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Bullpen Briefs: Joe Nathan and LaTroy Hawkins – Jobs in Jeopardy ?

Will Joe Nathan be the first closer casualty of 2015? All the bullpen news you need to nail down the ninth for your Fantasy Baseball teams.

Joe Nathan may be the first closer casualty of the 2015 MLB season.

Welcome to the first edition of “Bullpen Briefs”!

This is our weekly look at Fantasy Baseball-relevant bullpen situations across Major League Baseball.

Every Saturday during the regular season, we’ll take a trip around major league bullpens, and report the highlights (and lowlights) of the previous week.

If you’re in a league that uses weekly lineups and waiver-wire transactions, make “Bullpen Briefs” one of your regular stops.

We’ll have recommendations on who to pick up and how to spend your FAAB dollars to bolster your Fantasy Baseball bullpen.

Bullpen Briefs consists of a few sub-sections; all are related, but each has its own place amid the maelstrom of information that is so emblematic of major league bullpens:

  • Who’s In?: If a closer has been promoted, this is where we’ll talk about him. Does he have a chance to stick in the role, or is he merely a placeholder?
  • Who’s Out?: If a closer has been unseated, we’ll talk about why that happened, and outline his chances to win his job back.
  • Relievers on the Rise: This section will highlight relievers who are currently mowing them down, and may also feature set-up men who are threatening to ascend to the closer’s chair. Bear in mind that anything that happens after our Saturday publish date won’t be reflected.
  • Relievers on the Rocks: Here we’ll talk about relievers that are rapidly pitching their way into Fantasy irrelevance, and who need to turn things around in a hurry if they hope to keep their jobs.
  • Keep an Eye On: This section is devoted to bullpens which may be facing an imminent closer change; many of the closers-in-waiting discussed here make good speculative waiver wire pickups.

For bullpen updates as conditions warrant, be sure to check out – and bookmark – our Closer Depth Chart.

Who’s in: Fresh Meat in the Ninth

The Houston Astros named Luke Gregerson their closer last week, while the Tampa Bay Rays gave a similar – though less definitive – designation to Brad Boxberger. Gregerson figures to keep the job as long as he pitches effectively, while Boxberger’s stay could be short-term pending the expected return of injured closer Jake McGee in late April or early May.

The Red Sox promoted Edward Mujica to the closer’s chair while Koji Uehara is out with a strained left hamstring. Mujica’s pedestrian strikeout rate limits his Fantasy value, but he’s worth owning as long as he has the closer’s gig.

Who’s out: Closers Who Won’t Be Closing

Houston’s Chad Qualls was in the running for the closer’s job, but he’ll now serve as the setup man for Gregerson.

Grant Balfour could see an occasional save opportunity in Tampa Bay, but he’s not worth drafting in most mixed leagues at this point. Uehara is eligible to return from the disabled list April 11, but it’s far from certain whether he’ll be ready to go then.

Relievers on the Rise:

The Reds’ Tony Cingrani has adapted well to the move to the bullpen, and he could be in mix for a late-inning role sooner rather than later, especially now that Sam LeCure is in the minors.

Relievers on the Rocks: Will Joe Nathan be the First Closer Casualty?

The Tigers’ Joe Nathan and the Rockies’ LaTroy Hawkins have both struggled this spring, and each could be in danger of losing his job if he doesn’t turn things around quickly once the regular season begins.

Keep an Eye On …

The Colorado Rockies sent onetime ninth-inning man Rex Brothers to Triple-A, which opens a late-inning role for former Brewers and Indians’ closer John Axford. Current Rockies’ closer LaTroy Hawkins is 42 years old, and his low strikeout rate makes him a marginal Fantasy option in the best of times, so both Axford and current setup man Adam Ottavino could be in line for the closer’s job if Hawkins struggles. Hawkins has posted a 13.50 ERA this spring, while both Ottavino and Axford have not allowed an earned run in their 12.1 combined innings of work. Watch this situation closely.

Nathan was once one of the best closers in the game, but he scuffled through the worst season of his career in 2014. The 40-year-old’s velocity was down, and he has become very hittable when he misses his spots. Tigers’ manager Brad Ausmus has stuck steadfastly by Nathan, but one wonders how long his leash will be if he struggles out of the gate.  Setup man Joakim Soria has 176 career saves to his credit, and he has enjoyed an outstanding spring, yielding no earned runs, only two hits and three walks through his first 9.1 innings of work.

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With Kenley Jansen expected to miss the first month or so of the season, the Dodgers opened Spring Training searching for a closer to serve in his stead. Six weeks later, the search goes on, as none of the candidates has distanced himself from the field. An optimist would call the situation “fluid” or “dynamic”, while the pessimist would term it a “jumbled mess.” Joel Peralta is probably the top option for saves at this point, but southpaws J.P. Howell and Paco Rodriguez could get the ball against left-handed hitters. Yimi Garcia has posted some outstanding numbers this spring, and the 24-year-old owns a 3.10 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 11.0 K/9 and 45 saves over six minor league seasons.

For bullpen updates as conditions warrant, be sure to check out – and bookmark – our Closer Depth Chart.

Joe Nathan Photo Credit: Keith Allison

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