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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
Coco Crisp activated from DL, starting in LF on Monday for A's
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(5:21 pm ET) The Athletics activated outfielder Coco Crisp from the 15-day disabled list prior to Monday's game against the Orioles.

Crisp has been on the DL with a neck injury since around Memorial Day. He hasn't played a big-league game since May 19, and he has just two hits in 45 at-bats this season. However, he is in Monday's starting lineup, batting second and playing left field. 

In a corresponding move, Jake Smolinski was optioned to Triple-A to clear room on the 25-man roster.


Nationals OF Denard Span getting close to live batting practice
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(5:14 pm ET) Nationals outfielder Denard Span, who began baseball activities Saturday, could be close to taking live batting practice, manager Matt Williams said Monday.

“In the next couple of days we’ll get him out for a live BP session and then look for him to get some live BP later in the week," Williams said. "Then running the bases. That’s kind of of the final step. Depending on how he feels, we’ll progress to that. We’ll see."

Span, who is on the disabled list due to a back injury, will go on a rehab assignment before returning.

“Volume. It’s going to be volume, probably,” Williams said. “Limited in the cage is one thing, but getting out there and just reacting without having to think about it is key, too. But if he can go through multiple BP sessions and early work and regular defensive work that he does, then he should be fine to get out there and play somewhere.”


Nationals RP David Carpenter set to resume throwing program
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(5:11 pm ET) Nationals reliever David Carpenter, who has been on the disabled list since July 12 due to right shoulder inflammation, can resume his throwing program after getting a second opinion on his injured shoulder, according to CSNwashington.com.

“He’s back on a throwing program and getting ready to go again. All the results are good and he’s building back up. He’ll go out and throw today and start that process,” manager Matt Williams said.


Rockies confirm Jon Gray will make MLB debut Tuesday
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(5:04 pm ET) Starting pitcher prospect Jon Gray will make his MLB debut Tuesday against the Mariners, the Rockies confirmed Monday.

The 23-year-old Gray was the third overall selection in the 2013 MLB Draft. The hard-throwing right-hander is 6-6 with a 4.33 ERA and 1.49 WHIP in 21 outings (20 starts) at Triple-A this season. Although, his numbers are a little inflated due to a rocky start to the season. In his last 17 starts, he is 6-3 with a 3.17 ERA and .256 opponents' batting average.

Gray is 20-11 with a 3.82 ERA and 1.27 WHIP in three minor-league seasons. He is striking out 8.9 batters per nine innings.

He entered the season as a top-25 prospect, according to MLB.com, Baseball America and BaseballProspectus.com.


Mets SP Steven Matz plays catch from 60 feet
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(4:29 pm ET) Mets starting pitcher Steven Matz played catch from 60 feet Monday. The rookie left-hander has been on the disabled list since mid-July due to a partial tear in his lat muscle.

Pirates SP A.J. Burnett to miss four weeks due to elbow injury
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(4:27 pm ET) Starting pitcher A.J. Burnett was diagnosed with a flexor strain in his right elbow, the Pirates announced Monday. He received a platelet rich plasma (PRP) injection and his estimated time of recovery is four weeks.

The veteran right-hander is 8-5 with a 3.06 ERA in 21 starts, but the All-Star pitcher is 1-2 with a 10.13 ERA in three starts in the second half.


Josh Donaldson propels Blue Jays to win with two-run HR
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(4:05 pm ET) Third baseman Josh Donaldson's 27th home run propelled the Blue Jays to a 5-1 win against the Twins on Monday. Donaldson broke open a 1-all tie in the fifth inning with an opposite-field, two-run homer off Ervin Santana.

Donaldson, who also had his 29th double in the game, has homered nine times since July 1. He is also batting .283 (30 for 106) with 10 doubles and 28 RBI in his last 27 games.


Twins RF Torii Hunter connects for 17th home run
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(4:01 pm ET) Twins right fielder Torii Hunter drove in his team's only run during a 5-1 loss to the Blue Jays on Monday. Hunter gave Minnesota an early 1-0 lead in the second inning with a one-out solo home run off David Price.

Hunter has 17 home runs on the season, including three in his last nine games. Since July 1, Hunter is batting .183 (17 for 93) with five home runs and 12 RBI in his past 25 games.


Twins SP Ervin Santana suffers second straight loss
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(3:57 pm ET) Twins starting pitcher Ervin Santana was charged with three runs on six hits and three walks in six innings during a 5-1 loss to the Blue Jays on Monday. He struck out two.

Santana (2-2) was pitching with a 1-0 lead before Ryan Goins tied the game with a one-out solo home run in the bottom of the second inning. 

The game remained tied until the fifth inning. Troy Tulowitzki led off the bottom of the inning with a single before Josh Donaldson parked an opposite-field home run to put Toronto ahead for good.

Santana has lost his last two starts after going 2-0 with a 2.60 ERA in his first four starts.


David Price strikes out 11 in Blue Jays debut on Monday
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(3:52 pm ET) David Price was outstanding in his Blue Jays debut Monday against the Twins, striking out 11 batters in eight innings during a 5-1 win. The left-hander, who was acquired in a blockbuster deal with the Tigers last week, allowed one run on three hits and two walks.

Price (10-4) got off to a great start, as he struck out the first two batters. He did fall behind in the second inning, as Torii Hunter hit a one-out solo home run. But Ryan Goins tied the game on a solo home run in the bottom of the second inning and Price never looked back.

He had multiple strikeouts in the first, second, fourth and sixth innings. He threw 80 of 119 pitches for strikes.

''That was the best atmosphere I've ever been in,'' Price said. ''I've never experienced anything like that.''

Price's 11 strikeouts were the most by any pitcher in his Blue Jays debut, according to the Associated Press. Roger Clemens struck out nine in his Toronto debut April 2, 1997.

''There's guys that kind of separate themselves,'' Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. ''David's at the top. He's one of those guys. That's what they do.''


 
 
 
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