Seattle Mariners


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

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

Committees

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

Brewers

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

Tigers

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

Mariners

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

Injury Returns

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

Indians

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

Rockies

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

Diamondbacks

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

Strugglers

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

Red Sox

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

Phillies

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

Early Trading Block

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

Marlins

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

Twins

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

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



Shutdown Corner: AL West Closer Roundup

For the next six weeks, Shutdown Corner will be reviewing the closer situations for each division in baseball, one by one. I'll give you a brief breakdown of who the likely stopper is for each team, a little bit of statistical info, a projected tier to consider when drafting your stopper, and a name or two of who might be in line to pick up saves should the projected fireman falter.

And for what it's worth, here's the tier system I'll be using, 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.

Texas Rangers: Joe Nathan

Joe Nathan revitalized his career with a powerful 2012 performance in Texas, during which he saved 37 games and re-established himself as a top-tier closer. Nathan's command seems to have come back following a 2010 out of baseball and a weak 2011, and the veteran struck out 30.4% while only walking 5.1%, which is actually a career low. He is entering his age-38 season, which means that his skills could fall off in a hurry if his arm goes, but recent performance says that he could still be solid.

The Rangers did go out and sign another once-mighty closer coming off injury: Joakim Soria. Soria won't be back until May, at the earliest, and will look to recover his command after Tommy John surgery. If Soria's very sharp AND the Rangers are out of contention (not too likely), then the Rangers may look to move Nathan at the trade deadline. But I expect Joe to be a powerful weapon at the end of the Rangers' 'pen for the entire season, and a nice pickup for any fantasy squad.

Projected Tier: Tier 2 (high effectiveness, minor concerns about age, park and competition)

Next in line: Joakim Soria

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: Ryan Madson

Before the 2011-2012 offseason, things were looking pretty good for Ryan Madson. Coming off a very effective 2011 as closer for the Phillies, in which he saved 32 games, posted a 2.37 ERA, and proved that performance was no fluke with an underlying 2.25 FIP. But as the offseason wore on, Madson wound up with one a one-year contract with the Reds, for what was perceived to be much less than his market value. Then, before appearing in a single regular-season game, Madson blew out his UCL and missed the whole season with Tommy John surgery.

Madson may be ready to return at the beginning of the 2013 season, but he also may not. But when he's ready, I expect him to get the first look at closing for the Halos. While Ernesto Frieri, last year's closer, is still on the roster and lurking, I expect Mike Scioscia to give Madson first crack at the ninth, given his past resume. Frieri struck out a host of hitters in 2012, posting a sick 36.4% strikeout rate, but he gave up too many homers (nine) to make the Angels very comfortable.

Unfortunately, pitchers like Madson who return from Tommy John surgery tend to struggle in their first season back. Command, especially, can be tough to recover in the first season, so I'd expect that Madson won't pitch anything like his 2011 self right away. Given this -- and the fact that the fireballing Frieri is waiting in the wings -- you'd either want to handcuff Frieri to any draft of Madson, or avoid him altogether, in my book.

Projected Tier: Tier 4 (coming off major surgery, stiff competition from Ernesto Frieri)

Next in line: Ernesto Frieri

Oakland Athletics: Grant Balfour

Boy, oh boy, did Ryan Cook look good in his 71 games in 2012. But when 2013 starts up, it's most likely that Grant Balfour will be back as the first option to close in the Oakland bullpen. Balfour, a veteran strikeout artist, has been pretty consistent since his 2008 return to a full-time bullpen role with the Rays. Balfour has a career strikeout rate of 26.4%, a critical skill for a high-leverage reliever.

And yet, I really don't expect Grant to finish the season as A's closer. If the Athletics repeat their 2012 winning ways, the team might hold on to him and keep their 'pen strength high going into the playoffs. But, more likely, I see the team dealing Balfour before his contract expires at the end of season, with young fireballer Ryan Cook assuming the ninth inning duties. If you draft Balfour, have Cook on standby, in case of a slump or deal.

Projected Tier: Tier 3 (moderate-to-high effectiveness, moderate likelihood of eventual trade)

Next in line: Ryan Cook

Seattle Mariners: Tom Wilhelmsen

One of the best bullpen stories in 2012 was the emergence of Mariners closer Tom Wilhelmsen. Despite being out of baseball entirely between 2005 and 2009, Wilhelmsen climbed through the Mariners organization to become the team's closer in 2012. He posted 29 saves despite not even earning the full-time closer position until early June. He even got in on a six-pitcher no-hitter, putting a nice bow on his narrative.

The Bartender serves up a nasty fastball-curveball combination, and it helps him get the strikeouts that are so critical to a closer's success. In 2012, Wilhelmsen logged a 26.7% K-rate, buoyed by a decent 8.9% BB-rate, which isn't half bad. Best of all, Wilhelmsen is cost-effective and isn't really challenged by any other arms in the Seattle bullpen -- meaning that he's likely to keep his closer status all season long.

While some draftniks may be put off by Wilhelmsen's late-career rise to stopper status, I'm not one of those people. I expect him to be very solid in 2013.

Projected Tier: Tier 2 (high stability, high-to-moderate effectiveness)

Next in line: Carter Capps (?)

Houston Astros: Jose Veras

There's not much in the way of proven late-inning relievers these days in Houston, which isn't a great sign. Sure, the bullpen is probably the last concern of a rebuilding club, but the Astros' impending move to the AL West means tougher competition, and shorter outings for their admittedly weak rotation. The Astros will lean on their young bullpen, and especially new recruit Jose Veras, who's in line to close.

Veras has been pretty good these past two seasons, spending 2011 with the Pirates and 2012 with the Brewers. In each season, Veras's performance was pretty similar: huge strikeout numbers (25.9% and 26.3% strikeout rates), terrible walk rates (11.2% and 13.3%) that led to pretty decent ERA totals (3.80 and 3.63). 2013 will be Veras's age-32 season, so while it's unlikely we'll see big-time improvement, there are no outstanding indicators that his performance will tank either.

But if Veras is as good as he could be, he'll have a "proven closer" tag to him, and that will make him an attractive trade target by the deadline. The Astros aren't a competitive team yet, and they'll look to move him for value, the same way they have with Mark Melancon, Brett Myers, and Wilton Lopez in the past. Don't expect him to finish his season in Houston.

Projected Tier: Tier 3 (high strikeout totals, high initial stability, high likelihood of eventual trade)

Next in line: Josh Fields (?)

All stats from FanGraphs.



The Next Big Thing: Waiting On Top Prospects

The 2012 season was the year of immediate impact. All across the league we saw rookie players come up and contribute more than expected, and it started right in April with reigning Rookies of the Year Mike Trout and Bryce Harper. It extended far beyond those two, of course. Wade Miley was an All-Star for the Diamondbacks, Rob Brantly hit .290 with a .372 OBP in a month's worth of games for the Marlins, Manny Machado hit two homers in his second game with the Orioles, the division-winning Athletics had an all-rookie rotation at one point, the list goes on and on. Todd Frazier, Yoenis Cespedes, Will Middlebrooks, Anthony Rizzo ... there were impact rookies everywhere.

Fantasy owners are looking for that next big thing every season, and that search figures to be a little more intense in 2012 after the banner rookie class of a year ago. Top prospects are always a great place to start, but some are blocked or simply two far away from the majors to have real fantasy value. Some are the victims of their own success as clubs will keep them in the minors in April and May to ensure an extra year of team control down the line. Here's a look at some of the game's best up-and-coming big leaguers who could be this season's Trout or Harper.

Arizona Diamondbacks: LHP Tyler Skaggs
The D'Backs have a strong rotation fronted by Miley, Ian Kennedy, Trevor Cahill, and Brandon McCarthy, but that fifth spot is up for grabs. Patrick Corbin handled himself well enough last year (4.54 ERA in 107 IP) and Josh Collmenter is lurking, but the 21-year-old Skaggs will get a chance to make the team out of Spring Training as well. He got hit pretty hard in six late-season starts (5.83 ERA and 1.50 WHIP) but that's not the end of the world. His minor league performance is dynamite (2.87 ERA and 8.5 K/9 in 2012) and his curveball is a true out-pitch. The trade that sent Trevor Bauer to the Indians removed one fifth starter candidate from Arizona's equation, but my guess is Corbin will get the first shot with Skaggs waiting in Triple-A for someone to get hurt or underperform.

Baltimore Orioles: RHP Dylan Bundy
The Orioles made a bold move late last season by calling up baseball's best pitching prospect for the stretch run in September even though he was still a teenager at the time. Bundy, who has since turned 20, made two short relief appearances and is slated for more time in the minors in 2013. He has just 103 2/3 total minor league innings under his belt, only 16 2/3 have come above the Single-A level. Baltimore has already shown a willingness to use Bundy in the big leagues, but I highly doubt using him as a starter right out of Spring Training is in the cards. If anything, the young right-hander is a second half call-up.

Houston Astros: 1B Jonathan Singleton
No team is rebuilding quite like the Astros, though they recently signed Carlos Pena to caddy with Brett Wallace at the first base and DH spots. The first base seat is just being kept warm for the 21-year-old Singleton, who hit .284/.396/.497 with 21 homers in Double-A last season. He followed up the season with an impressive showing in the Arizona Fall League. Houston has every reason to play the service time game with Singleton, who they acquired from the Phillies in the Hunter Pence trade two years ago. After a few hundred Triple-A at-bats to start the season, expect to see he young left-handed hitter in the middle of the big league lineup.

New York Mets: RHP Zack Wheeler & C Travis d'Arnaud
Matt Harvey deserved a mention in my quick list of impact rookies in the intro, and he figures to have some running mates in 2013. Like the Astros and Singleton, the Mets have every reason to manipulate Wheeler's and d'Arnaud's service time next season. Wheeler, 22, is arguably the second best pitching prospect in the game but I do not think the team will want to keep him in Triple-A Las Vegas very long. It might the best hitter's environment in professional baseball and could wreck a pitcher's confidence over the full season. Since he needs a challenge after overwhelming the Double-A level this past season (3.27 ERA with 8.5 K/9), expect to see the right-hander in New York's rotation come June.

D'Arnaud, 23, was the centerpiece of the R.A. Dickey trade. He hit a stout .333/.380/.595 with 16 homers in Last Vegas last season (the Mets and Blue Jays swapped Triple-A affiliates this offseason) but did not play after late-June due to a knee injury. After another few hundred at-bats in Triple-A, expect to see d'Arnaud replace John Buck behind the plate at the big league level. He, Wheeler, and Harvey are the team's high-end battery of the future.

Seattle Mariners: RHP Taijuan Walker, LHP James Paxton & LHP Danny Hultzen
Perhaps no club has as many high-end pitching prospects as Seattle, especially if you want to factor in closeness to the majors. Walker, 20, is the best of the bench despite some hiccups at Double-A in 2012 (4.69 ERA). He did skip right over High-A High Desert to avoid the hitter friendly California League, so we'll cut him some slack. There is true ace potential in the young righty, but he's unlikely to see a meaningful amount of big league innings this coming season.

Paxton, 24, is probably first in line of the big three after pitching to a 3.04 ERA (9.3 K/9) at Triple-A last season. He'll get a long look in Spring Training and at the moment, his main competition for a rotation spot is the right-handed trio of Blake Beavan, Erasmo Ramirez, and Hector Noesi. I would expect to see Paxton sooner rather than later in 2013, perhaps even as a member of the Opening Day rotation. Hultzen, 23, has quite a bit of work ahead of him after walking 43 batters in 48 2/3 Triple-A innings last season, including 14 walks in his final 7 1/3 innings of the year. I wouldn't count on him for fantasy purposes next season.

St. Louis Cardinals: OF Oscar Taveras, RHP Shelby Miller & RHP Trevor Rosenthal
The Cardinals have arguably the best farm system in baseball, and they seem to produce productive players at an extraordinary rate. Jaime Garcia got hurt? Here's Joe Kelly (3.53 ERA in 107 IP). Need a versatile bench player? There's Matt Carpenter (.828 OPS while playing five positions). Rafael Furcal blew out his elbow? Don't worry, Pete Kozma will save the day (.952 OPS late in the season). I wouldn't count on Kozma ever doing that again, but the point stands. The Cardinals are an exceptional player development club.

Taveras, 20, is arguably the best pure hitting prospect in the minors. He managed a .321/.380/.572 line in Double-A a year ago and following up with a dominant winter ball showing. He's slated to open the season back in Triple-A and although St. Louis has a superb big league outfield, Taveras figures to make his debut in the second half either as an injury replacement or by simply forcing his way into the lineup a la Allen Craig. Miller and Rosenthal, both 22, made their MLB debuts late last year and pitched well enough to earn at least a real shot at making the team out of camp. Rosenthal in particular dazzled in relief, especially during the postseason (15 strikeouts and four baserunners in 8 2/3 innings). The Cardinals have rotation depth with Garcia, Kelly, Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright, and Lance Lynn, but Garcia and Carpenter are injury concerns at this point. I believe Rosenthal will open the year in the bullpen (and be a force) while Miller bides his time as a starter in Triple-A.

Tampa Bay Rays: OF Wil Myers, RHP Jake Odorizzi & RHP Chris Archer
The Rays play the service time game as much as anyone, though they didn't play it well enough with David Price. He qualified for Super Two status by approximately two weeks. Desmond Jennings, Matt Moore, and Jeremy Hellickson all had to wait their turn in recent years. The most notable exception is Evan Longoria, who was recalled a handful of days into the 2008 season only to be given a long-term contract extension (giving the team cost certainty) a few days later.

Myers, 22, was the centerpiece of the James Shields trade and could easily be in line for a Longoria-esque quick promotion and extension, but a return trip to the minors to start the season after striking out 140 times in 2012 seems like a safe bet. Tampa has enough outfield depth with Jennings, Matt Joyce, Ben Zobrist, Brandon Guyer, and Sam Fuld to cover. The 24-year-old Archer and 22-year-old Odorizzi are at the mercy of the team's rotation depth. Even after moving Shields and Wade Davis, they still boast a starting staff that includes Price, Hellickson, Moore, Alex Cobb, Jeff Niemann, and possibly even the recently-signed Roberto Hernandez. Archer made six big league appearances last season (4.60 ERA) and is a) first in line for a promotion, and b) more fantasy useful given his elite strikeout rate (11.0 K/9 in MLB and 9.8 K/9 in the minors).

Texas Rangers: 3B Mike Olt & SS Jurickson Profar
Baseball isn't fair some times. Quality players at shortstop and third base are in short supply these days, yet Texas boasts an elite left side of the infield both at the big league level (Elvis Andrus and Adrian Beltre) and in the upper minors (Profar and Olt). I'm convinced the 24-year-old Olt will be traded before the season (Justin Upton?), especially since Lance Berkman will take most, if not all of the DH at-bats. Depends on where he ends up, Olt could either open the season in the show or back in Triple-A. That's a situation worth monitoring given all of the current injury-prone and unreliable fantasy third base options.

Profar, 19, is baseball's top prospect, and GM Jon Daniels recently told Richard Durrett of ESPN Dallas that he doesn't envision using him as a bench player. "It doesn't necessarily make sense ... I don't see (Olt and Profar) as bench players. It doesn't make sense," said the GM. There had been some rumblings Profar could open the season with the MLB club as a second baseman with Ian Kinsler sliding over to first (or the outfield). Either way, he's the only prospect in the minors with a chance to have a Troutian level of impact, meaning power and speed and run-production. That's impossible and unfair to expect from any prospect however, especially someone so young. Profar will definitely play in the big leagues next season after receiving a September call-up last year, but the "when" part is a total wildcard right now.



Pryor, Tolleson & Doolittle: Holds Risers

Most of our content at RotoAuthority focuses on standard 12-team mixed leagues with traditional 5x5 scoring, but today we're going to veer off our usual track and look at some recent call-ups who could help in the holds category. Predicting who will pick up holds might be more difficult than predicting who will pick up saves in a given season, but banking on young power arms is never a bad idea. Here are three guys with barely two combined weeks of big league time to their credit who could help you in a holds league, presented in order of fantasy usefulness.

Stephen Pryor | Mariners

A fifth round pick in 2010, the 22-year-old right-hander has three appearances under his belt but already has seen high-leverage work. Pryor entered last night's game with men on first and second and one out with a one-run run lead in the sixth inning against a division rival, coaxing an inning-ending double play before chipping in a scoreless seventh. The 6-foot-4, 245 pounder comes right over the top with a big mid-90s fastball and a power low-80s curveball. His minor league strikeout rates are off the charts (12.3 K/9 and 33.0% of batters faced) but he needs to iron out his strike-throwing abilities (4.6 BB/9 and 12.4% of batters faced). We've seen countless late-game relievers succeed with high walk rates as long as they miss bats, which Pryor certainly does.

Tom Wilhelmsen has filled in nicely for displaced closer Brandon League, who is working setup innings and is likely to moved before the deadline. Pryor should assume eighth inning duties once that happens if not sooner.

Shawn Tolleson | Dodgers

Los Angeles called up the 24-year-old Tolleson in the wake of Javy Guerra's knee injury two days ago, though he has yet to appear in a game. The right-hander had video game numbers in the minors, with a sky-high strikeout rate (13.4 K/9 and 38.4% of batters faced) and a low walk rate (2.1 BB/9 and 6.0% of batters faced) in 120 innings since being a 30th round pick in 2010. Tolleson has a sometimes violent delivery that adds deception to his mid-90s fastball, low-90s cutter, and mid-80s slider. It's true late-inning, high-leverage stuff.

As expected, Kenley Jansen has taken over as the Dodgers' closer with Josh Lindblom handling most of the setup work. Ronald Belisario has also seen a few setup innings since coming off the restricted list. Manager Don Mattingly is from the Joe Torre school of bullpen use, meaning Tolleson will first have to prove his worth in miscellaneous middle relief innings before being trusted at the end of the game. Even if he doesn't displace Lindblom, seventh inning guys are underrated holds candidates, especially those who pile up strikeouts.

Sean Doolittle | Athletics

Doolittle, 25, has a story right out of a move script. He was the 41st overall pick in the 2007 draft as a first basemen, struggled with injuries that kept him on the shelf for all of 2010 and just about all of 2011, then converted to pitching and dominating ever since. The southpaw threw one tune-up inning last year before striking out 48 (17.3 K/9 and 51.7% of batters faced) and walking just seven (2.5 BB/9 and 7.5% of batters faced) in 25 minor league innings this season. He was called up to Oakland recently and in his first (and only) appearance, he struck out three of the four men he faced in a mop-up role. He's a fastball-slider guy and clearly has the ability to miss bats.

The A's have two veteran and imminently trade-able relievers in their bullpen in Brian Fuentes and Grant Balfour, creating a potential opportunity for Doolittle down the road. Right-hander Ryan Cook has been brilliant since coming over in the Trevor Cahill trade and currently sets up, so he figures to be the first in line for save chances. Power left-handers will get chance after chance though, so keep the former first baseman in midn when trying to dig up bullpen help later this year.



Closer Updates: Angels, Mariners, Tigers

We've got in-depth closer analysis in this weekly column, but for timely, up-to-the-minute updates, be sure to follow @closernews on Twitter.

Angels
Ernesto Frieri has really taken to this closing thing. For one, he's sort of a ham. His jersey is untucked just so. He's extremely deliberate between pitches. He sports a closely cropped, curly mohawk (a sure sign of eccentricity). And, above all, he's really tough to hit.

And that seems to have been enough to convince Angels brass that Frieri should take the reins from Scott Downs, who has been every bit as good as Frieri, albeit with a completely different style. Perhaps the Halos prefer Frieri because Downs is a groundballer and a left-hander; prototypical closers are typically right-hander power arms.

Regardless, since May 23 Frieri has four saves to Downs' two, and while that's not an overwhelming split, it bears noting that Frieri has the past two and three of four. The Halos asked that Frieri earn his stripes before giving him the closer's gig, and he did; he remains unscored upon as an Angel through 14 appearances. That's about as well as a reliever can pitch.

The unbalanced saves split will continue between Frieri and Downs, with perhaps the former assuming an even larger share. Downs is worth an add if you're in need of saves and he's kicking around on your wire, but Frieri has taken precedence as the must-own.

Mariners
Brandon League was quietly removed from the closer's role late last month, and although I loved League coming into the year based on his strong 2011, he fully deserved the demotion based on his poor performance to date.

The problem is, the M's didn't necessarily have a no-brainer alternative at that point. The options included Tom Wilhelmsen, Steve Delabar, Hisashi Iwakuma and minor leaguer Stephen Pryor. Wow, that's a who's who of prominent relievers, ain't it?

Iwakuma -- in his first year stateside after a lengthy career in Japan -- snagged Seattle's first two saves following League's banishment, but both were under pretty unusual circumstances. The first was a three-inning save in a blowout win over the Rangers -- a mop-up save, as it were. The other came in the 12th inning of a marathon against the White Sox in Chicago, in which the M's had already burned through five relievers (including Wilhelmsen for three).

Pryor, meanwhile, became a trendy pick over the past week based on his minor league dominance, but it's pretty rare for a team to anoint a rookie as its closer immediately upon his debut. He didn't get to close in his first outing, and while he was impressive in striking out a couple batters, he also served up a home run. Keep a close eye on Pryor in the coming weeks, but I don't see Eric Wedge handing over the ninth to him so soon.

Wilhelmsen, 28, is the best add of the bunch, as he locked down a more customary save chance in Monday night's win over the Angels. His 3.60 ERA doesn't look great, but his 2.44 SIERA suggests a nice correction could be in the cards, and the 10.8 K/9 and 2.70 BB/9 seem to back it up. The one word of caution here is that Wilhelmsen didn't flash stuff like this at the upper levels of the minor leagues, but it's possible that he is still improving as he sat out of professional ball in his early and mid-20s before making a comeback prior to 2010.

All that being said, League remains a trade candidate this summer, and the M's would be best served to restore faith in his abilities by getting him right -- and back him back into the closer's role.

Tigers
Jose Valverde seemed to defy ERA estimators throughout the entirety of 2011, and perhaps it has finally caught up to him in 2012. The veteran right-hander has yet to hit his stride this season (4.64 ERA, 4.89 SIERA), and we're left to wonder whether he ever will. His strikeout-to-walk ratio has trended downward for several years now, settling at an unseemly 1.13 through the season's first two months. And every time he settles into a few-outing scoreless stretch, he runs into a meltdown. Ugh.

Joaquin Benoit, meanwhile, is enjoying a fine season and racking up boatloads of strikeouts, and I think he's worth a stash now in 12-team leagues (and deeper) with Valverde so obviously on the ropes. There's mild concern over forearm tightness Benoit recently experienced, which is always worrisome, but assuming he checks out cleanly, he has pretty good odds of dethroning the incumbent. Nothing's ever promised in this ugly chase for the ninth inning, but Benoit right now looks like as strong a candidate to pull it off as any reliever in MLB.

Quick-ish Hits
Santiago Casilla remains unavailable after suffering a bruised leg on a comebacker last week, but the Giants say a DL stint is not in the cards. Sergio Romo picked up the first save in his absence, and Jeremy Affeldt got the one after that. ... Aroldis Chapman pitched on consecutive days Friday and Saturday but wasn't needed on Sunday, although Dusty Baker said he was available to pitch if need be. Chapman has yet to go three in a row this season. ... Drew Storen was transferred to the 60-day DL in procedural move by the Nats. He's still expected back around the All-Star break. ... Huston Street has begun a minor league rehab assignment and could be activated Tuesday. Dale Thayer owners should hold on till Street is back and pitching effectively, but I fully expect Street to return to closing. ... Rafael Soriano will remain Yankees closer even when David Robertson returns from the DL, according to Joe Girardi.



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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Seattle Closer Battle

MLB.com's Jim Street talks about the Mariners' closer battle, which he sees as a five horse race.  A look at the candidates:

  • Mark Lowe - Oft-injured.  Poor control.  Averages 94.3 mph on his fastball.
  • Miguel Batista - Awful in '08, but has closer experience and makes a lot of money.
  • Tyler Walker - HR prone, but had decent peripherals in '08 and did get more groundballs.  Has closer experience.
  • David Aardsma - Tons of Ks, awful control, averages 94.5 mph on his fastball.  Closed in Triple A in '07.
  • Roy Corcoran - Gets an insane amount of grounders but doesn't strike people out and walks too many.

If new Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu isn't seduced by the hard throwers, I kind of like Walker as a dark horse.  Thoughts?



J.J. Putz Trade Examined

Mets GM Omar Minaya pulled off a blockbuster trade Monday, adding J.J. Putz, Sean Green, and Jeremy Reed to the organization.  Let's take a look at the fantasy baseball ramifications.

Of the three players the Mets added, Putz should have 2009 mixed league value.  The common refrain in the fantasy mags next year might be that Putz lost all his value because he's become a setup man.  That's not true.  If healthy, Putz could be among the best setup men in baseball.  Based on his 2006-07 numbers, he's capable of striking out 80-100 with microscopic ratios.  Plus, he's moving to the NL.  There's also the possibility that Francisco Rodriguez gets injured or isn't available three days in a row, leaving save chances for Putz.  Pick him up in the late rounds and be rewarded.

The Mariners received Aaron Heilman, Endy Chavez, Mike Carp, Franklin Gutierrez, and three minor leaguers.  Heilman is intriguing - he could be squeezed into the rotation, or he could remain in the 'pen and even find save chances.  He could be useful if he rediscovers his control, but should be a bench pickup at best.  I'm not thrilled with the fantasy value of the rest of the package, though Gutierrez could have his uses if you spot-start him against lefties.  And he did toss up a .313/.389/.476 line in the season's final two months.  He should be the Ms' regular center fielder.

The Indians inserted themselves into the deal rather than go all-out to try to get Putz to keep.  Joe Smith and Luis Valbuena do not figure to have fantasy value in '09. 



Pick Up Morrow

Brandon Morrow got the save today for Seattle; J.J. Putz left the game with a barking elbow.  Unfortunately Morrow was already owned in all of my leagues.  He's actually shown tolerable control this year.



Scrambling For Putz's Replacement

FRIDAY: John Hickey says Lowe should get the bulk of the save opps.

WEDNESDAY: Elite closer J.J. Putz is out for at least a couple of weeks with a ribcage issue.  Three or four weeks would not be a shock.  Three weeks would be more than 10% of the season, so it's a big deal.

Putz owners as well as save opportunists are already scrambling for his replacement.  In fact, they began scrambling five hours ago when the news broke.

John McLaren spoke of a closer by committee situation for now, with an inclination to ride the hot hand if someone emerges.  Miguel Batista picked up the save tonight, but it was his throw day anyway so he could still make his scheduled rotation turn Saturday against Baltimore.  I believe he will, absent further info.  I don't see why they'd pull Batista from the rotation when he has nothing on Lowe aside from experience (which came in '05, when he blew eight saves).

Mark Lowe couldn't go tonight since he pitched Monday and Tuesday.  But he's bringing mid-90s heat and fits the classic closer mold.  He's extremely risky due to past elbow surgery and scant MLB experience.  But if I had to pick one I'd take Lowe over Batista.  Eric O'Flaherty might slip in for a few opps when the opposing team has mostly lefty hitters due up.  I don't see Sean Green getting in on the action unless other options fail.




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