Welcome to the first edition of Waiver Wired for the 2013 baseball season. Just like the previous three seasons, I'll be here each and every Thursday to pass along some names to consider on your league's waiver wire.
With this weekly column, you'll find coverage of mixed leagues, as well as AL-only and NL-only leagues. In order to help as many fantasy owners as possible, my general rule of thumb is to recommend players who are owned in less than 50 percent of Yahoo! leagues.
It's easy to panic over the first few days of the season, but some early brash decisions on the waiver wire can come back to bite you later on. In other words, don't overreact to some early 0-fers or one poor pitching performance. It's a long season. Below are some names that I think can help in many formats, as I think a handful of them were undervalued going into draft day, but exercise caution before dropping someone who could be useful to you in the long run.
And with that brief introduction out of the way, let's get started.
Yonder Alonso 1B, Padres (Yahoo: 11 percent owned)
Alonso's first full season in the majors was pretty underwhelming, as he batted just .273 with nine home runs and a .741 OPS in 155 games. It's not surprising that he was undrafted in most mixed leagues, as that's not the kind of production most fantasy owners are looking for from a first baseman. However, Alonso quietly got better as last season moved along, including seven home runs and an .800 OPS in 80 games after the start of June. And while the soon-to-be 26-year-old only managed one home run in 169 plate appearances against southpaws last season, he already has one in 2013 after taking Jon Niese deep in Monday's opener. Alonso doesn't fit the profile of the middle-of-the-order masher, but the dimension changes at PETCO Park should help his chances of taking a step forward this year. I really like him as a corner infielder (CI) in deeper mixed formats.
Michael Saunders OF, Mariners (Yahoo: 15 percent owned)
Saunders owned a miserable .196/.263/.306 batting line over his first 635 plate appearances in the majors from 2009-2011, but he emerged as a useful fantasy outfielder last season. While the 26-year-old only batted .247 with a .306 on-base percentage, he amassed 19 home runs, 57 RBI, 21 stolen bases and 71 runs scored in 139 games. It would be nice to see him improve his production against right-handers and the Mariners have plenty of alternatives if he gets off to a slow start, but it's not often that you can find 20-20 potential off the waiver wire. Let others scoff at the poor batting average, but here's an opportunity to get counting stats at a major discount.
Chris Carter 1B/OF, Astros (Yahoo: 10 percent owned)
Carter's season hasn't started on a high note, as he is 0-for-11 with seven strikeouts, but don't let that cloud your judgment too much. While the 26-year-old is a poor bet to hit for a high batting average, he smacked 16 home runs in 67 games with the A's last season and could do some real damage as an everyday player for the Astros in 2013. He should benefit by playing half of his games at Minute Maid Park, as the Crawford Boxes are a very inviting target for right-handed batters. There's real upside here as long as you are willing to accept his flaws.
Jose Fernandez SP, Marlins (Yahoo: 26 percent owned)
With Nate Eovaldi and Henderson Alvarez hurting, the Marlins made the shocking decision to include Fernandez on their Opening Day roster. While it's a pretty reckless move for a team that isn't expected to contend this season, there's no denying that Fernandez is one of the best pitching prospects in the game. The 20-year-old right-hander posted a ridiculous 1.75 ERA and 158/35 K/BB ratio over 134 innings last season between Class A Greensboro and High-A Jupiter. Of course, Fernandez hasn't thrown a pitch above A-ball and he hasn't needed much more than his mid-90s fastball and plus-curveball until now. Struggles are certainly possible and he will face an innings limit eventually, but I'm willing to take a chance on his upside. He's a fine pickup as long as you are dropping someone who is replaceable.
Eduardo Nunez 3B/SS, Yankees (Yahoo: 10 percent owned)
It's still a mystery when Derek Jeter will be ready to return from ankle surgery, so Nunez will continue to get regular playing time at shortstop for now. In a weird way, I actually think his shaky defense makes him somewhat underrated from a fantasy perspective. The 25-year-old has swiped 39 bases in 47 attempts in the majors and has a real knack for making contact. With his multi-position eligibility, he should have some value in deeper mixed leagues for the early part of the season.
Tommy Milone SP, Athletics (Yahoo: 44 percent owned)
Milone is someone who I feel doesn't get enough respect in fantasy leagues. Sure, the 26-year-old southpaw doesn't throw hard, but his strikeout rate (6.49 K/9) last season was far from terrible and his walk rate (1.71 BB/9) was sixth among qualified starters. Fly balls are an issue for him (as evidenced by the two home runs he gave up on Wednesday night), but that's only a concern for me in certain matchups on the road. He's a must-start at O.co Coliseum (2.74 ERA in 15 starts there last season, 2 ER over 7 IP on Wednesday) and has a real chance to finish among the league leaders in WHIP.
Michael Brantley OF, Indians (Yahoo: 15 percent owned)
Don't worry if you weren't able to snag Jackie Bradley Jr. (Yahoo: 46 percent owned) off waivers. Brantley has the ability to provide comparable, if not better production this season. Of course, that hinges on him being more successful in stolen base attempts, as he is just 39-for-59 (66 percent) in the majors. And that's not good. Still, Brantley got his on-base percentage up to .348 last season and now has a much better supporting cast than in previous years. He's an interesting player to put on your watch list, at the very least.
Jedd Gyorko 3B, Padres (Yahoo: 45 percent owned)
Gyorko was a popular sleeper during spring training, so I'm surprised to see that he hasn't surpassed the 50-percent threshold quite yet. I'm guessing that will change soon. The 24-year-old was a .319/.385/.529 hitter over three seasons in the minors and launched 30 home runs last season between Double-A San Antonio and Triple-A Tucson. We have to take those numbers with a grain of salt since they were accomplished in the Pacific Coast League, but he's at least capable of settling somewhere in the 15-20 homer range as a rookie. Gyorko is being bounced back and forth from second base to third base while Chase Headley (thumb) is sidelined, but he should be even more interesting once he gains dual eligibility.
Chris Tillman SP, Orioles (Yahoo: 26 percent owned)
One of my favorite sleepers for 2013, Tillman finally showed signs of a breakout last season, posting a 2.93 ERA and 66/24 K/BB ratio in 86 innings. The big difference was an unexpected bounce-back in velocity, as he averaged 92.4 mph on his fastball compared to 89.5 in 13 starts in 2011. The ERA is bound to go up somewhat, as he was fortunate with his batting average on balls in play (BABIP) and strand rates, but I think he's capable of improving his 6.91 K/9 from last season. Tillman dealt with an abdominal strain during the spring, but he's set to be activated from the disabled list Saturday to start against the Twins. Put him on your radar.
David Murphy OF, Rangers (Yahoo: 38 percent owned)
Murphy is routinely underrated as a fantasy option and it's about time that changes. The 31-year-old batted .304/.380/.479 with an .859 OPS in 521 plate appearances last season and has averaged 14 home runs and 10 stolen bases each season since 2008. That's some nice under-the-radar consistency. And while Murphy was once viewed as a platoon option, the Rangers are using him as their everyday left fielder in 2013. I think he's best utilized in formats which allow daily lineup changes, as there are better options against southpaws, but he should be owned in most mixed leagues.
Gerardo Parra OF, Diamondbacks (Yahoo: 14 percent owned)
Parra was originally expected to function as a part-time outfielder this season, but things changed after Adam Eaton went down with a strained elbow during spring training. That he's off to a great start obviously makes this recommendation easier, but Parra's success isn't coming out of nowhere. The 25-year-old has amassed 15 stolen bases in each of the last two seasons and has also shown some sneaky pop at times. Who knows when Eaton will come back, as ulnar collateral ligament injuries can be tricky, but Parra should be a useful contributor in deeper mixed leagues as long as he's getting regular at-bats.
Jose Valverde RP, Tigers (Yahoo: 15 percent owned)
It pays to be a proven closer. After multiple reports this spring downplayed a possible reunion, the Tigers brought back Valverde on a minor league deal on Thursday. It comes just one day after Phil Coke blew a save against the Twins, which suggests that the Tigers aren't satisfied with the back-end of their bullpen. Valverde lost his closer job down the stretch last season and his strikeout rate plummeted, so I'm not convinced that he'll be effective, but I wouldn't be surprised to see him get the ball in the ninth inning soon. By the way, his deal includes an opt-out if he's not in the majors by May 5. Go ahead and stash in deeper formats if you have the room on your bench.
Shopping at the five-and-dime
(Players owned in less than 10 percent of Y! leagues)
Chris Heisey OF, Reds (Yahoo: 2 percent owned)
Ryan Ludwick is expected to be sidelined for at least the next three months following surgery Wednesday to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder, so Heisey will get a chance at regular playing time in left field for now. The 28-year-old isn't the most patient hitter, but he has shown some nice power potential in the past and is also capable of stealing a few bases. The Reds may eventually realign their outfield to make room for top prospect Billy Hamilton, but we're likely a couple of months away from that being a real consideration. Heisey should be a target in deeper mixers.
Jim Henderson RP, Brewers (Yahoo: 5 percent owned)
John Axford finished strong last season, which was enough for many to invest in him as a top-10 closer this spring, but things haven't worked out so far. After blowing a save in Monday's season opener, "The Ax Man" struggled again on Wednesday, giving up three runs on five hits (including two home runs) over two-thirds of an inning. Two awful appearances won't be enough for him to lose his job, but his lack of command and diminished velocity are concerning. Brewers manager Ron Roenicke isn't blessed with great options, but Henderson is the likely alternative if he decides to make a change. Go ahead and speculate.