Matthew Pouliot

Strike Zone

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The Closer Merry-Go-Round

Monday, June 24, 2013


There has been no quick resurgence for Tom Wilhelmsen in Seattle. After going 29 appearances without allowing a homer, he's given up bombs in back-to-back outings. Oliver Perez picked up the first save in Wilhelmsen's place, but Yoervis Medina got the second. On Saturday, when the Mariners had the opportunity to bring in Perez or Carter Capps to pitch the ninth in a two-run game, they decided to stick with Medina instead and he finished up with 2 1/3 scoreless innings in a victory. That'd seem to bode well for him.

 

With a 95-mph fastball and a quality slider, Medina possesses closer-type stuff should his control improve. He's walked 13 batters in his last 16 2/3 innings, and he's had issues there dating back to his minor league days. I still like Capps better for the long haul, but Medina seems to be the guy to own at the moment, with Perez also a possibility for more saves. Wilhelmsen isn't to be written off, but no longer is he just two or three strong appearances from getting his job back.

 

AL Notes (Rotoworld MLB news - Rotoworld on twitter - Matthew Pouliot on twitter)

 

- I liked the way the Tigers handled the whole Jose Valverde ordeal. He was hardly a disaster in the closer's role; 9-for-12 saving games isn't great but it's not terrible either and two of those blown saves came in games in which he allowed just one run and then went into extra innings. Still, it wasn't worth sticking with Valverde any longer; without the quality splitter, he was a poor bet going forward. The key for Jim Leyland now is not burning out Drew Smyly and Joaquin Benoit before the Tigers get some help, whether it takes the form of Al Alburquerque and Bruce Rondon proving useful late in games or if it comes from a couple of outside acquisitions. My guess is that the Tigers trade for a closer next month and put Benoit back into a setup role. Rondon remains interesting, but if the Tigers thought he was ready, they would have recalled him by now. As for Alburquerque, even if he starts racking up outs like he did the last two years, he just doesn't seem to inspire much faith from Leyland.

 

- After trying Junichi Tazawa earlier when Andrew Bailey and Joel Hanrahan were out, the Red Sox made the call for Koji Uehara in the ninth inning in place of the struggling Bailey this time. I think that's the better choice, not so much because Uehara is better than Tazawa (though I think he is, if only by a little) but because it frees up Tazawa to work in tie games and get four or five outs sometimes. Uehara is pretty strictly a one-inning guy anyway. Bailey will get the job back if he can turn it around over the next couple of weeks. The Red Sox had no choice but to pull him, but he is a pretty good bet to rebound if he stays healthy. Pick him up if he gets dropped in your league.

 

- It'd be an easier call for the Red Sox to demote Will Middlebrooks if they didn't jettison Pedro Ciriaco earlier this month. Still, the team really has to play Jose Iglesias regularly while he's performing like this, and it would make more sense to get Middlebrooks regular action in Triple-A than to start him twice per week in the majors. If the Red Sox do make the switch, either Brock Holt or Drew Sutton would come up. Holt has the advantage of being on the 40-man roster, but he's been a disappointment in Triple-A. Sutton is hitting a little better and has much more experience at third base than Holt.

 

- I fully support the Rangers' decision to try Jurickson Profar in the outfield; the time for the Rangers to move Ian Kinsler to left field or first base is next spring, not now. I don't get why they didn't send Profar down to Triple-A for a couple of weeks so that he could both learn left field and get regular at-bats, but apparently they think they can better teach him in between games in the majors. Once Profar shows he's ready to play left field in games, David Murphy figures to lose at-bats.

 

- I thought Martin Perez should have gotten the call for the Texas rotation when Alexi Ogando (shoulder) originally went down. Now he is up at Josh Lindblom's expense, and he might take Nick Tepesch's spot once Ogando returns. He's worth a try in AL-only leagues.

 

- The Astros couldn't have appreciated Bud Norris wistfully telling FOXSports.com's Jon Morosi that he'd love to pitch for the Giants. Not that it really changes much; the Astros have been open to moving him for the right package since last winter and odds are that he departs in July or in the offseason. Besides Norris, the Astros will also likely put closer Jose Veras up for bids. Lucas Harrell is more likely to stay; he's cheap and durable, but he's not going to be a high priority for any contender.

 

If Veras goes, Hector Ambriz could get the first shot at the closer's role, though he hardly inspires much confidence. Rule 5 pick Josh Fields probably has the most upside in the pen, and he's pitched surprisingly well since coming off the DL (2 ER, 1 BB in 6 1/3 IP). Still, control is quite an issue there. Jose Cisnero has been the Astros' best reliever of late, but he's more of a middle man. Ambriz is probably the one to have stashed away in AL-only leagues.

 

- The Twins have called on top prospect Kyle Gibson after he went 7-5 with a 3.01 ERA and a 79/28 K/BB ratio in 92 2/3 innings for Triple-A Rochester. He was 3-0 with a 2.08 ERA in June. This is Gibson's first full year back from Tommy John surgery, so he is on an innings limit and he'll probably be shut down for the final month of the season. He could have value in AL-only leagues until then, and he's worth a pickup now. I don't think he's a great bet for shallow mixed leaguers; my guess is that he'll post an ERA right around 4.00.

 

- Aaron Hicks (hamstring) will begin a rehab assignment on Tuesday and could come off the disabled list this weekend. I'm hoping the Twins will keep Oswaldo Arcia this time around. Chris Parmelee seemed to be the leading candidate for demotion, but then he went and hit two homers Saturday in his first start in six days. How Parmelee performs this week could determine whether he, Arcia or Clete Thomas is the choice to go.

 

- It seemed like Josh Hamilton's wrist injury would have been a good excuse for the Angels to stash him on the disabled list for a couple of weeks, but they opted not to take it. After an improved May in which he hit .237/.315/.495, he's back down to .171/.200/.343 for June. It sounds like he'll be back in the lineup on Tuesday after getting a cortisone shot for the wrist, but mixed leaguers will likely want him benched this week.

 

- Jered Weaver's velocity perked up a bit in his first outing back from a broken left (non-pitching) elbow, but it's slipped some since. In Friday's loss to the Pirates, he averaged 87 mph with his fastballs while giving up four runs and two homers in six innings. He's now lost three starts in a row, giving up four or five runs in each, after two fine outings when he first returned. Since the arm strength isn't getting any better, it seems unlikely that he'll be a top-25 starter the rest of the way. I'll probably have him in the 30s in the July rankings next week.

 

- Even worse news for the Angels rotation was the loss of Jason Vargas to a blood clot. Before going down, Vargas had turned in nine quality starts in his previous 11 tries. He went at least seven innings and allowed two runs or fewer in seven of those games. Jerome Williams is back in the rotation in his place, and Joe Blanton no longer has much to worry about as far as losing his spot.

 

- The Indians got Nick Swisher (shoulder) back in the lineup on Sunday, pushing Mark Reynolds to third base and Lonnie Chisenhall to the bench against a left-hander. Chisenhall, who is 3-for-13 with no RBI since his recall, still has a chance to secure some playing time against right-handers, but the Indians aren't likely to show much patience with him after his previous struggles. If Chisenhall can establish himself, then Reynolds should lose playing time against righties. Reynolds hasn't shown any signs of breaking out of his horrific slump.

 

- Chris Perez (shoulder) believes he's ready to come off the DL and reassume the closer's role. He seems assured of getting his job back. The Indians could also activate Asdrubal Cabrera (quad) next week.

 

- The Orioles should have Brian Roberts (knee) and Wei-Yin Chen (oblique) begin rehab assignments this week, but neither will return until early July. Nolan Reimold (hamstring) might be activated in the second half of the week, but he's been struggling in the minors. Travis Ishikawa hasn't made much of an impression yet and was never a very good bet in the first place, so he's the top candidate to get the heave-ho when Reimold is activated.

 

- I thought the Royals would finally demote Mike Moustakas to make room for Jarrod Dyson on the roster, but they chose Chris Getz instead. Not that I'm complaining. Moustakas is finally showing signs of life, with four straight two-hit games. He still hasn't homered in six weeks, but it's a start. Getz's exit means more playing time for Elliot Johnson at second. The Royals will have to be in the market for a starting second baseman next month.

 

- It sounds like the red-hot Blue Jays will get Jose Reyes (ankle) back on Thursday. They're carrying 13 pitchers at the moment, so they'll just send down a reliever to make room. Brett Lawrie (ankle) would seem to be about two weeks away, and there probably won't be any space for Munenori Kawasaki once he comes back.

 

- Mike Morse's strained quad frees up more at-bats for Raul Ibanez and the newly activated Franklin Gutierrez in Seattle. It's a good thing for Michael Saunders than Morse's injury coincided with Gutierrez's return or he could have been in line for a demotion from the starting lineup. He's been slumping for seven long weeks now.

 

- Wil Myers' first career homer was a grand slam off CC Sabathia. The question with him, though, is whether he'll hit righties. So far, he's 4-for-19. The Rays didn't call him up to platoon him, and he deserves at least a month worth of regular at-bats before any judgments are made. However, it will be something to watch.

 

- The Yankees are out looking for lightning in a bottle, so it looks like Zoilo Almonte will be worth using in AL-only leagues this week. He shouldn't have any long-term value at all, but he can play left field over Vernon Wells for now.

 

NL Notes (Rotoworld MLB news - Rotoworld on twitter - Matthew Pouliot on twitter)

 

- Is Ryan Howard back? None of his three homers last week were cheapies; two of them topped 400 feet and the other was 382. He also had two doubles and a triple. Besides the extra-base hits, the strikeouts are down slightly and the walks are up. He seems to be running a little better, and if his legs are strong, that could explain the power surge. Howard can't be penciled in for 20 homers in the Phillies' final 86 games, but it's possible he'll get there. 15 seems likely anyway. Unfortunately, that still might make him nothing more than a two-category player. Even with Domonic Brown lighting it up behind him, Howard has scored a mere 30 runs this year.

 

- If only both Uptons could play well for the Braves at the same time. After hitting just .211 with two homers in May, Justin, dealing with a sore hand, is down to .205 with one homer in June. B.J. has found his stroke, hitting .258/.364/.500 for the month, but the Braves offense simply has too many players struggling at the moment. The team should go ahead and suggest that Dan Uggla get his LASIK surgery now. It will cost him two or three weeks, but he's not helping at the moment anyway and maybe he will later if he gets his eyes fixed. Jason Heyward finally seemed to turn it around in the first half of June, only to drift back into another mini-slump. The good news there is that he's not striking out overly much. Most likely, he will warm up again soon, but since he can't drive in many runs batting second and he's not stealing bases at all, his fantasy stock is down. I'm not particularly worried about Justin.

 

- The Diamondbacks would be crazy not to give Heath Bell a break from closing after he gave up a homer in a fifth straight appearance Saturday, but then, Kirk Gibson is a little crazy. David Hernandez is a threat for saves in Arizona this week, but if J.J. Putz proves his elbow is sound, he'll get his job back soon after coming off the disabled list next week. Bell is worth holding on to in most formats right now, but that could change as soon as Hernandez picks up a couple of saves and reestablishes himself as the fallback to Putz.

 

- At this point, Ryan Braun's thumb seems like an even bigger worry than the threat of the Biogenesis-related suspension. He may choose to rest until the All-Star break, giving Logan Schafer an extended look in left field for Milwaukee. After a couple of nice games in Braun's place, Schafer entered Sunday in a 1-for-22 slump. He's still a solid choice in NL-only leagues, but he's in danger of losing at-bats to Caleb Gindl if this keeps up.

 

- The rush to get Francisco Rodriguez his 300th career save would seem to suggest that his career is just about over, but I don't see why that'd be the case. The big reason he was unwanted in the offseason was the ugly domestic-violence issues. Unfortunately, now that's he's gotten another chance and is capitalizing, his history will be overlooked by contenders in need of a bullpen boost. The Brewers intend to proceed with Jim Henderson as closer, though a couple of blown saves could change that. It's a good bet that either John Axford or Rodriguez will be traded next month. Maybe both will depart. Axford has been terrific of late, but he's making $5 million this year and the Brewers aren't going to want to give him a raise in arbitration this winter.

 

- Another reliever that seems likely to go is the Cubs' Kevin Gregg. Of course, the Cubs would prefer to move Carlos Marmol, but that figures to be hard to pull off until Marmol goes on a real tear. Gregg took his first loss Saturday, but he's still a perfect 11-for-11 saving games with a 1.11 ERA and a 26/7 K/BB ratio in 24 1/3 innings. What contenders have to be wondering is whether he'd be as effective in a setup role, occasionally coming in with men on base. I have my doubts. If the Cubs do trade Gregg, they could give Marmol one last chance in the closer's role in spite of the extreme evidence this year that he's much better setting up. Given that pitching the ninth wasn't such a hurdle for him in the past, it could be worth another try. It's not as though the Cubs really have much to lose. He's gone at season's end anyway, and they don't have anyone else ready for the opportunity.

 

- The Cubs finally dropped Starlin Castro in the lineup earlier this month, only to move him right back up to the two hole again for no good reason. He actually went 2-for-25 in his seven games batting seventh. Overall, he's batting .138 this month. He's struck out 17 times since he last drew a walk, and he hasn't homered since April 30. In other words, Castro is incredibly fortunate not to be in Triple-A right now. The talent hasn't gone anywhere and he can probably still snap out of it at any moment, but it's time to wonder if this is going to be a lost year for the 23-year-old.

 

- Matt Kemp (hamstring) went 0-for-5 with four strikeouts for Triple-A Albuquerque Saturday in the first game of his rehab assignment. The Dodgers thought he might need just three or four games in the minors, but if the first was any indication, it's going to be a while longer. Mixed leaguers should keep him reserved this week. NL-only leaguers with poor alternatives can activate him. Carl Crawford (hamstring) is still a couple of weeks away, so there won't be any Yasiel Puig-Andre Ethier competition for playing time immediately after Kemp returns.

 

- The Cardinals soured on Tyler Lyons, but instead of going right back to Michael Wacha, they'll try Joe Kelly as their fifth starter for a bit. Certainly, it didn't make sense to jerk Wacha around any more than they already have. Kelly will work fine as a stopgap, and Wacha will probably get his extended look come late July or August. Wacha is at a modest 75 innings for the season right now, and with Triple-A Memphis going to a six-man rotation, his innings will continue to be monitored. Of course, Carlos Martinez can't be forgotten about either; he's getting stretched back out and is another promising rotation possibility for St. Louis. In the meantime, Kelly is a decent play in NL-only leagues.

 

- Wandy Rodriguez (forearm) had a successful rehab start in Triple-A on Sunday, allowing one run in four innings while throwing 73 pitches. The Pirates could activate him to start Saturday, though they don't need to with both Gerrit Cole and Charlie Morton throwing well. For all of his success so far, it's still possible that Cole will be sent back to Triple-A to make room for Rodriguez. He's the better bet than Morton going forward, but the Pirates could better save Cole for late in the year if they option him down now.  

 

- The Padres have four of their eight regulars on the DL, yet are playing pretty good baseball anyway. Credit depth like Kyle Blanks, Chris Denorfia, Alexi Amarista, Logan Forsythe and now Pedro Ciriaco. Second baseman Jedd Gyorko (groin) is the Padres' lone starter due back this week. Forsythe will probably play some outfield once that happens. Shortstop Everth Cabrera (hamstring) could return when eligible on July 2. Ciriaco is starting for him.

 

- There hasn't been any decision yet on who will replace Clayton Richard (shoulder) in the Padres' rotation Wednesday. They've talked about easing Tyson Ross back into the rotation, but they may not be ready to try it yet. Robbie Erlin and Burch Smith are alternatives. Erlin is the most intriguing pitcher in that bunch, and he'd be worth trying in deeper mixed leagues if he gets the nod.

 

- If the Mets had sent Ike Davis down in mid-to-late May when it made the most sense, odds are that he'd be back up by now. As is, it looks like he'll probably be back next weekend anyway. He's hit .310/.463/.690 with an 11/12 K/BB ratio in 42 at-bats for Las Vegas. Of course, that's a great place to hit, but all four of his homers came on the road (albeit in Tucson, another fine park for hitters). When the Mets moved Lucas Duda to first base, it was supposed to be a sign that Davis would hang around in Triple-A for a month or two. However, since Duda is on the DL with an intercostal strain, there are no obstacles to his return.

 

- Now that the Mets are giving Eric Young Jr. an audition in the outfield, Juan Lagares or Kirk Nieuwenhuis could be demoted soon. Mixed leaguers in serious need of steals could take a flier in Young. I wouldn't suggest him otherwise.

 

- The Nationals insist that they're going to take it easy with Bryce Harper's knee, so don't expect him back this week. He's on schedule to begin a rehab assignment Wednesday.

 

- Dan Haren is set to land on the DL with a sprained cutter, probably putting Ross Ohlendorf into the rotation. If so, Ohlendorf rates as a strong NL-only play.

 

- With a 1.97 ERA after five starts, the Marlins' Jacob Turner is back looking like the pitcher I was hoping he'd be this season prior to his spring meltdown. His velocity is up some over the second half of last year (he's averaging 92.7 mph with his fastball), and while his strikeout rate isn't very impressive so far (5.6 K/9 IP), he's getting plenty of swings and misses. I'm nervous about giving him a strong recommendation, especially since wins will be so hard to come by, but the talent is there.

 

- The good news is that the Giants are set to get Pablo Sandoval (foot) back on Monday. He went 4-for-6 with two homers in the first two games of his rehab assignment. The bad is that Angel Pagan (hamstring) now seems likely to undergo surgery and miss a couple of months. It's not a lock yet, but it seems like the best course. Strong-armed Juan Perez appears set to get more playing time than Andres Torres in center field going forward.

 

-Arizona is all set to activate Aaron Hill (hand) from the disabled list on Tuesday. The Diamondbacks also expect to have Trevor Cahill on the mound Tuesday after he left his last start with a bruised hip.

 

- The Rockies' Corey Dickerson would have been an interesting addition in NL-only leagues had Dexter Fowler's finger forced him to the DL, but Fowler is playing through his injury, leaving Dickerson without much to do. Dickerson will probably get whatever outfield starts that don't go to the top three. That should have been Tyler Colvin's role, but he has zero hits and 10 strikeouts in his last 17 at-bats.

 

- Rafael Betancourt is hopeful of coming off the disabled list Thursday, but he may set up for a couple of appearances before going back into the closer's role. Rex Brothers has been lights out while filling in for him, and he any sort of slump from Betancourt could get Brothers the job on a permanent basis.



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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