Before getting to the actual news from the day, I want to start with a rumor that has been festering for over 24 hours, but has yet to come to fruition. The Brewers want Jonathan Papelbon, but he does not want them, at least not without them guaranteeing his $13 million vesting option for 2016. Milwaukee not only does not want to guarantee this, but they want the Phillies to eat some of the $13 million Papelbon is due in 2015. It is all very messy. But I don't want to talk about Papelbon or Ruben Amaro, Jr. or bad reliever contracts or how bad Jonathan Broxton will be as the Brewers' closer in 2015 if given the chance. Let's talk about something happy and exciting. Let's talk about Ken Giles. He is the phenom that the Phillies want to replace Papelbon in the ninth inning. Giles is the big fantasy prize here. Of the 11 relief pitchers who pitched 40-plus innings in 2014 and had K-rates above 35 percent, only Wade Davis had a better ERA (1.00 to Giles' 1.18) and only Sean Doolittle (0.73) and Dellin Betances (0.78) could best his 0.79 WHIP.
It's kind of like that quote from Matt Damon's character, Mike, when he is reliving beating Johnny Chan in a hand of poker in the movie, Rounders: "I sat with the best in the world, and I won." Well, Giles didn't win, he wasn't playing poker and he wasn't pitching against those other stud relievers, but the analogy still applies. He is the new kid on the block, with just 45.2 big league innings under his belt, but he has proven his worth. Fail to take him seriously at your own risk. Giles can be mentioned among the best fantasy relievers in the game if he is saving games in 2015, and now is the time to acquire him in all dynasty formats.
Notes from Friday:
Sean Doolittlehas a slight rotator cuff tear in his left shoulder as well as "considerable" inflammation in the area. He is not expected to be ready for the start of the season, which leaves newcomer Tyler Clippard as the likely replacement option in the ninth inning while Doolittle is out. The A's closer has been treated with platelet-rich plasma injection and he will be re-evaluated when the inflammation dies down. Doolittle's track record and ability is unquestioned to this point, and conventional wisdom suggests he should get the ninth inning job back if he can demonstrate full health at some point this season, but these things often have a way of taking on a life of their own – think Francisco Rodriguez and Jim Henderson in Milwaukee last year. Clippard could take the job and run with it, and he also has a very favorable track record. The 29-year-old righty saved 32 games for the Nationals in 2012, and has a 2.88 career ERA and 1.08 career WHIP. This is something to follow as more reports surface regarding Doolittle's status as spring training approaches, but for now it is a major blow to his value for 2015.
Ryan Vogelsong decided to return to San Francisco on a one-year deal. Following the signing, manager Bruce Bochy said he envisions Yusmeiro Petit as the team's "super reliever." Sadly, Petit was the guy fantasy owners were hoping would vy for the fifth starter's spot, but it does not sound like that is in the cards anymore. The ZiPS projection system has Tim Lincecum pitching 163 innings with a 4.25 ERA, Vogelsong pitching 139 innings with a 4.08 ERA and Petit pitching 125.2 innings with a 3.72 ERA. None of this should come as a surprise, based on the performance trends of the three pitchers in question, and only those in the deepest mixed leagues or NL-only leagues would have been considering Lincecum, even prior to the Vogelsong signing. But Petit was a guy who prospective owners were no doubt hoping would get a chance to stick in the rotation this season, and that now appears to be off the table. While Petit might be the best starter of the bunch, he is also probably the best bet to be effective out of the bullpen, and the Giants will opt to keep that part of the team strong, while conceding the No. 5 starter spot to a sub-par option. All is not necessarily lost though, because if Petit sees the innings that come with being a "super reliever," he could be a poor man's version of 2014 Dellin Betances.
Considering Vogelsong specifically, he would not be a bad play as an end game option with the potential to pitch 175-plus innings with an ERA around 4.00 and a WHIP around 1.30 with 140-150 strikeouts and a shot at double-digit wins. Unfortunately, the one quality that Vogelsong has offered in past seasons – assured innings – is no longer a given, with Petit likely being used early in some of Vogelsong's starts and Lincecum needing to do something. The best bet here is to use Vogelsong in daily leagues when he has a favorable matchup at home, as the 37-year-old boasts a 3.53 ERA at AT&T Park over the past three seasons.
The Red Sox addressed the role Allen Craig could play in 2015, but it is a situation that remains murky. From general manager Ben Cherington:
Allen can play first in addition to two corner spots in the outfield. I think we're focused short-term with Allen right now... By that I mean let's get him into spring training, give him every at-bat he needs and give him a chance to get back into doing the things he's capable of doing. It's one of the things we'll be able to figure out as it gets closer to Opening Day. He can protect us at a bunch of spots and we know if he's doing what he's capable of doing he can play everyday somewhere.
Reading between the lines, it sounds like Cherington is saying that if Craig can return to being the hitter he was in 2012 and 2013, when he finished in the top-30 in wRC+, then the Red Sox would get him in the lineup almost everyday. However, if he cannot return to that level, and Craig shows himself to be simply an average hitter for a corner outfielder, and a below average hitter for a first baseman, then he is blocked at every position he is capable of playing. Boston will not embarrass themselves in the manner that St. Louis manager Mike Matheny did last season when his excessive loyalty and distrust of young players led to Craig getting 398 plate appearances for the Cardinals despite slashing .237/.291/.346 with better players sitting on the bench.
Much in the manner that a capable fantasy owner shops the player with the most trade value and holds the under-performer if there is reason to expect a turn around, the Red Sox may end up shopping a player like Mookie Betts, perhaps in an attempt to get Stephen Strasburg, as Dave Cameron suggested Friday. In this scenario, Craig once again becomes someone owners in standard mixed leagues need to think about late in drafts, as 30-year-old Craig could offer an upgrade over 34-year-old Shane Victorino if fully healthy. But as things currently stand, there is no reason to look at Craig's recent history and the situation in Boston and expect him to approach 400 plate appearances without a significant injury to one of Boston's regulars or a catastrophic sophomore season from Xander Bogaerts. There are avenues to playing time for Craig, but he no longer comes with the requisite high ceiling or high floor to warrant stashing him and betting on one of those scenarios to unfold.
Miami landed its fourth outfielder in 41-year-old Ichiro Suzuki, who signed a one-year, $2 million deal to play in what will likely be his final season in the big leagues. He in no position to compete for playing time with Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich or Marcell Ozuna, but should a member of that young trio miss time, Suzuki could offer fantasy owners in really deep leagues with a short-term batting average boost and a handful of steals. In 385 plate appearances in 2014, he hit .284 (.346 BABIP) with 15 steals, and while he will likely fall short of both marks this season, there are two clear categories where he can be of use if forced into action.