D.J. Short

Waiver Wired

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What's the Matusz With You?

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Go ahead and take a look at who have been some of the most valuable closers in fantasy so far this season. While big names like Joakim Soria, Jonathan Broxton and Neftali Feliz have disappointed, we've seen Drew Storen, Sergio Santos, Ryan Madson and Fernando Salas emerge as solid ninth-inning options. And it's only the first week of June. We may soon be able to add Aaron Crow to the list.

This season's volatility should serve as a reminder that it's just not wise to invest an early pick on a top-tier closer. While it takes some work to speculate on relievers off the waiver wire, it's pretty gratifying to get a huge return on a minimal investment.

Let's move on to the good stuff.


Danny Espinosa 2B, Nationals (Yahoo: 21 percent owned, ESPN: 25.4 percent)

Sure, Espinosa has a lowly .214 batting average over 182 at-bats, but his 10 homers are tied for second among fantasy second basemen while his 33 RBI are tied for third. And while he hasn't shown much speed so far this season (four stolen bases in five attempts), his minor league track record suggests that he is certainly capable of double-digit swipes the rest of the way. I'd probably put him on the fringe of the top 12-15 options at second base right now, but he could be on the high-end of that range with even a modest improvement in his batting average.

Jon Jay OF, Cardinals (Yahoo: 11 percent owned, ESPN: 38.3 percent)

The Cardinals plan to place Matt Holliday on the disabled list Thursday with a nagging quad injury, so Jay should at least split playing time with Allen Craig in left field over the next two weeks. While Holliday will be missed, Jay is batting .392 with two homers, six doubles, 12 RBI and four stolen bases over his last 74 at-bats dating back to early May. We've been fooled by Jay before, but he's worth grabbing while he's hot.

Brian Matusz SP, Orioles (Yahoo: 47 percent owned, ESPN: 47.3 percent)

I mentioned Matusz a few weeks ago when he was preparing for a minor league rehab assignment, but it seems many fantasy owners have been slow to catch on. It's time to change that. Matusz made his season debut Wednesday against the Mariners, allowing one run over 5 2/3 innings while striking out three and walking none. Life in the American League East isn't easy, but remember that some were projecting Matusz as a top-50 starting pitcher coming into the season.

Chase Headley 3B, Padres (Yahoo: 17 percent owned, ESPN: 42.6 percent)

With a first-inning single Wednesday against the Braves, Headley has now hit safely in each of his last 11 games. And while he only has one home run over his first 179 at-bats this season, he still has a surprisingly decent .752 OPS thanks to 16 doubles and 29 walks. Throw in six steals in seven attempts and you have an unconventional, yet productive fantasy third baseman. I think he'll have value in mixed leagues all season long, but he's a fine injury fill-in if you're missing David Wright.

Chris Iannetta C, Rockies (Yahoo: 27 percent owned, ESPN: 16.7 percent)

This guy just can't get any love. Maybe it's his .235 batting average that is turning fantasy owners away, but Iannetta actually batted .275/.375/.469 with four homers and 12 RBI in May. Not only that, but he is currently tied for fourth among fantasy catchers with seven homers while his .835 OPS is better than Miguel Montero and J.P. Arencibia, both of whom are owned in more leagues. Use the lack of appreciation to your advantage.

Bartolo Colon SP, Yankees (Yahoo: 40 percent owned, ESPN: 43.9 percent)

I have resisted until now, but I'm finally starting to get on board with Colon. The rejuvenated right-hander tossed his first complete game shutout since 2006 on Monday against the Athletics and now has a stunning 3.11 ERA over eight starts with the Yankees this season. Colon is also averaging 8.41 K/9 (his highest since 2000) and 2.04 BB/9 (his lowest since he made 10 starts with the Angels in 2006) over 66 1/3 innings. Who knows how long it will last, as his unusually low swinging strike rate doesn't necessarily bode well, but those in mixed leagues should be absolutely be willing to find out.

Andres Torres OF, Giants (Yahoo: 31 percent owned, ESPN: 47.1 percent)

Torres hasn't exactly set the world on fire since returning from an Achilles injury last month, but he does have 13 extra-base hits and six stolen bases over his first 103 at-bats this season. While he's often compared to Angel Pagan, someone who I recommended in this very space last week, but his place atop of the Giants' lineup actually gives him the potential to have slightly better counting stats. If he can manage to avoid the disabled list, that is.

Shopping at the five-and-dime:

(Players owned in less than 10 percent of Y! and ESPN.com leagues)

Eric Young Jr 2B/OF, Rockies (Yahoo: 6 percent owned, ESPN: 6.1 percent)

Can Young finally stick in the big leagues this time? Well, he's off to a pretty good start. The 26-year-old is batting .304 (7-for-23) with three RBI and three stolen bases over his first five games since being called up by the Rockies last week. Young sat on Wednesday night in favor of Jonathan Herrera at second base, but Jim Tracy thinks the speedster can give the Rockies a boost at the top of their lineup. Young stole 17 bases in just 51 major league games last season, so let's hope he gets a look long.

Brandon Belt 1B, Giants (Yahoo: 7 percent owned, ESPN: 3.4 percent)

You hate to see players get hurt, but the silver lining of the Buster Posey situation was that the Giants felt compelled to bring Belt back from the minor leagues. While many thought that the 23-year-old would find his way back into the starting lineup immediately, Giants manager Bruce Bochy said last week that he plans to use him off the bench. Of course, the Giants need all the help they can get offensively, so assuming Belt's wrist is OK, it's doubtful he'll stick with this plan for long. Aside from Pablo Sandoval and the aforementioned Torres, Belt is the only other Giants position player worth owning in standard mixed leagues. Yes, I left out Aubrey Huff for a reason.

Brad Hawpe 1B/OF, Padres (Yahoo: 5 percent owned, ESPN: 5.2 percent)

Recommending two Padres in the same week? I must be losing my mind, right? Not really. After getting off to an absolutely brutal start this season, Hawpe is batting .306 with four homers, eight doubles and 13 RBI over his last 108 at-bats. He still strikes out a bunch and PETCO Park is basically death for left-handed hitters, but these are perfectly respectable numbers if you're aiming to fill a corner infield (CI) spot.

Vicente Padilla RP, Dodgers (Yahoo: 9 percent owned, ESPN: 7.2 percent)

Do you have any better ideas? I mean, really. Padilla tossed two scoreless innings Tuesday in his final minor league rehab appearance with High-A Rancho Cucamonga and is expected to return from the disabled list Friday. Dodgers manager Don Mattingly won't commit to using him in the ninth inning right away, but indicated Wednesday that the veteran right-hander may be the best option for the job. Stash him if you're on the hunt for saves.

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D.J. Short is a Rotoworld baseball editor and contributes to NBCSports.com's Hardball Talk blog. You can also find him on Twitter.
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