May 08, 2012

Each week of the baseball, a committee of fantasy experts will meet at pitching mound and offer their insights into the most intriguing questions facing fantasy players.

1. Heath Bell, Carlos Marmol and Hector Santiago all lost their closer jobs last week, while injuries sidelined Huston Street and Mariano Rivera. Which of the deposed, aside from Rivera, should fantasy owners gamble on the rest of the season?

Will Carroll: Bell's contract is going to get him another shot quickly. He's done it for so long that there's no reason to think he won't come back. He's drastically undervalued right now based on that. Granted, he could struggle for a bit and you'll have to eat that. I don't like paying for saves in an auction, but I'd be happy to take Bell off someone's hands if I'm at either extreme in the rankings. He could help grab a couple points from the bottom or lock up a top 8-9-10 finish in saves.

Eric Mack: Clearly, Bell, Marmol and Street have the best track records, and among them, Bell has had the fewest shakiest moments. Bell is paid $27 million to be one of the Top 10 closers in baseball. Assuming he is not injured -- and we have no reason to think otherwise -- he should be able to right himself, regain his command and control and start getting outs again. For as good as he was before this year, and as bad as he has been, he is a great opportunity to buy very low on a reliever who can be very good again.

David Sabino: With a three-year, $27-million, back-loaded commitment to him, it's way too early for Miami to give up on Bell, whose four blown saves (in seven chances) are the difference between the Marlins being 18-10 with a share of first place with the surging Washington Nats and being 14-14 and floundering in fourth place in the nip-and-tuck NL East. Manager Ozzie Guillen is no stranger to playing musical chairs with his closers, having been forced to shuffle the deck a few times in the pre- and post-Bobby Jenks eras in Chicago. Bell will be back. Marmol is also someone who will be back as a closer, but with the Cubs in full rebuilding mode, there's a great chance that it will be for another team. Hindering any move, however, is the year remaining on the ex-closer's contract worth nearly $10 million for the 2013 season. The Ricketts family has the resources necessary to make mistakes like Marmol go away, so it wouldn't be shocking to see him in a Giants or Angels uniform, even if it's in a swap of bad contracts (hello, Vernon Wells?)

2. Ryan Howard is about to start a rehab stint. How hard should fantasy owners shop for him?

Carroll: Gosh, really? I thought he was going to be out the whole year. Oh wait, the All-Star break. Did anyone think he'd be back in May ... yes, I think Howard's uncertainty will lead to an inefficient market for him. There's the chance he's down on power slightly, but what we've seen doesn't indicate that's a significant enough concern to not bid for four months of Howard. I'm not saying sell the farm for him, but if you're down on power, yes. My bigger concern is Jimmy Rollins, who's been terrible. I'd love to see a stat of how many times Rollins was driven in by Howard, or better a percentage.

Mack: He is going to be tough to trade for, because those owners who stashed him have already waited longer than half the time. If he's available, go and get him, because he can still hit .280-30-80 in four months of baseball. You can be asked to pay too much, but you shouldn't, because first base is a deep position in mixed leagues and you can find better bargains elsewhere.

Sabino: If this were March and Howard were months removed from any setbacks in a rehab that went smoothly, I'd be all in on Howard. But with the problematic nature of his recovery, his size in general and the likelihood that Charlie Manuel will be forced to give Howard ample rests for the remainder of the season, I'm not sure I would go too far out of my way to acquire Howard. Even in the best of health Howard's batting average and complete lack of speed is a drain in many fantasy formats, but with unanswerable questions about his physical condition swirling around him, he's a problem better left for someone else.

3. Pablo Sandoval has joined a growing list of third basemen felled by injury. Do any under-the radar contributors offer help at the hot corner?

Carroll: Edwin Encarnacion isn't under the radar by now, I hope. (Nope, 100 percent owned.) Emilio Bonifacio is at 98 percent. Wait, here's one at 13 percent. Kyle Seager isn't going to be mistaken for a great player, but he's a solid fantasy option if you're digging. The M's just seem to have a lot of "good" guys and not much in the way of "great."

Mack: Will Middlebrooks can help in a pinch at third base if you lost Sandoval recently. The prospect might even be able to stick around with the team after Kevin Youkilis comes off the DL. The problem then lies in whether Middlebrooks, or maybe Youkilis can try to play left field. Over the past week Middlebrooks has proven his bat belongs in the major leagues at the very least. In mixed leagues, you probably have available to you the likes of Seager, Chris Johnson, Daniel Murphy or Ian Stewart -- all of whom are legit sleepers we have yet to see the best of.

Sabino: It may seem far-fetched given his fleeting time in the majors, but Middlebrooks is setting up a scenario for himself where he could stick in the majors even after Youkilis returns from the DL. Middlebrooks, widely regarded as Boston's top prospect, has been a revelation for Bobby Valentine's boys, creating a crack in the pall that's surrounding a team that thinks it belongs in first place but stands in last. With Carl Crawford out for a matter of months, and Marlon Byrd sporting a ridiculously-low .240/.250/.260 slash line, Valentine, always good for an unorthodox move, could keep Middlebrooks' hot bat around in left field (which, at Fenway, is basically deep shortstop anyhow) some of the time and as Youkilis' relief other times. Cody Ross is able to play centerfield on the days when Youkilis and Middlebrooks are in the lineup together. It sounds far-fetched, but isn't that the way things are on a Valentine-managed team?

4. The Orioles have gotten off to a surprisingly-hot start with some great performances from Adam Jones, Matt Wieters and Chris Davis while Nick Markakis, J.J. Hardy and Mark Reynolds have struggled. Where do you see these two groups trending in the months ahead?

Carroll: They'll meet in the middle. I like what I've seen from Wieters in this post-hype year for him. He's not Chuck Norris, but he's a nice catcher that seems to be doing everything well. Davis and Reynolds still strike out too much for their power return, but there is talent here. Jones is the one I'd be selling high on. He's not Willie Mays. He's not even much more that Shane Victorino, and no one's excited by him.

Mack: Jones, Wieters and Davis are legit hitters just now entering their primes. But Markakis, Hardy and Reynolds are, too. Buy low on those struggling three and hold (don't sell) on the streaking trio. The Orioles are going to have a market-correction, but it won't necessarily be because of the bats. It will come down to pitching for them and how well the young arms can sustain their stuff over the course of 162 games.

Sabino: Let's start with Jones, who, at age 26, is finally maturing into the type of hitter who can go .300, 30 HR, 100 RBIs on an annual basis. With Victor Martinez out and Joe Mauer struggling for a second year in a row, there's little doubting Wieters' dominance among offensive AL catchers, with Alex Avila a decent runner-up. And Davis, who was MVP-caliber in the minors but seemingly unfocused whenever recalled by the Rangers, finally seems relaxed at the plate and should be able to be at worst a middle-of the-pack starting first baseman in the AL.

As for those struggling, Markakis is professional hitter who has never hit below .284, is a career .293 hitter and will be around the .300 mark again this season when all is said and done. Hardy is also someone who started off slow, but a five-hit, two-home run Sunday certainly freshened up some previously dismal numbers. The final player in the group is Reynolds, who is the biggest beneficiary of Nolan Reimold's injury. With third base threat Wilson Betemit now needed in left, Reynolds has responded nicely with home runs in his last two games, and now can assume to be on the lineup card every day, something that wasn't happening with Reimold in the lineup. Those elements of the Orioles offense are for real and will continue to be. The jury is still out on whether the Birds' pitching will be able to stay as effective through a full AL East summer.

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