Fantasy Baseball Weekly Round-Up: Rafael Soriano, Elliot Johnson, Pablo Sandoval and More
It’s hard enough following one’s own fantasy team without having to keep track of an entire sport’s daily transactions. To assist you, here’s a column dedicated to recapping the most notable trades, signings, promotions, demotions and role changes across the majors over the past week as they relate to fantasy. We'll do this on a weekly basis. If you feel I've missed anything important, please don't hesitate to keep the conversation going in the comments below.
• Mariano Rivera was emphatic when speaking to reporters on Friday, vowing to come back from this week’s devastating ACL tear in his right knee. Too bad there’s about a zero percent chance that will happen in 2012. While baseball fans wish for a speedy recovery for one of the sport’s most dominating players, fantasy owners are forced to turn the page in the search for Rivera’s replacement.
The obvious choice, of course, is David Robertson, coming off a season that firmly established him as one of the best setup men in the game. This year, Robertson has continued his stingy ways, compiling a 0.833 WHIP in 12 appearances with a 15.8 K/9 rate. The guy is nasty, and best of all, he seems to have the mentality needed to not only navigate the ninth inning but the New York pressure, making him an extremely enticing player to add with the upside of being a No. 1 closer.
Problem is, Joe Girardi has vowed to give Rafael Soriano—a guy who posted 45 saves just two years ago— some face time late in games as well, which could cut into Robertson’s value. We’ll see how this plays out; Soriano pitched fewer than 40 innings due to an elbow injury last year, and while he’s been decent to start the season, I suspect Robertson is a bit more acclimated to the role and will eventually distinguish himself as the main man, with Soriano playing the role of chief caddy.
• Not much was clear Sunday night about the extent of Jayson Werth's left wrist injury except this: the Nationals would do best to start thinking about a new right fielder for the foreseeable future. Coming down hard for a line drive, Werth instantly clutched his arm and immediately left the field, grimacing in pain with a broken left wrist which will sideline him for at least the next six weeks. Anyone looking for a replacement in D.C. should become familiar with Xavier Nady, who offers little value outside of NL-only leagues for the time being.
• Say goodbye to Evan Longoria for perhaps the next two months, as the Rays’ best slugger partially tore his left hamstring Tuesday. It’s an ugly wound for fantasy owners, to be sure, especially since the Rays likely will fill the spot with the likes of Elliot Johnson, Jeff Keppinger and Sean Rodriguez, none of whom offer much in the way of fantasy value. It’s worth watching to see if the Rays—my personal pick to win the AL East heading into the season—will make any moves to bolster their hot corner as they wait out Longoria’s recovery.
• If Pablo Sandoval’s hand injury sounds familiar—he had surgery this week to repair a broken hamate bone in his left hand—it’s because he suffered the same injury last year in his right hand. The good news: Sandoval was able to post a .910 OPS after returning in mid-June last year, which suggests that he still has much to offer fantasy owners in 2012. The bad news, of course, is that he’ll be recuperating for at least the next month, denying the game one of its best third basemen.
• I'm not sure if you can call a DL stint from Huston Street news anymore, but nevertheless, the Padres closer has been shelved with a shoulder strain, though the right-hander insists it's not a serious ailment. This does leave an opening for Andrew Cashner (2-1, 1.385 WHIP, 7.6 K/9) to make his mark in the ninth inning, however, making him an intriguing fantasy option until Street returns.
• Poor Mat Gamel, who had such high hopes coming into this season now that Prince Fielder had vacated Milwaukee’s first base position. The 26-year-old tore up his knee this week, zapping his season and leaving the Brewers scrambling to find a replacement. Backup first baseman Travis Ishikawa likely will see more at-bats, as could journeyman infielder Brooks Conrad, 32, who was called up from Triple-A to take Gamel’s spot on the roster.
• Is there an older 33-year-old in the majors than Kevin Youkilis? The guy is always battling nagging injuries—he hasn’t posted 500 at-bats since 2008—and landed on the disabled list this week with a lower back strain. That’s bad news for Red Sox fans, but good news for Will Middlebrooks, one of the organization’s top prospects, who will take Youk’s spot at third base.
Middlebrooks, 23, flashed a 26.3 percent strikeout rate in the minors, though he was showing some significant improvement in that department through 100 plate appearances this year. We’ll see how quickly the power comes along, but he’s certainly an intriguing option to roster right now, especially for those needing a handcuff for Youkilis.
• Here’s something fantasy owners don’t want to hear: Cory Luebke, already on the disabled list with a strained elbow, is considering Tommy John surgery this year. This doesn’t leave optimists with a lot of wiggle room: either Luebke actually needs the surgery, nuking his 2012 season, or he doesn’t, in which case he’s just injured enough to the point where he’s considering the procedure. Either way, he’s not in good shape, and it’s probably best to plan around him being much of a factor in 2012.
In his place, the Padres have dug up the bones of Jeff Suppan, but we’ll see how long the 37-year-old will last in the team’s rotation, or how much of an impact he’ll make in fantasy.
• Here’s the best you can say about Justin Morneau’s left wrist injury and latest DL stint: at least it’s not concussion-related. Thing is, it is related to the surgery he had last fall, which makes one wonder if it will fully heal this season.
• The Orioles placed Nolan Reimold on the DL after the outfielder suffered from neck spasms.
• To help save his elbow, Chris Sale is being moved from the rotation to the closer’s role in Chicago, bumping Hector Santiago to middle-relief duty. Sale, 23, was off to a fantastic start this season, compiling a 3-1 record, 1.000 WHIP and 8.2 K/9 over 32 innings. He should hold on to the ninth-inning role for the foreseeable future, but keep in mind the move was prompted after the southpaw complained of elbow tenderness.
• Heath Bell, who has been just awful to start the season, has been shifted out of Miami’s closer job, though manager Ozzie Guillen was careful to say the move is temporary until the burly right-hander gets back on track. I believe Guillen, since $6 million gives the team ample motivation to move Bell back if he can rediscover the form that made him one of the league’s top closers over the past several years.
In the meantime, take a look at Steve Cishek, 25, who’s posted a strong start to the season so far (4-0, 0.907 WHIP, 9.4 K/9) and should snare most of the save opportunities in the near term.
• At long last, Cubs fans have been liberated from the torment of watching Carlos Marmol close out—or, to be more accurate, often flounder when trying to close out—games, as he's been lifted from the role. Manager Dale Sveum says Rafael Dolis and James Russell will share responsibilities going forward, so we'll have to wait and see whether one of the two will distinguish himself as the Cubs' ninth-inning man, since neither of them has been particularly lights-out to start the season.
• Javy Guerra blew another save Sunday, which no doubt helps Kenley Jansen's stock creep up a bit higher. Owners drooling over Jansen's strikeout ability might consider picking up the setup man now to avoid the crush if and when Guerra, who's been awful over the past several weeks, forfeits the role.
Other news and notes
• Welcome back, Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui: baseball just wasn’t the same without you guys. Sure, both ex-Yankees teammates are in the twilights of their respective careers, but they could produce some marginal fantasy value depending on how many at-bats they pick up.
Karl de Vries is a New Jersey-based writer and journalist who prefers following fantasy baseball to watching his hapless Mets embarrass themselves on TV every night. He can be reached at karl[dot]rotodiamond[at]gmail.com or followed on Twitter at @Karl_de_Vries.
Read more great baseball stuff at The Hardball Times.