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Fantasy Relief: A whirlwind week for closers

Michael Hurcomb
Fantasy Writer
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You want to know how to quickly become a major-league closer? Apparently the key is learning how to throw a screwball.

Matt Thornton didn't do it. Neither did Jesse Crain, Will Ohman nor Addison Reed, all of who were in the mix for the White Sox closer's role, which was vacated following Sergio Santos' trade to Toronto.

Hector Santiago surprised everyone on his way to winning the ninth-inning role for Chicago, and he did it because he challenged himself.

"I had nothing to lose," Santiago told CSN Chicago. "I was going into my fifth season as a minor-league player and I was like, 'Let's try to get something in my arsenal that can make me better, get me noticed a little more and stand out.'"

Mission accomplished. Santiago not only surpassed a crafty veteran in Thornton, but he also leapfrogged Reed, who came into spring training as one of the majors' top young relievers to watch.

Nobody threw their lot behind the 24-year-old Santiago, but here we are a week into the baseball season and the left-handed hurler has been the most-added player in Fantasy because he showed no fear in mastering a difficult pitch.

"I have a couple friends that are left-handed, but they won't get into it," Santiago said. "They're scared of injury."

Even before Santiago added the screwball to his repertoire, he was a pretty effective strikeout pitcher in the minors, whiffing 9.6 batters per nine innings. Santiago struck out 13 batters in 11 innings in exhibition games this spring, showing he can still be effective at getting batters to swing and miss.

While Santiago realizes he has a great opportunity, his game still needs some refinement. Santiago walked six batters in his 11 spring innings after walking 4.1 batters per nine innings in the minors.

With that said, Santiago has a chance to thrive in the closer's role for Chicago because he's trending toward being a ground-ball pitcher, which probably has a lot to do with the development of his screwball. That's certainly going to help Santiago in a bandbox stadium like U.S. Cellular Field.

Thornton entered the spring as the odds-on favorite to win the White Sox's closer role, but we were all thrown a curve -- check that, a screwball -- when Santiago entered the fray.

Closing Time

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

Top non-closers Week 1 (H2H)
Player Points
1. Jeff Samardzija, RP, Cubs 35
2. Lucas Harrell, RP, Astros 30
3. Lance Lynn, RP, Cardinals 30
4. Duane Below, RP, Tigers 22.5
5. Josh Lindblom, RP, Dodgers 18.5
6. Aroldis Chapman, RP, Reds 17.5
7. Luis Perez, RP, Blue Jays 17.5
8. Casey Janssen, RP, Blue Jays 15.5
9. Tyler Clippard, RP, Nationals 12.5
10. Juan Cruz, RP, Pirates 11.5

Toronto: Speaking of Santos, the Blue Jays might want to use a mulligan on their trade with the White Sox after the 28-year-old right-hander has blown his first two save chances with his new team. I was never a big fan of this trade seeing how Santos struggled at home (5.51 ERA) in 2011, and he was leaving one hitter's ballpark for another. It would be naïve to think former closer Francisco Cordero signed with the Blue Jays because he figured he would be in a setup role all season. Toronto added Cordero as insurance in case Santos proved to be a one-year wonder. If you have an open roster spot and are willing to gamble, then adding Cordero might not be such a bad idea.

Washington: The Brad Lidge/Henry Rodriguez situation at the back-end of the Nationals' bullpen is about to become a more permanent situation with the news that closer Drew Storen will visit Dr. James Andrews for further evaluation on his injured elbow. That's almost like the kiss of death for MLB pitchers. Logic tells us that Washington should turn to Lidge because he has vast experience as an MLB closer. But Rodriguez brings triple-digit heat, which, if harnessed, would be a very effective weapon in the closer's role. It's the reason why Washington is using a two-man rotation at closer. They see the potential Rodriguez brings to the ninth-inning.

Boston: Manager Bobby Valentine was fishing for a lifeline after he watched setup man Mark Melancon and closer Alfredo Aceves meltdown in the team's season-opening series against Detroit. Valentine hinted that moving Daniel Bard back to the bullpen would be a solution. However, general manager Ben Cherington is taking a hard stand and has no plans on moving Bard out of the rotation. Although, I find it interesting that every time Cherington answers a question about Bard being shifted back to the bullpen, he uses the phrase "right now" when he talks about the team's commitment to using Bard as a starter. I always thought it should have been Aceves in the rotation and Bard in the bullpen, and who knows it still might be if Bard continues to get results like Tuesday's.

Chicago Cubs: Cherington's old boss, Theo Epstein, is having his own closer problems in the Windy City. After it appeared using a new grip on his fastball solved Carlos Marmol's problems, his first two appearances this season resulted in a loss and blown save. Even when Marmol finally record his first save, it was of the one-out variety and he walked a batter. The alarming part is that Marmol has no strikeouts in three appearances. The only good news for Marmol is that setup man Kerry Wood is having his struggles as well and there's really no one else in the Cubs' bullpen to threaten Marmol's reign as closer. Manager Dale Sveum said he doesn't consider Marmol to be struggling, but how much longer can he say that if this keeps up?

Top non-closers Week 1 (Roto)
Player Rank
1. Jeff Samardzija, RP, Cubs 4
2. Lance Lynn, RP, Cardinals 7
3. Lucas Harrell, RP, Astros 8
4. Duane Below, RP, Tigers 9
5. Aroldis Chapman, RP, Reds 21
6. Josh Lindblom, RP, Dodgers 23
7. Luis Perez, RP, Blue Jays 26
8. Casey Janssen, RP, Blue Jays 28
9. Tyler Clippard, RP, Nationals 35
10. Juan Cruz, RP, Pirates 40

Tampa Bay: Manager Joe Maddon is no friend to Fantasy owners. He refuses to name a closer with Kyle Farnsworth on the disabled list, leaving everyone guessing who might take over the ninth-inning role in the interim. With Joel Peralta being the logical choice seeing how he was second on the team in saves in 2011, Maddon used Fernando Rodney for the team's first two save chances over the weekend. Maddon still said he will use a committee approach in the closer's role, but it looks like if you are looking for a stopgap option at closer, grab Rodney off waivers. Remember, Maddon refused to name Farnsworth his closer last year, but he still finished with a team-high 25 saves. It appears Maddon will keep going to Rodney until he proves he can't handle the job.

Kansas City: Manager Ned Yost finally ended the suspense last Thursday and named Jonathan Broxton the team's closer in the wake of Joakim Soria's season-ending injury. Broxton has dominating stuff, but he hasn't had an ERA lower than 4.04 the last two seasons and has already shown mixed results in his first two appearances this season. If I were in an AL-only league, I would make sure to hold onto Greg Holland.

Baltimore: Much like the Kansas City situation, Orioles manager Buck Showalter finally made it a formality when naming Jim Johnson the team's closer. Thus far, Johnson has made his skipper look smart, going 2 for 2 in save chances. Showalter always has fallback options like Matt Lindstrom and Kevin Gregg in the event Johnson falters, but one name to keep tabs on is Pedro Strop, who has closer's experience in the minors and also had a very good strikeout rate (10.8 K/9).

Call to the 'pen

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

Pirates setup man Evan Meek made his season debut Sunday against the Phillies, pitching the eighth inning of a 4-all game. However, prior to his first appearance Meek said he isn't in an ideal situation right now to be pitching late in games. He's hinting that he might not be fully back to form after being limited in 2011 due to shoulder problems. Meek did have a 4.63 ERA this spring, but he still had a .227 opponents' batting average, so it's not like he was completely ineffective ... Cardinals setup man Fernando Salas still has the confidence of manager Mike Matheny despite his struggles dating back to the exhibition season. Matheny said Salas is falling behind hitters, but he doesn't expect that to last much longer ... Padres manager Bud Black is in love with Micah Owings as his long reliever. Owings bailed out starter Cory Luebke in a 6-0 loss last Friday by tossing 3 1/3 scoreless innings against the Dodgers, saving the Padres' bullpen. Owings' days as a rotation candidate seem numbered. He went 5-0 with a 3.59 ERA, 1.27 WHIP and struck out 7.2 batters per nine innings in 29 relief appearances for Arizona last year, and he's already off to a riveting start as a reliever this year ... The Marlins have a new role for reliever Steve Cishek -- workhorse. Miami has used Cishek in four of the team's first five games. He's responded with four scoreless innings. If Cishek keeps chewing up innings, then Head-to-Head owners in very deep formats will find some use for him ... Dodgers setup man Kenley Jansen seems to have figured out why he was having problems keeping the baseball in the ballpark. Including spring training, Jansen surrendered four homers in 12 innings this year. The Dodgers pitching staff pointed out that Jansen had a mechanical flaw. Jansen fixed it by bending his right knee, which allows him to drive off the rubber and keep his left arm in front of his body for better pitch deception. Jansen responded by firing two scoreless innings against San Diego on Saturday. Crisis averted ... Mets manager Terry Collins said Monday that he would probably use veteran reliever Miguel Batista in a save opportunity if closer Frank Francisco and setup man Jon Rauch were unavailable at the same time.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us on Twitter @CBSFantasyBB or Michael Hurcomb at @CBSHurc . You can also send our staff an e-mail at fantasybaseball@cbsinteractive.com .

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Player News
Red Sox SS Xander Bogaerts: 'Strongest I've ever felt'
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(2:57 pm ET) Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts has been working out at the EXOS performance institute in Arizona, the facility where second baseman Dustin Pedroia trains every offseason. ESPN.com says Bogaerts feels he's pushed himself more than ever before, "and the results are showing."

"This is probably the strongest I’ve ever felt going into a season -- and by far,” Bogaerts said, via the website. “I’m definitely real excited for the season.”

Bogaerts, 22, had an up-and-down 2014 season, his first full year in the majors. He finished at .240 with 12 homers and 46 RBI in 144 games.

He'll spend a few more weeks training in Arizona before reporting to spring training.

“I kind of never challenged my body to lift heavier weights because I’ve always tried to kind of maintain the same,” Bogaerts said. “Getting the knowledge from those kind of guys and just trusting the whole system that they have over there and just pushing your body, it’s really a difference than any years I’ve had in the past.

“It was mostly gym and conditioning and speed and stuff like that, power and speed. It was definitely something that I really enjoyed.”


Report: Pirates sign Wilkin Castillo to minor-league contract
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(2:24 pm ET) The Pirates signed catcher Wilkin Castillo to a minor-league contract Wednesday, sources told Fox Sports. The deal includes an invite to spring training.

Castillo is a career .314 hitter in 35 at-bats.


White Sox sign second baseman Gordon Beckham
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(2:17 pm ET) The White Sox signed second baseman Gordon Beckham  to a one-year, $2 million contract, the team announced.

Beckham spent more than five seasons with the White Sox. He is a career .245 hitter and is expected to play in a utility role. To make room for Beckham, the team designated Dayan Viciedo for assignment.


Masahiro Tanaka says his elbow feels good
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(1:17 pm ET) Yankees starting pitcher Masahiro Tanaka told the Japan Times that his elbow feels fine as he prepares for spring training, per The Star-Ledger. Tanaka has a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament that could eventually require Tommy John surgery.

Tanaka missed more than two months last season due to the injury. After the layoff, he was able to make two starts toward the end of the season and finished 13-5 with a 2.77 ERA.

"So far, so good -- including that [elbow]," Tanaka said.

The Yankees signed Tanaka last offseason to a seven-year, $155 million contract.


Mariners sign catcher John Baker to minor-league contract
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(11:51 am ET) The Mariners signed catcher John Baker to a minor-league contract Wednesday, reports CBSSports.com Baseball Insider Jon Heyman.

The deal includes an invite to spring training. Baker will be given an opportunity to compete for the backup catching position. In 2014, Baker hit .192 with no home runs and 15 RBI in 182 at-bats.


Indians 3B Giovanny Urshela expected to be ready for spring training
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(11:15 am ET) Indians third base prospect Giovanny Urshela, who sprained a knee ligament in a Venezuelan winter league game in November, should be ready for spring training, reports the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Urshela, 23, is considered the most skilled defensive third baseman in the organization.

He likely will begin the season at Triple-A Columbus, but "could get a look" if Lonnie Chisenhall falters, the paper said.


Report: Nationals sign pitcher Casey Janssen to one-year contract
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(10:47 am ET) The Nationals agreed to a one-year, $5 million contract with pitcher Casey Janssen on Wednesday, sources told FOXSports.com.

The deal also includes a mutual option for the 2016 season and a buyout. In 2014, Janssen made 50 relief appearances and produced a 3.94 ERA.


Hector Neris considered a 'sleeper' to make Phils' bullpen
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(10:41 am ET) Coming off an outstanding performance in the Dominican Winter League, reliever Hector Neris is a "sleeper candidate" to earn a spot in the Phillies' bullpen, reports Philly.com. Neris, 25, did not give up a run in 18 innings during the league's regular season, then allowed two runs in 8 1/3 postseason innings.

“It will be interesting to see who kind of takes the bull by the horns,” Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. told the website. “We’re going to give some people opportunities to pitch, and typically what happens is the guy that’s performing the best and the guy that’s throwing the most consistently toward the end of spring, those are the guys that will make the club.”

Neris made his major-league debut last August, earning a win with one scoreless inning. That was his only appearance with the Phils.


Report: Mets not close to trading pitcher Dillon Gee
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(10:11 am ET) While various clubs have expressed interest in Mets pitcher Dillon Gee, the Mets are not in negotiations to trade him anytime soon, reports MLB.com.

In 2014, Gee went 7-8 with a 4.00 ERA. The Mets are less than a month away from spring training and are also believed to be hesitant to depart with any of their starting pitchers.


Report: Matt Albers to throw in Houston on Feb. 10
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(9:59 am ET) Wanting to prove his health, free-agent pitcher Matt Albers will hold a throwing session Feb. 10 in Houston, reports 1500ESPN.

Albers was shut down last season because of shoulder tendinitis after throwing 10 innings for the Astros. All teams were invited to the session.


 
 
 
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