takes between 150-200 plate appearances for walk and strikeout rates to stabilize according to FanGraphs, so the tiny bit of info we do have about WMB's plate discipline isn't overly reliable at the moment. Given his homer surge, it's fair to wonder if opposing pitchers have been pitching him more carefully, though you'd think that would result in more walks.

Anyway, you'd expect most young players to struggle with walks and strikeouts when they're first called up, so Middlebrooks' discipline issues won't be out of the ordinary for a rookie. The one thing the right-handed hitter will give fantasy owners is big power numbers, though it should be noted that Baseball America says his home run power is "to the opposite field and are line drives that carry out of the park" in their subscriber-only scouting report. Opposite field power is good, but that wouldn't allow him to take advantage of Fenway Park's most prominant feature, the 37-foot wall in left field that turns routine fly balls into doubles with regularity. Baseball America also cautions that Middlebrooks might not top a .275 batting average given his strikeout issues, but I was thinking something like .250 for his age-23 season anyway. Modest expectations, really.

The biggest problem for fantasy owners and WMB alike is Youkilis, who presumably will not stay on the disabled list forever and eventually reassume his starting third base job when healthy. Middlebrooks might only be manning the hot corner in Boston for another two weeks or so before returning to Triple-A. Youkilis hasn't done much with the bat in quite some time, but I would be surprised if manager Bobby Valentine and the Red Sox pull the plug on him before a few hundred plate appearances this season. Middlebrooks' fantasy value is dependent on how the club plays him more than anything. There's 20+ homer power here if given regular playing time, which makes him a fantasy option along the lines of Mike Moustakas or maybe even declining Aramis Ramirez.  Middlebrooks is definitely a name to remember for the future, but he might not offer enough to be worth a roster spot in 20120



Closer Updates: Blue Jays, Red Sox, Nats

I would have published this sooner, but with three lefties coming up, my editor pulled me in favor of a LOOGY ...

Blue Jays
I said last week I wasn't all that concerned about Sergio Santos' sluggish start -- unless it was on account of an injury, which we would have had no way of knowing. Sure enough, the flame-throwing right-hander hit the DL late on Saturday due to right shoulder inflammation.

Am I worried now? I'd be lying if I said I wasn't. I don't own Santos in either of my leagues, but that wasn't by design; I like him quite a lot and expected him to have a strong season. Now, however, things are murky. The Jays say the ailment is not serious, and I suppose there's no reason not to take them at face value, but ... it's still an arm injury.

Meanwhile, Francisco Cordero has been named closer in Santos' absence. I'm no fan of Cordero's, but I was able to snatch him up when news broke of Santos' injury, and I suggest you do the same if you still can. I'll be gritting my teeth through his save opps (including Sunday's underwhelming performance), but saves are saves, and I need 'em in my primary league.

I fully expect Cordero to cede the job back to Santos when the latter is ready to to return, but I'm not assuming Santos will necessarily be back right away, either. Santos owners are frustrated, I'm sure, but your only option is to sit tight for now and stash him on your DL.

Red Sox
Smart money had reliever-turned-starter Daniel Bard returning to Boston's bullpen at some point this season, but I'm not sure anyone thought it would happen this soon. Then again, who could have foreseen things going as poorly as they have so far?

The trouble, for our purposes, is that the Red Sox are calling this a temporary move; Bard will only be available in relief while one of his turns in the starting rotation is skipped. Further complicating matters, they've also been cagey as to exactly what role he will fill during this cameo. If it all sounds unusual to you, that's because it is.

I was able to read the tea leaves and nabbed Bard before the announcement was made, but now I'm feeling like I may be stuck with Louis Friend. Will he remain in the bullpen for the long-term? Will he close if so? Well, now that I've completely revealed my bias, I don't mind saying that I hope so, but Bobby Valentine said Monday he doesn't think there's a strong temptation to move Bard back to the 'pen permanently. Why he phrased it in such a creepy way, I can't say, but the point comes across.

This situation is a mess. I'm going to hold onto Bard because I'm needy for saves, and Bard's upside as a closer is pretty big, but if you're in any better standing, you can safely pass.

Nationals
In case you missed it last week, Drew Storen is out for an undefined period of time after undergoing surgery to remove bone chips from his elbow. Washington hopes to have Storen back before the All-Star break, but in the meanwhile, Henry Rodriguez and Brad Lidge will share closing duties.

That's a double helping of ugh.

H-Rod's surface numbers look great right now, while Lidge's do not, but don't be fooled: both options are underwhelming. The right-handers should be owned, because saves are saves, but neither of these guys is going to provide long-term surplus value, and the fact that they're cast in a platoon only further diminishes their already dubious contributions. These remains are better left for the saves bottomfeeders in your league.

Storen, obviously, is a strong undisputed DL stash. You can take a risk on dropping him outright -- and there's a decent enough chance that he washes out completely that it wouldn't be insane from the perspective of lost stats -- but someone will snatch him off your wire with the quickness.



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.



Closer Report: Red Sox

A closer report on the Red Sox isn't tricky - Jonathan Papelbon is the first stopper off the board in most leagues (he, Mariano Rivera, and Jonathan Broxton start moving in the 6th round).  Papelbon is quite valuable in fantasy leagues, and the 6th round is appropriate if you're not the type to take chances on closers.

If you're searching for a chink in the armor after a 1.85 ERA season, check out Papelbon's 3.2 BB/9.  It was his worst walk rate since his rookie year, and it pushed his WHIP all the way up to 1.15.  He tinkered with his delivery early in the season, so that might've caused the extra walks in the first half.  Regardless, we're nit-picking.

In the seemingly unlikely event Papelbon misses time with an injury, who's next in line?  Hideki Okajima and Ramon Ramirez were used in the highest-leverage situations last year.  Ramirez's peripherals were shaky, however.  Hard-throwing sophomore Daniel Bard could be the guy, assuming he's in the midst of a strong season.

Dark horses?  Scott Atchison dominated out of the Hanshin Tigers' bullpen last year.  Boof Bonser had interesting peripherals in '08 out of the Twins' pen, but that was before shoulder surgery.

You shouldn't worry about Papelbon's backup unless you're really digging for saves in a deep AL-only league.  Bard is the current favorite, but keep an eye on Atchison.





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