Are we a little more calm yet? Do we have a better grip on reality? Has the panic level gone down? Have we moved away from the Amber Alert level? Hopefully we have because the world of closers, while still tumultuous in some parts of the country, has settled down just a bit. Here are just a few notes about some of the situations that had fantasy owners reeling just a short time ago.
At Ease, Soldier
Texas Rangers – Joakim Soria is the man and after a few early bumps in the road, he’s now thrown four-straight perfect innings with four saves and four strikeouts. Meanwhile, Neftali Feliz is hitting the minor league DL with shoulder soreness and there’s no one in the Rangers bullpen who will supplant Soria as the team’s closer. Confidence is high.
Boston Red Sox – After concerns over Koji Uehara’s shoulder sent owners into a tizzy, he’s come back and thrown three-straight scoreless innings and allowed two hits and a walk with seven…yes, seven…strikeouts. Oh yeah, and he notched two saves in that span. He remains the unquestioned closer in Boston.
Cincinnati Reds – The progress Aroldis Chapman has made is fantastic and it looks like he’s due back in mid-May. In the meantime, the Reds have finally committed to Jonathan Broxton as their guy and he’s rewarded them with five straight scoreless innings, four saves and five strikeouts. A couple of hits and walks, for sure, but nothing crazy and certainly nothing worth worrying about right now. He’ll hold the job on his own until Chapman is ready.
Cleveland Indians – In no uncertain terms, John Axford told Cody Allen owners to suck it with four-straight scoreless innings with four saves. Does he make you sweat it out with some hits every now and again? Sure. But he ain’t losing his job over it so long as he’s consistently closing out games.
Toronto Blue Jays – With Casey Janssen’s return delayed thanks to a bad back, Sergio Santos stays in as the closer. It’s still a temporary fix, but like the Reds’ situation, it’s one guy and one guy only and that one guy has at least two more weeks, minimum, of closing to do.
Still a Nightmare
Oakland A’s – I’m not exactly sure what Bob Melvin is waiting for right now, but the fact that his closer-by committee has blown four saves in such a short time span should be a big enough red flag to make the right move. And that move is to put Jim Johnson back in the role. Both Luke Gregerson and Sean Doolittle have failed in their bid to replace him and Johnson has now thrown 6.2 scoreless innings (five appearances) since being yanked from the job. Yes, he’s allowed some hits and yes, a free pass or two have been issued, but he’s rocking a sweet 65.6-percent ground ball rate with an improving 75.6-percent strand rate. Unfortunately, we have to wait until Melvin removes his head from his ass before the proper change is made.
Chicago Cubs – This one is such a nightmare that even manager Rick Renteria came out and said he has no idea who his closer is. Jose Veras hasn’t pitched since his three-run meltdown on April 20, Pedro Strop just lost it against the hapless Diamondbacks, and while Hector Rondon has been solid with his 0.79 ERA over 11.1 innings this year, he’s the only capable arm in that pen able to bridge from starter to closer. If the Cubs can find a decent arm to hold over the seventh and eighth innings, then Rondon could get the call, but Renteria doesn’t want to lose his best asset to the ninth just yet. He may have to though, because the Cubs pen is looking ugly.
Houston Astros – Well this one just makes you want to vomit. It’s bad enough that coming into the season everyone was poking fun at how few games the Astros would win this year, but now add to it a bullpen that makes you sick to your stomach and you’ve got a team destined for the basement. Not only is the committee situation a disaster for fantasy owners, but none of the options are even worth a roster spot in an AL-only format. OK, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration, but still, would you want any of these options – Josh Fields, Anthony Bass, Chad Qualls, or Matt Albers – touching your fantasy team? I think not.
Los Angeles Angels – Like I said to Jeff Mans, the biggest Ernesto Frieri fluffer I know, on the air Wednesday night, if you didn’t see this coming then your Lasik surgery didn’t take or your glasses need cleaning. He fell apart in July of last year and while he showed slight improvement over the final two months, he was still a shaky option, at best. His spring numbers were exactly the type of numbers that fantasy owners always say they don’t put much stock into yet this guy was drafted like a top-10 option. He’s going to lose his job. Trust me. Mike Scioscia is simply waiting for a few arms to return from the disabled list before he makes the move. To whom? Well, that will be covered below.
Chicago White Sox – While we may still be waiting for Nate Jones to return, life with Matt Lindstrom has certainly gotten better recently. He’s thrown seven scoreless innings in his last six appearances and notched a save in each of his last two outings. Sure, he’s allowed five hits and issued three free passes making each day on the mound an adventure, but he seems to be a little more locked in as of late. Jones is still the long-term favorite, but for now, it’s all Lindstrom.
New York Mets – So we’ve gone from Bobby Parnell to Jose Valverde to Kyle Farnsworth and that's where we stand right now. I say right now because I still see more change coming ,but for now, it’s getting a little better with manager Terry Collins stating that Farnsworth is, in fact, his ninth-inning man. He’s not an ideal man and there’s a definite handcuff not named Valverde or Vic Black to pick-up but I’ll get to him in just a few. For now, it’s Farnsworth.
For those who continue to live on the edge and like blowing their FAAB dollars on some potential stashes who could/should pan out in some fashion or another, I present to you…
Names to Keep On Your Radar
Daisuke Matsuzaka, NYM – Never in a million years did I ever think I’d be saying this guy would be fantasy relevant, but lo and behold, look who is now in the closer conversation. Wednesday, Terry Collins said that he has actually thought about using Dice-K as a closer and on Thursday, with Farnsworth unavailable, he made those word a reality. Matsuzaka has excelled in the bullpen and after Thursday’s save, he now has a 1.69 ERA with a 8:2 K:BB over 5.1 innings. Given how shaky Farnsworth can be, not to mention the reports of him flexing his forearm in the tunnel after his last outing, Dice-K is probably a must-add.
Dane De La Rosa, LAA – He’s working his way back from a shoulder issue, but is expected to be back within a week from now, maybe less. With Frieri being such a disaster, DDLR becomes the most likely candidate to replace him. He’s got a decent strikeout rate with an 11.2-percent swinging strike rate, he doesn’t give up the long ball often, and he’s got a ground ball rate in excess of 50-percent. His return could be what Scioscia is waiting for before he gives Frieri the hook.
Kevin Jepsen, LAA – He’s my dark horse candidate should DDLR have any issues with his shoulder that could push him back onto the DL or even delay his return. Jepsen has low to mid-90’s heat, a killer strikeout rate and is predominately a ground ball pitcher. He does leave a pitch or two up in the zone that finds its way into the outfield bleachers more than you’d like, but he’s been improving on that front lately. Again, this is only if DDLR doesn’t make it back….and yes, I know I’m overlooking Joe Smith. You should too.
David Carpenter, ATL – Serious mid-90s heat and a nasty slider has Carpenter as a potential candidate should Craig Kimbrel’s arm fall off. Jordan Walden has experience in the closing department and Fredi Gonzalez may prefer to leave one of his best relievers [Carpenter] in the crucial eighth-inning spot, but he did get a save a week and a half ago when Kimbrel starting complaining of shoulder pain. I’ll consider him as the primary handcuff for a long-term option even if he gets overlooked in the short-term. This one, by the way, is courtesy or our chief news guy John D. I may be great, but it's not without a fantastic team backing me.
Junichi Tazawa, BOS – While Edward Mujica was the guy called upon when Uehara was dealing with his shoulder woes, fantasy owners cannot forget that he botched it big time. He had one save against the Yankees and since then he’s allowed three runs in his last four appearances and has one blown save. Tazawa, on the other hand, has yet to give up a run in 10 innings (11 appearances) and has a 10:1 K:BB in that span. Should Uehara’s shoulder fail him again, it won’t be Mujica getting the call, it’ll be Tazawa.
Here’s the updated closer grid for you viewing pleasure…
* Denotes currently on DL, due back within a week