D.J. Short

Waiver Wired

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Hughes Opportunity

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Not sure about you, but one viewing of Stephen Drew's fractured right ankle was just about enough for me. Just awful. It almost feels petty to be talking about fantasy baseball after watching something gruesome like that, but we have no choice but to keep moving along.

Drew was actually having a pretty disappointing season, anyway, batting just .252 with five homers, 45 RBI and four stolen bases over 86 games. That's not what we had in mind on draft day. He was even losing at bats to Willie Bloomquist -- yes, that Willie Bloomquist -- against left-handed pitching.

Shortstop hasn't been the black hole we thought it would be this season, but if you're really hurting for options, you can could always consider high-profile underachievers like Rafael Furcal (Yahoo: 32 percent owned, ESPN: 20.1 percent), Ian Desmond (Yahoo: 56 percent owned, ESPN: 70 percent), Tsuyoshi Nishioka (Yahoo: 13 percent owned, ESPN:16.1 percent) and Jason Bartlett (Yahoo: 8 percent owned, ESPN: 5 percent). However, I don't blame you if you find that bunch decidedly "meh."

Two interesting names to keep in mind are new Giants' second baseman Jeff Keppinger (Yahoo: 9 percent owned, ESPN: 4.9 percent), who is also eligible at shortstop and Zack Cozart (Yahoo: 4 percent owned, ESPN: 3.9 percent), who I mentioned here last week.

Let's move on to the good stuff.


Phil Hughes SP, Yankees (Yahoo: 44 percent owned, ESPN: 38 percent)

While Hughes was merely decent in his first start back from the disabled list, he took an encouraging step forward Sunday against the Blue Jays. The 25-year-old right-hander gave up two runs on four hits while striking out five and walking a pair. Perhaps more importantly, Hughes averaged 91.25 mph on his fastball (according to Brooks Baseball) and showed some pretty nasty bite on his curveball thanks to a new grip. We know the Yankees will score runs for him, so he's a pretty safe buy right now, especially with projected upcoming starts against the light-hitting Athletics and Mariners.

Jason Isringhausen RP, Mets (Yahoo: 19 percent owned, ESPN: 26.6 percent)

Like nearly every other fantasy baseball writer on the planet, I recommended Bobby Parnell last week. However, I did so with a caveat, saying the Mets could give Izzy some initial save chances, possibly in an effort to boost his trade value before the deadline. I'm not sure if he'll actually be traded, but that's exactly how the situation has played out until now. I still think Parnell will be saving games in September, but Izzy should be owned in all leagues as long as he's the No. 1 guy.

Jason Kubel OF, Twins (Yahoo: 46 percent owned, ESPN: 45.6 percent)

After some frustrating starts and stops with his rehab from a sprained left foot, Kubel is finally on track to return from the disabled list Friday night against the Tigers. The 29-year-old was batting .310/.355/.465 with five homers, 30 RBI and an .820 OPS prior to suffering the injury at the end of May, but fortunately he's become a forgotten man in many fantasy leagues. Remember that Kubel will be a free agent this winter, so he has extra incentive to finish the season on a high note.

Jon Niese SP, Mets (Yahoo: 37 percent owned, ESPN: 15.4 percent)

What exactly does Niese need to improve upon to be taken seriously in mixed leagues? His 3.73 ERA? Won't complain when he has an xFIP of 3.31. His 98/36 K/BB ratio? Nope, just fine. Nine wins? Not buying because of wins, but we'll sure take 'em. His 52.1 percent ground ball rate? Pretty darn good, too. And actually an improvement from last season. Niese wore down a bit down the stretch last season, so that bares watching as we move along here, but I see no reason why you shouldn't roll with him in most formats.

Pedro Alvarez 3B, Pirates (Yahoo: 39 percent owned, ESPN: 20 percent)

Alvarez is somewhat of a lottery ticket at this point. Hyped as a sleeper on draft day, he was batting just .208 with two homers and a 42/12 K/BB ratio over his first 138 plate appearances before going on the disabled list with a quad injury in May. The 24-year-old was essentially demoted after some early minor league rehab games, but the good news is that he has responded by batting .378 (14-for-37) with two homers, two doubles and eight RBI over his last 10 games with Triple-A Indianapolis. Brandon Wood and Josh Harrison aren't exactly tearing things up right now, so why not stash Alvarez's power potential if you have room on your bench?

John Danks SP, White Sox (Yahoo: 47 percent owned, ESPN: 37.7 percent)

Danks was fantastic in his return from the disabled list last night against the Royals. Though he was handed a no-decision thanks to his bullpen, the southpaw gave up just five hits -- all singles -- over seven shutout innings while striking out five and walking just one. Danks had allowed two runs or less in three consecutive starts before his oblique injury, so it looks like he has picked up exactly where he left off. Still widely available, he could be one of the better bargains of the second half.

Nyjer Morgan OF, Brewers (Yahoo: 18 percent owned, ESPN: 26.2 percent)

OK, it's about time Morgan gets some more love in mixed leagues. Sure, he's benefitted from a ridiculous and likely unsustainable batting average on balls in play, but "Tony Plush" is batting .344 in July and has hit safely in 10 straight games and 15 out of his last 16. An added bonus, Morgan is also seeing most of his at-bats out of the No. 2 spot in Ron Roenicke's batting order. I'm afraid his numbers could take somewhat of a hit if he's pushed into the lineup against southpaws now than his platoon partner Carlos Gomez is out for the year with a broken collarbone, but it's awful hard to pass up his speed and run scoring potential.

Shopping at the five-and-dime:

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

Jarrod Saltalamacchia C, Red Sox (Yahoo: 8 percent owned, ESPN: 1.3 percent)

I'm not kidding. Pardon me for this blatant display of arbitrary end points, but did you know that Salty is batting .280/.363/.576 with eight homers (including one in each of his last two games) and a .939 OPS since May 15? By the way, the only catchers with more home runs during that time? Brian McCann, Miguel Olivo and Carlos Santana. Wouldn't have guessed that one back in April. Saltalamacchia is being used in a tandem with Jason Varitek behind the plate, so you'll have to watch Terry Francona's lineup card closely, but there's nothing wrong with relying on him in deeper formats right now.

Carlos Guillen 2B, Tigers (Yahoo: 2 percent owned, ESPN: 1.3 percent)

Guillen is 6-for-14 (.429) with a home run and three RBI since making his season debut Saturday and has hit safely in all four games. It's been a long road back for the 35-year-old, who underwent microfracture surgery on his left knee last September. I'll concede that he's likely a ticking timebomb playing second base on a regular basis, but the .286 lifetime hitter can certainly help those in deeper leagues for as long as he can stay healthy.

Brandon Belt 1B, Giants (Yahoo: 6 percent owned, ESPN: 2.6 percent)

Called up to give Aubrey Huff some time off with a sore back, Belt went 2-for-4 with a home run and a double Tuesday in his first game back from the minor leagues. The 23-year-old was hitting .293/.442/.610 with three homers and eight RBI over 12 games with Triple-A Fresno this month, so it's pretty clear he has very little left to prove against minor league pitching. And especially when the Giants' offense needs all the help it can get. I'm not fully convinced that this isn't just another elaborate tease from Giants manager Bruce Bochy, but Belt is worth stashing in most leagues based on his considerable potential.

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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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