Returns of Storen, Bailey likely to make for some tough decisions
Andrew Bailey and Drew Storen could return soon after All-Star break
Justin Masteron has allowed one earned run in his past three starts
Surge of Twins' Francisco Liriano could see him become a trade target
Closers are like managers: You only spend time talking about them when things are going wrong. But don't look now -- actually, look, because it warrants mentioning -- there might actually be more success stories than disaster plans going on at the closer position.
And, hey, a pair of potential studs are on the verge of returning back from season-long stints on the DL in Drew Storen (elbow) and Andrew Bailey (thumb). It is going to be Christmas in July.
Storen is scheduled to face live hitters for the first time Friday, and Bailey is working off the mound and not far from facing live batters himself. That means two Top-10 fantasy closers could be back after the All-Star break, which is fast approaching with just two weekly lineup deadlines until we reach it.
If only these two weren't replacing two of the recent Top-10 closers ... Unfortunately, closer value cannot be created without destroying someone else, so the recently hot Tyler Clippard and Alfredo Aceves are nearing a fall -- at no fault of their own.
Clippard has emerged as the best reliever in fantasy for the past month, going a perfect 11-for-11 in save chances and allowing just one hit. (Cue Bob Uecker from Major League: "Just one damn hit?") He credits the fact his own team didn't want to unleash him as a closer until about a month ago as motivation.
"Ever since I got here in Washington as a reliever I felt like I could do the role as a closer," Clippard told a Washington, D.C., radio station. "It was just a matter of getting the opportunity. And yeah, there was some things that happened along the way that I felt like I could have stepped in and maybe gotten a couple chances to close some games, and that was frustrating, but at the same time it was a motivational tool."
Aceves, one of the early season disaster stories, has saved four games in the past 10 days and is currently tied for sixth in baseball with 18 saves to date. He isn't perfect, but in this season at the closer position, we will gladly accept what he has given us.
Despite the performances of Clippard and Aceves, they are still going to give way to Storen and Bailey, so sell now -- or ride 'em until the wheels fall off -- if you have enjoyed their runs.
Storen was about a week or two ahead of the curve, but the Nats' long-held desire to keep Clippard in a setup role will make him a quicker trigger to pull as closer once he does get activated from the DL.
"I'm letting [Clippard] have fun," Storen told The Washington Post. "It's fun to watch him. I'm glad he got the opportunity. So it's really fun to watch. He's got the mentality down."
Despite his own success, Clippard sounds resigned to returning to his setup role quickly in lieu of Storen's potential pre-break return. Aceves might last a bit longer in the closer's role. First, Bailey might not be ready until after the All-Star break, because the team wants him to throw about eight or nine rehab outings. Second, Bailey might initially return as Aceves' setup man.
It is hard to argue with disrupting the Red Sox's mojo right now in their bullpen. Boston relievers have the best ERA in the majors (1.99) since April 23. During that span, Aceves has a 1.59 ERA and has converted 15 of 16 save opportunities.
"He's done great," Bailey told Boston's SportsRadio WEEI. "Nothing wrong with what he's doing. He's shutting the door down. It's fun to watch that. It's a hard situation to jump into with me going down at the end of spring training and him fighting for that starting job and then having to go into the closer's mentality right away. He's done a fantastic job. You can't ask for anything better from him.
"They're doing a great job holding it down. I'm looking forward to joining them, hopefully soon."
Bailey will throw a bullpen session Friday before the Red Sox decide when he will face live batters. If it was up to Bailey, that would be sooner than later.
"I definitely see the light at the end of the tunnel," Bailey told WEEI. "My thumb feels great. It's 100 percent. I'm ready to get back into the swing of things."
While fantasy owners have endured the worst of the volatile closer position, the likes of Storen and Bailey will be walking into two great situations to star in the second half: closers for top contenders that will generate ample save chances, plus the support of two of the best bullpens in baseball, particularly with stud-closer-quality setup men in Clippard and Aceves.
We chronicled the early season misuse of Bard earlier this season and now it bears re-mentioning amid his struggles in Triple-A (7.36 ERA). It was reported Bard would go to the minors to work as a starter, but his past four outings have come in relief.
While the earned runs suggest he hasn't been good, he has curtailed his walks and has a strong strikeout-to-walk rate (10-2) in his 7 1/3 innings. With all this said, Bard has almost nil fantasy value as a second-half reliever, particularly with Aceves starring and Bailey on the verge of a return.
1. Justin Masterson, Indians -- He might be the most undervalued ace of fantasy baseball right now. He has allowed one earned run in his past three starts (23 innings), striking out 24 and walking just three.
2. Felix Doubront, Red Sox -- If you throw out Daisuke Matsuzaka, Doubront is the least intriguing of the Boston pitchers. He might be the most trustworthy, though.
3. Hiroki Kuroda,Yankees -- It is hard to find a Yankee that flies under the fantasy radar, but this 37-year old has pulled it off, despite a solid stretch.
4. Phil Hughes, Yankees -- He was victimized by the long ball last time out, but his strikeout and walk rates suggest his recent resurgence was legit. Expect him to bounce back against the Indians and White Sox.
5. Francisco Liriano, Twins -- The old Liriano apologist is back. The 28-year old can still make something out of this season, and his career, heading into free agency this fall. And this run makes him a candidate for a trade.
Honorable mention: The Rays' Chris Archer debuted nicely and is a solid sleeper in deeper leagues. He is a must-start in AL-only formats.
1. Daniel Hudson, Diamondbacks -- He sunk to new depths with the worst outing of his career last time out. This potential "breakthrough" season might land him in the bullpen in lieu of Trevor Bauer soon.
2. Barry Zito, Giants -- That early season success that made some think of a career revival looks like ancient history now.
3. Daisuke Matsuzaka, Red Sox -- How much longer will the Red Sox put up with his poor command and poor results in their rotation? A Kevin Youkilis trade would figure to net a Dice-K replacement.
4. Rick Porcello, Tigers -- Despite posting a quality start last time out, he did allow 10 hits and has to face the Rangers and Rays on the road. Ouch.
5. Gavin Floyd, White Sox -- He finally looked like something better than completely horrible in his past start, but he has a start at Yankee Stadium coming up.
Eric Mack writes fantasy for SI.com. If you miss his Monday baseball trends, Wednesday prospect report or Friday pitching review, you can also find him on Twitter, where you can mock him, rip him and (doubtful) praise him before asking him for fantasy advice @EricMackFantasy. He reads all the messages there (guaranteed) and takes them very, very personally (not really).
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