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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
Report: Phillies, Wandy Rodriguez agree to minor-league deal
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12/27/2014) The Phillies and pitcher Wandy Rodriguez have agreed to a minor-league deal, pending a physical, CSNPhilly.com reports.

Rodriguez missed much of 2014 with a knee injury, finishing 0-2 with a 6.75 ERA and 20:8 K:BB ratio in 26 2/3 innings over six starts. Prior to 2014, he posted ERAs under 3.80 in each of his previous six seasons.


Orioles P Steve Johnson cleared to play catch
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(12/27/2014) Orioles pitcher Steve Johnson posted on his social media page that he's been cleared to start playing catch.

Johnson underwent surgery shortly after the end of the 2014 season to remove a large bone spur behind his right shoulder. He registered a 6.23 ERA in 47 2/3 innings at three different levels in the minors, with most of his action coming with Triple-A Norfolk. He's expected to be ready for spring training.


Report: Rafael Furcal to miss winter league with torn hamstring
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12/26/2014) Free-agent infielder Rafael Furcal will miss the winter league playoffs after suffering a torn hamstring, according to ESPN Deportes. 

The 37-year-old Furcal struggled with injuries last year, playing in just nine games. He hit .171 over 35 at-bats with Miami. Furcal went on the disabled list two separate times with hamstring issues last season.


Report: Wandy Rodriguez close to signing with the Phillies
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12/26/2014) Pitcher Wandy Rodriguez is traveling to Philadelphia in order to take a physical, according to Phillies Spanish play-by-play man, Angel Castillo. 

If that physical goes well, Rodriguez is expected to sign with the club. The 35-year-old had knee surgery in June, but decided to pitch in winter ball in order to show major-league teams he had something left in the tank. Rodriguez posted a 6.75 ERA over 26 2/3 innings with the Pirates before he was shut down for the season. 


Yankees pitcher Hiroki Kuroda to return to Japan
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12/26/2014) Yankees pitcher Hiroki Kuroda will return to pitch in Japan next season, confirms CBSSports.com Baseball Insider Jon Heyman. A Hiroshima newspaper was the first to have the report.

The 39-year-old Kuroda spent seven seasons in the United States. He posted a career 3.45 ERA over 1319 innings. After spending the first four seasons of his career with the Dodgers, Kuroda joined the Yankees. He remained with the organization for three seasons, but made sure his contract went year-to-year so that he could return to Japan when ready. Kuroda plans to continue his baseball career in Japan, and will pitch for the Hiroshima Carp next year. 


Report: Giants may look at versatile Rays veteran Zobrist
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12/26/2014) The Giants may look into acquiring Rays second baseman Ben Zobrist, according to Gammons Daily. 

Gammons notes that several general managers believe the club will deal prospects to acquire the 33-year-old Zobrist. San Francisco is currently slated to start Joe Panik at second, but Zobrist can play multiple positions. It's unclear where the Giants would elect to use Zobrist the most. He hit .272/.354/.395 in 570 at-bats last season. Zobrist is entering the final year of his contract, and is due $7.5 million next season.


Report: Yankees have yet to be informed of Hiroki Kuroda's plans
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12/26/2014) The Yankees have yet to be informed of pitcher Hiroki Kuroda's plans for next year, according to the New York Times.

A Hiroshima newspaper reported Kuroda will return to Japan next season, ending a seven-year run in the United States. The 39-year-old posted a 3.71 ERA over 199 innings with New York last season. Kuroda had signed one-year deals the past couple of offseasons so that he could return to Japan when ready.


1B Clint Robinson hooks up with Nationals
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(12/26/2014) The Nationals have signed first baseman Clint Robinson to a minor league deal with an invitation to spring training.

Robinson had been in the Dodgers organization. He compiled a strong .312/.401/.535 slash line at the Triple-A level a year ago.


Report: RHP Hiroki Kuroda heading back to Japan
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(12/26/2014) Veteran right-hander Hiroki Kuroda is heading back to Japan, thereby ending his career with the Yankees, per various reports.

Kuroda, who will be 40 years old in February, pitched seven seasons in the major leagues, including the last three in the Big Apple. He finished 2014 with an 11-9 record and 3.71 ERA.


Astros LHP Downs, IF Petit heading to Fresno
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(12/26/2014) The Astros have outrighted left-hander Darin Downs to Triple-A Fresno after having cleared waivers. 

The team has also announced that infielder Gregorio Petit has accepted an assignment to Fresno. He and Downs are set to join the squad in spring training.


 
 
 
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