The past week has seen the emergence of two "maybe closers" in Fantasy, coupling tremendous upside with significant risk.
Mark Melancon and Rex Brothers are injury fill-ins for Jason Grilli and Rafael Betancourt, respectively. While both have inarguably awesome numbers this season (Melancon has a 0.95 ERA, 0.80 WHIP, and an 8.9 K/9; Brothers has a 1.30 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, and 9.3 K/9), it's tough to fully embrace them because of their situations. Melancon will be closing while Grilli is out, but we're not sure just yet how long that will be. Brothers is in a similar situation, closing while Betancourt is sidelined (although Betancourt may have a less-serious injury).
|Player Name||% change|
|1.||Christian Yelich, OF, Marlins||26|
|2.||Mark Melancon, RP, Pirates||23|
|3.||Marlon Byrd, OF, Mets||21|
|4.||Chad Gaudin, RP, Giants||20|
|5.||Alex Wood, RP, Braves||19|
|6.||Brad Miller, SS, Mariners||18|
|7.||Junior Lake, OF, Cubs||18|
|8.||Justin Smoak, 1B, Mariners||17|
|9.||Wily Peralta, SP, Brewers||16|
|10.||Chris Archer, SP, Rays||15|
With vague return dates slapped on Grilli and Betancourt, it's understandable that an owner in a deeper league would be a little hesitant to drop someone like Gerardo Parra or Daniel Nava to take a chance on Melancon or Brothers. However, Betancourt could always be traded (assuming he can prove he's healthy by next week) and Grilli could have an injury significant enough to render him out for the season.
So we must balance the unknown with some logic and guesswork. I'm more inclined to pick up Melancon than Brothers, but snagging both is something I've tried to do in most of my leagues. For every Melancon that emerges this time of year, there's an owner who just lost his Francisco Rodriguez or could lose his Kevin Gregg, meaning that there's going to be a market for closers -- whereas not many teams may be scrambling to make deals for a Gerardo Parra in order to hold thier place in the standings. In short, go after would-be closers with skill this late, and you could be looking at two months worth of saves.
The Big Leaps
Christian Yelich, OF, Marlins (51 percent ownership, up from 26 percent)
Yelich is 21 years old, was a top-15 prospect coming into this season, and seems to have an outfield job in Miami all to himself. He had an as-advertised debut Tuesday, going 3-for-4 with two RBI. And he displayed great potential in the minors, with a .313 average and .886 OPS over four seasons, including two campaigns of double-digit home runs and 20 or more steals.
There's little doubt that Yelich will be a Fantasy asset at some point. But it may not come this season. Collectively, as a group of Fantasy players, we've questioned Giancarlo Stanton's value all year long because of the Marlins' weak lineup and large confines at home. Yet Yelich's ownership has already surpassed that of Brandon Moss and Dan Straily, almost acting wholly against those same concerns.
I'm not saying this is going to turn out poorly for the Yelich owners, because Yasiel Puig, Jose Iglesias and Wil Myers have kind of disproven that "don't overreact to call-ups" mantra; I just worry that the price some deeper-league owners are going to pay may not end up turning a profit. Yelich is exciting, he has a ton of skill and will play pretty much every day -- but with just 49 games played above Class-A, it's tough to see him sustaining a hot start over the next 60 games.
Over/under on average (season): .251
Over/under on home runs (season): Five
Alex Wood, RP, Braves (22 percent ownership, up from three percent)
Here's what we know about Wood's role with the Braves: he will take Paul Maholm's rotation spot for at least one start.
Now here are the many ways his season could continue:
1. Wood remains in the rotation and Kris Medlen is sent to the bullpen.
1a. Brandon Beachy either hits another snag in his rehab or Maholm's stay on the DL is extended.
2. Wood remains in the rotation while Maholm's stay on the DL is extended, and Beachy takes Medlen's spot.
3. Wood remains in the rotation after Tim Hudson is traded, with Beachy taking Medlen's spot.
4. Wood is out of the rotation when Beachy is activated from the DL.
5. Wood is out of the rotation when Maholm returns from the DL.
And these scenarios are all being considered without Wood having even started a game (which will likely be a good start, but could go either way, as many things in life tend to do). Wood, in short, is good. If you liked Drew Smyly last season -- before the blister and intercostal injury -- then you will like Wood. He has a great minor league ERA (1.73) and WHIP (0.99) over 24 career minor league games, and Wood strikes out about a batter per inning. He's only thrown 84 innings so far this year, so he isn't in danger of being shut down.
The main issue here is that Wood doesn't have a role beyond Thursday's start. The scenarios above all have a pretty decent chance of occurring (outside of the Hudson trade, which I can't really see happening). Medlen is close to surpassing his career high in innings and Beachy is close to a return. So when the squeeze comes, maybe we look at what happened with Smyly in Detroit (he was awesome but was still sent to the bullpen because of a squeeze in starters), and consider Wood a soon-to-be middle reliever who is worth a spot start this week.
UPDATE: With Tim Hudson's Wednesday night injury, it appears Wood has just bought himself at least a second start, possibly a third, depending on when Maholm returns. After that, it's basically Wood, Medlen, and Beachy in the mix for two spots in the rotation (Medlen's and Hudson's). This gives Wood much more value, and I'd consider adding him in deeper leagues, with the recognized downside of being sent back to the bullpen. But with RP eligibility, Wood is now in a much better spot than he was 24 hours ago.
Over/under on starts (season): Seven
Over/under on ERA (season): 2.99
Over/under on WHIP (season): 1.15
Flavor of Next Week
Pedro Strop, RP, Cubs (Owned in 7 percent of leagues)
With Francisco Rodriguez going to the Orioles -- and probably taking a middle relief role there -- the market for dependable closers just shrunk significantly. I'd guess that it's really just down to Kevin Gregg and John Axford on the market (in terms of relievers who can close for their new team), and Gregg has been far more reliable than Axford this season (although Axford has been brilliant lately). So Gregg -- who was picked up on waivers by the Cubs in April -- has significant trade value.
This leaves the Cubs, hypothetically, without a closer. With Carlos Marmol gone to the Dodgers and Kyuji Fujikawa recovering from Tommy John surgery, the most likely choice for saves in the Cubs bullpen is the 28-year-old Strop.
Strop's overall numbers this year look bad: a 5.40 ERA and 1.43 WHIP. But since his trade to the Cubs, he's reverted to his 2011/2012 form. In nine appearances, Strop has yet to give up an earned run, sporting a 0.65 WHIP and striking out 10 in 7 2/3 innings. He's still averaging about 95 with his fastball and is under the team's control for another four years. If Gregg is shipped out, Strop becomes a solid clsoer option in most formats. Now might be the time to get him, in anticipation of a Gregg trade.
Over/under on saves (season): 14
Over/under on ERA (season): 2.39
American League-only fun
Kole Calhoun, OF, Angels (0 percent ownership)
Calhoun is not a top prospect. He's been so widely ignored that I've been able to snag him this week in two 24-team dynasty leagues. And I can't really figure out what's not to like.
Calhoun is currently hitting .349 with 12 home runs and 10 steals over just 235 at-bats for Salt Lake in the PCL (he missed about six weeks with a broken hand). He has a 1.021 OPS. In his minor league career, Calhoun has a .316 average and sports a .938 OPS. He's managed double digits in steals and home runs in each of the last three seasons.
With J.B. Shuck playing well and Collin Cowgill likely taking any injury-related at-bats from Josh Hamilton, there is a bit of a blocked path for Calhoun, who has played mainly center and right field in his minor league career. But AL-only leaguers may want to take a gamble anyway, as Calhoun can hit -- he just needs a shot. And this shot can come from the Angels (9 1/2 games out of the second wild card slot) either promoting Calhoun to see what he can do once they've given up on the season, trading Calhoun for some pieces that might help them make a late-season push, or bringing Calhoun up if another injury strikes.
There's a decent list of Angels prospects who put up big numbers in the minors and didn't translate it to the majors (Sean Rodriguez, Brandon Wood, Jeff Mathis), but Calhoun, 25, has shown enough at the highest level of the minors to at least get a shot to show what he can do with regular at-bats.
Over/under on at-bats (season): 120
Over/under on home runs (season): 6.5
National League-only fun
Jeff Mathis, C, Marlins (1 percent ownership)
How's that for a segue?
Mathis, 30, was once a perennial prospect coming up with the Angels, reaching No. 22 on the Baseball America list. After seven seasons with the Angels, in which Mathis managed a career-high of just 283 at-bats, he was traded to Toronto in 2011, then sent to the Marlins in the Jose Reyes, et al. deal that essentially turned the sporting world against Miami.
While Mathis' overall line this season doesn't look very impressive -- a .204 average with two home runs and 18 RBI -- he's been solid lately. In 46 July at-bats, Mathis is hitting .304 with two doubles and seven RBI. Perhaps more importantly, Mathis has a 2.55 catcher ERA ("cERA") and has thrown out 14 baserunners trying to steal -- putting him at eighth in the majors, despite playing in less than half the games of the catchers ahead of him.
For all the jokes about the failings of the Marlins, Mathis' increased playing time has led to Miami sporting the eighth-best ERA in the majors in July (3.29). With a young staff, Mathis has worth outside of his hitting. But as long as he continues to get regular at-bats (Rob Brantly, his main competition, has just 22 at-bats this month), Mathis should continue to have value as a second catcher in NL-only formats.
Over/under on average (season): .250
Over/under on at-bats (season): 199