Yankees Tigers Spring Baseball
New York Yankees' Gleyber Torres hits a solo home run on the first pitch of a spring baseball game against the Detroit Tigers, Monday, March 28, 2022, in Lakeland, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

FANTASY BASEBALL – POSITION BATTLES WON (FOR NOW)

Mike Shara

Despite everyone paying a load of attention to lineups and matchups as we always do in March, there are still always a few positional questions that aren’t quite clarified as teams depart from Arizona and Florida to start the regular season. Part of the cause for the uncertainty was due to an abbreviated Spring Training this year after the winter’s labor unrest and part was managers just being cagey, not wanting to reveal how they were going to play certain situations ahead of time. Several of those questions have been cleared up after the opening weekend of the season. Here are a few that may be of value to fantasy players and their rosters:

CHICAGO CUBS CLOSER: David Robertson
After Craig Kimbrel was traded to the crosstown White Sox at last year’s trade deadline, hard-throwing Rowan Wick recorded five saves in the final month. That led to many folks assuming that he’d be the favorite for the closer’s job in 2022, but he had just six saves in his entire MLB career before that. This year the Northsiders are planning (hoping?) to be a bit more competitive, so it’s not surprising that manager David Ross chose to entrust their first save opportunity this season to Robertson. He’s no spring chicken (he turned 37 this week) but he has played 15 seasons of big league experience and had 137 career saves before the season started. Robertson is only rostered in 35% of Yahoo leagues and 7% of ESPN leagues, but those numbers will both climb quickly. If you still need saves, he’ll be a sturdy (if unspectacular) source going forward. If you have Wick, I’d trade him out for Robertson. 

NEW YORK YANKEES’ ODD MAN OUT: Gleyber Torres
During the spring, Yankees observers noted that with all their roster additions and changes, New York had 10 players who considered themselves starters but only 9 spots to put them in. There was a fair bit of conjecture about who would lose the most playing time as a result of this glut. Torres did start the second game of the season, but there is no mistaking the signal that manager Aaron Boone sent him by sitting him out on Opening Day: right now, he looks like the tenth man on the depth chart. You don’t necessarily need to cut Torres off of your roster yet – he is the youngest player of the 10 and this veteran team will inevitably need rest days and get injuries – but it’s worth noting for now to see where he sits in the organization’s mind after back-to-back disappointing seasons in 2020 and 2021. With other power/speed combo middle infielders like Andres Gimenez and Brendan Rodgers widely available and playing every day you don’t want to be stuck rostering a part-time player who’s not particularly productive for too long.

CINCINNATI REDS’ FIREMAN: Tony Santillan
He saved the Reds’ opening day win vs. Atlanta with a scoreless ninth inning, but Cincinnati manager David Bell intimated after the game that he might be more likely to use Santillan as a “Fireman” reliever (like Tejay Antone had been for them before his injury) rather than exclusively as a closer. The difference? A fireman can enter the game at any point of a game in a high-leverage situation to (you guessed it) put out a potential fire. While this might cost Santillan a few cheap, easy saves it might also mean he steals a few wins here and there, too. He was quietly very good last year as a rookie and has clearly separated himself as his team’s best reliever right now – at least in his manager’s mind. Relievers of that ilk also can help your team in categories like WHIP, ERA and K’s, even if they only end up with 10 saves at the end of the season.

NEW YORK METS #2 STARTER (UNTIL JUNE)– TYLOR MEGILL
If you drafted Jacob deGrom this year or he was one of your keepers from last year, the news of him being on the Injured List again already was a crushing blow before the season had even begun. He’ll miss at least the first month of the season, leaving an unfillable chasm in what was supposed to be a vaunted Mets rotation. Stepping into the fray to replace him on opening day was Megill, a relatively unheralded 26 year-old pitcher who threw 89 competent innings as a rookie last season in Queen’s. His 4.52 ERA last year won’t win any awards but advanced stats say that number was somewhat higher than he deserved. He struggled with platoon splits last year but an encouraging sign on Friday was him using an improving changeup to retire lefties more effectively. It was only one start and I’m not predicting a Cy Young Award, but if you have a spot to fill he might be a better bet than anyone else on your league’s waiver wire until deGrom returns. 

OAKLAND A’S LEADOFF HITTER: TONY KEMP
In all three of Oakland’s games vs. Philadelphia this weekend (each vs. a right-handed starting pitcher), their leadoff hitter was left-hander Tony Kemp. This is noteworthy because Kemp very quietly had a productive 2021, batting .279/.382/.418 with 8 stolen bases in just 330 at-bats and he did most of that from the bottom three spots in the A’s batting order. If he’s going to be ‘the guy’ in that spot all season long under new manager Mark Kotsay, he could have significant fantasy upside for a guy who is likely on your league’s waiver wire right now. He’s less than 4% owned on both ESPN and Yahoo but if he gets 550 plate appearances this season, he could end up scoring 90 runs and stealing 20 bases (they’ll need him to run when he gets on) with good on-base and batting average numbers. He also qualifies at two positions (second base and outfield), covering two spots on your bench. If you’re currently rostering guys like Cavan Biggio or Joey Wendle because of their positional versatility, I think Kemp is going to end up being more valuable even if no one else in the baseball world will notice it because it will happen for a non-contending team.

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