Tom Wilhelmsen (ESPN: 41 percent owned; Yahoo!: 29 percent owned)
Matt Capps. Chris Perez. Jim Johnson. Brett Myers. Santiago Casilla. If you had these guys as five of the top 10 closers — determined purely by saves, peripherals are another matter entirely — I recommend playing the lottery a little more often, or at least finding a little-known website based out of the Caribbean where you can gamble on sports legally. The prevailing logic in fantasy drafts is not to pay for saves and while this year will go down as one of the easiest examples of unexpected players grabbing saves by the bunch, that draft logic is no longer the best advice anymore.
Now is the time of year when it makes some sense to pay for saves, provided there is some guarantee that the player you’re paying for will actually still be racking up saves a month from now. Aroldis Chapman would be a great example of a player worth paying for, if he had actually ever been a free agent in most leagues. On Monday, Mike Axisa wrote about Ryan Cook, a pitcher who has been superb so far this season, but a guy I’m not sure I would make a big free agent bid one because of concerns regarding his lock on the A’s saves going forward. A nice middle option of someone who is available in many leagues, but looks to have a fairly secure grip on the job, is Tom Wilhelmsen.
Since Brandon League’s demotion after his fourth blown save on May 25, Wilhelmsen has three of the Mariners’ five saves, having been the pitcher of record in another of the games where a save was recorded. The only game where a Mariner got a save without Wilhelmsen pitching was the first save opportunity in the post-League era and Wilhelmsen had pitched the day before. Since ascending to the job, Wilhelmsen has saved the Mariners’ only three chances, including working back-to-back days, which is a pretty good sign that he’s not sharing the job with Hisashi Iwakuma.
In addition to whatever saves he can grab, Wilhelmsen should be a solid source of strikeouts, as he’s currently striking out about 28 percent of the hitters he is facing. There are relief pitchers with a better WHIP and ERA than he’s currently sporting, but at 1.16 and 3.38 respectively, he’s not doing too much damage to anyone’s WHIP or ERA. In deeper leagues, Wilhelmsen may be a tough add, but for shallower leagues, he could be an upgrade over someone like Huston Street or Jonathan Broxton.
Brian Roberts (ESPN: 1 percent owned; Yahoo!: 5 percent owned)
Roberts has been sidelined since May 16 with a concussion, which wouldn’t be particularly remarkable if it were May 16 of this year. Instead, Roberts’ debut sometime this week will be the first time he’s been on a major league field in the better part of 60 weeks. When he’s healthy and producing, Roberts is a must-own player, who adds both power and speed to his strong average at second base, but Roberts hasn’t been both consistently healthy and productive since 2009, so the trepidation is somewhat understandable.
Now 34, Roberts seems unlikely to be a threat to steal the 40+ bases he was stealing in his prime and the Orioles may try to bring him back somewhat slowly in that regard. I’m not one to invest minor league rehab numbers with much meaning, but I do think it’s somewhat telling that in his 14 games at various levels, he didn’t attempt a single stolen base. There’s plenty of time left for him to swipe 10 or more bases and the initial ZiPS projections did have him stealing 14 bases before the season, but grabbing Roberts for his base stealing seems a risky proposition at this stage. It is by far the aspect of his game that is most influenced by the front office and the on-field staff’s sense of how healthy he is and how adventurous they’re willing to be with him. If he’s in the lineup, I think he’ll hit and I think he’ll show his power, but there’s just no way to be sure if he’s going to run.
Perhaps the person that gives me the most hope for Roberts’ potential production is Justin Morneau. Like Roberts, Morneau missed a ton of time over the last two seasons with a concussion and even added a number of smaller surgeries, but has come back healthy this year and has been relatively productive. Roberts is four years older than Morneau, which could hurt his ability to return to form, but I’m willing to give him something of the benefit of the doubt at least initially.
If Roberts were a few years younger, I’d be much higher on his potential this season, but at 34, he’s likely in the declining phase of his career anyway before rust considerations are even in play. I think there are sufficiently deep leagues where Roberts could be useful, but I don’t see him providing much value to a 10-team or 12-team league right away. For his sake and the Orioles’, I hope he plays most of the remaining games this season and gives us a chance to reevaluate where he ranks before next year, but for at least the next few weeks, I wouldn’t do more than stash him on a bench.