MLB fantasy roundtable: Closers in trouble, fast starters, more debate
Each week of the baseball, a committee of SI.com fantasy experts will meet at pitching mound and offer their insights into the most intriguing questions facing fantasy players.
1. Beyond injuries, many closers have had rough starts. Which supposedly safe closer has you most concerned in the early going and what closer-in-waiting most intrigues you?
Will Carroll: The early struggles of Heath Bell and Joe Nathan make me wonder more about the position as currently constructed than those two individuals. Nathan struggled early last year, with most blaming his Tommy John surgery. Could be he's not recovering as well or is just not an April player, like Mark Teixeira or Ryne Sandberg.
As for who's next, the Padres' Andrew Cashner has the great stuff, the big fastball and the flair of a good closer. Huston Street is bound to miss time and if Cashner can stay healthy in the pen more than he could as a starter, he'll lock that up.
Eric Mack: Bell is as safe as they come because he lacks competition for the role and he was paid to be a closer at $27 million, but he has looked awful in his two save chances, blowing both. He is not throwing strikes, isn't throwing as hard as he used to and is looking like he is no longer an elite fantasy option. He can come around, but the signs don't look good right now. As for closers-in-waiting, see the Aroldis Chapman question response below.
David Sabino: With few exceptions (hello, Mariano Rivera) closers' jobs are always in jeopardy. Every year there's nearly a 50 percent turnover due to injuries, ineffectiveness or transactions, which makes it hard to commit resources (high draft picks, auction funds) to them. That said, I'm leery or Sergio Santos in Toronto. The converted shortstop has less than a year as a closer under his belt and he has one of this era's best, Francisco Cordero, sitting behind him. If you own Santos, you're crazy not to have Cordero hanging around, too. As for the most intriguing closer in waiting, I think the opportunity will arise for fireballing Vinnie Pestano to overtake Chris Perez as the Indians stopper at some point this season. And of course, Addison Reed has closer written all over him, and after Hector Santiago gave up two ninth inning home runs to the Orioles Monday night, Reed is one step closer.
2. Omar Infante, J.D. Martinez and Yadier Molina are just a few of the players off to surprisingly strong starts. What fast starter do you believe will keep things going and who is destined to decline?
Carroll: Molina appears to be maturing as a leader, taking the role he often ceded to Albert Pujols. Cards manager Mike Matheny's knowledge of the position works in Molina's favor as well. He's the best catcher in the business right now and we might not have seen the best of him yet.
Mack: You have to love the Dodgers' start. It is clear Matt Kemp's 2011 breakthrough is no fluke and he is the best player in fantasy now. Chad Billingsley and Javy Guerra are legit and headed for breakthrough campaigns, but the start of Andre Ethier is most intriguing. He has elite fantasy potential and is headed for a rebound year before hitting free agency this fall. Consider him a must-have, must-start in all leagues again.
Sabino: A powerful right-handed bat, Cody Ross is one of those players who was built to play in Fenway Park. Although he was off to a slow start the first two weeks, he's picked it up considerably with two home runs and eight RBIs, mostly coming this weekend. With injuries gutting the Boston outfield and the ability to play center field, Ross is destined to have large power numbers this season. I'm also reasonably sure that when all is said and done, Infante will not be found among the major league (or even Marlins infielders) leaders in home runs. The longtime middle infielder is slugging .889 in the early going and seems to have rediscovered a power stroke that saw him hit 16 home runs in 2004, but not more than nine in any season since. If you can find someone who believes he's this year's Jose Bautista, deal him right now.
3. Aroldis Chapman has been dominant thus far while working out of the bullpen? What role will he settle into for the Reds' staff this year and for the long term?
Carroll: Have we ever known more about a player without really knowing anything? Chapman throws hard, but ... what else? He's not a good enough starter to hold a slot even at the back of the Reds rotation. Dusty Baker seems to trust him -- it's good to be one of "Dusty's guys," right Chris Heisey? -- more than Sean Marshall. The question is whether he can go back to back-to-back, whether he can mentally recover from bad outings and whether the fastball will find 100, 102, even 105 again.
Mack: No pitcher looks more promising than Chapman right now. In his first eight innings of the season he has two wins, has struck out 15 and allowed no runs or walks and just three hits for a 0.38 WHIP. That's quite a start, if you want to look at it that way. Whether he starts or closes (more likely right now), Chapman might finally live up to the enormous hype. The Reds moved him to the bullpen to be an option to close with Ryan Madson (Tommy John) done for the season. Eventually, it will be obvious Chapman is better in that role than Sean Marshall.
Sabino: With a triple-digit fastball, a rate of nearly two strikeouts per inning and the chance that Ryan Madson may never throw a pitch for the Reds, Chapman is set up perfectly to be the Reds closer this year and beyond. However, there's also little doubt that he's more valuable as a starting pitcher, which is where he'll eventually end up. For the time being, you'll find him pitching later and later in games.
4. Albert Pujols has struggled with the Angels. Is there reason to be concerned?
Carroll: No, he struggled a bit last year, too. I think he's settling in, maybe pressing a bit. I'm curious to see how he responds to the fans turning on him, if they do, and to the Angels' continuing struggle. Pujols makes any team better, but he wasn't a HUGE upgrade over Mark Trumbo's production. The Angels got better with added talent, but didn't fill the holes they had. Someone's going to take the heat there when they fall 10 back of the Rangers early, despite a nasty early schedule for the AL Champs.
Mack: No way. Pujols might not be a .330-45-130-120 monster anymore, but .290-35-110 isn't anything to be "concerned" about. We are all forgetting rather quickly how great Pujols looked in spring training with a baseball-high seven homers. Hitting is cyclical, and Pujols is going to get rip-roaring hot again for long stretches. The people who should be concerned are the Angels, who are on the hook for almost a quarter billion dollars for what they thought might be .330-45-130-120 annually, but will probably be .290-35-110-90.
Sabino: Not one bit. There's been no better hitter in the game over the past decade and he's just off to a slow start while learning new pitchers and ballparks in his new league. Most of the Angels are scuffling right now, but that dormant batting order is apt to explode with volcanic consequences at any moment, bad news for the rest of the American League.
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