Matthew Pouliot

Strike Zone

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Mixed Notes: Hanrahan Or Bust?

Sunday, April 13, 2014


With all of the closer situations in flux, free agent Joel Hanrahan is about to become a very popular guy. According to ESPN.com's Jerry Crasnick and CBSSports.com's Jon Heyman, the Yankees, Red Sox and Mets are among those who will be in attendance when he throws for teams on Thursday. Hanrahan is currently 11 months removed from Tommy John surgery and could be back in the majors in about a month if things continue to go well in his rehab.

 

What we don't know yet is how Hanrahan will weigh the opportunity to close versus pitching for a contender. If he wants to close, then the Mets, White Sox and Rockies would be obvious destinations for him. If he's not so concerned about the possibility of saves, the Yankees, Red Sox, Cardinals, Angels and Rangers all present chances to win and still the opportunity to pitch rather late in games. Hanrahan remains on good terms with the Red Sox, but Boston would be quite the pressure situation for him to go back to; if he stumbles initially, the fans who witnessed his ugly results pre-surgery last year could turn on him quickly.

 

If I had to guess, I'd say he ends up with the Mets as the closer-in-waiting. But we'll see. He's getting close enough now that he's probably worth a speculation pickup in mixed leagues.

 

 

AL Notes

 

- Already down Jeremy Hellickson (elbow), the Rays lost their second and third starters last week when Matt Moore (elbow) and Alex Cobb (oblique) landed on the DL. Moore was definitely in the "high risk" camp entering the year after missing time with a sore elbow and losing velocity last year. It doesn't make it any less unfortunate that he's probably going to need Tommy John surgery, but it shouldn't have come as too big of a surprise. Cobb's injury, on the other hand, was only revealed after a dominant outing Saturday against the Reds in which he showed no ill effects despite apparently pitching through the strain all game long. Given the Rays' usual caution, he'll probably miss a month or more.

 

With those two out, Cesar Ramos and Erik Bedard are currently rounding out the Rays rotation. Ramos had a terrible start Sunday against the Reds in which he couldn't find the strike zone. That he gave up only four runs in two-plus innings was due largely to some disastrous baserunning from the Reds in the second. I'm typically of the mind that anyone the Rays are starting is worth using in AL-only leagues, but I'm not sure about either Ramos or Bedard at this point. Ideally, they would have been able to go to Nate Karns instead. However, he has a 13.50 ERA and 10 walks after two starts for Triple-A Durham. Former Royals prospect Mike Montgomery might be the next guy to get a look if Ramos has another bad outing. Montgomery has allowed just one run and struck out 12 over 10 innings in his two AAA starts.

 

- The Red Sox will let examinations Monday determine the statuses of Dustin Pedroia (wrist) and Koji Uehara (shoulder). Pedroia's wrist has gotten progressively worse over the last week, and while he could probably tough it out for now, it might be better if he rests it. It would be interesting to see if the Red Sox would call on top prospect Mookie Betts if Pedroia lands on the DL. The 21-year-old Betts is off to a ridiculous start in Double-A, hitting .469/.514/.750 in 32 at-bats. However, he's not on the 40-man roster and the Red Sox might decide to gut it out with their veterans if they don't think Pedroia will miss more than a couple of weeks. That would mean recalling Brock Holt to join the second base/third base mix with Jonathan Herrera and Ryan Roberts. They could also get Will Middlebrooks (calf) back in a week.

 

Uehara's shoulder is getting talked up as a minor issue, but the Red Sox would be smart to baby him, especially in light of his much, much heavier-than-usual workload last year. Edward Mujica will remain the closer in his place, if necessary. That we might not know until Tuesday whether Uehara will land on the DL makes it a really tough call whether to reserve him this week. I'd bench him if I had a closer to replace him with and probably leave him active if I didn't.

 

- While the Astros have gotten nothing from designated hitter Chris Carter, first baseman Marc Krauss and two of their four outfielders (Robbie Grossman and Alex Presley) so far, they have both Jon Singleton (.278/.395/.611, 3 HR, 13 RBI in 36 AB) and George Springer (.308/.438/.538, 4 SB in 39 AB) off to great starts in Triple-A. The expectation with Springer has always been that we wouldn't see him until early June to avoid the possibility of him becoming a super-two arbitration case. That's still the way this figures to work out. The Astros may play it safe and go the same route with Singleton, even though he's not the same caliber or prospect as Springer and they have a glaring hole that he could fill right now.

 

Unfortunately, the one "prospect" to whom they might have been willing to give an early call up, hulking designated hitter Japhet Amador, is off to a 6-for-28 start with no home runs after his abbreviated spring training. Perhaps if Grossman continues to flounder, the Astros could give Austin Wates a try and drop Presley from the roster. The 25-year-old Wates has never been looked at as much of a prospect despite hitting right around .300 every year. He's currently batting .351/.429/.568 with four steals in 37 at-bats.

 

- Back-to-back saves from former Padres starter Anthony Bass have added a new spin to the Astros' closer-by-committee. The ideal for the team has always been that Jesse Crain would return from his shoulder problems and run away with the job, though we're still at least three weeks from seeing whether that will happen. I still think Chad Qualls and Josh Fields are both better short-term bets for saves than Bass, but with so many candidates and so few opportunities to go around, no one in the group has any real fantasy value at the moment.

 

- It sure is early, but the four-year, $50 million contract the Orioles gave Ubaldo Jimenez contract is already looking like a potential disaster for the club. Jimenez's velocity is down again this year, which is no surprise given that it's dropped one mph annually since 2011. Jimenez had a fine 2013 season anyway thanks to an improved slider. However, so far this year, his command has gone from subpar to awful, and he's giving up tons of flyballs, which is a very bad thing for a Camden Yards pitcher. I wasn't recommending Jimenez this year anyway -- he was my No. 106 SP in the preseason -- but at this point, he hardly seems to be worth holding on to in AL-only leagues.

 

- It's a good thing the White Sox chose not to trade Alejandro De Aza after acquiring Adam Eaton over the winter. With Avisail Garcia (shoulder) out for the season, they have plenty of room for De Aza, Eaton and Dayan Viciedo in their outfield. Still, whether Viciedo is truly worthy of the spot is up for debate. He's hitting .310 in the early going, but he hasn't homered and he's playing his usual lousy defense. He needs to show 25-homer power to make up for his glove. Jordan Danks was recalled in Garcia's place and will probably play over De Aza against lefties, giving him a little value in AL-only leagues. Ideally, the White Sox would bring in some extra outfield help later on. Even though they've spent a number of top draft picks on outfielders in recent years, they don't have anyone in the minors likely to contribute.

 

- Matt Lindstrom's time as a closer should be coming to an end after his second blown save in three opportunities Sunday. Of course, he was a lousy solution in the first place due to his problems against lefties. Since Nate Jones (glute) is still at least a couple of weeks away, Maikel Cleto or Daniel Webb will likely get the first crack at the job. Cleto is the harder thrower, often touching 99 mph on the gun. However, even with that fastball, he's stuck out only three in his 6 1/3 scoreless innings to date. I think Webb is the better pitcher; he has allowed two runs in 7 1/3 innings, but he has the better breaking ball and superior command. My guess is that manager Robin Ventura picks Cleto first anyway. Both would be nice to have stashed away in fantasy leagues, but Cleto is probably the better bet for now.

 

- After 21 months, Colby Lewis will make his return to the Rangers rotation on Monday, replacing Joe Saunders. From the sound of things, Lewis is still feeling his way back after shoulder surgery, and given that he was an 87-91 mph guy before getting hurt a couple of years ago, he doesn't have a whole lot of margin for error anyway. Maybe he'll have some AL-only value in time, but I wouldn't want him active right away. The Rangers may not be very patient anyway; they'll have to bump someone from the Lewis, Tanner Scheppers and Robbie Ross group out of the rotation to make room for Matt Harrison (back) in a couple of weeks.

 

- Adrian Beltre's DL trip due to a quad strain will give Kevin Kouzmanoff AL-only value for at least the next 10 days.

 

- Good news for those staying optimistic about Erasmo Ramirez: his velocity was back up Saturday against the A's. It didn't result in a very good outing (three runs in five innings), but it was encouraging to see his fastball back where it was this spring (91-94 mph range).

 

- Blue Jays shortstop Jose Reyes (hamstring) will begin a brief rehab assignment Monday and should be activated Wednesday, making him an option in mixed leagues this week. J.A. Happ (back) is coming off the DL on Tuesday, but he shouldn't get his rotation spot back until someone gets hurt. Also close to returning for the Jays is Casey Janssen (back). He will pitch in a minor league game Tuesday and could come off the DL in about a week. The Jays figure to restore him to the closer's role even though Sergio Santos has excelled there so far (10 strikeouts in 4 1/3 innings!). Most likely, he'll be eased back into the job and make a couple of appearances earlier in games first.

 

- Losing Maicer Izturis to a sprained knee on Sunday would have been a bigger problem if not for Reyes's impending return. It does, however, mean that Ryan Goins will be Toronto's primary second baseman for at least the next couple of weeks. Izturis figured to steal considerable playing time away from Goins based on his hot start.

 

- Jim Johnson was impressive enough in his last appearance Friday (four strikeouts in two perfect innings) to suggest that he'll get another crack at closing duties in Oakland sooner rather than later. In the meantime, Luke Gregerson got a two-out save Saturday and Sean Doolittle pitched a scoreless ninth for one Sunday. Ryan Cook, who has been wild in two appearances since coming off the DL, was bypassed entirely against the lefty-heavy Seattle lineup. I wouldn't be excited to have any of those guys in my lineup this week, but I still see Cook as the best long-term option if Johnson falters again.

 

- David Freese has been inept both offensively and defensively for the Angels thus far, and while the team will surely have some patience after giving up Peter Bourjos and a prospect for him over the winter, they may have better options at third base. Ian Stewart homered in his place Sunday and could get more looks against right-handers going forward. Meanwhile, Grant Green is hitting .395/.426/.512 in Triple-A after also outplaying Freese all spring.

 

- Mark Teixeira (hamstring) and David Robertson (groin) are both on pace to come off the DL as soon as their 15 days are up. That would be Sunday for Teixeira and April 23 for Robertson. Shawn Kelley will continue to close in Robertson's place.

 

- While Yangervis Solarte has gotten plenty of early hype, it's Kelly Johnson quietly leading the Yankees with a .999 OPS and seven RBI (entering Sunday night's game against the Red Sox). Meanwhile Brian Roberts hasn't done anything except draw walks; he's batting .129/.300/.129 in 31 at-bats. If this keeps up, we'll probably see a lot of Johnson at second base after Teixeira returns. Regardless, though, Johnson should be in there every day, even if it's at Solarte's expense. As solid as he is against left-handed pitching, he doesn't need to be platooned.

 

- Michael Bourn (hamstring) has gone just 3-for-20 in the minors, but the Indians are set to activate him from the disabled list Tuesday anyway. That Nyjer Morgan has made such a nice case for sticking around (8-for-23, three steals) complicates matters for Cleveland. They could let Elliot Johnson go instead, but that would only delay a decision on Morgan until Jason Giambi (ribs) comes off the DL in 10-14 days.

 

NL Notes

 

- With no Ryan Zimmerman (thumb) for 4-6 weeks, Danny Espinosa is a decent middle infield option in mixed leagues. Anthony Rendon is a better one, of course. I was rather skeptical about Rendon's fantasy prospects entering the year, in large part because he seemed likely to get stuck batting eighth for the Nationals. However, with all of Washington's injuries, he's not going to find himself in that spot again for a long while.

 

- The Braves' two-man offense is working out just fine with Freddie Freeman and Justin Upton scorching the ball. I imagine we'll eventually see Andrelton Simmons, who still hasn't struck out in 35 at-bats this year, get a look in the first or second spot in the lineup. He's not an ideal solution there with his OBP, but he makes a lot more sense as a No. 2 hitter than B.J. Upton. It'll be a great thing for his fantasy value when the switch comes; he has just two runs scored and two RBI in his eight games batting eighth this year.

 

- Aaron Harang's excellent start is certainly a little fluky, but he's throwing a bit harder than usual and getting good run on his fastball, which has led to very little solid contact against it through three starts. He might be another in the long line of Braves pitching miracles, and he's worth trying in mixed leagues.

 

- Pirates phenom Gregory Polanco entered Sunday's action leading the International League with a 1.300 OPS. He's 19-for-38 with a couple of homers and just three strikeouts after 10 games. Last year, the Rays could have cost themselves a spot in the playoffs by waiting until June to promote Wil Myers. One wonders if the Pirates will take that into consideration with Polanco this year. There's no pressure on the team to promote him now with Travis Snider hitting a respectable .289/.341/.447 in 38 at-bats in the early going, but if he begins to fade and Jose Tabata continues to stagnate, the calls for Polanco will ramp up quickly. Tabata could be a nice fit in Chicago with the White Sox when the Pirates decide to make room.

 

- The Cardinals' Shelby Miller was on the overrated list going into the season, and things have gotten worse since the games started counting; his fastball velocity is down a tad, he hasn't been sharp with his curveball and he still doesn't have much of a changeup. It might not be a bad idea to trade him while he still has some value left. A rebound can't be ruled out, but I think it's more likely that he ends up spending half of the year on the DL than it is that he wins 14-15 games.

 

- Who needs Mat Latos anyway? Alfredo Simon has a 1.20 ERA in his two starts filling in for Latos in the Reds rotation. I'm not buying all of the way in, but it is pretty impressive that he's hardly lost anything off his fastball as a starter (94.1 mph average, 94.5 mph as a reliever last year), and with the Cubs up next, he makes plenty of sense as a spot starter in mixed leagues. Latos's setback means that Simon will occupy a rotation spot for at least another month.

 

- The Reds haven't had any save chances since Jonathan Broxton came off the DL on Tuesday, but he did pitch a hitless inning in his 2014 debut. It's rather likely that Broxton will get their next save chance.

 

- Jim Henderson's velocity is back up, and he appears ready to give closing another whirl. Unfortunately for him, Francisco Rodriguez has thus far allowed one hit in six scoreless innings, amassing an 11/1 K/BB ratio in the process. Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said on Opening Day that he'd go back to Henderson in the closer's role once his stuff returned, but it wouldn't make any sense to mess with what's going on in Milwaukee right now. It'll be interesting to see how it works out. Both pitchers are worth owning in mixed leagues right now.

 

- With seven walks and three hit batters in 3 2/3 innings, Jose Veras is making Cubs fans yearn for the halcyon days of Carlos Marmol in the ninth. Manager Rick Renteria was left with no choice but to pull him from the closer's role until he gets it together, and the Cubs are currently looking at a committee including Hector Rondon, Pedro Strop and maybe Justin Grimm. Strop remains the best long-term bet of that group, but Rondon has been so strong in the early going that he's likely the best bet for saves in the short term. Rondon is pretty much the reliever the Cubs wanted Veras to be; he has subpar command but good enough stuff to make up for it with his 92-95 mph fastball and slider.

 

I'd be more optimistic about Veras regaining the job in short order if his velocity weren't down, too. Maybe he's covering up an injury, but his average fastball has gone from 93.4 mph last year to 92.1 mph so far this season.

 

- All Chris Young (quad) did in the first game of his rehab assignment was go 5-for-5 with a homer and a double for Triple-A Las Vegas. With Juan Lagares playing so well, it's clear most of Chris Young's playing time will come at Eric Young Jr.'s expense. That means Terry Collins is going to have to find another leadoff man. I'd vote for Chris Young to take over the spot, but Lagares is a legitimate option, too.

 

- Jose Valverde's first blowup was a particularly bad one, what with him giving up a game-tying three-run homer to Raul Ibanez, but that's still the only damage he's incurred in 6 1/3 innings, making him safe enough for now. Gonzalez Germen is shaping up as a real sleeper there, particularly if the Mets fail to land Hanrahan.

 

- Cody Ross hit .316/.350/.368 in the first six games of his rehab assignment with Triple-A Reno. The Diamondbacks are talking about using him regularly and turning A.J. Pollock into a fourth outfielder when he's activated, though as weak as Ross is against righties, he'd be better utilized as a platoon player. Pollock isn't necessarily any better against righties, but the Diamondbacks are better defensively with him in center and Gerardo Parra in right. If Pollock does start losing at-bats, he should be dropped in mixed leagues.

 

- Cameron Maybin, who was originally expected to miss the first two months with his biceps tendon injury, is also on a rehab assignment, though he's not as close to coming back as Ross. The Padres will probably send down Tommy Medica once Maybin returns, if not sooner. Really, they should have carried Kyle Blanks over Medica in the first place. 



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 @matthewpouliot.
Email :Matthew Pouliot



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