This week in (fantasy) baseball 3/26-4/1

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.

With just a few days to go, we’re on the launchpad for the 2012 season—actually, the season’s already begun. Still, spring training, for all intents and purposes, is still wrapping up, and there are more than enough bruises and last-minute roster updates to make for a very eventful past week.

Michael Pineda to start season on DL

Remember all those concerns circling around the decreased velocity of the Yankees’ future ace? Not surprisingly, there was good reason to be worried, as a MRI revealed the 23-year-old is battling shoulder tendinitis. Obviously, this is better news than a rotator cuff strain or labrum tear, but it certainly doesn’t help fantasy owners who hoped the young phenom’s presence in New York would lead to improved results. With such a prized young player, don’t expect the team to rush him back, especially when neither Joe Girardi or Brian Cashman offered a timetable for his return.

So Pineda’s out for at least April, which significantly improves the fantasy fortunes of Phil Hughes and Freddy Garcia, both of whom now have guaranteed rotation spots entering the season. Hughes, of course, offers great upside at a discounted price, though he’s still looking to make good on his potential over the course of a full season. As for Garcia, his 12 wins and 3.62 ERA last year serve as reminders that anyone who has a full-time job on the Yankees is worth something in fantasy.

Finally, Andy Pettitte told reporters Sunday that his legs are not in shape, which, even in a best-case scenario, hints that he won’t be ready until at least May.

Opportunity knocks for Mark Melancon?

Already dealing with a strained lat, Andrew Bailey is now reportedly dealing with a thumb injury, though the severity was unclear when this article went to the digital presses. If he’s not available for the first week or so of the season, take a look at Mark Melancon—who notched 20 saves last year with a 8.0 strikeouts-per-nine innings (K/9) in 74.1 innings—and Alfredo Aceves, who’s coming off a strong 2011 (10-2, 2.61 ERA, 1.105 WHIP in 114 innings).

Between the two, fantasy owners probably will be pulling for Melancon to get the job, not only because of the gulf between the two pitchers’ closing experience (Aceves has only four career saves), but because Aceves owns a career 6.3 K/9, hardly the stuff of top-drawer closers.

Nationals to begin season without Michael Morse

One of 2011’s biggest breakout stars will not be ready for Opening Day, as a slight tear in Michael Morse’s right lat muscle has sidelined him. Early reports suggest the injury isn’t too serious, since he’s currently projected to return to action in a couple of weeks.

In the meantime, owners in deep leagues should familiarize themselves with Xavier Nady and Brett Carroll, bench players who could possibly see some outfield time if they make the 25-man roster. Rick Ankiel could be another option to join Jayson Werth and Roger Bernadina in the outfield, but he’s dealing with injury problems of his own (tightness in his left hamstring).

Josh Hamilton is injured, again

Okay, so this probably doesn’t merit a news blurb, since losing Hamilton to injury is about as common as losing daylight to night time. Still, no fantasy owner likes to be without a true bopper like Hamilton, so it’s fortunate his tight left groin is not being reported as a serious issue. With David Murphy slated to play left field, Craig Gentry could spell the star center fielder, though there are plenty of other outfield options out there if the Hammer’s injury lingers.

Mark Trumbo to gain third-base eligibility

The signing of Albert Pujols guaranteed at least one thing: First base was not going to be available to Trumbo in 2012. Nor was a crowded outfield that’s already pushed out prized stallion Mike Trout. But last year’s runner-up for American League Rookie of the Year needs a place to play, so manager Mike Scioscia speculated this week that Trumbo will see more than 40 games at the hot corner this season, not just securing his eligibility for 2012, but for next year, as well.

This is certainly great news for fantasy owners, as third base has been abnormally shallow this year, and Trumbo, 26, has significant power, evidenced by this 29 home runs and 87 RBIs last year. Obviously, poor defensive play could hurt the amount of time he sees there, but then again, he’ll have earned at least season-long eligibility in most leagues by the end of Passover, so as long as he makes his way into the lineup, who cares? Trumbo could emerge as one of the top third basemen this year.

Jed Lowrie battles thumb issue

The Astros shortstop strained his thumb last week sliding into second base, which likely will sideline him for the season’s start. If so, Houston could look to Marwin Gonzalez, Brian Bixler and Angel Sanchez to soak up time in Lowrie’s absence, though these guys don’t bring a lot to the fantasy table.

Starting rotations starting to come into focus

• Bailey’s thumb injury helped force Bobby Valentine’s hand in deciding to shift Aceves to the bullpen, which eased the way this week for Daniel Bard and Felix Doubront to be named to the team’s rotation.

The Red Sox certainly will be in contention this year, so both hurlers are worth taking a look at, though it’s not yet clear if either one will amount to more than low-end options, at least in the early months of the season. There were whispers last week that Bard, who had a mediocre spring, would be sent back to the bullpen, while Doubront has only three major league starts to his credit, even if he had a promising 2011 in the minors.

• It’s been clear for some time that Aaron Crow would not make the Royals’ rotation, but Felipe Paulino’s forearm injury paved the way for Danny Duffy and Luis Mendoza to crack the team’s rotation coming out of spring training.

Both have looked good; Mendoza, in particular, has looked sharp this spring, compiling a 16-to-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 16.2 innings (five starts). Duffy, meanwhile, has had some up-and-down starts this spring, but he is a solid prospect and could emerge as a decent fantasy option on a Royals team that could crack the .500 mark this year.

Jeff Samardzija made the Cubs rotation over Randy Wells, capping an excellent spring for the 27-year-old fireballer. In 20 innings (four starts), Samardzija walked only one batter while striking out 16, allowing only one home run during that span. With a strong 2011 under his belt, he could emerge as a surprise fantasy hurler, though he’s probably best left for deeper leagues at this point, especially since he still needs to establish his place in the rotation.

• Against the wishes of more than a few fantasy owners, Jacob Turner did not make the cut as the Tigers’ fifth starter, as shoulder soreness ultimately failed to give him the necessary audition to convince Jim Leyland to hand him the keys.

Instead, 22-year-old lefty Drew Smyly won the job last week, though he’s yet to throw a pitch at the big-league level. Still, Smyly looked sharp between two minor league levels last year (11-6, 2.07 ERA, 1.103 WHIP, 9.3 K/9 in 126 innings), and although he only made four appearances this spring (12.2 innings), Leyland is apparently confident enough in the southpaw to give him a shot, making him an intriguing sleeper to watch as the season gets underway.

Other news and notes from around MLB:

• As expected, Mike Trout won’t begin the season at the MLB level, as the Angels optioned down the 20-year-old phenom last week. Obviously, Trout’s enormous potential makes him an attractive sleeper option, but first, let’s see how the Angels address their current surplus of outfielders, a list that includes Peter Bourjos, Vernon Wells, Torii Hunter and Bobby Abreu.

• Mere hours after the Astros cut Livan Hernandez, the Braves swooped in to pick up the well-traveled 37-year-old, a move that gives Atlanta flexibility to keep Julio Teheran and Randall Delgado in the minors to develop. Hernandez, of course, is just a low-end fantasy option at this point in his career, though he’s remarkably durable and worth considering in ultra-deep NL-only leagues.

Meanwhile, his departure from Houston helps Kyle Weiland, Lucas Harrell and Jordan Lyles, though the latter’s awful spring probably guarantees him to start the year in the minors. I’d take Weiland over Harrell, but it’s probably worth keeping an eye on whoever makes the rotation, as both have some potential.

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Comments

  1. Karl de Vries said...

    Eddie—

    What Greg means by “our” part is, to be more specific, my fault. Thanks for pointing that out and reminding me which decade we’re in.

    —Karl

  2. Danny Kugler said...

    While Melancon has interesting stats, he was pitching in NL Central and now in AL East. Quick visual scan (not rigorous analysis) through Baseball Reference seems to indicate most K’s against not so good teams.  So maybe not so good in Boston?

  3. Karl de Vries said...

    Danny—

    I was planning to respond to you before Aceves got the job—all but nullifying my prediction—but you certainly raise a valid point. For me, I just like to see proven closers handed the job, because there are just some guys who get promoted to the big chair who turn to putty in big spots. I don’t know enough about Aceves to apply that reservation to him, but it certainly entered my head. Now, as far as Aceves is concerned, comes the hard part of proving he can deliver in the 9th-inning.

    Thanks for reading and taking the time to write.

    —Karl

  4. Danny Kugler said...

    I watched the game and while I still think Melacon isn’t the long term closer I think Valentine should at least give him a chance.

  5. Karl de Vries said...

    Danny—

    Sorry for the late response. Was nice to see Aceves put together a strong inning for the save tonight, even if it was a two-run lead against an inferior Blue Jays squad (well, at least compared to the Tigers). That’s not enough of a reason to vouch for Aceves, of course, but at this point, this bullpen is on a game-by-game basis, and Melancon could still get his chance sooner rather than later.

    —Karl

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