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Bullpen Report: Planning for the future

Senior Fantasy Writer
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This week's Bullpen Report may look a little different than last. Get used to it.

We're going to mix up formats frequently to keep things fresh and deliver as much helpful information as possible. One week it may be a straight ranking of closers. The next, an update on bullpen depth charts. But with 75 percent of bullpens free of the crazy volatility we saw in the season's first two weeks, it doesn't make much sense to drone on about ranks and shuffling of positions every single week.

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So for the second Bullpen Report, we give you the most likely depth charts for closers around the league. You'll see the closer, his backup, and then a stab at the third person in line for those in very deep leagues, based on a few factors (skill, background, chance to be slotted into that role, history of closing, etc).

While the first two are pretty solid and widely-accepted guesses, the third closer option requires a little creativity [NOTE: some "wildly speculative" guesses may be far less wild than others]. And before you dismiss that notion of the darkhorse, remember that current Pirates closer Jason Grilli --currently fifth in MLB for saves (with three) -- entered last season with a 4.55 ERA, 1.45 WHIP, and 6.9 K/9, playing for six different teams in his career and never getting close to regularly getting saves.

Closers are quirky characters; pinpointing them may require a little outside-the-box thinking.

American League East

Orioles

Current closer: Jim Johnson
Next in line: Pedro Strop
Wildly speculative dark horse: Tommy Hunter

Red Sox

Current closer: Joel Hanrahan
Next in line: Andrew Bailey
Wildly speculative dark horse: Koji Uehara

Yankees

Current closer: Mariano Rivera
Next in line: David Robertson
Wildly speculative dark horse: Joba Chamberlain

Rays

Current closer: Fernando Rodney
Next in line: Joel Peralta
Wildly speculative dark horse: Jake McGee

Blue Jays

Current closer: Casey Janssen
Next in line: Sergio Santos
Wildly speculative dark horse: Ricky Romero

Joel Hanrahan's ugly blown save against the Orioles on Wednesday was actually preceded by a two-hit/one-run performance two games earlier; in fact, the Red Sox closer has given up three home runs in the last 1 2/3 innings. Over the two previous seasons, however, Hanrahan has been pretty solid, with a 2.24 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, and 76 saves in 128 1/3 innings. And, for his career, Hanrahan has been nothing short of ugly in March and April, with a 5.59 ERA and 1.54 WHIP in 56 1/3 career innings. The silver lining for his owners? Hanrahan bounces back quite handsomely. If John Farrell gives him a long leash, you'll likely reap the benefits of having a pitcher with a 2.76 ERA and 1.16 WHIP in 72 1/3 May innings.

Tommy Hunter was the other player brought over in the Chris Davis deal with Texas. While he was marginally impressive for one season as a starter, Hunter has been really impressive since being moved to the bullpen late last season. His velocity jumped from about 91 to 95 mph after the switch, and his K/9 went from 4.7 as a starter to 8.5 in the bullpen last season (so far this year Hunter has three strikeouts in 3 2/3 innings). We're talking deep leagues here, but if all other options are off the table, Hunter could be a nice, sneaky add.

American League Central

Royals

Current closer: Greg Holland
Next in line: Kelvin Herrera
Wildly speculative dark horse: Aaron Crow

Tigers

Current closer: Joaquin Benoit
Next in line: Jose Valverde
Wildly speculative dark horse: Drew Smyly

White Sox

Current closer: Addison Reed
Next in line: Jesse Crain
Wildly speculative dark horse: Donnie Veal

Twins

Current closer: Glen Perkins
Next in line: Jared Burton
Wildly speculative dark horse: Anthony Slama

Indians

Current closer: Chris Perez
Next in line: Vinnie Pestano
Wildly speculative dark horse: Bryan Shaw

Let's go back about 13 months, when Aaron Crow was going to be in the rotation, Greg Holland was the next best thing, and a nation couldn't wait for Jonathan Broxton to be traded. Fantasy owners were stashing Holland and railing against Broxton as washed up and inferior in skill. Holland was coming off a sparkling 2011 campaign in which he went 5-1 with a 1.80 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, sporting an 11.1 K/9. When Broxton was sent packing, Holland responded with 16 saves from August 1 on.

Holland's minor league track record is solid, and he hasn't seen a significant drop in velocity from last year (it's down a little over one mph through four games). He's given up four runs this season, all coming in interleague games against the Phillies. So we're willing to wipe away a nice data set of success just because he had a few bad games to start the season? For the Holland haters, I will note that while his velocity may have been down in the spring, he still had a 3.86 ERA and 12 strikeouts in 9 1/3 innings. And his control is a little off right now.

And this isn't meant to dump on Herrera, who has been stellar this year, but his 2012 numbers (2.35 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 8.2 K/9) are sub-par compared to Holland's in 2011. It just seems a little too impatient to have this wave of owners running to pick up Herrera (owned in 40 percent of leagues) without remembering how good Holland was in 2011 and 2012.

American League West

Athletics

Current closer: Grant Balfour
Next in line: Ryan Cook
Wildly speculative dark horse: Sean Doolittle

Rangers

Current closer: Joe Nathan
Next in line: Jason Frasor
Wildly speculative dark horse: Michael Kirkman

Mariners

Current closer: Tom Wilhelmsen
Next in line: Charlie Furbush
Wildly speculative dark horse: Oliver Perez

Astros

Current closer: Jose Veras
Next in line: Hector Ambriz
Wildly speculative dark horse: Wesley Wright

Angels

Current closer: Ernesto Frieri
Next in line: Ryan Madson
Wildly speculative dark horse: Scott Downs

The most enigmatic closer in all of baseball? Jose Veras. He has pitched four games so far this year, but has yet to get a save, as the Astros have managed to win their games in blowout fashion. In fact, the only save for Houston this year has gone to Erik Bedard, who got that quirky four-inning save on opening night.

Veras puts Fantasy owners in a weird spot. On one hand, he is in no real danger of losing his job, and his grip on saves was only tightened when Rule 5 pick Josh Fields went on the DL with a forearm strain. On the other hand, Veras is pitching for a team that will not produce many save opportunities for him. And he's never really been tested as a closer, with five saves in 331 career appearances. So where does that leave a Fantasy owner looking to gauge his value? Unfortunately, you end up pretty lost.

Veras has never finished a season with an ERA below 3.50. But his 9.4 career K/9 (which has jumped to 10.3 the last three years) is an asset. He doesn't offer the most impressive resume, but Veras does have job security, and will likely see a relatively long leash in a rebuilding season for Houston.

National League East

Braves

Current closer: Craig Kimbrel
Next in line: Jordan Walden
Wildly speculative dark horse: Eric O'Flaherty

Nationals

Current closer: Rafael Soriano
Next in line: Drew Storen
Wildly speculative dark horse: Tyler Clippard

Mets

Current closer: Bobby Parnell
Next in line: Brandon Lyon
Wildly speculative dark horse: Frank Francisco

Phillies

Current closer: Jonathan Papelbon
Next in line: Antonio Bastardo
Wildly speculative dark horse: Phillippe Aumont

Marlins

Current closer: Steve Cishek
Next in line: Jon Rauch
Wildly speculative dark horse: John Maine

As a whole, this collection of NL East backup closers is pretty seasoned. Drew Storen saved 43 games and Jordan Walden saved 32 in 2011. Jon Rauch saved 21 and Brandon Lyon saved 20 in 2010. And Tyler Clippard saved 32 in 2012. I won't count Francisco because if his elbow was fine, he'd probably be closing for the Mets. But this is a division full of safety nets, and the most interesting pitcher here is one who has finished four games in his career.

John Maine was, almost a decade ago, one of the top prospects in baseball. He has an eight-year major league career, split between the Mets and Orioles. It's always a little intriguing when a pitcher with decent strikeout rates as a starter tries to reinvent himself as a reliever.

Maine used to hit 94 with his fastball, but his career was pretty much decimated by arm injuries. While he's probably not going to hit the mid-90s on the radar gun, Maine could let loose a little more as a reliever pitching 65 innings than he'd be able to as a starter trying to throw 170.

Ryan Webb and Mike Dunn are probably behind Rauch for saves if you wanted an exact depth chart right now, but I'm keeping an eye on Maine for a few weeks to see if he maybe found a niche as a reliever. It's a wonderful longshot, but worth checking out just in case.

National League Central

Reds

Current closer: Aroldis Chapman
Next in line: Jonathan Broxton
Wildly speculative dark horse: J.J. Hoover

Cardinals

Current closer: Mitchell Boggs
Next in line: Trevor Rosenthal
Wildly speculative dark horse: Edward Mujica

Cubs

Current closer: Kyuji Fujikawa
Next in line: Carlos Marmol
Wildly speculative dark horse: Shawn Camp

Pirates

Current closer: Jason Grilli
Next in line: Mark Melancon
Wildly speculative dark horse: Jared Hughes

Brewers

Current closer: Jim Henderson
Next in line: John Axford
Wildly speculative dark horse: Mike Fiers

This division has quickly become just an awesome mess. The Cubs, Brewers and Cardinals all have issues at closer, with Mitchell Boggs being the only closer for the three teams left with a job -- and he took it over from an injured Jason Motte.

The interesting thing with this group is that both John Axford and Carlos Marmol could be great closers (Boggs scores an incomplete so far). But Axford has extended his slow implosion from 2012 into 2013, while Marmol just insists on doing this weird dance with consistency.

Still, they have their bright spots.

Marmol had a 1.52 ERA with 12 saves and 39 strikeouts in 29 2/3 innings after the All-Star Game last year. Axford had a 1.95 ERA and 46 saves in 2011. There is skill there, but the two of them seem to have that whole "figuring it out" thing dangling just out of reach.

Both teams' staffs have said publicly that they want the pitchers to straighten themselves out in middle relief, then return to the closer role. Granted, a lot of managers and coaches say a lot of things to the press and don't follow up. But based on the success each of these pitchers has found in the past, I'm willing to hold onto them for as long as I can in deeper (12-team mixed Roto) leagues. Axford stays on the bench longer than Marmol, but I'd rather both get straightened out in the next couple weeks and re-claim their jobs.

National League West

Giants

Current closer: Sergio Romo
Next in line: Santiago Casilla
Wildly speculative dark horse: Heath Hembree

Diamondbacks

Current closer: J.J. Putz
Next in line: Heath Bell
Wildly speculative dark horse: David Hernandez

Dodgers

Current closer: Brandon League
Next in line: Kenley Jansen
Wildly speculative dark horse: Ted Lilly

Rockies

Current closer: Rafael Betancourt
Next in line: Rex Brothers
Wildly speculative dark horse: Wilton Lopez

Padres

Current closer: Huston Street
Next in line: Luke Gregerson
Wildly speculative dark horse: Andrew Cashner

Just to clarify, I fully believe Andrew Cashner is in the San Diego rotation by Memorial Day. I think his demotion to the bullpen is partially a way to hold back his innings a little bit early on (his career high in innings pitched is 111 1/3) and a result of him being sidelined over the winter with a hunting-related hand injury. He'll start before he closes, but if some strange set of circumstances warrants it, I think he maybe leapfrogs Dale Thayer in the pecking order, assuming he's still working out of the bullpen at the time.

Heath Hembree makes for an interesting third-string saves candidate later in the year. At 24 years old, he's already saved 58 minor league games, with a 2.61 ERA and 1.12 WHIP, sporting an 11.7 K/9 in 110 1/3 innings. Additionally, his high ERA in the PCL last year was partially due to a mid-summer elbow strain, which took him out for about a month. The fun twist with Hembree is that, while the Giants may be stacked at reliever, Hembree represents a trade chip for the Giants, who have not been afraid to trade away solid prospects at the deadline (Zack Wheeler, Tommy Joseph, Seth Rosin) for a late-season veteran push. If Hembree is traded to a team with an opening at closer, he could walk right into the saves mix.

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

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Player News
Red Sox closer Koji Uehara not utilizing fastball this season
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(1:02 am ET) Red Sox closer Koji Uehara has been throwing an unusual amount of offspeed pitches to start the season. Uehara has thrown fastballs on just 15 percent of his pitches this season, compared to 50 percent over the last three years, according to the Boston Herald.

Manager John Farrell isn't reading too much into it.

"He's going to go with what he feels," Farrell said. "Every 3 mph is about a foot distance in traveling to home plate. So there's a little bit different reaction time. But regardless of velocity there still needs to be the use of (the fastball) just to create separation between his fastball and his split."

Uehara is 1-1 so far this season with a 4.15 ERA and three saves in 4 1/3 innings.


White Sox send reliever Daniel Webb back to Triple-A
by Elliott Smith | Staff Writer
(4/26/2015) White Sox reliever Daniel Webb , who was called up Sunday as the 26th man for the team's doubleheader against the Royals, was sent back down to Triple-A Charlotte after the game. 

Webb pitched in 57 games last season for the White Sox but was one of the team's final cuts in spring training. 


Diamondbacks struggling to fill in void at third base
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(4/26/2015) Diamondbacks manager Chip Hale knew his team wasn't going to go the entire season without an injury. But the skipper was hoping to avoid the issue he currently has at third base, according to AZCentral.com.

With Jake Lamb on the disabled list with a foot injury, Aaron Hill and Yasmany Tomas have struggled to put it together, combining for a .559 OPS in the last five games.

"Yeah, that's huge," Hale said. "You're going to have injuries all year. There's going to be a multitude of them for every team. If you can't make the adjustment — if guys can't come in and fill the void — then you're going to be in trouble as a club."

Tomas is hitting .286 in 14 at-bats this season while Hill is scuffling along at .156 in 45 at-bats.


Phillies pitcher Chad Billingsley allows seven runs in rehab start
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(4/26/2015) Phillies pitcher Chad Billingsley allowed seven runs in five innings of work in his third rehab start in Triple-A Lehigh Valley, according to Philly.com.

Billingsley, who is currently on the 15-day DL with an elbow injury, added three strikeouts and two walks in the appearance. He has yet to appear in a major league game since 2013 while dealing with multiple elbow injuries.


Rockies outfielder Carlos Gonzalez still working out of funk
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(4/26/2015) Rockies outfielder Carlos Gonzalez has yet to put things together at the plate so far this season. Gonzalez is hitting just .197 with two home runs in 66 at-bats and it's wearing on him a bit, according to the Denver Post.

"I'm not in a good place. I'm still hitting (.197)," he said. "But I'm happy that I'm healthy, and that I'm playing, and that we are winning. I think we are having a good month so far as a team."

Manager Walt Weiss thinks he's really close to seeing Gonzalez get all the pieces together and go on a run.

"I saw real good signs from CarGo, hitting the ball hard the opposite way," Weiss said. "It wasn't just the couple of hits he got. It was the way he got them. Those are things that he had been working on. Then, to get results like that, is always encouraging."

Report: Josh Hamilton trade expected to be completed Monday
by Elliott Smith | Staff Writer
(4/26/2015) The trade of outfielder Josh Hamilton from the Angels to the Rangers is expected to be completed Monday, with Hamilton then reporting to Texas' spring training site in Arizona to continue his rehab from offseason surgery, per MLB.com. 

The trade was rumored to have been completed Sunday, but complications arose in finalizing the deal. The Rangers are expected to hold a press conference announcing the trade on Monday. Hamilton is expected to play several games in Triple-A before being called up to the Rangers. 


Dodgers' Jimmy Rollins not concerned with early slump at the plate
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(4/26/2015) Dodgers shortstop Jimmy Rollins isn't worrying just yet about his struggles at the plate, according to the Orange County Register.

"Well, some people like to panic. That has never been my MO," he said. "I have, what, 50, 60 at-bats, I'm not sure. So if these are my worst 50 at-bats this year – I'm glad they're happening now. (If they are his worst at-bats) it’s going to be a very good year."

Rollins is hitting just .186 in 70 at-bats so far this season. He believes he's still been taking good swings at the plate, just not finding the gaps in the defense.

"It's hard to compute if you just look at numbers," he said. "I'm getting myself in good counts, just not finishing it off. I know it's coming. I'm hitting some off the end, some are getting in just a little bit. But the swing path is right. It's just a click here, a click there.

"The process is good. You have to continue to trust in the process and believe in the process. You get oriented in just results – especially at times like this – then you're trying to make all these technical changes and that's when you go from one to two to 100. So the process is right. Executing it is about fine-tuning."


Angels OF Matt Joyce hopes hit signals end of slump
by Elliott Smith | Staff Writer
(4/26/2015) Angels outfielder Matt Joyce saw his eight-game hitless streak come to an end Sunday with an eighth-inning single that ended an 0-for-26 skid. The right fielder, who figures to be a fixture in Los Angeles' lineup with the expected departure of Josh Hamilton, said he hopes the small start will lead to bigger things, according to the Los Angeles Times

"Sometimes it's a tough game," Joyce said. "It seems like you try everything, and you put in so much time and effort and work, it gets to be frustrating. It gets to be hard to swallow and accept it, and hard to keep showing up and grinding it out."

Angels manager Mike Scioscia said he will continue to stick with Joyce, who is hitting just .140 on the season. 


Mets starter Jonathon Niese struggles vs. Yankees
by Elliott Smith | Staff Writer
(4/26/2015) Mets starter Jonathon Niese was not sharp Sunday in the finale of the Subway Series against the Yankees, lasting just five innings while allowing six runs and eight hits. Niese was betrayed somewhat by his defense, which committed four errors behind him, leading to two unearned runs. 

Niese was spotted a 2-0 first-inning lead, but he quickly gave it back, allowing a first-inning homer to Alex Rodriguez and then giving up four second-inning runs as the Yankees broke the game open. 

"You can't look into it too deeply," Niese said to MLB.com. "It's a loss. It's a tough loss. Obviously we want to win, but we've just got to get through it, learn from it, move on and play better."

Niese, who threw 86 pitches, saw his ERA rise to 2.74 in absorbing his first loss of the season. 

"I just wish I could have a couple pitches back," Niese said. "But I threw them. The results were what they were. I've just got to move on."

Niese will look to get back on track Saturday against the Nationals.


Nationals considering keeping Yunel Escobar at third base
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(4/26/2015) Nationals manager Matt Williams will have a decision to make when his regular third baseman Anthony Rendon comes back from injury. With Rendon on the shelf, Yunel Escobar has shifted to third and Williams is considering leaving him there even after Rendon returns, according to CBSSports.com Baseball Insider Jon Heyman.

The team is unsure yet what will happen when Rendon returns, but one theory has Escobar staying at third and Rendon shifting to second base, according to Heyman.

Escobar is hitting .292 with five RBI in 65 at-bats while slotted at third base.


 
 
 
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