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Yesterday we looked at some players whose trade value could be at its peak. Today, we look at the other side of the coin and try to identify some players who could represent nice value as buy-low candidates.
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Ryan Braun, OF Brewers
It's hard to believe Braun can be classified as a buy-low anytime, but some strange circumstances this season have made him just that. Lingering neck and thumb injuries slowed him down and hurt his production in the first half, but with a few days off it's easy to see him being back to his normal self after the All-Star break.
The bigger issue is Braun's connection to Biogenesis, the anti-aging clinic that is believed to have supplied multiple major league players with performance-enhancing drugs. It came out on July 9 that MLB was planning to suspend Braun and Alex Rodriguez, among others, for their connection to the clinic, with suspensions expected to come down as soon as this month. The suspension for Braun is rumored to be in the area of 100 games, effectively ending his season if he were to begin serving it immediately.
The news caused many Braun owners to panic, some even cutting the 29-year-old preemptively. But MLB Players Association executive director Michael Weiner said Tuesday he expects players to be allowed to continue to play while their suspension is being appealed, and that he doesn't expect that process to begin until September. In fewer words, Weiner basically assured that a player who appeals his suspension won't miss a game this year.
Braun has been outspoken in regards to his innocence since the beginning, so it's hard to see him accepting a lengthy suspension without a fight. I expect Braun and others to play out this year and deal with the consequences after the season, making him a target in leagues with impatient or paranoid owners. (Note: this doesn't apply to keeper leagues, where he's an iffy bet for next year.)
Matt Cain, SP Giants
I wrote about Cain a few weeks ago, but he applies as a buy-low guy as well. It's a little hard to see why, as his 5.06 ERA is unsightly, and it's not as though his 4.18 fielding-independent ERA (FIP) is much better. His batting average on balls in play (BABIP) is near his career mark, and his ground ball rate is almost exactly where it's been for his career.
The hope for better days ahead lies in Cain's left on-base percentage and his home runs allowed per nine innings. Cain's 63.4% LOB% is nearly 10 points lower than the league average this season and over 10 points lower than his career average. Those numbers often normalize, especially with guys with extensive track records like Cain, so he should be better at stranding runners going forward.
He should also benefit from continuing to lower his home run rate. Cain's HR/9 is at an all-time high of 1.29 homers per nine innings, but that number is inflated due to his early struggles. Cain allowed 13 home runs in his first 56 1/3 innings but has allowed just three over his last 55 2/3 innings. It's hard to see -- especially given Cain's brutal two-start stretch heading into the break -- but he should be much improved in the second half.
Yoenis Cespedes, OF Athletics
There are no numbers that support a breakout second half for Cespedes. Strike that; there are numbers that suggest Cespedes will be better after the break. They're .292/.356/.505.
That's Cespedes' line from 2012, when he hit 23 home runs and 16 stolen bases as a first-year player. Cespedes' 2013 season has been a far cry from those numbers thus far, as he's hitting just .225/.293/.420 through 79 games. He's been streaky, struck out in 23.5% of his at-bats and has generally been a hologram of the Cespedes we remember.
Fresh off a Home Run Derby victory and with a clean slate, Cespedes should look more like himself in the second half. Oh, and for good measure, the 27-year-old hit .311/.376/.533 in last season's second act.
Justin Morneau, 1B Twins
It's been a rough couple years for Morneau. After a concussion derailed his stellar 2010 season and kept him out for much of 2011, Morneau returned in 2012 to hit 19 homers in the closest approximation to his former self we've seen since the injury. This season, though, he's been hard-pressed to hit for power, blasting just seven home runs in 366 plate appearances. His 6.7 HR/FB rate is half his career 13.6 average.
The good news is that Morneau isn't failing to hit or hit with authority. He's batting .273 for the year and has 23 doubles, just three shy of last season's total in 204 fewer plate appearances. The peripherals also bear that out, as he owns a 22% line drive rate. He's back to smoking the ball, they just haven't left the yard yet. They will.
Lance Lynn, SP Cardinals
With an 11-4 record and decent peripherals, there's not much room for Lynn to improve. But while all 52 of his runs allowed have been earned, the defense behind Lynn has been far from stellar. Lynn has also been victim to some big innings and strange circumstances during his outings, so a little more normalcy and an ability to limit those crooked numbers would go a long way for the right-hander. His 3.13 FIP suggests he's capable of more. Call it a leap of faith, but I think Lynn is able to make that step in the second half.
Miguel Montero, C Diamondbacks
Montero is an example of the randomness of batted balls. The 30-year-old catcher has the exact same line drive rate (22%) as Morneau, but his batting average is almost 50 points lower. There's some explanation to be found in his 47.4% ground ball percentage, as more of those will go for outs. But after two months of posting an OPS that starts with a five, Montero posted a .748 OPS in June and has already hit more home runs in 14 July games (3) than he hit in any other month this season. Montero has been a model of consistency over the past four years, so buy him in hopes he didn't suddenly forget how to hit.
National League Quick Hits: Justin Upton (calf) and Jason Heyward (hamstring) are expected to be ready to start on Friday. Both missed games at the end of the first half with the injuries ... Freddie Freeman (thumb) has been cleared to take dry swings and hit off a tee. If he doesn't suffer a setback, he should be back in the Braves' lineup sometime this weekend ... Aramis Ramirez (knee) could be activated from the DL on Monday. He's been dealing with the injury since spring training. His teammate Ryan Braun was also reinstated from the bereavement list in time for Friday's game ... David DeJesus (shoulder) could be activated from the DL as early as next week. He's been out for a month with a strained right shoulder ... Matt Holliday (hamstring) took batting practice on Thursday. It remains to be seen if he'll be in the lineup on Friday ... Tony Cingrani was optioned to the minors. He'll rejoin the team in time to make a start Tuesday with the big club ... Chris Carpenter (shoulder) will have his rehab moved to Triple-A Memphis for a start on Saturday. The stay will likely last multiple starts before he rejoins the Cardinals ... Roy Oswalt (hamstring) ran lightly in the outfield and threw on flat ground on Thursday. There's still no timetable for his return ... it looks as though Matt Garza has made his last start with the Cubs. NL-only managers should pay close attention to his rumored landing spot -- the Rangers, currently -- in the coming days ... Cubs INF Junior Lake will likely be recalled on Friday. He's a worthwhile flyer in NL-only leagues.
American League Quick Hits: Clay Buchholz (shoulder) will be re-evaluated on Friday. The right-hander felt some soreness during a bullpen session on Sunday and hasn't thrown since. His return doesn't appear to be anywhere close to imminent ... Yu Darvish (back) threw a bullpen session on Thursday. There appears to be no cocern about his ability to come off the DL and make a start Monday ... Rays recalled Ryan Roberts from Triple-A Durham while James Loney is on paternity leave. Sean Rodriguez is likely to handle first base while Loney is away ... Lance Berkman (hip) didn't take part in the Rangers' team workout on Thursday. He looks like a long shot to be activated when first eligible on July 22 ... Felipe Paulino (elbow, shoulder) will throw a bullpen session on Friday. He could resume a rehab assignment if the session goes well ... the Royals will recall Kelvin Herrera and Chris Getz before Friday's game. Johnny Giavotella and Everett Teaford will be optioned to Triple-A Omaha ... Alex Cobb (concussion) threw four innings in a simulated game. His concussion symptoms have subsided, so a rehab assignment could be in his future soon ... Stephen Drew (hamstring) is expected to be activated on Saturday. He's scheduled to play two rehab games with Double-A Portland before activation ... Craig Gentry (hand) will be activated on Friday. Leonys Martin has taken hold of the starting role in his absence, so Gentry will be a reserve upon return.