New York Yankees


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.



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.



Closer Updates: Yankees, White Sox, Marlins

Has anyone seen my ACL? I seem to have left it on the warning track at The K. If found, please ping us on Twitter at @closernews, where you'll find all the latest updates on closers. On with the updates ...

Yankees
Bullpens are inherently volatile, this year seemingly more than ever. But the Yanks are the last team I expected to be writing about in this space based on Mariano Rivera's stubborn refusal to age or decline, kind of like Mickey Rourke except the exact opposite. Unfortunately, Mo finally proved mortal last week, going down as if he'd be been hit from the Texas School Book Depository while shagging batting-practice flies.

Rivera, of course, is (almost) definitely out for the season after undergoing surgery. We wish him a speedy recovery.

Luckily for the Yankees, they have two strong candidates to take the reins in Mo's stead: David Robertson and Rafael Soriano. Unluckily for fantasy owners, the Bombers have played it cool in naming one of them the undisputed closer, with manager Joe Girardi suggesting both will see save opps.

The Yankees haven't yet encountered a save chance since Mo went down, so there's little evidence from which we might infer anything, but I'm siding with popular opinion here in guessing that D-Rob will emerge as the go-to guy. He's the Closer Of The Future (COTF), and frankly, he's damn good -- one of the best relievers in MLB right now. Soriano's ERA is tidy at the moment, and his bloated contract might have a say in the matter, but his strikeout and walk rates continue to trend in the wrong direction.

Bottom line: Robertson is the guy you want. You can add Sori, too, but I wouldn't break my neck if I were in a roster squeeze.

Dodgers
I'd finished this piece by the time the news broke Monday evening that Kenley Jansen had officially been named Dodgers closer. But I have to say, after touting Jansen for the past year or so, I didn't mind updating the piece.

For Jansen to finally claim the throne, incumbent Javy Guerra had to stumble, and at first glance, Guerra does in fact appear to have slumped badly after a hot start. But looking a little closer, Guerra seems to merely be the victim of some poor luck -- not to mention his manager's inability to recognize said misfortune. There's a huge disparity between Guerra's 5.84 ERA and his 2.35 SIERA, mostly fueled by an insanely high .485 BABIP and very low 61.9% strand rate. Those numbers won't last.

But Guerra's loss is Jansen's gain, and with all due respect to Jav-Guer, it should be a lot of fun to watch Jansen in his new role, as he's capable of reeling off a season not unlike what Craig Kimbrel did a year ago. Guerra can be safely cut; hopefully, his owners didn't spend too much for him on Draft Day.

White Sox
We could probably break the Pale Hose's week-to-week closer dealings into a separate column, but alas, here were are, discussing a pretty surprising twist.

Chris Sale was a sometimes closer in 2011 before being moved to the rotation this season. He got off to a terrific start pitching every fifth day, so I assumed he'd be there for a good while, but he was apparently experiencing elbow tenderness. The South Siders responded by moving him back to 'pen, the dubious logic being that the barking elbow would subside with more appearances that require greater exertion but fewer pitches. I'm not sure it adds up, but we shall see.

Anyway, Sale becomes Chicago's closer, quite the sweet consolation prize for owners like myself who were enjoying his starting contributions. He should fare well as a closer, and perhaps his (re)appointment will finally furnish the White Sox with some ninth-inning stability. If everything breaks right for them, they might not be appearing here for a while.

I'm fine with cutting Matt Thornton (though I'll be holding onto him in my holds league), and Hector Santiago can be safely dropped. Consider keeping a close eye on fireballer Addison Reed, though, especially if Sale doesn't get off to a fast start (or is injured). Reed has come out strong, and he might be next up in this little carousel.

Marlins
Mercifully, the inevitable came to pass with Heath Bell's demotion from the closer's role this weekend. The Fish stuck with their big-money stopper as long as they could before finally conceding that he needed to get himself straightened out in some low-leverage sitches.

Ozzie Guillen tabbed Steve Cishek as Bell's temporary replacement, although that was put on hold by Hi-Ci's three-inning appearance on Friday night. So when a save opp cropped up on Sunday, and Cishek was unavailable, Oz called on Vinia Edward Mujica, who converted without much trouble. I like both pitchers, but since Guillen said Cishek would be his first choice, I'd prioritize them accordingly if either right-hander is still on your league's wire.

Meanwhile, Bell owners shouldn't cut bait. The Marlins will want to shoehorn him back into the role as soon as they can, if only to save face on their big offseason investment. I'm not especially optimistic he'll reclaim past glory, but stranger things have happened.

Quick-ish Hits
The Cubs' bullpen has dissolved so that the body can't even be properly identified with dentals. Kerry Wood is fresh off the DL and pitched poorly in his first outing back. Rafael Dolis and James Russell are not closer types, and Carlos Marmol may have gone completely off the rails. Shawn Camp is a darkhorse but isn't an ideal choice considering he was scooped up by the Cubs in early April after he was cut by the Mariners, a team whose bullpen isn't exactly the second coming of The Nasty Boys. This one could be frustrating all season.

Andrew Cashner flopped in his first outing since Huston Street was placed on the disabled list (albeit in a non-save situation). Cash Money's output has never seemed to catch up with his ridiculous raw stuff, so I'm not especially high on him. Luke Gregerson is not the same pitcher he was a couple years back and needs to be handled carefully, as he's injury prone. Brad Brach has a strong minor league track record, but that has not yet translated in his limited Major League experience. With Street sounding confident about a quick return, this might not be worth the trouble, either.



Michael Pineda And The Yankees' Rotation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Transaction Analysis: Pirates Acquire A.J. Burnett

After what seemed like years of waiting, the Yankees and Pirates finally pulled the trigger on the A.J. Burnett deal. Whether the move makes sense for either team, it is a move that could help your fantasy team, and not just by increasing Burnett's fantasy value.

A.J. Burnett

It isn't often that leaving the Yankees increases your fantasy value, but Burnett was in an unusual situation. A decent pitcher with a bloated contract -- and coming off two straight years of ERAs north of 5.00 -- Burnett was in the mix for the fifth-starter's spot with Phil Hughes and Freddy Garcia and not necessarily the front-runner. Even if he'd won the job out of camp, he would have been on such a short leash that he probably wouldn't have been worth a roster spot. While the Yankees will win more games than the Pirates this year, Burnett has a much better chance of netting his own wins with the Bucs.

Wins are hard to come by in Pittsburgh -- Kevin Correia's 12 last season are the most by a Buc in the last three years -- but something in the 9-13 range seems possible given Burnett's durability (four straight years of at least 180 IP) and the potential development of the Pirates' young offensive core. At the least, it should be better than yo-yoing from the rotation to the bullpen.

But wins aren't the reason to draft Burnett; instead it's the change of scenery and competition--and his 8.22 career K/9. Despite Burnett's bad ERAs, his SIERAs have been better at 4.37 and 3.89. It looks like there's a pretty good pitcher in Burnett, just trying to get out, and Pittsburgh may be the place to do it. His otherworldly 17% HR/FB rate in 2011 should regress a bit on its own (his career rate is 11.3%) and the PNC park should do its part to help. While Yankee Stadium boasts a 1.267 park factor for homers, PNC Park's is just 0.799. The park also reduces walks, which Burnett will appreciate.

So, his ERA and WHIP should go down, and his strikeouts ought to remain good (he racked up 173 last year) and may well improve with the chance to face the Astros and Cubs instead of the Red Sox and Blue Jays -- where does that leave us? A pitcher with an ERA in the mid-4.00s, perhaps lower, with wins in the low double-digits and about 170 strikeouts. That won't anchor a staff, by any means, but it's solid production. Burnett's penchant for variance means that he might be quite a bit worse, of course, but it also means he could be better. I mean, he got that monster contract in the first place for a reason, right?

Burnett's ADP is currently sitting at 240.92, with a 6% draft rate. Expect those numbers to go up as his ADP begins to reflect his new situation, but he could still bring a lot of value towards the end of the draft, especially as casual players write him off for all the bad press he got in New York. Don't let your league be one of the 94%.

The Burnett trade isn't good news for the rest of Pittsburgh's rotation, though, as one of Kevin Correia, Jeff Karstens, or Charlie Morton will probably open the season in the bullpen or the minor leagues. The silver lining to that cloud is that whoever loses his spot should be getting it back as soon as Erik Bedard gets hurt.

Freddy Garcia or Phil Hughes

The trade is good news for one of these two pitchers, and early indicators suggest Freddy Garcia is likely to be the beneficiary. He's not the pitcher he was 10 years ago, but a 4.12 FIP and a 2.13 K/BB rate mark him as pretty close to average, and an average-ish pitcher in line for Yankee wins can be useful as a streamer. A word of caution, though: with the 41.3 FB% he posted last year, a small change in his ability to keep the ball in the park could mean a big drop in his value. Expect the leash to be short on Garcia if Hughes is waiting in the bullpen, but there are a lot of worse options for the last couple rounds of the draft.

Phil Hughes may still have a chance to beat out Garcia for the fifth starter's job, and Ivan Nova could always fall on his face and let both in. The great first half Hughes had (and the prospect-promise he'd showed before that) will keep him from being written off for years to come, but Hughes has been flat-out horrible for the last year and a half. If the Yankees give him a chance, it might be wishful thinking, but it might be that they can see that his old magic has returned. If the Yanks sound confident in him at the end of Spring Training, Hughes might be worth a flier. If he makes it into the rotation as an injury or performance replacement, I'd stay away.

 



Position/Role Battles: The Yankees' Fifth Starter

With Michael Pineda and Hiroki Kuroda now added to the fold, the Yankees' starting rotation has gone from being a weakness to a potential strength.  The two newcomers, Ivan Nova and staff ace C.C. Sabathia account for the first four spots in the rotation, and now New York suddenly has a surplus of pitching depth for the fifth spot.

With a powerful lineup and Mariano Rivera closing, any Yankee starter can help your fantasy team in the wins category, if nothing else.  Here's a look at the possibilities for the back end of the Yankees' rotation and how much value they could bring to your fantasy squad...

A.J. Burnett: The number most associated with Burnett is the $33MM he's still owed over the next two seasons, but let's look past the salary and at his advanced metrics.  Burnett posted a 5.15 ERA last season, but his xFIP was over a run lower at 3.86.  His other peripherals from 2011 (a 2.08 K/BB ratio, 8.2 K/9, 3.9 BB/9) are almost identical to his career averages in those categories, with the only major discrepancy being his 1.5 HR/9, well above his 0.9 H/9 career rate.  You would presume this was caused by pitching at Yankee Stadium, but Burnett has pitched significantly better at home than he had on the road over the last three seasons.

These stats should ease fears of both Yankee fans and fantasy owners that Burnett has totally fallen off a cliff, which is good since his paycheck makes him the most likely candidate to be the fifth starter.  You basically know what you're going to get with Burnett at this point --- strikeouts, double-digit wins and frustration.  If you draft Burnett at all, make sure he's no higher than the #5 man on your staff as well, and pay heed to his home/away splits by sitting him when he's starting outside of the Bronx.

Freddy Garcia: Signed to a minor-league deal last February, Garcia was a very nice bargain for the Yankees, delivering a 2.2 WAR performance for just $1.5MM.  The veteran re-signed with the Bombers for a one-year, $4MM contract in December and for that kind of money, Garcia no doubt expects to do more than just serve as a long reliever and spot starter. 

Garcia played with fire last year, doing a decent job of keeping the ball in the park (0.98 HR/9) despite a ground ball rate of just 36.4%, but overall he was a much more consistent performer than Burnett.  The Yankees now have the depth to keep Burnett on a short leash and if he struggles again, the club would have no problem slotting Garcia into the rotation and relegating Burnett to the pen.  There's no reason to think Garcia won't be solid in whatever role he fills, but given his middling peripherals, there isn't much to recommend Garcia for a roster spot on a mixed league fantasy team.

Phil Hughes: At this time last year, Hughes was coming off an All-Star season and looked to be on his way to becoming a fixture in New York's rotation.  After three brutal starts to begin the year, however, Hughes went to the disabled list with the dreaded "dead arm" and didn't return until July.  The right-hander posted a 4.48 ERA in 14 games after his return, getting roughed up in three starts, but allowing two or fewer runs in each of his other eight starts.  

Hughes needs a big spring to lay claim to the fifth starter's job, but if he's back to good health, he is a very intriguing under-the-radar fantasy option.  Hughes is still just 25 years old and showed tons of promise in 2010.  Even if he doesn't win the starter's job and is relegated to the bullpen, Hughes is still a good fantasy pickup because of his potential value out of the bullpen.  Hughes was a monster as Rivera's set-up man in 2009 and, while David Robertson and Rafael Soriano are ahead of Hughes on the bullpen depth start now, Hughes is a great choice if your league tracks holds.

Nova: Burnett, Garcia and Hughes could really be fighting for two rotation spots, should Nova have a tough Spring Training or regress once the season begins.  Nova doesn't record many strikeouts (a career 5.4 K/9), which doesn't mesh well with his 3.2 BB/9 career walk rate, though Joba Chamberlain was the only Yankee regular who recorded a higher ground ball rate than Nova's 52.7% mark.  There are more signs pointing to a regression than a breakout campaign for Nova, and since he provides little fantasy value in the strikeout and WHIP categories, I'd be hesitant to draft him as anything but final-round rotation depth.   On the other hand, Nova's strikeout rate did improve after a brief Triple-A stint in July, so if he can continue to develop his slider, Nova is worth a closer look.

Dellin Betances and Manny Banuelos: With the Yankees now having several starting options available, it's unlikely that either of New York's two top starting prospects will get anything more than a token September start or two.  (Betances already received such a promotion last year, pitching his first two Major League games.)  Don't expect to hear much of either hurler at the MLB level in 2012....well, except at the trade deadline, when they'll be mentioned as trade bait for every superstar player in the game, but it's extremely doubtful the Yanks would part with such promising young arms.

Fantasy outlook: Burnett is the pitcher most likely to be in New York's rotation, but Hughes has the most fantasy upside due to his sleeper potential and value as a holds guy.  Garcia and Nova both have limited fantasy potential while Burnett can be relied upon to deliver his usual season.

The other factor in gauging the Yankee rotation is if Burnett or Garcia will still be on the roster by midseason.  It's safe to say the Yankees would love to get Burnett's salary off the books, but any trade involving the right-hander would involve New York eating the vast majority of his salary.  At that cost, the Yankees might just figure if they're going to pay Burnett anyway, he might as well be pitching for them out of the bullpen.  A change of scenery could work wonders for Burnett and he could conceivably gain sleeper potential if moved to the right situation in the National League.  It's unlikely the Yankees will be able to find a trade partner but if Burnett is dealt to the NL, he'd be worth a roster spot on your fantasy side.

Should Garcia replicate his 2011 performance through the first few months of this season, he could be an attractive trade candidate given his relatively low salary and ability to eat innings.  If the rest of the rotation avoids injury and Burnett/Hughes perform well as the fifth starter and spot man (in whatever order), Garcia could be deemed expendable.  I'm not sure a trade would significantly boost Garcia's fantasy value unless he's dealt to Petco Park, Dodger Stadium or another pitcher-friendly stadium. 



Transaction Analysis: Kuroda, Pineda, Montero

In a matter of a couple hours on Friday night, the Yankees pulled off two moves -- teaming up with the Mariners on one -- that have given fantasy owners a lot to consider. When the dust settled, no fewer than three potentially high-impact players changed teams, and there was a fourth on the move who could sneak into consideration in deep AL-onlies or super-deep mixers.

Let's have a look a look at what went down and what it could mean ...

The Yankees agree to terms with Hiroki Kuroda

With a profile that includes strikeout ability, solid control, above-average groundball rates and relative durability, Kuroda has been a salt-of-the-earth commodity in the fake game in his four Major League seasons, all of which were spent with the Dodgers. You probably wouldn't have won many leagues with the Japanese right-hander as your No. 1 starter, but he's been an ideal No. 3 or 4.

Now, things are about to get tougher for Kuroda. He's leaving pitcher-friendly Dodger Stadium for a home ballpark in the Bronx that favors hitters. He's also staring at his age-37 season and is leaving behind the navigable NL West for baseball's toughest division. Factor in that his draft-day price -- current ADP of 170, per Mock Draft Central -- will likely be inflated in the coming weeks by his new pinstriped uniform, and we seemingly have a formula for a guy who is a good pitcher but could land on our overpriced list.

But owning a good starter who takes the ball every fifth day for the Yankees has one notable allure (in most leagues): that little stat we call "wins." The fact remains that, barring an unprecedented rash of injuries or the world's untimely demise in May, the Yankees are a virtual lock to win 90-plus games in 2012, and someone has to be the beneficiary of all those Ws.

For example, Phil Hughes and his 4.05 SIERA won 18 games in 2010, while Ivan Nova and his 4.29 SIERA won 16 games in 2011. Kuroda is better than both of those fellas. Of course, there's a lot of random chance factored into that equation. Fantasy pinada A.J. Burnett drew Lady Luck's short straw last season, winning only 11 games despite posting a 3.89 SIERA that was better than both Hughes' two years ago and Nova's last year.

The bottom line is, I'd let the plusses and minuses of this move offset each other with respect to Kuroda's fantasy value. He remains a No. 3 or 4 for me, and while the potential for an uptick in wins is enticing, there are factors at play that could just as easily point toward mild regression in his ratios and strikeouts.

The Yankees acquire Michael Pineda and Jose Campos from the Mariners in exchange for Jesus Montero and Hector Noesi

Blockbuster alert! Two of the game's at- or near-the-Majors top young talents in Pineda and Montero are on the move.

On the heels of a brilliant rookie season in which his 3.36 SIERA was actually better than his sharp 3.74 ERA, Pineda, like Kuroda, is tasked with overcoming a more challenging home ballpark and schedule. And with more strikeouts than innings pitched in 2011, Pineda certainly has the higher upside of the Yankees' two new arms, although he also comes with some risk.

In his breakdown of the swap, ESPN analyst/scout Keith Law (sub req'd) cautions that Pineda, still something of an unpolished two-pitch pitcher at this juncture of his young career, may not be able to repeat 2011's surface stats, especially against lineups with tougher left-handed hitters. For what it's worth, Pineda posted a .237/.296/.357 line and a 2.96 K/BB ratio vs. lefties last season, so it's not his L/R splits that worry me. Instead, I'd keep an eye on the 36% groundball rate he posted last year, as some of those fly balls could come back to haunt him in 2012 if they bleed out of Yankee Stadium's short right-field porch.

Even if there's regression in the cards for Pineda, a guy who struck out more than a batter per inning and walked fewer than three per nine frames as a supposedly raw rookie is not one to be ignored. His current ADP is 97, which indicates to me there is still some skepticism among owners. If you're more of an aggressive type, I'm fine with grabbing Pineda as many as two or even three rounds earlier, because he has second- or third-round upside, but don't get too carried away.

In Montero, the Mariners get their much-needed and long-sought-after offensive stud, and in the Mariners getting Montero, fantasy owners get the opportunity to draft a touted hitter who may qualify at catcher but probably won't play there often, which is always advantageous.

You can't really find a bad word written about Montero's hitting, and it's been that way for some time. He has hit for average and power, and drawn enough walks, at every stop along the way in the Minors and in a brief Major League stint in 2011 to suggest he'll be productive. As a 20-year-old in his first trip through Triple-A, Montero hit .289/.353/.517 with 21 homers. Yup, nobody messes with The Jesus.

The move to a bad lineup and a ballpark markedly tough on righty hitters won't help his counting stats, but I like Montero right at the fringe of the top-10 catchers once he qualifies at the position. Just be sure that you know your league's rules about position eligibility, and monitor how the M's deploy Montero in Spring Training, before drafting him. We'll be watching that one closely.

Noesi is a high-probability but low-upside right-hander in the mold of Mike Leake based on his minor league peripherals, which could be a useful profile in Safeco Field. He'll be 25 later this month, so he's not someone you'd expect to have some marked improvement from his history as a control specialist in the minors. Noesi could be useful as a streaming candidate in standard mixers, especially at home against weaker offenses, so he's probably safe to pass on in drafts for those formats, but file away his name in very deep mixers or AL-onlies.

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Monitor Javier Vazquez, Ben Sheets

I actually thought I got a mild steal when I drafted Javier Vazquez in the middle of the 9th round in the RotoAuthority League, right after Brett Anderson and Chad Billingsley went off the board.  Obviously I was wrong, as Vazquez has been all sorts of terrible through five starts for the Yankees.  Walks, hits, and home runs are way up; velocity is down 2.2 mph.  You can blame New York, but I'm not in Javy's head.  You can blame the AL East, but he's only faced one good offense.  I tend to lean toward early-season rust, mechanical issues, a potential injury, and a dash of Javy being Javy.  I'm not cutting him, but it is time to bench Vazquez.  He's being dropped in many leagues, and should be a person of interest for you.  He won't be the 3.70 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 15 win, 193 K guy I expected/wanted in March, but 75% of that would be well worth rostering.

Ben Sheets was an 18th round pick, so it's been easier for his owners to cut him loose after six starts.  His numbers are a total mess - uncharacteristic walks, no strikeouts, lots of home runs and hits.  His fastball is down 1.5 mph from his last season, 2008.  If anyone is allowed to be rusty, it's Sheets after missing all of '09.  Sheets recently told Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle his problem is about location.  I'm curious to see if he rights the ship.  We could see the added bonus of Sheets being shipped to an NL contender if the A's fall out of contention in a few months.



Closer Report: Yankees

WEDNESDAY: Looks like Hughes is the favorite for the fifth starter job, making Joba the current choice as Rivera's backup.

TUESDAY: Yankees closer Mariano Rivera is being drafted at 72.11, the 7th round in a 12-team mixed league.  I typically don't take closers that early, but I wouldn't begrudge you for jumping on a legendary stopper projected for excellent ratios and 40 saves.

That said, Mo is 40, and at some point someone else will get a crack at closing for the Yankees.  If Rivera gets hurt, Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain might be candidates to step in (whoever is not in the rotation).  In 2009 Hughes posted a 1.40 ERA, 11.4 K/9, and 2.3 BB/9 in 51.3 relief innings.  He's going about 100 picks later than Chamberlain, too.

It was a lost season for lefty Damaso Marte, but he could also be in the mix to close games in Rivera's absence, depending on matchups.  Strikeout artist David Robertson could be the pen's dark horse if injuries to others run rampant.



Alex Rodriguez May Miss Quarter Of Season

12:54pm: I am starting to think that the risk involved makes A-Rod a pretty bad late first/early second round pick.  ESPN's Stephania Bell suggests his recovery time could be longer than ten weeks depending on the details of the injury.  You have to have certainty with your first-round pick.

10:48am: Got a fantasy draft today?  You might want to hold off on that A-Rod pick - Rodriguez's brother told ESPN's Enrique Rojas he'll miss about 10 weeks due to hip surgery.  That'd put his return date around May 15th, so he'd miss a quarter of the season.

Now if we simply multiply A-Rod's projected stats by 3/4, his value goes from $32.04 (fifth overall) to $16.43 (41st among position players).  So if you got the $16.43 and nothing else you'd probably want to draft him around the 4th round.  And even then you'd be taking a risk that he does make it back by May 15th.

However, you would have A-Rod in the DL slot and would conceivably be able to get replacement level production from another third baseman.  For this example we'll use Mike Lowell (ironic, kind of).   Let's combine 139 ABs of Lowell with 417 of A-Rod.

This A-Rod/Lowell hybrid would be projected to hit .287-33-108-104-14 in 556 ABs.  Don't worry about Lowell and his own health issues specifically - use Melvin Mora or some other replacement-level 3B if you want.

Anyway, this hybrid player is worth $25.19, valued at 10th among position players and worthy of late first round consideration.

Problems with this approach: there is a negative value to clogging up a DL spot for a quarter of the year, and we don't know exactly when A-Rod will return or if he'll be 100% when he does.  But in my mind, a late first round/early second round pick of A-Rod is justified if he is indeed to return in mid-May.





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