D.J. Short

Waiver Wired

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Zack Attack

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Welcome to small sample size theatre, where panic rules the day and one week of results are blown completely out of proportion.

Granted, it's only natural to want to get off to a hot start and perhaps find a potential breakout candidate on the waiver wire, but I always try to keep in mind that I drafted certain players for a reason. It's easy to get caught up in all the activity of the first few weeks of the season, as everybody is paying a lot of attention to their fantasy teams right now, but we have a long, long way to go. Feel free to tinker -- that's what this column is all about -- but do so within reason. And here's your yearly reminder to stay away from Willie Bloomquist.

On the subject of the long-term, we learned this week that Victor Martinez did not require ACL reconstruction of his left knee. He already had microfracture surgery in January, but his current timeline could allow him to resume baseball activities in August or September. We'll know for sure after he undergoes a follow-up MRI in July.

This is excellent news for the Tigers, as they may have another potent bat for a postseason run, but this might also be an ideal time to stash him on a DL-spot with the stretch run in mind. In AL-only leagues, at least. One major downside, though, is that he'll likely only be used at DH if he plays at all this season, which will take away his catcher eligibility going into 2013. So good news, bad news, really.

And on that note, let's move on to the good stuff.


Lance Lynn RP/SP, Cardinals (Yahoo: 28 percent owned, ESPN: 5.8 percent)

Lynn didn't wait long to show why he makes for a sneaky sleeper in mixed leagues. The 24-year-old right-hander was excellent in his season debut Sunday against the Brewers, allowing one run over 6 2/3 innings while striking out eight and walking just one. He also averaged 93 mph on his fastball, so he didn't lose much velocity from where he was last season (93.2 mph), when he pitched primarily in relief. The common assumption is that Lynn will move back to the bullpen if or when Chris Carpenter is ready to return from nerve irritation in his shoulder, but I wouldn't be surprised if he ultimately makes the case for Jake Westbrook to lose his spot.

Fernando Rodney RP, Rays (Yahoo: 49 percent owned, ESPN: 20.8 percent)

Like many others out there, last week I assumed that Joel Peralta would get the bulk of the save opportunities with Kyle Farnsworth sidelined. Leave it to Rays manager Joe Maddon to throw us all for a loop. Rodney has enjoyed an incredible first week of the season, going 3-for-3 in save opportunities and notching a win. He was especially impressive on Wednesday afternoon against the Tigers, retiring Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder and Jhonny Peralta in order. My guess is that he'll turn into a pumpkin before long, but it appears Maddon is riding the hot hand. So should fantasy owners.

Zack Cozart SS, Reds (Yahoo: 50 percent owned, ESPN: 35.6 percent)

He's probably already gone if you play in a competitive league, but Cozart has picked up right from where he left off before he undergoing season-ending Tommy John surgery on his non-throwing elbow last August. The 26-year-old shortstop is hitting .455 (10-for-22) with one homer, two doubles, two triples and two RBI over his first six games this season and has hit safely in all of them. He was a .270 hitter over parts of five seasons in the minors, so obviously expect some correction, but the potential for double-digit homers and steals is very real. He could score a ton of runs hitting No. 2 in this lineup.

Erik Bedard SP, Pirates (Yahoo: 49 percent owned, ESPN: 17.5 percent)

It's pretty easy to joke about Bedard's lengthy injury history, but when he's on the mound, he's pretty darn effective. The veteran southpaw has allowed three runs in 12 innings (2.25 ERA) over his first two starts while striking out seven and walking two. The Pirates don't figure to put him in the win column all that often this season (see his current 0-2 record), but the move over to the National League should help him in ERA, WHIP and strikeouts. He's worth owning in all formats, at least until his inevitable stint on the disabled list.

Adam LaRoche 1B, Nationals (Yahoo: 26 percent owned, ESPN: 22 percent)

The Nationals are missing Mike Morse in a big way right now, but LaRoche has bounced back quite nicely from shoulder surgery by batting .333 (8-for-24) with two homers, one double and six RBI over his first six games. The 32-year-old is a .268 career hitter, so I'm not expecting this to continue, but he did average 25 homers and 87 RBI per season from 2005-2010. First base isn't nearly as deep as it has been in the past, so there's value here in deeper mixed leagues, especially if you can stick him at a CI (corner infielder) spot.

Chipper Jones 3B, Braves (Yahoo: 33 percent owned, ESPN: 46.4 percent)

This guy just won't go away. Jones was activated from the disabled list Tuesday, a little under three weeks after undergoing surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee. The 39-year-old homered in his first game back and has four hits in his first nine at-bats. Sure, it's impossible to count on him to stay healthy, but it's easy to forget that he batted .275/.344/.470 with 18 homers, 70 RBI and an .814 OPS in 126 games last year. That's perfectly palatable production at third base in mixed leagues. As long as you also have a backup plan in mind, that is.

Lorenzo Cain OF, Royals (Yahoo: 31 percent owned, ESPN: 23.4 percent)

Cain's monster spring training hasn't crossed over to the regular season thus far. The 25-year-old is hitting just .133 (2-for-15) over his first five games and was pulled out of Tuesday's game with a left groin strain. However, as a key piece of the Zack Greinke trade, he should have a pretty lengthy leash on the starting center field job. I doubt Cain will end up replicating the power numbers he had in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League last year, but he should swipe plenty of bases and won't hurt you in the batting average department. While he was recently dropped to seventh in the order, my guess is he'll be a fixture in the No. 2 spot before long. There are safer options to start in shallow mixed leagues, but Cain is still a must-own in leagues which start five outfielders.


Editor's note: Cain's groin injury is apparently not a day-to-day situation like it was initially reported, as the Royals placed him on the disabled list Thursday. He still makes for a worthwhile add if you have room on your DL, but Alejandro De Aza (Yahoo: 45 percent owned, ESPN: 9.7 percent) is a worthy alternative if you have an immediate need in your outfield. The White Sox have handed him the starting center field job after he batted .329/.400/.520 with four homers, 23 RBI, 29 runs scored and 29 stolen bases over 54 games last year. I'm not completely sold on the small sample of success (hello, .404 BABIP), but his speed gives him plenty of value.

Jose Altuve 2B, Astros (Yahoo: 21 percent owned, ESPN: 36.2 percent)

Was Altuve rushed to the big leagues last year? You bet. One look at his .294 on-base percentage is enough to tell you that. However, the 21-year-old still batted .276 and made contact 87.5 percent of the time. And he's only going to get better. For example, did you notice that he has already walked three times in 23 plate appearances this year after drawing only five walks in 234 plate appearances as a rookie? Progress, folks. Progress. I don't expect him to hit for a ton of power, but he has surprising pop for someone who checks in at 5-foot-5 and 170 pounds. Many will overlook him because he plays for a lousy team, but fantasy owners should use this situation to their advantage. His ability to hit for a high average and steal bases out of the No. 2 spot makes him a worthy target in the great majority of mixed formats.

Jon Niese SP, Mets (Yahoo: 30 percent owned, ESPN: 20 percent)

The Mets recently signed Niese to a five-year, $25.5 million contract extension with club options for 2017 and 2018. It won't be a terrible contract if he continues to pitch to his 4.40 career ERA, but the Mets are clearly hoping that he's ready to turn the corner. While the jury is still out on whether he's just been incredibly unlucky until this point or abnormally hittable, his 3.63 career xFIP and healthy peripherals (7.69 K/9, 3.03 BB/9 and 49.4 percent ground ball rate) provide plenty of reason for optimism. I'm not optimistic about his defense helping him out, but the potential for a breakout season is worth owning in 12-team mixed leagues.

Shopping at the five-and-dime:

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

James McDonald SP, Pirates (Yahoo: 2 percent owned, ESPN: 0.5 percent)

Two Pirates' starting pitchers in the same week? Yeah, sorry about that. But McDonald's ownership levels simply shouldn't be this low. This often gets overlooked, but after getting knocked around to the tune of a 10.13 ERA over his first three starts last year, the 27-year-old right-hander posted a 3.49 ERA over his final 27 starts. Of course, ERA doesn't tell the whole story and his lofty walk rate (4.11 BB/9) led to a lot of early exits, but he averaged 7.47 K/9 on the year and began to make some progress with his control (64/29 K/BB ratio over 73 1/3 innings) after the All-Star break. He still has a lot to prove before making the leap to trusted fantasy hurler, but the gamble could pay off in deeper mixed formats.

Ruben Tejada SS/2B, Mets (Yahoo: 8 percent owned, ESPN: 4 percent)

I wasn't thrilled about Tejada's fantasy prospects going into the season because he was set to bat eighth, but Andres Torres' calf strain has thankfully pushed him into the leadoff spot. The 22-year-old is off to a solid start, hitting .333 (7-for-21) with four doubles and a 4/4 K/BB ratio, but the most impressive thing about him is his advanced plate discipline at such a young age. He posted a .360 on-base percentage last season to go along with a walk rate of 9.3 percent and a contact rate of 84.8 percent. Tejada doesn't have much power and isn't a burner like former shortstop Jose Reyes, but he should hit for a pretty decent average and score some runs hitting atop the Mets' lineup. That's good enough for him to be a consideration in 12-14 mixed leagues with a MI (middle infielder) spot.

Johnny Damon OF, Free Agent (Yahoo: 2 percent owned, ESPN: 0.5 percent)

The deal isn't done yet, but by all indications, Damon will be joining the Indians. The 38-year-old failed to find a home this offseason after batting .261/.326/.418 with 16 homers, 74 RBI, 19 stolen bases and a .743 OPS last season, but the Indians are hoping he can help their stalling offense. With Travis Hafner firmly entrenched in the DH spot, Damon will likely take starting left field duties from Shelley Duncan. While it could result in high comedy on defense, that shouldn't be a big concern for fantasy owners. Some wonder whether Damon changed his approach at the plate last season in his quest for 3,000 hits (he's currently 277 away), but he is still capable of reaching double digits in homers and steals. In deeper mixed leagues with five outfielders, why not pick him up?

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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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