KFFL answers important fantasy baseball questions for each Major League Baseball team as spring training approaches. What must fantasy baseball players know about the Oakland Athletics?
Who will record saves for the A's?
Don't call Grant Balfour "Ball Four" anymore. For the past two seasons - last year in Oaktown, the year prior with the Tampa Bay Rays - he registered ERAs below 2.50. And, it's no coincidence, rates of walks per nine below 3.00. In the past few years, he'd demonstrated signs that he was learning to hone his approach, but those two campaigns are evidence that it's sharp.
We know, but ... could happen
Balfour, 34, appears to have dialed it back in order to have better command, and he's having success. Fantasy baseball players could easily be looking at a K/9 lower than 9.00 again, but they should welcome the sacrifice. In 2012, Balfour saved a couple but blew a few (which lost him the interim job), and he's very likely trade bait at the deadline. Still, in this mess, he sticks out as the most logical pitcher in which to invest, early on.
Joey Devine, 28, didn't pitch in 2009 or 2010 because of repeated setbacks in his recovery from Tommy John surgery. He's simply been unable to sustain health. In 2011, he began a triumphant return by posting a 4.24 ERA, a 13.50 K/9, a 3.47 BB/9 in 23 1/3 frames with Triple-A Sacramento, followed by a 3.52 ERA, a 7.83 K/9 and a 4.30 BB/9 in 23 stanzas with Oakland.
Naturally, his 2011 season ended prematurely; the A's shut him down because he'd been dealing with a muscle strain in his back. The good news: It's not his arm, and he didn't continue to pitch with it and risk his arm. When his back became a problem, it affected his peripherals. Devine is worth a deep flier because Oakland surely would like to see the right-hander contribute, which could easily happen if Balfour departs, if not before that.
Fautino De Los Santos, 26 next month, has the sexiest of all attributes for a closer: the mid- to upper-90s fastball and breaking stuff to fan plenty of batters. In the minors, he's fanned nearly 12 batters per nine innings. Last year, in his big-league debut, he posted a 4.32 ERA and 43 K's in 33 1/3 innings.
FDLS's problem is that he walks the opposition with great frequency. It wasn't much of an issue at the lower levels; his career minor league BB/9 is 3.29. He's walked about five per nine in the last year and a half, from Double-A on up, however. If he reins it in, he's vicious, but often such a wild arm finds it difficult to sustain success. Yes, he could be worth the flier in any very deep league, but he's likely to be among your first cuts, unless you have a great deal of patience.
What fantasy baseball player wants to see Brian Fuentes' name on a list of candidates to close? Last season, he was horrible while filling in for Andrew Bailey at the beginning of the season. He yielded save chances to Balfour before regaining the role just prior to the point at which Bailey returned from the disabled list.
Fuentes, 36, still ended up with a 3.70 ERA because, after the break, he forged a 1.70 ERA and a 0.90 WHIP in 21 innings. He owns 199 career saves and six seasons with 20 or more. His ability to net whiffs has dwindled, and he can no longer retire right-handed batters consistently, but he'll assuredly be attractive in the ninth, when the matchup dictates. He's not the most desirable choice, but would it really surprise you if Fuentes ended up with a dozen saves, give or take? That's reason enough to make him an AL-only reserve.
Minnix is baseball editor and a fantasy football analyst at KFFL. He plays in LABR and Tout Wars and won the FSWA Baseball Industry Insiders League in 2010.
The University of Delaware alum is a regular guest on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio and Baltimore's WNST AM 1570.