Perhaps no situation this year will be more fluid than late-game usage.
On Monday, that fluidity was highlighted when two of the league's premier teams revealed the guy closing games for them on Opening Day might not be the one we've been expecting.
In Houston, Astros manager Dusty Baker said it will probably be reliever Ryan Pressly, not 2019 American League saves leader Roberto Osuna, who will get the first save chance for the club this season. Osuna is not injured, Baker assured, but he's also not in game shape, having not yet faced hitters during Summer Camp.
It's unclear how long Pressly might hold the job, but he's a must-add in the short term. Pressly is and has been one of the game's preeminent relievers, posting a 2.32 ERA, 0.90 WHIP and 34.1% K% in 54 1/3 innings last season. He was so dominant that he was named an American League All-Star last year as a middle reliever.
On the National League side, the Cardinals threw everyone a proverbial curveball when manager Mike Shildt hinted that Carlos Martinez's occupation of a starting spot would push newcomer Kwang-Hyun Kim out of the rotation -- and likely into the closer role. Cardinals manager John Mozeliak had previously mentioned reliever Ryan Helsley by name when talking about the closer gig, and Giovanny Gallegos was arguably the Cardinals' best high-leverage reliever last year.
Kim, who turns 32 years old on Wednesday, had a long and successful career in the Korean Baseball Organization before signing a two-year, $8 million deal with the Cards this past winter. He went 136-77 with a 3.27 ERA in parts of 12 seasons, but relief isn't an area in which he's particularly well-versed -- just 22 of his 298 career appearances in the KBO came out of the bullpen.
Regardless of history, possession (of a role) is nine-tenths of the law in fantasy baseball, making Kim the player to roster in the Cardinals' bullpen until otherwise noted. As of late Monday the southpaw was rostered in just 20 percent of Yahoo leagues.
Puk Sidelined Again by Shoulder Strain
There are guys who can't catch a break. And then there's A.J. Puk.
Puk, one of the most exciting young pitching prospects in the game since the Athletics made him the No. 6 overall pick in the 2016 MLB Draft, was angling toward beginning the upcoming abbreviated season in the A's rotation before news came Monday that he'll begin the year on the injured list with a left shoulder strain. A's manager Bob Melvin told reporters there's no timetable for the southpaw's return to the club.
“It’s frustrating for him,” Melvin said. “He went through this in spring and we thought this period of time off would benefit him. It did to a point, and then throwing in a game the other day, he felt it to the point where we cut off his third inning.”
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Puk left A's camp Monday to visit shoulder specialist Dr. Neal ElAttrache in Los Angeles. He was previously sidelined during spring training for the shoulder ailment but came into Summer Camp, as it's been termed, feeling healthy and ready to go.
Unfortunately, it's the latest in a string of frustration and disappointment for the 25-year-old. In 2017, Puk was shooting up the minor league ranks and appeared on the cusp of making his major league debut at some point in the 2018 season before Tommy John surgery ended that campaign before it started. Puk returned from the surgery last season and did make his MLB debut in August, posting a strong 3.18 ERA with 13 strikeouts in 11 1/3 innings of relief.
With a full offseason and a chance to enter camp healthy, Puk was primed to occupy a rotation spot for the A's. As of now, though, his next start -- which will also be his first start in the majors -- is on hold indefinitely.
In his place the team will insert Daniel Mengden into the rotation. Mengden had some moments as a starter last season and made an adjustment to his windup that had Melvin expressing confidence in him as a fill-in, but the right-hander isn't a fantasy consideration outside of deep AL-only leagues.
“It’s great to have this kind of depth,” Melvin said. “Mengden looked great. He threw four innings last time out and didn’t give up any runs. He’s tweaked some things in his delivery and looks more aggressive. It’s nice to have that depth, but we don’t want to get too deep into that too early in this season.”
Those rostering Puk in leagues with few bench spots or no IL slots should not hesitate to drop him if the need arises. Fantasy players in leagues where they have the luxury to wait a few days, when we should know more about his outlook, should hold him for the time being where possible.
Rendon Iffy For Halos' Opener
As we can now count down to Opening Day in hours, not days, some answers about players' readiness for the start of the season are coming into focus.
A rather big one in Anaheim -- not the biggest fish, mind you, but a big one -- may not have enough time to get on the field for that opener.
Anthony Rendon, who tweaked his oblique during a swing in an intrasquad game last Wednesday, is still experiencing soreness and his status for Opening Day is in doubt. Angels manager Joe Maddon on Monday said Rendon is "a little sore right now" and that he "needs a couple of days to get that out of there."
“All I know is that he’s sore today,” Maddon said. “Those types of injuries are so unpredictable, and I really don’t like to give finish lines for injuries. All In know is he’s more sore today, and with that, he really had to back off his work.
“On the surface, it would appear he’ll have to be pushed back. Knowing him, he’ll want to play that first game. I can’t tell you for sure he’ll be out of it yet. He’s very motivated. He just has to get past the soreness.”
Obliques are notoriously fickle injuries and aren't to be taken lightly, especially in a 60-game season where every missed day counts. In light of that, it's hard to know what to make of Rendon's situation, especially when Maddon won't rule out the possibility Rendon will require a trip to the 10-day injured list.
Rendon, of course, is a sought-after fantasy player this summer after he put up a bananas .319/.412/.598 line with 34 homers, 126 RBI and 117 runs scored for the Nationals last season. This year will be his first with the Halos, sharing a lineup with the likes of Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani, among others. The 30-year-old is regularly going as high as the second or third round of fantasy drafts this season.
This injury complicates things for those drafting in the next few days. While nobody is sounding alarms, there doesn't seem to be a lot of clarity coming from Rendon or the Angels on his timetable, either. Those considering targeting Rendon in the early part of their drafts would do well to monitor news out of Anaheim in the coming days.
National League Quick Hits: Brewers placed LHP Brett Anderson on the 10-day injured list with a blister on his left index finger. The blister opened up on Anderson's throwing hand while he was working in intrasquad game last Wednesday in Milwaukee, and it appears that he will not be ready to make his first scheduled regular season start on Saturday against the Cubs. Corbin Burnes seems like the best bet to fill in versus Chicago, so if you need a streamer for the short week he's a must-add ... Chris Paddack has been confirmed as the Padres' Opening Day starter Friday versus the Diamondbacks. Dinelson Lamet will work the second game and Garrett Richards will go third. Paddack, 24, delivered a sharp 3.33 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, and 153/31 K/BB ratio over his first 140 2/3 major league innings (26 starts) last season and should be a top-20 fantasy starter during MLB's planned 60-game 2020 campaign ... Brewers manager Craig Counsell indicated Monday that Ryan Braun might not be ready for Opening Day. Braun has yet to play in summer camp due to various aches and pains including his back, oblique, and neck. He's simply running out of time to be ready, though it sounds like his absence would be brief if he misses Opening Day. Still, it's not what you want to hear ... Aaron Nola will start Opening Day against the Marlins on Friday. It's an easy call, though it looked in some doubt earlier this month after he was exposed to someone with COVID-19 and had to be late to camp. Nola threw 62 pitches in an exhibition start against the Nationals on Saturday as he continues to ramp things up. This will be his third straight Opening Day assignment ... Nick Castellanos (back) worked out on Monday and said he's ready for Opening Day right now. We are too, Nick. We are too. Castellanos didn't play Saturday or Sunday intrasquad games after he was hit in the back by a pitch and felt some tingling in his fingers, but the Reds have downplayed any long-term concerns. All signs point to him being ready ... Brandon Belt (heel) will open the 2020 season on the injured list. Belt has been bothered by heel soreness for most of summer camp and is still limited in what he can do with Opening Day fast approaching. Evan Longoria (oblique) will also be placed on the injured list. Those two were lined up as the likely No. 2 and No. 3 hitters for new Giants manager Gabe Kapler ... Mookie Betts launched a three-run homer in a 12-1 rout of the Diamondbacks on Monday in exhibition play. Betts launched his three-run shot off of Taylor Clarke in the second inning. The former Boston superstar has made an impact in both exhibition contests against Arizona; going 2-for-3 with a double and scoring two runs on Sunday. You have to invest early to pick up Betts, but his ability to help in every category makes him worth that early investment ... Reds released INF Derek Dietrich. Dietrich had an opt-out clause in his minor league contract. He was recently reassigned to the Reds' alternate training site after arriving late to camp due to a positive COVID-19 diagnosis. Another team will likely pick him up as depth at the very least.
American League Quick Hits: Griffin Canning fired six scoreless innings with five strikeouts in an exhibition start against the Padres on Monday. Canning allowed just three hits and walked two. The 24-year-old battled elbow trouble in the first version of spring training, but he certainly looked healthy on Monday, and reminded that he was considered one of the better pitching prospects in baseball coming into the 2019 season. Canning should open the year in the rotation for the Angels, and he should provide some value in deeper formats ... Yoan Moncada (COVID-19) played five innings at third base and singled in a run Monday against the Cubs. Unless something changes, Moncada should be in the Opening Day lineup for the White Sox, though he probably will get some days off in the early going. ... Tigers reassigned RHPs Casey Mize, Matt Manning, Tim Adleman, Nolan Blackwood, Alex Faedo, Zack Hess, and Alex Lange, LHP Hector Santiago, Cs Dillon Dingler and Brady Policelli, INFs Frank Schwinden and Spencer Torkelson, and OF Riley Greene to the team's alternate training location. Manning, Greene, and Torkelson are the other high-profile names involved here. None of them are particularly surprising, though it's hard to argue Mize isn't one of the Tigers' best starters right now. We know why he isn't breaking camp with the team, but he has a strong chance to pitch for the big club this summer ... Pirates president Travis Williams confirmed in a statement Monday that his team is working with the Blue Jays and MLB on the possibility of hosting Blue Jays games at PNC Park this year. The Canadian government has officially rejected the Blue Jays' request to stage home games in Toronto this summer amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Here is part of Williams' statement: "In an effort to help in the return of the game we all love, we continue to have active discussions with Major League Baseball and the Toronto Blue Jays organization regarding the possibility of hosting home games for the Blue Jays at PNC Park this season. This will be a monumental challenge for our staff, but leaning in to help others is what Pittsburghers do best."