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May 9, 2008

Fantasy Focus

Preemptive Free Agent Bidding

by Peter Schoenke

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How do you get ahead in the free agent market in your league? Adding impact players in a deep league is usually very difficult, and bidding wars early in the season often make it tough to acquire talent. One way to get players cheaply who can impact your roster is to look weeks in advance and speculate who will be called up from the minors or return from a long-term injury. This kind of speculation varies based on your league's size and how many reserve players you can hold onto. So let's take a look at some options out there from now until the All-Star break, when the player universe takes on a new shape before the trade deadline. Some of these players are at the top of any list, and some are sleepers. Remember, Ryan Braun won the NL Rookie of the Year last season, and he wasn't called up until May 24. There's still time to catch lightning in a bottle and finding an impact player.

Prospects Who May Get Called Up

RHP Homer Bailey, Reds
Upside: High
Odds owned: High
Odds reaching majors: High
Who should pick him up?: All but shallow mixed leaguers.
Outlook: He struggled in the majors last year with a 5.76 ERA in nine starts and 28/28 K/BB ratio, but he's lighting it up in Triple-A with a 2.72 and 39/12 in 46 1/3 innings. Grab him if he's forgotten in your league.

OF Jay Bruce, Reds
Upside: High
Odds owned: High
Odds reaching majors: Moderate
Who should pick him up?: All but shallow mixed leaguers.
Outlook: Bruce seems to get no respect from the Reds, who blocked his path by signing Corey Patterson late in spring training, but he's still just a Ken Griffey Jr. injury or trade away from the majors. He's hitting .320/.343/.541 in Triple-A at the age of 21.

1B Mike Carp, Mets
Upside: Moderate
Odds owned: Low
Odds reaching majors: Low
Who should pick him up?: Deep NL-only leaguers.
Outlook: Looking for a sleeper if Carlos Delgado continues to struggle? Carp was the Mets' 2006 minor league player of the year at the age of 20, but struggled in 2007 after breaking a finger. He's been hot at Double-A, hitting .339/.388/.551 with six home runs. He's a longshot, so he's really only an option in leagues with deep reserve rosters or where minor league spots can be added midseason.

LHP Jaime Garcia, Cardinals
Upside: Moderate
Odds owned: Moderate
Odds reaching majors: Moderate
Who should pick him up?: Deep NL-only leaguers.
Outlook: Garcia is St. Louis' top pitching prospect and was just promoted to Triple-A Memphis after posting a 2.06 ERA with a 41/16 K/BB ratio in 35 innings for Double-A Springfield. Garcia may provide an opportunity to cash in if you don't believe in the strong start of the Cardinals rotation.

OF Carlos Gonzalez, A's
Upside: Moderate
Odds owned: Moderate
Odds reaching majors: High
Who should pick him up?: AL-only leaguers and those in larger mixed leagues.
Outlook: Gonzalez almost won the center field job in spring training, and is hitting .343/.410/.514 at Triple-A Sacramento. It seems just a matter of weeks before he gets a shot in the majors.

OF Chase Headley, Padres
Upside: High
Odds owned: High
Odds reaching majors: High
Who should pick him up?: All but shallow mixed leaguers.
Outlook: With the Padres off to a slow start, Headley may be given a shot sooner rather than later. After a sluggish beginning, he's been hot the past two weeks and is now hitting .304/.383/.464 at Triple-A. Grab him if your league mates gave up on him when he failed to make the team out of spring training.

SS Brent Lillibridge, Braves
Upside: Moderate
Odds owned: High
Odds reaching majors: High
Who should pick him up?: Deep mixed and NL-only leaguers.
Outlook: Lillibridge was called up for two games earlier this year and then quickly sent down, but he's likely to play a significant role if oft-injured Chipper Jones gets hurt. Even if he doesn't hit right away, he has enough speed to help those in deeper leagues. Since he just got sent down, he may have been dropped in your league as well.

OF Brandon Jones, Braves
Upside: Moderate
Odds owned: Low
Odds reaching majors: Moderate
Who should pick him up?: Deep NL-only leaguers.
Outlook: He's struggling at Triple-A by hitting just .247/.341/.327, but is still the most likely player to be called up and given regular playing time if oft-injured Mark Kotsay goes down.

LHP Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
Upside: High
Odds owned: High
Odds reaching majors: Moderate
Who should pick him up?: All but the shallowest mixed leaguers.
Outlook: Kershaw may be getting more hype than any other prospect this season, as several analysts say he could have an impact with the Dodgers like Francisco Liriano did with the Twins in 2006 (when Liriano went 12-3 with a 2.16 ERA and 144 Ks in 121 IP after moving into the rotation in May). The high schooler who was the seventh overall pick in 2006 posted a 2.95 ERA and 163/67 K/BB in 122 innings between Low- and Double-A last season at the age of 19, and has a 1.08 ERA with a 37/11 K/BB ratio in 33 1/3 innings at Double-A so far this season.

While his ceiling seems unlimited, he'd be just 20 years old if called up this season with little experience above Double-A. As with any rookie pitcher, it may take a few hundred innings before he adjusts to the majors. However, he'll likely have significant value in 5x5 leagues thanks to his strikeouts even if he does struggle. The Dodgers may give him a shot soon, because Joe Torre was noncommittal on Thursday when asked if Kershaw was a possibility to replace injured Esteban Loaiza in the rotation.

3B Andy LaRoche, Dodgers
Upside: High
Odds owned: High
Odds reaching majors: High
Who should pick him up?: Everybody.
Outlook: LaRoche tore a ligament in his thumb on March 7, but is now playing regularly at Triple-A. With Nomar Garciaparra hurt again and only Blake DeWitt ahead of him, it seems only a matter of weeks before LaRoche is given a shot.

OF Cameron Maybin, Marlins
Upside: High
Odds owned: High
Odds reaching majors: Moderate
Who should pick him up?: All but the shallowest mixed leaguers.
Outlook: How quickly will the Marlins promote the prized return of the Miguel Cabrera-Dontrelle Willis trade? He's hitting .252/.394/.423 with four home runs and strong plate discipline (25 walks) at Double-A.

OF Andrew McCutchen, Pirates
Upside: High
Odds owned: High
Odds reaching majors: High
Who should pick him up?: NL-only and deep mixed leaguers.
Outlook: McCutchen is hitting .313/.347/.418 with six home runs and nine stolen bases at Triple-A. When the latest Pittsburgh rebuilding program starts this summer, McCutchen and Steve Pearce are likely to get regular time in the majors.

RHP Jonathan Meloan, Dodgers
Upside: Moderate
Odds owned: Low
Odds reaching majors: Moderate
Who should pick him up?: Deep NL-only leaguers.
Outlook: Meloan has moved back to the rotation at Triple-A and has a 34/19 K/BB ratio in 35 innings with a 4.11 ERA in Las Vegas's hitters park. He could be next in line to get a shot at the rotation if the Dodgers want to keep Clayton Kershaw in the minors a bit longer.

OF/1B Steve Pearce, Pirates
Upside: High
Odds owned: High
Odds reaching majors: High
Who should pick him up?: All but the shallowest mixed leaguers.
Outlook: Like McCutchen, Pearce figures to get called up when the Pirates start to unload players this summer, despite a slow start at Triple-A Indianapolis (.252/.303/.389).

OF Seth Smith, Rockies
Upside: Moderate
Odds owned: Low
Odds reaching majors: Moderate
Who should pick him up?: Deep mixed and NL-only leaguers.
Outlook: If Willy Taveras gets hurt again, Smith could get a shot at regular time in the majors. He's got a strong eye at the plate (having drawn 25 walks already at Triple-A) and is off to a hot start, hitting .291/.436/.437. He has just three home runs, but hit 17 last year at Triple-A in 451 at-bats.

RHP James Simmons, A's
Upside: Moderate
Odds owned: Low
Odds reaching majors: Low
Who should pick him up?: Deep AL-only leaguers.
Outlook: The 2007 first-round pick is off to a strong start at Double-A, posting a 2.02 ERA and 31/8 K/BB ratio in 35 2/3 innings. As a 21-year-old pitcher drafted out of college, he may be able to make the leap from Double-A to the majors quicker that most.

Injured Players

3B Eric Chavez, A's
Upside: Moderate
Odds owned: Moderate
Odds reaching majors: Moderate
Who should pick him up?: Deep AL-only leaguers.
Outlook: Chavez is still making his way back from off-season surgery on both his back and shoulder. After suffering a setback in spring training, he's just started working out and is able to hit. However, the A's don't want to send him out on a rehab assignment until he can play in the field. He hit just .240/.306/.446 last year, but he still has the ability to hit 10+ home runs in a half-season.

RHP Kelvim Escobar, Angels
Upside: Moderate
Odds owned: Low
Odds reaching majors: Low
Who should pick him up?: Deep AL-only leaguers
Outlook: Escobar has started throwing after suffering a torn labrum in his right shoulder in March. At first it looked like he would undergo season-ending surgery, but there's now a chance he could be a factor in the second half of the year. The odds that he'll get back to his 2007 form are still long.

LHP Mike Gonzalez, Braves
Upside: Moderate
Odds owned: Low
Odds reaching majors: High
Who should pick him up?: Deep NL-only leaguers
Outlook: The Atlanta closer situation is unsettled with Rafael Soriano hurt; John Smoltz might move to the bullpen and take over the closer role once again after he returns from a shoulder injury, but it's also possible that Gonzalez could be the first of the three relievers to come off the DL, as he's pitching in extended spring training and could return in early June. While he would be a prime candidate to take over the closer role if Manny Acosta struggles and Soriano and Smoltz are not yet healthy, he still hasn't faced any major league hitters since May 2007 because of the elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery.

RHP Orlando Hernandez, Mets
Upside: Moderate
Odds owned: High
Odds reaching majors: Moderate
Who should pick him up?: Deep NL-only leaguers.
Outlook: Hernandez had off-season surgery to fix a dislocated toe and then had a setback in spring training, a tendon strain in his troublesome right foot. While he's been cleared to start throwing, it's still not clear when he'll return. He did strike out 7.8 batters per nine innings last season, so he'll help in 5x5 leagues if healthy.

RHP Curt Schilling, Red Sox
Upside: Moderate
Odds owned: Moderate
Odds reaching majors: High
Who should pick him up?: Deep AL-only leaguers.
Outlook: Schilling has started throwing on flat ground at about 60 feet after he decided to skip surgery and rehab a damaged biceps tendon. At age 41, the odds he'll get back to full strength aren't good, but he may be pitching for the winningest team in baseball when he returns.

RHP Jason Schmidt, Dodgers
Upside: Moderate
Odds owned: Low
Odds reaching majors: Moderate
Who should pick him up?: Deep NL-only leaguers.
Outlook: Remember him? Yes, Schmidt is still rehabbing and hoping to make it back to the majors. He's been throwing in the bullpen as he works his way back from surgery to repair a torn labrum. He's been on and off with his rehab this spring, as he's had some setbacks, and it's not clear whether he'll have the same velocity after returning, but those in 5x5 leagues may want to take the chance that he can produce decent strikeout totals again.

1B/3B Chad Tracy, Diamondbacks
Upside: High
Odds owned: Moderate
Odds reaching majors: High
Who should pick him up?: All but shallow mixed leaguers.
Outlook: Tracy has started a rehab assignment with Triple-A Tucson as he works his way back from September microfracture surgery on his knee, and could return as early as next week. He's been productive when healthy, hitting .281/.343/.451 with 20 home runs in 2006, his last full season, and he's just 28 years old. The problem is that there isn't a spot in the lineup when he returns. While Mark Reynolds is hitting .231/.314/.446 so far, he does have seven home runs. It's not hard to see Tracy being traded for pitching help, so he has the potential for an everyday job if healthy.

RHP Joel Zumaya, Tigers
Upside: Moderate
Odds owned: Low
Odds reaching majors: High
Who should pick him up?: Deep AL-only leaguers.
Outlook: At the end of the 2007 season, it looked like the Tigers might let Todd Jones go as a free agent and make Zumaya the closer. But then Zumaya suffered a shoulder injury lifting boxes in the offseason and needed surgery to reconstruct the AC joint in his pitching shoulder. He's started to throw off a mound and it looks like he could return by midseason, but with Jones pitching well Zumaya's path to the closer job seems blocked. He may be a better pickup for keeper leagues looking at 2009, but he could still be a factor for saves in the second half if the 40-year-old Jones breaks down.

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Peter Schoenke is the President of Rotowire. He can be reached here.

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Premium Article Prospectus Matchups: O... (05/09)
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