Camp notes: Rodney named closer, for now

April, 2, 2009

Opening Day is a special time of the year for fantasy baseball fans, but sometimes we put far too much emphasis on whether or not a player will be in the starting lineup or even the big league roster that first game. After all, it's a marathon and not a sprint, and just because a player like David Price or Matt Wieters isn't in the majors today doesn't mean they're not worth drafting. Similarly, just because a manager makes a decision on who his closer is going to be on Opening Day doesn't mean that pitcher will still be in that role come September, or June, or even the end of April.

Fernando RodneyMark Cunningham/Getty ImagesJust because Fernando Rodney was named the closer on Opening Day doesn't mean he'll have the job on day two.
Case in point, the Detroit Free Press reports that Jim Leyland has decided Fernando Rodney, and not free-agent signee Brandon Lyon, will be the man he turns to if the team needs a save on Opening Day. But that doesn't mean Leyland has "made a decision" that will have long-lasting impact. As Leyland told the paper, "Does that mean he's going to come in every time? I don't know that. I wouldn't make a big deal that I named Fernando Rodney the closer, because I really haven't. But he's going to close that first game, hopefully."

Judging by both pitchers' spring stats, there's not a lot to be excited about here. Rodney has a 7.00 ERA and Lyon is barely better at 5.73. However, unlike with the Cubs where newcomer Kevin Gregg outpitched the returning Carlos Marmol, this may just be a case where Leyland is going with the more familiar of two evils. Rodney did save 13 games last season, and as Leyland points out, he's healthy and throwing the ball with more control than last season.

Certainly if Rodney is successful out of the gate, he'll likely stay in the role. But if he falters at all, Leyland likely would not hesitate to go to Lyon. And once Joel Zumaya's sore right shoulder stops bothering him and he's ready to rejoin the team, don't be surprised to see him get a few save opportunities as well.

• While the Tigers' bullpen may be in flux, the starting rotation has taken shape, as Rick Porcello has beaten out Nate Robertson for the No. 5 job, according to the Detroit News. Porcello is making the jump from Class A Lakeland, and although he pitched well this spring, with a 2.63 ERA in 12 2/3 innings, it's probably too soon for fantasy owners to be reaching for him, except in deep AL-only leagues, or perhaps as a late-round flier in a long-term keeper league. In fact, we're skeptical about all Tigers pitchers, even the experienced ones like Justin Verlander, who was hammered by the Braves on Wednesday for seven runs in five innings. If Verlander repeats Wednesday's outing on Opening Day, there may not be a lead for Fernando Rodney to protect.

Gary Sheffield won't have to worry about who is closing games in Detroit, after being sent packing by the team. But he might just end up in Cincinnati, if the reports from the Dayton Daily News are to be believed. "Sheffield and [manager] Dusty Baker have a history and they talked yesterday," Reds general manager Walt Jocketty told the paper. "He has to clear waivers ... but we'll talk. We have interest because he would be a legitimate big right-handed bat to add to our lineup." Clearly the Reds had no problem unloading "big left-handed bats" like Ken Griffey Jr. and Adam Dunn, but adding Sheffield wouldn't be such a horrible idea with the alternative being the likes of Chris Dickerson and Jonny Gomes.

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• Meanwhile, in Colorado, the Denver Post is reporting that Clint Hurdle has finally named a winner in the Rockies' closer competition after hemming and hawing longer than Ryan Seacrest on an American Idol results show. The paper says that Hurdle will give the job to Huston Street over Manny Corpas, who has concerned the team with a lack of velocity on his sinkerball.

Street, acquired from the A's in the Matt Holliday trade, started the spring poorly, but blamed a sore right quadriceps on those initial poor outings. However, Street has allowed only one run over his past nine games, so apparently the problem has gone away. The uncertainty of who would get the nod from Hurdle is probably the reason Street's ADP is so low, as he's currently the 28th relief pitcher being selected in ESPN drafts, behind the likes of injured Trevor Hoffman and Joey Devine, and non-closers like Carlos Marmol and J.J. Putz. If Hurdle follows through on the announcement Thursday, that certainly will change.

• Street is also being drafted about 40 spots later than Brian Wilson of the Giants. But the San Francisco closer hasn't thrown a ball in over a week because of an infected finger on his throwing hand. The San Francisco Chronicle asked Bruce Bochy if Wilson would be ready for Opening Day, and while the manager said he wasn't concerned, he also wouldn't say outright that Wilson would be ready to go. The Giants don't play their first game until Tuesday at home against Milwaukee, so there's a little extra time for Wilson to heal. However, if he's still not ready to go, don't be surprised to see veteran Jeremy Affeldt in the game come crunch time.

Andruw Jones appears to be safe in Texas, as the Rangers released outfielder Frank Catalanotto. According to the Dallas News, the decision was made in part because Jones can provide the team with a right-handed bat since there are so many left-handed pitchers in the AL West, and Catalanotto is a left-handed hitter. Jones, for his part, may have sealed the deal when he hit the game-winning home run in Wednesday's game. Jones said he feels good, but let's not go crazy here. Jones will probably be used as a part-time DH with an occasional outfield start. He's no longer an everyday player, so value him accordingly.

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• The Dallas News also reports Kevin Millwood, Vicente Padilla, Kris Benson, Brandon McCarthy and Matt Harrison, are the lucky five to make the Rangers' rotation. That means Scott Feldman and Jason Jennings, who combined for 31 starts in 2009, will start the season in the bullpen. Benson is the big surprise, as he hasn't pitched in the majors since 2006, after tearing his rotator cuff. However, after a 2-0 record in 17 innings this spring, the Rangers felt he had earned a second chance.

Chris Shelton did about all he could do for the Mariners this spring, hitting .460 in 50 at-bats. And yet, the one thing he can't do is pitch. Manager Don Wakamatsu had nothing but positive things to say about Shelton. "I think he's a professional hitter,'' he told the Seattle Times. "He's somebody you can trust at the plate and gives you a good at-bat … the fact that we're looking to go a different route is no knock on him at all."

In other words, with the Mariners deciding to go with 12 pitchers on the big league roster, that left only four bench spots for hitters, and the Mariners would rather go with the veteran presence of Mike Sweeney in a limited role and have Shelton get a full slate of at-bats in Triple-A. Still, as long as he keeps hitting, there's no reason to believe Shelton won't find himself in the majors before the season is over.



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