Happy belated Fourth of July, everyone. America’s birthday also marks the halfway point of the fantasy baseball season, or close enough to it, anyway. The midway point is a good time to take a long look at your roster and figure out what you can feasibly do to improve your team. The dramatic additions will usually come from trades with other owners, but newly minted closers, players switching leagues and promoted prospects picked up from the free agent pool can make a huge impact, too. It’s not all about the big moves, though. You’re not going to win a deep AL-only league or a deep NL-only league if you make a few big moves but don’t put in the weekly work of managing your entire roster, including the back end of it. The Deep League Report mostly spends its time on players that will occupy the back end of deep-league rosters. There’s plenty of that this week, too, but there are also three guys worth a substantial chunk of your FAAB dollars. Big week for America, big week for the Deep League Report.
AL-only position players
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Looks like we have yet another data point for the next wave of “Are the Yankees likeable now?” thinkpieces. Clint Frazier is a fun player with both power and speed on the offensive side of the ball who also is a legitimate centerfielder on the defensive side of the ball. The injuries to Matt Holliday, Aaron Hicks, Dustin Fowler and Greg Bird have left them with four spots between the outfield and DH for Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury, Aaron Judge and Frazier, so the 22-year-old redhead should get plenty of playing time over the next few weeks. He was hitting .256/.344/.473 with 12 homers and nine steals in 320 plate appearances in Triple A this season, demonstrating the power/speed combination that has made him so popular as a fantasy prospect over the last couple of years. He has never hit .300 at any level, though, so don’t expect much more than a .250 average from the prize of last season’s Andrew Miller trade. Go big on Frazier in FAAB, especially in keeper leagues and in OBP leagues. Think 30 to 60 percent of your remaining budget.
The Bronx Bombers called up Tyler Wade when they put Starlin Castro on the DL, but most of Castro’s playing time has gone to the delightfully diminutive Ronald Torreyes. It doesn’t seem like Castro is going to be sidelined much longer, so the utility infielder’s days in the starting lineup are probably numbered. However, until that time comes, playing time is currency in deep AL-only leagues, and the 24-year-old is getting it. Expect him to keep doing what he’s been doing, which is make a lot of contact (10.9 percent strikeout rate) without many walks (3.6 percent BB rate) and without much over-the-fence power (two HR in 165 plate appearances) and a decent average (.282). Bid a buck or two and hope he gets another couple of weeks as the starter at second before Castro returns.
Yes, Nick Franklin was terrible with the Brewers this season before he was traded to the Angels, hitting .195/.258/.317 with Milwaukee with established players ahead of him at every spot he can play. He can play at a lot of spots, though, having made appearances at all four infield spots and both corner outfield spots in the majors since his debut in 2013. Danny Espinosa, the incumbent at second base in Anaheim, has somehow been even worse than Franklin at the plate this year, hitting an anemic .166/.242/.283. It’s not hard to imagine a scenario where Franklin strings together a few good games in a row and unseats Espinosa at the keystone. The most-likely outcome, of course, is that Franklin fills in at a utility player and continues hitting like he did in Milwaukee. However, with Espinosa struggling, C.J. Cron in the minors, Luis Valbuena hitting below the Mendoza Line, and Eric Young Jr. unlikely to continue his recent success, there is a lot of playing time to be claimed in Anaheim by a journeyman who puts together a good week or two. Bid a buck and hope for the best.
After a stellar 2015 season in which he came out of anonymity to post 41 saves and 74 strikeouts in 63 innings, Brad Boxberger was a disappointment for fantasy owners in 2016, missing most of the season with injury and pitching poorly when he was able to play. The 29-year-old started this season on the DL with a back injury, making his season debut on June 30 against the Orioles. He looked like the 2015 version of himself, striking out the side in order on 13 pitches. Don’t expect Boxberger to unseat Alex Colome as the Rays closer anytime soon, but feel free to bid $2-$3 confidently while hoping that he turns in the same rate stats and strikeouts that he did during his breakout season.
Released by the Brewers after throwing 27 terrible innings with a 6.00 ERA and a 1.41 WHIP, Neftali Feliz was signed by the Royals. The 29-year-old has been significantly getter since arriving in Kansas City, posting a 1.59 ERA and a 0.88 WHIP in 5 2/3 innings with four strikeouts and two walks. It seems like Feliz would at best be third in line for saves behind Kelvin Herrera and Joakim Soria, but both of those pitchers are likely to be dealt before the deadline if the Royals decide to throw in the towel. If Feliz continues to pitch well and doesn’t end up getting traded along with Herrera and Soria, he could end up closing in Kansas City in August. That’s a lot of ifs, though. Don’t spend more than a dollar of your FAAB chasing saves with Feliz. And if you pick him up, keep a close eye on him and be ready to release him at the first sign that he has reverted to the form he showed in Milwaukee.
As a righty who stands 6’1” with a fastball that lives around 91 MPH, Paul Blackburn didn’t appear towards the top of any prospect lists. The 23-year-old doesn’t strike many batters out, either, recording 56 strikeouts at Triple A this year in 79 2/3 innings with a 2.05 ERA and a 1.20 WHIP. He has been a remarkably consistent performer throughout his minor-league career, though, with ERAs and WHIPs that barely budged each time he was promoted. From 2014 through present at every level from A-ball through Triple A, Blackburn has posted an ERA between 3.05 and 3.54 and a WHIP between 1.19 and 1.27. At some point, Oakland has to see if he can do that in the majors, and they’ve decided that now is as good a time as any to see. The injuries to Andrew Triggs and Kendall Graveman have given Blackburn an extended shot in the big-league rotation. If you need starting pitching in deep AL-only leagues, you should be willing to give him a shot in your rotation, too. Bid $5-$6 since he’s going to get a decent number of starts to establish himself.
NL-only position players
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One of the prospects received from the Rangers in the Cole Hamels deal, Nick Williams made his major-league debut this past weekend, after Howie Kendrick hit the DL and Michael Saunders hit the bricks. The 23-year-old has been excellent in his first four games with the Phillies, hitting .357/.438/.429. Philadelphia doesn’t have any reason not to play him nearly every day for the rest of the season unless he ends up struggling mightily, so expect him to receive plenty of playing time even after Kendrick returns from the DL. At the time of his call-up, Williams was hitting .280/.328/.511 with 15 home runs and five stolen bases at Triple A. He should be able to hit for average and provide moderate power in the majors, although hitting for average might become a problem if he doesn’t control the strike zone, something which has been an issue for him in the past. He might steal a few bases, too, although he has been a low-percentage base stealer throughout his minor-league career. If that continues with the Phillies, he might end up seeing more red lights than green lights on the bases in short order. Be willing to go big on Williams, bidding anywhere between 20 and 60 percent of your remaining FAAB on his upside and playing time.
Designated for assignment by Oakland after hitting a meager .217/.287/.357, Stephen Vogt was claimed by the Brewers and installed as their starting catcher, or at the very least as the good side of a platoon behind the plate with Manny Piña. That arrangement should work fine for the 32-year-old and his fantasy owners since he has no business facing lefties, managing only a .071/.176/.071 line against them this season, albeit in only 14 plate appearances. The veteran backstop is certainly worth a pickup in deep NL-only leagues since it looks like he’ll be getting a majority of the starts behind the plate in Milwaukee. Don’t expect him to return to his All-Star form from 2015 and 2016, but also don’t be surprised if he hits a little better the rest of the way than he did with the A’s in the first half. Bid $8-$12 in deep NL-only leagues if you had a dead spot behind the plate since starts at catcher are hard to find in those leagues.
Injuries to Eduardo Nuñez and Ryder Jones have given Jae-Gyun Hwang the opportunity to play third base for the Giants. The South Korean import has gotten off to a good start, hitting .333/.385/.667 in his first 13 plate appearances in the bigs after posting a .287/.333/.476 line in 279 plate appearances at Triple A. For the time being, it seems Nuñez will remain on the DL through the All-Star break, while Jones will be limited to pinch-hitting duties for at least a few more days. If you need a corner infielder, Hwang should have at least another week of starts to pile up stats for your roto team in deep NL-only leagues. Bid $1-$2 if you need a little thin on corner infielders.
He didn’t break camp with the Dodgers out of spring training and has already been optioned to Triple A once since his initial recall at the end of May, a result of the creative roster-management techniques his team has employed with their pitchers. Morrow has done everything he can to make sure he stays in the major leagues while he’s been in Los Angeles, posting a 0.00 ERA and a 0.39 WHIP in 12 2/3 innings with 15 strikeouts and only one walk. The 32-year-old won’t get a sniff of saves with the Dodgers, but as long as he keeps putting up zeroes and striking guys out, he doesn’t need saves to provide value in deep NL-only leagues. He’s worth a $1 free-agent bid for the rate stats and the whiffs.
Designated for assignment by the Rangers after posting a disastrous 10.80 ERA and 2.58 WHIP, Dyson was acquired by the Giants for cash and a player to be named later. With Mark Melancon on the DL, Dyson stepped right into the closer’s role in San Francisco. The 29-year-old has performed significantly better since arriving in the Bay Area, sporting a 3.86 ERA and a 1.18 WHIP with 12 strikeouts and three walks in 9 1/3 innings. It seems like Melancon will not be returning from the DL in the near future, giving Dyson the opportunity to rack up a decent number of saves for as long as he can avoid the blowups that plagued him in Texas. Place a big bid on Dyson since saves don’t show up in the free-agent pool in deep NL-only leagues that often. Bid 30 to 70 percent of your remaining FAAB if some additional saves could help you move up in the standings.
He still walks too many batters, but Ryan Buchter strikes guys out in bulk. The big lefty has 38 strikeouts in 31 1/3 innings so far this year to go along with a 3.16 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 15 bases on balls and 23 hits. He’s still clearly behind Brandon Maurer and Brad Hand in the pecking order for saves, but those strikeouts definitely can help your team. The fact that he doesn’t allow many hits helps keep his rate stats healthy despite the high walk totals, so he should be a net positive with regard to ERA and WHIP in deep NL-only leagues, too. There’s no need to bid more than $1 on the 30-year-old, but there’s a good chance that he’s going to be more useful over the course of the rest of the season than at least one of the pitchers on your active roster right now.
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