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April 23, 2013

Free Agent Watch

American League, Week Four

by Paul Singman

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Ryan Roberts, 2B/3B, Tampa Bay Rays
Ownership:  ESPN: 0.1% Yahoo!: 2%  CBS: 5%
2013 Stats: 4 R, 2 HR, 4 RBI, 0 SB, .304 AVG

The Rays lineup is chaotic right now, with few players holding steady, everyday roles. However, one thing that was steady in the recent, three-game sweep of the A’s was Roberts manning second base. The tatted fan-favorite played his role in the sweep, collecting four hits and driving in a couple of runs while batting second. And, as I’m writing this, he just hit his second home run off of CC Sabathia. Roberts is known for bursts of offensive production, and this week, with the Rays playing a full slate of games, he is a good bet to deliver solid stats. His playing time won’t be helped by the return of Luke Scott in a week or a possible call-up of Brandon Guyer or Wil Myers, so Roberts is just a one-week plug-and-play for anyone in need of a MI bat.

Yunel Escobar, SS, Tampa Bay Rays
Ownership:  ESPN: 0.9% Yahoo!: 6%  CBS: 24%
2013 Stats: 4 R, 2 HR, 7 RBI, 0 SB, .167 AVG

In the preseason shortstop tiers article, I listed Escobar as my sleeper for the one-star tier. Based on his atrocious play through the first 17 games of the season, I regretted highlighting him there. However, now there are signs of life, as he’s collected a home run in each of his past two games. It’s also worth mentioning here that although Hak-Ju Lee’s knee injury was a terrible incident, from Escobar’s standpoint, it further ensures regular playing time. In AL-only leagues, he’s certain to be owned, but if he was dropped in your mixed league, I still believe he can be a serviceable middle infielder.  

Justin Grimm, SP, Texas Rangers
Ownership:  ESPN: 0.5% Yahoo!: 2%  CBS: 8%
2013 Stats: 10.0 IP, 1 W, 0 SV, 11 K, 2.70 ERA, 1.50 WHIP

Last year, I streamed Grimm for one start against the Tigers in late June. He made it through exactly one inning, but not before six runs crossed the plate. That experience is burned in my memory and makes me hesitant to recommend the 24-year-old right-hander; and yet, here we are. Grimm has started twice this year, both times against the Mariners. In his most recent start, he excelled over six innings, allowing just one run and racking up an uncharacteristic nine strikeouts. Looking at his minor-league strikeout rate, he’s more like a Tommy Milone, mid-6.00s strikeout-rate kinda guy. But he does limit his walks and could be mid-4.00s ERA pitcher with decent win potential as a member of the Rangers. In mixed leagues, hopefully you can do better, but he should be owned in AL-only formats.

Nick Franklin, 2B/SS, Seattle Mariners
Ownership:  ESPN: 0.0% Yahoo!: 0%  CBS: 0%
2013 Stats: 9 R, 2 HR, 7 RBI, 3 SB, .333 AVG (AAA)

If things continue as they are, the Mariners will have no choice but to send Dustin Ackley back to Triple-A in the next week or two. The signs are obvious, but just to give one piece of evidence: In his 71 plate appearances this year, Ackley has just two extra-base hits, both doubles. Conveniently, the M’s have a talented 22-year-old middle infielder in Franklin, currently abusing Triple-A pitching with a .333/.450/.545 triple-slash line. In the majors, Franklin can be a 15-homer and steal guy with a solid .270s average—certainly valuable as a middle infielder. In AL-only leagues, he should already be stashed, and in mixed leagues, you can begin the stashing process now.

Brandon Barnes, OF, Houston Astros
Ownership:  ESPN: 0.1% Yahoo!: 0%  CBS: 0%
2013 Stats: 4 R, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 1 SB, .333 AVG

AL-only leaguers, meet the Astros’ new part-time right fielder! Rick Ankiel will still draw the occasional start, but as we’ve seen over the past few games, Barnes will start four to five times a week. Last season, he had an impressive year split between Double and Triple-A, albeit as a 26-year-old. Still, his combined .320 average, 12 homers, and 21 steals should impress us at least a little. It isn’t unreasonable to expect a .260 average, maybe five homers, and low-double-digit steals from Barnes this year, which should get the attention of AL-only league owners.

Garrett Richards, SP, Los Angeles Angels
Ownership:  ESPN: 1.5%  Yahoo!: 10%  CBS: 34%
2013 Stats: 17.2 IP, 1 W, 0 SV, 14 K, 2.55 ERA, 0.68 WHIP

Richards hasn’t been anything more than mediocre the past couple of years in both Triple-A and the majors. On Saturday, though, Richards delivered an extraordinary effort against the Tigers, going seven strong innings, allowing just two hits and no walks, and notching eight strikeouts. I’m not one to let one start completely change my opinion of a player, but given his former pedigree as a top prospect and upcoming matchup versus the Mariners, he’s not someone to simply dismiss either. An appropriate play in 15-plus-team mixed leagues and deeper formats is to add him and evaluate on a start-by-start basis going forward. If he continues to impress until Jered Weaver is healthy, the Angels will find a way to keep him in the rotation.

Brandon Laird, 1B/3B, Houston Astros
Ownership:  ESPN: 0.2% Yahoo!: 0%  CBS: 1%
2013 Stats: 1 R, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 1 SB, .333 AVG

Brett Wallace has mercifully been removed from the majors after a miserable 26 plate appearances, of which 17 ended with a strikeout. Laird is the guy to replace him, and at least he got up on the right foot, blasting a homer in his first game in the bigs. There’s not much to see here—the past few years in Triple-A, he has been a .250s hitter with mid-teen pop. Consider yourself lucky to get a .240 average and 10 homers out of him. AL-only players desperate for at-bats should take note, however, and at least Laird has batted in the middle of the Astros lineup thus far.

Corey Kluber, SP, Cleveland Indians
Ownership:  ESPN: 0.7%  Yahoo!: 1%  CBS: 1%
2013 Stats: 5.0 IP, 1 W, 0 SV, 5 K, 1.80 ERA, 1.00 WHIP

The news broke yesterday that Brett Myer’s ulnar collateral ligament is close to succumbing to Tommy John surgery. Whether he needs to go under the knife or not is irrelevant; he’s going to miss a good chunk of time. Cue the first replacement in Kluber, who draws interest due to a minor-league strikeout rate that has consistently hovered around 9.0, but who also has struggled to avoid getting Kluberred by homers. Word is, he’s learning to use a two-seamer in order to generate ground balls and counteract the effect homers have had on his ERA. In AL-only leagues, it’s worth taking a shot on the 27-year-old’s reinvention, given his strikeout potential. Trevor Bauer is the buzzy prospect people are more eager to see get the call, but Kluber could be the pitcher with more fantasy relevance in 2013.

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