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FAAB Factor - NL: First Closer Change of the Year

Jan Levine

Jan Levine

Levine covers baseball, basketball and hockey for RotoWire. In addition to his column writing, he's the master of the MLB and NHL cheatsheets. In his spare time, he roots for the Mets.

National League - FAAB - 4/7/13

Starting Pitching:

Chad Billingsley, Dodgers - Billingsley, out with a bruised right index finger, is expected to come off the disabled list next Wednesday and start against the Padres. His activation from the DL appears to be a foregone conclusion since he had no issues or setbacks in his 72-pitch rehab appearance Thursday at High-A Rancho Cucamonga. Billingsley appeared on his way to a strong 2012 when elbow issues derailed his season and ultimately limited him to 25 starts. In those 149.2 innings, Billingsley posted a solid 3.55 ERA, while his 7.7 K/9 and 2.7 BB/9 were nice improvements over 2011 (7.3 and 4.0 respectively). The elbow is now healthy, as is the finger, and Billingsley's return would put the Dodgers at full strength in the rotation, with Chris Capuano assuming a bullpen role while Ted Lilly is still sidelined. Mixed: $4; NL: $13.

Tony Cingrani, Reds - Cingrani was superb in his Triple-A debut Thursday, throwing six no-hit innings with 14 strikeouts and one walk, while Mike Leake, who is filling the Reds' rotation spot, struggled a bit in his first outing. Cingrani rocketed through High-A Bakersfield and Double-A Pensacola to get a September callup with the Reds, where he impressed in brief duty. A third-round pick from Rice in 2011, Cingrani lacks a great breaking ball, but his superb command has allowed him to dominate lesser competition. The Reds are not making a change immediately, but if Cingrani continues to dominate and Leake is just average, a switch could occur. Mixed: $2; NL: $7 (early spec bid).

Aaron Laffey, Mets - As expected, Laffey was promoted and made the start Sunday for the Mets. Shaun Marcum is still sidelined by his neck woes, and likely will miss a few more weeks, giving Laffey several starts. Bouncing between starter and reliever last year, Laffey finished the year 4-6 with a 4.56 ERA over 100.2 innings. Laffey started 16 of the 22 games he appeared in and manager Terry Collins believes he can throw 90-95 pitches if needed. Mixed: $0; NL: $2.

Relief Pitchers:

Kyuji Fujikawa, Cubs -Fujikawa, who was profiled last week, has been named as the Cubs' closer by manager Dale Sveum despite his struggles Saturday after Carlos Marmol imploded again in the same game. Sveum had mentioned Shawn Camp and James Russell as possible closers but decided to turn to Fujikawa on Sunday morning. Fujikawa was Japan's most dominant reliever over the last eight seasons, and perhaps the preeminent reliever in NPB history. His dominance has been reflected in his strikeout rates, as he's averaged 12.9 K/9 over the past eight seasons. Fujikawa is essentially a two-pitch pitcher: he features a 91-96 mph four-seam fastball with unusual rising movement, and an 82-86 mph splitter with hard downward movement. He will occasionally mix in a slider, a cutter, and a curveball, but does not rely on them. When the year started, it seemed as if it was only a matter of time before Marmol gave up the job, and it only took a week before that happened.Mixed: $8; NL: $22 (upped bid from prior week).

Shawn Camp/James Russell, Cubs - Camp, who has tossed two scoreless innings, and Russell, who has thrown 1.1 scoreless innings this season, were mentioned by manager Dale Sveum as potential closers with Carlos Marmol struggling before he named Kyuji Fujikawa the closer Sunday morning. Camp was serviceable, with a 54:21 K:BB ratio in 77.2 innings and a 3.59 ERA over 80 appearances. He tops out at 88 MPH, so he not going to blow anyone away late in a game. One of the team's more consistent relievers last season, Russell had a decent year with 55 strikeouts and 23 walks in 69.1 innings and seven wins over 77 appearances. His fastball averages just 89 mph, but he makes up for that with his solid command. Fujikawa gave up three runs in Saturday's loss, so the Cubs may ease Fujikawa into the role. As a lefty, it would seem likely that Russell would get the fewest save chances if the Cubs move to a committee. Camp - Mixed: $0; NL: $1; Russell - Mixed: $0; NL: $1.

Jim Henderson, Brewers - Henderson, who took eight years to reach the majors and then posted a respectable 3.52 ERA and 45:13 K:BB mark in 30.2 innings last year with Milwaukee, struck out one in a clean 10th inning Monday to earn the win in relief against Colorado. John Axford blew a save opportunity in the ninth by allowing a solo homer to Dexter Fowler. If Axford's struggles, which include a drop in velocity from last year, as well as poor control, persist, Henderson might be the best bet to get the first crack at the closer role in Milwaukee, but it appears as though Axford has a little bit of leash to begin the season. Mixed: $2; NL: $7

Jordan Walden, Braves - Walden was the Angels' closer in 2011, but he spent the 2012 season in a middle-relief role, struggling at first before coming on strong at the end of the year. His 48:18 K:BB on the season is nothing to write home, but he finished the year with 14 strikeouts and no walks in his final 14 appearances. This offseason he was traded to the Braves for Tommy Hanson. After battling back stiffness through much of the spring, Walden was able to return to Grapefruit League action toward the end of March. Atlanta needs him to stay healthy and help Eric O'Flaherty to bridge the gap to Craig Kimbrel, especially with Jonny Venters (elbow) hurt. Mixed: $1; NL: $4.

Catchers:

Ramon Hernandez, Dodgers - Hernandez was dealt to the Dodgers on Saturday for Aaron Harang and cash considerations. The presence of Wilin Rosario and Yorvit Torrealba on the Rockies ultimately made Hernandez expendable. The writing was on the wall for a move after Hernandez was designated for assignment on March 28. In the Dodgers' organization, he could soon find himself in the catching mix with A.J. Ellis and Tim Federowicz manning the backstop. Mixed: Mo; NL: $2.

Kyle Skipworth, Marlins - The Marlins recalled Skipworth from Triple-A New Orleans on Friday. Skipworth, who has never lived up to his draft status as a first-round pick in 2008 as making contact is his main issue, will replace first baseman Casey Kotchman (hamstring) on the Marlins' active roster. It's unlikely that he will see much, if any, time at first base, but his presence on the roster will allow the team to use its catchers at first base if necessary while Kotchman is out. Mixed: No; NL: $0.

First Basemen:

Chad Tracy, Nationals - Tracy started at first base the last two days as Adam LaRoche missed Saturday and Sunday's games with a sore back. The Nats have a day off Monday, and the additional time off should allow LaRoche to get back in the lineup. If he remains out of action, however, Tracy could have some short-term value next week in deep NL-only leagues. If the injury sidelines LaRoche more than a few days, look for the Nationals to use Tyler Moore, who was profiled last week, at the position. Mixed: No; NL: $2.

Second Base:

Yuniesky Betancourt, Brewers - Betancourt, who signed with the Brewers after being waived by the Phillies late in the spring, will split time at first and third base with Alex Gonzalez after Aramis Ramirez landed on the disabled list with a sprained right knee. Betancourt hit .471 with 16 this spring and should provide some power while also having middle infield eligibility. Mixed: $2; NL: $7.

Cesar Izturis, Reds - The Reds purchased Izturis' contract from Triple-A Louisville last Sunday. Izturis beat out Jason Donald and Emmanuel Burriss for a reserve infield spot. Exclusively on the roster for his glove, Izturis will largely be counted on to spell Zack Cozart at shortstop or Todd Frazier at third base in the late innings. Mixed: No; NL: $0.

Shortstops:

Alberto Gonzalez, Cubs - Gonzalez had his contract purchased by the Cubs on Monday. Gonzalez joined the big club to help out around the infield while Darwin Barney (knee) is on the disabled list. Brent Lillibridge is starting at second for the Cubs, but Gonzalez may see some time if Lillibridge or Starlin Castro get hurt or need a breather over the next couple weeks. Mixed: No; NL: $0

Third Basemen:

Greg Dobbs, Marlins - Dobbs, who was profiled last week, gets another mention, as he will see most of the action at first base while starter Casey Kotchman is on the 15-day disabled list. He is capable of hitting for a respectable batting average, but does not offer much in terms of power (five home runs in 319 at-bats in 2012) or speed. Dobbs has gotten off to a strong start this year and itvlooks he will see some time batting clean up, which should resultvin additional RBI opportunities. Mixed: $1; NL: $4.

David Freese, Cardinals - Freese's lower-back discomfort landed him on the 15-day DL to start the season, but backdating allowed him to return to the Cardinals' lineup as early as Saturday. Freese played seven innings Friday, with his back responding well to it. He did some extra running before serving as DH for Memphis on Saturday, and if that goes well, he will play in a full game with Memphis on Sunday. Freese is hoping to rejoin the Cardinals on Monday, but if not, owners should have him at their disposal sometime this week, barring a setback. Once he returns, either Daniel Descalso or Matt Carpenter will see their playing time cut. (just an FYI, as should be owned in all formats).

Ian Stewart, Cubs - Stewart (quadriceps) will participate in extended spring training games in the near future, and manager Dale Sveum said that Stewart may be able to return to the majors in 2-3 weeks. Stewart seems to be progressing in his rehabilitation, but in the meantime, Luis Valbuena will earn most of the reps and at-bats at third base, with Brent Lillibridge also logging time at the hot corner. Even when he does return, given his history, don't expect too much. Mixed: $1; NL: $4.

Outfielders:

Ezequel Carrera, Phillies - The Phillies claimed Carrera off waivers from the Indians on Tuesday. Carrera posted a .707 OPS and was successful on 8-of-9 stolen base attempts in 48 games with the Indians a season ago, but the team opted to waive him in late March, and the Phillies decided to snap him up. Carrera will serve as the fifth outfielder for the Phillies, so his playing time will likely be limited. Mixed: No; NL: $0.

Khris Davis, Brewers - Ryan Braun has been scratched the past two games with neck spasms, so Davis stepped in to make his first two starts. The 25-year-old Davis hit .262/.303/.574 with six home runs and 16 RBI this spring. Davis earned a spot on the Brewers' 40-man roster this past offseason by posting an impressive .350/.451/.604 line in 82 games across three levels last season. Braun is not expected to be sidelined long term, but Davis could see some additional playing time until Braun is fully healthy. Mixed: $0; NL: $3.

Chris Heisey/Xavier Paul/Derrick Robinson, Reds - Ryan Ludwick's shoulder injury, which is expected to sideline him for three months, creates a huge whole in left field for the Reds. Heisey has mostly been relegated to a platoon role the last three seasons with the Reds, but Ludwick's absence should pave the way to regular playing time. If he remains in the two-hole most nights, Heisey could be a decent source for runs while contributing the occasional home run or stolen base. While Heisey will get the majority of the starts for now, it wouldn't be shocking to see Paul pick up a few extra starts as a result, especially against tough righties, not to mention a few more late-inning appearances. Robinson was promoted to take Ludwick's spot on the roster. His outfield defense is pretty strong, so he'll most likely be used for defensive-replacement and pinch-hitting purposes. Heisey - Mixed: $3; NL: $9; Paul - Mixed: No; NL: $3; Robinson - Mixed: No; NL: $0.

Josh Prince, Brewers - Prince was called up to take the roster spot of Aramis Ramirez, who landed the 15-day disabled list with a sprained knee. Prince does not have much experience at third base, but he should be in the mix for playing time given the Brewers' lack of infield depth. He has mostly played shortstop and center field throughout his rather pedestrian minor league career. However, he did have a solid year last season along with an excellent Arizona Fall League campaign, displaying surprising power. Prince brings excellent speed and good plate discipline to the table. Mixed: $0; NL: $2.

Justin Ruggiano, Marlins - Ruggiano has been splitting time with Chris Coghlan in center field, but he has the upside and the momentum, so it's possible he will start seeing even more playing time. That started to look like it will be the case, as he started Thursday-Saturday against the Mets. Ruggiano returned to the big leagues in late May after putting up a .321/.409/.581 line at Triple-A and never looked back. Entering the year, Ruggiano had posted a paltry .621 OPS over 195 at-bats across parts of three seasons with the Rays before busting out with a .313/.374/.535 line for Miami over 288 at-bats in his age-30 season. His .909 OPS would have ranked fifth among outfielders had he collected enough at-bats to qualify. Mixed: $8; NL: $22 (upgrade in case he was downgraded heading into the season).

Dave Sappelt, Cubs - David DeJesus' struggles against lefties have led to him sitting against southpaws to begin the year. Sappelt made his second start in three days against the Braves' Mike Minor on Friday, and it looks like he'll be platooning with DeJesus for the time being. Mixed: $0; NL: $3.