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Dear Mr. Fantasy: New world order for closers

Senior Fantasy Writer
  •  

Welcome back to Win, Lose or Save, the show where relievers compete for the coveted closer role at the risk of both injury and humiliation.

Lately, the challengers have had a leg up in the competition, with fan favorite Kenley Jansen at long last overcoming the aptly named Javy Guerra. War, what is it getting for -- am I right?

In Miami, Heath Bell is out in favor of Steve Cishek -- that is, if Cishek's ill-timed "day off" hasn't allowed Edward Mujica to creep back into the picture. You know what they say: You snooze, you lose.

With Carlos Marmol still too wild for TV, the door is wide open in Chicago as well, though neither Rafael Dolis nor James Russell seem anxious to step through it. Sorry, folks, no rain checks here.

And believe it or not, all of that happened within the last five minutes. For those just joining us, let's review the events from earlier.

The competition was on before the games even began, with Joakim Soria succumbing to Tommy John surgery in late March and Ryan Madson and Brian Wilson soon afterward. Kyle Farnsworth dodged that bullet, but the longer he's out with elbow soreness, the more you have to wonder if he's just delaying the inevitable. Drew Storen, likewise, avoided elbow reconstruction, but he's still months from returning from his clean-up procedure, and though Andrew Bailey's thumb surgery seems like small potatoes in comparison, he's out until at least August.

Sounds bad, right? Turns out those injuries were just the precursor to Mariano Rivera, star of the show, taking a nasty spill while shagging flies in the outfield over the weekend. Oh my! Is there a doctor in the house?

Huston Street couldn't stay healthy. Jordan Walden didn't pan out. And just recently, Hector Santiago took home some of our lovely parting gifts. Sergio Santos may soon return from his shoulder injury, but with as few save opportunities as replacement Francisco Cordero has gotten, does anybody care?

Not our next contestant. He comes to us all the way from Colombia (or San Diego, more recently), and he's trying to -- wait, what's that? We're done?

Well, that's all the time we have for today, folks. Join us next week when we once again try our darndest to move past the recap portion of the program and on to the actual competition. Until then, remember it's not all about wins and losses but ... how you save the game!

Goodnight, folks!

Where do you rank David Robertson among closers? Who's ahead of him and who's behind him? -- @DetectiveFisch (via Twitter)

SW: Sorry for the whole song and dance, but I felt it was necessary for you to understand the scope of your question.

It's not just about Robertson. Plugging him in behind so-and-so and ahead of so-and-so doesn't work if the rest of the closer cast has changed as well.

Clearly, it has. Of the 30 pitchers intended to close in mid-March, only 16 are closing now. And that's counting Grant Balfour, Brett Myers, Matt Capps, Frank Francisco and Jim Johnson, who were probably the five least trusted by Fantasy owners coming into the season.

The position is completely unrecognizable from when we last ranked players back before the start of the season, so in order to fit newcomers like Robertson and Kenley Jansen into the picture, we first have to reassemble the picture.

Otherwise, statements like this one will completely blow your mind: I have both in my top six. They have a combined three saves, and yet they're already among the best of the best at the position.

It's as much a process of elimination as anything else.

Most Traded Players (as of 5/9)
Player # of trades
1. Albert Pujols, 1B, Angels 823
2. Tim Lincecum, SP, Giants 416
3. Mark Teixeira, 1B, Yankees 413
4. Josh Johnson, SP, Marlins 403
5. Yovani Gallardo, SP, Brewers 366
6. Andrew McCutchen, OF, Pirates 344
7. Bryce Harper, OF, Nationals 344
8. Nelson Cruz, OF, Rangers 339
9. Jon Lester, SP, Red Sox 325
10. Jose Reyes, SS, Marlins 323

First at the position is Craig Kimbrel. That's where he was in the beginning, and I see no reason to bump him from the top now.

Second is Jonathan Papelbon. He was already awesome, but the Phillies' struggles to score runs have given him more save chances than ever.

Third is John Axford. He hasn't been automatic, but his strikeout rate is good enough that I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. Plus, he seems to have moved past his bumpy start.

Fourth is J.J. Putz, for many of the same reasons as Axford.

Who's next? Rafael Betancourt? Jason Motte? Jim Johnson? All of them have done fine so far, but none of them have enough experience in the role for me to stick with them over pitchers as talented as Robertson or Jansen. I suppose you could rank Jose Valverde fifth given his MLB-leading 49 saves last year, but with his strikeout rate in steady decline, I wouldn't say he's a certainty to bounce back from his slow start at age 34.

So there you have it. Robertson and Jansen are fifth and sixth, with Jansen sixth since Javy Guerra is at least halfway still in the picture. I don't have any concerns about how either will perform in the role. The ratios speak for themselves. Both are close to unhittable and have near Kimbrel-like strikeout potential. Frankly, Robertson's strikeout rate might make him even more valuable than Mariano Rivera in Fantasy.

Emphasis on the Fantasy.

As for the other candidates for the fifth and sixth spots in the rankings, Chris Sale (if he doesn't go back to starting), Betancourt, Motte, Valverde, Joe Nathan and Henry Rodriguez round out my top 12, with Chris Perez, Joel Hanrahan, Brandon League, Sean Marshall, Johnson, Grant Balfour, Santiago Casilla and Alfredo Aceves also in my top 20.

Should I look to trade Fernando Rodney before Kyle Farnsworth comes back, or has Rodney won the closer job? -- @Lentunechi (via Twitter)

SW: What? No Rodney in the top 20? He's the highest-scoring closer in Head-to-Head leagues right now. He hasn't blown a save all season. For shame, Scott White. For shame.

For nothing. Hot start or not, I wouldn't want to trust Rodney for the long haul, and it has less to do with Farnsworth -- who, yes, is slowly making strides in his recovery from a strained right elbow -- than Rodney's own track record.

For his career, Rodney has a 4.18 ERA and 1.44 WHIP. Those numbers have only gotten worse over time. Since the start of the 2008 season, which includes his 15 appearances this year, he has a 4.23 ERA and 1.49 WHIP.

He has spent time as a closer before, recording 37 saves for the Tigers in 2009, but he was one of those closers who was always on the verge of losing his job, compiling a 4.40 ERA and 1.47 WHIP in the process. He can fill the role in a pinch, but he's no manager's first choice.

So why has he been so good this year? Hard to say. His strikeout rate isn't any better. His stuff isn't any better. His arsenal hasn't changed, and I'm willing to bet that, at age 35, he hasn't changed. He's simply getting better results.

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It won't last. Maybe he'll keep it up long enough to keep the job when Farnsworth returns. Shoot, maybe he'll keep the job all season. But at some point, it'll turn ugly enough that you won't want him as even your second closer.

He's as much of a sell-high candidate as anybody right now.

In a daily Head-to-Head league, which would be the better return for J.D. Martinez: Mike Moustakas or Lance Lynn? -- @PeteSmick (via Twitter)

SW: For the record, I'd take both deals, but options are always nice.

I buy the breakout from Moustakas for the most part. I think the power is legit, and I think he has a bright future at age 23. But given his lack of plate discipline at this stage of his career, I'm not confident he'll maintain the high batting average. Plus, walks are worth points in and of themselves, so his lack of walks will keep him lower in the Head-to-Head rankings. Even with his hot start, he ranks only 14th among third basemen now.

Lynn, meanwhile, is flat-out dominating. He currently ranks third among starting pitchers and first among relief pitchers. The dual eligibility is especially useful in Head-to-Head formats, where starters tend to outscore relievers, and in daily formats, the more starting options you have, the better. I understand Lynn could ultimately lose his rotation spot if and when Chris Carpenter returns from injury, but if he remains a frontline option for the Cardinals -- which seems possible with his pedigree -- I don't see how they remove him. The threat isn't great enough to scare me away from this deal, especially since Carpenter's situation is so up in the air.

Unless you have a desperate need at third base, which I'm guessing isn't the case, Lynn is the easy call.

I have a logjam of talent in my 12-team Rotisserie league with Buster Posey at catcher, Carlos Santana at first base, Jemile Weeks at second base, Elvis Andrus at shortstop, Hanley Ramirez at third base, Martin Prado, Matt Kemp and Carlos Beltran in the outfield, Justin Upton in my utility spot and Freddie Freeman, Bryan LaHair, Alex Gordon and Mike Trout on my bench. My pitching isn't quite as good, but I still have Jered Weaver, Josh Beckett, Ryan Dempster, Ervin Santana, Matt Moore, Clay Buchholz, Jeff Niemann, Ryan Vogelsong, Jonathan Papelbon, Grant Balfour and Jonny Venters. How do I make the most of my offense? Do I bench Carlos Santana for LaHair? Do I trade some of the spare parts for a better second baseman or another starting pitcher, or do I hold them for a rainy day? I'm currently in first by about 30 points, but I have an opportunity to go for the knockout punch here. -- Mike Mottolo (via e-mail)

SW: Lucky you.

No, it's a good question. Some people might look at these names and assume you play in an eight-team league, but a 12-team league with 24-man rosters is hardly the shallowest of formats. And by going through the names round-by-round, you can see how someone might have been able to assemble such a team in such a league. You just happened to hit the perfect storm of fulfilled draft picks and timely waiver claims. It happens sometimes.

But it's no excuse to sit on your hands. Not all of your supplemental parts will stay hot forever, and not all of the superstars across the rest of the league -- Albert Pujols, Jose Bautista, Mark Teixeira, etc. -- will stay cold forever. The gap is bound to shrink over time, so you wouldn't want to make the mistake of assuming your team is good enough simply because you're in the lead at this early stage of the game.

Now is the time to act, when you have enough players clicking that even the ones you don't need are hot commodities on the trade market. And make no mistake: If you're not starting them, you don't need them. Your league isn't so deep that you'll never find a replacement on the waiver wire if you end up needing one, and it's not so deep that the next LaHair or Trout isn't out there, waiting for you to pick him up and repeat this cycle all over again. In mixed leagues, you need your roster to be fluid. Trading excess doesn't just give you an opportunity to shore up your weaker areas; it also creates the necessary fluidity for future waiver claims.

You have two starting-caliber catchers in Posey and Santana. You have two starting-caliber first basemen in Freeman and LaHair. Both pairs are close enough in actual value that, in each case, you should be willing to trade whichever has the highest perceived value, which I'd guess would be Santana and Freeman.

Your best three outfielders are Kemp, Upton and Gordon, and Beltran is your best choice for the utility spot. You could certainly do worse than Prado, but because he's not much of a power or speed guy, he's more of a peripheral part better suited for your bench. His eligibility at third base might give him some trade value during a time when so many of the high-end third basemen are down with injury, but not as much as Santana, Freeman or perhaps even Trout, who gets a boost just because he's a big-name prospect.

Go ahead and shop those four. Shop them aggressively, but not recklessly. You're the one in the driver's seat, remember. You're trying to improve your team, yes, but you don't need anything. If someone wants to give you a Ben Zobrist-like second baseman for Freeman, great. If someone wants to give you a Madison Bumgarner-like starting pitcher for Santana, great. If not, you're still in first place and can afford to wait for something better.

Is Erick Aybar ever going to hit? Between him and DL players Chase Utley, Jacoby Ellsbury, Michael Morse and Carl Crawford, I'm losing valuable bench space. Should I cut ties with any of these guys? -- Jon Granlund (via e-mail)

SW: The short answer to your first question is yes. Aybar is going to hit at some point, but you have to expect some streakiness from him. Even at his best, he's more of a .270 hitter than a .300 hitter, which means he'll have some low points along the way. He hit .245 last June and .190 last August, for instance. Still, I think he'll have enough hot streaks to rank among the top 12 shortstops in the end.

Clearly, he's not one of the top 12 options now, though, so if you've already found a replacement at the position, you shouldn't feel obligated to stash him. Chances are if you drop him, he's buried enough that no one will add him, and even if someone does, no big deal. You have your shortstop already, and even at his best, Aybar isn't much of a trade chip. I said top-12 shortstop, not top-five.

The DL players are trickier because when they return, they'll most likely be better than whatever replacement you got off the waiver wire. The one exception is Utley, whose chronic knee issues accelerated his decline last year. I expect the trend to continue this year, which means even on a per-game basis, he might not be a top-10 second baseman. If the roster space is more valuable to you right now, go ahead and cut him.

I'd be willing to drop Crawford, too. The Red Sox recently moved him to the 60-day DL when they found out he had damage to his UCL -- an injury that often leads to Tommy John surgery. Of course, they're not saying he needs Tommy John surgery, but the injury is serious enough that I could see him missing the whole year (and struggling even if he doesn't).

How would you rank these outfielders for the rest of the season in an AL-only Rotisserie league: Brent Morel, Brandon Inge, Alex Liddi and Brian Dozier? -- @BeastKnowsBB (via Twitter)

SW: Nice to get a deeper-league question every now and then. Of course, with it comes the obligatory reminder that these players are only for deeper leagues. None are owned in more than 10 percent of leagues, which means most Fantasy owners should stay far, far away.

The good news is that, of these four, Liddi is the only one considered less than a full-time starter. The bad news is that, of these four, Liddi is also the one with the highest ceiling.

Dozier would be my first choice just because, as with any young player, there's a chance he could take to this major-league thing right away. The Twins seem to be excited about him, and he did show some measure of speed, extra-base pop and on-base ability in the minors. Calling him a poor man's Jose Altuve would probably be overselling him, but the comparison gives you some idea of what he could potentially bring to the table.

As for the other three, it depends somewhat on need. If I was looking to fill a bench spot, I'd rather gamble on Liddi's power potential, hoping an injury clears a lineup spot for him in the next month or so. But if I needed to insert someone into my lineup right away, I'd rather go with one of the full-timers.

Morel is a former top prospect himself, so I wouldn't want to sell him short, but because he has been inept at the plate so far this year, you wouldn't be any worse off going with Liddi. By process of elimination, then, Inge would be the preferred choice. I don't like him, but at least he's shown some power in the past.

I don't keep position players on my bench, preferring to use those slots on pitchers. The problem is with David Ortiz in my DH slot and interleague play coming up, I may need a replacement hitter. The Red Sox are at Philadelphia for three games in Fantasy Week 7 (May 14-20). Do I drop Kyle Drabek to find a hitter off the wire or bite the bullet, start Ortiz and take what he gives me for four games? -- Mike Kelly (via e-mail)

SW: Well ... yeah, I prefer to use my bench slots on pitchers too, but I'm not so stubborn about it that I don't add a hitter when the need arises. It's not like Kyle Drabek has definitively turned the corner this year -- he has a 1.46 WHIP and a walk rate as miserable as last year's -- so releasing him isn't much of a sacrifice.

The bigger question is whether four games from Ortiz is better than seven games from whatever you could get off the waiver wire, and that all depends on what's out there. The other pure designated hitters, Billy Butler and Travis Hafner, are both in the AL for all seven of their games, so this dilemma is unique to Ortiz owners -- at least for this week.

As a general rule, I don't like to start players who won't get the at-bats, but at the same time, I acknowledge Ortiz has been nothing short of studly this year. I wouldn't bench him for just anyone.

When hunting for a potential fill-in, you'll obviously have the most selection at the outfield position, so to use it as the example, I probably would start an Alejandro De Aza or Lucas Duda type over a four-game Ortiz. I probably wouldn't start a Jon Jay or Delmon Young type over him, though.

I own Mark Teixeira in a standard 10-team mixed league, and I'm thinking of trading him straight-up for Paul Konerko. Good deal, or should I get more? -- Omar Baez (via Twitter)

SW: It kind of seems like a panic move to me, Omar.

Nothing against Konerko, who is a high-end option in his own right, but he was drafted three rounds after Teixeira for a reason. At age 36, he's more of an injury risk and a candidate for a second-half decline than Teixeira. Right now, he's the second-highest-scoring first baseman in Fantasy, behind only Edwin Encarnacion, so you'd be trading for him when his value is at an all-time high. That's just asking for trouble.

Besides, I still think Teixeira is the better player. I'm not sweating his low batting average. He's a career .238 hitter in April, so slow starts are par for the course with him. Last season was arguably the worst of his career, and he still finished with more Head-to-Head points than Konerko. Any return to normalcy this year, and he's that much further ahead.

And I say that even knowing Teixeira is currently 31 points behind. If you've already endured the worst of it, you'll want to be there for when he begins to make up for lost time.

That being said, Konerko is certainly a good enough replacement for Teixeira that this deal could be worthwhile if the other side sweetens it with a second player. But that second player should still be fairly high-end, meaning one you'd plan to start every week.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us on Twitter @CBSFantasyBB or Scott White at @CBSScottWhite . You can also check us out on Facebook or e-mail us at fantasybaseball@cbsinteractive.com .

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Player News
Diamondbacks pitcher Jeremy Hellickson tosses 75 pitches Saturday
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(9:59 pm ET) Diamondbacks pitcher Jeremy Hellickson tossed 75 pitches Saturday after getting an extra few days of rest for arm fatigue. He feels his arm is ready to go for the start of the season, reports MLB.com.

"I thought his stuff was good," manager Chip Hale said. "Used his offspeed stuff and looked like he confused some hitters, so that's what we're looking for."

Hellickson allowed eight runs in 4 1/3 innings pitched Saturday.

"I'd like to not give up as many hits as I've given up two of the four starts anyway," said Hellickson. "The good thing is I don't think too many of them were hard hit. Curveball still has a ways to go, but I think the fastball and fastball command is pretty much where I want it. The changeup wasn't bad today. It was a little better last time, but for the most part it was down today which is all I can ask for."


Cardinals pitcher Lance Lynn surrenders two runs in outing Saturday
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(9:51 pm ET) Cardinals pitcher Lance Lynn gave up two runs on six hits, including a home run, in five innings of work Saturday against the Tigers.

Lynn added five strikeouts and lowered his ERA to 4.50.

"It was good to get out there and face hitters and get your pitches in and get your work done and come out of it healthy," Lynn said to MLB.com. "That's all that really matters right now. I've felt good the last two times out with everything. I'm just going to keep going that direction."


Rockies pitching prospect Jon Gray struggles in rout
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(9:46 pm ET) Rockies top pitching prospect Jon Gray lasted just 2/3 of an inning Saturday against the Cubs, allowing seven runs, six earned, on four hits with two strikeouts.

Gray, who's ERA is now 5.93 this spring, is happy it happened now instead of during the regular season, according to the Denver Post.

"I would rather have a bad game the first outing, but it can't always be that way," Gray said. "This was unfortunate, but it's all about how you respond. I've responded well in the past, and I think I will be able to again."

Manager Walt Weiss still doesn't put all the blame on Gray for the struggles.

"We made it tough on him, and I think he made it tough on himself with a couple of bunts back to him," Weiss said. "We didn’t play well behind him. We looked up and he was 40 pitches in, and you don't want that in the first inning. So we got him out of there."


Blue Jays pitcher Marco Estrada open to different role this season
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(9:35 pm ET) Blue Jays pitcher Marco Estrada knows it's unlikely he will end up with a job in the starting rotation, but he's willing to accept any role this year, reports MLB.com.

"If that's what I'm going to do, that's fine," Estrada said. "I told these guys I just want to be out there to help this team win. That's all I care about. If it's starting, awesome. If it's relieving, that's fine. I just want to help, I want to win, I want to get into the playoffs and that's all that matters."

Estrada gave up one run on five hits with three strikeouts in three innings of work Saturday against the Braves.

"I'll be honest, I felt a little weird out there, being out there again," Estrada said. "I just haven't seen a hitter in a couple of weeks almost. Timing was a little off, rushed a few pitches that I left up, a few changeups that I missed up, but other than that, I felt pretty good other than missing two weeks."

He is also feeling healthier after battling an ankle injury at the beginning of spring training.

"The ankle is much better. It's getting there, I can go out there and pitch, it's not a big deal anymore. Just every day it has been feeling much better. There's not much we can do right now. Need another day or two and it will probably be gone."


Mariners pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma allows four runs in start
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(9:29 pm ET) Mariners pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma gave up four earned runs on five hits in five innings of work Saturday against the Giants. Iwakuma added four strikeouts and two walks on 85 pitches.

"I felt pretty good," Iwakuma said to MLB.com. "I feel like I can enter the season right now physically. From here on, it's all mental. I feel like I have a lot of life on my fastball, and that's a good sign."


Mariners catcher Mike Zunino rips pair of home runs Saturday
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(9:25 pm ET) Mariners catcher Mike Zunino ripped two solo home runs Saturday against the Giants, going 2 for 3 and boasting his average to .310 in 16 spring training games.

"I was just looking for pitches early in the count to drive," said Zunino to MLB.com. "I'm feeling all right. Just continuing to try to make adjustments and seeing a little bit of improvement. It's something to keep building on."


Athletics pitcher Scott Kazmir goes five scoreless Saturday
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(9:16 pm ET) Athletics pitcher Scott Kazmir posted another dominant performance Saturday, going 5 1/3 scoreless innings with four strikeouts and just two hits allowed against the White Sox.

Kazmir lowered his ERA to 0.75 with just one start left before the season begins.

"Every pitch felt like I had good feel with it," Kazmir said to Bay Area News Group. "I was able to lock everything down. My changeup was the pitch today.I could get it to either corner. And if it started out down the middle it would wind up in the dirt."

Manager Bob Melvin continues to gush over Kazmir's performances.

"Everything was working, side to side," Melvin said. "He had cadence and rhythm. We wanted to get him to 80 pitches, and we did."


Yankees pitcher Dellin Betances continues to struggle on the mound
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(9:10 pm ET) Yankees relief pitcher Dellin Betances is still not quite right on the mound. Betances gave up another run Saturday, his fifth in seven appearances this spring.

"At the end of the day, you've got to try to prepare yourself," Betances said to MLB.com. "But I guess it's better to happen now in Spring Training where I can fix it before we leave and head up north. I'd rather it happen now than in season, when it's a little tougher there when the games count more."

Betances is working to fix his leg kick on the mound with pitching coach Larry Rothschild.

"It's not like I'm missing as bad as I once was," Betances said. "I'm around the zone. I felt way better even before I came in. I felt like my direction was better, something I'll try to work on more. As that gets better, I think I'll be able to throw more strikes and put guys away."


Braves pitcher Alex Wood surrenders three runs in outing
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(9:05 pm ET) Braves pitcher Alex Wood went six innings Saturday against the Blue Jays, allowing three runs on seven hits with two strikeouts.

"I thought it was good for the most part. I think I'm getting closer," Wood said to MLB.com. "I think they hit a lot of weak ground balls. Hit a couple hard, but overall I thought it was good. ... Get that next [start] done, and I'll be right where I need to be."

Manager Fredi Gonzalez liked that Wood was able to see some real game scenarios in his appearance.

"You know what was good about it today? He got himself in a couple jams," Gonzalez said. "It was nice to see that he had to get out of those jams, working through those things.

"Because sometimes you go 1-2-3, 1-2-3 every single time, it's a little different. You don't get the adrenaline, the juices flowing. Today he faced a really, really good right-handed dominant lineup and he did great."


Royals pitcher Danny Duffy posts uneasy start Saturday
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(8:57 pm ET) Royals pitcher Danny Duffy gave up four runs in five innings of work with seven strikeouts against the Diamondbacks Saturday. Duffy was dominant early on, striking out six in three scoreless innings. Duffy likes his progression through spring training, reports MLB.com.

"I feel like it's building perfectly," he said. "The ball has been popping for me. I feel the best I have in years [springs]. I got a little fastball happy [today]. I tried to double-up with fastballs to Pollock and Goldschmidt and it hurt me. You get happy you throw one by them, and then the next thing you leave one over the plate."

Manager Ned Yost was so-so about the outing.

"He was OK," Yost said. "He had a very good first three innings and then just started getting the ball up a little. The slider he threw to Pollock for the homer wasn't a real sharp slider."


 
 
 
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