Kansas City Royals


Shutdown Corner: AL Central Closer Roundup

Baseball players are showing up at Spring Training sites, everyone! And as spring gets within reach, I'm posting closer roundups for every division in baseball. This week, it's the mysterious, murky, up-for-grabs American League Central on the hot seat. As always, you can check back in on our previous roundups: AL WestNL East, AL East and NL Central.

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.

Chicago White Sox: Addison Reed

Last season, Addison Reed -- a guy who was highly hyped as a sleeper closer by many fantasy mavens -- made good on most of his promise and held down the White Sox closer job for most of the season. While he turned in 29 saves, the rest of his numbers weren't quite as stellar as owners would have hoped: a 22.7% strikeout rate was lower than anything he'd posted in the minors by a fair bit, and his ERA sat at an ugly 4.75, despite peripherals that gave him an FIP of 3.64.

On the bright side, Reed is still young for a closer at 24, and will have the ninth inning all to himself this season. He's ensconced in his position now, and he still projects to improve upon last season's rate stats and K totals. This is a guy who just doesn't have the actual performance to move up to Tier 2 yet, but is on the leading edge of Tier 3 closers. He could have a big season.

Projected Tier: Tier 3 (needs more strikeouts / consistency to be a upper-echelon closer)

Next in line: Jesse Crain

Cleveland Indians: Chris Perez

After 2011, I swore I'd never draft Chris Perez again. The Cleveland closer has a history of cardiac saves, and Perez had more meltdowns in 2011 than the Springfield nuclear power plant. So you can imagine my surprise when 2012 was a pretty great season for Perez. Last year, Perez was actually pretty reliable, posting solid rate stats (3.59 ERA and 1.13 WHIP), watching his strikeout rate rebound (up to 24.4%) and grabbing a career-high 39 saves.

Nevertheless, I'm still a little wary about drafting Perez again this season. While he's a good bet to grab you saves, his performance is still a bit too up-and-down for my taste, without some of the upside of other closers. And, of course, the Indians don't look to be contenders this season, and could very likely trade their expensive closer to a team closer to the playoffs. When factoring in Vinnie Pestano's readiness to close, Perez might only be a closer for half the season.

Projected Tier: Tier 3 (Perez is unstable, and always close to being traded)

Next in line: Vinnie Pestano

Detroit Tigers: Bruce Rondon

In truth, Bruce Rondon's name is here as a placeholder, because the Tigers are really giving no strong indication who will close for the team in 2013. With Jose Valverde (likely) leaving via free agency, Jim Leyland has yet to commit to a new stopper for the team in 2013. With plenty of decent-but-not-great options in the bullpen, trying to guess on the Tigers' closer before Spring Training kicks off seems like a fool's errand.

If we (as fantasy owners) are lucky, though, Bruce Rondon will be the guy for Detroit. Rondon has a big 10o+ mph heater, and if it plays up in Spring Training, the team may want to give him a shot at the ninth inning. We're still not entirely sure if Rondon can consistently get his big fastball over the plate, but if he can, he could be a huge strikeout machine in the mold of an Aroldis Chapman. And Rondon could certainly be a keeper for future years, provided he stays healthy.

But yeah, I wouldn't draft a closer from Detroit this year. I think it will take them a few months to figure out who owns the ninth, if they ever do.

Projected Tier: Tier 4 (too unstable to call at this point)

Next in line: Brayan Villarreal, Joaquin Benoit, Octavio Dotel, Al Alburquerque, Phil Coke

Kansas City Royals: Greg Holland

Without too much fanfare, Greg Holland has been one of the best relievers in baseball over the past two seasons. Last season was the first in which Holland was a "real closer" for part of a season, but the 27-year-old hurler did himself proud. A 31.5% strikeout rate puts him in the top tier of late-game hurlers, and a 2.25 FIP means that we can continue to expect big things going forward. While he's still prone to too many walks and hits (1.37 WHIP last year), he's probably one of your best bets when it comes to mid-level closers.

I'd be comfortable drafting him in the 5-10 range among closers for next season. Don't break the bank to add him (he's not going to put up a Craig Kimbrel season, most likely), but he's probably going to be better than most other late-inning options next season.

Projected Tier: Tier 2 (solid strikeout rate, not much competition, recent track record is great)

Next in line: Aaron Crow

Minnesota Twins: Glen Perkins

Many Minnesota fans must be breathing a sigh of relief that the Matt Capps era is over in the Twin Cities. Though Perkins was once another unremarkable Twins starter, he has reinvented himself as a reliever, one who features a solid fastball-slider combo able to get whiffs at an above-league-average rate. I know. It is weird to see that written about a Twins pitcher.

Perkins has posted very sharp rate stats over the past two years, with ERAs sitting right around 2.50 and a 2012 WHIP of just 1.03. Not too shabby. When you factor in the fact that the Twins don't have a strenuous competition for the job, and that the team doesn't seem likely to add another bullpen piece to oust him, Perkins looks to be sitting pretty for 2013.

The only tough question with Perkins is whether or not he'll get the number of save opportunities necessary to make him an upper-tier closer. My guess is that, well, that's tough to guess. But if Chris Perez got 39 saves last season for the lowly Indians, there's a pretty good chance that Perkins could get 30 for the Twins in 2013. Don't hesitate to draft him.

Projected Tier: Tier 2 (good strikeouts, good rate stats, homers can beat him up)

Next in line: Jared Burton

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 the last installment of the Closer Roundup series: a look at the NL West.

All data from FanGraphs.



Offseason Injuries: To Stash Or Not To Stash?

There is no bigger wildcard throughout a season than injuries. A bad hamstring or a sore elbow can sink an entire fantasy season almost instantly, so there's always a lot of finger-crossing going on. At the same time, fantasy owners always try to take advantage of their DL spots early in the season by drafting an injured player and stashing him until he's healthy. Carlos Quentin, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Mike Morse, Salvador Perez, Brett Anderson, and Drew Storen were among the most popular "draft-and-stashes" a year ago. Some worked better than others, obviously.

Spring Training will surely bring a wave of injuries that carry over into the season, but there are already plenty of players who we know will miss the start of 2013. Some are worth grabbing late in the draft and hiding on the DL for a few weeks while others are just a waste of time. It's the same story every year. Here are a few players who will miss the start of next season and could prove useful in the second half.

Arizona Diamondbacks: Daniel Hudson
Hudson, 25, battled elbow trouble last April and May and it eventually blew out in late-June. He had Tommy John surgery and is expected to return sometime after the All-Star break. Hudson became incredibly homer prone last summer (1.79 HR/9), which can be atrributed both to the injury and simple regression -- only 6.4% of his fly balls left the yard in 2011, which is very low for a fly ball pitcher (career 39.1% grounders) who makes half his starts in Chase Field. In 2012 that jumped up to 16.7%, which is a bit high but more in line with expectations. His strikeout (7.35 K/9) and walk (2.38 BB/9) rates barely changed, however. When he returns with a healthy elbow, Hudson is someone worth carrying because he'll keep his ERA down and chip in some strikeouts. I'd go ahead and stash him if he's sitting there in a late round.

Atlanta Braves: Brandon Beachy
Like Hudson, the 26-year-old Beachy blew out his elbow in June and required Tommy John surgery. Unlike Hudson, Beachy was absolutely dominant before getting hurt: 2.00 ERA with 7.6 K/9 and 3.2 BB/9 in 81 innings. The Braves have plenty of starting pitching depth but they'll surely clear a spot when their young right-hander is healthy and ready to rejoin the rotation. Beachy is definitely someone worth stashing on the DL in the first half, no doubt about it.

Kansas City Royals: Danny Duffy
Duffy, 24, had Tommy John surgery in late-May and is expected to return a few weeks before Hudson and Beachy. He showed big strikeout ability (9.1 K/9) in six starts before getting hurt, which is on par with his minor league performance. Assuming the uncharacteristic walk problems (5.9 BB/9) stemmed from the elbow injury, Duffy is an intriguing young starter with whiff potential for next season. I don't believe there's enough track record here to warrant a DL stash in typical 12-team mixed leagues, however.

New York Yankees: Alex Rodriguez & Michael Pineda
It has been five years since A-Rod made it through a full season without visiting the DL, and that streak will reach six years following his left hip surgery later this week. He's expected to be out until the All-Star break, though Dr. Bryan Kelly recently acknowledged it could be even longer. They won't know the extent of the cartilage damage until they actually cut him open. A-Rod, 37, is no longer the best fantasy producer in the game, but he's not useless either. He hit 18 homers in 122 games last season and has consistently produced a batting average in the .270s over the last three seasons, plus the lineup around him ensures plenty of RBI opportunities. I'm on the fence about this one, I can see the argument to both stash and not stash New York's third baseman.

Pineda, 23, has yet to throw a pitch for the Yankees after being acquired from the Mariners one year and one day ago. He had shoulder surgery in May and is expected back in June, but the club has admitted they will play things very carefully. Pineda wasn't far off from a fantasy ace in 2011 -- 3.74 ERA with a 9.1 K/9 and 1.09 WHIP -- but labrums are not UCLs. If he had Tommy John surgery instead of shoulder surgery, he'd be a slam-dunk draft-and-stash. Because his trademark velocity may never return, the uncertainty is much greater. Factor in the tough division and hitter friendly park, and Pineda is someone who is more worth a midseason waiver pickup than a draft slot. I'm watching this one play out from afar.

San Diego Padres: Cory Luebke
The 27-year-old Luebke starred after moving into San Diego's rotation in late-June 2011, pitching to a 3.31 ERA with 9.9 K/9 in 17 starts to close out the season. Expectations were fairly high coming into last year, but he instead lasted just five starts (2.61 ERA) before undergoing reconstructive elbow surgery. He's due to return in late-May/early-June and will be expected to get back on the path he appeared to be carving 12 months ago. Luebke misses bats, has a history of limiting walks, and pitches half his games in a super-friendly ballpark (even with the walls coming in at Petco Park). He's definitely someone I'm looking to stash for a few weeks, no doubt about it. He and Beachy are the gold standard.

Texas Rangers: Joakim Soria, Colby Lewis & Neftali Feliz
The Rangers have three pitchers due to return from elbow surgery at midseason, with the 28-year-old Soria likely to join the bullpen before Lewis and Feliz rejoin the rotation. The presence of Joe Nathan means Soria is unlikely to see save chances, but he would be a prime holds candidate as Mike Adams' replacement. It's worth noting that he's coming off his second Tommy John surgery, which is much more risky and unpredictable than the first. I wouldn't expect the Royals version of Soria, at least not right away.

Lewis, 33, is more of a solid fantasy option than a standout, but he is guaranteed a spot in the Texas rotation when healthy. Feliz, 24, could wind up back in the bullpen depending on how Soria and Lewis recover. GM Jon Daniels has already hinted that a return to relieving could be in the cards, if not likely at this point. With Nathan entrenched in the ninth inning, Feliz's fantasy value would take a hit with a move back into the bullpen. I don't think I would stash any of these three Rangers, but I'd prefer Lewis over the other two given his role and playing time certainty.



Three September Call-Ups To Watch For

The calendar turns over to September this Saturday, meaning clubs will expand their rosters and call-up extra players for the stretch run. Most September call-ups are spare parts - third catchers, extra left-handed relievers, etc. - but every so often a team will bring a top prospect to the big leagues and give him a month's worth of playing time. David Price and Francisco Rodriguez are the two most notable September call-ups in recent memory, as both went on to become key components of a deep playoff run. Impact like that is the exception though, not the rule. Here are three high-end prospects who could make their way to the big leagues next month and actually have some fantasy value...

Jurickson Profar | SS | Texas Rangers

The 19-year-old wunderkind from Curacao has emerged as baseball's top prospect this summer. Profar has hit .280/.367/.452 with 14 homers and 16 steals in Double-A this season, which is insane production given his age relative to the competition. It's worth noting that he's played some games at second base lately and in each of the last two games, he was used off the bench as a pinch-hitter. It's very possible the Rangers are preparing him for a call-up, though Jeff Wilson of The Fort Worth Star-Telegram says it may not happen until the end of the Double-A postseason.

Fantasy owners should keep the plight of Mike Olt in mind when considering Profar's fantasy impact. Texas called up their other elite prospect in early-August and he's gotten just 32 plate appearances so far, including only six starts in 26 team games. Perhaps things will be different later in September after the Rangers clinch a playoff berth, but I would be skeptical right now. Profar is a definite keeper long-term, but his 2012 impact may be severely limited.

Wil Myers | OF | Kansas City Royals

After starring at the Futures Game in Kansas City and for most of the season in Triple-A, the 21-year-old Myers may finally get a chance to crack the outfield in Kauffman Stadium next month. He's hit a whopping .307/.384/.589 with 35 homers in 568 total plate appearances, pretty much confirming that he's ready for the next level. Calling up Myers could require the team to either finally bench Jeff Francoeur or sit Lorenzo Cain, the latter of whom might actually have a future with the team. If he does get the call and does play everyday in some outfield position, Myers could be a nice little late-season boost for fantasy owners, potentially chipping in something like 5-6 homers the rest of the way. That's nothing to sneeze at.

Shelby Miller | SP | St. Louis Cardinals

Earlier this week Joe Strauss of The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported (on Twitter) that there is a "strong sentiment" within the organization to promote Miller, the 21-year-old flamethrower who's pitched to a 4.89 ERA with 10.4 K/9 and 3.4 BB/9 in 130 2/3 Triple-A innings this year. Those numbers aren't all that impressive overall, but the right-hander has a 57/4 K/BB in his last eight starts and seems to have figured some things out.

If the Cardinals do recall Miller next month, they'll have the option to use him out of the bullpen or instead of Joe Kelly in the rotation. I wouldn't count on him replacing Jason Motte as closer, so he would have the most fantasy value as a starter. The September schedule is loaded with intra-division games as always, meaning a whole lotta games against the lowly Astros and Cubs. St. Louis also has a West Coast swing through San Diego and Los Angeles on their slate, adding two top pitcher's parks into the mix. Miller definitely offers some impact potential going forward, assuming the club actually decides to call him up and insert him into the rotation down the stretch.



Four Prospects To Watch In The Second Half

As we come out of the All-Star break, we're going to see a number of top prospects join their big league club down the stretch as they push for a playoff spot. Some may have a huge impact like Mike Trout has already had for the Angels while others may just be complementary pieces shoring up the bench or bullpen. Here's a look at four high-end prospects who could assume important roles in the second half and have real fantasy value. I've including their ranking among Baseball America's Top 50 Prospects midseason update for reference.

Matt Harvey | SP | Mets | Baseball America: #34

The Mets got some unfortunate news earlier this week when right-hander Dillon Gee had to be placed on the disabled list after feeling numbness in his fingers. He was diagnosed with a blood clot in his shoulder and may still need surgery. The team has yet to announce his rotation replacement, but right now it seems like the immortal Miguel Batista will be a temporary solution. With Harvey tearing up Triple-A, he becomes the prohibitve favorite to fill Gee's spot if he misses an extended period of time.

Harvey, 23, has pitched to a 3.39 ERA in 18 starts and 98.1 innings for the club's Triple-A affiliate this season. His strikeout (9.3 K/9) and walk (3.8 BB/9) rates are very good, though they're better measured in terms of percent of batters faced -- he's struck out 24.2% while walking 10.0% of the hitters to step in the box against him this year. The walks are a bit of a concern because they will boost his WHIP, but Harvey can miss bats and that will cure a lot of ills. Throw in a pitcher friendly ballpark and you're looking at a potential fantasy weapon down the stretch.

Wil Myers | OF | Royals | Baseball America: #3

The 21-year-old Myers has had a busy week, first starring in the Futures Game before winning the Triple-A All-Star Game MVP Award last night. He's hit a combined .327/.403/.676 with 27 homers in 363 plate appearances split between Double and Triple-A this season, and in reality he probably should have been up a few weeks ago. Lorenzo Cain is just coming back from a groin strain and Jeff Francoeur has been unable to replicate last season's success, so the Royals can make room for Myers if they really want to get him in the lineup. Either way, expect him to rake and become an instant fantasy starter as soon as he's recalled and given an everyday job.

Mike Olt | 3B | Rangers | Baseball America: #11

Olt, 23, has had a huge year - .292/.403/.574 with 22 homers in 348 Double-A plate appearances this summer - and he doesn't figure to need much Triple-A time before being big league ready. The problem is that there's no obvious opening for him in Texas with Adrian Beltre manning the hot corner, though they've had him work out at both first base and right field this season. Of course that also makes Olt one of the very best pieces of trade bait in the game. The Rangers could go big game hunting - Zack Greinke? Cole Hamels? Justin Upton? - with their top third base prospect going the other way. That could land Olt in the big leagues down the stretch and third base is a sneaky shallow position. Keep an eye on Texas and their trade deadline dealings, because they could have big fantasy implications for more than the obvious reasons.

Tyler Skaggs | SP | Diamondbacks | Baseball America: #7

The arrival of Trevor Bauer has been a little underwhelming so far, but he's not the only high-end pitching prospect the D'Backs have on the cusp of the show. Skaggs, a 21-year-old southpaw, pitching to a 2.84 ERA in 13 Double-A starts before jumping to Triple-A and making two starts. His strikeout (8.7 K/9 and 23.2% of batters faced) and walk (2.6 BB/9 and 7.0%) rates are excellent, it's just a matter of making room for him in the rotation. Daniel Hudson's injured elbow opens a starting job that will likely be filled when Joe Saunders comes off the DL (Josh Collmenter is filling in for the time being), but the veteran southpaw always seems to be involved in trade rumors. Skaggs probably has the most to overcome to reach the show in the second half, but he has fantasy impact potential once he does arrive.



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.



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 Royals' Closer

Joakim Soria owners already suffered through a tough 2011 when the closer posted still-decent but disappointing numbers -- a 4.03 ERA, a 9.0 H/9 rate and a 1.27 WHIP, all career worsts.  Now, Soria owners have to go back to the drawing board for saves since Soria will undergo his second Tommy John surgery and miss the 2012 season.

If you're looking for a replacement for Soria or just want to find some cheap saves on the waiver wire, you may not need to look beyond the Royals' roster.  Here are the top candidates to take over as the stopper in Kansas City...

Jonathan Broxton: The former Dodgers closer was one of the game's top relievers from 2006 until July 2010, when his performance suddenly went off a cliff.  Broxton had a 2.11 ERA before the 2010 All-Star break and a 7.13 ERA after it, which cost him his closing job late in the season. Things didn't improve in 2011, as he only made 14 appearances before being shut down in May and undergoing arthroscopic elbow surgery in September. 

Broxton signed a one-year, $4MM contract with K.C. in November with the intention of proving that he was both healthy and once again effective, so as to earn a closer's job and a longer-term contract in the 2012-13 offseason. As it happens, Broxton could find his closing opportunity right now in the wake of Soria's injury. We sabermetric types may scoff at the idea of a "closer's mentality," but the fact that Broxton has experience finishing games (and excelled at the task as recently as two years ago) will surely factor into manager Ned Yost's decision. 

What could hurt Broxton's chances in the closing hunt, however, is that fact that the Royals were easing Broxton back into pitching, limiting his spring innings to make sure he was fully recovered from his elbow surgery.  The club might not want to risk taking Broxton from the kiddie pool right into the deep end of high-leverage closing situations until they're totally sure he's fit. 

Fantasy-wise, you should be thinking the same thing before picking Broxton for your roster.  He's worth a waiver pickup or a late draft pick now since the K.C. closer's job is still pending, but unless Yost comes out and declares Broxton is his man, you can safely leave him undrafted.  If he pitches well, however, pick him up in June or July; an in-form Broxton will draw heavy interest for closer-needy teams at the trade deadline, and you could be the early bird in getting an extra stopper for the second half of your season.

Greg Holland: The right-hander's first full Major League season saw him post a 1.80 ERA, a 44.9% ground ball rate, a 3.89 K/BB ratio and 74 strikeouts in 60 innings of work.  Holland may have flown under the radar of casual fans, but other teams certainly noticed, as the Blue Jays and other clubs showed trade interest in the 26-year-old.  It's safe to say that given Soria's injury situation, Holland isn't leaving Kansas City anytime soon. 

Holland was an unheralded draft pick (10th round selection in 2007) and while he's always racked up strikeouts in his pro career, 2011 was his only truly elite season at any level.  It may be too soon to anoint Holland as the next big thing amongst fantasy closers simply because we don't yet know if his 2011 self is his new norm, or if his true talent level is closer to his minor league career numbers --- a 3.48 ERA, a 2.35 K/BB, a 4.1 BB/9 and a 1.29 WHIP.  Holland certainly has a lot of upside and is worth a late draft pick regardless of Yost's decision, as if he replicates his 2011 numbers, he can help your staff ERA and strikeout totals even if he doesn't get saves. (And if your league tracks holds, he's a must-have.)

Aaron Crow: If Dan Quisenberry and Jeff Montgomery are the Washington and Lincoln of Kansas City bullpen lore, Crow is David Rice Atchison.  Technically, Crow is an ex-Royals closer.  He won the job last May after Soria was demoted, but Soria pitched well in his next couple of outings and regained the job before Crow had even gotten one save opportunity.

Taken ninth overall in the 2008 draft by the Nationals, Crow didn't sign and re-entered the draft pool the next year, this time going to the Royals with the 12th overall pick.  His first year in the Royals' system went poorly, as Crow posted a combined 5.73 ERA in 29 starts at high-A ball and Double-A.  The Royals' solution to the problem was to convert Crow to relief pitching and the results were impressive, as Crow posted a 2.76 ERA and a 2.10 K/BB rate and even made the AL All-Star team.

The Royals toyed with the idea of converting Crow back into a starter this winter, but it looks like he'll remain in the bullpen for the time being. Crow becoming the team's closer is, frankly, a long shot --- both Broxton and Holland would have to struggle badly, get injured or get traded for Crow to get a crack at the job, and even if he did actually get a save opportunity this time, there's no guaranteed as to whether he'd be effective. Crow has a good but not great 2011 season, and in fact faded badly down the stretch in August and September. Whereas with Broxton we'll see if he can regain greatness, or if Holland can sustain greatness, with Crow we're still wondering if he has greatness in him at all.

Fantasy outlook: If I had to guess what will happen in Kansas City, I would say that Holland will start the year as closer while the club makes sure Broxton is fully healthy.  If Holland is performing well in the role, then he'll keep the job, Broxton becomes the setup man and the Royals could be no worse for wear at the back of their bullpen in Soria's absence.  If Holland struggles, however, Broxton would get the nod to finish games. The Broxton trade scenario I mentioned earlier could become even likelier should Broxton already be earning saves by the trade deadline, which would then open the door for Holland or even Crow to get chance to close if Broxton is dealt.

What this means is, Holland is your best fantasy bet for the time being.  He has all the tools to be a closer or at least a closer-in-waiting.  Under almost any scenario, he will be in line for save opportunities at some point this season. 

Also, the Soria situation is another reminder that you should always try to schedule your draft as close as possible to Opening Day.  You never know what injuries may crop up during Spring Training.  If you held your draft in early March and felt pretty good about your closing corps of Soria and Reds stopper Ryan Madson, Chris Carpenter in your rotation, Salvador Perez as your catcher, Chase Utley as your second baseman and Carlos Quentin in your outfield, then you have my apologies.



Closer Updates: Balfour, Soria, Perez, Thornton

It's never too late to squeeze in an extra mock or 10, but for the most part, real draft season is finally upon us. Only about a week remains till Opening Day in Japan, and you'll want to have conducted your draft by then so as to account for the players who will partake in those ballgames. After all, every stat accrued counts.

Now that the drafts count, remember to study up on the latest in injuries and role battles. It seems obvious, but at some point we've all been part of a draft in which some slacker selects a recently DL'd type in the 12th -- to the snickers of everyone in the chat forum.

On that note, here's the latest on a few bullpen situations you'll want to be apprised of heading into the big day.  For up-to-the-minute bullpen updates, follow CloserNews on Twitter.

Grant Balfour, Athletics

Jon Heyman threw us a curveball, guessing incorrectly that Brian Fuentes would be named the Athletics' closer about 20 minutes before manager Bob Melvin announced Grant Balfour had the job.  Hopefully you weren't finishing up a draft during the interim of those two tweets.  Fantasy owners had been preferring Balfour slightly, but were avoiding the situation in general until the 19th round.  Balfour has only 10 career saves to Fuentes' 199, but is clearly the superior pitcher.  He now belongs in that uncomfortable closer-drafting period, around picks 170-210, and is as good a bet as Chris Perez, Kyle Farnsworth, Frank Francisco, Javy Guerra, Matt Capps, Matt Thornton, Jim Johnson, and Brett Myers.  - this paragraph by Tim Dierkes

Joakim Soria, Royals

Soria exited his latest ineffective Cactus League appearance mid-inning due to pain in his pitching elbow. Sure enough, he underwent an MRI, which revealed damage to his ulnar collateral ligament. That ligament, folks, is the one that can lead to Tommy John surgery, a procedure Soria's already had earlier in his career.

While a second TJ is not confirmed for Soria, this is obviously not an encouraging development. Even if he can avoid surgery, I would expect him to be out well beyond Opening Day, leaving the door open for Jonathan Broxton or Greg Holland to take the reins as closer (I'm omitting Aaron Crow for now, as it sounds like he will be splitting his season between the bullpen and rotation).

Of those two, I'd like to see Holland get a shot at closing. His surface stats were superb last season, and the peripherals (2.22 SIERA) suggest it was no fluke. With a booming strikeout rate and very solid control, Holland is more than capable of holding down the job. As for Brox, well, we all have that T-shirt. He was once an elite stopper, but he hasn't been the same guy since that outing -- you know, that 48-pitch debacle in June 2010. He was terrible in the second half that season and missed basically all of last season. Even if he's fully healthy -- which I hope he is -- is it fair to expect him to return to his old form?

In any event, we'll have to get official word from the Royals on Soria's status -- and his potential replacement -- but be sure you're up to speed before your draft.

Chris Perez, Indians

CP has recovered quickly from an oblique injury suffered early in camp. The right-hander threw a bullpen session this weekend, is slated to return to Cactus League action this week, and projects to be ready by Opening Day.

That's a net win, because injuries aren't cool, but for fantasy purposes, the Tribe could do far better. Perez was one of the worst closers in baseball last season by the peripherals, with very little daylight between his low strikeout rate and high walk rate. SIERA sure wasn't impressed: 4.65.

Vinnie Pestano is waiting in the wings, and he racks up Ks by the bunches, but for now, it looks like Perez is still the man. Don't make Perez anything more than one of the last -- if not the last -- closers off the board, but hey, we all need saves, and he has the job if he doesn't suffer any further injury setbacks.

Matt Thornton, White Sox

Sox skipper Robin Ventura (still not used to calling him that) tabbed Thornton as the tentative leader to close before camp even opened, and with Opening Day not far off, the first-year manager's word looks to be holding true.

Chris Sale, who vultured some saves from Sergio Santos last year, is now out of the picture because he's in the starting rotation. He was never expected to be a threat, though, because his transition has been in the works since last season. Instead, rookie Addison Reed was thought to be Thornton's stiffest competition, but his lack of The Experience seems to have earned him no favors with Ventura. Surprisingly, it's Jesse Crain who is also vying for saves, although he has been dealing with an oblique strain, presumably giving Thornton a leg up.

Thornton is the guy to target until further notice, and frankly, he could be a good value pick. After a disappointing start to 2011 (marred by some bad luck, too) that ultimately saw him demoted from the closer's role, the lefty pretty much bounced back to his career norms. If Thornton gets the job again out of camp, I wouldn't expect that to happen again. Draft with relative confidence.



Sleepers & Busts: Frank Francisco, Alex Gordon

To see Frank Francisco on your fantasy squad every day isn't an especially pleasant experience. Somehow, he's been lumped in with the likes of the Kevin Gregg types, which is to say that when he pitches well, you feel like you need to take a shower, and when he doesn't, your self-loathing rages while you rationalize dropping him for Jack Cust's impending hot streak -- a hot streak, by the way, that'll never come.

Alex Gordon, meanwhile, is a guy with whom you might have proudly pulled into sixth place prior to 2011. He's a kid from the Heartland, a former top draft pick of the then-pitiable Royals who came too close to never even scratching at potential that was unfairly overestimated in the first place. He finally attained post-hype-breakout status last season, though, rounding out his career arc such that if it were scored, it'd go something like the "Running On Empty"-"Go Your Own Way"-"Against The Wind" trifecta from Forrest Gump's jogging-across-the-country sequence.

But these are prejudices, dear readers, narratives devised by an evil force (or perhaps me) -- one that is conspiring to trick you into making bad selections on Draft Day. Let's try to thwart these with some truth missiles.

Frank Francisco, Mets, ADP: 231

Do fantasy owners not realize Francisco will be the Mets' closer in 2012? The right-hander's current average draft position, per Mock Draft Central, is roughly 231, which is early in the 19th round of a 12-teamer. For context, he's currently being drafted after a handful of setup men, even a few pedestrian ones like Francisco Cordero.

Look, Francisco is a solid pitcher. He's struck out well over a batter per inning in his career, and though his 3.91 BB/9 ain't pretty, he's gotten his control, um, under control over the past three years: 2.74, 3.08, 3.20. As well, you might be surprised to learn that his highest SIERA over the past four seasons was a not-bad-at-all 3.04 in 2011. That'll play.

The news gets better from there, as Francisco has left baseball's toughest division for the National League and the pitcher-friendly confines of Citi Field. The outfield fences have been moved in in Queens, so it remains to be seen exactly how differently fly balls will play, but I can't see the ballpark being any worse than neutral for pitchers -- and even that seems a stretch.

The only red flag from where I sit is the matter of Francisco's durability: He's spent time on the DL in each of the past three years. The silver lining, at least, is that he's still managed to toss about 50 innings in each of those years, so it's not as if he's held together by Scotch Tape and chewing gum. Injury might seem inevitable now, but good luck trying to guess if and when that'll occur.

In the meanwhile, watch equivalent (or even less valuable) pitchers fly off your league's draft board, and keep Fran-Fran in your back pocket. And in the unlikely event someone snipes him right before you're about to pick, you can always throw a chair.

Alex Gordon, Royals, ADP: 62

Al-Gor's long-awaited arrival (23 HR, 101 R, 87 RBI, 17 SB, .303 AVG) was the feel-good hit of the summer last year in Kansas City and fantasyland alike. You'd have to be immune to narratives a hard-hearted man to think otherwise.

But with the newfound celebration of Gordon comes the inevitable backlash. In 2012, that's likely to arrive unceremoniously in the form of a healthy regression from 2011's .358 BABIP, which will in turn make it difficult for the left-handed hitter to replicate his .303 batting average.

The extent to which Gordon's average will slide back is tough to figure, even beyond BABIP's typical slipperiness. He almost certainly won't hit .300, but after that, it's sketchy, and much has been written on the subject, with varying conclusions. Will it be .260, .270, or .280? I'd split the baby, but even still, Gordon has the earmarks of a perceived five-cat contributor who may stretch the bounds of the label's definition with a little less luck. Plus, he'll no longer have the bonus of third-base eligibility that he had a year ago. Bummer.

Gordon, who'll turn 28 next month, will be worthy of a roster spot this season, for sure, but I'm not taking him in the fifth round. Carlos Beltran and Andre Ethier, for example, are roughly comparable offensive contributors who are going off the board about six rounds later. Neither of those veterans is likely to approach Gordon's projected 14 steals, but then again, they're both likely to hit for a higher batting average.

Gordon is here to stay as a worthwhile own, but don't pay full price for his 2011, because you'll be chasing a ghost.



Position Battles: Royals Second Base/Third Base

In case you missed it, I've already broken down position battles for the Orioles' closer and Diamondbacks' first baseman/left field gigs. Next up in the series is the battle between four players who will be vying for two starting infield jobs in Kansas City. 

Mike Aviles vs Chris Getz vs Wilson Betemit vs Mike Moustakas

Tale of the Tape

Aviles: 29 years old, est. $475K salary 2010 stats: .304 BA, 8 HR, 32 RBI, 63 R, 16 2B, 3 3B, 20 BB, 49 K in 424 AB's, 14 SB  2011 Outlook: Favorite to be starting 3B, could be 2B if Betemit or Moustakas win 3B job.

After Tommy John surgery cost Aviles a majority of the 2009 season, he returned with a successful 2010. In his two full big league seasons (2008, 2010), the right-handed hitter has shown the ability to maintain a .300 BA and the potential to add 10-15 HR's and 15-20 SB's over a full year. His .801 OPS from the #2 hole last season should solidify his spot in the lineup. The only question is whether he plays second base or third base.

Getz: 27 years old, est. $440K salary 2010 stats: .237 BA, 0 HR, 18 RBI, 23 R, 9 2B, 19 BB, 28 K in 224 AB's, 15 SB 2011 Outlook: Favorite to be starting 2B

Multiple injuries (oblique, concussion) cost Getz a chance to stay on the field consistently in his first season with the Royals after being acquired from the White Sox last offseason. When he did play, he didn't hit much but the left-handed hitter showed an ability to work the count, take a walk, and wreak havoc on the basepaths (15 SB in 17 attempts). He'll likely have a couple of months to prove that he can provide enough offense to be a big league regular. If not, he'll likely have to make his living as a utilityman.

Betemit: 29 years old, $1MM salary 2010 stats: .297 BA, 13 HR, 43 RBI, 36 R, 20 2B, 36 BB, 74 K in 276 AB's 2011 Outlook: Should see good number of AB's at 3B, DH, 1B, LF

Even after resurrecting his career with an .889 OPS and finishing the season as the team's primary third baseman, Betemit is more likely to get his AB's at another position in 2011. The Royals probably want to get a good look at second baseman Getz early in the season, keeping Aviles at third base. Even if Getz can't hold onto the job, Moustakas should be in Kansas City no later than mid-June. Still, the switch-hitting Betemit is versatile enough that he'll get his share of AB's somewhere and could claim the designated hitter role full-time if Kila Ka'aihue struggles. 

Moustakas: 22 years old, est. $414K salary 2010 stats: .322 BA, 36 HR, 124 RBI, 94 R, 41 2B, 34 BB, 67 K in 484 AB's, 2 SB (AAA/AA) 2011 Outlook: Long shot to be starting 3B on Opening Day, Favorite to be starting 3B by mid-June

Like Buster PoseyMike Stanton, and Stephen Strasburg in 2010, Moustakas is expected to spend most of April and May in the minors before a permanent call to the big leagues. It doesn't mean he won't have a chance to break camp with the team but he'll have to put up huge numbers in Spring Training in order to force the Royals' hand. Between Aviles and Betemit, the team should be able to stand pat and allow Moustakas to continue developing in the minors. 

Final Word

While there is little doubt that Moustakas will be the Royals' third baseman at some point in 2011, there is a good chance he starts the season in Triple-A. With that in mind, the Royals can use the early part of the season to determine if Aviles or Getz will be the starting second baseman for the remainder of the season once Moustakas arrives. Betemit could be a trade chip later in the season, especially if he continues to hit as he did in 2010, but he'll need ABs in order to build up his value. 





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