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May 22, 2013

Free Agent Watch

National League, Week Eight

by Josh Shepardson

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Erik Kratz, C, Philadelphia Phillies
Ownership: ESPN: 0% Yahoo!: 1% CBS: 2%
2013 Stats: 11 R, 3 HR, 9 RBI, 0 SB, .209 AVG

Carlos Ruiz was placed on the disabled list on Monday with a Grade 2 hamstring strain, and he's expected to be out three to four weeks. While he is on the DL, Kratz will handle the starting catcher duties with Humberto Quintero serving as his backup. The 33-year-old backstop didn't do much with Ruiz serving a 25-game suspension to open the season, but he did hit three homers in just 92 plate appearances. He hits the ball in the air regularly (34.8 percent outfield fly-ball rate), and that will help his home-run power play up. He's not a catcher that should be rostered in most mixed leagues, even those in which teams start two catchers, but his steady playing time for the next month or so coupled with enough power to reach the seats a few times is reason enough to own him in larger NL-only formats.

Yasmani Grandal, C, San Diego Padres
Ownership: ESPN: 0.2% Yahoo!: 3% CBS: 20%
2013 Stats: 1 R, 0 HR, 1 RBI, 0 SB, .333 AVG (Triple-A Tuscon)

Grandal enjoyed a solid rookie debut last year, hitting .297 with eight homers, and he demonstrated excellent plate discipline that yielded a 13.7 percent walk rate and .394 OBP. The offseason was less enjoyable for Grandal, as he was handed a 50-game suspension for testing positive for elevated levels of testosterone. In addition to the failed test, Grandal's name was linked to Biogenesis. A slow start upon his return to the Padres will likely be met by questions as to whether or not his 2012 performance was artificially enhanced. One person who has already questioned the legitimacy of Grandal's numbers last year is his teammate, and fellow catcher, Nick Hundley.

Hundley got off to a fast start hitting .329/.357/.544 in the first month of the year, seemingly shaking off a dreadful 2012. He has since gone ice cold, though, and has just two hits and two walks in 46 plate appearances this month. The job appears to primed for the taking for Grandal. He is eligible to rejoin the Padres on May 28, but it is unclear if he'll be added to the active roster at that time. If he doesn't join the Padres on May 28, he will likely join them shortly thereafter. Just how much of his stellar 2012 line can be attributed to the use of performance-enhancing drugs is anyone's guess, but owners in large mixed leagues that use two catchers and NL-only formats can't afford to wait to find out. Owners in those leagues in need of catching help should gamble on Grandal if he's floating around in the free-agent pool.

Josh Vitters, 3B, Chicago Cubs
Ownership: ESPN: 0% Yahoo!: 0% CBS: 2%
2013 Stats: 8 R, 2 HR, 7 RBI, 1 SB, .259 AVG

The Cubs' third-base stopgap platoon of Luis Valbuena and Cody Ransom has performed admirably so far this year. They are also still Luis Valbuena and Cody Ransom, and they aren't going to block Vitters if the former first-round pick begins to play well for Triple-A Iowa. Vitters hasn't torn the cover off the ball this year, but according to Cubs beat writer Carrie Muskat, that hasn't deterred the club from making his development a priority. The Cubs outrighted last year's starter at third base, Ian Stewart, to Triple-A after he cleared waivers earlier this month. As Muskat's article states, though, he won't be in the way of Vitters' development, either. Vitters played in 14 games headed into yesterday, and he played third base in 10 of those contests. While he has seen time in the outfield and at first base in the past (he's played one game at each of those positions this year), it appears the Cubs are going to let him continue to work primarily at the hot corner.

Vitters has his faults, namely an aggressive approach that leads to low walk rates and hitting pitcher's pitches as opposed to waiting for something he can punish. However, his aggressiveness doesn't lead to many strikeouts, as he makes a ton of contact. Hudson Belinsky wrote about Vitters back in December, and he noted that while Vitters' stock has dropped significantly, he's not a lost cause. He showed he could hit Triple-A pitching last year, and it's just a matter of time before he does so again this year. At that time he'll almost certainly get another look with the parent club. He struggled mightily in 109 plate appearance look for the Cubs last year, triple slashing just .121/.193/.202. He can't do much worse if given a second chance, but he'll still need to do significantly better to be relevant even in the largest of NL-only leagues. His pedigree coupled with a clear path to eventual playing time is reason enough for him to be on NL-only gamers’ radars, but he doesn't need to be stashed yet. For now, file his name away and consider adding him once his bat gets going.

Anthony Rendon, 3B, Washington Nationals
Ownership: ESPN: 0.2% Yahoo!: 2% CBS: 18%
2013 Stats: 2 R, 0 HR, 1 RBI, 0 SB, .240 AVG (MLB)/16 R, 6 HR, 23 RBI, 1 SB, .346 AVG (Double-A)

Rendon can absolutely, positively rake. His 5x5 stats above don't do his work at Double-A justice. He has drawn 27 walks while striking out only 22 times, and he owns a .482 OBP and .654 SLG. The bat isn't preventing him from helping the Nationals; the fact that his primary position, third base, is manned by Ryan Zimmerman is. Zimmerman remains one of the club's top players even if the emergence of other talented youngsters such as Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg gets most of the attention. The club recognizes that Zimmerman is entrenched at third base, and in order to try to find room for Rendon's bat, they have given the former Rice Owl playing time at second base in the minors.

Rendon still is getting the bulk of his playing time at his natural position, third base, having played in 23 games there as opposed to five at second base. However, he did play at second base for Harrisburg on Monday. According to Minor League Central, it was Rendon's third game at second base following his demotion from the Nationals in early May. His playing second base on Monday coincided with Steve Lombardozzi replacing the ice-cold Danny Espinosa at the keystone position in consecutive games. Nationals manager Davey Johnson was a wet blanket yesterday, though, as he was quoted in a Ken Rosenthal article stating that Rendon isn't ready to play second base at the big-league level and is behind both Lombardozzi and Zach Walters in the pecking order for replacing Espinosa if the club goes that direction.

Colleague Bret Sayre ranked Rendon 13th in his The Stash List article, and I'm even more bullish than that—maybe to my detriment. Perhaps I'm naive, but at a certain point in time, Johnson would have to consider playing an actual statue at second base if it could hit better than Espinosa's putrid triple-slash line of .163/.191/.296, wouldn't he? Rendon even comes with the added benefit of not being an actual statue! I am currently stashing him in a 12-team mixed expert league that makes weekly lineup changes, and he should be stashed without question in larger leagues than that.

Chris Capuano, SP, Los Angeles Dodgers
Ownership: ESPN: 1.2% Yahoo!: 6% CBS: 16%
2013 Stats: 22.1 IP, 1 W, 18 K, 4.84 ERA, 1.39 WHIP

Capuano continues to get by despite having a heater that averages under 90 mph thanks to his ability to throw multiple secondary pitches, change speeds, change locations, and fill the strike zone. His walk and strikeout rates this year are near mirror images of last year's, yet his ERA sits more than a full run higher than last year's mark. There are multiple reasons for the jump in ERA. Capuano is stranding less baserunners, he's giving up more hits, and his HR/9 is up this year as well. Oh, and did I mention he's thrown just 22 1/3 innings? It's a tiny sample, and Capuano is fine. He's closer to the pitcher we saw in 2012 than a guy struggling to keep his ERA below 5.00. He is coming off of consecutive quality starts that have totaled 13 2/3 innings, and he allowed just two earned runs in those starts with one walk and 12 strikeouts. Capuano won't carry a fantasy rotation, but he's a guy that can round out a staff in 14-plus-team mixed leagues without blowing up ratios.

Chris Carpenter, SP, St. Louis Cardinals
Ownership: ESPN: 3.5% Yahoo!: 2% CBS: 9%
2013 Stats: Injured

After thoroughly bashing the idea of stashing Carpenter last week, I'm left with egg on my face. All of the injury caveats still apply, and even a relatively healthy Carpenter runs the risk of throwing diminished stuff. The reason for my softened stance on stashing him is simple: He may now be returning to the Cardinals as a starter as opposed to working in middle relief. Scott Miller of CBS wrote that Carpenter and the Cardinals are encouraged by his recent work, and Carpenter is simulating a game's pace in his bullpen work by breaking the work up and stopping and sitting down multiple times. The increase in potential payoff makes Carpenter more intriguing than he was a week ago, but he remains a gamble best reserved for large-mixed-league and NL-only gamers with a DL spot to work with.                             

Bold Prediction of the Week: The suddenly hot-hitting Brandon Belt (.302/.393/.604 line in 61 plate appearances in May entering play last night) will not only best last year's homer total of seven this week, he'll tie his single-season high of nine from 2011 by clubbing three homers before next week's article. The Giants face Nationals southpaw Gio Gonzalez today, and Belt is a candidate for a day off as a result, but they then face right-handed starters in their next five games.  

6 comments have been left for this article.

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Premium Article The Call-Up: Kevin Gau... (05/22)
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Fantasy Article Free Agent Watch: Amer... (05/23)
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