New York Yankees
Replacing Mariano- Not necessarily a one man job
I know it's a year late on the "Replacing Rivera" storyline, but after almost two decades of being the most stable fantasy closer in baseball, the Yankees closer situation seems anything but stable. As we enter 2015, David Robertson is gone (and suffering from his own issues) and Delin Betances seems like the odds on favorite to get the first crack at getting the saves in the Bronx. The only issue is that Betances has been wildly unconvincing through the spring. Betances struck out almost 40% of the batters he faced in 2014 (39.6%) while averaging 96.6 MPH on his fastball. The velocity has been down all spring, and while the Yankees are saying all the right things about this issue ("It's early", "He will gain velocity as his pitches more"), it is concerning given the jump in high leverage usage in 2014. We never like to jump the injury gun, but a significant drop in velocity (2 MPH or more) on a younger pitcher could be the first indicator of a problem. When we combine that issue with the fact that the Yankees were already planning to work Andrew Miller in on save situations in 2015, it becomes a situation that you may want to stay away from. I still like Betances, and if you end up with him, I wouldn't go running for the hills. I'm just cautioning owners to be aware that he comes with some pretty big question marks as we go into the last leg of fantasy draft season.
Jacoby Ellsbury and the old oblique strain
How concerned should fantasy owners be with Jacoby Ellsbury's oblique strain going into the last week and a half of draft season? Well, I'd say its worth noting, but not worth decreasing Ellsbury's draft value at this point. Ellsbury has been out the last ten (10) days with his oblique injury, which is longer than the original week time frame predicted. The Yankees have announced that he will miss probably another 5-6 days before ramping up and playing in the last 5 or so preseason games. I expected that the injury would take longer to heal than the original estimate, but it looks like the Yankees were wise in taking it easy on their centerfielder, who should be ready for Opening Day barring any major setbacks. Owners should feel comfortable selecting Ellsbury at current draft position, but I would caution owners that it is very likely that Ellsbury sees a further decrease in his speed. His stolen bases dropped from 52 in 2013 to 39 in 2014. At age 31, Ellsbury isn't likely to approach 50 steals again, but he is still a solid bet for 15 home runs and 30 stolen bases, which has a ton of value.
The Fifth Starter is.....
Well based on performance and on GM Brian Cashman's own words, it appears Adam Warren will start the season in the Yankees rotation. Warren is a very interesting name for late in mixed league fantasy drafts and earlier in AL-Only leagues. Warren struck out 23.5% of the batters he faced out of the Yankees' bullpen in 2014. While those numbers have a tendency to shrink when a player enters the rotation, Warren has a solid skill set. His fastball sits in the low to mid-90's, and he can throw four pitches for strikes. In his spring training performance on Thursday, he flashed some of the strikeout ability as he K'd 5 in 3.2 innings pitched. Given the age and fragile nature of the Yankees' rotation, it is not outside the realm of possibility that the 27 year old Warren sticks around for the entire season in the rotation. Given the cheap price tag during draft season and the potential upside, there are worse players to take a chance on than Warren. At the very least, he should be a match-up starter most of the season with the upside to be much more.
Boston Red Sox
So who is catching on Opening Day?
Thursday was a confusing day if you are following the Red Sox catching situation. Christian Vazquez stated that he expects to be ready for the start of the season, but his manager indicated that Vazquez still isn't game ready at this point. As several managers are want to point out, we are starting to run out of time in spring for injured players to be ready for Opening Day. Vazquez's availability may not ultimately matter to fantasy owners unless you are in extremely deep AL-Only formats. Vazquez appears to be the type of catcher that provides more value on the diamond than on a fantasy roster. He hasn't eclipsed 10 home runs since his 2011 season in A-Ball, and while his .240 BA may increase slightly, there is no reason to believe it will reach levels of relevance given his complete lack of power. Until the Red Sox call-up Blake Swihart, it appears that catcher may be the only fantasy irrelevant position in their entire lineup.
If we don't know who is catching, do we at least know who is closing?
The answer to this one is that we certainly know the name of Boston's Opening Day closer. It just may not be Koji Uehara. The good news for those drafting Uehara is that he played catch off of flat ground on Thursday and is scheduled to move into a bullpen session this weekend. If he manages to get through the bullpen unscathed, he should be ready to face live hitters next week and still could break camp as the Red Sox Opening Day closer. If he can't make it for Opening Day, it does not appear like it will take much longer for him to be game ready. As long as Uehara is healthy, he remains an elite back end bullpen option. He, once again, struck out over 30% of the batters he faced while walking less than 4%. Uehara has never been a guy who basis his success on velocity so his increased age shouldn't be much of an issue (but for the risk of injury). At this point, I'm fine drafting Uehara in my second tier of closers.
New York Mets
Will Daniel Murphy be ready for the Opener?
While 2014 was slightly less productive than 2013 for Daniel Murphy, he still managed a very fantasy relevant season with a .289 batting average, 9 home runs and 13 stolen bases from an otherwise shallow position at 2nd base. Murphy provides a slightly empty average, but in the current state of the game, a player hitting between .280-.290 can be more rare than we give credit for. This spring Murphy has been slowed by a hamstring injury, but on Thursday, he managed to run free from pain. If he can continue that trend for the next couple of days, it will be a safe bet that the Mets' 2nd baseman will be ready for the start of the season. While it is unlikely that Murphy will return the 13 home run, 23 steal pace of 2013 again, he has value and a healthy Murphy can help a fantasy owner that waits a little longer to acquire his 2nd baseman or middle infielder.
What about his double play partner?
The other half of the Mets' expected preseason double play combination has also struggled through some injuries this spring. After fouling a ball of his foot four days ago, Wilmer Flores returned on Thursday. Flores will be ready for Opening Day, and he is an interesting player to watch at shortstop. Flores showed one of his key traits in 2014, which is an ability to limit his strikeouts. This ability in conjunction with a slight regression in his BABIP could lead towards closer to a .260-.270 hitter than the .250 we saw in 2014. Additionally, he has shown the tendency in the minor leagues to hit for some power. While his home stadium doesn't provide much in the way of a power platform, he should still manage 10-12 home runs from a position that doesn't offer much in the way of power. Overall, Flores is certainly a worthy flier in most formats given his position and offensive potential as long as you aren't overpaying because you are overvaluing his potential versus his reality.
Around the League
Miguel Cabrera- Miggy looked like his old self on Thursday as he went 2 for 2 with a home run. Cabrera's 2014 was particularly disappointing as his HR/FB Rate dropped substantially from 25.4% to 14%. While age probably factored into Cabrera's regression, injury also played a key role. A healthy Cabrera in 2015 should see a boast in his power output. While we may not see the 44 home runs from Miggy we did in 2012 and 2013, it is likely that he still has one or two more 30 home run seasons left in his bat. He still appears to be worth the price of admission in re-draft leagues for 2015.
Victor Martinez- Thursday was a good news/bad news day for the Tigers other slugger, V-Mart. Martinez hit a home run on Thursday, which is the good news as he returns from a pretty severe knee injury and surgery. The bad news came after the game when his manager indicated that Martinez felt something in his knee during the game. Martinez is a risky proposition based on age and the state of his knees. Offensively, there is no reason to believe he isn't as offensively talented as he was last season, but the likelihood of him accumulating 600+ plate appearances seems like a fairly large long shot at this point.
David Robertson- Bad news out of Chicago on Thursday. The White Sox newly signed closer, David Robertson, is reportedly having forearm pain. While this issue could be many things, most of us will jump to the conclusion that Robertson may be dealing with an elbow issue. There is nothing to support this speculation to this point outside of Robertson's uncharacteristically terrible spring training. At this point, I'm downgrading Robertson and targeting other closers in his tier. It might end up being nothing, but I'd prefer to not take that risk.
Michael Brantley- News out of Cleveland is that Michael Brantley will be shut down for the next couple of days with a back issue. The immediate information seems to indicate that this won't effect his ability to open the season with the team, but obviously, this issue bears watching. I will still be drafting Brantley as a top tier outfielder in upcoming drafts, but I am suggesting that you monitor the news coming out of Cleveland closely over the next couple of days. Any indication that he will miss some regular season time may cause him to be devalued.
Glen Perkins- Glen Perkins appears to be entirely healed from his oblique injury earlier in the spring. Despite playing for one of the worst teams in the league, Perkins is a solid mid-tier closer option. He consistently strikeouts more than 25% prone, but his home ball park and an elevated IFFB% help protect this tendency from coming back to haunt him. I'm drafting him in most leagues with confidence as a second or third closer.
Matt Wieters- The announcement came down the Orioles that Matt Wieters will begin the 2015 season on the 15 day disabled list on Thursday. This situation wasn't necessarily unexpected, but it does lead to the necessary question of what exactly can we expect out of Wieters this season. I'm not necessarily avoiding Wieters at this point, but I have to decrease my valuation on his projections heading into the season.
Jayson Werth- Reports out of Washington indicate that Jayson Werth is still feeling pain in his surgically repaired shoulder. There is still an outside chance that Werth is ready for Opening Day, but I'd say it is far from a sure thing at this point. Even with limited plate appearances, Werth is likely to match his numbers from 2014 in the power and speed departments. Those numbers aren't exactly awe inspiring, but at least, it is a base level expectation on production.
Adam Wainwright- Adam Wainwright made his second start of the spring on Thursday. It wasn't exactly what we have come to expect for Adam Wainwright with 3.2 IP with 6 hits with 4 earned runs, but at this point, its just good to see Wainwright throwing and getting ready for summer. Wainwright's strikeout rate was down in 2014 to 19.9%, which is unusually low for him. The question that Wainwright will have to answer this upcoming season is whether he can regain his prior form or whether his 2015 is the new norm for him.