MLB Skinny: Grains of Salt

1st Chair: Jonathan Papelbon
2nd Chair: Keith Foulke
Skinny: While manager Terry Francona hasn't come out and called Papelbon the team's closer, the fact that Papelbon has already picked up three saves says enough. Papelbon has been near-perfect, thus far, fanning four and allowing only one hit in 4 IP. While he is clearly the closer of the moment, Foulke isn't out of the picture. Foulke has pitched a scoreless inning in each of his past two outings, including a hitless, two-K performance against Baltimore on Sunday. His fastball was clocked at 88-89 mph, which is where he was before his '05 collapse. Francona sounds like a man who is banking on Foulke being a major part of the bullpen, but we'll have to wait and see how that plays itself out once Foulke is deemed to be all the way back.
1st Chair: Dan Miceli
2nd Chair: Jesus Colome, Chad Orvella?
Skinny: Miceli, who has picked up two saves, is the team's closer, but that is far from the final word on the subject. Miceli has allowed 2 ER in 2.2 IP, thus far, and every member of the D-Rays pitching staff other than starter Mark Hendrickson and reliever Shawn Camp has an ERA of 5.40 or greater. Chad Orvella, the favorite for the job in spring training, pitched so poorly in Grapefruit League action that he was jettisoned to the minors. He'll have to rebuild some credibility before he gets back in the picture.
1st Chair: Chris Reitsma
2nd Chair: Oscar Villarreal, Joey Devine
Skinny: Reitsma has three saves, but blew a chance Sunday – he gave up two runs to San Francisco in the ninth for a 6-5 loss. Reitsma has allowed 4 runs in 4.2 IP, and given that he blew nine saves in 24 opportunities last season, he has to be considered on shaky ground. The Braves, however, don't have much in the way of replacement parts at the moment. Rookie Joey Devine has been talked about as the team's future closer, but he's been shelled for 7 runs in just 1 IP since being called up from the minors last Thursday. Villareal, who has three wins and has yet to allowed a run in his 5 IP in a set-up role, is worth speculating on if things get messier for Reitsma, but the likelihood is that the Braves are going to be willing to give Reitsma a longer leash than most. To Reitsma's credit, he's got the right mindset for a closer. "I blew it today (Sunday). That's the life of a closer," Reitsma said. "I'm ready to go tomorrow." True to his word, he closed out Philly without incident on Monday.
1st Chair: Tim Worrell
2nd Chair: Armando Benitez
Skinny: Worrell has two saves and a respectable 3.00 ERA while keeping the closer chair warm for Benitez, who is on the DL with a bruised knee. Benitez says that he'll be ready to go when his DL stint runs out on April 17. IF you've been relying on some scavenger saves from Worrell, time to start making alternate plans.
1st Chair: Mike Gonzalez
2nd Chair: Roberto Hernandez
Skinny: Manager Chad Tracy should probably be commended for using his closer, Mike Gonzalez, in the eighth inning on Sunday instead of the ninth. With lefties Tony Womack, Ken Griffey Jr. and Adam Dunn among three of the first four hitters in the eighth for the Reds, Tracy brought out the southpaw Gonzalez, who did allow a run, but struck out three batters and passed a one-run lead on to the veteran Hernandez. Hernandez closed the game out without incident, but Tracy was quick to end any talk of a closer controversy. Said Tracy, "Mike Gonzalez is going to close games for us, no question. But it made all the sense in the world for Mike Gonzalez to pitch when he did and for Roberto Hernandez to pitch when he did." Still, it does seem likely that Tracy could employ this strategy again in similar circumstances, meaning that Hernandez might have some value for those scraping the bottom of the barrel for saves.

While Chris Shelton played softball for the first week of the '06 MLB season (.536, 5 HR, 10 RBI), the rest of the league went through it's typical ups and downs. As always, The Skinny will be here (most) every Monday for the next several months trying to help you make sense of these highs and lows. With a grain of salt, let's break down what we saw in the first week:

WEEKEND UPDATE: Need-to-know info from the past few days

  • The buzz is out in full force in Detroit. The Tigers are 5-2 out of the gate, and their roster is littered with enticing young talent. As mentioned above, Chris Shelton has been crushing the ball. He's playing above his head at the moment, but he's far from a fluke. He has a sound approach at the plate, and he has the power to hit 30-plus home runs. Curtis Granderson's momentum started taking off after a strong spring, and he's already rewarded early bandwagon occupants with 2 HRs and 1 SB. By last check, he could still be had in more than 35 percent of Y! default leagues, surprising given his 20/20 potential. And Justin Verlander, the Tigers' top pitching prospect, struck out 7 and allowed just 2 hits in 7 IP in his '06 debut. With a fastball that pushes 100 mph and a supporting package of pitches (curveball, change-up) that rate as above-average, Verlander is worth the giddy excitement that is starting to orbit around him. With other power arms like Jeremy Bonderman, Fernando Rodney and Joel Zumaya, to go with veteran Kenny Rogers, this is a team that could remain on the map in reality and fantasy for the entire season.
  • It was good week for former stars bit by the injury bug in '05. Scott Rolen, Jim Thome, Jose Vidro, Shannon Stewart, and J.D. Drew have combined to go 47-for-130 (.361), with 11 HRs, 36 RBIs and 31 Runs. While Rolen, Thome and Drew were drafted in typical mixed leagues, Vidro and, to a larger extent, Stewart can still be had. Both players are as healthy as they've been in a while and have to be considered batting average locks with career averages above .300.
  • It was not a good week for those closing in on the all-time career HR mark. Barry Bonds, amid all the steroid allegations, was just 2-for-12 in his first five games, walking seven times. He has yet to drive in a run and, on Sunday, his troublesome knee acted up. Bonds was in the batter's box when he said he heard a popping sound as he was starting to stride into a pitch. The curious thing is that he didn't swing at the pitch and the replay shows that there wasn't much to the incident. But, said Bonds: "I jammed my leg down on the pitch." Asked about the pain, he said that it shot through his whole body. Bonds said it's not going to cause him to miss any time at the moment, but fantasy owners have to be cringing at the apparent brittle state that the knee is in. You can expect lots of days off for Bonds this season, one which is looking more and more like his last.
  • Notable injuries: Coco Crisp was off to a nice start in his new Boston home, but he fractured his left index finger trying to steal third base on Saturday. He's out at least 10 days, which is better than some speculation that had a one month timetable. A DL stint could ultimately emerge from this … Chipper Jones fell awkwardly while trying to field a slow roller at third base on Sunday. He wound up twisting his right knee and spraining his right ankle, but Jones' initial thoughts were that he might have torn his ACL again. While he avoided a major injury, he still dinged the ankle pretty good. He's being evaluated further, but don't be surprised if he gets a DL visit out of this. Wilson Betemit would see more time if Jones is out. … It's looking like Kerry Wood and Mark Prior could be back in a few weeks. Wood has started to throw some in his rehab, and Mark Prior is going to follow suit soon. Wood's target is probably around May 1, with Prior about a week behind Wood's schedule. … Eric Gagne had successful elbow surgery on Friday and he's expected back in 6-8 weeks. Danys Baez has control of the Dogers' closer role until his return. … Speaking of closers, Armando Benitez plans to return on April 17 when he's eligible to come off the DL. Tim Worrell has been holding down the closer spot in his absence, meaning his scavenger opportunities are going to run dry soon.

BARGAIN BIN: Top players available in 50 percent of Yahoo! leagues

  • Omar Vizquel, SF, SS
    Vizquel is off to a fast start, collecting nine hits in his first 21 ABs (.429). More importantly, however, is the three steals he's picked up, which places him second in the league behind Ryan Freel. Vizquel, who has been hitting mostly second for the Giants, is going to be 39 in a couple weeks, but he stays in great shape and has been able to maintain a 20-steal pace throughout the past few years. He's going to cool down at the plate, but probably not enough to hurt you at the SS position. And, as mentioned, he brings value most significantly on the bases.

MARKET MOVERS: Charting player values

Garrett Atkins, Col, 3B – Atkins has sizzled at the plate, going 12-for-26 (.462) to open. The best apart about his streak is that he's done his best work away from Coors Field (8-for-15, HR, 6 RBI, 6 Runs in weekend series at pitcher-friendly Petco Park).

Jason Smith, Col, 2B – Smith hit 3 HRs and went 8-for-13 against San Diego over the weekend, sending fantasy owners clamoring for his services. Nothing in his track record suggests he can remotely keep it up, but enjoy the run while it lasts.

Preston Wilson, Hou, OF – If he can take care of the knees, Wilson should enjoy the cozy confines of Minute Maid Park. He already has 4 HRs there in his first seven games as an Astro.

Hanley Ramirez, Fla, SS – In addition to his 9-for-24 (.429) start, the rookie flashed his speed with two steals. The Marlins have long enjoyed burning up the bases, which bodes well for Ramirez.

Ryan Freel, Cin, ALL – Freel's walked in all five games played, has six hits in the three games he's started, and has picked up five steals along the way. Between Tony Womack (2B), Edwin Encarnacion (3B) and the rumors that Cincy is exploring trade opportunities for Austin Kearns (OF), Freel is going to have no trouble forcing his way into the lineup if he keeps this up.

Jake Westbrook, Cle, SP – Westbrook is off to a 2-0 start with a 1.98 ERA. He figured in the decision in an amazing 30 of 34 starts last season – 15-15. He's an innings-eater who is hitting his prime and has a good offense behind him.

Brad Penny, LAD, SP – Penny gives partial credit to his hot start (2-0, 1.50 ERA, 14 K, 12 IP) to an off-speed split-finger pitch, now giving him a three-pitch arsenal.

Vicente Padilla, Tex, SP – Call him the Shelton-stopper. In addition to his two wins (3.00 ERA), Padilla was the first pitcher to hold Chris Shelton hitless.

Chris Capuano, Mil, SP – The NL's younger version of Jamie Moyer, Capuano has picked up where he left off from last year's surprising 18-win campaign. He has 14 Ks in 12 IP, picking up a win and a loss in his two outings (3.65 ERA).

Carlos Beltran, NYM, OF – Beltran has a HR and 2 SBs, but he's just 3-for-17 and is having a hard time ignoring the boos of the Shea (un)faithful.

Jeff Francoeur, Atl, OF – His 2-for-33 start only makes his .237 average in September and October of last season that much more relevant.

Brad Wilkerson, Tex, OF – A popular sleeper pick among the pundits, Wilkerson is just 6-for-35 (.171) and has just 1 BB compared to a league-high 18 Ks – just what you like to see from your leadoff spot.

Adrian Beltre, Sea, 3B – His big-time WBC performance offered hope of a rebound from his disappointing '05 AL debut. Instead, he's out to a 4-for-24 start (.167) and it sure looks like he's pressing again.

Tim Hudson, Atl, SP – So much for a healthier, improved Hudson in '06. If that's still in the cards, he'll have to make up for 11 earned runs over 8 IP combined in his first two outings.

Yahoo! Experts League Update
RotoWire_Liss is out to a big lead early with 92.5 points – 12 points ahead of his cohort, RotoWire_Schenke (80.5). Jorge Posada, Jeff Weaver and Jose Vidro were recent adds, while Wily Mo Pena, Chad Orvella and Daniel Cabrera got pink slips.

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