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Fantasy baseball: Bullpen bonanza leads waiver wire picks

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It has been a rough couple of weeks at closer.

Between the injuries to Devin Williams (stress fractures in his back), Jhoan Duran (strained right oblique), Paul Sewald (strained left oblique) and Jordan Romano (right elbow inflammation), and Alex Lange‘s demotion from the role in Detroit, one-sixth of the league’s jobs have already changed hands.

Predictably, the mad scramble for available saves has therefore dominated fantasy baseball’s free agent landscape. Nearly 40% of the total FAB spent during the Tout Wars mixed-league March 27 and 31 free agency periods was invested in prospective save-getters from the aforementioned five bullpens. Four out of the 20 most-added players in ESPN leagues over the past week are pitchers currently regarded as their team’s closers.

Jason Foley, RP, Detroit Tigers (16.1% rostered in ESPN leagues): Foley has been the most popular from this bunch, having saved both the team’s Opening Day and Sunday victories. Lange, who had been widely expected to serve as the team’s closer to begin the season, was passed over for the former opportunity, then walked three of the five batters he faced after being summoned to pitch the seventh inning on Saturday.

With those usage patterns presenting a clear signal that Foley, who notched seven saves with a “second-best from the Tigers bullpen 2.1 WAR (behind Tyler Holton) last season, has captured the full-time role, it’s understandable that Foley went for $261 (out of $1000) in Tout Wars on Sunday night.

Not to take anything away from Foley’s performance last year or during 2024’s opening weekend, but his raw stuff has never struck me as equal to that of Lange’s — and that casts worry that Foley’s saves will fit the “fool’s gold” category as far as FAB investments go. That said, his sinker through two outings has been clocked more than 2 mph faster than it was in 2023, so maybe his stuff has improved. The Tigers, too, are a younger crew on the rise in what is a softer division competitively, so a healthy saves total might well be there for the team’s closer.

Among the “available in over 66% of leagues” closer crew, Foley is the top add, even if there’s a second, hot-starting prospective closer who tempts me to rank him first.

Abner Uribe, RP, Milwaukee Brewers (15.6% rostered): His raw stuff is positively filthy, between a sinker that has averaged 99.3 mph thus far in the majors and a slider that has generated a 57% whiff rate on swings while being responsible for nearly half (20) of his 41 career K’s. Plus, the Brewers gave him a monstrous vote of confidence in handing him back-to-back ninth-inning save chances to begin their three-game sweep of the New York Mets.

Point out that he surrendered a home run in the second game and that the Brewers turned to Joel Payamps to close out Sunday’s series finale, if you like. I counter that Pete Alonso, one of the game’s best power hitters, hit the homer, Uribe had thrown 29 pitches over the previous two days and, therefore, presumably wasn’t available on Sunday.

It’s a precariously small sample size, but Uribe has shown much better control in his two games compared to how he looked in 2023. If that sticks, he’d certainly register fill-in stats that would rank among the position’s top 15. Relative to Foley, Uribe is the “discount” add whose ceiling is a clear notch higher.

I can’t believe these guys are still this available

Kutter Crawford, SP/RP, Boston Red Sox (45.2%): He was a personal favorite in my drafts, thanks to his sneaky-good, high-spin fastball and sweeper/slider combo that was responsible for 31 of his 135 K’s last season, despite his throwing them a mere 13% of the time. This spring, he began dabbling with a splitter and, in his 2024 debut, he generated 10 swings-and-misses and seven strikeouts against the Seattle Mariners, in large part thanks to substantially greater reliance upon his sweeper (37% usage alone).

Crawford’s raw stuff is plenty underrated, and with the Red Sox granting him a longer leash in terms of pitch count (84 on Saturday), he’s looking more capable of being a top-40 fantasy starting pitcher this season. He should not be left out there, even in shallow mixed leagues such as ESPN’s standard format.

Victor Scott II, OF, St. Louis Cardinals (8.2%): To be clear, he’s considerably more appealing in rotisserie than points-based or sabermetric scoring formats, but in those former scoring systems, he needs to be universally rostered for so long as he’s in the majors and playing regularly. Scott’s raw speed is nearly unmatched — 80-grade, with Statcast measuring him as having 30.0 feet-per-second sprint speed (generally the threshold for “elite”).

Between what that does for his range and his strong overall defense, he should play often enough to steal 50-plus bases if the Cardinals’ center field job is permanently his. Scott does need to improve against breaking and off-speed stuff — seven swings and misses and four strikeouts combined — if he’s to stick around, but enjoy his steals for now as he adjusts.

A deeper-league pickup

Brady Singer, SP, Kansas City Royals (15.5%): A trendy 2023 sleeper who instead fell flat on his face, Singer’s spring results (7.31 ERA, 10.4% walk rate in five starts) did little to restore any optimism about his upcoming performance. That said, he seemed to alternate elite and terrible outings throughout his Cactus League season, signaling that the talent is there, but inconsistency is the problem.

Singer’s 2024 debut was another sparking outing, in which he relied considerably more upon a slider that resembled his solid 2022 offering as well as generated 16 swings-and-misses and six strikeouts, and it came against a pretty productive Minnesota Twins lineup. Between his strikeout upside and pitching-friendly home ballpark, he needs to be rostered in any league larger than ESPN’s standard format.

Final waiver wire thoughts

Oswaldo Cabrera, OF, New York Yankees (21.8%): Although Cabrera has been one of the last week’s most popular pickups — no shock considering his 7-for-16, 2-HR opening series — I’m not a big believer in his staying power. Despite the small-sample outburst, he’s neither a big-time power nor a speed type, and most of the contact concerns that were present in 2021 and 2022 remained.

With the news that DJ LeMahieu will miss extended time due to a fractured foot, Cabrera should figure as a strong-side platoon third baseman for the foreseeable future, but count me as one who regards him as more of an AL-only pickup than anything more … yet.

Feel free to cut: Lange (56.0%), Matt McLain (57.7%), Whit Merrifield (10.1%).



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