So What Now?
Before the MLB season was shut down in March, Cardinals reliever Giovanny Gallegos was gaining steam in fantasy drafts as the most likely choice to pick up saves in the backend of the St. Louis bullpen, at the very least until fireballer Jordan Hicks returned from rehabbing after Tommy John surgery. However, Gallegos was absent from the Cardinals summer camp due to what was referred to as "travel issues." On Friday, beat writer Derrick S. Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Gallegos is on his way to St. Louis. However, his immediate availability is still a question mark. Furthermore, hopes that Hicks would be available because of the late start to the season were squashed when the 23 year old opted out of the 60-game season for health reasons. Darkhorse closer candidate John Brebbia will also miss the season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. No Gallegos right now. No Hicks. No Brebbia. That makes for a quandary in trying to nail down exactly who will pin down saves.
First of all, it's possible Gallegos is able to arrive soon and quickly assume the role, but that is far from a guarantee, especially if you're drafting now. Like Gallegos, former top prospect Alex Reyes isn't participating in summer camp for undisclosed reasons. Furthermore, young southpaw Genesis Cabrera has twice tested positive for COVID-19 so his availability is doubtful.
In other words, what was once a young, flashy and electric corps of closer options is now some names we've dragged through the ringer for the last couple years.
First there's Carlos Martinez, who is still slotted for a spot in the Cardinals' starting rotation. However, CarMart was 24 for 27 in save opportunities last year with a 12.6% swinging strike rate and 3.76 xFIP. Martinez really adapted to the role, cutting down his walks and home runs while markedly improving his groundball rate. That could motivate the Cardinals to go with a player they know is capable of handling the role. On the other hand, Martinez wants to start and manager Mike Shildt seems intent on allowing him that opportunity. On the other hand, international signee Kwang-Hyun Kim looked brilliant this week in an intrasquad start and could push Martinez out of the rotation. Right now, Martinez is the most likely source of saves in St. Louis.
Then there's Josh-Hader-before-there-was-Josh-Hader: Andrew Miller. Miller is an experienced veteran who at one point was one of the most feared relievers in the game. However, his skills diminished last year with the Cards, leading to more walks, less strikeouts and a whole lot more home runs. In a 60-game sprint, St. Louis could opt to go with the known veteran, but his years of shutting down opposing hitters are in the past.
Or they could go with a high-risk/high-reward option in Ryan Helsley, who throws in the high-90's while mixing in a nasty cutter that flummoxed hitters during his 2019 rookie season. If you are concerned about Helsely pitching in high-leverage situations, remember he allowed one hit and one walk with eight strikeouts in 5.1 scoreless postseason innings.
The Cardinals could view the closer role as a committee this season until either Gallegos is ready or someone takes control. It's possible the team sees 2020 as a placeholder until Hicks is 100% healthy next year. Or it's Carlos Martinez's job and they're giving up on him returning to the starting rotation. Or they could give Miller the role he will inevitably fumble. Or take a shot at the darkhorse Helsley, who may not end up with the full-time position but could provide dividends. Or ignore the Cardinals' bullpen altogether and sleep better at night.
Goo-Goo for Gomber
It's officially time to admit I have a man-crush on Austin Gomber. Gomber was one of my picks to click prior to last season. He ended up spending his entire injury-riddled season in the minor leagues. Going into this year, his only role on the major league roster would seemingly be in long relief. In fact if the minor leagues were up and running as usual, it's possible the Cards would have sent Gomber back to AAA for the season (remember rosters are expanded this season so every team will carry more pitchers). So why in the world am I even analyzing the 26-year-old lefty prior to this season?
For one, he's healthy and reportedly thriving in the Cardinals summer camp. Secondly, his four-pitch arsenal features a pair of breaking pitches that induced sub-.280 xwOBA in his 2018 rookie season. His curveball generates a lot of groundballs and his new-look slider has the potential to evolve into a highly effective putaway pitch.
In this shortened season, I'm not sitting here trying to argue in favor of rostering Gomber in any of your redraft leagues. It's just more a player I think is important to keep an eye on. He could work his way into some significant bullpen situations (think John Gant last year) and may one day finally solidify the starting role I know he's destined for.
How to Deal With Dylan Carlson
While the Cardinals have yet to officially announce Carlson is off the Opening Day roster, it's a near certainty the team's top prospect will start the season at satellite camp. First of all, Carlson isn't on St. Louis' 40-man roster so if the team plans on rostering him to open the season, the front office will have to manipulate its 40-man in order to make room. Secondly and most important, if he is kept off the major league roster for literally just one week, the team gets an extra year of control before Carlson hits free agency. Yes, the lovely "service time" fiasco that NEEDS. TO. GO. AWAY!
Whether we like it or not, it makes too much financial sense to keep Carlson off the roster, leaving the St. Louis outfield with a revolving rotation of Dexter Fowler, Harrison Bader, Tyler O'Neill and Lane Thomas. By most accounts Carlson is MLB-ready after hitting 26 home runs with 20 stolen bases across two minor league levels last season, but the uncertainty over his role demands a fantasy downgrade, especially in redraft leagues. If Carlson is called up at some point in August, he will only have around 50 games to make the typical rookie adjustments that others are afforded over 100 games.
There is so much to like about Carlson's potential as a five-category contributor, but his 2020 season is way too unreliable to significantly invest in.
Rojas Planning a Bait and Switch?
After a deceptively atrocious 2019 season, Edwin Diaz's leash as the Mets closer is apparently considerably shorter. In February I broke down all the reasons I was in on Diaz for a bounceback season and none of that has really changed. However, if the Mets look at alternative options in the 9th inning as new manager Luis Rojas intimated, they will not be short of options. In fact, the New York bullpen consists of seven different players with previous closing experience. Diaz, Justin Wilson and Jeurys Familia have all been primary closers while Dellin Betances, Seth Lugo, Robert Gsellman and the non-guaranteed Hunter Strickland have all had closing stints.
Betances is working back from injury and is reportedly still struggling to power up his fastball above the low 90's. Wilson and Familia are both highly inconsistent and don't appear to be realistic options as the closer. While Gsellman is versatile, his output has generally been underwhelming for three straight seasons and Strickland is probably unlikely to even make the 30-man roster after the Nationals released him in the original preseason.
That leaves Seth Lugo as the most likely option to assume the closing role if Diaz is removed. Used in the newly-popular bullpen utility role last year, the big righthander has a sufficient arsenal that generates mostly weak contact. It would make sense the Mets will once again use Lugo in that high-pressure relief role, bringing him in at the most important moments of the game, but what if they choose to do that with Diaz? Diaz has a much higher potential for strikeouts and could make more sense entering the game in a tough spot in the 7th inning rather than whatever the Mets are facing in the 9th. That would mean Diaz's save opportunities would be reduced while Lugo's would increase.
I still think Diaz is the player to bank for saves, but the possibility of Rojas playing a bait-and-switch on fantasy owners is not to be ignored.
Yoenis Cespedes was not going to start the season with the Mets if the shutdown never happened. He was still hurt in the spring after playing in only one game in the last 26 months. He hit a home run on July 20, 2018 and hasn't appeared in a regular season contest since. However, the 34-year-old slugger is healthy and ready to return to the middle of the Mets lineup after the long layoff. Furthermore, due to the designated hitter coming to the National League, Cespedes will have more opportunities to play while maintaining health. If Cespedes is truly past the injuries that plagued him over the last three years, he could be poised to generate the power that saw him average over 27 home runs per season in his first five years. Cespedes thrived on an aggressive approach with an elevated launch and that profiles even better in today's game. He also slots in nicely to this year's Mets lineup. It's an offense loaded with left-handed bats (McNeil, Cano, Conforto, Smith) which leaves some nice protection for Cespedes and the reigning NL rookie of the year Pete Alonso.
The shortened season does not guarantee Cespedes' health and that remains a concern as long as he plays, but after two years away from the game, he has a real opportunity to make a major impact in the Big Apple.
Wacha Catching Your Eye?
Instead of overreacting to split squad spring training starts against another team's low-level minor leaguers in a normal preseason, this year is almost worse. Now we're talking about guys "shining" in intrasquad games. They're facing their own teammates in their own environment under unusual circumstances. Evaluating intrasquad performances is obviously a path to destruction, and yet...
Have you heard about Michael Wacha's intrasquad games?!!! No hitters?! No one able to make contact?! Are we ready to put the former Cardinal in the Cy Young conversation?!
The changeup specialist had an up and down tenure with the Cardinals, showing flashes of potential but the inability to sustain success. That led to Wacha settling for a one-year free agent deal with the Mets and initial uncertainty over whether he would be a starter or reliever, especially after New York signed Rick Porcello to replace Zack Wheeler. However, when Noah Syndergaard was lost for the season due to Tommy John surgery, a rotation spot opened up and Wacha seemingly locked it down.
Wacha's bread and butter is his changeup, which he throws nearly a quarter of the time and gets swings and misses 39 percent of the time. He'll set guys up with the change and put them away with it. However, his downfall is the lack of a secondary weapon. His fastball is average and his curveball was miserable last season, hitters teeing off to a .514 wOBA off that pitch.
Interestingly though the raves and reviews from summer camp are in part about the improvement of that curveball. He doesn't need it to be great, but it can't be terrible. An average fastball/curve combined with a very good changeup could make those stellar intrasquad outings more than just hearsay.
AROUND THE LEAGUE:
Joe Musgrove, SP (PIT)
For the first time in his career, Joe Musgrove will start on Opening Day, as announced by Pirates manager Derek Shelton on Friday. The 27 year old is hoping to finally break out after four enticing but generally mediocre seasons to start his career.
Musgrove's two seasons in Pittsburgh were plagued by bad luck, including a 65.6% strand rate, despite flashing strikeout stuff while inducing softer-than-average contact. Musgrove posted his third straight season with a swinging strike rate over 11 percent and walk rates of 6.1%, 4.7% and 5.4%.
Many people on this site and others are projecting Musgrove for better numbers. The Pirates took the first step towards declaring him their ace by naming him the OD starter.
Brandon Woodruff, SP (MIL)
Brandon Woodruff will get the Opening Day nod for the Brewers, leading a Milwaukee starting rotation with a myriad of questions. In reality though, Woodruff isn't one of them, not after posting back-to-back seasons with a 3.36 xFIP. He's coming off an 11-3 campaign, all 11 wins occurring before Woodruff went down with an oblique injury last July. The 2020 Fantistics Draft Advisory (updated to account for the 60-game season) projects Woodruff for 5 wins with a 3.40 ERA and a 1.11 WHIP in the shortened season.
Gregory Polanco, OF (PIT)
The Pirates announced outfielder Gregory Polanco tested positive for COVID-19, which explains his absence from Pittsburgh's summer camp. It's not exactly clear how long Polanco will be sidelined, but his absence opens up the door for Guillermo Heredia and Jose Osuna. Polanco hasn't put together a full season since 2016 and hasn't hit over .258 in his career. However, he is still only 28 years old and offers a power/speed combination few possess. In last year's injury-riddled campaign, Polanco's contact rate plummeted as his upper cut approach led to more whiffs and a dip in hard contact.
Jesus Luzardo, SP (OAK)
The good news is Luzardo is finally back in Oakland's summer camp after battling COVID-19 the past couple weeks. The bad news is the shortened practice time won't be enough to adequately prepare the talented young lefty for the start of the season. Therefore Athletics manager Bob Melvin hinted at Luzardo opening the season in the bullpen with the intent to eventually move him into the starting rotation. The delayed approach means he may only get 7-10 starts and it's likely the A's will resist letting him go deep into games until he exhibits the stamina. As exciting as his skillset is, the production will be underwhelming in a redraft league. Make sure to invest in dynasty/keeper leagues, however.
Freddie Freeman, 1B (ATL)
Freeman finally tested negative for the coronavirus in two different tests, meaning he is eligible to return to the Braves. After making headlines with the report of testing positive and experiencing bad symptoms, Freeman is now healthy again and poised to build off another brilliant season. Freeman slugged a career-high 38 home runs last year and should be able to contribute across the stat sheet, thanks to an elite lineup around him. Freeman's production remains consistent, even after dealing with the second-lowest BABIP of his career in 2019. He may not be ready for Opening Day, but he should be available to man first base for Atlanta early in the season.
Yasiel Puig, OF (FA)
Puig tested positive for COVID-19, which led to his pending contract with Atlanta getting nullified. That means the enigmatic outfielder is once again baseball's most talented free agent. Puig announced the positive test, saying he is asymptomatic and feels 'absolutely fine.' Because his contract with the Braves was never signed, the positive test resulted in the voided deal. He's running out of time to find a landing spot for a good portion of the season, but once he returns two negative tests, he will be eligible to sign and play with any team that desires the five-category contributor.
Luis Arraez, 2B (MIN)
Arraez left Friday's intrasquad game with a knee injury, but Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said it's 'a fairly minor issue' and he expects the young infielder to be ready for the start of the season. The injury reportedly did not occur on any specific play. Rather Arraez simply felt some knee soreness during the scrimmage. Arraez is coming off a rookie season where he hit .334 in 326 games and if healthy could be a contender for the batting title.
Eduardo Rodriguez, SP (BOS)
Rodriguez is back with the Red Sox after self-quarantining due to a positive COVID-19 test. Coming off the best season of his career, the 27 year old has missed all of Boston's summer camp so far, which makes his availability doubtful for the first week of the season. However, it is possible he will only miss one turn in the rotation before coming back to build off his first 200-inning season, when he posted career highs in swinging strike and ground ball rates and a career low in ERA. The reality is Rodriguez has more room to grow, possibly overcoming last year's career-high HR/FB rate and BABIP.
Jason Kipnis, 2B (CHC)
The Cubs selected the contract of veteran second baseman Jason Kipnis on Friday, pretty much assuring him a spot on Chicago's Opening Day roster. In fact, there's a good chance Kipnis will be the Opening Day starter at the keystone. Anthony Rizzo's availability at first base is still a question and if Rizzo misses time that will force the Cubs to shift their infield around. Even if their infield is at full health, Kipnis' competition at second base is Ian Happ (who will likely get more playing time in the outfield), Daniel Descalso (who put up one of the worst seasons in baseball among position players last year) and Nico Hoerner (who would presumably play the weak side of the platoon). Kipnis makes sense as the regular second baseman against right-handed pitching. His OPS was 123 points higher against righties than lefties in 2019. His ISO was a strong .201 and his EYE was a solid 0.50. He's only rosterable in deep leagues, but he's certainly worth a look in DFS.
Matt Kemp, OF (COL)
Matt Kemp will officially play for the third NL West team of his career. The Colorado Rockies announced the veteran outfielder will be on the team's Opening Day roster after signing a minor league contract in June. Kemp was terrible in a short stint with the Reds last year and then couldn't latch on with the Miami Marlins this preseason so Colorado lent him an olive branch, and the one-time Dodgers superstar caught hold. Kemp is someone that would clearly benefit from the DH position in the National League, but even with that it's still likely he will only get limited playing time. His leash will be short so if he struggles out of the gate like he did in Cincinnati, this could be his last chance to continue his major league career.
Anthony Rendon, 3B (LAA)
Anthony Rendon was scratched from the Angels' intrasquad game on Friday due to oblique tightness. Right now the team is saying Rendon is day-to-day, but oblique injuries can lead to multi-week absences so this is certainly a situation to monitor.