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.
AMERICAN LEAGUE ONLY
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.
NATIONAL LEAGUE ONLY
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.