I'm happy to report that this week's edition of Waiver Wired is completely closer-free. It's been a while since I could say that.
Sure, Rafael Soriano is a must-add now that he's filling in for the injured David Robertson (oblique), but I already recommended him last week. I also recommended keeping Addison Reed around on the chance that Chris Sale was legitimately injured or the White Sox had a change of heart in regard to using him as a starter. Of course, they did. Brian Fuentes has taken the Athletics' closer job from Grant Balfour, but we saw that one coming two weeks ago.
It usually pays to get out in front of this stuff if at all possible, so feel free to keep Steve Cishek and Jon Rauch stashed if Marlins' closer Heath Bell and Mets' closer Frank Francisco continue to struggle, but their respective contracts probably give them a larger margin for error. As for the Nationals, they don't really have a great alternative to Henry Rodriguez for the ninth inning right now, especially if they prefer to keep Tyler Clippard available for multiple innings in a set-up capacity.
But seriously, I'm done talking about closers this week.
Danny Espinosa 2B, Nationals (Yahoo: 30 percent owned, ESPN: 47.6 percent)
There were whispers of a possible demotion not too long ago, or at least the possibility of Steve Lombardozzi seeing increased playing time at second base, but Espinosa has shown some signs of life recently by batting .300 (9-for-30) with two homers, two doubles, two stolen bases and four runs scored over his past eight games. While the 25-year-old still strikes out way too much to be an asset in the batting average department, his power-speed combo makes him worth owning in the great majority of mixed formats. Don't give up on him yet.
Chris Heisey OF, Reds (Yahoo: 15 percent owned, ESPN: 0.2 percent)
Heisey had some momentum as a sleeper after slugging 18 homers and swiping six bases in 120 games last year, but he has slipped off the radar in most mixed leagues due to a lack of production and a timeshare with Ryan Ludwick in left field. However, with Ludwick in the midst of a miserable slump, Heisey has started four straight games. Granted, it's tough to trust Reds manager Dusty Baker and this could go back to a full-fledged timeshare again next week, but Heisey should at least be in the lineup this weekend with the DH in play against the Yankees. He's an ideal short-term play if you're fishing for options in a deeper daily league.
A.J. Ellis C, Dodgers (Yahoo: 16 percent owned, ESPN: 6.4 percent)
One of the biggest surprises of the early part of the season, Ellis is hitting an unlikely .322/.455/.500 with three homers, 15 RBI and a .955 OPS over his first 114 plate appearances. And if that isn't impressive enough, consider that only Ben Zobrist and Joey Votto have walked more often this season. I have my doubts about whether Ellis' early success will continue, as his .394 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) is bound to come down to earth and he had a grand total of 19 homers over 2,119 plate appearances in the minors, but his elite plate discipline is for real. The 31-year-old makes for a fine option in deeper leagues and two-catcher formats, particularly if you are in search of a replacement for Wilson Ramos.
Michael Brantley OF, Indians (Yahoo: 8 percent owned, ESPN: 18.2 percent)
Brantley is very quietly one of the hottest hitters in the American League right now. After going 2-for-3 on Wednesday night against the White Sox, the 25-year-old outfielder is hitting .448 (13-for-29) with five doubles, one triple, five RBI and a stolen base over his last seven games. Brantley owns a lousy success rate in stolen base attempts (30-for-45) in the big leagues, so I'm not as excited about him as a fantasy option as I was two years ago, but he does just enough in all categories to be relevant in deeper leagues and five-outfielder formats.
Ryan Vogelsong SP, Giants (Yahoo: 44 percent owned, ESPN: 14.4 percent)
Six starts into the 2012 season and it looks like Vogelsong has picked up from where he left off last year. The 34-year-old right-hander owns a 2.66 ERA and has allowed exactly one run in each of his last three outings. It's worth noting that he has walked 19 batters in just 40 2/3 innings and has seen declines in his velocity and swinging strike rate, so continue to monitor these trends, but he remains a pretty safe play this weekend against the light-hitting Athletics.
Erick Aybar SS, Angels (Yahoo: 43 percent owned, ESPN: 47.2 percent)
Aybar was considered a top-12 shortstop on draft day, but his production has completely dropped off the table in the early part of 2012. The 28-year-old switch-hitter is batting just .190 on the year and .127 over his last 19 games. So, what the heck is going on here? On first glance, Aybar's .224 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) indicates that he's hitting into bad luck, but he's actually hitting less line drives, more ground balls and more infield fly balls. In other words, he's a pretty easy out. However, his history suggests that he should rebound. And his four-year, $35 million extension should provide him plenty of rope. There are better options to start in shallow mixed leagues right now, but Aybar makes for a fine buy-low if you are willing to be patient.
Justin Morneau 1B, Twins (Yahoo: 36 percent owned, ESPN: 31.8 percent)
Morneau was finally starting to come around with the bat in mid-April before he began dealing with soreness in his surgically-repaired left wrist. While he eventually required a stint on the disabled list, he returned as soon as he was eligible Wednesday and doubled in a win over the Tigers. For what it's worth, Morneau has told Twins manager Ron Gardenhire that he would rather play first base than serve as the designated hitter. His injury history is still a major red flag, but perhaps he's finally feeling healthy. Those looking to fill a CI (corner infielder) spot can afford to gamble, anyway.
James McDonald SP, Pirates (Yahoo: 36 percent owned, ESPN: 48.1 percent)
I recommended McDonald in the second Waiver Wired of the season when he was owned in just two percent of Y! leagues and 0.5 percent of ESPN.com leagues. While I thought he could be useful in deeper leagues and in certain matchups, I certainly didn't think he would have a 2.42 ERA through seven starts. McDonald's .250 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) suggests that he has been a bit fortunate and he has only allowed two home runs in 44 2/3 innings after giving up 24 in 171 innings last year, but I'm encouraged that he has induced more ground balls while improving his walk and strikeout rates. The wins might be hard to come by with the weak Pittsburgh offense, but we might have a breakout candidate on our hands here.
Brennan Boesch OF, Tigers (Yahoo: 43 percent owned, ESPN: 40.4 percent)
If there's anything we have learned about Boesch since he made his major league debut back in 2010, it's that he's notoriously streaky. The good news is that he appears to be in one of those streaks right now. The 29-year-old is hitting .333 (11-for-33) with two doubles and two RBI over his last eight games and has hit safely in all of them. Some power would be nice, but we already know that he has the potential to reach 15-20 homers. Now would be a good time to check to see if someone gave up on him too soon in your league.
Shopping at the five-and-dime:
(Players owned in less than 10 percent of Y! and ESPN.com leagues)
John Mayberry, Jr. 1B/OF, Phillies (Yahoo: 5 percent owned, ESPN: 2.8 percent)
Another popular sleeper on draft day, Mayberry found himself buried on Charlie Manuel's bench after getting off to a slow start. However, with the Phillies starved for offense, Mayberry has started nine straight games. And wouldn't you know it, he's finally hitting, too. While he took an 0-fer Wednesday night against the Astros, Mayberry is batting .286 (10-for-35) with one homer, two doubles, four RBI and five runs scored during the nine-game span. Remember, this is a guy who smacked 15 homers and stole eight bases to go along with an .854 OPS in 104 games last year, so those in five-outfielder mixed formats should be willing to see if he has turned the corner.
Ben Revere OF, Twins (Yahoo: 3 percent owned, ESPN: 1.8 percent)
With Ryan Doumit and Denard Span both nursing injuries, the Twins have called up Revere to serve as insurance for their outfield. The speedy 24-year-old was sent down to Triple-A Rochester in mid-April so that he could play every day, but there's a chance he could find regular playing time in left field now that Justin Morneau is back playing first base and Chris Parmelee has been demoted to the minors. Revere doesn't pack much power or patience, but he stole 34 bases in just 117 games last season. It should be pretty easy for fantasy owners to forgive his flaws. He's worth a flier for anyone looking to catch up in the stolen base department.
Todd Frazier 3B, Reds (Yahoo: 1 percent owned, ESPN: 0.1 percent)
You probably won't believe me, but I planned to include Frazier here before he slugged two home runs against the Mets on Wednesday night. Honest, I did. Getting an opportunity at regular playing time while Scott Rolen nurses his nagging shoulder injury, Frazier socked six homers in 41 games for the Reds last year and has reached double-digits in homers and steals in each of the past two seasons in the minors. His lofty strikeout rate renders him a poor bet to hit for a high batting average, but his power and speed should make up for it. With a number of prominent third basemen still sidelined due to injury and Brett Lawrie likely to serve his suspension soon, Frazier is worth considering in deeper leagues.
Wei-Yin Chen SP, Orioles (Yahoo: 16 percent owned, ESPN: 10.9 percent)
The O's gambled and lost on Tsuyoshi Wada, who underwent season-ending Tommy John surgery last week, but Chen has proven to be a real surprise in the early part of the season. After limiting the Yankees to just two runs over seven innings on Tuesday night, the 26-year-old southpaw owns an impressive 2.45 ERA and 32/14 K/BB ratio in 44 innings over his first seven major league starts. Chen is only averaging 90.1 mph on his fastball thus far and has allowed fly balls 45.2 percent of the time, so he's likely to have some rough outings pitching in the American League East, but he should continue to have value in certain matchups. A date with the Nationals this weekend under National League rules should be one of them.