As a friendly reminder, the Free Agent Watch article, which appears every Friday, will cover any midweek transactions that might impact your interest in available players in -only leagues. With all that said, here’s what we have to pique our collective interests from a free-agent perspective to this point in week 15.
With Stephen Drew’s continued struggles at the plate, evidenced by a dismal .182/.257/.372 line at the break, the Yankees called up Refsnyder from Triple-A this past weekend to see what he could do at the big-league level. The 24-year-old middle infielder from South Korea got the start at second base for New York in both games prior to the All-Star break and showed a glimpse of his potential at the plate by smacking a two-run home run against the Red Sox in Sunday’s victory. Refsnyder has shown great contact skills in the minors, and he owns an impressive .296/.388/.437 slash line over parts of four seasons in professional ball. The former fifth-round pick has also displayed some power, launching 14 home runs between Double-A and Triple-A a season ago, and seven more bombs this year at Triple-A, while mixing in a little speed, swiping 10 of 11 bags in 81 games before his call-up. The concerns surrounding Refsnyder are more tied to his defensive skills at second base, but the reports out of New York are that he will remain with the Yankees after the All-Star break concludes. His bat should play well in Yankee Stadium, making Refsnyder an attractive FAAB option in AL-only formats this week.
I profiled Orlando in Friday’s Free Agent Watch article after the news broke that Alex Gordon could be sidelined until September with a groin injury. Orlando should have fantasy relevance in the short term in deep AL-only formats, and his fantasy appeal is his speed, as the Brazilian outfielder racked up over 200 career steals in the minors, including 34 stolen bases for Triple-A Omaha last season. Orlando is a plus defender, so he could find himself in a right-field platoon with Jarrod Dyson unless the Royals decide to trade for an everyday outfielder to fill the void left by Gordon. Orlando has a little pop as well, evidenced from his walk-off grand slam off Brad Boxberger last Tuesday night and solo shot off Bo Shultz in the eighth inning on Sunday. With timely hitting like that, Orlando could see plenty of at-bats for Ned Yost in the short term, and he could be a valuable fill-in if you have a hole in your outfield.
The hamstring injury to Asdrubal Cabrera this past weekend led to the former first-overall pick in the 2008 MLB draft getting the call from Triple-A. Early this season, Beckham looked like he might be ready to take the next step forward in his career progression, as he posted an .806 OPS in April for the Rays, including three home runs and 10 RBI. However, he struggled in May and was optioned back to Durham, then landed on the DL with a hamstring injury after being recalled a few days later when James Loney hit the shelf with a broken finger. Now Beckham is back with the Rays and is expected to see time at SS while Cabrera is out. While this former top pick has yet to fulfill the promise for the team that selected him first overall, Beckham is slugging .426 with five home runs in just over 100 PA for the Rays this year, and with the expectation of playing time the next two weeks, he will have value in deep AL-only leagues at the MI spot.
Other AL-Only FAAB hitting options: L.J. Hoes, OF, Houston Astros; Jake Elmore, IF, Tampa Bay Rays; Daniel Robertson, OF, Los Angeles Angels; Travis Shaw, 1B, Boston Red Sox; Curt Casali, C, Tampa Bay Rays
This is purely a spec play if you are trying to find some potential saves in AL-only formats. Sure, Joakim Soria’s meltdown on Friday against the Twins could be viewed as knee-jerk evidence for those who think he should be pulled out of the closer role in Detroit, but the numbers also show steady regression for Soria over the past month. He’s allowed 10 earned runs over his past 14 appearances, including six home runs and two blown saves. His ERA has jumped over two full runs during that period, while his FIP on the season sits at a very uninspiring 5.12. Yes, Feliz was DFA’d by the Rangers and his drop in velocity the past few years is well documented, but he has had success in the closer role, so if Soria’s struggles continue, Brad Ausmus could give this former ROY-award winner and owner of 93 career saves a shot to close again.
Other AL-Only FAAB pitching options: Chasen Shreve, RP, New York Yankees; Kyle Crockett, RP, Cleveland Indians; Zach Putnam, RP, Chicago White Sox; Brad Brach, Baltimore Orioles; Felix Doubront; SP, Toronto Blue Jays; Steve Geltz, RP, Tampa Bay Rays
When you become the first Mets hitter in team history to hit three home runs in a home game, and you are on the waiver wire, you deserve a little shout out. At the end of the day, that performance on Sunday will not catapult you into fantasy relevance unless it leads to increased playing time, which I am not sure is in the cards for Nieuwenhuis. However, the Mets have been looking for any type of offensive spark this season, so he just might see some more playing time based on his home-run binge this weekend. Nieuwenhuis has displayed solid power numbers throughout his career in the minors and did show some improvement at the plate last season, smacking 12 doubles and three home runs in 112 at-bats with the Mets, good for a strong .223 ISO. He’s certainly worth a $1 flier in deep NL-only formats to fill a dead spot on offense for a week.
I also wrote about Johnson in Friday’s Free Agent Watch article. When Kolten Wong returned to the Cardinals lineup late last week after suffering a mild concussion against the Cubs on Tuesday, St. Louis sent Xavier Scruggs back to Triple-A and kept Johnson on the active roster. Mark Reynolds had been struggling mightily before a nice series this past weekend against the Pirates, so there is a possibility the Cardinals might give some playing time in a first-base platoon situation to the well-traveled Johnson. He smacked 11 homers in Triple-A before his call-up, so there still could be a little gas left in the tank. The left-handed-hitting first baseman has received a couple of starts and a few pinch-hit appearances since his call-up, which suggests he could get a fair amount of at-bats per week. Realistically, Johnson is probably nothing more than a short term fill-in if you have a dead spot this week to help with the counting stats, but he’s certainly not a terrible flier.
Arodys Vizcaino, RP, Atlanta Braves
With the season-ending Achilles injury to closer Jason Grilli, Vizcaino’s value has been gaining some momentum in the fantasy world the past few days. Way back in March, during The Only Landscape series article on NL relief pitchers, I wrote about Vizcaino as an arm to target in the reserve rounds as a deep sleeper for saves, and now it appears that prediction might come to fruition. The former top prospect has regained his velocity after missing two seasons following Tommy John surgery and was activated last week by the Braves after serving his 80-game suspension for testing positive for PEDs. Jim Johnson will assume the closer duties in Atlanta for the time being, but there is optimism the 24-year-old reliever can step in now and be the Braves closer for the remainder of 2015 and the future. I FAAB’d Vizcaino in two of my expert leagues and my NL-only home league, and was outbid by $1 in another NL-only league. I guess what I am saying is I like Vizcaino the rest of the way for saves, and I like him even more in keeper-league formats.
Sam Tuivailala, RP, St. Louis Cardinals
Like Vizcaino, I mentioned Tuivailala in that same The Only Landscape series article on NL relief pitchers earlier this season. The converted shortstop has had some control issues, but he throws some serious gas. The hard-throwing reliever has struck out 196 batters in 138 2/3 innings during his three-plus years in the minors, and he was called up by the Cardinals for the third time this season to provide bullpen depth. I like Tuivailala much more as a stash play in keeper leagues for his future-closer potential, but after watching him pitch again this weekend, I am starting to believe he could have fantasy value in the second half. In tightly contested games against the Pirates this weekend, Mike Matheny called upon the 22-year-old to pitch with the score tied on back-to-back nights. On Saturday night, Tuivailala pitched scoreless 12th and 13th innings to extend the game, and the following night, he tossed a scoreless ninth inning to push the game into extras. In those two appearances, he struck out four of the nine batters he faced, did not allow a baserunner, and threw 21 of his 27 pitches for strikes. Listen, I understand Rosenthal has been great this season and he is not losing his closer job unless he suffers an injury. However, keep in mind the Cardinals recent history also shows they have not been tied to any one closer from year to year, and they’re not opposed to giving the ninth-innings duties to the hot hand. This is an organization that has had a different saves leader in each of the past five seasons. We all saw how Rosenthal faded in the second half a season ago, and the Cardinals closer has also given up four runs in his last two appearances and was not able to pitch in last night’s All-Star Game because of soreness in his right arm. Could this mean more late-inning, high-leverage appearances are in store for Tuivailala after the break? That’s ultimately up to Matheny, but we deep-league NL-only guys have to look at all the angles.