Matthew Pouliot

Strike Zone

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Notes: Not Paying The Price

Monday, June 16, 2014

The Cubs appear set to be the first of this year’s liquidators, with the Chicago Sun-Times’s Gordon Wittenmyer reporting Saturday that they’ve recently talked with teams about right-handers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel. Seattle was mentioned as a likely destination for Hammel.


Of course, fantasy leaguers would prefer to see the Cubs clear paths for both shortstop Javier Baez and third baseman Kris Bryant to reach the majors. Baez, though, still hasn’t played any position other than shortstop this year, leaving his short-term fate tied to Starlin Castro’s. Expectations this spring were that Baez would be tried at second, but an early injury followed by a lengthy slump put those plans on hold. If they materialize soon, then perhaps Baez could replace Darwin Barney in August. Alternatively, there’s a slight chance that Castro will be traded. I’m not holding my breath, though.


One Cubs position player who could bring a surprising amount in trade is Luis Valbuena. The 28-year-old has quietly hit .291/.390/.471 in 172 at-bats while splitting time between second base and third base this season. He still has two years of arbitration left and he should remain relatively cheap (he’s making $1.71 million this year), so there’s no urgency for the Cubs to move him. However, there are a whole bunch of contenders that could use help at third or second, and he might bring back a major league-ready starter that would come in handy with Samardzija and/or Hammel getting replaced.


Because Valbuena is much more likely to be traded than Castro (and because Mike Olt is still hitting .149), I think Bryant is the better bet than Baez to have fantasy value in the second half, though it’s still far from a sure thing.


As for the internal candidates to replace Samardzija and Hammel, well, they’re a whole lot less interesting than the offensive options. Left-hander Tsuyoshi Wada, a former top starter in Japan who underwent Tommy John surgery not long after signing with the Orioles two years ago, has a 2.51 ERA and a 71/18 K/BB ratio in 75 1/3 innings for Triple-A Iowa, which could put him first in line for a shot. He’s all finesse, though. Former Rangers prospect Kyle Hendricks also could get a look before the Cubs go back to old standbys Carlos Villanueva and Chris Rusin.


AL Notes


- I’ve read a few times now that it’d be a bad idea to trade David Price in fantasy leagues or that he might even be a buy-low candidate based on the idea that his value will increase with a deal. I don’t buy it. For all of Tampa Bay’s troubles scoring runs lately, it’s still an excellent situation for a pitcher because of the Rays defense, pitcher friendly ballpark and, most importantly, the job the catchers do framing pitches.


Now, sure, I’d say Price would have more fantasy value in San Francisco or St. Louis, but what are the odds of him going to either of those spots? Perhaps the best situation of the likely suitors is in L.A. with the Dodgers. Still, it’s more likely that he’d go to an AL contender that presents a worse situation for him than Tampa Bay. He’d get more run support -- though the Rays can’t be this bad forever -- but it’d probably come at the expense of ERA, WHIP and strikeouts.


As for Price the pitcher, he’s still having a truly remarkable season with his crazy 12:1 K:BB ratio but unimpressive 3.93 ERA. His stuff isn’t as good as it used to be, but while it seems like the incredible command would make up for it, it simply hasn’t. He’d be better off if he worried less about walks and pitched off the corners more frequently. I still think the ERA will come down, but I don’t rank him as highly as I did preseason. That's probably not going to change if he's moved.


- Another organization might have given Mikie Mahtook a look in the outfield with Wil Myers (wrist) and Brandon Guyer (thumb) on the disabled list, but the Rays weren’t going to push their former first-round pick. Mahtook is hitting .320/.389/.515 with four homers and 11 steals for Triple-A Durham. Still, he never looked like such an impressive prospect before this -- he had a .708 OPS last year in Double-A -- and it should be noted that the vast majority of his production is coming against lefties. Incredibly, he’s hitting .527/.563/.782 in 55 at-bats versus southpaws, compared to .256/.333/.432 in 176 at-bats against righties. I don’t think Mahtook projects as a long-term regular as is. Perhaps he’ll get a chance in the second half, depending on how Myers’ recovery goes, but I’m skeptical he’ll be a viable mixed-league outfielder if it happens.


- Grant Balfour picked up a highly unusual 2 1/3-inning save in his first appearance after losing his closer gig, but when it came time to protect a one-run lead in the ninth Sunday against the Astros, Jake McGee got the ball. It was the right choice -- he’s Tampa Bay’s best reliever -- and it bodes well for those who picked him up over Juan Carlos Oviedo and Joel Peralta. I’m sure the Rays would prefer Balfour regain the job, and there’s a good chance he’ll get that opportunity with a couple of more scoreless appearances. Limiting McGee to ninth-inning duties seems like a waste anyway. Notice that Sean Doolittle, essentially McGee’s equivalent in Oakland, has made just eight appearances since May 22, three of them coming with leads of four or more runs and three more coming in three-run games.


- Send down Manny Machado? That sounds like crazy talk to me. It’s likely moot for now anyway after he went 6-for-11 with three doubles in the first three games of the series against the Blue Jays (though he did go 0-for-4 on Sunday). Machado obviously needs an attitude adjustment and his approach at the plate leaves something to be desired, but the Orioles are trying to win and he’s far and away their best option at third base. Don’t go dropping him in mixed leagues.


- Felix Doubront (shoulder) is ready to rejoin the Red Sox after striking out 10 in five hitless innings for Triple-A Pawtucket on Sunday, and Clay Buchholz (knee) is just one turn behind. The Red Sox will give both pitchers chances to show they can overcome their early struggles, so both Rubby De La Rosa and Brandon Workman will return to Triple-A, unless maybe the Red Sox decide to keep Workman as a reliever instead.


- Taijuan Walker is definitely getting closer to making his season debut for Seattle after allowing one run and one hit in 6 2/3 innings for Triple-A Tacoma on Saturday. Erasmo Ramirez has been somewhat successful in his last two starts (he’s pitched 9 2/3 scoreless innings, but walked nine in the process), yet he’s still not winning over management. Walker is lined up to replace him, perhaps after one more week in the minors. He’ll be worth a flier in mixed leagues once promoted.


- I’m still rather optimistic about Joe Nathan, though neither of his appearances in the last week was particularly encouraging. He did pick up a win on Sunday after giving up two singles in a scoreless inning in a tie game against the Twins. The arm strength is still there, and he’s thrown some good sliders. He should hold on to the job.


- Mariners prospect Chris Taylor rejoined Triple-A Tacoma’s lineup last week after missing four weeks with a broken finger and went 4-for-17 with two doubles, a triple and three walks in his first five games back. Brad Miller has picked it up ever so slightly of late (his .243 average in June is a huge improvement over his .136 mark in May), but he needs to take a real step forward or he could find himself getting replaced by Taylor within the next 7-10 days.


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Matthew Pouliot is the Executive Editor of and has been doing the site's baseball projections for the last 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @matthewpouliot.
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