Pitching Report: Some bullpens in turmoil, some settled to start year
Red Sox, Rays, Nationals are likely to shuffle closing job early in season
Aroldis Chapman's dominant spring may have him in play to close for Reds
Jordan Walden a little shaky but has little competion to close for Angels
Another April, another Opening Day of closing drama: There is a reason fantasy analysts tell you to avoid putting your Easter eggs in the closers basket, particularly the shaky, breaky ones.
Ryan Madson, snap. Joakim Soria, getting cut. Andrew Bailey out at least through the All-Star break. Drew Storen and Kyle Farnsworth, shelved until late April.
Jose Valverde at least took the mound Thursday, with a fresh new dance. Too bad he went from the perfect 49-for-49 in 2011 save opportunities to 0-for-1 in 2012 -- regardless if he picked up a relief victory.
Once again, we have the annual mess at the closer position in fantasy that spring training never seems to clean up. We will try to do it for you here in the first Pitching Report of the season, outlining which tenuous closer situations you might want to watch for some potential saves down the road.
We will need a week-plus to get a real good sense of the rotations, so this report will go in-depth on the season-opening situations in the back-end of bullpens:
If you're still searching for saves, you probably have the best chance of picking up a dark horse candidate among these teams right now. We have an idea who their closer is, perhaps, but we really don't know how long that might last:
1. Boston Red Sox -- This is disaster city: Jonathan Papelbon is in Philly, Jonathan Bard is in the rotation and Bailey (torn thumb ligament) is out at least through the All-Star break after surgery. Alfredo Aceves is Bobby Valentine's choice at closer, but neither he nor Mark Melancon could keep the Tigers at bay on Opening Day. This could be a fluid situation to watch. Franklin Morales, Michael Bowden or even Vicente Padilla can pitch their way into some save chances. The fact the Red Sox figure to win a lot of games, whoever can effectively emerge and close games stands to be real interesting in fantasy. Still, Aceves gets the first look, Melancon next.
2. Tampa Bay Rays -- Yet another precarious situation: Farnsworth (sore elbow) is giving way to ... well, someone. Joel Peralta is prepared to close, but Fernando Rodney has closer experience and J.P. Howell has closer ability now he is healthy after Tommy John surgery. That trio will rotate in the role for the time being, with Peralta the first choice. Eventually, regardless of Farnsworth's health, we should expect prospect Jake McGee to be the best choice. He was good down the stretch after recovering from his own Tommy John surgery. He isn't in the mix yet but expect him to pitch his way into it.
3. Washington Nationals -- With Drew Storen on the DL until late April, Brad Lidge got the save on Opening Day, albeit a dicey one where he gave up a triple and needed a play at the plate to cut down the game-tying run. Hard-throwing Henry Rodriguez will get save looks, while Tyler Clippard is preferred to be kept in an earlier role where he thrives getting relief wins, like he did Thursday.
4. Oakland Athletics -- Grant Balfour got the save in Game 2 in Japan and will open as the closer. It wouldn't be all that surprising to see the A's go with lefty Brian Fuentes or hard-throwing Fautino De Los Santos early in the season, though. Balfour and Fuentes are already in a righty-lefty situation and can share save opportunities. Eventually, expect the A's to go with De Los Santos full time. At just 6 percent ownership on CBSSports.com, he is a great buy-low option.
5. Chicago White Sox -- Matt Thornton is probably the lefty closer to start, while Jesse Crain is the righty closer, if Robin Ventura wants to play the matchups. Eventually, lightning armed Addison Reed will be the go-to guy. It will take some early dominance, but Reed has the knock-out stuff that can make him Kimbrel-good in a hurry.
These teams have closers right now, but they probably have the wrong one. In the event the chosen one struggles early, you will want to have these backups stashed away. The replacements have the potential to be real good for us in fantasy:
1. Cincinnati Reds -- Sean Marshall was headed for the save on Opening Day before the Reds tacked on two runs in the bottom of the eighth. But it was the impressive inning of Aroldis Chapman that will make this an interesting bullpen to watch. Chapman looks healthy and has his command in order -- just two walks in 17 spring training innings. Chapman has the look of the most dominant reliever in baseball, as a setup man or, eventually, a closer. Marshall saves the games for the Reds, but it might not take long to make a switch. Madson's loss for the season, ruined Chapman's chances to be a starter, but it makes him a great stashee in the early weeks of fantasy.
2. Texas Rangers -- They signed Joe Nathan to close and they have Mike Adams in a setup role still, but Alexi Ogando didn't have a spot in the rotation, so he could be groomed to be the long-term closer they decided Neftali Feliz shouldn't be. Ogando is a decent stashee, especially because Nathan just wasn't impressive for much of last year coming off Tommy John surgery. Heck, even Koji Uehara might be worth stashing in AL-only formats.
3. Los Angeles Dodgers -- For as potentially dominant Kenley Jansen can be, Javy Guerra is still good and capable in his own right. Guerra won the closer's role and picked up the save on Opening Day as Jansen gave up two runs as a setup man. Jansen can rise to the closer's role down the road and maybe never look back, but Guerra doesn't look that shaky right now.
4. Toronto Blue Jays -- Count this analyst as surprised John Farrell is going with Sergio Santos as his unquestioned closer over Francisco Cordero. Yes, Santos has a great arm and is coming off a good year, but Cordero has been one of the steadiest closers not named Rivera for the past decade. Santos just converted to pitching a few short years ago. The steadiness of Cordero is getting overlooked. The Reds will be missing it like the Red Sox will miss Papelbon. Cordero is a decent bet to wind up in the closer's role at some point this year.
5. Cleveland Indians -- The good news is Chris Perez is healthy. The bad news is he blew the save on opening day and Vinnie Pestano is manager Manny Acta's fallback guy. Pestano could take the closer's job if Perez proves unhealthy or unfit for the role. Pestano's ownership in CBSSports.com's leagues is already up to 26 percent for that possibility.
These closers have jobs given to them, but they aren't great fantasy options right now and might give way to someone ... if there was someone really intriguing to go to:
1. Kansas City Royals -- When Soria went down, a lot of owners were jumping on Greg Holland. He is a fine young arm, sure, but Jonathan Broxton is the replacement closer. He has the ability to hold that role from Holland long enough for elite arm Aaron Crow to seize it from the both of them. Crow was going to get some starts this year, but the better bet is he winds up the closer. Crow was a monster in relief in the first half last year and another hot start like that will slot him as a closer long term. He opens the year as the setup man, but closer is probably where he belongs.
2. Colorado Rockies -- They are going with Rafael Betancourt for now, but prospect Rex Brothers is the one to watch as a setup man. If Brothers can put some shutout innings together, the Rockies might consider an early hook on Betancourt, who has made his bones in a setup role for most of his career. Brothers has some legit potential long term.
3. Baltimore Orioles -- Jim Johnson is the closer for as long as he stays healthy and effective. The only reason this situation will be tenuous is because Kevin Gregg and Matt Lindstrom both have extensive experience closing games. Manager Buck Showalter might lean on the hot hand, but it should be Johnson more often than not over the course of the season.
4. New York Mets -- Frank Francisco picked up an Opening-Day save and is the closer of choice right now. Jon Rauch sets him up with Ramon Ramirez, but Bobby Parnell and his high-90s heat shouldn't be entirely forgotten if he can put some good months together.
5. Minnesota Twins -- Matt Capps is the closer, if only because the other options are not great. Glen Perkins emerged as the setup man, so he might be worth stashing in the event Capps has another down year.
Half of the league looks pretty set in stone with their closers, but we will evaluate these teams just in case the go-to guy gets injured, needs a temporary breather or mysteriously implodes for an extended period of time -- which is never out of the question at this position in fantasy. The rankings below are not related to their fantasy value but their actual job security:
1. New York Yankees -- Mariano Rivera will never be challenged, but as far as setup men go, David Robertson and Rafael Soriano are as good as it gets. A DL stint for Rivera might make Soriano the closer before Robertson, if only because the Yankees might want to keep the 100-strikeout arm of Robertson in a steady role. It will be interesting to watch, though.
2. Atlanta Braves -- Craig Kimbrel is as potentially dominant as they get. Jonny Venters might be the best setup man in fantasy, too.
3. Philadelphia Phillies -- Jon Papelbon brings some much needed stability, something the Red Sox likely didn't realize they had until it is gone. Chad Qualls and Antonio Bastardo set up.
4. Miami Marlins -- Heath Bell is locked in. Edward Mujica and Mike Dunn are the top setup man. Dunn is the more intriguing arm, but he might be relegated to situation roles as a lefty.
5. Detroit Tigers -- Valverde isn't going to be challenged for his job, despite the opening blown save. The Tigers do have a deep setup staff, including Joaquin Benoit, Octavio Dotel, Phil Coke and Daniel Schlereth, but it will take a long bad month or two for Valverde to surrender his job to any one of them.
6. Arizona Diamondbacks -- No one will question J.J. Putz's status as a closer after the 2011 he had. Dave Hernandez and Brad Zeigler, in that order, will back him up.
7. San Francisco Giants -- For some odd reason, fantasy owners are down on Brian Wilson after a disappointing year. It might be because Sergio Romo is so good as a setup man. We shouldn't be anticipating a change here unless Wilson is hurt.
8. Seattle Mariners -- Brandon League looks capable of putting together a career year. The M's have the likes of Tom Whilhelmsen, Hisashi Iwamura and George Sherrill setting up, and none of which are intriguing stashes yet. Iwamura is more of a long reliever and spot starter.
9. Milwaukee Brewers -- John Axford is coming off a breakthrough year, so Francisco Rodriguez will be relegated to backing him up.
10. Houston Astros -- They moved Brett Myers out of the rotation for a reason and he stands to be pretty good saving whatever games the Astros actually do win. Brandon Lyon, Wilton Lopez and David Carpenter are the setup men in some order.
11. Pittsburgh Pirates -- Joel Hanrahan is the unquestioned stopper after his career year. Evan Meek might have had the closer-in-waiting title, but he needs to prove healthy and effective for a full season before any change would be considered.
12. Chicago Cubs -- Carlos Marmol pitched in a tie game on Opening Day and absorbed the loss, but he will still be the closer, while Kerry Wood waits in the wings.
13. St. Louis Cardinals -- Jason Motte picked up the save on opening night and is finally looking capable of his first full season in the role. Fernando Salas and Kyle McClellan are the setup men.
14. San Diego Padres -- Huston Street has been an underappreciated closer for years. In the right situation, he can be an elite fantasy option. Luke Gregerson sets up, but that 100 mph arm of Andrew Cashner is going to light up eyes of fantasy owners like he does scoreboards and radar guns.
15. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim -- Jordan Walden seems like a shaky closer, but not if you look at the alternatives in this bullpen. Scott Downs isn't bad, but he is a career left-handed setup man. Jason Isringhausen and LaTroy Hawkins are has beens and Kevin Jepsen is coming off an injury-plagued year. Walden is probably a lot safer than people think.
Eric Mack writes fantasy for SI.com. If you miss his Monday baseball trends, Wednesday prospect report or Friday pitching review, you can also find him on Twitter, where you can mock him, rip him and (doubtful) praise him before asking him for fantasy advice @EricMackFantasy. He reads all the messages there (guaranteed) and takes them very, very personally (not really).