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Welcome to Week Seven of The Free Agent Watch, Baseball Prospectus’ weekly free agent answer to Dear Abby. This column is designed to offer a brief glimpse into the top free agents in 12-team mixed, 15-team mixed, and AL and NL-only formats, with the idea being that while we can’t address every unique free agent situation in your league, we can guide you through the waters and help with the broader strokes of the decision making process.

Mike will be tackling all the mixed-league formats, while Keith will be handling the -only-league duties.

SCHEDULING NOTE: A number of our readers asked us to move this piece back so they could use the advice in their leagues with Sunday transaction deadlines, and we listened. Starting this week, you will find this piece on Fridays. The first piece will run on Friday, May 22.

12-Team Mixed Hitter

SEASON STATS

Player

H/AB

R

HR

RBI

SB

AVG

%OWN

+/-

Yunel Escobar, Wsh SS, 3B

44/134

21

2

13

0

.328

44.7

+29.1

Zack Cozart, Cin SS

36/116

19

6

17

3

.310

74.4

+11.3

Aaron Hill, Ari 2B, 3B

23/82

13

3

12

1

.280

18.4

+11.1

Miguel Montero, ChC C

24/77

8

4

15

0

.312

31.0

+9.8

Chris Colabello, Tor 1B

18/42

6

1

6

1

.429

10.2

+8.6

Jung Ho Kang, Pit SS, 3B

20/67

6

2

9

2

.299

13.1

+8.2

Logan Forsythe, TB 2B, 1B

37/125

12

4

17

1

.296

24.6

+7.9

Eduardo Escobar, Min SS, 3B, OF

26/99

11

2

16

1

.263

10.4

+6.6

Freddy Galvis, Phi SS

43/124

16

1

11

4

.347

20.4

+6.1

David Peralta, Ari OF

24/89

14

4

14

1

.270

6.6

+3

Source: ESPN, Razzball Expert League. Stats through Saturday, May 16

As if often the case, middle infielders dominate the list of movers and shakers in ESPN leagues. This makes some sense; the third middle infielder is often the weakest link in the chain on a fantasy team, even in standard mixed formats. As usual, though, the most important factor is that fantasy owners sure like them some recency bias.

12-Team Mixed Hitter

LAST 15 DAYS

Player

H/AB

R

HR

RBI

SB

AVG

%OWN

+/-

Yunel Escobar, Wsh SS, 3B

22/58

12

0

8

0

.379

44.7

+29.1

Zack Cozart, Cin SS

11/30

8

2

7

1

.367

74.4

+11.3

Aaron Hill, Ari 2B, 3B

14/32

7

3

9

1

.438

18.4

+11.1

Miguel Montero, ChC C

12/31

4

1

5

0

.387

31.0

+9.8

Chris Colabello, Tor 1B

18/42

6

1

6

1

.429

10.2

+8.6

Jung Ho Kang, Pit SS, 3B

13/41

4

2

3

1

.317

13.1

+8.2

Logan Forsythe, TB 2B, 1B, DH

17/51

4

2

7

0

.333

24.6

+7.9

Eduardo Escobar, Min SS, 3B, OF

16/43

5

1

11

0

.372

10.4

+6.6

Freddy Galvis, Phi SS

16/45

7

0

3

4

.356

20.4

+6.1

David Peralta, Ari OF

13/42

5

1

5

1

.310

6.6

+3

Eight of the 10 hitters in the 12-team mixed hitters’ table are hitting .333 or higher over the last 15 days, with two of those hitters (Hill and Colabello) hitting over .400 in that span. This stuff if the grist of my Baseball Prospectus’ colleague Jeff Quinton’s mill; people know that these hitters won’t keep it up, but it is hard to resist the pull of a hot two or three weeks.

There is another side of this coin, though. A strong, short-term performance can push a player into additional playing time, particularly if his competition is weak. Kang is going to start getting more at bats, simply because he is showing what he is capable of with the stick and the Pirates have a couple of options that aren’t performing. Nick Ahmed’s defense is a wonderful concept, but if he continues not to hit, Hill’s hot bat will force the Diamondbacks to play him every day.

The difficulty in mixed formats is that you are already running a starter out there in all likelihood. Hill and Kang are tempting options, but picking them up in 12-team mixed based on a wing and a prayer might not be the best option for your team. Of all of the middle infielders on this table, I would be most inclined to add Escobar, Cozart, or Galvis. All three are playing and have regular jobs, and all of them are unlikely to cede time to anyone behind them even if they inevitably slump.

The non-catchers are Colabello, Montero, and Peralta. I’m skeptical that either Colabello or Peralta will hold on to a regular job long term, but Colabello’s chances certainly are better with the news that Michael Saunders’ injury is worse than initially expected; he will at least get a chance. Even if Peralta breaks through the crowd in Arizona, his anticipated baseline of stats won’t help much in 12-team mixed. I like Montero more than I did in March, but in one-catcher leagues he is still borderline.

Mike Recommends: Zack Cozart. It is tempting to go with the perpetually hot hitting Galvis here, but in standard mixed give me the power potential over the speed and BABIP-fueled batting average. Galvis’ adjustments (covered extremely well by Howard Megdal at USA Today) make him a legitimate option, but also mean that the power some were expecting isn’t likely to come. Cozart is the better bet to sock another 8-12 home runs the rest of the season.

12-Team Mixed Pitcher

SEASON STATS

Player

IP

K

W

SV

ERA

WHIP

DRA

%OWN

+/-

Colby Lewis, Tex SP

50.0

41

3

0

3.06

1.12

3.58

50.6

+34.7

Chris Young, KC SP, RP

28.2

21

3

0

0.94

0.63

3.49

25.1

+19.2

Kyle Gibson, Min SP

43.1

17

3

0

2.70

1.25

3.99

25.1

+18.5

Nathan Karns, TB SP

45.1

44

3

0

3.77

1.17

4.00

23.6

+13.9

Tim Lincecum, SF SP

40.2

32

3

0

2.43

1.30

3.93

56.4

+12.6

Chris Heston, SF RP, SP

46.1

39

3

0

2.91

1.17

3.90

40.4

+12.2

Mike Bolsinger, LAD RP, SP

11.1

8

1

0

1.59

1.24

4.24

10.8

+10.5

C.J. Wilson, LAA SP

48.0

33

2

0

2.63

1.00

3.62

57.2

+10.2

Wily Peralta, Mil SP

45.0

28

1

0

3.80

1.38

4.95

18.6

+7.6

Archie Bradley, Ari SP

22.0

15

2

0

3.27

1.27

3.80

58.8

+6.7

Source: ESPN, Razzball Expert League. Stats through Saturday, May 16

I miss a week and everything changes. This is a strange list, populated with a nearly split mix of grizzled vets (someone meaner than me might say “has beens”) and young pitchers who—with the exception of Bradley and possibly Gibson—can’t be considered prospects in the traditional sense.

This is fairly risky territory across the board. It is tempting to believe that this is the year Young’s funky delivery is going to fool hitters for an entire season but—let’s face it—that’s probably not happening. Lincecum’s story is a nice one, but if you believe he is going to keep on keeping on with an 87 MPH fastball, I’d like to have a word with you. To paraphrase John S. Hall of King Missile, failure is the Mr. Bubble I bathe in each and every day. My trust for the low strikeout options in this tier is limited, and there is no need to take the plunge in standard mixed. Bradley could be interesting, but he looked tentative last night after his first game back from a comebacker, leaving a lot of pitches up in the zone and having great difficulty with his location. I’d hang back on adding him to your active roster for now.

Through this process of elimination, the pitchers I like in this tier are Lewis, Karns, and Heston. Heston is probably going to get the matchup benefit more often than not due to his park and the advantage of facing the pitcher 1-3 times a game, but my recommendation this week is…

Mike Recommends: Nathan Karns. The stuff has always been well above average; the questions about Karns have always surrounded his makeup and mentality. As long as Karns is harnessing his low to mid-90 MPH fastball, his hard change, and his power curve, he is a must own in all formats, despite the relatively high ERA. Those strikeouts will play in mixed, and the Rays defense and Rene Rivera’s superb pitch framing are also huge pluses.

15-Team Mixed Hitter

Player

Own%

AB

R

HR

RBI

SB

AVG

Pena, Brayan (C,1B)

14.65

82

4

0

4

0

.341

Galvis, Freddy (SS)

9.70

124

16

1

11

4

.347

Perez, Carlos (C)

6.14

25

1

1

5

0

.280

Middlebrooks, Will (3B)

4.55

114

12

4

13

2

.202

Escobar, Yunel (SS,3B)

3.56

134

21

2

13

0

.328

Forsythe, Logan (1B,2B,3B)

2.77

125

12

4

17

1

.296

Maldonado, Martin (C)

2.18

83

8

2

7

0

.157

Escobar, Eduardo (SS,3B, OF)

1.78

99

11

2

16

1

.263

Turner, Justin (3B,CI)

1.58

66

11

5

16

1

.288

Stubbs, Drew (OF)

1.39

43

5

2

5

1

.116

SOURCE: RT Sports, LABR Mixed, Stats through Saturday, May 16

There is a good deal of overlap between the 12-team mixed free agent list and the 15-team mixed free agent list this week. Galvis, Forsythe, and the Escobars are on each list. I am even more surprised that Galvis and Yunel are free agents in LABR mixed; it would seem that they would both be better options than the worst third middle infielder on a few rosters. There are 210 active hitters in LABR mixed with 255 players in major league baseball holding a starting position on a major league team (ignoring platoons for a moment). It is hard to believe that Galvis and Yunel aren’t better than the 45 worst regular players in baseball.

The corner infielders and outfielders are extremely slim pickings in LABR. After a fast start, Middlebrooks has come down to earth and for all of the talk of how the Padres need a shortstop it appears they may need some help at the hot corner as well. I’d rather take Turner’s part-time at bats and job share arrangement at third in L.A. over Middlebrooks’ poor performance. Stubbs is still an emergency option in case Carlos Gonzalez or another Rockies outfielder gets hurt.

If you need a catcher, there are some pretty solid options out there this week, with “solid’ meaning “guy who is starting.” Perez has supplanted Chris Iannetta in the Angels’ lineup and should be able to provide some OK counting stats for a second catcher in mixed. Jonathan Lucroy will be back relatively soon, but Maldonado is worth starting for as long as Lucroy is out. Pena is the strongest option of the three, even though the batting average won’t maintain at this level. I have no inside information, but suspect that the Reds are going to make a decision on Devin Mesoraco sooner rather than later.

Mike Recommends: Brayan Pena. As noted above, there is no possible way the batting average will maintain, but then it is unlikely that Pena won’t pop a few home runs here and there as the season goes along. Mesoraco is an extremely poor bet to get regular time behind the plate until his hip impingement is fixed, so Pena should start and hit something in the neighborhood of 6-10 home runs. It doesn’t sound like much, but combined with regular runs and RBI it is low-end mixed value.

15-Team Mixed Pitcher

Player

Own%

W

ERA

SV

IP

SO

WHIP

DRA

Estrada, Marco

11.88

1

3.55

0

25.1

26

1.22

3.98

Buehrle, Mark

11.49

5

5.54

0

39.0

18

1.69

5.51

Kelly, Joe

8.71

1

5.58

0

40.1

36

1.34

3.73

Miley, Wade

2.18

2

5.60

0

35.1

22

1.50

4.38

Warren, Adam

1.58

2

4.50

0

38.0

23

1.39

4.16

Williams, Jerome

1.58

3

5.02

0

43.0

28

1.53

5.40

Despaigne, Odrisamer

1.39

2

6.75

0

29.1

12

1.40

4.69

Smith, Joe

1.19

0

2.70

0

16.2

19

1.26

4.23

Hatcher, Chris

0.99

0

6.00

2

12.0

15

1.42

4.56

Lorenzen, Michael

0.99

1

4.00

0

18.0

11

1.72

5.22

SOURCE: RT Sports, LABR Mixed, Stats through Saturday, May 16

The DRA difference between the 12-team mixed free agents and the 15-team mixed league free agents is telling. Your sixth and seventh starters in deeper mixed leagues are going to be the kind of pitchers who are going to put up something closer to a 4.00 ERA as opposed to a 3.50 ERA. Most of these pitchers are better than their ERAs indicate but still marginal options.

Another noticeable trend in the deeper mixed leagues is that the K/9 rates for the most owned free agent is lower than it is in standard mixed. Despaigne, Williams, Warren: All of these pitchers sport lower K/IP rates than their 12-team mixed counterparts. They certainly can be owned, but it’s better to either play them as a matchup play or a sixth or seventh starter in a strong complimentary rotation.

Estrada and Buehrle sitting at the top of the list is emblematic of the mixed league conundrum. We want wins, and sometimes pushing for those wins means holding your nose and hoping for the best while obtaining the worst. Buehrle started out 2014 on a roll; in 2015 it has been nothing but bad times with a few empty wins to show for it. Estrada has survived, but his precipitous home run rate in 2014 doesn’t endanger trust for this year. At some point, bad things are going to happen.

Mike Recommends: Joe Kelly. Why are you recommending the pitcher with the 5.58 ERA, Mike? Is there something wrong with you that is leading to this bad recommendation, as well as the awful format where you write sentences in the form of a question, Mike? What is wrong or isn’t wrong with me is the subject of a 20,000 word manifesto that wouldn’t possibly fit here, but as far as the first question goes, Kelly’s recent success can be attributed to an improved effort to locate his fastball down in the zone as well as better usage of his secondary stuff. It was only one start, so maybe it won’t stick, but in 15-team mixed, Kelly is a worthwhile risk compare to the motley crew on this table, particularly if you are pushing for wins.

AL-ONLY

Aaron Hicks, OF, Minnesota Twins

With Jordan Schafer landing on the DL on Saturday, it would seem that Hicks will be given another opportunity to prove he can be an everyday player for the Twins. While I am not usually one to endorse a player who had put up a .201/.293/.313 line in his first 150 big-league games heading into this year, and who could not beat out Schafer for an Opening Day roster spot, Hicks is a decent roll of the dice this week in deep AL-only formats. The former top prospect was putting up impressive numbers in Triple-A at the time of his call up—well above his career minor-league scan, albeit in a small sample size—and has produced thus far with the Twins since his promotion. Hicks is still only 25 years old, and you can never measure a player’s desire to succeed. I would be willing to have some more faith.

Carson Smith, RP, Seattle Mariners

If you have been reading my pieces, you might think I am the president of the Carson Smith Fan Club. I can’t help it… Smith is must-watch TV when he pitches and has future closer written all over him. Surprisingly, Smith is still floating around in many leagues, including in the AL-only Tout Wars pool after being released last week. His 58 percent grounder rate so far this season is nothing compared to his minor-league totals and his current 21-to-4 K:BB ratio over his 16 2/3 innings pitched is what you should expect going forward. Smith will be a $15 AL-only pitcher this year, even without the saves, so if he is somehow still available in your league, grab him.

Other AL-only FAAB options: Eddie Rosario, OF, Minnesota Twins; Chasen Shreve, RP, New York Yankees; Tony Sipp, RP, Houston Astros; Will Harris, RP, Houston Astros; Edward Mujica, RP, Oakland A’s

NL-ONLY

Luis Sardinas, 2B/SS, Milwaukee Brewers

I wrote about Sardinas in Friday’s Deep League Report. Sardinas was recalled from Triple-A last week to replace Jean Segura on the roster. At 21 years old, Sardinas is very young, but he played well in his 43 games with the Rangers last season, leading to the Brewers shipping Yovani Gallardo to Texas this past offseason to acquire Sardinas. From a fantasy perspective, Sardinas’ value will be tied to speed (90 steals in 375 career minor-league games) so if the young middle infielder sees significant time for the Brewers while Segura is out, he will prove to be a valuable fantasy piece.

A.J. Cole, SP/RP, Washington Nationals

With Doug Fister placed on the DL with forearm tightness, there is a chance Cole will replace Fister in the Nationals rotation. Throw out his first major-league start against the Braves where he gave up nine runs (four earned); Cole has the stuff to be a mid-rotation arm in the majors. Cole tossed three scoreless innings against the Padres in relief in his last appearance on Friday night, which provides optimism he will be the choice over Tanner Roark, who has struggled thus far. The Nationals are now beginning to show they’re the best team in the NL East, and Cole will bring value in a starting role in NL-only formats. For an additional endorsement, I FAAB’d Cole in the CBS NL-only expert league this week.

Other NL-only FAAB options: Eddie Butler, SP, Colorado Rockies; Zach Rosscup, RP, Chicago Cubs; Dale Thayer, RP, San Diego Padres