- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
Now that pitchers, catchers and yes, even the hitters have arrived to spring training throwing, hitting and running, injuries are going to occur. One of the first players of fantasy importance to get hurt is Cleveland Indians closer Chris Perez, out until perhaps early April with an oblique strain. Perez didn't rank as one of my top 20 closers for the pending season, as there were numerous red flags in his 36-save season from 2011, notably with strikeout rate, but he still seemed relatively safe in his role.
But this is what happens in late-February and March and the general result can be a good one for fantasy owners. In this case, Perez goes from overrated to ... yep, a potential bargain, if he drops enough in your draft.
Fellow Tribe right-hander Vinnie Pestano was clearly -- if you remove saves from the equation -- the team's top relief pitcher in 2011, and he's likely to inherit closing duties until Perez returns. We don't know for sure that Perez will miss Opening Day, but this is a reminder that saves often result from opportunity, not performance. Perez fanned 39 hitters (in 59 2/3 innings) in 2011. He saved 36 games. I don't need to remind former Ryan Franklin owners that while strikeout rate doesn't tell us everything, it tells us enough that Perez wasn't the safest closer heading into 2012.
Pestano dominated right-handed hitters in 2011, permitting a .115 batting average, and while he needs work against lefties, let's just say if the Indians let him close in 2012, he too could save 36 games. I don't think that's going to happen; Perez's injury doesn't seem to be a long-term issue, and since he's got that closer history, it's likely the Indians will give him the job whenever he is ready.
I'll get more into top setup men to watch in March, but suffice to say, knowing how potentially shaky Perez was even before the injury (high walk rate, .240 BABIP against), Pestano was on that list. For now, I'd still draft Perez over Pestano, because saves drive the bus in standard fantasy leagues more than effective relief pitching. Lower the season expectations for Perez a bit, perhaps to 25-30 saves, but he should remain attractive for the later rounds in a 10- or 12-team format, probably right where the likes of Minnesota Twins right-hander Matt Capps, Toronto Blue Jays right-hander Sergio Santos and Los Angeles Dodgers right-hander Javy Guerra are going. There's some degree of doubt with each of them as well.