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May 5, 2011
Value Picks in the Bullpen
If there is anything I’ve learned from writing this piece, it’s that you never, ever need to reach for closers in the draft. Sure, you want to make sure you get at least one of the top guys if only for peace of mind, but look who we’re talking about this week. Mark Melancon? Vicente Padilla? Eduardo Sanchez? We’re only a month into the season, these guys look like they could be viable closing options, and I guarantee you no one was thinking about them at draft time. We’ll keep seeing this, too–almost certainly, later in the season at least one arm will get ninth inning duties who you’ve never even heard of right now.
Joining the Party
Mark Melancon, Astros (0.0 percent ESPN / 3 percent Yahoo)
The main problem for Houston, however, is that there is no obvious option to replace Lyon, like there was when he stepped in for Matt Lindstrom last season. Wilton Lopez briefly made an appearance on this list last year thanks to an absurd ten-to-one strikeout-to-walk ratio, but even then he was only striking out 6.7 per nine innings. Lopez got off to a slow start this year before missing several weeks with a sore elbow and only returned yesterday, so it seems unlikely he gets thrown into the role. The other Houston options, like Enerio Del Rosario, Jeff Fulchino, and Fernando Abad, leave a lot to be desired.
All of which leaves former Yankee farmhand Melancon, acquired in last year’s Lance Berkman deal, as the possible closer-by-default. He is almost certainly not as good as his 1.72 ERA suggests, though he has managed to get through 17 of his 19 games without allowing a run. By the standards of the current Houston bullpen, that counts as extraordinary work.
[UPDATE: Based on two tweets from Alyson Footer, Astros Sr. Director of Social Media, Houston manager Brad Mills has announced that Lyon is suffering from biceps tendonitis and is headed for an MRI. More relevant to you, Mills also said that Melancon will get the first crack at the 9th innng. That means there's now a closer available in over 99% of leagues, and that makes him worth a pickup, immediately.]
Eduardo Sanchez, Cardinals (10.5 percent ESPN / 15 percent Yahoo)
It was Sanchez who got the call for the save on Tuesday, after Salas pitched the fifth and sixth innings in relief of Kyle McClellan, and he has been the favorite around here due to his excellent strikeout numbers (18 in 11 innings). That said, if LaRussa’s actions have proven anything lately, it’s that he is going to go with the hot hand. This is the definition of closer by committee (and heaven help me, I haven’t even talked about Miguel Batista yet), so don’t expect anyone to claim for themselves soon. Still, Sanchez has good swing-and-miss stuff and the opportunity for saves, so he is absolutely worth owning until the situation sorts itself out somewhat.
Vicente Padilla, Dodgers (3.6 percent ESPN / 13 percent Yahoo)
But much has changed in Los Angeles over the last week. Broxton continued to struggle, getting lifted in the ninth on Tuesday after throwing eight straight balls, and has now been shut down with elbow discomfort. (A disabled list stint is uncertain, but likely.) Kuo returned seemingly prematurely from his own injury concerns, inspiring no confidence by retiring just one of the five Padres he faced on Sunday, and the Dodgers recently shipped Kenley Jansen to the minors, despite a historic strikeout rate.
Padilla has been effective, though not dominating, in his return from arm surgery, and with the Dodger bullpen facing the troubles they are, that is good enough. Padilla is still freely available in nearly every league, however, and that is a fact which ought to change soon.
Darren Oliver, Rangers (19.6 percent ESPN / 13 percent Yahoo)
Antonio Bastardo, Phillies (4.5 percent ESPN / 8 percent Yahoo)
Chris Sale, White Sox (10.8 percent ESPN / 30 percent Yahoo)
Koji Uehara, Orioles (3.8 percent ESPN / 23 percent Yahoo)
AL Deep Value Pick
Grant Balfour, Athletics (0.1 percent ESPN / 4 percent Yahoo)
NL Deep Value Pick
Mike MacDougal, Dodgers (0.1 percent ESPN / 0 percent Yahoo)
But this is also a Dodger bullpen in trouble, as I outlined above in the Padilla section. With Broxton hurt, Kuo unreliable, and Jansen shipped out, the pickings are slim for nights where Padilla is either unavailable or ineffective. Lance Cormier is failing at even the modest mop-up task which is his charge, and Matt Guerrier & Blake Hawksworth are (rightly) not viewed as closer types. MacDougal comes with both a shiny–if completely unsustainable–ERA of 0.87 and the label of “closer experience”, thanks to three previous seasons of twenty or more saves. I’m not arguing that MacDougal has stumbled into some newfound effectiveness–he hasn’t–but if it’s not all that hard to see a scenario where he is getting ninth inning looks in Los Angeles soon. If you’re dumpster diving in the sub-one percent barrel, that kind of prospective opportunity is all you can ask for.