Matthew Pouliot

Strike Zone

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AL Notes: King Felix's Fate

Sunday, April 17, 2011


So, Joe Mauer has bilateral leg weakness largely caused by a viral infection? Or is that just what the Twins are hoping? Much of the talk immediately after the announcement that Mauer was landing on the DL centered on what position the 2009 AL MVP would play next season. There's more optimism about Mauer's situation now, but there's still no telling whether he'll be back once his 15 days are up.

I'm giving the Twins the benefit of the doubt here. From the sound of things, there are no new problems with Mauer's knees; he just developed weakness in his legs while trying to play through whatever virus had him down. There's a very good chance he'll be back in the lineup within two weeks. The Twins are hurting in the meantime, as their backup, Drew Butera, is probably the worst position player in baseball when it comes to hitting. But Mauer should return as a catcher this season, and while I think he'll likely finish his contract as a left fielder, there's still not much reason to think a change will come this year or next.

American League Notes

- Another shaky outing from Felix Hernandez is a reason for concern. His fastball velocity is down slightly, and he's throwing the pitch quite a bit less than usual. I don't think he's hurt, but I do wonder if he's bored. The Mariners, who actually had Adam Kennedy open a game in the cleanup spot last week, look to be even worse than they were last year, and there's no reason to expect a turnaround anytime soon. For the first time, I'm beginning to believe King Felix might be traded. The Mariners have so many needs, and even with their deep pockets, it's hard to imagine them contending before 2013 if they keep Hernandez. They might be in better shape then with three or four top youngsters than they would be with the AL's best pitcher.

- Now that Josh Hamilton is out 6-8 weeks with a broken humerus, maybe, just maybe, the Rangers could try Nelson Cruz in the cleanup spot, rather than have him bat behind a guy with a .242 OBP. Not that Adrian Beltre won't heat up. But it's not like Cruz is some sort of unproven youngster. He's just a year younger than Beltre, and he's hit .301 with RISP during his career, compared to .268 with the bases empty. Give him a chance, Ron.

- Hamilton's injury will provide the struggling Julio Borbon with a much longer leash, but Borbon still hasn't attempted a steal this year, rendering him worthless for fantasy purposes. The Rangers' best offensive lineup has David Murphy in center, Mitch Moreland in left, Mike Napoli at first and Michael Young at DH, but the team isn't going to play all four at once with any regularity. Poor Napoli was on the bench Saturday despite his .333/.478/.833 line in 18 at-bats this season. He deserves better, and the Rangers truly need his thump in the order with Hamilton down. If they're not going to use him at DH -- and they haven't, not once -- then he needs to start over Yorvit Torrealba more frequently.

- Alexi Ogando is slated to face the Yankees on Sunday after leaving his last start with a blister. He's getting picked up in mixed leagues after starting off the year with 13 scoreless innings and deservedly so. Don't be surprised if he struggles against the Bombers, though. The Yankees will wait him out if his finger issues lead to control problems.

- Signs point to Sergio Santos getting a chance to claim the vacant closer's role in Chicago. Matt Thornton shouldn't be released in any format, but four blown saves in four opportunities is simply inexcusable no matter how bad the defense has been behind him. Santos still hasn't allowed a run in 8 2/3 innings this season, and he certainly has closer-type stuff. I expect Thornton will be the superior pitcher from here on in, but if Santos can survive while getting his feet wet in the ninth, the White Sox might stick with him. After all, they've done fine for years with Thornton setting up.

- The Red Sox can't afford to pass up offense with the way they're playing, so hopefully Jed Lowrie's 3-for-5 with a homer in Saturday's win will get him a look as the regular shortstop over Marco Scutaro. He deserved a shot to win the job this spring, though he wasn't provided with one. He'll be worth using in mixed leagues if the Red Sox decide to make him a starter.

- I have a feeling "thoughts on the Red Sox rotation" will become a weekly section here. Josh Beckett is looking just as good as the numbers suggest, but he's such a flake that he could become a sell-high candidate soon. I'm guessing the Red Sox will pair him with Jason Varitek from now on, something that seems to help him a bunch. I'm still optimistic about Clay Buchholz, but he needs to trust his fastball a little more. John Lackey, who was skipped after last week's rainout, should be started in AL-only leagues with outings against the A's and Angels this week. Daisuke Matsuzaka looks terrible, and the Red Sox may want to stash him on the DL if he struggles again Monday. My guess is that they'd replace him with Tim Wakefield, if only because of Alfredo Aceves' durability concerns. Felix Doubront is another option.

- The results have been unspectacular so far, but I really like the way David Price is throwing. His fastball velocity remains exceptional, but he's taking more off his changeup than usual and I think that increased separation between the two offerings is going to pay off. It wouldn't surprise me at all if his improved changeup becomes his No. 2 pitch as the year goes on.

- Erick Aybar (oblique) is eligible to come off the DL on Tuesday and hopes to be ready then. The only issue there is that Alberto Callaspo has been the Angels' best hitter so far. The team will have to keep him in the mix, possibly by playing Howie Kendrick at first and sitting Mark Trumbo at times.

- The Angels also have the option of playing Bobby Abreu in the outfield and sitting either Peter Bourjos or Vernon Wells. But Wells isn't going to be benched, even though he's playing as poorly as anyone in the league right now. It's worth holding on to Wells in mixed leagues and waiting for him to snap out of it. He's not going to match his 2010 production, but he still ranks somewhere in the 40-50 range among outfielders.

- It's nice that Michael Cuddyer is about to have second-base eligibility in pretty much all formats. What he doesn't have is an RBI this season. And when Cuddyer is at second base, the Twins are probably running out the worst defense of any team in baseball, what with Delmon Young and Jason Kubel manning the outfield corners. It's simply not fair to their pitchers. Francisco Liriano wasn't pitching nearly as badly as his line suggested when he gave up seven runs Wednesday. The Twins thus far have lost all four of Cuddyer's starts at second, surrendering 24 runs in the process.

- The Twins can't be feeling great about Joe Nathan at the moment either. He gave up a homer, walked two and then allowed a game-winning single in blowing a second straight save Saturday against the Rays. Matt Capps also struggled in both games, so the Twins might not have been any better off with him in the closer's role. Still, Capps looks like the superior pitcher with Nathan showing poor command of a fastball that isn't all of the way back to peak velocity. They may yet consider turning the ninth over to Capps if Nathan has another bad week.

- The Indians are weighing activating Grady Sizemore (knee) prior to Sunday's game. Travis Buck hasn't been able to carry his hot spring into the regular season, so he'll probably get the boot to make room. Shelley Duncan is the other possibility, but he's gone 3-for-10 with three RBI in limited action. Sizemore won't be an everyday guy for the Indians immediately, so mixed leaguers with quality alternatives may want to wait as long as possible to activate him. Austin Kearns will lose at-bats.

- Jack Hannahan is hitting his weight at third base (.235/.316/.441 to be exact), so the Indians may choose to option Jason Donald to Triple-A once he completes his rehab from a fractured finger. That decision is likely a week away.

- The Tigers should be weighing a switch at second base: Scott Sizemore is hitting .435/.519/.652 in 23 at-bats for Triple-A Toledo, while Will Rhymes has come in at .220/.289/.220 with just two runs scored in 41 at-bats for Detroit. There's nothing to suggest that a Carlos Guillen (knee) return is imminent.

- On the other hand, Magglio Ordonez (ankle) was able to come back and DH on Saturday. The Tigers are probably better off with Brennan Boesch and Ryan Raburn in the outfield corners right now, considering that they're both hitting and they're both better defenders than Ordonez. The Tigers aren't going to bench Ordonez, but they'll probably give him a lot more rest than he's used to getting, potentially leaving him with little short-term value in mixed leagues.

- I'm fine with it in practice, but how can the Yankees be allowed to place Phil Hughes on the disabled list while simultaneously telling everyone who will listen that he's not hurt? Anyway, getting Hughes off the major league roster for a couple of weeks was undoubtedly the right move. He's going to start long-tossing Sunday and the hope is that he'll recover some velocity before the team gets him back into games in a week or two. Bartolo Colon is probably worth trying in AL-only leagues while serving as the Yankees' interim fifth starter. If he impresses, he'll keep a spot over Ivan Nova or Freddy Garcia once Hughes returns.

- In a 1-for-19 slump, Brett Gardner sat versus back-to-back lefties on Friday and Saturday. The thing about Gardner is he doesn't really have a platoon split. Andruw Jones does, however, and he should be in there against most southpaws while he's swinging well. Of course, Jones can also start over Curtis Granderson versus lefties, but Granderson, who typically fares much, much better against righties, has hit all three of his homers versus lefties in the early going.

- Franklin Gutierrez's stomach issues have the Mariners befuddled, so it looks like he'll be sent to the Mayo Clinic for further tests. That means more Michael Saunders and Ryan Langerhans for the M's. Langerhans has delivered three of Seattle's seven homers, though he has just one other hit this season. He shouldn't have any lasting value in AL-only leagues. The Mariners would like to see Saunders step up in Gutierrez's absence, but it's shown little sign of happening.

- If Evan Longoria had his way, he'd return from his strained oblique this week. The Rays, though, are being careful in the hopes of avoiding a setback. Keep him reserved for now. An April 26 return looks like the best bet.

- The Rays picked Elliot Johnson over Felipe Lopez as their utilityman at the end of spring training, but Lopez, who was called up when Longoria went down, has been getting most of the time at third base and he even hit cleanup on Saturday. It'll be interesting to see what the Rays do there when Longoria returns. Johnson is out of options, and he was quite impressive this spring. Perhaps the Rays will trade Lopez. He'd be able to help the Twins and Mariners, among others. However, if the Rays are still struggling and want to shake things up, they could option Reid Brignac to Triple-A and install Lopez at shortstop.

- Vin Mazzaro's horrible Triple-A outing last week cost him his spot in Kansas City's rotation. The right-hander was sent down because the Royals didn't need a fifth starter initially, but he was so bad for Omaha that the Royals turned to Sean O'Sullivan when that spot came up Saturday. And, lo and behold, Sullivan went on to outpitch King Felix to earn a win over the Mariners. He's still not worth picking up in AL-only leagues.

- Speedy center fielder Jarrod Dyson finally got his first at-bats of the season on Saturday and went 0-for-3, though he did walk and steal his fourth base. He's everything the Royals wanted Joey Gathright to become and so much more.

- Brandon Morrow (elbow) will make one more rehab start Sunday and then rejoin Toronto's rotation next weekend. Jo-Jo Reyes will either be sent to the pen or designated for assignment.

- Frank Francisco (shoulder) finally had an encouraging rehab appearance Friday, so he's a candidate to be activated this week. Still, the Jays figure to stay with Jon Rauch in the closer's role for a while longer at least.

- With Rajai Davis (ankle) out for another week, Corey Patterson is worth using in AL-only leagues.

- Even with Davis out, the Blue Jays are running mad under new manager John Farrell. Aaron Hill already has five steals, one off his career high and three more than he had last year. Travis Snider also has five in 14 games after swiping seven bags in 159 games the previous two seasons. Snider isn't hitting yet, but if he's going to be a 20-steal guy, he'll have value in mixed leagues.


Matthew Pouliot is the Executive Editor of RotoWorld.com and has been doing the site's baseball projections for the last 10 years. Follow him on Twitter at matthewpouliot.
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