SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

April 6, 2013

Closer carousel already spinning for some teams

Fantasy Forecast
Andy Silva

---- — We’re not even a week into the season and already there are some changes at the back end of bullpens.

In a turn of events that shocked no one, Carlos Marmol has struggled out of the gate for the Cubs. He nearly blew a save opportunity on Opening Day, giving up a run on a walk and a hit before being relieved so that the Cubs could preserve a win. Marmol was shaky again in his next save opportunity, giving up three runs on two hits and walk before getting out of trouble thanks to a double play that Pittsburgh’s Neil Walker hit into.

Cubs manager Dale Sveum is on the record as saying that he is sticking with Marmol, and I actually believe him ... sort of.

I believe he wants to try to keep Marmol as his man in the ninth, but not because he is the best man for the job. Rather, I believe the Cubs are trying to unload Marmol (there were reports throughout spring training that the Cubs would like to move the veteran) and are looking to keep his value high.

The man you really want, I believe, in the Cubs bullpen is Japanese import Kyuji Fujikawa. The first-year Cub had 196 career saves in Japan with a career 1.80 ERA and 856 strikeouts. He wound up with the save on Opening Day and I believe that when the Cubs are finally ready to make a change, Fujikawa will become the man who gets the ball in the ninth. It’s just a matter of when, not if.

That’s the hard part, staying patient while the Cubs try to pump Marmol’s trade value.

Meanwhile, John Axford has been fairly awful thus far in Milwaukee. The veteran blew a save opportunity on Opening Day and in his next outing gave up three runs on five hits in less than an inning. Perhaps most troubling, Axford’s velocity has been down and both he and the team seem vexed as to why.

Axford struggled some last season (even losing the job for a spell) before converting 17 of his final 18 save opportunities. And let’s be real: the Brewers rely don’t have a strong alternative option at the end of games. So I think Axford has some rope to try to work things out.

For fantasy owners, the key will be to keep an eye on Axford’s velocity and to see whether if normalizes. If it doesn’t, it may require you to look elsewhere for cheap saves.

Finally, in Detroit, after going to the infamous ‘closer by committee’ for a few days, the team re-signed former closer Jose Valverde to a minor league deal.

Valverde is an interesting player. He had a great 2011 campaign (49 saves, 0 blown saves, 2.24 ERA) and a decent 2012 regular season (35 saves, 5 blown saves, 3.78 ERA), but completely fell apart in the postseason last fall. He’s been throwing during spring training despite not being signed, and will throw to some minor leaguers in Lakeland, Fla. before advancing to Triple-A.

The Tigers say they have no timetable for his return to their bullpen, nor have they made any promises to him regarding his role. But if I were a betting man, I’d guess he gets a shot in the ninth sooner rather than later.

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J.P. Arencibia, who has always been something of an ‘all-or-nothing’ type player, is off to a fast start for the Blue Jays; the catcher is hitting .346 with a pair of home runs. Being surrounded by an improved lineup can only help Arencibia’s run production, and at only 46 percent owned in standard Yahoo! leagues, he may be worth consideration if you need power production or another catcher.

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Scott Kazmir’s comeback story could be over before it even starts, thanks to top prospect Trevor Bauer.

Kazmir, the veteran left-hander, has been scratched from his scheduled start for the Indians today with an abdominal strain and the Tribe have called up Bauer, the former No. 3 overall pick, to start in his place. Bauer has a ton of talent, but fans will likely have the old ‘just a bit outside’ line from the movie “Major League” in their heads, as the kid can be a bit wild.

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Andy Silva writes the Fantasy Forecast column for The Salem News. You can read his blog at blogs.salemnews.com/fantasyforecast and reach him at asilva@salemnews.com. You can also follow Fantasy Forecast on Twitter at twitter.com/sn_fantasysport.