John Axford was a pleasant surprise for the Indians for five weeks, amassing a 2.31 ERA and going 9-for-10 in save chances. However, one bad week afterwards was enough to cost him his job, as Terry Francona made the announcement Saturday that the Indians would go to a closer-by-committee. It opens the door for Cody Allen to seize the job. Maybe.
The Indians signed Axford knowing that Allen was and likely would be their best reliever. Still, they much preferred to leave him in a setup role, in part because it would make him a lot cheaper in the long run. It had nothing to do with any fear that he’d struggle as a closer. Blessed with an excellent curve, Allen has fanned 137 batters in 114 innings as a major leaguer, including 22 in 14 2/3 innings this year. His ERA currently stands at 1.84.
An alternative to using Allen in the ninth would be to go with Bryan Shaw. Shaw isn’t quite so talented, but he has a 1.53 ERA this year. Since joining the Indians from the Diamondbacks in the Shin-Soo Choo-Trevor Bauer-Didi Gregorius deal prior to last season, he has a 2.91 ERA and a 90/31 K/BB ratio in 92 2/3 innings.
Francona alluded Saturday to having Allen continuing to come in during the seventh and eighth innings when the situation warrants. And that’s what he did Sunday, when Allen worked in the eighth and Shaw pitched the ninth against the Rays for a save. Sometimes those situations in the eighth are more important than coming in with the ninth with a lead and the bases empty. That’s the other part of what the Indians were thinking when they signed Axford; you don’t necessarily need your best reliever in the closer’s role. After all, even with his recent struggles, Axford is still 9-for-11 in save situations this year.
For that reason, I suspect Axford will eventually get the job back, even if it’s only temporary. Allen is worth grabbing in mixed leagues, but the Indians may well be better off using Shaw in the ninth, with Allen continuing to get those crucial outs leading up to the last inning. He’s not a bad flier for mixed leaguers, either.
- After doing their best to downplay concerns about Matt Wieters’ elbow, the Orioles placed him on the disabled list Sunday and he now seems questionable for the rest of the season. The fact that Wieters is a catcher complicates things. Wieters’ elbow isn’t going to be a big factor in the batter’s box, and if he were a first baseman instead, letting him DH for the rest of this year and then having him undergo Tommy John surgery in the offseason wouldn’t be a bad plan; as a first baseman, Wieters could recover sufficiently from surgery to be ready for 2015.
That’s probably not true for a catcher, though. While there aren’t many case studies here, a catcher’s need to be able to throw at 100 percent would likely preclude any such October surgery-April return. In fact, the Orioles have already identified July 1 as a deadline for Wieters and a surgery decision; they think that’s the latest they can wait and still have him be ready to catch next year. Plus, while Wieters has hit very well this year (.308/.339/.500 in 104 AB), he’s probably not good enough offensively to justify the idea of working around the surgery; the vast majority of his value comes from his ability to catch.
So, the Orioles are stuck in a bad situation. It seems like they did the smart thing Sunday and forced him to rest the elbow completely rather than continue to use him as a DH. In about three weeks, he’ll fire it up and try to return as a catcher. Ideally, the pain will go away and he’ll be able to handle a significant workload behind the plate for the rest of the season. Surgery would seem to be the more likely scenario, though.
- All of this leaves the Orioles in need of a catcher, but no team is going to want to surrender a quality starter this early in the season. San Diego’s Nick Hundley seems like the best option of those who might be available. The Padres have taken quite a liking to Rene Rivera, who can continue to split time with Yasmani Grandal there. Boston would part with Ryan Lavarnway, but he has defensive issues. Oakland’s Stephen Vogt is going unused and would be a nice choice, but the A’s value their depth and would ask for a significant return. The Twins’ Kurt Suzuki might be made available later this season, not probably not now.
- The Yankees will have to go it without CC Sabathia for a couple of weeks after he needed fluid drained from his right knee. Alfredo Aceves is expected to start in his place Wednesday against the Mets and wouldn’t be a bad play in AL-only leagues. If Aceves is especially successful, there’s the chance he could stick in the rotation once Sabathia returns. It’s already clear that Michael Pineda (shoulder) won’t be back before mid-June.
- Martin Perez’s sore elbow will give Nick Tepesch his first opportunity in the Texas rotation this year. Tepesch was off to a terrific start in Triple-A (6-1, 1.58 ERA, 41/9 K/BB in 45 2/3 IP), so it was only a matter of time for him anyway. Considering that he gets the Astros his first time out, he makes for a good pickup in AL-only leagues. I don’t think he’s mixed-league material.
- The Rangers ran out of patience with their second base situation waiting for Jurickson Profar (shoulder) to make his way back and promoted both Rougned Odor and Luis Sardinas to the majors last week. Odor has since started three of four games at second, going 2-for-12 with a caught stealing. Most likely, Odor will head right back to Double-A once Profar returns, but he should have some fantasy value until then. While Profar is stepping up his rehab by DHing in an extended spring game on Monday, he still appears to be weeks away from playing second base again.
- The Blue Jays activated Casey Janssen (oblique, shoulder) from the disabled list on Sunday and should return him to the closer’s role in short order. Perhaps he’ll set up a time or two as he gets his feet wet, but there’s no doubt the Jays will want him pitching the ninth soon.
- Between Janssen’s return and Jim Johnson and Ernesto Frieri officially regaining their jobs, it was a good week for guys who originally projected as top-20 closers.
- The Angels called up Grant Green, C.J. Cron and Efren Navarro so that .140-hitting Raul Ibanez could remain in the cleanup spot? Ummm, OK. All three of those guys can swing the bat some, but I’m not sure what the Angels are doing carrying more guys than they can play. Besides, I still think they’d be better off carrying a third catcher so that Hank Conger can DH rather frequently. In the meantime, one thing seems clear: Navarro’s callup was bad news for those who took a chance on Green, who appears slated to start only against lefties (unless maybe third base opens back up after Ian Stewart left Sunday’s game with a hand injury). Ibanez’s roster spot should in jeopardy, but probably not until Josh Hamilton (thumb) comes off the DL.
- After Anthony Bass blew his save chance Saturday, Chad Qualls converted one for the Astros on Sunday, making him the clear favorite in the ninth for now. Bass is just a middle reliever who was pressed into late-inning duties because no one else could get the job done. Ideally, Qualls will simply keep the seat warm until Jesse Crain returns from his arm woes at the end of the month or in early June. Still, Crain is far from a sure thing after missing almost an entire season.
-St. Louis left-hander Jaime Garcia (shoulder) could be back in the majors next weekend after another rehab start with Double-A Springfield on Monday. If so, he’ll replace Tyler Lyons in the rotation. The Cardinals won’t have any tough decisions to make until Joe Kelly returns from a strained hamstring, something that might not happen until June. If Garcia shows he’s healthy, then Kelly’s return could come as a reliever. Still, it’s not as if Garcia can be counted on. He makes sense as a flier in mixed leagues since he’s in such a nice situation, but it’s quite a long shot that he’ll hold up through the end of the season.
- The Cardinals bailed on the Randal Grichuk experiment pretty quickly, sending him back down to Triple-A. Interesting on the Oscar Taveras front is that he played three straight games in center field from Thursday through Saturday. He had played just four games there previously this season, none of them back-to-back. He’s also hitting quite well of late (.301/.350/.521 since April 19). Peter Bourjos had a couple of nice games last week to push his way back to the forefront of the center field mix in St. Louis (which was part of why Grichuk was sent down), but things are still pretty unsettled. Given the frequency with which Taveras is now playing center, the chances are better that we’ll see him in the majors pretty soon.
- While the Cardinals have other reasons for not promoting Taveras, the Pirates’ refusal to give Gregory Polanco an opportunity is all about money. Minor injuries to Andrew McCutchen (ankle) and Starling Marte (back) left the Pirates very short-handed in the outfield on Saturday, particularly with Travis Snider serving his two-game suspension, and the team’s response was to call up .238-hitting Jaff Decker prior to Sunday’s game. Polanco seems virtually assured of a June promotion now, but any chance of the Pirates getting desperate enough to promote him early and risk him gaining Super Two eligibility seems gone.
- Arizona’s Chase Anderson had a 5.73 ERA in 13 starts and 13 relief appearances in Triple-A last year, which got him sent back to Double-A for the beginning of this year. After amassing a 0.69 ERA in his first six starts there this season, he came up and beat the White Sox on Sunday by pitching 5 1/3 innings of one-run ball. Showing better velocity than in the past, Anderson hit 95 mph on Sunday, working comfortably at 91-94 mph. His changeup has always been his best pitch, which his curve rates as a bit below average. I don’t know that he’ll last as a starter, but as good as his changeup is, he could keep hitters off balance his first time around the league. NL-only leaguers should give him a try.
- I figured the Giants would call up Adam Duvall to help out at third base and give Pablo Sandoval starts at first while Brandon Belt missed the next 5-6 weeks with a broken thumb. Instead, they called up Tyler Colvin to see time in the outfield and moved Mike Morse to first. Colvin was hitting .267/.315/.408 overall at Triple-A Fresno, so he hardly seemed deserving. However, he did have two homers and a .986 OPS in May after going without a homer in 90 at-bats in April. Colvin is probably going to be a better NL-only play than Gregor Blanco while Belt is out, though I still wouldn’t expect much from him. The Giants will also give Buster Posey increased time at first, adding to Hector Sanchez’s NL-only value.
- The good news is that Cole Hamels had his best start since coming off the DL against the Mets on Sunday, striking out 10 and allowing one run in seven innings. The bad is that he was left in to throw a career-high 133 pitches, which is a ridiculous figure for a guy making his fourth start since returning from a sore shoulder. It’s five pitches more than he had ever thrown in a game previously and five more than any pitcher had thrown in a game this season. The Phillies have two days off this week, so giving Hamels some extra rest after the long outing shouldn’t be any problem. Still, it’s worthy of concern that it was allowed to happen in the first place.
- The Brewers lost Aramis Ramirez (hamstring) just as they’re getting Ryan Braun (oblique) back from the DL. It might be that those two will simply swap roster spots on Tuesday, though I think it’d make more sense for the Brewers to also demote Caleb Gindl and call up Hunter Morris to see time at first base, with Mark Reynolds likely to see considerable time at third in Ramirez’s absence. The Brewers shouldn’t simply default to playing Lyle Overbay at first base against right-handers when Morris could prove to be a superior option.
- Rickie Weeks must be in his own little world if he thinks refusing to give another position a try is the smart play for his career. I don’t want to let the Brewers completely off the hook here – they really should have approached him about trying the outfield in spring training – but Weeks isn’t going to interest other teams in his services if he doesn’t play and he’s not getting much playing time at second at the moment. Besides, it’s not like Weeks is even a very good defensive second baseman. If he proved average in left field, it’d help his value as a free agent this winter.
- I’m not optimistic about the Mets’ experiment of playing Wilmer Flores at shortstop will work out. As bad as Ruben Tejada and Omar Quintanilla have been, it’s hard to blame them for giving it a try, particularly in light of the hot streak Flores was on in Triple-A (he had four homers in his last five games before the callup). Really, though, they’d probably be better off with David Wright at short and Flores at third, not that they’d ever try that .Flores has some NL-only value for now, but probably not mixed-league value. He’s not likely to be an everyday guy, and while he is a pretty solid hitter, he doesn’t have enough power to make up for the fact that he’s a complete zero in steals.
- The Mets’ refusal to commit to Jenrry Mejia as a starter suggests a move is coming soon. Rafael Montero would be the obvious candidate to replace him after going 4-1 with a 3.67 ERA in a friendly hitting environment at Triple-A Las Vegas. Assuming that it happens, Montero will be worthy of a pickup in NL-only and 14-team-or-bigger mixed leagues. Those in shallower leagues should keep an eye on him, but I imagine there are better options out there for most.
- As for Mejia, I don’t think it’d be ideal to put him in the closer’s role; it’d be better to keep him stretched out as a two- or three-inning guy than to put him in a role in which he might sit for five days and then pitch in three games in a row. But the Mets might not see it my way. Those holding on to him certainly shouldn’t drop him if he switches roles; it might lead to more fantasy value in the end.
- In the meantime, Jeurys Familia seems to have stepped in front of Daisuke Matsuzaka as the current fallback to Kyle Farnsworth for the Mets. Familia has a 3.12 ERA after 17 1/3 innings, though his 14/8 K/BB ratio isn’t so impressive. On the plus side, most of those strikeouts have come lately. Also, two of the walks were intentional. I’m not any sort of huge fan, but then, I’m also not one who believes a reliever needs to be exceptional to succeed as a closer.
- With a .375 average and four homers in 56 at-bats, the Rockies’ Corey Dickerson has hit even better in Michael Cuddyer’s place than his supporters thought he would. In fact, his OPS is currently 110 points higher than Charlie Blackmon’s (1.108 to .998). Still, it’s hard to see how much good this will do him once Cuddyer returns from a strained hamstring in a week or two. The Rockies don’t think much of Dickerson as a center fielder, and he’s not going to start over last year’s NL batting champ against right-handers, even though he’s likely the better option (even if Cuddyer matched Dickerson’s production against righties, Dickerson would have quite an advantage defensively). The Rockies probably won’t be able to send Dickerson back to the minors – Brandon Barnes might be demoted instead despite his .342 average – but he’s going to lose most of his fantasy value as long as everyone else remains healthy.
- Alex Wood is expected to start against the Cardinals on Saturday after a brief trip to the bullpen, but he’s not finished with relief work. The Braves want to manage his innings anyway, and no one else in the rotation is a candidate for the bullpen. It’ll be worth holding on to him in mixed leagues, but it’s quite likely that the best part of his season is already in the books.
- Ryan Zimmerman (thumb) still appears to be at least 10-14 days away, so Tyler Moore will be needed to fill in at first base while Adam LaRoche is on the DL with a strained quad. Moore makes for a good pickup in NL-only leagues.
- Despite struggling on his rehab assignment, Aroldis Chapman was thrown right back into the closer’s role by the Reds on Sunday and struck out the side, with only a walk mixed in, for a save against the Rockies. It should be safe to drop Jonathan Broxton in mixed leagues now.
- Devin Mesoraco (hamstring) appears set to return from his second DL stint of the season Tuesday, so he can be activated in all formats.