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Bullpen Report: A closers countdown redux

Senior Fantasy Writer
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It's time, once again, for the State of the Bullpen report. Huzzah! I've divided things up by league and division, and then broken down each team, listing the current closer, the probable next in line and then just a wildly speculative guess as a dark horse candidate, who may have nice numbers, some history, be in a decent spot to take over the role or just looks good right now in the bullpen (NOTE: don't laugh -- the first time we ran through these, Edward Mujica was St. Louis' dark horse).

I'm not sure we need any more fluff here. Let's get to the relievers!

American League East

Orioles

Current closer: Jim Johnson
Next in line: Tommy Hunter
Wildly speculative dark horse: Brian Matusz

Red Sox

Most Added Relievers (5/25)
Player % change
1. Jerome Williams, RP, Angels 28
2. David Phelps, RP, Yankees 19
3. Rex Brothers, RP, Rockies 11
4. Francisco Rodriguez, RP, Brewers 7
5. Bobby Parnell, RP, Mets 6
6. Jose Veras, RP, Astros 5
7. Joel Peralta, RP, Rays 4
8. Mike Dunn, RP, Marlins 4
9. Grant Balfour, RP, Athletics 3
10. Andrew Bailey, RP, Red Sox 3

Current closer: Andrew Bailey
Next in line: Junichi Tazawa
Wildly speculative dark horse: Ryan Rowland-Smith

Yankees

Current closer: Mariano Rivera
Next in line: David Robertson
Wildly speculative dark horse: Phil Hughes

Rays

Current closer: Fernando Rodney
Next in line: Joel Peralta
Wildly speculative dark horse: Kyle Farnsworth

Blue Jays

Current closer: Casey Janssen
Next in line: Steve Delabar
Wildly speculative dark horse: Brett Cecil

The AL East was, about three weeks ago, an oasis of calm. And then a bunch of little things happened and teams started to lose their footing. In Boston, for instance, Joel Hanrahan was hurt just as Andrew Bailey came back from injury. Then Bailey got hurt again, paving the pay for Junichi Tazawa to have what could be considered the most disappointing two-week run as closer in Fantasy history. With Bailey back and Hanrahan out for the season, Tazawa is back to a set-up role. And I'm throwing Ryan Rowland-Smith in as the dark horse, as he's pitching really well in the minors and could get called up, excel and just start moving his way up the bullpen depth chart.

Fernando Rodney's performance can't be a huge surprise, considering his track record before 2012, but as much as I believe Joel Peralta is the better pitcher, and Jake McGee is probably back on track (no runs allowed in his last six appearances, ERA down to 7.94), there's something in the back of my head that keeps pushing Kyle Farnsworth into the picture. It's a constant struggle: He's two years removed from having 25 saves for the Rays! But he could be a Rodney-esque disaster! But Maddon may still trust him! But he has an 8.44 ERA! In the end, the fact that he's simply in that bullpen makes him a dark horse. But I do believe Peralta -- if turned to -- will be stellar in the role.

One last important thing to note about this group: Casey Janssen had some really interesting things to say about his shoulder, on which he had offseason surgery. Things like, "I don't think it's getting any better," and, "the progress isn't gaining." I'm not sure why this isn't worrying more people, but I have picked up Brett Cecil in my AL-only leagues (Steve Delabar was already taken, but I think it's almost a toss-up between these two anyway) just in case.

American League Central

Royals

Current closer: Greg Holland
Next in line: Aaron Crow
Wildly speculative dark horse: Luke Hochevar

Tigers

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

White Sox

Current closer: Addison Reed
Next in line: Jesse Crain
Wildly speculative dark horse: Hector Santiago

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: Matt Capps

Compared to the AL East, the AL Central is a wonderful land of order and harmony. Jose Valverde has been better than anyone could have expected for the Tigers, strengthening the back-end of that bullpen. And Perkins, Perez and Reed have been solid, if a little unspectacular. Greg Holland overcame a shaky start to tighten his grip on the role in Kansas City, with Kelvin Herrera being optioned to Triple-A on Thursday.

The most interesting name in this group may be Reed. Last year, he saved 29 games, but managed to avoid any calls for him to be removed despite a 4.75 ERA -- he expertly gave up runs in situations that didn't matter, like allowing a run when he had a three-run lead. Or giving up a handful in a non-save situation. This year, Reed has already finished a league-high 20 games, with 16 saves and a sparkling 2.14 ERA. He's lowered his WHIP (1.36 in 2012 to 1.05 in 2013) and while his walk rate has seen a slight uptick, he's pushed his strikeout rate up to 10.3, a major improvement over last year's 8.8.

Reed has successfully erased any doubts that may have arisen after last year. He was stellar in the minors, with a 1.41 ERA, 0.74 WHIP, and 12.9 K/9. After a somewhat bumpy rookie year, he's emerged in 2013 as one of the most effective closers in the game. Reed has just one blown save, has yet to allow a home run in 21 innings and hasn't walked a batter since May 5. Among all relief pitchers in H2H Points leagues, Reed ranks fourth. And if you kick out the SPs in RP clothing, the only closer with more points than reed is Jason Grilli, who has garnered far more attention for his season.

American League West

A's

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

Rangers

Current closer: Joe Nathan
Next in line: Joe Ortiz
Wildly speculative dark horse: Alexi Ogando

Mariners

Current closer: Tom Wilhelmsen
Next in line: Carter Capps
Wildly speculative dark horse: Oliver Perez

Astros

Current closer: Jose Veras
Next in line: Wesley Wright
Wildly speculative dark horse: Travis Blackley

Angels

Current closer: Ernesto Frieri
Next in line: Ryan Madson
Wildly speculative dark horse: Sean Burnett

Jose Veras was pretty much left for dead early in the season, as things looked grim for a hapless Houston team. But the Astros do have some punch in their lineup, and while the rotation can be pretty bad, it features a decent amount of bright spots, with pitchers capable of good performances. All of that translates to eight saves for the still lightly regarded Veras, with five of those saves coming since May 7.

The problem with Veras this season was with opportunity, not talent. Over the last three seasons, Veras had a 3.73 ERA, with a 10.3 K/9. And this was all in mostly low-leverage situations with the Marlins, Pirates and Brewers. Put in the test-his-mettle closer role, Veras has shined, with career low walk (3.3) and hit (5.7) rates. As long as Houston's offense doesn't completely bottom out -- chances are the team improves, if anything -- Veras should continue to see a decent amount of save chances, and could finish the season with 30.

As a side note, the Rangers will likely see Joakim Soria work his way into the backup spot on this team, once he returns from his Tommy John rehab. So he might be the reliever I pick up behind Nathan here. But, for now, Joe Ortiz has been a nice surprise in the Texas bullpen and has as good a chance as anyone (Tanner Scheppers, Robbie Ross) at working his way into the saves mix if something happens to Nathan.

National League East

Braves

Current closer: Craig Kimbrel
Next in line: Luis Avilan
Wildly speculative dark horse: Kris Medlen

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: B.J. Rosenberg

Marlins

Current closer: Steve Cishek
Next in line: Mike Dunn
Wildly speculative dark horse: Chad Qualls

The Atlanta bullpen quietly took two massive gut punches recently, with injuries to Jordan Walden and Eric O'Flaherty. Work in Jonny Venters' Tommy John surgery, and you have three of the top four arms in the Braves' bullpen out for a significant amount of time. On top of all that, Craig Kimbrel is currently sporting the highest ERA (2.45) and lowest K/9 (14.2) of his career. Granted, this drops him to just "awesome" level (from his previous "superhuman" status), but if anything is wrong with him, the Braves could be looking at an untested group of relievers to take his place.

There is, however, an interesting twist. Kris Medlen, as good as he has been as a starter, could step into the Brvaes' pen when Brandon Beachy returns, and he instantly becomes the best arm in there, as well as the one with the most experience. While Anthony Varvaro, Cory Gearrin, Luis Avilan and David Carpenter all have impressive numbers, none of them have extensive experience, and only Carpenter has anything approaching a K/9 of 9.0. Keep an eye on the Braves' bullpen moving forward -- there's a chance (assuming something happens to Kimbrel), as crazy as it sounds now, that Kris Medlen could find his way into more saves than wins once the season is through.

Miami's bullpen situation is somewhat curious, as Steve Cishek hasn't had his ERA below 4.50 since the first game of the season. Cishek had a 2.66 ERA and 1.24 WHIP heading into this season, and while there wasn't a lot of hope for him to get past 25 saves with the dismantled Miami offense, there was at least hope that he'd keep his ERA and WHIP low while striking out about a batter per inning. But his strikeouts are down and his walks, hits and home run rates are all up. While there are some encouraging signs (Cishek's xFIP is 3.99, so he's due for some improvement), there are others that are still a little worrisome (his BABIP is a relatively low .273).

The problem here is that if Cishek re-establishes himself as the best saves option in the Marlins bullpen, he still faces the uphill battle of not getting many save opportunities. So even if you guess right on Cishek remaining the closer, it's still almost like winning a carnival game and being handed the big plastic comb as your prize.

National League Central

Reds

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

Cardinals

Current closer: Edward Mujica
Next in line: Trevor Rosenthal
Wildly speculative dark horse: Chris Carpenter

Cubs

Current closer: Kevin Gregg
Next in line: Kyuji Fujikawa
Wildly speculative dark horse: Carlos Marmol

Pirates

Current closer: Jason Grilli
Next in line: Mark Melancon
Wildly speculative dark horse: Jose Contreras

Brewers

Current closer: Jim Henderson
Next in line: John Axford
Wildly speculative dark horse: Francisco Rodriguez

Francisco Rodriguez has seen his velocity sink every year since 2007. That's not news to anyone, and it's often used as an argument as to why Rodriguez is washed up and useless as a reliever. But I have a more optimistic view on Rodriguez, and if something happens to Jim Henderson, I think he is the replacement (not John Axford). Here is why:

1. Rodriguez is still just 31 years old. He's been around so long and had such early success, it's easy to forget that he's still relatively young. Rodriguez is actually just a few months older than John Axford and Henderson (both are 30).
2. While he was unimpressive last year with the Brewers (4.38 ERA and 1.33 WHIP), it was pretty much the first time in a decade that Rodriguez was used in middle relief. So I'd be willing to chalk it up to, at least partially, a lack of motivation.
3. From 2004 to 2011, Rodriguez had an ERA above 2.81 just once.
4. In 2010, Rodriguez had 25 saves in 57 1/3 innings. And before his trade to the Brewers in 2011, he had 23 saves in 42 2/3 innings. While 2010's numbers would have evened out to about 30 saves, 2011's would have been about 36, if he remained as closer.

Sure, there's a chance Rodriguez just lost the magic he once had. He could be washed up. His unsustainably high strand rate/LOB% finally caught up to him in 2012. But I think there's something left. He's a four-time All-Star, has finished in the top four of Cy Young voting three times and is 25th all-time in saves. And he's not 38 and creaky -- Rodriguez is 31 and the only thing standing between him and save opportunities may be Jim Henderson, who has been brilliant so far this year, but has a somewhat spotty professional track record.

National League West

Giants

Current closer: Sergio Romo
Next in line: Javier Lopez
Wildly speculative dark horse: Heath Hembree

Diamondbacks

Current closer: Heath Bell
Next in line: David Hernandez
Wildly speculative dark horse: Brad Ziegler

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: Dale Thayer

I realize the hot topic here is the Brandon League/Kenley Jansen battle in Los Angeles. But it's difficult to divine much from the situation because of its many complicated layers. First and foremost, Don Mattingly is kind of tough to figure out. The only real track record he has with closer changes is last year, when Javy Guerra pitched his way out of the job as Kenley Jansen's performance demanded he be installed as closer. But this year is a little different, as League's struggles were met with Jansen struggling, as well. In his last six games, Jansen is 0-3, with an 8.44 ERA and three home runs allowed. League, meanwhile, is only 0-2, with a 7.11 ERA and just two home runs allowed. It's like one is daring the other to flame out more spectacularly.

If I had to pick one of the two pitchers to be a closer on my team this year, I think I would go with League. Yes, Jansen is the better pitcher, with better strikeout numbers and probably a brighter future. But League has a history of getting rocked in May and then going on to have a very good season. Also -- and this may be wrong on a few levels, but it's just a fact of life -- League has the big contract. There may be some pressure in there to keep him in and stay the course.

If Jansen gets the job, he's probably a top 12 closer. But the circumstances, as they are now, lead me to believe League will hold the job. He was re-signed to close, he has fought through early season problems before and there had to be a reason the Dodgers didn't just hand the job to Jansen after his 2012 performance.

It's one of the more interesting closer situations we've seen in recent years, the lack of a clear-cut front-runner for the job -- as frustrating as it is for Fantasy owners -- makes it all the more intriguing.

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
A's 3B Brett Lawrie busts out with four hits, four RBI on Wednesday
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(2:01 am ET) Athletics third baseman Brett Lawrie had himself quite a night at the plate against the Dodgers on Wednesday. Lawrie went 4 for 5 with a home run, two doubles, four RBI, three runs scored and a stolen base.

In the fifth inning, Lawrie brought his team to with a run when he ripped an RBI double to make the score 3-2. In the seventh, he chipped in a two-run single to give the A's a 4-3 lead. And he capped off his night by launching a solo home run, his ninth of the year, in the ninth inning. It was too little too late however, as the Dodgers held on for the 10-7 win.

This was the first four-hit game and third four-RBI game of Lawrie's career. The strong showing at the dish gives Lawrie a .268 batting average over his last 10 games.


Dodgers RF Yasiel Puig hits seventh home run in win Wednesday
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(1:54 am ET) Dodgers right fielder Yasiel Puig had a nice night at the plate in Wednesday's 10-7 win over the A's. Puig went 2 for 4 with a home run, three RBI and a run scored. Puig's two-run home run, his seventh of the year, gave the Dodgers a 3-1 lead in the fourth inning.

He also had an RBI single in the Dodgers' five-run eighth inning, as the team rallied from behind to claim the victory.

Puig has three home runs over his last eight games, but he has just one other hit in 24 at-bats over that stretch. 


Rangers SP Colby Lewis quiets Yankees' bats in 5-2 win
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(1:48 am ET) Rangers right-hander Colby Lewis earned his 11th win of the season in the 5-2 win over the Yankees on Wednesday. Lewis allowed two runs on seven hits over six innings. He struck out five and did not issue a walk, throwing 71 of his 102 pitches for strikes.

Lewis (11-4, 4.42 ERA) gave up a solo home run to Carlos Beltran in the second inning before allowing another run to score in the seventh. Otherwise, Lewis was on top of his game against a tough lineup. 

Since Lewis had a 10-run explosion on July 5, he has allowed a total of nine runs over 28 innings in his last four starts.


A's SP Jesse Chavez goes five innings in no-decision Wednesday
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(1:44 am ET) Athletics right-hander Jesse Chavez pitched fairly well on Wednesday, allowing three runs on five hits over five innings against the Dodgers. Chavez walked two and struck out five, but was left with a no-decision in the 10-7 loss.

The big blow against Chavez came on a two-run home run by Yasiel Puig in the fourth inning, which gave the Dodgers a 3-1 lead at the time. Chavez left the game trailing 3-2. And although the A's rallied for four runs in the top of the seventh, the Dodgers countered with five of their own in the bottom half.

The month of July was not very kind to Chavez, who finishes the month 1-3 with a 5.34 ERA over five starts.


Dodgers SP Mike Bolsinger goes five innings in impromptu start
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(1:41 am ET) Thrown into the start at the last minute, Dodgers right-hander Mike Bolsinger pitched reasonably well against the A's. Bolsinger allowed two runs on eight hits over five innings. He walked three and struck out three, needing 90 pitches (57 strikes) to get through the fifth. 

Bolsinger would not factor in the decision however, as the Dodgers won the game 10-7 in the late innings. Bolsinger left the game leading 3-2, but the bullpen allowed four runs to score in the seventh. The Dodgers would counter with five in their half of the inning, en route to the victory.

Bolsinger finishes the month of July with a 1-1 record and a 3.00 ERA in five starts.


Report: Dodgers, Marlins, Braves working on three-team deal
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(12:52 am ET) The Braves, Dodgers and Marlins are in the working stages of a three-team, nine-player deal. According to reports, the Braves are expected to send top prospect Jose Peraza , left-hander Alex Wood and relievers Jim Johnson and Luis Avilan to the Dodgers.

In return, the Braves would receive prospect Hector Olivera , lefty reliever Paco Rodriguez and minor-league pitcher Zach Bird from the Dodgers, and a 2016 draft pick from the Marlins.

The Marlins are also sending right-hander Mat Latos and first baseman Michael Morse to the Dodgers in exchange for three minor-league pitchers--right-handers Jeff Brigham, Victor Araujo and Kevin Guzman.

None of the three teams have officially announced the deal as of yet. 


Pirates acquire veteran SP Joe Blanton from Royals
by Elliott Smith | Staff Writer
(12:42 am ET) The Pirates made a minor move early Thursday, grabbing veteran starter Joe Blanton from the Royals in exchange for cash considerations, per the teams involved.

Blandon had been designated for assignment by the Royals on Monday, shortly after they acquired starter Johhny Cueto. Blanton was 2-2 with two saves and a 3.89 ERA in 15 games with the Royals this season. 


Red Sox 1B Mike Napoli homers, doubles in loss on Wednesday
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(12:35 am ET) First baseman Mike Napoli was the lone bright spot for the Red Sox in the 9-2 loss to the White Sox on Wednesday. Napoli went 2 for 3 with a double, two RBI and a solo home run. 

Napoli's seventh-inning home run, his 12th of the year, gave the Red Sox their second run of the game of Jose Quintana. 

After going through some rough times, Napoli is starting to show some signs of life at the plate. Over his last 10 games, Napoli is batting .364 (12 for 33) with two home runs and seven RBI. 


White Sox CF Adam Eaton stays hot at the plate on Wednesday
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(12:28 am ET) White Sox center fielder Adam Eaton homered for the second time in his last six games, as he helped the White Sox beat the Red Sox 9-2 on Wednesday.

Eaton led off the game with his ninth home run of the season. He also singled twice, drove in two runs and scored a pair, finishing the game 3 for 6.

Eaton is batting .366 with two home runs and six RBI over his last 10 games.


Report: Mets' concerns over Carlos Gomez's medicals nixes trade
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(12:22 am ET) The Mets have reportedly backed out of a deal that would have sent Carlos Gomez to the New York from the Brewers. 

Sources tell FoxSports.com that the Mets had concerns over Gomez's medical records, and decided not to follow through on the proposed deal, which would have sent Wilmer Flores and Zack Wheeler to Milwaukee. 

Gomez spent time on the disabled list earlier this season with a hip injury, but he has played all but one game since June 23. However, it seems the Mets' staff did not like what they saw in the medical report. 

There had been thought that the Brewers saw something in Wheeler's medical charts, as he had Tommy John surgery in March. But reports are saying it's Gomez's injury history that has nixed the deal. 


 
 
 
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