Remind me never to play cards with Dusty Baker. Fantasy owners have been trying to read his poker face all spring. Hey Dusty, you’ve been using Koda Glover in the ninth inning—is he your closer? What about Shawn Kelley? And how are those trade talks coming with David Robertson?
After a month of shrugging off questions about who would close, the Nationals manager finally showed us his cards on Thursday. M. Night Shyamalan must have penned the script to this year’s spring training because the Nationals’ closer saga had a twist ending. Glover and Kelley were both considered front-runners at different points this spring, but neither will be closing on Opening Day. Instead, the ninth-inning role will go to Blake Treinen.
Baker didn’t go with the chalk, but all things considered, Treinen isn’t a bad choice. Treinen’s numbers in the Grapefruit League were superb (0.00 ERA, 0.21 WHIP, 15.43 K/9 over five appearances) and he was quietly one of the Nats’ best relievers last year with a 2.28 ERA and a team-leading 22 holds.
Ready for some sour grapes? The Rotoworld Friends and Family League, organized as always by lead long snapper editor Pat Daugherty, reconvened last week for the start of our annual slow draft. Amazingly, it’s still going. We’re at the delirious point in the draft where guys like Clay Buchholz are beginning to look appealing. When the Treinen news broke, it gave our draft a much-needed jolt. Naturally I had just drafted Sandy Leon as my second catcher (told you things were getting bleak) and wasn’t up for another 22 picks. Needless to say, Treinen won’t be helping my fantasy squad this year.
But was Treinen the right choice? Matthew Pouliot points out that Treinen was among the best pitchers in baseball last season at preventing inherited runners from scoring (75.5 percent success rate). It takes considerable talent to pull off that kind of Houdini act but it doesn’t necessarily make Treinen the best fit for the ninth inning. If anything, Treinen’s skill set is wasted in the ninth. He’d be better suited as a hybrid in the mold of Andrew Miller, putting out fires wherever they pop up.
Editor’s Note: Sign up for Yahoo Fantasy Baseball: Get in the game and create or join a league today.
Washington’s closer conundrum began last year when the team concluded that a fading Jonathan Papelbon wasn’t cutting it anymore. Papelbon was never the most endearing clubhouse presence and the Nats probably surmised that he wasn’t a good fit after his infamous dugout brawl with Bryce Harper at the end of 2015.
Kelley filled in briefly while Papelbon sat out with an intercostal strain in June before the Nats bulked up their pen by adding All-Star closer Mark Melancon in a trade with Pittsburgh. Melancon skipped town after the season and signed a four-year, $62 million pact with the Giants, the richest deal ever for a reliever at that time. That contract was eventually eclipsed by Aroldis Chapman, who landed an eye-popping five-year, $86 million haul from the Yankees.
After unsuccessfully pursuing both Melancon and Chapman in free agency, the Nats began to monitor the trade market in search of late-inning arms. One name that caught their eye was White Sox closer David Robertson. A deal never came to fruition but it still might if the ninth inning proves to be too large a burden for Treinen.
The Nats and White Sox already have a good working relationship after trading with each other at the Winter Meetings (Adam Eaton and Lucas Giolito were the headliners in that deal). The White Sox would love to get Robertson’s bloated contract off their books and the team seems to be heading toward a full-on rebuild as evidenced by December’s Chris Sale trade and recent rumblings about Jose Quintana’s availability. Robertson has a proven track record in the ninth inning but is coming off one of his worst seasons and seems to be losing zip on what was already a pedestrian fastball. His experience is a plus but it’s hard to say if he’d be a major upgrade on the Nats’ current crop of relievers.
Anyone who closes games for the Nats is going to have significant fantasy value. The Nats are bringing back most of the same players from last season’s 95-win club and should be favorites to win the NL East for the second year in a row. It’s a dream environment for a closer and should propel Treinen to top-tier status, assuming his success as a setup man translates to the ninth inning. I just wish Dusty had told us a lot sooner.
Molina Cashes In
A lot of money gets thrown around this time of year as the end of spring training is often thought of as a deadline for contract extensions. It doesn’t have to be, but players usually tend to focus on their on-field responsibilities once the season starts. Yadier Molina is one player who’s been involved in heavy contract talks and it looks like his new deal with the Cardinals will be wrapped up in the next 24 hours. Per Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports, the three-year pact will be worth somewhere between $55-65 million. If it’s on the higher end of that spectrum, Molina will surpass Buster Posey as the league’s highest-paid catcher in annual salary.
That’s a big chunk of change for a player heading into his 14th season, but if anyone’s worth that kind of dough, it’s Yadi. Molina has been to a remarkable four World Series with the Cardinals, winning two of them with his most recent win coming in 2011. Beyond that, Molina is a seven-time All-Star and a lifetime .285 hitter with seven Gold Glove Awards. Molina’s All-Star and Gold Glove streaks both ended last year but he still finished with the highest batting average among qualified catchers (.307) while turning in another fine defensive season.
The 34-year-old is also regarded as a team leader and a mentor to younger players, a trait we saw fleshed out at the World Baseball Classic when Molina served as captain of Team Puerto Rico. When his career is over, he’ll undoubtedly be regarded as one of the top catchers of his generation. The Cardinals held a 2018 mutual option on Molina that he likely would have declined, so the new deal has to come as a relief to both sides. The veteran is now under contract through his age-38 season. Molina celebrated his new deal by homering in Thursday’s exhibition game versus Triple-A Memphis.
While the Cardinals and Molina were hammering out a deal in St. Louis, the Rangers put the finishing touches on a six-year, $49.5 million extension with Rougned Odor. It’s a big raise for Odor but could actually save Texas money in the long run. The deal covers what would have been Odor’s first two years of free agency and possibly three if his club option is picked up. If the 23-year-old continues his current trajectory, he’ll be worth far more than $8.5 million annually. Odor, who is still most famous for punching Jose Bautista so hard his sunglasses fell off, finished third among second basemen with 33 homers last year and was also fifth in RBI with 88.
We’ve seen some interesting contract quirks over the years (Bobby Bonilla’s name comes to mind) but I’m certain a team has never sweetened the pot by offering a player two horses. But apparently that’s exactly what the Rangers did to entice Odor. Who knows, maybe Mike Trout will ask for a pet tiger when it’s time for his next extension.
AL Quick Hits: Athletics manager Bob Melvin acknowledged that the team could open the year with more than one closer. Santiago Casilla, Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson are all in the running for ninth-inning work in Oakland … Despite hitting .310 with two homers this spring, Pedro Alvarez won’t be on the Orioles’ Opening Day roster. Neither will former Angels second baseman Johnny Giavotella. Baltimore’s final bench spots went to Trey Mancini and Joey Rickard … Mark Lowe wasn’t on the market for long. He signed with the Mariners Thursday just four days after getting cut by the Tigers. This will be Lowe’s third stint with Seattle … ByungHo Park wasn’t able to crack the Twins’ Opening Day roster. Park’s demotion would seem to be a clear indication that Kennys Vargas (foot) will be ready for Opening Day … Yankees manager Joe Girardi has named Aaron Judge the team’s Opening Day right fielder. The 6’7,” 275-pounder is one of the largest players in all of baseball … The Angels announced that Ricky Nolasco will get the Opening Day start Monday against Oakland. He’ll be followed in the rotation by Matt Shoemaker, Garrett Richards, Tyler Skaggs and Jesse Chavez. Nolasco had a productive spring, earning a 3.52 ERA over four Cactus League starts … Collin McHugh (arm) is headed to the 10-day DL to begin the year. He’s expected to throw around 75 pitches in an extended spring training game on Saturday and could begin a rehab assignment shortly after. If all goes well, McHugh could be back in the big leagues by mid-April … According to Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports, the Cardinals have “quietly showed interest” in Jose Quintana. The Astros and Pirates are also pursuing Quintana, who is sure to be dealt at or before the trade deadline.
NL Quick Hits: Jimmy Rollins has been informed that he won’t be on the Giants’ Opening Day roster. Rather than stick around for the team’s series against Oakland this weekend, Rollins is heading home to Florida … Will Smith underwent successful Tommy John surgery Tuesday in Los Angeles. He’s hoping to be back in the majors next May … Matt Garza was placed on the 10-day disabled list with a strained right groin. Brewers manager Craig Counsell wouldn’t give a firm timetable but said he hopes Garza will resume pitching at some point in April. Junior Guerra, Zach Davies, Wily Peralta, Chase Anderson and Jimmy Nelson will fill out the Brewers’ rotation to begin the year … Addison Russell returned to action Thursday against the Astros after missing a week with back soreness. He homered and drove in three runs. Guess he’s fine. Kyle Schwarber provided two hits in the same game while logging three innings behind the plate. That came after playing the first five innings in left field … The Rockies are going with Jon Gray on Opening Day. He’ll get the start against Milwaukee Monday at Miller Park … We only have a few sure things in life: death, taxes and bees. Speaking of bees, they were everywhere at Thursday’s Padres/Rockies game. Apparently the only way to fend off a swarm of them is by laying flat on the ground. Duly noted … Jeanmar Gomez has been installed as the Phillies’ Opening Day closer. Gomez fizzled out at the end of last year but returned to form with a dominant spring training (0.93 ERA in eight Grapefruit League appearances) … Need someone to root for this year? How about Brock Stassi? The former 33rd-round pick beat impossible odds to make the Phillies’ Opening Day roster. Watch how he reacted to the news. Incredible.