Last season, much to my amazement, MLB had a 30% turnover in April alone among the closers who left Spring Training in their respective team’s saddles. That is nothing, compared to the closer turnover in week one of the 2015 AL East season. Two of the five teams in the East had to change closers, one team has not named one yet, and one more has not used the pitcher we thought would be the closer. Depending on the math one uses, that could be an 80% turn on the Merry-Go-Round. Zach Britton, who was an unlikely closer last season, is still the closer in Baltimore. Dellin Betances, everyone’s favorite to close for the Yanks, has not been given a save opportunity yet, and the Rays are still waffling over who will eventually hold the role until Jake McGee is back. The Red Sox had to put Koji Uehara on the DL and name Ed Mujica the interim closer, though he has yet to record a save, and finally the Jays had to replace an injured and ineffective Brett Cecil, at least temporarily. Hopefully you are not in a league that is save dependant, and if you are, you didn’t mine the AL East closers in the draft. More on the ramifications of this later, as there is so much more to talk about.
New York Yankees:
Did you hear that loud thud and clamor in New York over the glorious return of A-Rod? No, neither did anyone else. A-Rod was a non issue and seems to have settled into his role as a part-time infielder and DH without drama or noise, other than the home run he hit Thursday night (his .278 Avg leads the Yanks). What was more important to me were the starting pitching performances. Masahiro Tanaka and his self-healing UCL had a miserable opening day, but he reported that he felt fine physically. He also stated that he is changing his delivery to put less strain on the elbow. This did not ease our concerns, especially those of us who risked a good pick on him, nor did it help the Yank’s faithful think they still have a shot at the post season. On a brighter note, Michael Pineda was brilliant, CC Sabathia pitched well in all but one 3-run frame, and the Yanks got serviceable starts from Nate Eovaldi and Adam Warren. I drafted Warren as a reliever, but I’ll take a few more starts like this one. I just wish they’d let him finish the 6th inning for a Quality Start (QS). The hitting has been miserable, with more than half the starting lineup hitting below the Mendoza line and none with more than 2 RBI. Mark Teixeira does have 2 homers showing his wrist is finally healed. Now if they can get someone on base for him. It is early, and that is something to hang on to.
Hitter to watch: Chris Young OF – Young will never go back to those days when he flirted with 30/30, but he still has both the power and the speed. The Yanks have announced that he will play against all lefties, and if you have an available bench spot he is worth adding in leagues that allow daily lineup changes. He is 2/9 so far, but those two are a double and a 3-run HR.
Pitcher to watch: Dellin Betances/Andrew Miller RP – I don’t know what the plan is, but here is my theory: Girardi is easing Betances into the role. Andrew Miller’s save the other night doubled his career output of saves. He has never been a closer and I don’t see him becoming one in 2015, unless something goes terribly wrong. As I said here, Betances will close. Both are still worth owning.
On the farm: Rob Refsnyder, 2b – Stephen Drew is batting .118 so far, and that is not a lot worse than the rest of the offense. Refsnyder can hit and, while he may not field as well as Drew, the Yanks could use a shot in the arm offensively. Another week or two of Stephen Half Mendoza and I think we will see Refsnyder.
Baltimore got some surprise pitching performances of their own. The trio of Chris Tillman, Miguel Gonzalez and Ubaldo Jimenez combined to give up 2 earned runs over 3 starts, with Ubaldo striking out 8 batters in 7 shutout innings last night. This somewhat made up for the 11 runs that Wei-Yin Chen and Bud Norris surrendered in their two starts. Tillman is supposed to be the ace, but the other 4 should return to the mean soon. Everth Cabrera, who many (including myself) were counting on to give a burst of early season speed, has done nothing. JJ Hardy is due back soon (he starts a rehab assignment tomorrow), which will push Cabrera and his platoon mate Ryan Flaherty back into utility roles. I still think Everth will add value at some point in 2015, but I don’t think he is worth hanging on to at this point, unless something changes next week with either him or Hardy. Early hitting returns show Adam Jones, Jon Schoop, Steve Pearce and Alejandro De Aza hitting with power, and Manny Machado hitless in 5 games. Pick up De Aza if your hitters started like the Yankees, but don’t expect that power output to continue. He went undrafted in most leagues.
Hitter to watch: Alejandro De Aza/Travis Snider, OF – Both are penciled in as the starters in LF and RF, with no visible competition other than Steve Pearce’s occasional OF starts, and both are hitting for average and power. Snider is 27 and has always had power, and he started this season 6/15 with a double and some runs and RBI. De Aza showed that he was a potential 20/20 man in 2013 and already has hit two bombs while hitting .333. I would not bet the farm, but both are worth a flyer, again especially if you have Carlos Beltran in your OF.
Pitcher to watch: Ubaldo Jimenez SP/Kevin Gausman RP – Ubaldo’s gem was important for two reasons. It keeps him in the rotation and keeps Kevin Gausman out of it. I think Gausman has good upside and I drafted him in a couple of leagues. But if he is going to give up 2 runs in relief every week, he is not worth holding on to, as long as Ubaldo and Gonzalez hold rotation spots, unless you have bench space. I dropped him already, hopefully not too soon. Continue to spot start Ubaldo and Gonzalez, but maybe not in Boston or Detroit, etc.
On the farm: Matt Wieters took batting practice Saturday. I’m excited about that. Enough said.
Boston Red Sox:
I panned the Sawx SP preseason as mediocre and lacking an ace. Through one turn each of the 5 Sawx SP threw a QS, in fact four of them (all but Porcello) pitched well enough to win including double-digit K rates, the one stat I thought this group would lack. Other than an Ed Mujica blown save on a solo homer, the pen has done well also. Both the Yanks and Sawx made it to the 19th inning on good relief pitching the other night, but the Yanks last pitcher finally gave up one more run than the Sawx last pitcher. I still think they need an ace to emerge and the most likely source, Clay Buchholz pitched a gem in his first start. Unfortunately, as I was typing this article he had given up 4 Yankee runs in the first couple of innings of Sunday night’s game. It’s early still, both in the season and the typical Yanks/Sawx game. On offense the Sawx are getting good contributions from Xander Bogaerts, which is a welcome sight, and Hanley Ramirez, which helps to make up for a couple of badly played balls in LF. The jury is still out, at least in my camp, on whether or not Hanley can play LF well enough to stay there. Dustin Pedroia hit 2 HR on opening day. Don’t get used to it.
Hitter to watch: Shane Victorino, OF, Mookie Betts,OF, & Mike Napoli, 1b – After Five games that trio was 6/50, or .120. In the preseason we wondered how they would get at bats for Rusney Castillo and Allen Craig. The clock is ticking for all of the above.
Pitcher to watch: Koji Uehara, Ed Mujica, Junichi Tazawa – I still say Mujica leads the team in saves in 2015. Don’t bet the whole Merry-Go-Round on that.
On the farm: Rusney Castillo, OF – We are not sure why he was sent down in the first place, especially those of us who drafted or traded for him. I don’t think there is enough in Boston to keep him there very long. Don’t drop him any time soon.
Toronto Blue Jays:
Who is Devon Travis? He grew up in the Tigers system and was traded this off-season for Anthony Gose. There is a good chance both teams will be happy with their haul, as both are playing very well and both were blocked at the big league level by veterans Ian Kinsler and Dalton Pompey/Michael Saunders respectively. In 2013 Travis had 195 hits which he turned into 105 runs, 18 HR, 88 RBI and a .337/.404/.497 slash. He followed that up with a .298/.358/.460 slash in AA in 2014. This season he hit the ground running, hitting .313/.421/.563 on the early season with a HR. Oh, he also stole 41 bases the last two seasons in the minors. It was nice to see Edwin Encarnacion get off to a good start after injuries slowed him in 2014, hitting 2 HR so far on the young season. In the rotation, Mark Buehrle and R.A. Dickey will give you what you expect and make great matchup plays in fantasy. But it will be fun to watch the other three kids in the rotation, Drew Hutchinson, Aaron Sanchez and Daniel Norris, any of whom could break out this season. I’d own Norris and spot the other two for now. Michael Saunders should be back next week, ho-hum.
Hitter to watch: Devon Travis, 2b – I picked him up in a few leagues. I think he is the real deal. If he is still out there, grab him. He is my early favorite for AL Rookie of the Year, predicted here.
Pitcher to watch : Miguel Castro, RP – I don’t know if he’ll hang onto the closer’s role, but he is a quality pitcher either way. I don’t think he lasts on the wire past this week. He could even run away with the job, and I just watched him go for over $100 in a FAAB draft. Of course that same bunch spent that on Kyle Farnsworth in 2014.
On the farm: Marcus Stroman, SP – Don’t forget about Marcus Stroman in dynasty leagues while he rehabs from a torn ACL and should be healthy for 2016. His arm is fine.
Tampa Bay Rays:
I never bought into the John Jaso lead off hitter idea. Now I don’t have to, as he is on the DL with a sprained left wrist. James Loney also hit the DL, making the Rays infirmary pretty crowded when added to the half-dozen or so MLB pitchers already rehabbing there. That is the story in Tampa. When will the wounded come back? It won’t even matter if Longoria has what I think will be a rebound season, if the rest of the roster is hurt or ineffective. Chris Archer (2 games) and Jake Odorizzi (1 game) have done their part to right the ship so far pitching nearly 20 innings while only giving up 3 ER and scoring 17 strikeouts. Both should already be owned in all leagues.
Hitter to watch: Kevin Kiermaier, OF – Kiermaier made a pretty good splash in 2014, but nothing in his minor league career gave us reason to believe he was the real deal. So far in 2015 he is the Rays best hitter going .353/.389/.941 with 5 runs scored, 4 RBI a triple and a pair each of doubles and HR. He’ll come back to earth, but even at half this production he is worth a speculative add if he is still on your wire.
Pitcher to watch: Nate Karns, SP – Karns got lit up in his first 2015 start after securing himself a rotation spot out of Spring Training. Were you nervous after that? Sure you were, but today he pitched seven innings of two hit, two walk ball only giving up one earned run and striking out six. Go ahead and breath a sigh of relief owners. He should be fine. Ernie Frieri got a save in the same game after giving up a run on two hits with no strikeouts. Take nothing from Frieri’s performance, as he came on in the 8th and the manager just let him finish the game. There is still no closer in Tampa, other than the guy who closes the roof when it rains.
On the farm: Mikie Mahtook, Allen Dykstra – Actually, neither is on the farm, as they have both been called up to replace the injured John Jaso and James Loney respectively. Mahtook is a high strikeout hitter, who gets on base with walks and boasts good power and speed. Baseball Reference lists his position as “pinch hitter.” I don’t know what that means, but Jaso was the DH, so why not? Dykstra is a power bat that strikes out and walks even more than Mahtook, but is a mediocre defender at 1b. He’ll be 27 until May, about the time Loney comes back. I’d say that is exactly how long he has to prove he belongs. Both could put some numbers on the board if you have the space.
Pitching grabs for next week: Bolded pitchers are two start pitchers for the week.
Mon: Pineda @ Balt, Dickey vs TB, Odorizzi @ Tor
Tue: Miguel Gonzalez vs NYY
Wed: Buerhle vs TB
Thu: Archer @ Tor
Fri: Warren @ TB, Karns vs NY, Ubaldo @ Bos, Kelly vs Balt, Hutchinson vs Atl
Sat: Buchholz vs Balt, Odorizzi vs NY
Sun: Pineda vs TB
While I was typing this, Alex Rodriguez hit a bases clearing double vs the Red Sox and now leads Yank hitters in just about every hitting category. Somewhere warm and sunny, a relaxed and tanned Derek Jeter looked at the bikini clad super model next to him, smiled, shrugged, and was happy for A-Rod. Unfortunately Tanaka gave up 4 runs in 5 innings, but that was good enough for a W after Buchholz was rocked for 10 runs in 3 innings. Where were these runs the other night in the 19-inning game?
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