Notes: Saves Up For Grabs

Matthew Pouliot
The Giants have acquired Andrew McCutchen, but he won't be their center fielder in 2018. Who will?

Lowdown: San Fran Shuffle

The Giants have acquired Andrew McCutchen, but he won't be their center fielder in 2018. Who will?

A bad week would never doom a hitter or a starting pitcher as good at his job as Sam Dyson has been. Still, it’s easy to understand why teams can’t let closers work through issues in the ninth inning. The Rangers clearly need to back off Dyson a bit after his third horrendous outing of the year on Tuesday. Blowing a three-run lead in the ninth to the Angels actually lowered his ERA from 36.00 to 33.00.

So, that leaves two matters for Dyson owners. First, will he turn things around over the next couple of weeks? I think so. His velocity has been down about 1-1.5 mph, but that still leaves him at 92-96 mph. He seemed to start pitching angry to Mike Trout during Tuesday’s game, with five straight fastballs right at 96 mph. That’s as hard as he’s consistently thrown at any point in his career. I think he’s losing a little sink to try to generate extra velocity, and that sink is far more important to his fortunes than an extra two mph. Still, Dyson says he’s healthy and I imagine he’ll get this worked through.

The other matter is whether he’ll get his job back if/when he resumes pitching up to his ability. That’s Jeff Banister’s call, of course. It will also probably have a lot to do with how Matt Bush, the obvious alternative given Jeremy Jeffress’s struggles, responds to pitching in the ninth. I suspect he’ll be fine; he has elite stuff and command hasn’t been any sort of issue for him since he arrived in the majors. My guess is that Dyson does reclaim the job at some point, but in the meantime, Bush is worth owning in all formats.

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American League notes

- Because of the potential for injuries, I’m always nervous to rank a catcher as high as I did Gary Sanchez this year. Sanchez, though, suffered his biceps strain while at the plate, and now he’s due to miss about a month. Sanchez was a durable player throughout his minor league career; he missed a few weeks last year with a non-displaced fracture in his thumb sustained while catching, but it didn’t prevent him from playing in 124 games. Hopefully, this one will go down as a fluke and he’ll be back with the Yankees in the second week of May. In the meantime, Austin Romine and Kyle Higashioka will catch. It’d be interesting to see what Higashioka could do -- a late-bloomer, he hit .276/.337/.511 with 21 homers as a 26-year-old in Double- and Triple-A last year -- but Romine figures to get most of the starts.

- The Yankees have opted for left-hander Jordan Montgomery as their fifth starter after he opened some eyes with a 3.20 ERA and a 17/3 K/BB ratio in 19 2/3 innings this spring. I don’t expect big strikeout numbers in the majors, but he has enough on his fastball and changeup to succeed at the bottom of the rotation right away. Mixed-league value isn’t particularly likely, not with him pitching in Yankee Stadium and the AL East. Still, he should be of use in AL-only leagues.

- I wasn’t expecting Drew Pomeranz to look like that Tuesday, just a week after some thought his entire season was in doubt. Not only was the lefty effective against the Orioles, but he touched 95 mph with his fastball, working comfortably at 90-94 mph. He’s certainly worth grabbing in any mixed leagues in which he was dropped.

- The A’s shouldn’t have needed that one bad regular-season start to realize that Jesse Hahn was a better rotation option than Raul Alcantara, but at least we’re there now. Alcantara’s future, if he has one, is in relief. I don’t completely trust Hahn, as he still hasn’t figured out just how to harness the velocity spike that’s seen him throw 95 mph consistently (he averaged 91 mph with his fastball when he came up and went 7-4 with a 3.07 ERA for the Padres in 2014). The problem isn’t the heater; it’s that he’s throwing everything else harder, too, and his curve and changeup don’t react quite the same as they used to. He’s a work in progress, but he has a whole lot of upside. He needs to be owned in AL-only leagues, and he’ll be worth watching in mixed leagues.

- Sean Doolittle was credited with Oakland’s second save of the season after pitching a scoreless ninth Monday against the Royals. It was their first save chance since Santiago Casilla was picked over Doolittle and Ryan Madson on Opening Day. So, manager Bob Melvin is staying true to his word about playing matchups early on. I still think Casilla rates as his preferred choice in the ninth for now, making him the favorite for saves, but there’s going to be more uncertainty here for a while longer.

- Collin McHugh (elbow) will miss at least a couple of months, giving Joe Musgrove a long leash in Houston. He’ll be a solid matchup play in mixed leagues. I’m sure many want to see what Chris Devenski can do in the rotation after he struck out seven in each of his first two relief appearances, and I’m right there, too. Still, the Astros seemed pretty insistent this spring that they think he’s more valuable in the pen, and it should be noted that he was awfully valuable in both of his appearances to date. I suspect that even if the Astros were to lose another starter to injury, they’d put Brad Peacock in the rotation and leave Devenski right where he is.

- Adrian Beltre’s setback with his calf will provide Joey Gallo with more of a chance to establish himself in Texas. Gallo is just 4-for-23 through seven games, but he has two homers and seven RBI. He’s also lopped a big chunk off his absurd swinging-strike rate. I don’t want to judge much based on seven games, but if Gallo can start striking out at a Chris Davis/Chris Carter rate, instead of the obscene pace of the past, the homers and walks will be there to make him a decent regular. He’s a better use of a bench spot in mixed leagues now. If he performs, the Rangers can stick him in left field and at DH after Beltre returns.

- Bruce Rondon’s weight was up, his velocity was down and he gave up a run an inning this spring. Brad Ausmus responded by handing him the primary setup role in the Tigers’ bullpen anyway, then sat back and watched as he contributed to blowing two leads against the Red Sox over the weekend. At that point, he immediately went from Ausmus’s second most trusted reliever to Toledo Mud Hen (it’ll be the fifth season in which he’s spent time in Triple-A). The good news for Rondon is that his velocity is mostly back after some alarming appearances this spring. The Tigers still badly want him to be a key piece of their pen, so he’ll be returning in a couple of weeks if he pitches well in Toledo. In the meantime, we get to see if the Tigers’ new top relief prospect, Joe Jimenez, is ready to contribute. He fanned six in two innings in his official spring appearances and also pitched three scoreless innings for Puerto Rico in the WBC. He had a 78/17 K/BB ratio in 53 2/3 innings at three levels last year. The hope is that he eventually overtakes Rondon as the heir apparent to Francisco Rodriguez’s job.

- I wonder how long the Royals will stick with Raul Mondesi at second base. He had a great spring, but he was horribly overmatched in the majors last year and he hasn’t been much better this time around, going 3-for-21 with an 8/0 K/BB ratio in seven games. He’s also been rough defensively. Whit Merrifield, a far superior player last year (and a guy I projected to beat Mondesi by 80 points of OPS this year), has opened up 5-for-16 with two homers in Triple-A. The Royals would help themselves by making the switch.

- Byron Buxton, who was so impressive in spring training that Twins manager Paul Molitor couldn’t help but bat him third, was removed for a pinch-hitter after striking out three more times Tuesday. He’s 2-for-29 with a 17/1 K/BB ratio to date. Fortunately, Buxton’s superior defense should earn him plenty of leeway during his slump; he simply doesn’t need to be very good offensively to be a useful player and the Twins’ best option in center. There’s no way he’s this bad, anyway. I don’t think he’ll hit much better than .250 the rest of the way, but he’ll get enough homers and steals to be of use in mixed leagues.

- Any chance of a quick callup for ByungHo Park vanished when he was placed on the DL at Triple-A Rochester due to a hamstring injury. He was 6-for-16 with three doubles in four games before going down.

- The Mariners will take a downgrade at shortstop while Jean Segura (hamstring) is out, with Taylor Motter assuming the role for at least the next week and a half. The injury should benefit Jarrod Dyson, who figures to lead off against right-handers until Segura returns. It makes him worth picking up in mixed leagues in which he’s available. If he can get hot, he could stay at the top of the lineup once Segura’s back.

- Encouraging is that Carlos Carrasco has shaken off his spring elbow issue and opened up with a couple of nice outings. I was fairly concerned a few weeks ago, but his command is right there and his velocity is down only a tad, which could be explained by the time off leaving him with a little less arm strength than usual. His velocity typically gets a little better as the year goes on, anyway.

List #1: Favorite players owned in less than 25% of Yahoo Leagues

1. C.J. Cron (1B Angels) - 25%

2. Brandon McCarthy (SP Dodgers) - 12%

3. Jorge Soler (OF Royals) - 19%

4. Sean Doolittle (RP Athletics) - 14%

5. Kevin Pillar (OF Blue Jays) - 12%

6. Shin-Soo Choo (OF Rangers) - 13%

7. Devin Mesoraco (C Reds) - 6%

8. Joey Gallo (3B Rangers) - 10%

9. Mike Montgomery (SP-RP Cubs) - 15%

10. Patrick Corbin (SP Diamondbacks) - 5%

I’m carrying this ranking over from last week. Graduating from the first list are No. 1 Chris Owings and No. 8 Howie Kendrick, but Cron, who fell to the 25% threshold, steps in as a new No. 1. I hate that he’s already received three days off, even with Luis Valbuena absent from the Angels, but if the team just leaves him alone, he should prove to be one of its top producers all year long. Maybe someone reminds Mike Scioscia that Cron actually had the club’s second-highest OPS last year.

Also added are Doolittle, Gallo and Corbin. Corbin just missed the first time around after impressing me this spring. His slider seems sharper than it did last year, and it can’t hurt that the team around him is a little better.

National League notes

- Jake Arrieta’s lack of velocity hasn’t stopped him from notching 16 strikeouts while winning both of his starts to date, but it’s still disturbing to see him down nearly three mph from last year. He says he’s perfectly healthy, and it should be noted that Arrieta was also significantly down in the velocity department in his first couple of starts in 2015 before settling back into the mid-90s over the subsequent few weeks. Still, Arrieta’s velocity started trending downwards slightly last May, which would seem to make a major recovery less likely. He’ll probably remain a successful starter at 90-94 mph, but he’s not going to be elite unless he gets back to 92-96 mph.

- It’s not just Arrieta: Kyle Hendricks has also suddenly lost a couple of mph off his fastball. I was confident Hendricks would remain a top-10 SP this year, but that was based on him continuing to throw 88-91 mph. Right now, he’s down two mph with both his four-seamer and his sinker. Maybe he’ll get it back, but he’ll be much more prone to the home run ball if not. It’s something to watch in the coming weeks. Fortunately, both Arrieta and Hendricks do have the game’s premier defense to fall back on while they’re not at their best.

- One big surprise is that the Cubs have already given Jason Heyward three starts in center field, doing so even though Albert Almora (5-for-8) and Jon Jay (5-for-12) are off to great starts in their limited action. Of course, playing Heyward in center does get Javier Baez into the lineup, improving the Cubs’ infield defense at the expense of the outfield. I’m sort of surprised they’re not riding Almora. I’ve been rather skeptical of Almora’s bat, but there’s certainly no arguing with his glove. He’s already made a difference there, and he’ll keep doing it, if given a chance.

- Manuel Margot has three homers in nine games for the Padres after hitting six in 124 games for Triple-A El Paso last year. That’s six homers in a crazy offensive park in an excellent offensive league (all but one of his homers came at home). It always figured that Margot would hit for some power in time, but I wasn’t expecting it now. I think the early binge is still likely to go down as something of a fluke. For what it’s worth, his average exit velocity is still quite weak. He’s showing his potential by launching a few, but it’s not going to come consistently. I’m sure he’s been grabbed in most leagues now, but I’m skeptical that he’ll be worth playing in mixed leagues for the long haul. It’ll be a different story in 2018.

- The Phillies bypassed Hector Neris and went to Joaquin Benoit after bumping Jeanmar Gomez from the closer’s role on Monday. I don’t blame them… there’s just so much financial incentive for keeping Neris out of the closer’s role as long as possible. The Phillies could try signing Neris to a long-term deal that would eliminate his arbitration years, allowing them to use him as a closer without issue. Still, there isn’t much incentive to go that route while still rebuilding. As great as Neris looks now, there’s just no telling what he’ll be in two years. Young relievers are too volatile. Benoit should be just fine in the ninth anyway, though it doesn’t seem to be his preferred role. He’ll quickly turn into trade bait if he pitches well and it’s highly unlikely that he’ll close elsewhere, so I’d say he’s quite a long shot for 30 saves. Neris still might sneak in there at some point.

- Clay Buchholz looks like a disaster with his velocity down, and I wonder just how much patience the Phillies will have with him. Zach Eflin, who is on the way back from a couple of knee surgeries, is probably first in line for any rotation openings. He pitched five scoreless innings in his first start for Triple-A Lehigh Valley. Mark Appel, who would also be in the running, walked three and gave up two runs over 4 2/3 innings in his.

- I wasn’t concerned about the Scooter Gennett acquisition having much of an effect on Jose Peraza in Cincinnati, but then I wasn’t expecting Scooter to collect three homers and eight RBI in his first 19 at-bats for the team. I’m a big believer in Peraza’s ability to amass a great deal of fantasy value if he plays, but it’s not like I’m expecting him to be a great hitter; he has very little power and he doesn’t walk, leaving his offensive game entirely dependent on his batting average. If Gennett happens to keep hitting, I wouldn’t slam the Reds should they opt to send Peraza down for a spell. I think we’re still a ways away from that scenario coming to fruition, though. The better bet is that Gennett stops hitting.

- Jose Reyes’s 1-for-27 start cost him the leadoff spot in the Mets lineup on Tuesday, as he was dropped to seventh against the Phillies. I’m not saying it’s the end of the line for Reyes, but I thought there was good reason for concern going into the year. He wasn’t really any good in 2015, when he hit .274/.310/.385 (82 OPS+) in 116 games for the Blue Jays and Rockies. He was quite a bit better for the Mets last year (.267/.326/.443, 105 OPS+), but it was just 60 games and it came with a strikeout rate that was far-and-away the highest of his career, about 50 percent higher his previous norm. This year, he’s been up there hacking away with a swinging-strike rate almost as high as Gallo’s. Reyes turns 34 in two months, and I dare say he’s an old 34, as many injuries as he’s had through the years. I’m not completely writing him off in mixed leagues, but he’s not someone I expect to have value over the entire season. He could still be a short-term option later if he regains the leadoff spot.

- Stephen Drew (hamstring) appears set to join Trea Turner (hamstring) on the disabled list for the Nationals, making Wilmer Difo the team’s shortstop for at least the next week. He’s a short-term option in NL-only leagues. Fortunately, Turner’s injury doesn’t sound very serious, and the Nationals are hopeful he’ll be back as soon as his 10 days are up.

- Matt Kemp (hamstring) landing on the disabled list already should make the Braves wish they had sprung for any kind of bench this winter. Jace Peterson and Emilio Bonifacio are their primary alternatives in left field. I don’t know why they didn’t go get Nick Franklin after the Rays dropped him. Unfortunately, Franklin ended up in Milwaukee, where the path to playing time is cloudier. Angel Pagan is still out there if the Braves are willing to meet his contract demands. They weren’t going to do that as long as their outfield was healthy.

- Milwaukee’s setup situation is one to keep an eye on. Neftali Feliz is anything but a sure thing after having some shoulder woes at the end of last season, and he’ll be a trade candidate if he stays healthy and pitches well. Corey Knebel has the former “closer of the future” tag and would be one candidate to replace Feliz if one is needed, but coming on strong is Jacob Barnes. He’s ramped up his slider usage this year and is getting a bunch of swings and misses as a result. It wasn’t a sure thing that he’d be on the Opening Day roster going into spring training, but as he continues to establish himself, it will be worth watching to see whether he can overtake Knebel as the primary eighth-inning option. Both are unscored upon so far (Barnes over 5 1/3 innings, Knebel over 4 2/3).

- It seems like Giants fans wanted nothing to do with Melvin Upton Jr. after he signed a minor league deal with the team over the weekend, but we’re talking about someone who had a fair amount of success in the NL West the last two years. Upton, 32, was worth 3.0 WAR in his 179 games with the Padres. Hunter Pence, who turns 34 today (happy birthday!), was worth 3.7 WAR over 158 games during 2015-16. Denard Span, 33, was worth 2.8 WAR in 204 games during 2015-16. As a free player, Upton is a pretty great get. He’s insurance in case Jarrett Parker fails to hit and protection in case of more injuries to Span or Pence. NL-only leaguers should stash him away.

List #2: Favorite saves sleepers

1. Matt Bush (Rangers)

2. Nate Jones (White Sox)

3. Huston Street (Angels)

4. Daniel Hudson (Pirates)

5. Hector Neris (Phillies)

6. Ryan Madson (Athletics)

7. Carter Capps (Padres)

8. Adam Ottavino (Rockies)

9. Jonathan Papelbon (FA)

10. Arodys Vizcaino (Braves)

So, the idea here was to list pitchers unowned in mixed leagues and also not currently involved in the mix for saves (which eliminates Doolittle and probably will eliminate Bush before the day is out). Jones and Madson are the only pitchers here owned in the majority of Yahoo leagues (both 58 percent). Jones would have been No. 1 on this list prior to Opening Day, in part because he’s really good but also because David Robertson is awfully likely to be traded. Madson is getting dropped in some leagues, and rightfully so, but there isn’t a whole lot of difference between him and Casilla. He’s one bad week from Casilla away from being a ninth-inning option again.

I’d prefer the Angels didn’t go back to Street, but I think there’s a decent chance they will once he shows he’s healthy. He’s owned in just 13 percent of Yahoo leagues. Considering he’s DL eligible, he should be stashed away in more leagues than that.

Capps would be higher on the list, but the odds are against him staying healthy for any length of time. I think the Padres would love to have Capps come back strong and replace Brandon Maurer, hopefully allowing him to build up some trade value and net them a nice return in July. But I wouldn’t count on it happening.

Ottavino is listed because I still think Greg Holland is an injury risk so soon after Tommy John.

Finally, I don’t want to completely write off Papelbon getting a chance to close for a bad team. I find it hard to believe he’ll go quietly off into retirement like this. His stuff isn’t nearly what it was, but he had a 2.13 ERA in 2015 and he was at 2.56 for 3 1/2 months last year before his horrible week that preceded the Nationals’ Mark Melancon acquisition. I mean, I’d probably take him over Fernando Rodney anyway.

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