The love you felt for your roster after your auction is gone now. Your team has seen demotions, injuries, and weak performances on both sides of the ball. It’s time to fill in those dead spots on your roster and make some bets on upside or possible role changes that could make your season. Getting in early on players with high ceilings or players who stand to inherit larger roles can keep the cost low so you have more FAAB later in the year for imports from the other league or minor league callups after the Super Two deadline passes. Time to work the wire and find some value while it’s still out there.
AL-ONLY POSITION PLAYERS
The Blue Jays will face left-handed starters in all three of their games against the White Sox in their first series next week, and in one or two of their games against the Rays in their second series. Barney’s not exactly a masher, but he should get a lot of playing time next week. He’s stolen a couple of bases already this season, and in case you hadn’t heard, Toronto has a pretty good offense. If you’re thin at MI, Barney should get nearly a week’s worth of plate appearances and do it with the platoon advantage most of the time.
Brett Gardner is banged up, which translates into more playing time for Aaron Hicks. Considering that the other two starters in the outfield in the Bronx are Carlos Beltran, who will be celebrating his 39th birthday next week, and the injury-prone Jacoby Ellsbury, Hicks has a lot of other avenues to playing time besides Gardner’s most recent injury. He hasn’t put it all together at the major league level yet, but Hicks has the same power/speed potential as everybody’s darling in Washington, Michael Taylor. Compared to Taylor, Hicks has had more time to develop and is closer to his late-20s peak. If you like Taylor, you’ll love Hicks.
Reading the tea leaves in Boston, it certainly seems like the Red Sox have soured on Blake Swihart’s defense. Defense is Christian Vazquez’s calling card, so he could be in line for the bulk of the playing time behind the plate in Beantown with Swihart demoted to Triple-A and Ryan Hanigan cast firmly as a backup at this point in his career.
Like Barney, Vazquez isn’t much of a threat with a bat in his hands. The Sox like what he does with his glove and his surgically repaired throwing arm, though, and that should get Vazquez enough plate appearances to be relevant. The catcher position isn’t teeming with Triple Crown candidates, so in deep leagues, most teams have a $1 endgame light-hitting backup as their second catcher. Vazquez represents a rare shot at getting most of a starter’s share of plate appearances to replace your $1 schlub at catcher.
Herrera probably isn’t available in leagues deep enough to roster non-closing relievers, but in case he is, snap him up. He has earned $7 – $10 in AL-only leagues in each of the last three seasons via his strikeouts and rate stats, so he’s not coming out of nowhere, but he seems to have reached a new level this year thanks to a new slider that he broke out last October during last year’s World Series run. He won’t get a sniff of the closer spot as long as Wade Davis is healthy, but in terms of value, he could be up alongside Dellin Betances on the list of top earning non-closing bullpen options.
Gausman has been a favorite of mine on upside, but he hasn’t provided much production at the major league level yet. After being jerked around by the Orioles for years, both between the bullpen and the rotation as well as Triple-A and the majors, he had a clear shot at a permanent shot in the rotation going into spring training. He came down with a sore shoulder in camp, though, costing him his spot on the Opening Day roster. He is currently scheduled to return from the DL with a start against the Rays next week. Shoulder injuries are risky, sure, but in deeper leagues, he has a lot more upside than most of the dreck in the free agent pool.
Henry Owens or Brian Johnson
One of these two young Red Sox starters will take Joe Kelly’s spot in the rotation. By most accounts, Henry Owens has better raw stuff than Brian Johnson, but he also has more problems finding the strike zone. Right now, it looks like Owens will get Kelly’s next start, but keep an eye out for any conflicting news. Neither projects as a potential roto stud, but if you need starts or innings, one of these two will be getting them as long as Kelly remains on the DL.
NL-ONLY POSITION PLAYERS
The Rockies will face two of the Pirates’ lefties next week, Jeff Locke and Jonathon Niese, and they’ll do it in Colorado. With Charlie Blackmon on the DL, Raburn could start both of those games. He has legitimate power and should have the chance to display it in his home park.
With Keon Broxton demoted, Ramon Flores and Kirk Niewenhuis were expected to share centerfield duty in Milwaukee. They can’t form a traditional platoon, though, since they both bat lefty. It seems like Niewenhuis is getting the lion’s share of starts for the Brewers right now, so he’s worth a gamble. He’s stretched as a starter, but so is Flores, his main competition. Take the plate appearances from Nieuwenhuis while he’s getting them and move the chains for your team in the counting categories.
He’s fast. Not as fast as his teammate Billy Hamilton, but fast enough to steal 25-plus bases in each of the last five seasons, albeit in the minor leagues. Holt and the Reds will be facing two of the Pirates’ lefties next week, so Holt should get a start or two in either left or center. And if Hamilton’s struggles at the plate continue, Holt could get a shot at more regular time in center.
I have a soft spot for Andrew Bailey. I took him cheaply in the endgame of an AL-only auction in 2009 based on a couple of notes I had read about Bailey’s stuff written by A’s beat writer Susan Slusser (she’s a great beat writer, by the way, and definitely worth a follow on Twitter). That season, Bailey put up a 1.84 ERA and a 0.88 WHIP with 26 saves. I was hooked.
Since then, Bailey’s body has betrayed him. He hasn’t thrown a full season since that tremendous rookie year. He went to camp with the Phillies as a non-roster invitee and after a hot start in the Grapefruit League, he gave up a bunch of runs and ended up in Triple-A on Opening Day. He dominated as an Iron Pig, striking out two batters per inning.
The closer situation in Philadelphia is far from settled. They’re already on their third or fourth closer of the season, depending on how you count, and the current closer is a journeyman with thoroughly mediocre stuff. If Bailey keeps mowing down batters like he did in Lehigh Valley, he could be getting saves sooner rather than later. Buy now so you can get him for a buck or two. If you wait until he’s named closer, he’ll either be gone or cost a hefty percentage of your remaining FAAB dollars.
Only one pitcher in the Reds’ bullpen has been able to avoid blowups and consistently get batters out this season. That pitcher is Caleb Cotham. He doesn’t have the velocity or strikeout rate of a traditional closer, but at some point, if he’s the only pitcher Bryan Price can call on to get outs, he could get a shot at saves.
Jerad Eickhoff is off to a hot start for the Phillies, striking out more than a batter per inning while walking less than 2.5 batters per nine innings. He doesn’t have elite velocity, but his curveball inspires giddy, dirty, covetous, respectfully lusty interjections on Twitter. If he’s still available in your league, he’s definitely worth a shot. He’ll probably have some ups and downs like most young starting pitchers, but as long as he has that curveball, he should provide decent value via strikeouts and rate stats with a fair amount of upside.
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