While we're all twiddling our thumbs waiting for a major trade to go down, there are a couple of interesting closer situations brewing around the majors.
Santiago Casilla blew his fifth save in his last seven chances last night against the Braves by giving up a game-tying two-run homer to Brian McCann in the 10th inning. He ended up getting the win after the Giants rallied for six runs in the top of the 11th, so it wasn't a complete lost cause for fantasy owners, but manager Bruce Bochy said after the game that he will consider making a change at closer.
Sergio Romo (Yahoo: 39 percent owned, ESPN: 22.6 percent) is unquestionably the best pitcher in San Francisco's bullpen and could get some save chances in the days ahead, but the Giants have been reluctant to give him a full-time crack at the closer role, likely because they don't want to risk the health of his throwing elbow. Jeremy Affeldt (Yahoo: 1 percent owned, ESPN: 0 percent) and Javier Lopez (Yahoo: 1 percent owned, ESPN: 0.2 percent) are also options, but probably only in certain matchups. With that in mind, I wouldn't be surprised if the Giants end up acquiring a reliever (Brett Myers, Francisco Rodriguez, Huston Street, Jonathon Broxton, Grant Balfour or Brandon Lyon, just to name a few) before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.
Nationals' closer Tyler Clippard has also looked a bit vulnerable recently, albeit to a lesser degree. The bespectacled right-hander blew a save Tuesday against the Mets by giving up a three-run homer to Jordany Valdespin and while he bounced back to notch a save on Wednesday, he served up solo homers to David Wright and Jason Bay.
Clippard still owns a 2.83 ERA and 51/17 K/BB ratio this season and is 15-for-17 in save opportunities, so he deserves some rope here, but it's worth noting that the Nationals activated Drew Storen (Yahoo: 67 percent owned, ESPN: 50.3 percent) from the disabled list on Thursday morning. Storen saved 43 games last year while posting a 2.75 ERA, so he could find himself back in the closer role if he bounces back from elbow surgery and/or if Clippard continues to scuffle. While Storen is over my 50 percent ownership threshold for the purposes of this column, he may still be available in some shallow mixed leagues.
Ben Sheets SP, Braves (Yahoo: 29 percent owned, ESPN: 25.1 percent)
I'll be honest when I say that I snickered a bit when I saw the Braves had signed Sheets. I mean, we're talking about a guy who hasn't been effective since 2008 and sat out all of last season recovering from major elbow surgery. However, I'm happy to eat some crow here, as the 34-year-old right-hander allowed just two hits over six shutout innings in a win over the Mets on Sunday. Sheets is a poor bet to hold up physically and had a 4.53 ERA over 20 starts with the A's during his last stint in the majors back in 2010, but he's worth a flier in most mixed fantasy leagues.
Brennan Boesch OF, Tigers (Yahoo: 29 percent owned, ESPN: 23.9 percent)
It looks like Boesch is on one of his patented streaks again. The 27-year-old outfielder went 2-for-3 with two doubles, two RBI and a run scored in Wednesday's win over the Angels and is hitting .395 (15-for-38) with two homers, five doubles and 11 RBI in 11 games this month. While Boesch has been a disappointment to those who were counting on him as a sleeper this season, he should be started in fantasy leagues as long as he's swinging a hot bat.
Francisco Rodriguez RP, Brewers (Yahoo: 41 percent owned, ESPN: 25.3 percent)
After John Axford blew his sixth save of the season on Monday night, Brewers manager Ron Roenicke announced that "The Ax Man" was being pulled from the closer role and Rodriguez would get a chance to fill in. K-Rod has saved two games since then -- and boy were they an adventure -- but he managed to get the job done. In other words, it's not unlike most of his other save opportunities over the years. It's unclear whether this is just a temporary move, but even if it is, Rodriguez could find himself closing games if he is dealt to certain contenders in advance of the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.
Jayson Werth OF, Nationals (Yahoo: 44 percent owned, ESPN: 29.6 percent)
Werth was well on his way to a rebound season before he broke his left wrist while trying to make a sliding catch against the Phillies back on May 6. However, he managed to take a full round of batting practice for the first time on Wednesday and is expected to begin a minor league rehab assignment Friday with High-A Potomac. This puts him on pace to rejoin the Nationals in the early part of August. It's fair to wonder if the wrist will affect his power the rest of the way, but he should still be stashed on a DL spot in most formats.
Steve Cishek RP, Marlins (Yahoo: 23 percent owned, ESPN: 23.4 percent)
Last week I recommended Juan Carlos Oviedo as a possibility to take over the closer role from the struggling Heath Bell in Miami, but he sprained the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow during a minor league tuneup game over the weekend and is considered doubtful to pitch this year. While left-hander Michael Dunn notched a save on Monday and should get a look in certain matchups, Oviedo's injury clears the way for Cishek to lead Ozzie Guillen's closer-by-committee. The 26-year-old right-hander has a 2.08 ERA, 39 strikeouts over 39 innings and a ground ball rate of 55.3 percent this season. He's plenty worthy of your attention.
Lorenzo Cain OF, Royals (Yahoo: 10 percent owned, ESPN: 7.8 percent)
I mentioned Cain in Waiver Wired about a month ago just as he was beginning a minor league rehab assignment, but it seems he is still flying under the radar in many fantasy leagues. It's time to change that. The 26-year-old center fielder is batting .474 (9-for-19) with two homers, two doubles, six RBI and six runs scored in six games since returning from the disabled list last week. With his speed and surprising pop, there's still time for him to justify his status as a draft day sleeper.
Cody Ross OF, Red Sox (Yahoo: 33 percent owned, ESPN: 44.5 percent)
Ross' ownership numbers took a bit of a tumble after Jacoby Ellsbury and Carl Crawford returned from the disabled list, but fantasy owners would be wise to take another look. The 31-year-old had a huge game Wednesday against the White Sox, slugging two homers and driving in six runs as part of a 10-1 victory. While the Red Sox outfield is pretty crowded right now, David Ortiz's stint on the disabled list should provide some short-term flexibility out of the DH spot. Ross is best utilized in a daily league, as he figures to get most of his at-bats against left-handed starting pitchers.
Jeff Samardzija SP/RP, Cubs (Yahoo: 36 percent owned, ESPN: 29.1 percent)
It looked like Samardzija was hitting the wall in his first season as a starting pitcher in the major leagues, but he has turned things around a bit recently. The 27-year-old right-hander tossed six innings of one-run ball in Wednesday's win over the Marlins and has a 2.37 ERA and 24/6 K/BB ratio in 19 innings across three starts this month. The Cubs could decide to shut Samardzija down at a certain point later this summer, but he should remain a fine source of strikeouts in the interim.
Jared Burton RP, Twins (Yahoo: 12 percent owned, ESPN: 6.2 percent)
Matt Capps went back on the disabled list this week with rotator cuff issues and Twins general manager Terry Ryan admitted Wednesday that the veteran right-hander could be shut down "for a while." This means we'll continue to see Burton and Glen Perkins handle the late innings. Perkins is the superior pitcher and has the higher strikeout rate, but as I said a few weeks ago, Burton gets a slight edge here because he throws from the right side. If you have any doubts, just look at how Ron Gardenhire used them in Tuesday's game. Still, both should be owned if you need saves.
Alexi Amarista 2B/SS/OF, Padres (Yahoo: 13 percent owned, ESPN: 36.6 percent)
There's no telling where Amarista will play on any given night, but he continues to hit no matter where the Padres put him in the lineup. The diminutive utility man is hitting .390 (23-for-59) with four home runs, four doubles, 16 RBI and two stolen bases over his last 16 games and has raised his season batting average from .222 to .298 in the process. While the Padres value his versatility, he has made a strong case to start over Everth Cabrera at shortstop. With his speed and multi-position eligibility, he's well worth snagging if you need a MI (middle infielder) option.
Geovany Soto C, Cubs (Yahoo: 24 percent owned, ESPN: 12.4 percent)
Soto's struggles have led to Steve Clevenger taking away some at-bats against right-handed pitching, but the past few days have provided reason for optimism. The 29-year-old backstop had a go-ahead single in Wednesday's win over the Marlins and is hitting .346 (9-for-26) with one home run, two doubles and four RBI over his last seven games. Soto hasn't crushed southpaws this season like he usually does, but at least he has a lengthy history of doing so. With his value at rock bottom, he makes for a nice gamble in deeper leagues and two-catcher formats.
Shopping at the five-and-dime:
(Players owned in less than 10 percent of Y! and ESPN.com leagues)
Todd Frazier 3B/OF, Reds (Yahoo: 7 percent owned, ESPN: 4.5 percent)
Joey Votto is expected to miss three to four weeks after undergoing surgery Tuesday to repair the torn medial meniscus cartilage in his left knee. While this is a crushing blow to the Reds as they try to keep pace in the National League Central, the injury opens the door for Frazier to play regularly at first base. The 26-year-old has managed to remain under the radar in fantasy leagues, despite hitting .277/.343/.554 with 10 homers, 30 RBI and an .896 OPS in 216 plate appearances this season. Scott Rolen isn't exactly the model of durability at this point of his career, so Frazier has a good chance of keeping his value even after Votto returns.
Anthony Gose OF, Blue Jays (Yahoo: 5 percent owned, ESPN: 1.6 percent)
Another player getting a shot due to injury, Gose was called up from Triple-A Las Vegas this week after Jose Bautista was placed on the disabled list with left wrist inflammation. Ranked as the game's No. 39 prospect on Baseball America's midseason list, Gose was hitting .292/.375/.432 with five home runs, 18 doubles, 10 triples, 29 stolen bases and an .808 OPS through 92 games this season prior to his call-up. The 21-year-old outfielder has a penchant for the strikeout, so his first stint in the majors could be a bumpy ride, but his speed makes him worth a flier for anyone on the lookout for stolen bases.