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MLB Barometer: Falling Off

Howard Bender

Howard Bender

Howard Bender has been covering fantasy sports for over a decade on a variety of web sites. For more from him, you can find his personal musings on his blog RotobuzzGuy.com or follow him on Twitter at @rotobuzzguy. For questions, thoughts or comments you can email him at rotobuzzguy@gmail.com.


The more things change, the more they stay the same. Could you think of a phrase more appropriate to describe the closer situation in baseball? The debate between those who say to invest in a top closer and those who say you don't pay for saves on draft day is one that we get each and every spring and it's days/weeks like this that give us the reason as to why keep having the same conversation over and over.
 
Of the 30 MLB teams, we have now seen a change in closer, from spring training through today, for 14 of them, some of whom have made a change multiple times. Eight teams have made the change due to ineffectiveness with Miami being the only team to reinstate their original guy, Steve Cishek, and of the other seven, three of them have made changes multiple times. The other six teams have been forced to make changes due to injury and in three of those situations - the Mets, Reds, and the Rockies - we probably won't ever see the original closer get another save chance for them this season. Milwaukee is an interesting hybrid as they replaced John Axford with Jim Henderson due to ineffectiveness, used Francisco Rodriguez when Henderson got hurt, and may not go back sure to K-Rod's level of performance. St. Louis too, as they were forced to replace Jason Motte due to injury but when Mitchell Boggs couldn't hold the gig, they turned to Edward Mujica.
 
The level of unrest at the position is brutal this season and the worst it's been in about two or three years. And if you add in the season-long struggles for Fernando Rodney and the fact that Jonathan Papelbon has blown three saves in just this past week, the problem could grow even more. You'd think that such unrest would tilt the scales of the debate towards those who say you don't pay for saves, but for those who invested in the likes of Mariano Rivera, Joe Nathan, and Craig Kimbrel, there have been no issues whatsoever. Even those who went cheaper with guys like Glen Perkins, Ernesto Frieri and even Jose Veras, haven't had to bother with replacements.
 
So is it a guessing game? Just one big crapshoot? Sometimes. With injuries, there's nothing you can do most of the time. Avoid Huston Street and J.J. Putz? Most definitely. But when Motte heads for Tommy John surgery or Rafael Betancourt injures his groin, there's just nothing you can do. Personally, I'm on the side of investing so you don't have to chase saves all year in the waiver wire. With such a volatile position and so many people scared off because of it, the prices just aren't as high anymore. Sure, Kimbrel will cost a high draft pick or some hefty bid dollars, but if you do your homework and study which closers are the most well-liked and trusted by managers, you can find some real bargains out there. Yes, Greg Holland, I'm looking right at you.
 
For those who don't want to pay for saves on draft day, all I can say is that you better save those FAAB dollars and hope you don't have injuries at other positions. The competition to grab a closer on the waiver wire is fierce and you end up paying top dollar to grab a guy. Not to mention, the guy you just bought for 40-percent of your FAAB budget may not even be the closer in a month. So not only do you have to pay a premium, but you have to do it often. Good luck with that!

Rising

Kojii Uehara, RP BOS - After plodding through the likes of Andrew Bailey and Junichi Tazawa, it looks as if the Red Sox have finally come to the conclusion that almost everyone was waiting for - Uehara is the new closer. There were a variety of conflicting stories towards the end of the week, but in an interview with Brian MacPherson of the Prvidence Journal, Uehara said that he was told the job was his. The 38-year old right-hander has been one of the top set-up men in baseball over the last three seasons and has a 2.10 ERA with a 0.87 WHIP and 42:7 K:BB over 30 innings this year. He is a must-add if for some reason he is still available.

Joaquin Benoit, RP DET - The Tigers finally grew tired of Jose Valverde's late-game disasters and designated him for assignment Friday, finally pushing Benoit into the closer's job in Detroit. Manager Jim Leyland, who earlier in the season told the media that Benoit was too valuable in the eighth inning to be the team's closer, was forced to give in though as no one else has been able to hold down the job. Benoit currently has a 1.80 ERA with a 35:9 K:BB over 30 innings, but keep in mind that this may not be a long tenure for the 35-year old veteran righty. Closer-of-the-future, Bruce Rondon has been pitching extremely well for Triple-A Toledo (1.57 ERA with 38 Ks in 28.3 IP) and may be in line for a promotion in the second half of the season.

Jordy Mercer, 2B/SS PIT - After doing a solid job filling in at second base for Neil Walker earlier in the year, Mercer started getting spot starts at shortstop with Clint Barmes struggling both at the plate and in the field. He impressed manager Clint Hurdle enough that the names have been flipped on the depth chart and Mercer is now starting. When Hurdle made the announcement, Mercer responded with a four-game, 6-for-16 (.375) run with one home run, three RBI and two runs scored. He's hitting at the bottom of the order right now, but with a few strong games, Hurdle may try this potential power/speed combo in the two-hole.

Aaron Hill, 2B ARI - After more than two months on the disabled list with a hand injury, Hill is finally making his return to the majors this week so you're going to want to get him into your active lineup. For those in leagues with short benches, limited DL spots and FAAB bids due Sunday night, you're going to want to dig deep into your wallets for this one. Since coming over to Arizona late in the 2011 season, after being written off as a player in decline, Hill is batting .304 with 30 home runs and has a .215 ISO mark. The power may come along a little slower than usual given the nature of the injury, but it will arrive soon enough.

Elliot Johnson, 2B KC - When the Royals activated Jarrod Dyson from the disabled list, the corresponding move came as a bit of a surprise when the team demoted Chris Getz, leaving Johnson as the primary second baseman. He'll actually be getting the majority of the work, as manager Ned Yost reiterated that Miguel Tejada would still get some work at the keystone. Johnson obviously isn't the be-all, end-all of second basemen, but he does have his fantasy merits as evidenced by his 11 stolen bases. He's currently batting .246 with two home runs and nine RBI in limited duty but could be a nice cheap-speed option as he and Dyson will likely be ninth and first in the order respectively as the team leans more towards manufacturing runs as opposed to the middle-order power guys going deep.

Holding Steady

Jim Henderson/Francisco Rodriguez, RP MIL - This situation bears watching over the remainder of the first half of the season  as either player could end up with the closer's job here in Milwaukee. K-Rod did a fantastic job filling in for Henderson while he was on the disabled list and manager Ron Roenicke allowed him to share the role, atleast until he notched his 300th career save. Well, number 300 is in the books, but how do you remove a guy who has made eight straight scoreless appearances, has a miniscule 0.59 ERA and is averaging more than a strikeout per inning? Meanwhile, Henderson has a 1.75 ERA, is also averaging more than a strikeout per inning and although he blew the save last Thursday, he bounced back the next night to earn his 10th save of the season. Supposedly, the job is Henderson's, but K-Rod owners will want to stash him for now just in case.

Ike Davis, 1B NYM - There was a rumor circulating that Davis was going to be promoted if Lucas Duda landed on the disabled list, but when the decision finally came down and Duda hit the 15-day DL, it was Zach Lutz who got the call. Lutz was playing first, third and in the corner outfield for Triple-A Las Vegas and will likely be used in a similar capacity in the majors with most of his time coming at first. Davis, on the other hand will continue to bide his time in Triple-A as the Mets still feel that he would benefit from additional time down there. A recent report from Adam Rubin of ESPN says that Davis could get a call-up next week after the White Sox series, but a "fair chance" is certainly not a guarantee.

Falling

Will Middlebrooks, 3B BOS - It could be just a matter of time, and by that I mean days not weeks, before Middlebrooks finds himself working the hot corner for Triple-A Pawtucket. Including Sunday's game, he's been on the bench for three straight while Jose Iglesias grows more and more in popularity both with the coaches and the fans. Middlebrooks is just 4-for-39 (.103) over his last 10 games and just one home run in his last 11. Don't be surprised to see a roster move by the end of the week.

Edinson Volquez, SP SD - If it wasn't for the fact that Clayton Richard just hit the disabled list, Volquez may have already been tossed out of the rotation given his unimpressive 5.67 ERA and the fact that he hasn't pitched out of the sixth inning in four of his last five starts. In addition to that, his strikeout rate is down by more than a full strikeout, so it's not like there's even a redeeming quality about him anymore. The Padres will likely use Tim Stauffer to replace Richard in the rotation but could easily make a move and use Tyson Ross to replace Volquez.

Munenori Kawasaki, SS TOR - That ticking sound you hear is the clock winding down on Kawasaki's time spent in Toronto. With Jose Reyes about a week away (maybe even less) from returning from the disabled list, Kawasaki is the odd man out as the Jays will go with their early season choices of Maicer Izturis and Emilio Bonifacio for second base and their utility infield spot. Defensively, Kawasaki was solid, but after hitting just .233 with one home run, 17 RBI and seven stolen bases over 146 at-bats, he's not likely to be missed by many.

Jon Jay, OF STL - That other ticking sound you hear is the Oscar Taveras watch-clock and it seems to be growing louder and louder now that he is back from the minor league disabled list and his ankle appears to be just fine. Jay is just 7-for-40 (.175) over his last 10 games and hasn't hit a home run since May 14. On top of that, he's also been losing at-bats to Shane Robinson, so the Cardinals are obviously not adverse to the change. Should Taveras get real hot down in Memphis, Jay could be in for some serious bench time.

Dan Haren, SP WAS - Despite very slight improvements in the strikeout and walk rates, we've seen nothing but 82 innings of ugliness from Haren this year and the patience of both fantasy owners and the Nationals coaching staff is starting to wane. With a 6.15 ERA, a 1.44 WHIP, a 15.8-percent HR/FB and peripherals that don't exactly scream "he's gonna get much better," Haren is no longer someone you can just, even as a streaming option. A move to Ross Ohlendorf wouldn't be much better, but, in truth, it wouldn't be much worse either.