Fantasy baseball Weekly Planner: Prep for closer woes
Opening Night is Christmas for baseball fans, but it's also a day to cringe. Every season starts with the same issues for the closers, particularly the lower-end ones.
The first few weeks of the season -- for the past few seasons, the first few months -- usually aren't kind for baseball's closers. There are a number of reasons for this, but it might lead you to avoid trusting your late-inning stoppers in fantasy.
In rotisserie leagues, you will want to sit your lower-end closers for starting pitchers, or even middle relievers, in Week 1.
See, Spring Training does a lot of things to get players ready for the regular season. It weeds out the banged-up arms, the out-of-shape hitters and the hangers-on of baseball. It cannot replicate real-game, regular-season, late-inning pressure situations.
That takes weeks, or months, and closers tend to crumble all around us. The first Fantasy Baseball Weekly Planner of the season starts by handicapping the season-opening closers by tiers and level of risk.
1. Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta Braves
2. Aroldis Chapman, Cincinnati Reds
3. Mariano Rivera, New York Yankees
4. Rafael Soriano, Washington Nationals
5. Jonathan Papelbon, Philadelphia Phillies
1. Fernando Rodney, Tampa Bay Rays
2. Jim Johnson, Baltimore Orioles
3. Joe Nathan, Texas Rangers
4. Sergio Romo, San Francisco Giants
5. Joel Hanrahan, Boston Red Sox
6. Ernesto Frieri, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
7. Greg Holland, Kansas City Royals
8. Huston Street, San Diego Padres
9. J.J. Putz, Arizona Diamondbacks
10. Grant Balfour, Oakland Athletics
1. John Axford, Milwaukee Brewers
2. Tom Wilhelmsen, Seattle Mariners
3. Chris Perez, Cleveland Indians
4. Addison Reed, Chicago White Sox
5. Mitchell Boggs, Arizona Cardinals
6. Steve Cishek, Florida Marlins
7. Jason Grilli, Pittsburgh Pirates
8. Rafael Betancourt, Colorado Rockies
9. Glen Perkins, Minnesota Twins
10. Bobby Parnell, New York Mets
Setup man/heir apparent listed in parenthesis:
1. Carlos Mármol, ChicagoCubs (Kyuji Fujikawa)
2. Brandon League, Los Angeles Dodgers (Kenley Jansen)
3. Casey Janssen, Toronto Blue Jays (Sergio Santos)
4. Phil Coke, Detroit Tigers (Joaquin Benoit, Octavio Dotel and Al Alburquerque)
5. José Veras, Houston Astros (Josh Fields and Wesley Wright)
So long Ides of March, welcome to Opening Day -- and beware of the closer implosions.
The Marlins pulled a shocker this weekend, calling up Jose Fernandez to the starting rotation amid some injuries to their starting rotation. Fernandez, a high-school pick out of Tampa in 2011, hasn't pitched above Single-A ball; however, he did pitch a combined 14-1 with a 1.75 ERA and 158 strikeouts in 134 innings last season.
Since the Marlins are rebuilding, they might have considered slowing Fernandez's arbitration clock, but they decided to go with their best to start the season.
"This has been tugging at us a little bit," general manager Larry Beinfest told MLB.com on Sunday morning. "We watched him in big league camp. We watched him last year. We watched him go down to the Minor Leagues. He's been just outstanding."
Fernandez, who will be limited to 150-170 innings this season, will make his debut Sunday, April 7 against the lowly Mets. You might consider him viable in all leagues for that matchup, but be wary -- he might not exceed 90 pitches.
1B Ryan Howard, Philadelphia Phillies -- Howard stands to surprise some people this season. He hit seven homers in Spring Training (.339), and don't forget he drove in 56 runs in just 71 games last season, despite hitting .219. Howard is a must-start in all leagues as he beats up the Braves' and Royals' starters this week.
SP Roy Halladay, Philadelphia Phillies -- Unless you're a glutton for punishment, you cannot trust Halladay out of the gate. Throughout his awful spring training, his pitch speed only reached the mid-80s, and that may only increase marginally now that the season has started. He's throwing against the Braves on Wednesday, a team that he has a non-Halladay-like 4.21 ERA against in 11 starts.
OF Jackie Bradley, Boston Red Sox -- The 22-year-old proved he could really hit as he flirted with a .500 average most of the spring and earned a spot on the roster, mostly because David Ortiz (heels) is not ready. This allows Jonny Gomes to open as the designated hitter and Bradley to open as the starter in front of the Green Monster (well, once the Red Sox head home in Week 2). Bradley is arguably the biggest surprise of spring training and a solid sleeper even in mixed leagues. The Most Outstanding Player of the College World Series in 2010, Bradley projects to be a .300/15/80/100/25 player in his prime.
By the way, MLB.com has a list of all the projected Opening Day lineups right here.
SP Bud Norris, Houston Astros -- Few are expecting much from the Astros in their first season in the AL, but Norris may surprise as a two-start pitcher in Week 1. Owned in just 43 percent of CBSSports.com's leagues, Norris, who will gets two home starts, touts a career ERA that is two runs better at home (3.51) versus away (5.31). His starts against AL West contenders Texas and Oakland are scaring away owners, but Norris is a useful sleeper in deeper leagues this week.
1. RP Mitchell Boggs, St. Louis Cardinals -- He opens the season as the closer, but he will be a mere setup man if Jason Motte (elbow) can nurse himself back to health in April. In the meantime, Boggs is a solid start in all leagues.
2. SP Hyun-Jin Ryu, Los Angeles Dodgers -- He starts the second game of the season, but he will be on a short leash with Chris Capuano, Aaron Harang and Ted Lilly not currently slated to be among the Dodgers' starting five. For now, Ryu is a sleeper in deeper leagues for his potential, but don't be afraid to cut him after a bad outing.
3. SP Julio Teherán, Atlanta Braves -- The one-time No. 1 pitching prospect in baseball is coming off a disappointing 2012, but his monster spring won him a rotation spot. The 22-year-old has a very high ceiling; the NL Rookie of the Year favorite is a must-have in all leagues.
4. OF Aaron Hicks, Minnesota Twins -- He used to be more tools than production, but that changed this spring. He won the starting centerfielder's job and is a candidate to hit 15 homers and steal 25-plus bases in his first season. Owned in just 51 percent of CBSSports.com's leagues, he's a must-have in rotisserie formats.
5. 3B Matt Carpenter, St. Louis Cardinals -- The 27-year-old draws walks in bunches and will play every day until David Freese (back) is ready April 8. At that point Carpenter will move to second base and get starts in a time-share with Daniel Descalso. Carpenter should hit his way to the bulk of the playing time, making him a viable mixed-league starter at second base.
1. SP Johan Santana, New York Mets -- Another torn anterior shoulder capsule requires surgery and ended his season before it began. Rehab figures to take him well into 2014, if his career is not over all together. Cut and ignore him in all leagues now.
2. SP Ricky Romero, Toronto Blue Jays -- He lost the No. 5 starter's job to J.A. Happ and was sent to Single-A ball to pitch in warm weather to start the season. Romero, just 28, still stands a chance to make an impact in fantasy this season, so don't cut him in AL-only formats with reserves.
3. RP Jonathan Broxton, Cincinnati Reds -- By no fault of his own, Broxton was removed as the Reds' closer and lost most of his fantasy value late in spring when Aroldis Chapman declared he wants to close over starting. Broxton is nothing more than a middle reliever/setup man for those deeper leagues that use them. Chapman should prove capable all year long, like he did a year ago.
4. SS Mike Avilés, Cleveland Indians -- This versatile shortstop is also without a starting job. He won't be useful in mixed formats unless Lonnie Chisenhall falters as the Indians' regular third baseman again. Avilés is merely an AL-only utility option right now.
5. SP Chris Capuano, Los Angeles Dodgers -- He is on the trading block, but if he sticks with the Dodgers, he will have to serve as a left-handed long reliever for now. He is insurance in case Chad Billingsley cannot make it back for April 13, the first time the Dodgers need a fifth starter, Zack Greinke has a setback or Ryu struggles out of the gate. We would say Capuano is just ahead of Harang as the Dodgers' No. 5 starter, while Lilly (shoulder) is expected to open on the disabled list.
1. CL Jason Motte, St. Louis Cardinals -- His elbow issue is a flexor tendon strain, which would appear to be less serious than a damaged ulnar-collateral ligament. Stash him on reserves and DL spots and use Boggs in all leagues for at least the first two weeks of the season.
2. 3B Hanley Ramirez, Los Angeles Dodgers -- He is out until at least mid-May after surgery to repair a thumb ligament torn in the World Baseball Classic. He is worth staying patient on even if that original eight-week recovery prognosis stretches longer.
3. OF Carl Crawford, Los Angeles Dodgers -- Perhaps feeling the heat from Cuban prospect Yasiel Puig, Crawford beat expectations in his recovery from Tommy John surgery and avoided starting the year on the DL. He stands a great chance for a rebound and should easily outperform his modest draft position.
4. OF Curtis Granderson, New York Yankees -- He is right on schedule for his 10-week absence due to a fractured forearm around five weeks ago. The best-case scenario appears to be an early May return, which would be great news for those owners that took a chance on him in the middle rounds. Mark Teixeira's (wrist) absence might hasten Granderson's timetable now, too.
5. RP Ryan Madson, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim -- He was hoping to miss just a week or two at the start of the season coming off Tommy John elbow surgery, but now reports have him out all of April. If Ernesto Frieri gets off to a good start as the Angels' closer, it might take months for Madson to prove healthy and effective enough to save games. Frieri is a must-own in all leagues, just in case he takes the job and runs with it.
1. OF Matt Kemp, Los Angeles Dodgers -- He is coming off an injury-plagued year and shoulder surgery, so his poor spring has some people panicking. You shouldn't. BUY
2. OF/1B/DH Mark Trumbo, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim -- A bad second half (.222) and no home runs this spring has his owners giving up on him way too soon, but keep in mind, this guy bats behind Mike Trout, Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton. If that trio performs to the best of their abilities, they could be the best three hitters in fantasy. Trumbo's RBI opportunities will be endless. BUY
3. OF Justin Upton, Atlanta Braves -- He had an exceptional spring training this year, which often precedes a breakthrough season. But the fact that he is an Upton might concern some -- we wasted years waiting for older (not bigger) brother B.J. to break through as a fantasy star. HOLD
4. SP Matt Cain, San Francisco Giants -- There's a lot to like about Cain coming off his breakthrough year. But be wary of postseason heroes, though, especially since that added month of pitching leaves some arm weary the next season. It might be the best time to maximize your return on this flawless workhorse. SELL
5. SP Josh Hamilton, Los Angeles Angels -- Hamilton should take notes from Pujols' start in Anaheim last season -- big free-agent signees tend to be disappointing in their first season. If he stays healthy, he will hit his way out of any slump -- like he did a year ago -- but you might weigh what you can get for him now, just in case. SELL
If you play in those daily fantasy leagues, here are the players by position that yours truly will be going with on Opening Day. If you want to challenge me, hit me up on Twitter @EricMackFantasy:
P -- Stephen Strasburg, Nationals
P -- Jonathon Niese, Mets
C -- Buster Posey, Giants
1B -- Ryan Howard, Phillies
2B -- Chase Utley, Phillies
3B -- Miguel Cabrera, Tigers
SS -- Starlin Castro, Cubs
OF -- Jonny Gomes, Red Sox
OF -- Jordany Valdespin, Mets
OF -- Kendrys Morales, Mariners
DH -- Victor Martínez, Tigers