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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
Report: Pitcher Roberto Hernandez informed he made Astros roster
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(9:16 pm ET) Pitcher Roberto Hernandez has been informed that he made the Astros' Opening Day roster, according to a report by the Houston Chronicle

The 34-year-old Hernandez signed with the Astros on February 12. He went 3-0 with a 3.71 ERA in five spring games. 


Report: Scott Downs only interested in Major League offers
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(8:58 pm ET) Pitcher Scott Downs was released by the Indians on Monday, but the left hander is only interested in offers that include a spot on a team's Major League roster, according to a report by Major League Trade Rumors.

Downs had a 2.84 ERA in seven games this spring.  


Athletics' Billy Burns credits larger bat for spring hot streak
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(8:54 pm ET) Athletics outfielder Billy Burns is hitting .381 this spring and leads the Majors with 24 hits. 

Burns credits a change to a larger bat for the increased production. Minor league hitting coordinator Greg Sparks suggested the move, to a bat that was one ounce heavier and half an inch longer. He believed it would help improve the switch-hitting Burns' left-handed swing. 

"I was using a skinnier, more balanced model and now it’s a bigger barrel, heavier," Burns said, per the San Francisco Chronicle. "I choke up so I can handle it but have more oomph behind it. more force. Then we worked on the mental approach of attacking the baseball from the left side. Instead of being more passive and trying to go the other way, attack the ball."

Burns is hitting .432 from the left side of the plate this spring. 


Report: Astros add Joe Thatcher to MLB roster
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(8:48 pm ET) The Astros are adding LHP Joe Thatcher to the Opening Day roster, according to a report by Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal, citing a source.

Thatcher signed a minor league deal with the team on February 13 and was invited to Major League camp as a non-roster player. 

Thatcher had a 1.35 ERA in seven games with five strikeouts in six and two thirds innings. 


Rangers P Lisalverto Bonilla shelled in 11-7 loss to Royals
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(8:43 pm ET) Rangers pitcher Lisalverto Bonilla had a rough outing in which he gave up five hits and seven earned runs in just one-third inning in an 11-7 loss to the Royals. 

Bonilla retired only one batter in eight tries. He walked one batter, struck out another and surrendered a home run. 

"The inning kind of got away from Bonilla," Rangers manager Jeff Banister said, via the Associated Press. "He fell behind and his pitch count got up. It was inconsistency. The home run looked like it might have been middle-middle. It's not an outing you'd want to see."


Red Sox closer Koji Uehara likely to begin year on disabled list
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(8:20 pm ET) Red Sox closer Koji Uehara is likely to begin the season on the disabled list, reports ESPN. After throwing 30 pitches in a bullpen session on Monday, Uehara is still having issues with his left hamstring. He hasn't taken the mound since March 14th.

Manager John Farrell said, “I don’t think there’s anything to suggest that come next Monday, he’s in our bullpen.”

“I think I’m going to start on the DL just because I haven’t had the games in,” Uehara said through interpreter C.J. Matsumoto. “If that is the case, if I start on the DL, it will certainly be a disappointment.”

Uehara knows that this is a process, and he is unsure of when he'll return to the mound.

“I don’t know when I’ll be back,” he said. “It’s a day-to-day process. I have to do what I have to do to get ready.”

Farrell was asked about how the bullpen will shape up heading into the beginning of the season.

“I don’t have seven names to give you right now,” he said. “We’ve still got some things to determine. How we’re going to determine the rotation, whether we go with an additional left-hander or right-hander, what the ramifications of Koji coming out of the mix for the short run. Does that likely move Edward [Mujica] back into the closing role?

“I do know this: We’re at a point in camp when guys are throwing the ball as expected, and that includes Robbie Ross. That’s Matt Barnes. Brandon Workman’s last time out was encouraging, so as we get to the final week of camp here, the guys we felt would be in contention for spots are moving in the right direction.”

Uehara, 40, has pitched in three games this spring, posting an ERA of 6.00, six hits given up with three strikeouts.


Cardinals' Dean Anna to work at three infield positions in minors
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(8:19 pm ET) Cardinals infielder Dean Anna , sent to the minor leagues on Sunday, will work at second base, third base and shortstop at Triple-A Memphis, manager Mike Matheny said, per MLB.com.

Anna hit .200 in 20 spring at bats with the Cards. 


Tigers pitcher Joba Chamberlain not worried about spring struggles
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(8:16 pm ET) Tigers pitcher Joba Chamberlain hasn't exactly lit it up in spring training. In eight appearances, Chamberlain has posted an 8.22 ERA with just two strikeouts in 7 2/3 innings pitched. He and his manager Brad Ausmus aren't worried, reports MLB.com.

"I've said all along that spring training, with veteran players especially, I don't put a lot of stock in it," Ausmus said. "I would go more on Joba's performance last year as an indicator than on what happens in Spring Training. I think Joba's also a guy that pitches on the adrenaline of the situation. And there's not a lot of adrenaline in spring training games, even moreso if you've been in the big leagues for a few years."

Chamberlain is throwing a bit harder this spring than previous years.

"This isn't my first rodeo. I've been in this position," Chamberlain said. "You've got to know what you have to work on. It's a neverending battle. I don't know if I've ever seen anybody with a zero-zero ERA, so there's always something to work on."


Cardinals' Tommy Pham's quad still not right after minor league test
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(8:14 pm ET) Cardinals outfielder Tommy Pham had three plate appearances in a minor league game on Monday. It was his first game since March 12, when strained his left quadricep. 

Pham didn't play the field, and after batting, he reported that the quad was "still tight" and "not right", per MLB.com.


Rockies P LaTroy Hawkins rocked for 5 hits in one-third inning
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(8:13 pm ET) Rockies closer LaTroy Hawkins had a rough outing in Monday's 11-2 loss to the Athletics. 

Hawkins gave up five hits in only one-third inning, which included a three-run home run from Athletics third baseman Brett Lawrie. 

“Hawk just left some balls high and up over the plate,” Rockies manager Walt Weiss said, via The Denver Post.


 
 
 
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