Lord Zola's Fantasy Baseball Mailbag

by Todd Zola, MastersBall.com on March 28, 2011 @ 17:48:47 PDT


It is almost here, opening day! We are all in first place until the first out is recorded. But with the season starting mid-week, several leagues have yet to hold their drafts. In fact, the original rules called for the draft to be held the first weekend of the season so the 25-man rosters were final since only players on the opening day roster were eligible.

Remember, I will be answering your questions all season long. If you need advice on a free agent or waiver pick-up, or help with a trade, please e-mail them to lordzola@kffl.com, post them on the KFFL Baseball Facebook page or via Twitter by following @KFFL_Baseball. Let's see what last minute nuggets we can dole out this week.

Hi Todd. I hate paying for saves, who are some of the cheap relievers I should target that could become a closer this season? - John Roberts

My favorite choice may not be so cheap and that is Brandon League of Seattle, who will be holding down the fort until David Aardsma returns, or maybe I should say if Aardsma returns. Keep in mind it was not that long ago that Aardsma was filling on for a then-injured J.J. Putz and ended up closing the whole season. That said, Aardsma should be back but if he pitches well, he could be dealt.

Next on my list is Jon Rauch who is also filling in for an injured Frank Francisco. Rauch will be the guy for Toronto, since Octavio Dotel is also hurt. Rauch and League are in similar situations, both are only keeping the chair warm, but you never know what might happen.

Philadelphia Phillies 2B Chase Utley
Utley: better be a big discount

If you can afford to keep him active, Matt Capps should get a few chances early in the season as Minnesota will be reticent to use Joe Nathan in back to back games. Capps' skills are such that he will not hurt you in deeper leagues that usually have a middle reliever or two populating most active rosters.

It is still unclear if Andrew Bailey will be ready in Oakland. The Athletics have a stacked bullpen so it is hard to target one guy as Brian Fuentes, Michael Wuertz, Craig Breslow and even Brad Ziegler can get the job done.

In Anaheim, Fernando Rodney has had a strong spring, but many feel his leash may be short. Kevin Jepsen and, when healthy, Scott Downs could benefit, but long term, Jordan Walden could be the smart play.

If you are looking more long term, it is only a matter of time before Jake McGee proves to be the best choice for Tampa. Initially, the Rays are expected to use a committee headed by Kyle Farnsworth that may even include Joel Peralta. But when the dust settles, McGee should be the man.

Baltimore's Kevin Gregg always seems to get the job done, albeit in an ugly manner. But with Mike Gonzalez and Koji Uehara nipping at his heels, his smoke and mirrors may move to set up. Uehara has great skills and closed in Japan, but cannot be trusted to stay healthy.

Switching to the Senior Circuit, in Philadelphia, Jose Contreras looks to have the edge over Ryan Madson while Brad Lidge is out. Madson is the superior pitcher, but the word is the Phillies brass is more comfortable leaving Madson in the set-up role. I am not buying it and would use that to my advantage to get Madson cheap. If Lidge is out for an extended period, skills usually win out. I know the perception is Madson cannot handle the pressure of closing games, but I am not a believer in that theory. I prefer to roster the peripherals and let the role come.

It seems as though Ryan Franklin is atop the first to lose his closer gig list and this season is no different. Jason Motte is the popular choice for his successor, though Fernando Salas and Mitchell Boggs are dark-horse candidates.

In San Francisco, while Brian Wilson is out, expect Sergio Romo to get the ball in the ninth. Though, if there is a tough lefty at the dish, Jeremy Affeldt may get the call.

Jonathan Broxton is going to be interesting to follow. This time last season, he was one of the top closers in the game, but after his second half collapse last season, many are touting Kenley Jansen and Hong-Chih Kuo.

A rough spring for Drew Storen has forced Washington to ease him into the closer role so Tyler Clippard and Sean Burnett may get some chances early on. Long term, Storen is still the guy.

Atlanta claims they will split the saves between a couple of youngsters. Righty fireballer Craig Kimbrel can throw a ball through a brick wall, assuming he can hit it. Southpaw Jonny Venters has similar stuff but does not fan quite as many as Kimbrel, though the lefty walks fewer. Even though Bobby Cox is not at the helm, the Braves have gone through an entire season sharing closing duties with Rafael Soriano and Mike Gonzalez as the principles, so it is possible it happens again.

J.J. Putz has experienced some soreness this spring. While most will assume Juan Gutierrez is the replacement with Sam Demel as the long shot, I would keep an eye on David Hernandez.

Wow, that is a ton of precarious bullpen situations. And we have not even broached the scenarios in Pittsburgh, Boston, Detroit and Houston, all of which could be on the list, but I feel Joel Hanrahan, Jonathan Papelbon, Jose Valverde and Brandon Lyon will be fine.

So let's sum this up with a couple of quick hit lists. Short term, my favorite for April saves are Brandon League, Jon Rauch, Matt Capps and reluctantly Jose Contreras. Longer term, I look for Jake McGee, Jordan Walden and Drew Storen to end the season as their squad's closers. For those looking at 2012, Boston's Daniel Bard, San Diego's Luke Gregerson and the aforementioned Madson are good bets to morph into the closer role.

Dear Lord, how are you handling the injuries to Grady Sizemore, Carlos Beltran, Jake Peavy, Brandon Webb, Rich Harden, Justin Morneau, Kendrys Morales and Chase Utley? - Rick Waters

That's a pretty good list of All-Star talent. In general, my style is risk averse. Perhaps this can be perceived as elitist, but in general, I do not feel I need the boon of an injured player playing well to win. I feel I can assemble a championship squad without taking on the risk. That said, there is a point where the reward outweighs the risk for everyone.

With that as a backdrop, I am not touching Utley, Sizemore, Peavy, Webb or Harden. Pitching is too rich to throw darts at the injured hurlers. I would rather take a flier on Michael Pineda. Utley is not getting enough of a discount for me while I have no confidence Sizemore will return to previous form even if he is healthy.

Beltran is a decent risk so long as you do not expect steals. I can see getting him as an OF3 in mixed leagues since it will not be that hard to find a replacement if necessary. I did not end up with Beltran on any of my squads, primarily because I am looking at other positions when he is typically drafted. But there were a couple of times I would have taken him if he made it to my next pick.

Morneau is interesting because the problem does not appear to be present health, as he appears to be over his concussion symptoms. The issue is he is likely more susceptible to another long stint out if he takes another blow to the head. If you feel like this is not a concern, the discount you can get on Morneau could be a great value play.

That leaves us with Morales. I took him in round 13 of a 15 team league this past week, so that pretty well quantifies my feeling on him. I am concerned for sure as the trouble is now a foot injury and not just the broken leg. But at that point in my draft, I felt I could back him up with a quality first baseman in case his issues linger. Remember, I no longer need third or fourth round stats from Morales, only what I would get from someone like Ike Davis or Gaby Sanchez. I felt round 13 was worth the risk.

Hey Todd, I have my auction next weekend. Do you have any general, last minute advice? - Sam Miller

One of my favorite ploys in deep leagues is to identify the position battles that went down to the wire, and pick up the loser for a huge discount. At minimum, you have an end gamer, likely to earn what it costs. But often, water finds its level and you have the player that will earn his job back at a bargain price.

One scenario you may want to consider is Blake DeWitt in Chicago. Jeff Baker and a hot spring from Darwin Barney have seriously deflated DeWitt's value. But an injury to Aramia Ramirez or struggles from Baker and Barney can pick DeWitt's value right back up.

The second base situation for the New York Mets is a little different as the incumbent Luis Castillo was released. Even though Brad Emaus was announced as the starter, don't forget about Daniel Murphy who will still see plenty of at bats.

The idea is to watch the reports the rest of this week, and take a look at all the times a positional battle or even rotation spot came down to the last minute. Identify the player on the outside looking in and acquire then for a big discount and hope they reclaim their old job.

When Todd is not trying to find a healthy closer that is not going to lose his job, you can find him hanging out on the forum at Mastersball.

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About Todd Zola, MastersBall.com

Focusing primarily on the science of player valuation and game theory starting in 1997, Todd Zola and Mastersball carved out an important niche in the fantasy industry. In 2006, Todd became the Research Director for fantasybaseball.com, and in 2009, he relaunched Mastersball and is now a managing partner.

Todd competes in Tout Wars and the XFL, and has been a multiple-time league champion in the National Fantasy Baseball Championship. He has been a contributor to the fantasy content at MLB.com and SI.com, is a frequent guest on Sirius/XM and Blog Talk Radio and is an annual speaker at the spring and fall First Pitch Forum symposiums.

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