Commentary

Fantasy Spin: Putz on the D.L.

Updated: April 3, 2008, 11:10 AM ET
By Pete Becker | ESPN.com

If you're really quiet, you can almost hear him, whispering it into the wind …

"Never pay for saves."

It only took two days' worth of games, but Matthew Berry is vindicated yet again as the news of J.J. Putz being put on the DL slowly permeates the fantasy baseball universe with the stench of desperation and longing for the answer to the question: Who will close in Putz's stead?

Stephania Bell: Prognosis

Seattle Mariners closer J.J.Putz was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a rib cage injury. The Mariners indicated that Putz felt discomfort on a pitch in the ninth inning of Monday night's game and remained sore afterwards. A subsequent MRI led to the diagnosis of mild costochondritis on Putz' right side.

So what is this costochondritis? Literally, the term describes inflammation (-itis) where the rib (costo) meets the cartilage (chondro) that anchors the rib to the sternum or breastbone. These costochondral joints are located on the front of the trunk and go largely ignored until they are painful. Costochondritis is often associated with a more chronic inflammatory condition, such as a viral infection for instance. It certainly can occur as a result of trauma to the chest, either blunt trauma (such as a motor vehicle accident) or microtrauma from repetitive overuse. For a pitcher, that form of trauma can result from an acute muscle injury, or even an acute strain superimposed on an overuse injury. The bottom line is that this is a painful condition, and everything that causes movement at this joint (yes, including breathing) is painful. Certainly throwing generates significant forces through the rib cage, so even a mild form of inflammation, as is the case with Putz per the Mariners, can result in disabling pain.

The treatment? Nothing fancy here. The primary treatment is rest to allow the inflammation to settle down, perhaps combined with anti-inflammatory medication and modalities such as ice. As is the case with most inflammatory conditions, once the symptoms have settled, the athlete's activity is gradually increased based on tolerance. It can take several weeks for the symptoms to fully resolve, but if indeed Putz's case is mild and was caught early, a two-to-three week absence is reasonable. The other good news here is that this can be, and often is, a one-time occurrence. Assuming no setbacks along the way, Putz should be able to return from this and effectively resume his closing duties for Seattle.

If only the answer were so easy as soliciting a smug smile of I-told-you-so-ness from The Talented Mr. Roto.

Pulling a closer out of thin air is a lot like medicine. OK, it's nothing like medicine, but the first golden rule doctors and fantasy bullpen managers must live by is the same: First, do no harm. Don't go dumping a top performer like Heath Bell or Jonathan Broxton for a lottery ticket which is just as likely to add half a run to your early-season ERA as it is to net you a handful of saves. However, if you've got the bench room and the intestinal fortitude to step up to the closer roulette, here's who I'm gunning for, in order.

Mark Lowe. He has the stuff to close, though he's not overpowering, and you have to be worried about his health, too. He pitched a total of 12 1/3 innings in 2007 due to an elbow that bothered him all year. He had surgery to remove some bone spurs late in the season, and apparently, he's fit. He's also the best option the Mariners have in their major league bullpen right now.

Brandon Morrow. He's probably the best big-armed reliever in the Mariners system, but right now, he's rehabbing his shoulder at Double-A West Tennessee. The fifth-overall pick in the 2006 draft, he was a starter in college, endowed with a 99 mph fastball he throws all over the place. And truth be told, his future is likely a few miles per hour slower and in the rotation. However, his shoulder soreness wasn't supposed to be serious, and if J.J. Putz ends up being out for a while, Morrow is the long-term option, sort of like Jeremy Accardo was Plan C in Toronto after B.J. Ryan went down. That said, Morrow walked the world (53) in 63 1/3 innings in his baptism-by-fire, so if he gets saves, they won't be pretty.

Sean Green. Green has a bit of closer experience, earning 14 saves at Double-A San Antonio in 2005. However, the 53 strikeouts he put up in 68 innings last season were tempered with 34 walks. Then again, Morrow was worse.

Arthur Rhodes. Remember him? He last pitched for the Phillies in 2006 and was, well, terrible. But he's still around, and he's only 36, so he's not quite Jesse Orosco yet. He can still bring the K's, and he has 30 career saves scattered all over his resume. He's Tacoma-bound with the rest of the Rainiers, and the Mariners chose to call up Roy Corcoran instead of him, so he's clearly being held in reserve. Still, I don't think we've seen the last of him.

Chris Reitsma. Now we're digging deep into the desperation bin. This is Cinderella-doesn't-have-a-dress-to-go-to-the-ball stuff, and even though this is fantasy baseball, fairy godmothers are in short supply. However, the Canadian righty, just 30 years old, has been a closer twice in his career -- with Cincinnati and then with Atlanta -- and is bound for Tacoma along with Rhodes. He hasn't accepted the assignment, but it wouldn't surprise anyone if he did, now that the path back to relevance has been made that much clearer. I still wouldn't waste much more than a fifth bench spot in an AL-only league.

Miguel Batista. This was actually Matthew Berry's call, and I heed it only because he was dead on in calling Brett Myers a closer-in-waiting the day he was demoted to the bullpen last season. Batista was pressed into closer duty when the Blue Jays got desperate in 2004 and 2005. It's a long shot that the Mariners would pull a 16-game winner out of the rotation and into the bullpen just to fill the closer role, but if he were to get demoted on his own merit … (Editor's Note: Batista did indeed get the save on Wednesday night, but he is still ticketed for the No.5 spot in the rotation.)

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The non-contenders: I like Cha Seung Baek well enough, but I think he's more likely to enter the rotation and push someone else to the bullpen, like Batista above, than he is to be saved for the ninth. He's a guy that the Mariners need to throw more than just one inning at a time. Eric O'Flaherty is a lefty, so that puts him in line for a one-out save against a left-handed bat once in a blue moon, and that's about it. Corcoran, who was called up to take Putz's roster spot, is likely 15th in line to close, behind all of the above, plus three of the better peanut vendors at Safeco. Hey, those guys have good arms; you try whipping a pack of hot-'n'-saltys 15 rows and hitting your target.

Pete Becker is Senior Editor for ESPN.com Fantasy Games.

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