With the exception of a few old school leagues that are drafting or auctioning this weekend, fantasy baseball leagues are shifting their focus from auction targets to free-agent targets. While every fantasy writer in the world (including me) advises against pushing the panic button early, injuries happen. If you bought Ryan Ludwick, you’re already scouring the waiver wire for replacements.

Below is a look at potential free agents in American League only, National League only, and mixed formats. For mixed-league owners, the focus is on players owned in less than 50 percent of a “standard” leagues. In AL- and NL-only, these are players in very deep formats that might be available depending on your league’s rules regarding reserve lists and call-ups.


Justin Maxwell (owned in 23 percent of ESPN Leagues)

Lost in all of the jokes about the Astros striking out more than Will Ferrell and Chris Kattan in A Night at the Roxbury is Maxwell’s hot start. Like most of the Astros, Maxwell has been whiffing a lot, but he has also been strong against every pitcher not named Yu Darvish. Maxwell offers an enticing power-speed combination that will come with a bad batting average and/or on-base percentage. At the very least, he should be on your bench. Maxwell is a solid platoon option against left-handers in daily formats, and if you can stomach the batting-average blow, the power sticks against righties as well.

Collin Cowgill (13 percent)

The Mets surprised everyone when they said that they would go with everyday starters in the outfield instead of a platoon arrangement. In the short term, this benefits Cowgill a great deal, as he would have been on the “wrong” side of a platoon otherwise. Like Maxwell, Cowgill has had far more success against lefties in his short career. His Opening Day home run notwithstanding, Cowgill still appears to be more of an NL-only league play. His minor-league power probably won’t translate to the majors, and he doesn’t steal enough bases to shift a category and justify adding in a mixer.

Gerardo Parra (9 percent)

Adam Eaton’s injury opened the door for Parra to be an everyday player for at least the next month. Parra isn’t a world-beater, but he does everything fairly well and is definitely a suitable sub if you lost someone like Eaton or Ludwick. If you can pair Parra with someone like Maxwell in a platoon arrangement, that’s great, but Parra is good enough against lefties that you can probably start him everyday if you don’t have the luxury of setting up a timeshare.

Phil Coke (24 percent)

Coke earned the first two save opportunities for the Tigers, converting the first one but blowing the second one. Jim Leyland seems to trust Coke, but the lefty really is more of a LOOGY than a closer. If you can grab Coke for a low bid, he’s a fine pickup, but I would avoid any kind of significant investment. This is especially true on the heels of yesterday’s news about Jose Valverde (see below).

Hisashi Iwakuma (35 percent)

Iwakuma had a stellar outing in his 2013 debut against the Athletics. In 101 major-league innings as a starter, Iwakuma now has a sparkling 2.58 ERA to go with a 1.18 WHIP. The strand rates are high and speak to probable slippage, but Iwakuma is still capable of putting up an ERA in the mid-3.00s. He should be owned in mixed leagues.

Jim Henderson (1 percent)

With John Axford struggling early, Henderson is certainly worth stashing if you can put him on reserve. The problem is that Henderson has the same occasional control/command issues that Axford does. A modest bid is worth making, but I would not recommend blowing through your FAAB or hurting your waiver priority to obtain Henderson.


Jose Valverde (1 percent)

Two outings into the Phil Coke As Closer era, the Tigers decided that they couldn’t take it anymore and brought Valverde back into the fold on a minor-league deal. He’ll start out in the low minors, but this should be viewed more as a rehab assignment with the end goal being to bring Valverde up to the big club. Valverde has an opt-out date of May 5, so we will know pretty shortly whether or not he has a real shot of coming back this year.

Kevin Correia (0 percent)

Pickings are always slim in the first week of one-league-only formats, and this week is no exception. Correia had a strong outing in his 2013 debut, but is generally a risky proposition. The nicest thing I can say about Correia is that he won’t kill your WHIP with a lot of walks. The low-strikeout, pitch-to-contact approach isn’t something I can recommend, even in AL-only formats. Correia is a match-up play in old school 4×4 formats.


Xavier Paul (0 percent)

Chris Heisey figures to get most of the at-bats in Ludwick’s absence, but is probably taken in NL-only leagues. Paul, on the other hand, is probably available. He doesn’t offer a lot, but he is one injury closer to an everyday job now and does have sneaky stolen-base potential. This is more of a desperate, roll-the-dice kind of option, but if you really need speed, Paul is your best bet in the early going.

Brandon Kintzler (0 percent)

If Henderson is the mixed-league play in the Brewers ‘pen, then Kintzler is the guy to gamble on in NL-only  formats, because someone has Henderson on reserve and you’re just looking for a low-cost gamble. Kintzler employs a hard, sinking fastball (92-94 mph) that he pairs with a good slider. At the very least, Kintzler appears to be a solid relief option in NL-only formats and should be owned. There’s nothing wrong with taking a stab on pitchers like this in bullpens in flux.

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Love the Kintzler recommendation. I was just looking at him.
For NL-only leagues, what kind of bid would you put in for Henderson if you're save desperate?
$100 budget? I'd say $15-20 tops, though $10-15 is a safer range. I don't trust Axford at all, but Henderson isn't a Kenley Jansen/Kelvin Herrera/Trevor Rosenthal type where the skills give me an extreme amount of confidence.
Hi Mike,

Like your articles and appreciated your recent appearance on Fantasy Hour podcast. Was wonder about your Chris Heisey pick. To me, I am hesitated since he has little secondary skill, but he surprised you with decent pop from time to time and the fact that he bats two hole is a big one I am consider moving in. # months worth of production is probably easier to quantify in Roto than H2H, assuming no roster crunch (opportunity cost).

After my paragraph I am still puzzled on assigning FAAB bid on him. would $7/$100 too high in deep mix?
$7 is OK, though I might go a little lower. In a deeper mixed, In Tout Wars mixed (auction), Heisey is one of the best outfielders out there in a 15-team mixed. So it's OK to go past the minimum but keep in mind that good/talented outfielders will cycle through all year long. There's nothing wrong with pushing a little on Heisey, but I wouldn't go crazy.
Mike Gonzalez have anyt shot of closing in that Brewer pen you think? And what do you think of Tyler Thornburg maybe getting a chance to do that?
Gonzalez: The Brewers did give Gonzalez a games finished clause, so I'm sure that's what Gonzalez and his agent were thinking when he signed with Milwaukee. However, Gonzalez will probably have to string together a few decent outings in a row before he will be seriously considered for the role. His 2013 debut didn't help.

Thornburg: I could see the Brewers turning to Thornburg for relief help at some point, but right now they seem fairly committed to trying him as a starter. As a short-term pick-up for saves, I wouldn't recommend.
Mike, where do you find out info like that about games finished clauses? And how does that work? That is fanatsy gold as far as I'm concerned, even if it doesn't bear fruit. Truth is I already own both those guys in my 12-team NL league and I was going to dump Gonzalez for Kintzler, but not sure now.
Baseball Prospectus' own Cot's Baseball Contracts is essential for information like this.

And you're right, it might not mean much, but it's certainly interesting to know.
Do you think it would be worth looking into, as an idea for an article? If hindsight were to be used to see if any telievers emerged as closers who had that clause going into the year? I guess such a clause wouldn't be there for the out-of-nowhere guys probably just answered my own question :)
It's an interesting idea. My concern would be that it could turn into one of those studies where the hypothesis "proves" the thesis insofar as some of these clauses are already handed out to relievers that might close on make good deals. I don't think this is the case with Gonzalez, but a broader study might have this issue.
Mike, I have three third basemen on my team in a standard CBS head to head league (Middlebrooks, Lawerie and Sandoval). I also have Konerko as my utility player (at least while Lawerie is on the DL).

Pagan just got dropped in my league and Chris Davis is also available. I have pretty low expectations for Middlebrooks, who would you drop him for? Or would you keep him? I have also thought of dropping him and adding another pitcher (my strategy is to just run out a bunch of league average guys with two starts every week). But, my bench only consists of Lawerie and Middlebrooks now, so that may be a little risky.

Sorry for the long winded fantasy question, but I probably over manage and I need some advice!
You're lukewarm on a guy who hit 15 HR in about 250AB last season? I'd stay pat with him.
Sorry if I'm late on this question. I'd pick up Davis if he's still out there and drop Middlebrooks.