The Yankees constructed a three-headed monster in the back-end of their bullpen over the winter, but it looks like they could go into the regular season with only one of them on the active roster.
With only a few days to go before Opening Day, the last thing you want to see is a potential significant injury. The Yankees were faced with that nightmare scenario on Wednesday when Andrew Miller was hit in the right (non-throwing) wrist by a line drive off the bat of Braves pinch-hitter Willians Astudillo. There was obvious reason for concern, as Miller immediately walked to the dugout while wincing in pain and flung his hat in frustration. Initial X-rays came back negative, but a CT scan revealed a chip fracture in his wrist.
Miller will visit with a hand specialist to determine the next step, so a timetable for his return isn’t yet known. The good news is that it’s his non-throwing hand, but he still has to field his position and go through his normal throwing mechanics. How comfortable that will be with this injury is unclear.
Miller was expected to fill in at closer for the first month of the season while Aroldis Chapman serves a 30-game suspension under MLB’s domestic violence policy, so Dellin Betances will get the nod if he needs to miss some time. He’s obviously a nice luxury as far as fallback options go. Betances owns a 1.45 ERA with 13.8 K/9 over the past two seasons and notched nine saves last year while Miller was on the disabled list with a forearm strain. He was already being drafted in most fantasy leagues due to his ratio and strikeout upside, so I don’t have to tell you that he’s a must-own.
The Yankees should be fine in the ninth inning if Miller is sidelined, but the bridge to get there might be a little shakier than originally anticipated. It’s worth noting that fellow reliever Bryan Mitchell was forced to exit Wednesday’s game due to a sprained left big toe and could also be on the shelf for the start of the season.
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Blue Jay Surprise
When the Blue Jays acquired reliever Drew Storen from the Nationals over the winter, the assumption was that he would slide into the closer role this season while the young Roberto Osuna would move back into a set-up role. You know what they say about assumptions, right? Those who picked Storen without a handcuff in their early fantasy drafts are kicking themselves right now.
Citing “familiarity,” Blue Jays manager John Gibbons announced Wednesday morning that Osuna — and not Storen — will begin the 2016 season as the team’s closer. This comes as a surprise for a number of reasons. Not only does Storen have the experience edge, but he has made it clear about his preference to close. He wilted down the stretch last season after being demoted to a set-up role following the Jonathan Papelbon trade, so Toronto could be creating a problem where there doesn’t need to be one. There are also financial implications here, as the save chances will make Osuna more expensive once he hits arbitration. Storen was already locked in at an $8.375 million salary this season before hitting free agency.
With that out of the way, there’s no question that Osuna can be a top-10 fantasy closer this season. As a 20-year-old rookie last season, he reeled off a 2.58 ERA and 75/16 K/BB ratio over 69 2/3 innings. He was excellent after taking over as Toronto’s closer, going 20-for-23 in save chances. Those who nabbed Osuna late in their fantasy drafts are sitting pretty while Storen can be safely dropped in most formats.
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Nicasio Rewarded for Big Spring
Perhaps no player has gained more momentum in fantasy leagues this spring than Pirates right-hander Juan Nicasio. It went up another notch Wednesday when manager Clint Hurdle officially named him as a member of the starting rotation. Ryan Vogelsong is now ticketed for the bullpen.
It was impossible to deny Nicasio the opportunity. After posting a 3.86 ERA and 65/32 K/BB ratio over 58 1/3 innings out of the Dodgers’ bullpen last season, the 29-year-old inked a one-year, $3 million deal with Pittsburgh in December. Most believed that he would end up in a long relief role to begin the season, but he tossed 15 scoreless innings during Grapefruit League action to go along with 24 strikeouts and five walks.
We’re supposed to take spring training numbers with a grain of salt, but multiple pitchers have turned their careers around after working with Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage. Could this be his latest success story? The stuff is clearly there, including a low-to-mid 90s fastball and a good slider. I liked Nicasio as a sleeper pick a few years ago despite pitching on the Rockies. Better later than never, I guess. It’s worth a shot to see if the tweaks the Pirates have made will keep this unlikely story going. He currently has an ADP (average draft position) of 245 in Yahoo fantasy leagues.
Quick Hits: Prosecutors are moving to dismiss a domestic abuse charge against Rockies shortstop Jose Reyes because his wife isn’t cooperating in the case, but MLB commissioner Rob Manfred still has the ability to levy a suspension regardless of whether he’s convicted or not … Matt Harvey (blood clot) allowed three runs in two innings Wednesday against the Nationals and is on track to start the Mets’ season opener Sunday against the Royals … The Indians are moving Trevor Bauer to the bullpen and using Cody Anderson and Josh Tomlin out of the final two spots in the starting rotation ... The Diamondbacks intend to use Jean Segura as their leadoff hitter, though it’s unclear whether he’ll do so as their regular second baseman or shortstop … Michael Brantley (shoulder) will resume his hitting program on Friday … 2015 AL Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel fired 17 scoreless innings this spring ... Ian Kennedy exited Wednesday’s Cactus League start with hamstring tightness, but still expects to make his season debut next Tuesday against the Mets … Jimmy Rollins has officially cracked the Opening Day roster for the White Sox and should begin the year as the regular shortstop … Eduardo Rodriguez (knee) isn’t expected to join the rotation for the Red Sox until sometime in May … Yasmani Grandal (forearm) could play in a minor league game Thursday … The Rays released catcher Rene Rivera on release waivers and informed first baseman James Loney that he will not be on the Opening Day roster … Howie Kendrick (calf) still hasn’t been cleared for baseball activities and appears DL-bound … The Rangers aren’t expecting Josh Hamilton (knee) back until mid-May … The Braves signed outfielder Drew Stubbs to a minor league contract … The Orioles have placed right-hander Miguel Gonzalez on release waivers … Tigers fifth starter Shane Greene continued his surprising spring Wednesday with nine strikeouts over 5 2/3 scoreless innings against the Orioles ... Rockies reliever Jason Motte will miss the start of the season due to a shoulder strain … Rule 5 pick Joey Rickard has cracked the Orioles’ Opening Day roster … The Mariners acquired reliever Nick Vincent from the Padres for a player to be named later …