January 29, 2013
The Keeper Reaper
Relievers for 1/29/30
Mariano Rivera | Yankees
As recently as last offseason, it was difficult to imagine Mariano Rivera as anything other than the ideal keeper candidate as far as closers go. It made perfect sense. While most stoppers have a shelf life comparable to that of an NFL running back, Mo’s run of sustained excellence more closely resembled that of a 40-something placekicker. Sure, he was bound see a decline in performance at some point, but when? Every year, we wondered: “Is this the year?” But it never seemed to arrive.
As it turned out, Rivera didn’t decline in 2012; he simply didn’t pitch much at all. A freak early-season knee injury cost Mo the majority of his campaign, leaving us in the somewhat precarious position of figuring out what to expect from a 43-year-old who won't have seen regular-season action in nearly a year by the time Opening Day rolls around.
That narrative strongly suggests we fantasy types ought to be cautious with respect to Rivera this spring. Are we really suddenly going to let a non-arm injury dissuade us from investing in a guy who had shown virtually no slip in performance through his age-42 season, though? For me, the answer is no.
The unusual nature of Rivera's injury (torn ACL) and his career trajectory make it very difficult to find a useful comparison. But by all accounts, he has been progressing nicely in his rehab and is on track to be fully ready by Opening Day. Again, this is not exactly scientific, but Mo's work ethic and natural athletic talents have always been the stuff of legend, both of which should come in handy as he tries to recapture his form.
Last season may have been Rivera's last were it not for the injury, so it's all but certain 2013 will instead be his swan song. His age and the injury give me pause, but I'm going to assume he'll be his usual self—or very close to it—until he proves otherwise. That, combined with strong job security, makes Mo an excellent keeper option one last time.
David Robertson | Yankees (Holds Leagues)
When Rivera went down last season, the Yankees first turned to Robertson, not Rafael Soriano, to take over the ninth inning. But D-Rob didn't fare well in his first post-Mo save chance, and the Bombers then pivoted to Raf-Sor, who ran with the job and never looked back. Whether Robertson was hurt (he was placed on the DL soon after), merely chose a bad time for a hiccup, or simply lacks the ‘closer mentality’ is a discussion for another day, but holds leaguers will recall that after his ill-fated stint as Yankees closer, the right-hander went on to fashion another fine season as a setup man. In 60 2/3 innings, Robertson racked up 30 holds with a 2.67 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, and a whopping 80 strikeouts.
With Rivera slated to return to his customary role as Yankees closer and Soriano having departed New York to close in Washington, Robertson is in line to once again man the eighth inning in 2013. Sure, Joba Chamberlain is still kicking around the back-end of the Yankees' bullpen, but Robertson has quietly been better and healthier than Chamberlain the past couple seasons.
Coming off two great (and mostly healthy) campaigns as he enters his age-28 season, Robertson looks to be poised for another great season of relief. With elite swing-and-miss stuff and good-enough control to go with it, he should be among the top setup men for holds leaguers to consider keeping.
Frank Francisco | Mets
Sticking with this week's New York theme, we move across town to the Mets, whose bullpen woes in 2012 were underscored by the struggles of closer Frank Francisco. The right-hander entered the season with pretty low fantasy expectations but somehow managed to disappoint even relative to that, finishing up with a hideous 5.53 ERA and a mere 23 saves while logging just 42 1/3 innings due to various ailments.
The Mets don't have to feel particularly compelled to begin 2013 with Francisco as closer, but my guess is that he'll get first crack at the job over alternatives like Bobby Parnell. Francisco was signed to be their closer, and seeing as he's slated for free agency at season's end, the Mets might look to deal him before the deadline—and thus will probably try to prop up his trade value by keeping him in the higher-leverage role.
That Francisco might actually be able to remain closer based on, you know, merit isn't entirely out of the question. From 2009-2011, he averaged over a strikeout per inning, and while control has never been his strong suit, he was right around a 3.0 BB/9 during that same three-year stretch. Those aren't eye-popping numbers by any means, but there have been useful closers with comparable or even weaker peripherals. Plus, pitching half his games in Citi Field won't hurt the extreme-fly ball pitcher either. Of course, all of that logic assumes Francisco is still within proximity of his prime at age 33 and that he'll return fully healthy from offseason surgery (to remove a bone spur from his pitching elbow), neither of which is a sure thing.
It's hardly unfathomable to envision Francisco returning to respectability as a bottom-third closer in 2013, but that's the kind of guy I'd advise grabbing as one of the last closers off the board on draft day, not one you target early on or plunk down a precious keeper pick for.