This week in (fantasy) baseball 2/27/12-3/4/12

It’s hard enough following one’s own fantasy team without having to keep track of an entire sport’s daily transactions. To assist you, here’s a column dedicated to recapping the most notable trades, signings, promotions, demotions and role changes across the majors over the past week as they relate to fantasy. We’ll do this on a regular basis. If you feel I’ve missed anything important, please don’t hesitate to keep the conversation going in the comments below.

Astros move Brett Myers to bullpen

In something of a shocking move, the Astros moved one of their most dependable starters in Brett Myers to the closer’s role, shifting a perennial 200-plus-inning pitcher to a role that likely won’t mean much for a team looking to rebound from a 106-loss season. Still, we fantasy owners need not complain, since the move will likely rejuvenate Myers’ value and open up a few spots for some intriguing young pitchers.

As far as Myers, 31, is concerned, he slides into the role of a solid No. 2 closer with a deep reservoir of job security. Not only is there no clear runner-up to the job—Juan Abreu and David Carpenter both have late-inning potential and a penchant for strikeouts, but neither have demonstrated an ability to tackle control problems—but Myers has, of course, demonstrated success with the role before.

In his career as a reliever—basically, the 2007 season—Myers is 5-6 with a 3.41 ERA, 1.247 WHIP and a quite-welcome 10.2 K/9 in 63.1 innings pitched. During that season of closing out Phillies games, Myers converted 88 percent of his opportunities for 21 saves, and it’s worth noting he never lost the job; he merely was shifted back to the rotation in 2008 when Brad Lidge was acquired.

Will Myers regain that strikeout ability? That remains to be seen, but the Astros offense is putrid enough to make sure he sees plenty of close games, and Myers could emerge as a 25-plus save candidate this season.

That’s the easy part. The better question is who will take over his spot in the rotation.

We know Wandy Rodriguez and Bud Norris have jobs locked down, and J.A. Happ, Livan Hernandez and Zach Duke will be front-runners for at least another starting role. Beyond them, much could depend on manager Brad Mills’ tolerance of untested rookies, since none of the team’s younger starters offers much in the way of proven major league value. The most obvious candidates are Jordan Lyles and Kyle Weiland, both of whom made their major-league debuts last season.

Lyles is probably the team’s best-known younger pitcher, though he was decimated last season to the tune of a 2-8 record, 5.36 ERA and 10.2 hits-per-nine. At 21, he still has a great deal to learn about pitching in The Show, but he was a strikeout-per-inning pitcher throughout his minor league career. Lyles will need to put together an impressive spring if he wants to convince Houston management he’s ready to anchor a rotation spot.

The same probably goes for Weiland, acquired in the Mark Melancon deal that also saw the Astros acquire shortstop Jed Lowrie. Weiland, 25, features a fastball that tops out in the mid 90s, and at 6-foot-4, has an ideal pitcher’s build. But he went 0-3 during his five starts down the stretch for the Red Sox last year, and even with the relaxed Astros’ environment, there’s no guarantee he’ll begin this season as a starter.

Rounding out the candidates are Aneury Rodriguez, Henry Sosa, Brett Oberholtzer and Lucas Harrell. Harrell, 26, was released by the White Sox last year and is entering a stage of his career where he’s quickly entering the vacuum of major league obscurity, while Sosa’s 10 starts last year resulted in a 5.23 ERA and 1.444 WHIP. Oberholtzer, a lefty, could sneak into the mix if Happ is pushed out of the rotation, though Rodriguez might be a sleeper if he can conquer his awful stats at Minute Maid Park last year (7.26 ERA, 1.513 WHIP in 39.2 innings pitched).

If I had to guess—and for a team with little prospect of meaningful September baseball, that’s all there probably is at the moment—I’d say Happ and Hernandez will have starting roles, with a fifth starter job going to either Lyles or Rodriguez. Much could change between now and Opening Day, of course, so this will be an interesting position battle throughout the rest of this month.

Carl Crawford suffers setback in recovery from wrist injury

For a guy entering spring training with perhaps the most to prove in his major league career thus far, the week did not bode well for Carl Crawford, who suffered inflammation in the same left wrist that bothered him throughout his dreadful 2011 season. Crawford and manager Bobby Valentine both downplayed the injury, which will be examined by the team’s medical staff today.

Pain-free or not, Crawford, a MVP candidate as recently as 2010, was already a risky early-round draft pick, so this news does little to elevate his value beyond that of a No. 2 outfielder in standard mixed leagues even if he might have the most upside of any player chosen outside the first three rounds of fantasy leagues this year.

Bunting practice injures A.J. Burnett

As much as Burnett’s name might be verboten around Yankee circles, a freak bunting accident last week left Burnett with a shattered right orbital bone, an injury that will vaporize at least the next three months of the right-hander’s season.

That’s a shame since Burnett, 35, was sure to fare better in more pitcher-friendly PNC Park, is still capable of striking out batters at a prodigious rate, and both his FIP and xFIP last season suggested his 5.15 ERA would calm down in 2012. Now we likely won’t see him for several months, and it’s difficult to predict the length of his recovery.

Assuming Jeff Karstens, James McDonald, Kevin Correia and Charlie Morton appear in Pittsburgh’s rotation this season, look for Erik Bedard and rookie Brad Lincoln to compete for the fifth spot.

Bedard, 34, whose 24 starts between the Mariners and Red Sox last year were his most since 2007, turned in a decent season, compiling a 5-9 record with a 3.62 ERA, 1.284 WHIP and 8.7 K/9 in 129.1 innings pitched last year. He’s obviously an injury risk, but Bedard could have some value in the National League if he’s able to hobble to the mound every fifth day.

Lincoln, 26, turned in a mediocre 47.2 innings last year, as he finished with a 4.72 ERA, 1.469 WHIP and 5.5 K/9. As usual, Pittsburgh will be joyous if they can even reach .500 this year, so perhaps there might be a spot in the rotation for a young buck like Lincoln.

Ike Davis comes down with a case of Valley Fever

What exactly is Valley Fever? Whatever it is, it doesn’t sound good, especially for a guy coming off a season destroyed by an ankle injury. Blood work, apparently, doesn’t prove Davis has the disease, which is a fungal infection common to the southwest region of the country. He’ll undergo further tests, but in the meantime, chalk up one more reason to be a bit leery of drafting the Mets’ slugging first baseman, even if he’s a future star once he gets a full season under his belt.

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