Fantasy Relief: Early saves up for grabs

Michael Hurcomb
Fantasy Writer

I was like many Fantasy owners on Wednesday afternoon. I was in disbelief when Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine named Alfredo Aceves as Andrew Bailey's replacement at closer.

Ask my fellow colleagues Scott White, Al Melchoir and Nando Di Fino. I let out such a disgusted sigh that it got a huge chuckle out of the Fantasy Editorial department. I, like pretty much the entire universe, expected Mark Melancon to replace Bailey, who is out at least three months recovering from thumb surgery.

Melancon was the Astros' closer in 2011 after Brandon Lyon went down with a biceps injury. He had an 80 percent save rate last year and seemed like the logical choice to ascend to the closer's role, since Boston had him penciled in for that job before acquiring Bailey in late December. Alas, Valentine continues to keep us guessing.

Valentine chose Aceves because he called him "one of the best competitors" he's ever seen. Aceves was upset earlier in the week when he lost out on a spot in the rotation, but now he should be over the moon, since he has the most important role in the Boston bullpen.

If you are done cursing Valentine's name to the high heavens because you picked up Melancon when the Bailey news broke, hopefully you still have time to nab Aceves off waivers. He's unproven in the closer's role, but Aceves will be closing games for an American League contender, so he's worth the roster spot in all formats.

Closing Time

Each week we'll break down closer situations worthy of further examination ...

Reds: Manager Dusty Baker envisions Aroldis Chapman being a "very good starter," but that time isn't now. Baker said he put the hard-throwing hurler back in the bullpen because the team needs a late-inning left-hander and "Billy Bray isn't ready to be a late-inning lefty right now." It's interesting Baker chose those words because Sean Marshall is a late-inning left-hander. However, Baker clarified later in the day Monday that Marshall will open the year as Ryan Madson's replacement as closer, so Chapman will serve as the left-handed setup man. Obviously, Chapman could be an option if Marshall falters in the closer's role and will still help Fantasy owners with strikeouts, ERA and WHIP. It's just that if you are looking for saves, then put in a waiver claim for Marshall, who is still available in 21 percent of leagues. Marshall, who thrived in a setup role with the Cubs, averaged 10.1 strikeouts per nine innings the last two seasons and has seven career saves.

Rays: Kyle Farnsworth continues to be plagued by elbow problems, which is forcing the Rays to go to Plan B. That is likely a committee approach since Joe Maddon hates putting labels on his relievers. Joel Peralta is probably Maddon's first choice for saves in Farnsworth's absence and the player I would add off waivers if you are in need of saves in deeper formats. However, new bullpen addition Fernando Rodney and veteran J.P. Howell could muddle the situation. Both players have experience as a closer, and Howell looked much better this spring after struggling in his return last season following a long layoff from shoulder surgery. Remember, Maddon leaned on Howell for 17 saves in 2009.

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White Sox: Nothing much has changed with the White Sox's closer situation. Manager Robin Ventura is reserving the right to delay announcing his decision until Friday's opener against the Rangers. Matt Thornton still seems like the mainstream favorite, but rookies Hector Santiago and Addison Reed have given the rookie manager a lot to think about. Don't be shocked either if Thornton gets the call at the outset, but he could be on the move to a contender this summer if Chicago falls out of the playoff race, which could open the door for Santiago or Reed. Both players could be worth stashing in very deep formats.

Cubs: On the north side of Chicago, Carlos Marmol is digging in as the team's closer. Early-spring struggles put him back on the hot seat, but a new grip on his fastball has Marmol rolling heading into the regular season. The added sink on his fastball has allowed the electric right-hander to stay ahead in counts instead of falling behind, which plagued him last year as he had 10 blown saves. Marmol finished the spring with six straight scoreless outings.

Nationals: Drew Storen (elbow) is now reportedly out until late April. Brad Lidge and Henry Rodriguez are two candidates manager Davey Johnson said he would consider using in the closer's role while Storen is recovering. While Lidge has the experience as a closer, Rodriguez struck out a batter per inning this spring and gave up one run in 12 innings. Lidge is still probably the better stopgap Fantasy option, but Rodriguez's spring puts him on the radar in leagues that reward heavily for pitching categories outside of saves.

Mets: Frank Francisco is going to avoid a stint on the disabled list to begin the year, but he has a balky left knee, which Fantasy owners have to be aware of. General manager Sandy Alderson said Francisco's knee could be an issue down the road, "especially for a guy who weighs 260 pounds." Jon Rauch is still the likely candidate to pick up save chances if Francisco ever misses time, but Bobby Parnell has thrown his name back into the mix after the spring he put together. Parnell didn't allow a run in 12 1/3 spring innings and struck out 10. Manager Terry Collins said Monday of Parnell, "We think he's got a future as a closer."

Rangers: Joe Nathan didn't exactly instill confidence in Fantasy owners by posting three losses, a 10.29 ERA and 1.57 WHIP in seven spring innings. Despite the poor numbers, Nathan said he feels good heading into the season and isn't caught up with his performance in exhibition games. Manager Ron Washington continues to back Nathan as his closer, so he isn't on the hot seat just yet. If Nathan gets injured or falters during the regular season, you still have to think Texas would turn to either Mike Adams or Alexi Ogando before taking former closer Neftali Feliz out of the rotation.

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Call to the 'pen

Each week we'll break down pertinent Fantasy news with setup men and other relievers ...

The Indians won't need Vinnie Pestano in the closer's role as Chris Perez threw three perfect outings in spring games following his return from an oblique injury ... Royals reliever Greg Holland might have to settle for a setup role to begin the season, but I'd still stash him in deeper Fantasy formats, particularly AL-only. Holland went 3 for 3 in save chances this spring while striking out 14 in 11 2/3 innings. He also posted a .205 opponents' batting average and 0.86 WHIP. ... Luis Marte had the chance to be this year's Al Alburquerque for the Tigers, but unfortunately he injured his hamstring Tuesday and is now out for an undisclosed amount of time. ... Although he might spend some time early in the season in the minors, San Diego's Brad Brach is atop my list of relievers to watch this year. It's true he struggled in his first taste of the majors last season, but he did strike out 14.7 batters per nine innings. Brach had sick numbers in the minors -- 2.22 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, 11.4 K/9 and 122 saves -- and was outstanding this spring -- 3-1, 1.69 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, .225 opponents' batting average, two saves and 11 strikeouts in 9 2/3 innings. ... Astros closer Brett Myers was less than impressive this spring, posting a 5.14 ERA and 1.50 WHIP. I'm keeping tabs on how Brandon Lyon and Wilton Lopez do at the outset of the season. I'm still not confident Myers finishes the season as Houston's closer. ... Kris Medlen might not be in the rotation to open the year or be in line for save chances, but he's back pitching like he was prior to Tommy John surgery. He could be a nice Rotisserie option while he toils in middle relief. An eventual return to the rotation also isn't out of the question.

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