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May 23, 2012

Value Picks

Relievers for 5/23/12

by Dan Mennella

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The closer carousel has stabilized a bit over the past week relative to its frenzied early-season pace, so we’ll have to dig a little bit deeper to find some new relievers of interest…

Departures
When Chris Sale’s short-lived tenure as White Sox closer ended after one relief appearance early this month, Robin Ventura suggested he’d be relying on a ninth-inning committee of Addison Reed, Matt Thornton (Yahoo! 29%, ESPN 8.4%, CBS 13%), and Hector Santiago (Yahoo! 14%, ESPN 9.8%, CBS 14%). Only Reed has seen a proper save chance since then (he’s 4-for-4 on the month), however, and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to justify rostering either Thornton or Santiago. There’s still a chance one of them might scoop up an odd save based on matchups, but it’s probably best to just move on.

The vultures were circling the Marlins’ bullpen a couple weeks back as Heath Bell’s struggles became painful to watch, but not much came of it other than a stray save for Edward Mujica (Yahoo! 6%, ESPN 1.4%, CBS 8%) during Heater’s very brief sabbatical. Mujica hasn’t even been the best reliever in Miami’s ‘pen this year—that title belongs to Steve Cishek (Yahoo! 18%, ESPN 6.5%, CBS 23%). Neither looks like a worthwhile own right now, though, as the Marlins are committed to keeping Bell in the ninth, results be damned. Bell has strung together a modest four-outing scoreless streak (over 3 2/3 innings), which doesn’t sound like a lot but is nothing short of a Herculean feat considering where he was three weeks ago. It should buy him some leash, and the Fish seem eager to afford him that.

Arrivals
The Cubs’ bullpen is in dire straits these days, creating a fairly open path back to the closer’s role for Carlos Marmol (Yahoo! 39%, ESPN 25.1%, CBS 32%) if he can get healthy and resolve his eternal mechanical issues. The former shouldn’t be an issue—he’s currently rehabbing a hamstring strain—but the latter always is. The Cubs say Marmol will pitch as a setup man upon his return, but they will likely attempt to trade him this summer, so a quick return to reasonably effective closing would serve to boost his blown-out value. Rafael Dolis has done a nice smoke-and-mirrors job en route to four saves (4.86 FIP vs. 3.75 ERA), but he seems destined for a couple flop outings, which could coincide nicely with Marmol’s return. Car-Mar is far from a diamond in the rough, but there are worse Hail Marys for desperate owners. Stash him on your DL and see how it goes.

Despite pitching well enough to have closed for a couple years now, Tyler Clippard (Yahoo! 27%, ESPN 14.9%, CBS 18%) was usually “relegated” to a hybrid long/setup relief role. But with Drew Storen injured and Henry Rodriguez struggling, Clipp may finally get the call, despite Davey Johnson’s insistence that he’s going with a committee. The right-hander has 19 one-inning appearances on his ledger this year, so the Nats appear to have revised their approach in handling him, with former starter Craig Stammen manning Clippard’s old role. A conservative estimate would put Clippard among the top half of closers should he get the gig, so snatch him up now in case he does. Storen, by the way, is tentatively due back sometime around the All-Star break.

Incumbents/Last Chance
Blue Jays closer Sergio Santos is now throwing on flat ground, but his return from shoulder inflammation looks to be two-to-three weeks off, an estimate that doesn’t even account for possible setbacks. In the meantime, Casey Janssen (Yahoo! 36%, ESPN 39.5%, CBS 36%) makes for a fine fill-in stopper. Since his appearance in this space last week, Janssen turned in two scoreless outings and picked up one save. His ownership rates will see a spike once he nets another save or two.

As outlined above, Reed (Yahoo! 44%, ESPN 42.6%, CBS 55%) is the guy you want to own in the White Sox bullpen. A six-run meltdown is to blame for his 4.05 ERA, but his 2.13 FIP paints a far rosier picture. Add him now if you still can.

As with Janssen, the Padres’ Dale Thayer (Yahoo! 46%, ESPN 59.4%, CBS 49%) is keeping the seat warm for a household name, in this case Huston Street. Thayer has been lights-out, poaching five saves in as many chances across 10 scoreless innings, and with Street’s return from a strained lat still a couple weeks off, Thayer makes for a nice short-term own with the possibility of more saves.

Fantasy types remain skeptical of Brian Fuentes (Yahoo! 41%, ESPN 40.1 %, CBS 44%), as evidenced by his modest ownership rates despite his solid performance and relative job security. I can’t blame them, really, because to own Fuentes is to eventually be burned by him, but sometimes you’ve got to ride the hot hand in the name of saves. In the past week, the lefty has made three scoreless appearances, earning two saves in the process.

AL-Only
Admittedly, Joaquin Benoit (Yahoo! 18%, ESPN 7.9%, CBS 18%) was a sharper add last week than he is now, with Jose Valverde once again available after resting a balky back. I’d like to see Valverde string together a few clean saves before we officially declare him “back” (relative to his usual production), so I’d hold onto or add Benoit in AL-only formats.

NL-Only
OK, so maybe I’m cheating here. Sean Marshall (Yahoo! 52%, ESPN 52.9%, CBS 50%) is owned in roughly half of fantasy leagues, but that figure is on a sharp decline with Tulip List Chapmania sweeping through the fantasy landscape. Indeed, Aroldis Chapman was finally named the Reds’ closer, but I see a value opportunity here; there’s still some debate as to whether he can actually pitch on back-to-back and three consecutive days. Marshall will continue to be dropped in the coming days, but he could be vulturing saves more often than we think if Chapman isn’t able to meet the bell.

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