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July 11, 2012

Value Picks

Relievers for 7/11/12

by Dan Mennella

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It’s been awhile since we last spoke, as this column was shelved last week in observance of Independence Day. But its return coincides with the beginning of the nominal second half, which should soon bring at least one or two bullpen shakeups as the trade deadline looms.

Arrivals
While the Heath Bell horror show continues, Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen has finally conceded that a change is in the works. Of course, he wouldn’t be Ozzie if he didn’t confuse the heck out of us in the process. First, he touted Juan Carlos Oviedo (Yahoo! 6%, ESPN 1%, CBS 7%) as a “co-closer” when he returns from suspension for identity fraud. Then, he declared that he’ll be employing a closer-by-committee when the second half kicks off. The two things aren’t mutually exclusive, of course, but that leaves us with a lot of possibilities.

For now, I’m not really buying the committee suggestion; the Fish tried that briefly in May during one of Bell’s wretched slumps, and it lasted all of one week. If you want to take it at face value, though, I’d start with Steve Cishek (Yahoo! 10%, ESPN 3%, CBS 11%) and hope that he gets the first shot, converts, and then runs with the job. There’s a good chance Ozzie plays the matchups, though, in which case we could see LOOGY Randy Choate and others sprinkled in. So if you can’t be bothered with the committee but are intrigued by the prospect of Oviedo’s return, he could be worth a stash in deep leagues or standard 12-teamers with roomy benches. Nothing’s promised on that front considering the former Leo Nunez hasn’t pitched in the bigs in nearly a year, but he does have the all-important closing experience and a heck of a story.

From the Marlins’ battered bullpen, we move onto the Astros’. Hey, I never promised you a rose garden. In the event that Houston GM Jeff Luhnow should offload closer Brett Myers to some contender in need of bullpen help (perhaps as a swing man?), I like right-hander Brandon Lyon (Yahoo! 1%, ESPN 0%, CBS 2%) to take the ninth-inning reins for the Astros. Lyon, too, has the aforementioned closing experience on his resume, and that ought to be enough to distinguish him in a relief corps consisting mostly of no-name types—with all due to respect to my fantasy team’s namesake, Fernando “Breaking” Abad. There’s no guarantees for Lyon, of course, but those in deeper leagues in particular will want to take note. Worst-case scenario: Lyon isn’t closing on August 1, in which case you cut away.

As with Lyon, the Padres’ Luke Gregerson (Yahoo! 3%, ESPN 1%, CBS 4%) may see a sharp uptick in ownership as the trade deadline draws near. Incumbent closer Houston Huston Street figures to draw plenty of interest from suitors seeking bullpen help. Gregerson was actually passed over in favor of Dale Thayer earlier this season during Street’s stay on the disabled list, but their fortunes have mostly gone in opposite directions since then, leading me to believe that Gregerson and his superior stuff would get first crack in the event Street is sent packing. After a weird and injury-riddled 2011 in which his strikeout rate declined precipitously, Gregerson is more closely resembling his 2009-10 self this season. If you need saves or a play in a deeper league, Gregerson has plenty of upside.

Incumbents
In his final outing before the All-Star break, Jose Valverde put up an absolute dud: two hits, two walks, and three earned in one inning. The Tigers have been defiant in standing by Papa Grande, but I believe Joaquin Benoit’s (Yahoo! 18%, ESPN 5%, CBS 14%) time will come. In the meanwhile, he’s putting up terrific numbers.

Twins closer Matt Capps is due back from the disabled list soon after the All-Star break (if not Minnesota’s first game), but I’m firmly suggesting owners hold onto Glen Perkins (Yahoo! 17%, ESPN 19%, CBS 18%) and/or Jared Burton (Yahoo! 12%, ESPN 11%, CBS 10%) until Capps has been activated and reinstalled as stopper. That’s always a good rule of thumb when deciding whether to hold or drop interim closers. Remember, too, that Capps is a trade candidate, so I wouldn’t argue with you if you held onto either Perkins or Burton until August 1.

J.J. Putz put together a nice run before the break, not allowing a run over his final six outings prior to the Midsummer Classic. But Putz’s lengthy injury history is well-documented, so let’s hold onto ace setup man David Hernandez (Yahoo! 11%, ESPN 4%, CBS 12%) for another week or two and see what shakes out. If nothing else, he should continue to put up nice ratios and an excellent strikeout rate.

Since our last VP Relievers column, Craig Stammen (Yahoo! 7%, ESPN 1%, CBS 5%) hit a bit of a rough patch, allowing runs in two of his final three outings prior to the break. Still, he finished the first half with a 1.74 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 47 strikeouts, and seven holds in 46 2/3 innings. Those are numbers that, when combined with those of our other beloved long man, Matt Belisle (Yahoo! 4%, ESPN 0%, CBS 3%)—1.93 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 40 strikeouts and 11 holds in 46 2/3 innings—result in a heck of a “two-in-one ace.”  It’s not a strategy you carry into draft day, but when injuries happen and you don’t want to pay top dollar for a conventional number-one or -two starter, it’s something to consider.

Departures
Too many fantasy owners got hip to Mets interim closer Bobby Parnell (Yahoo! 30%, ESPN 46%, CBS 34%) for him to remain in this space, but it looks like his days as New York’s stopper may soon end with Frank Francisco now on a minor league rehab stint. It’s too bad for Parnell’s owners that he had just two saves through the All-Star break, but he certainly hasn’t hurt anyone’s ratios in the meantime. As with Perkins/Burton, I strongly recommend holding Parnell until Francisco has returned and been reinstalled as closer.

AL-only VP
Kyle Farnsworth’s disastrous outing before the break should leave Joel Peralta and Jake McGee (Yahoo! 2%, ESPN 0%, CBS 3%) as Tampa’s number-one and number-two setup men for Fernando Rodney on any given night, depending on matchups. McGee has struck out more than a batter per inning this season, and he figures to add to his holds total in the second half as he further distinguishes himself as a major leaguer and sees more high-leverage opportunities.

NL-only VP
Braves setup man Eric O’Flaherty (Yahoo! 6%, ESPN 0%, CBS 2%) has quietly amassed 15 holds this season while taking over eighth-inning duties for the ineffective (and now disabled) Jonny Venters. O’Flaherty, a lefty like Venters, should have first dibs on closing on days when Craig Kimbrel is unavailable.

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