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Fantasy Relief: Suddenly, it's a big deal

Michael Hurcomb
Fantasy Writer
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I bet the May 3 trade between the Angels and Padres was pretty much glanced over by everyone, including hardcore baseball enthusiasts.

The Angels acquired reliever Ernesto Frieri, who spent parts of seven seasons in the minors trying to break through at the major-league level, for Alexi Amarista, who was a promising infield prospect that hit just .154 in 24 games with the Angels, and minor-league hurler Donn Roach, who was a third-round pick in 2010.

If you did take a gander at the trade, then you probably rated the Padres the winner in this deal because they received the most upside, especially with Roach, who is a 22-year-old hurler with three quality pitches. At the time, all the Angels were acquiring was a reliever that had no career saves at the major-league level and mostly pitched last season in losses or blowouts.

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Fast forward to nearly a month later and Frieri is not only one of the hottest names in baseball, but also in Fantasy, where he has been the most added player in CBSSports.com leagues.

Frieri has been nothing short of sensational since switching leagues. Through Monday, he opened his Angels career with 11 scoreless innings, striking out 23 along the way. Dating back to his time with the Padres this year, Frieri is striking out 16.3 batters per nine innings.

Frieri's surge could put him in the mix as one of the most important acquisitions of the 2012 season. He's not only brought stability to the Angels bullpen, but he's on the verge of being elevated to the most important reliever role on the team -- closer.

The 26-year-old hurler has recorded two saves since May 23. Scott Downs, who was named the team's closer after Jordan Walden was removed from the role earlier this year, has as many saves as Frieri over that same time as well. And let's face it -- Downs hasn't done anything to lose the job. However, manager Mike Scioscia views Downs as a more versatile reliever and it appears he would like to use him in other situations, leaving the door open for Frieri to emerge as the team's full-time closer.

There does seem some hesitancy on the Angels part to make this move. Can you blame the Angels given the uncertain state of closer situations around the majors?

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Some of Frieri's numbers suggest a market correction could be on the horizon. Frieri's ground-ball rate is at 17.6 percent, which is well below his career norm of 23 percent and has aided in his .212 BABIP this season. It's also easy to point out Frieri is walking 4.8 batters per nine innings, but that's nothing new for him dating back to his time in the minors. The more frightening number might be his declining first-pitch strike rate. For the fourth straight season it's been on the decline, with Frieri throwing first-pitch strikes at a 53.9 percent rate through 22 2/3 innings.

Frieri's deceptive delivery and electric fastball make him a force to reckon with and a rising reliever in the majors, but is he on the path to being the next great closer or is just the latest flavor of the month?

Closing Time

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

Mariners: Brandon League is out as closer, but it seems the Mariners only want this to be a temporary move. League went through a similar hiccup in 2011. From May 8-13 last season, League blew three saves and took a loss in four straight outings, prompting manager Eric Wedge to give his closer a mental break. League pitched in one non-save outing before returning to the closer's role on May 18 and eventually wound up as an All-Star reliever. Wedge said he anticipates League making the adjustments needed and could already be on his way back to the closer's role. League fired a scoreless outing Monday against the Rangers. Wedge didn't name a closer in League's absence, saying everyone but League and Hisashi Iwakuma would be in the mix. Although, the leading candidate would seem to be Tom Wilhelmsen, who is first on the team with seven holds and is second in appearances (eight) in save situations. Steve Delabar and Lucas Luetge could also be two dark-horse candidates. But League is worth stashing in deep Fantasy formats, particularly AL-only.

Top non-closer RPs Week 8 (H2H)
Player Points
1. Kyle Kendrick, RP, Phillies 44
2. P.J. Walters, RP, Twins 39
3. Felipe Paulino, RP, Royals 32.5
4. Chris Sale, RP, White Sox 30
5. Hector Noesi, RP, Mariners 29.5
6. Ernesto Frieri, RP, Angels 28.5
7. Raul Valdes, RP, Phillies 28
8. Jake McGee, RP, Rays 23
9. Lucas Harrell, RP, Astros 23
10. Jose Quintana, RP, White Sox 21

Cubs: It's been an interesting turn of events for Cubs reliever Rafael Dolis. First, he was removed from the closer's role Sunday because of his inability to throw strikes. Then, he found himself demoted to the minors on Monday in favor of Carlos Marmol, who was the pitcher Dolis replaced in the closer's role earlier this year. Marmol's return from the DL, however, doesn't mean he's headed back to the closer's role. Manager Dale Sveum said Marmol would pitch in the seventh inning and as matchups suggests, leaving the ninth-inning role up for grabs. Kerry Wood would have been the ideal candidate had he not retired, but Sveum said Tuesday James Russell, Shawn Camp and Casey Coleman are the leading trio in the mix for saves. It seems like the best bet, however, is Russell, who recorded his first career save in Tuesday's win over San Diego. Russell's name surfaced the first time Chicago needed a replacement closer, but handed the job to Dolis. Sveum did say that Coleman would have been called upon for a save Monday had a chance arose, but he doesn't have any saves to his credit, even in the minors. Then again, Russell never recorded a save in the minors either, so it seems Sveum is targeting new blood for the closer's role. In order of waiver priority, I'd go Russell, Coleman and then Camp, who actually has 10 career saves at the major league level.

Nationals: Apparently Nationals manager Davey Johnson can spare Tyler Clippard from his role as setup man. When Johnson removed Henry Rodriguez from the closer's role last week, Johnson voiced his hesitancy to remove Clippard from his current role because he was so valuable in it. Well, Clippard's sales pitch seems to have swayed his manager. Clippard has recorded all three saves for Washington since Rodriguez's demotion, tossing 2 2/3 perfect innings in the process. Even with Brad Lidge due back in mid-June, Clippard could potentially keep the closer's role until Drew Storen comes off the disabled list in July.

Marlins: It seems like every week the Marlins come to the defense of troubled closer Heath Bell. Manager Ozzie Guillen once again had to back Bell as the team's closer following Bell's removal from two save situations last week. Obviously, Juan Oviedo's return to the United States could make the Marlins' bullpen situation interesting later this summer once his eight-week suspension ends. But that gives Bell plenty of time to solidify his role, and he started Monday by recording his eighth save.

Padres: Huston Street, who has been sidelined since early May with a strained right lat muscle, is nearing a return. He could begin a rehab assignment during Week 8 (May 28-June 3), which would likely put him on track to return during Fantasy Week 9 (June 4-10). It's only fitting that Street nears a return on the heels of interim closer Dale Thayer's first bump in the road. Thayer has yet to blow a save chance, but after opening the year with 10 scoreless innings, Thayer's numbers don't look so impressive anymore after allowing five runs in the eighth inning Saturday against the Mets.

Top non-closers Week 8 (Rotisserie)
Player Rank
1. Kyle Kendrick, RP, Phillies 7
2. Raul Valdes, RP, Phillies 10
3. Chris Sale, RP, White Sox 15
4. Jake McGee, RP, Rays 16
5. Jose Veras, RP, Brewers 20
6. P.J. Walters, RP, Twins 21
7. Ernesto Frieri, RP, Angels 27
8. Felipe Paulino, RP, Royals 34
9. Tim Collins, RP, Royals 37
10. Hector Noesi, RP, Mariners 44

Yankees: The Yankees said Monday that reliever David Robertson, who is rehabbing from a strained left oblique, won't return until June 5 at the earliest. He did play catch Monday without any discomfort, but his return might be too late with Rafael Soriano picking up steam in the closer's role. Soriano has allowed one run on five hits in his last six appearances (5 1/3 innings), recording five saves and six strikeouts along the way. It wouldn't seem logical for New York to go to a co-closer approach if Soriano is showing no weaknesses in the role.

Royals: CBSSports.com baseball insider Danny Knobler reported Royals closer Jonathan Broxton, who is under contract on a one-year deal, could be on the move later this summer. The team is currently trying to decide whether or not to extend Broxton's contract or get some value out of him on the trade market. If that happens, then it might finally be Greg Holland's time to showcase his talents in the closer's role. Since returning from the disabled list in mid-May, Holland has allowed one run on two hits in eight outings (6 2/3 innings). Holland has walked six batters, but it hasn't backfired as he's recorded one win, two holds and eight strikeouts in that span. Aaron Crow's name would also likely surface as a closer candidate if Broxton is dealt.

Call to the 'pen

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

The Braves optioned reliever Kris Medlen to the minors on Tuesday in order for him to stretch out as a starter. Medlen might only need a few minor-league starts before joining the Atlanta rotation. He's worth a flier in deep Head-to-Head formats because he will retain his relief-pitcher eligibility. Medlen is 6-2 with a 4.18 ERA and 1.27 WHIP in 18 career starts at the MLB level. ... Josh Collmenter seems to have found his calling as a long reliever for the Diamondbacks. In six relief appearances since being booted from the rotation, Collmenter has allowed three runs on 13 hits and one walk in 12 1/3 innings (2.19 ERA). He also has nine strikeouts in that span. ... Journeyman reliever Raul Valdes has emerged as one of the Phillies' most-valuable arms since his mid-May promotion to the majors. The 34-year-old reliever has begun his 2012 campaign with 7 1/3 scoreless innings. He's picked up two wins and struck out 10 as well. The odds of Valdes keeping up this pace aren't in his favor given his track record, so Fantasy owners in formats that use middle relievers should take a wait-and-see approach with Valdes. ... The Padres have another rising reliever in Miles Mikolas. After posting a 13.50 ERA in his first five appearances and pitching his way back to the minors, Mikolas has allowed just one unearned run in his last 8 2/3 innings. He's also cut down on his walk rate. After walking seven batters in his first 3 1/3 innings, Mikolas has walked one in his last 8 2/3 innings. Mikolas was a closer in the minors and might eventually emerge with late-inning opportunities down the road. For now, however, the Padres are using him as a long reliever. If Mikolas continues on his current path, then he could emerge as a viable Rotisserie reliever. ... Jake McGee finally seems settled into his role as a major league reliever. The former minor league starter and pitching prospect has a 0.60 ERA and .170 opponents' batting average in his last 18 outings (15 innings). He's also 2-0 with five holds and 19 strikeouts in that span. McGee might eventually emerge as a closer candidate down the road, but as of now he's being used in a variety of situations out of the Rays' bullpen. He has the most Fantasy value in Rotisserie formats and leagues that reward for holds. ... Reds rookie reliever J.J. Hoover is another name surfacing as a potential add in Rotisserie formats. He's posted a 0.69 ERA and 0.69 WHIP through 13 innings. He also has 12 strikeouts, one hold and one win in that span. He's pitching in a lot of low-impact situations right now to ease him into the majors, but if he keeps at his current pace, then the Reds might move him into more pressure-packed situations to see what the former Braves farmhand is made of. ... Darren O'Day is back. After a tumultuous 2011 season marred by injuries, O'Day is healthy and is one of the Orioles' most valuable relievers. He is 3-0 with a 1.78 ERA and 0.83 WHIP in 25 1/3 innings. He also has 28 strikeouts to just four walks. O'Day is back to being a valuable Rotisserie reliever. ... Rockies reliever Matt Belisle and Padres reliever Andrew Cashner have seen a spike in their strikeout rates. Belisle had struck out 11 batters in his last 6 2/3 innings, while Cashner has 12 strikeouts in his last 6 2/3 innings. Both players have the potential to be good Fantasy arms in Rotisserie formats and leagues that reward for holds.

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
Wei-Chung Wang hits disabled list with shoulder issue
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(8:21 pm ET) Brewers pitcher Wei-Chung Wang has been placed on the disabled list due to shoulder tightness.

Wang has struggled this season, posting an 11.12 ERA over 17 innings. He gave up two earned runs over one inning of work Thursday, which likely led to his placement on the disabled list. 


Joe Mauer unlikely to return immediately after the break
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(8:00 pm ET) Twins first baseman Joe Mauer is unlikely to return immediately after the All-Star break, according to MLB.com.

Mauer is sidelined with an oblique injury, and there's a sense he could need some rehab games before he's ready to return. Mauer doesn't have an exact timetable for a return just yet. He's hitting .271/.342/.353 over 303 at-bats. 


Andrew Miller picks up relief win in extras
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(7:40 pm ET) Red Sox reliever Andrew Miller took the win Thursday afternoon against the White Sox in extras.

Miller allowed one hit and one walk in a scoreless 10th inning while the offense scored in the bottom of the frame to secure a 4-3 win for the Red Sox. He owns a 2.27 ERA and a 0.98 WHIP over 35 2/3 innings of relief this season.

Koji Uehara suffers rare blown save
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(7:38 pm ET) Red Sox reliever Koji Uehara was charged with a blown save Thursday afternoon at home against the White Sox.

Uehara served up a game-tying two-run home run to Conor Gillaspie in the ninth inning, which sent the game to extras. He was charged with two runs on two hits and no walks while striking out two over one inning of work in a 4-3 victory. He owns a 1.65 ERA and a 0.76 WHIP over 43 2/3 innings of relief.

Travis d'Arnaud emerging as mixed-league catcher
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(7:35 pm ET) It's too early to tell anything -- most any player can go off for a two-week stretch -- but the timing of this particular hot streak and the history of the player in question make it too enticing to ignore.

In 13 games since returning from the minors, Mets catcher Travis d'Arnaud is hitting .300 (15 for 50) with three home runs and a .900 OPS.

No, his plate discipline hasn't been especially good -- he has 13 strikeouts to just three walks during that stretch -- but that wasn't exactly his calling card in the minors either. He was just a good hitter, routinely hitting well over .300 with plus power.

It's worth noting he hit .436 (24 for 55) with six home runs and a 1.384 OPS during his stint in the minors, but that was at Triple-A Las Vegas of the Pacific Coast League, a level he dominated while in the Blue Jays organization as well. Still, it all plays into d'Arnaud's theory that he was simply trying to do too much in his previous stints in the majors.

So a former top prospect who struggles to find his footing in the majors gets sent down, rediscovers his stroke and comes back to put up the numbers everyone from him all along. Again, it's not an open-and-shut case, but if you need a catcher (perhaps if you lost Yadier Molina), it's reason enough to act.


Ronald Belisario takes the loss in extras vs. Boston
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(7:35 pm ET) White Sox pitcher Ronald Belisario was charged with the loss Thursday against the Red Sox in Boston.

Belisario allowed a run-scoring single to Mike Carp in the 10th inning, which proved to be the difference. He was charged with one run on one hit and two walks over two-thirds of an inning in a 4-3 defeat. He owns a 5.16 ERA and a 1.30 WHIP over 45 1/3 innings of relief.

Arismendy Alcantara picks up four hits Thursday
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(7:31 pm ET) Cubs infielder Arismendy Alcantara picked up four hits Thursday against the Reds.

After striking out in his first at-bat, and hitting a sac fly his second time up, Alcantara quickly turned things around. He doubled in his third plate appearance, singled his fourth time up and clubbed a triple his fifth time at the plate. He would go on to add another single his final time up. Alcantara finished 4 for 5, with two runs scored and three RBI. The strong performance likely played a role in the Cubs keeping Alcantara on the active roster following the game. 


Clint Robinson designated for assignment Thursday
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(7:23 pm ET) Dodgers infielder Clint Robinson has been designated for assignment Thursday.

The club needed to make space on the roster for Carl Crawford, and decided to get rid of Robinson. Robinson had a .333 average over nine at-bats in the majors this season. 


Danny Santana will start rehab assignment this week
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(7:19 pm ET) Twins rookie shortstop Danny Santana will start a minor-league rehab assignment this weekend for Class A Fort Myers, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reports. Santana remains hopeful of returning to the Twins for the homestand starting July 18.

What to do with Masahiro Tanaka?
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(7:16 pm ET) If you own Masahiro Tanaka in Fantasy, your best bet is to hang on to him for now. If you try to trade him with all the uncertainty surrounding his elbow, you might get only pennies on the dollar.

Pennies don't win championships. A crumpled dollar might.

I've downgraded Tanaka in my rankings because, like everyone else, I'm scared. We've seen enough season-ending elbow injuries this year to know how suddenly they pop up, and the lack of information on Tanaka's so far is unsettling. But a panic move is never advised. To trade one of the most valuable players in Fantasy knowing he could end up missing just 2-4 weeks (or whatever), you'd still need something awfully good in return.

Tanaka now ranks 14th for me, meaning I'd still need a true ace to part with him. Cole Hamels is the last of what I'd consider the "true aces," coming in at 13th.

Obviously, that's subject to change as the situation develops, but if you can get one of my top 13 starting pitchers for Tanaka, you might want to unload the worry on someone else.


 
 
 
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