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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 looking at Brandon Workman as a reliever
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(1:12 am ET) The Red Sox are looking at pitcher Brandon Workman as a reliever this spring, according to the Boston Herald

Manager John Farrell seemed to think Workman would be more than adequate in the role. "His mentality is one that embraces those higher leverage type of innings," Farrell said. "In one-inning stints, his stuff plays up a little bit more with power, a little bit more swing-and-miss ability with his fastball."

Workman seems open to the change. "If John tells me that’s where I’m going to fit in, that’s where I’ll fit in," he said.

The 26-year-old Workman posted a 5.17 ERA over 87 innings last year. 


Twins' GM believes Kyle Gibson can get to the next level
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12:44 am ET) Twins general manager Terry Ryan believes pitcher Kyle Gibson can get to the next level, according to the Star Tribune.

"The guy has too good of stuff not to be more consistent," Ryan said. "I don’t think it’s 'if' he makes another jump. He’s going to make a jump. It’s a matter of how high."

Gibson showed flashes of promise in 2014. While his overall numbers were just average, Gibson was solid during the first half of the year. He posted a 3.92 ERA over 101 innings to start the year, but struggled with a 5.17 ERA in the second half. Gibson said the reason for his success last year had to do with execution.

"The reason for the jump was my focus on executing pitches," Gibson said. "In 2013 I got caught up in all the information and the scouting reports instead of realizing this is the pitch I need to execute so let’s execute it."

Gibson said he's hoping to increase his strikeout rate this season, but wants to make sure he can still retain his strong ground ball rate. The 27-year-old posted a 4.47 ERA over 179 1/3 innings last season. 


Rays manager believes Grant Balfour will be ready for opening day
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(3/2/2015) Rays manager Kevin Cash believes pitcher Grant Balfour will be good to go by opening day, according to the Tampa Tribune.

Balfour is currently in Australia, tending to his sick father. Cash said Balfour was still working out, and expects the pitcher to be ready for the start of the regular season. The 37-year-old posted a 3.46 ERA over 62 1/3 innings last season. 


Rays' Alex Colome may miss the start of the season
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(3/2/2015) Rays pitcher Alex Colome may not be ready for the start of the regular season, according to the Tampa Tribune

Colome has been delayed by visa issues thus far, though he's been able to throw at the Rays facility in the Dominican Republic. Colome is facing hitters, but manager Kevin Cash still expressed some doubt about his availability once the regular season begins. 

Colome, 26, posted a 2.66 ERA over 23 2/3 innings last year. 


Diamondbacks' Randall Delgado facing a roster crunch
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(3/2/2015) Diamondbacks pitcher Randall Delgado is facing a roster crunch, according to azcentral.com.

Delgado had some success after adding a slider last season, but faces a lot of competition this spring. While the competition for the fifth starter spot contains a lot of players, Delgado's experience in the bullpen last year could help him make the club. On top of that, he's out of options, giving him a better chance of breaking camp on the 25-man roster. 

Bullpen coach Mel Stottlemyre said he believes Delgado could get the job done. "He can be a valuable piece in that bullpen, knowing that there might be some guys that are going to get protected," Stottlemyre said. "The fact that he can pitch in some different roles — he can give you some length, he can come in and strike a guy out. I saw this guy go through the middle of lineups on some good ballclubs and make the hitters look bad. It's there."

The 25-year-old Delgado posted a 4.87 ERA over 77 2/3 innings last season.


Nationals sign Tony Gwynn Jr. to a minor-league deal
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(3/2/2015) The Nationals have signed outfielder Tony Gwynn Jr. to a minor-league deal, the team announced. 

Gwynn will be invited to major-league camp with the deal. The 32-year-old hit .152 over 105 at-bats with the Phillies last season. 


Nationals' Matt Purke hoping to get on a mound soon
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(3/2/2015) Nationals pitcher Matt Purke is hoping to throw off a mound in a few weeks, according to MLB.com.

Purke had Tommy John surgery last May, and has struggled with injuries since being selected in the third round of the 2011 draft. Purke was actually released by the club during the offseason, but came back on a minor-league deal. 

Purke said he was frustrated by the injuries, but understands he has to take it all in stride. "It's just something you have to take in stride, keep moving forward," he explained. "I'm ready to keep progressing the best I can and really get myself out there and pitch and perform. When my number is called, I'll be able to help when I can."

Purke is currently in the middle of a throwing program. He's been able to long toss, and hopes to throw off a mound in a few weeks. The team is still unsure when Purke will be ready for game action.


Twins' Danny Santana learning to play multiple positions
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(3/2/2015) Danny Santana came to the Twins in 2007 playing primarily shortstop. Now, Santana is playing in the outfield and learning how to transition to a new position on the field.

"I didn't know how to play the outfield and I needed a lot of work," he said to MLB.com. "It wasn't hard, because I have the ability to play many positions. But the hard part was being in center field and throwing to the bases. At shortstop, you throw from different angles. In the outfield, you need to be on top to throw."

Santana hit .319 with 40 RBI and 70 runs scored in 405 plate appearances in 2014.

"There's a lot of people here who believed in Danny Santana's future for a long time. We were able to get a glimpse of that last year," manager Paul Molitor said. "I have a lot of confidence in that kid. He's going about his business very professionally. He's really a good listener and applier. Some guys listen well and have trouble taking it out there. He's pretty good at taking information and putting it into play."


Padres' Cameron Maybin to hit leadoff in first spring game
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(3/2/2015) Padres outfielder Cameron Maybin will hit leadoff in the team's first spring game, according to MLB.com.

Manager Bud Black basically confirmed the news, though he wouldn't make it official as he prefers to let the player know before the media. Maybin is the forgotten man in the team's outfield heading into camp. While he's proven he can play center field, the club is expected to go with Matt Kemp, Wil Myers and Justin Upton when the regular season starts. 

Maybin, 27, hit .235/.290/.331 over 251 at-bats last season. 


Giants experimenting with Norichika Aoki in the leadoff spot
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(3/2/2015) The Giants are experimenting with using outfielder Norichika Aoki in the leadoff spot, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

Aoki will hit leadoff on Tuesday with Angel Pagan sidelined. While Pagan is expected to claim the role once the regular season begins, manager Bruce Bochy said he would consider using Aoki in the leadoff role occasionally. When that happens, Pagan would hit in the third spot in the order. 

Aoki, 33, hit .285/.349/.360 over 491 at-bats last year. 


 
 
 
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