April 6, 2015
Free Agent Watch
Welcome back, to Baseball Prospectus’ weekly free agent advice column. The column ran on Thursdays last year, but is moving to Mondays, in order to try to better serve weekly leagues that set their lineups on Mondays.
The format has changed a little bit, too. Still included is a brief breakdown of a featured hitter and pitcher in standard mixed, deeper mixed, NL-only, and AL-only, but we have added information about the most commonly added and dropped hitters in these formats as well. I’ll be tackling all the mixed league information, while Keith will be handling the only-league duties.
It’s nice to play in a format where there are starters galore to choose from in the free agent pool. Simmons is owned in most leagues, so while he would be a decent add, he’s probably not a realistic player to profile. Juan Lagares is the player on this list I’d target if positional or statistical need didn’t matter. A 10/20 season from the Mets outfielder isn’t out of the question. Aoki, Pagan, and perhaps Herrera could also steal 20 bases, but the potential power doesn’t come close. Even though I had Simmons ranked higher in the preseason, I prefer Ramirez’ upside in this format, with the understanding that you can always drop him if he tanks in favor of a number of the players on this table.
Source: ESPN, Razzball Expert League
In standard mixed formats, the name of the game is streaming, particularly if you have unlimited moves. Even with an innings cap or start limits, there are always going to be one or two tasty matchups to pick from that are better than what you have on your active roster. In leagues where you can stream pitchers daily, Clay Buchholz is almost too good to be true against at the Phillies, and I might even hold my nose for his start in Yankee Stadium if I had early injuries to deal with and had a pressing need. Porcello is a no-brainer, but the 98.3 percent ownership rate tells me it is an aberration that he isn’t owned in the Razzball experts league. McAllister and Graveman are the stash candidates if your bench is deep. Graveman seems like a more reliable play, but in 10- or 12-team mixed, I would prefer gambling on the higher ceiling with McAllister in hopes that the velocity he seems to have picked up on his fastball this spring sticks.
Cody Asche, 3B, Philadelphia Phillies
Dillon Gee, SP, New York Mets
After eight years in the minors, the former second-round pick of the Nationals back in 2007 finally made it to the big leagues in 2014 and appeared in 24 games with the Rangers a season ago. Despite putting up rather pedestrian numbers while in the minors, he slashed .349/.391/.512 over those 24 games including three home runs. He was certainly aided by an unsustainable .458 BABIP last year, but he put up solid numbers again this spring (.353/.411/.627), which earned him the fourth outfield spot for the Rangers heading into 2015. Ryan Rua was given the starting nod in LF, but Smolinski can certainly see some time in the Rangers outfield early in the season if Rua struggles. Smolinski has limited power and speed potential based on his minor-league scan but should not hurt your AVG, and the possibility for playing time gives him value in AL-only leagues in the early going.
The injury to Gavin Floyd and demotion of Danny Salazar secured McAllister’s spot in the Indians rotation to begin the season. McAllister’s 2014 season was one to forget, but he did battle a back injury and his 3.45 FIP was more indicative of his performance than his 5.23 ERA would suggest. While I do not put too much weight on spring training stats, there is some optimism with McAllister heading into 2015 as his fastball was still hovering around the 97 MPH range in his last spring start, and his 28-to-4 K:BB ratio over his 25 1/3 innings is certainly a promising sign. McAllister did get off to a 3-0 start with a sparkling 2.28 ERA to begin last season, and historically he has been most successful in April. Considering his heavy fastball arsenal, with the increased velocity this spring, that pattern of April success could continue. If the right-hander can maintain last year’s strikeout rates (7.7 K/9) and get a little better defensive support behind him, McAllister should offer value in 5x5 AL-Only leagues. Just note that he is scheduled to start this Friday against the Tigers (career 4.66 ERA against Detroit), so you will probably want to reserve him this week if your league has that option.
Jeff Francoeur, OF, Philadelphia Phillies
It speaks volumes about how sparse the NL-only free agent pool is when Jeff Francoeur gets top billing in this year’s first installment of the Free Agent Watch. Francoeur has not had any fantasy relevance since 2012, but based on the current outfield situation in Philadelphia, he does have the opportunity to see some playing time in the early going. There is currently no timetable for Domonic Brown’s return, and we cannot be sure about what to expect from Odubel Herrera in center field, since he is a converted middle infielder. Grady Sizemore and Darin Ruf are not everyday options and Ben Revere is being actively shopped. Francoeur is really just a short term fill-in if you have a dead spot in the OF, but can help with some of the counting stats when he plays.
Stults beat out fellow veteran lefty Wandy Rodriguez for the fifth spot in the Braves rotation after a strong spring. Stults will serve as an innings eater at the back end of the rotation, but has had some fantasy relevance in NL-Only leagues in recent years earning $9 and $7 in 5x5 in 2012 and 2013 respectively. He will not be much help in the strikeout category (5.6 career K/9) but is a decent streaming option, as he won’t kill your ratios. A look ahead shows he could be in for his start at home this weekend versus the Mets.
Keith Cromer is an author of Baseball Prospectus. Follow @keithcromer18