January 2, 2013
The Keeper Reaper
Relievers for 1/2/13
Jason Grilli | Pirates
So much has happened since our last installment of Keeper Reaper: Relievers. Christmas and New Year’s came and went. The fiscal cliff was (sort of) avoided. And, of equal importance to all of that, the Pirates traded their closer and named a new one.
Jason Grilli, successor to the departed Joel Hanrahan, figures to be a widely discussed fantasy tout among the hardcore set this spring in regard to whether he’s for real. In mid-2011, the Pirates salvaged the then-journeyman from the obscurity of the Phillies’ Triple-A affiliate in a move that few noticed and fewer still cared about. Since then, though, he’s established himself as a viable reliever and, for our purposes, managed to claim his place in the exclusive Closers Club.
The question isn’t really whether Grilli should be owned; he should be. In fact, I plan to target him as a late-round sleeper in my drafts this spring. But he’s pretty much a quintessential low-investment, high-reward closer, the kind whom you should keep tabs on but not invest in too heavily. In his season-and-a-half as a Pirate, Grilli’s peripherals have been markedly better than they were during his days as an unremarkable big-league reliever. There’s also reason to think the Bucs will give him plenty of leash, considering they signed him to a two-year contract shortly before dealing Hanrahan. His deal probably wouldn’t make a demotion altogether intolerable, though, even for the Pirates, and considering his relative lack of track record, age, and recent injury trouble, there are enough red flags here for owners to err on the side of caution. Don’t be afraid to like Jason Grilli. Just don’t like him too much.
Joel Hanrahan | Red Sox
Meanwhile, Hanrahan has changed teams but not roles, as the Red Sox tabbed the right-hander as their closer upon acquiring him from Pittsburgh.
Like Grilli, there are enough troubling developments on Hanrahan’s resume to give fantasy owners pause. After early-career wildness rendered him little more than just another intriguing hard-thrower, Hanrahan got his act together with the Bucs in 2010 and 2011, actually showing above-average control in the latter season (2.10 BB/9). His final numbers in 2012 once again looked strong—36 saves, 2.72 ERA—but an ugly walk rate (5.43 BB/9) suggests there was a lot more luck at play than in either of the two previous seasons.
Things broke right for Hanrahan last season despite the shaky control, but now that he’s in a tougher division, league, and ballpark, he may not be so fortunate if those issues persist. And although the Red Sox traded modest assets to acquire the right-hander, he’s only under team control for one year, so they probably won’t be afraid to look elsewhere if he struggles, especially with decent alternatives in Andrew Bailey and Koji Uehara.
Hanrahan’s upside is great enough that he could provide a lot of value if everything clicks, but with his risk factor looking fairly high, he’s another commodity I’ll be approaching cautiously.
Andrew Bailey | Red Sox
Moving along in Six Degrees of the Hanrahan Trade, we arrive at former Red Sox-closer-of-the-future and now setup man Andrew Bailey. (Please note: this analysis is for holds leagues.) You could argue that Bailey never really got a fair shake after one ineffective and injury-shortened season as Boston’s closer, but he’s missed increasing chunks of time in three consecutive years since throwing 83 1/3 innings as a rookie with the A’s in 2009. As a result, you can’t blame the Sox for not wanting to count on Bailey as their closer heading into 2013.
Obviously, whether Bailey can provide value in holds leagues depends on his health and how new manager John Farrell manages his bullpen in the seventh and eighth innings. As a capable ex-closer, Bailey figures to be a good setup man if healthy, but between his injury history and the uncertainty of how Farrell approaches the late innings, there’s enough doubt here that you should look for safer bets (of which there are plenty out there) if you’re looking to invest in someone who can bring home plenty holds.
Sean Marshall | Reds
Few will remember Sean Marshall’s ill-fated foray into closing in 2012. The lefty didn’t fare especially well, and though he would very likely have been fine in the role with a little more time to even out his numbers, no one except his owners lamented it when he was sent back into setup duty in May in favor of Aroldis Chapman. Yes, Marshall’s demotion is but a mere footnote to the historic occasion of the unleashing of Chapmania on the baseball-loving public, but holds leaguers know Marshall is about as good as they come. In addition to plenty of holds, he provides owners with strong peripherals across the board.
Thankfully, there’s little doubt as to Marshall’s role for 2013. He should be the Reds’ primary setup man, this time for Jonathan Broxton now that the Reds will try Chapman in the rotation. With Marshall’s place all but certain and no reason to believe a decline is in the offing anytime soon, the left-hander should be among the first non-closers drafted or kept in holds leagues.