2014 rankings update

How to adjust for latest closer shuffling; plus rise of second-tier third basemen

Updated: April 2, 2014, 4:30 PM ET
By Tristan H. Cockcroft | ESPN.com

Two full days into the 2014 regular-season schedule and we've already got major upheaval in the going-forward rankings; imagine what the next 180 days (or 176, if you choose to exclude the All-Star break) will bring?

News has been breaking fast and furious:

• Minutes before their Monday opener, the Boston Red Sox placed Shane Victorino on the 15-day disabled list with a right hamstring strain that he suffered during a Saturday preseason game.
• Minutes before their Monday opener, the Chicago White Sox announced Matt Lindstrom, not Nate Jones, as their closer.
• Entering the ninth inning of their opener, the Milwaukee Brewers summoned Francisco Rodriguez, not Jim Henderson, to close (which he successfully did).
• One at-bat into his season, Jose Reyes suffered a hamstring injury and was placed on the 15-day disabled list within hours.
• Less than 24 hours after Bobby Parnell blew the save in their Monday opener, the New York Mets announced he has a partial tear of the MCL in his elbow.
• On Tuesday, Clayton Kershaw, who had been placed on the DL with a back injury a week earlier, was announced out for at least two to three weeks, with some hints that he might be sidelined into May.

And that's just since the Sunday night first pitch, because in the week that preceded it, the consensus No. 2 starting pitcher pick, Yu Darvish, joined the No. 1 starter (Kershaw) on the DL with a neck injury.

ARRRRRGGGGGGHHHHHH, blow up the rankings!

[+] EnlargeMatt Lindstrom
AP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastMatt Lindstrom was a surprise choice to be the White Sox closer on Opening Day.

Friend and colleague (and podcast co-host) Eric Karabell on Tuesday took a team-by-team approach at the various bullpens up for grabs this spring -- or now in flux due to Opening Day developments -- for those interested in a detailed analysis, and you can see where names such as Lindstrom, K-Rod and Jose Valverde wound up in my rankings below. For a preview, I couldn't even project 25-plus saves for a single one of the three as things stand today -- just as Eric couldn't in his column -- though at the same time, I'll stress that a closer can quite quickly gain the momentum necessary to earn that level of respect.

But in this 2014 debut edition of my "going-forward" rankings, I'll point out that four teams placed a relief pitcher who is not the closer ahead of the one who is: The White Sox (Jones over Lindstrom), Colorado Rockies (Rex Brothers over LaTroy Hawkins), Brewers (Henderson over K-Rod) and the Toronto Blue Jays (Casey Janssen over Sergio Santos). Before getting into the rationale, let's first explain "going-forward": These are rankings of players accounting for anticipated value only from today through the conclusion of the 2014 regular season. In short, they are the effective equivalent of rankings if your league was scheduled to have its 2014 season draft from scratch today.

You'll notice that most of these rankings aren't much different from the ones I originally published following the 2013 World Series, and updated through the final week of spring training, with the exception of the lower-tier closers. The rationale is simple: Two days' (plus Australia and Sunday Night Baseball) action is hardly enough to make rash player-skill judgments -- most players either gained or lost fewer than 10 places in the overall ranks -- but when it comes to closers, a manager's whim can create a ripple effect upon reliever values.

Still, there's a reason that Jones, Brothers, Henderson and Janssen remain the highest-ranked relievers in their respective bullpens: It's that I projected them to lead their teams in saves during the preseason; I don't see much reason to downgrade them on a skills basis, and two days' evidence isn't enough to start making radical changes. A week from now? Well, we'll see...

Addressing Henderson specifically, his own manager, Ron Roenicke, even admitted to the Brewers' official website Tuesday that he envisions Henderson returning to the closer's role eventually: "I think this is the best way to get his confidence back," Roenicke said. "Say I put him into that [closer] role [Monday] night and his stuff really isn't ready and his confidence isn't there and he gives it up last night, what does that do to his confidence? So we're doing this to try to get him back, the best way we can and the fastest way we can. We think this is the best way to do it."

While fantasy owners in standard mixed leagues require a more reactionary approach to saves than those in deeper formats, that means I'd consider Jones and Henderson, especially, good low-cost acquisitions for owners with the luxury of the bench space with which to stash them.

The strength of third base

Third base was a position surrounded by much debate this preseason; many claim it's a deep position, while others regard it thinner than usual. My take was always that it's rich in talent, though many of the premium names tend to have perceived values greater than their reality, a group that even includes David Wright, Evan Longoria, Ryan Zimmerman and Pablo Sandoval.

But the position as a whole enjoyed a productive spring, with many of the second-tier third basemen earning greater trust in fantasy leagues; it wouldn't surprise me at all if many leagues draw an equal number of their corner infielders from the third-base as the first-base pool. Martin Prado, Will Middlebrooks, Nolan Arenado and Mike Moustakas all enjoyed promising enough preseasons -- to be clear, that goes beyond their mere stat sheets -- that there was every reason for them to climb a few spots apiece in my rankings.

Middlebrooks and Moustakas, in particular, continued to exhibit their improved-contact approaches. Middlebrooks whiffed just three times in 54 trips to the plate in the Grapefruit League, a huge plus for a player who struck out 26 percent of the time last season. Meanwhile, Moustakas' 12 percent K rate in the Cactus League was considerably lower than his 16 percent rate of 2013 or 17 percent in his big league career to date. Those -- not their mere triple-slash rates -- are the spring numbers that bear mention.

And what of new addition to the top 30 third basemen? Marcus Semien, currently the Chicago White Sox's fill-in second baseman, moved up to 26th at the position this week, a viable candidate for a pickup in any league at least as deep as 12-team mixed. A contact-hitting, high-walk hitter, Semien averaged 19 home runs and 20 stolen bases per 162 games played during his minor league career.

Here are the full Top 250 rankings. For a detailed rankings breakdown by position, click here.

Tristan's rankings are based upon a standard, mixed Rotisserie league with 5x5 scoring. Position eligibility is determined based upon a minimum of 20 games, otherwise the position the player appeared at most in 2013. Players' listed ages are as of April 1, 2014.

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