Welcome to the first edition of Waiver Wired for the 2017 MLB season. I’m your host, D.J. Short, and I’ll be here every Thursday to break down widely-available players in mixed fantasy leagues, as well as AL-only and NL-only formats.
I’m excited to be doing this column for the eighth consecutive season. I recently took a look back at my very first Waiver Wired from 2010 just to see some of the names involved. It was a fun and somewhat painful exercise. I was greeted by the likes of Kyle Blanks, Brad Penny, Jeff Clement, Shaun Marcum, and Travis Snider. I have seen some things, man. There was also one name which you’ll actually find in this week’s column. Funny how things work out.
Before we get started, just a reminder that I don’t include players in this space if they are owned in more than 50 percent of Yahoo leagues. My goal is to try to make this column relevant to as many owners as possible. This clean cut-off has worked pretty well over the years, so hopefully you’ll find plenty of options to help your team over the course of the season.
I always find the process of the first Waiver Wired of the season to be overwhelming. Many of the players I liked leading up to draft day are still widely available, so there are so many ways to go and only so much space. Writing about fantasy baseball is a tough gig, so I’m sure you feel really sorry for me. By the way, I’m leaving Jason Grilli (Yahoo: 36 percent owned) and Joe Biagini (Yahoo: 10 percent owned) out of this week’s column since Blue Jays closer Roberto Osuna is expected to return from the disabled list when he’s first eligible on April 11. But if you want to take a chance on picking up a save or two, go crazy with either of those two.
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Travis Shaw 1B/3B, Brewers (Yahoo: 43 percent owned)
As part of our “Bold Calls” for the season debut of the Rotoworld Roundtable, I predicted that Shaw would reach 25 homers and 100 RBI this season. As I wrote in the piece, the whole point of a column like that is to say something that you feel somewhat uncomfortable with, but hopefully it’s something where you can squint and see the pieces falling into place. That’s how I feel about Shaw. Sure, he faded after getting off to a hot start with the Red Sox last season, but now he finds himself in the best power ballpark in the majors for left-handed batters. He has batted either fourth or fifth in each of the Brewers’ first three games, so he’s in a great spot here even if he might sit against some southpaws. I don’t think you should pick him up expecting 25 homers and 100 RBI, but he makes sense if you want a corner infielder with upside.
Robert Gsellman SP, Mets (Yahoo: 42 percent owned)
So much for the Mets’ pitching depth. With Steven Matz and Seth Lugo both sidelined, Gsellman should get the chance to run away with a rotation spot. Context of the situation aside, Gsellman deserves it after what he showed last year. His stint in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League obscured the progress with his velocity and arsenal, but he proved to be a late-season savior after his call-up to the Mets, as he posted a 2.42 ERA and 42/15 K/BB ratio over 44 2/3 innings. The sinkerballer also put up a ground ball rate of 54.2 percent. It’s hard to say where the strikeout rate is going to fall — he averaged 6.5 K/9 in the minors — but it shouldn’t hurt to pick him up as your fifth or sixth starter in mixed leagues and see what happens here. He’s a stealth Rookie of the Year candidate for me.
Tommy Joseph 1B, Phillies (Yahoo: 40 percent owned)
I’m intrigued to see what Joseph can do now that he’s slated to be the Phillies’ regular first baseman with Ryan Howard out of the picture. His career was nearly derailed due to concussions, but after moving away from catching, he came out of nowhere last season and slugged 21 homers in just 347 plate appearances as a rookie. And he had the sort of fly ball and hard-hit rates to back up the power display. Joseph batted just .248 with a .773 OPS against right-handers, so there’s some question about how he’ll perform as an everyday guy, but the opportunity is there for him to reach 30 homers this year. While he has scuffled a bit early here, I think he can be a solid corner infielder option.
Hector Neris RP, Phillies (Yahoo: 41 percent owned)
Joaquin Benoit RP, Phillies (Yahoo: 8 percent owned)
Where should we set the over/under on the number of days Jeanmar Gomez will remain in the closer role? Maybe 10 days? Perhaps 20 days? Either way, I’m not expecting him to keep the job for long. After melting down in the second half last year, Gomez had an eventful outing on Opening Day against the Reds before walking away with the save. It was even for Phillies manager Pete Mackanin to say that he’s “concerned” about the situation. The good news is that he has some interesting fallback options. Neris is a no-brainer stash after his breakout 2016 campaign where he posted a 2.58 ERA with 102 strikeouts over 80 1/3 innings. As I said in Tuesday’s Live Chat, he has some standalone value even without saves. But giving him saves could make him more expensive through arbitration, so the Phillies could instead go with Benoit, who they are already paying $7.5 million this season. The 39-year-old has previous experience in the role and could make for an attractive trade chip if he locks down some saves. Something to consider.
Kevin Kiermaier OF, Rays (Yahoo: 38 percent owned)
Kiermaier’s excellent defense in center field was surely a significant factor in him landing a six-year, $53.5 million extension with the Rays last month, but he has also made some notable strides at the plate. Maybe it didn’t stand out since Kiermaier was limited to just 105 games last season, but he established a new career-high with 12 homers despite logging 121 fewer plate appearances than 2014. Like many around the game, Kiermaier lofted the ball more often while also utilizing a pull-heavy approach. In other words, don’t dismiss that power spike. The other intriguing part was his walk rate, which doubled from 2015. Kiermaier appears poised to serve as the Rays’ regular No. 2 hitter this season, so I like the potential impact he can make in steals, homers, and runs scored.
Santiago Casilla RP, Athletics (Yahoo: 46 percent owned)
If you are coming here for a concrete answer on the Athletics’ closer situation, I’m sorry to disappoint you. I just don’t know. Casilla notched the save in Monday’s season opener against the Angels, but Ryan Dull got the call on Tuesday. That didn’t turn out so well, as Dull gave up a go-ahead three-run homer to Danny Espinosa for a blown save and a loss. It was only one appearance, but it probably carries some weight in this crowded situation. As of now, Ryan Madson (Yahoo: 64 percent owned) and Casilla would appear to be the favorites. While Casilla lost his closer gig with the Giants last year, it’s not like he was horrible over the course of the year. The home run ball hurt him, but he missed more bats than ever before and also improved his control. If you need saves, do what you have to do. This situation will probably be frustrating.
Chris Owings SS/OF, Diamondbacks (Yahoo: 14 percent owned)
I targeted Owings in deeper leagues this spring due to his speed and multi-position eligibility. I wasn’t always successful in landing him, but he was a reserve pick for me in the Tout Wars Mixed League draft. We haven’t seen much power from Owings in the majors, but he improved his contact rate last season and perhaps there’s a little more in there another year removed from his shoulder surgery. This will also be his first full season using the Axe Bat. I’m not sure I’m ready to be as bold as my colleague Matthew Pouliot regarding Owings’ potential upside this season, but I can certainly see the path to value here. He could see at least part-time duty out of the No. 2 spot and plays half of his games in a great ballpark for offense.
Daniel Norris SP, Tigers (Yahoo: 14 percent owned)
I was tempted to go with Lance Lynn in this spot, but I’d prefer to track his velocity for a little bit as he makes his way back from Tommy John surgery. Besides, Norris is available in more leagues right now. Maybe not for long, though. Health has been an issue for the lefty, but he posted a 3.38 ERA with 71 strikeouts and 22 walks in 69 1/3 innings with the Tigers last season. This includes a 3.04 ERA over his final 10 starts. The velocity was higher than his previous stints in the majors and the swinging strike rate increased right along with it. He dealt with a “dead arm” toward the end of spring training, but all is well now and he’s on track to make his season debut Sunday against the Red Sox. That’s a tough matchup, so I understand if you’d prefer to wait and see, but there’s breakout potential here.
Gerardo Parra 1B/OF, Rockies (Yahoo: 20 percent owned)
Parra’s first season with the Rockies was a disappointment, but it’s worth giving him another look with David Dahl sidelined due to a stress reaction in his sixth rib. Parra put up a .780 OPS with 14 homers and 14 steals in 2015 and it’s worth noting that he was bothered by a high ankle sprain last year. If you need an extra push, just realize that that the Rockies will play 13 out of their next 19 games at home beginning on Friday. Mark Reynolds (Yahoo: 10 percent owned) makes sense if you need a corner infielder in a deep league, but Parra’s multi-position eligibility stands out and there’s no clear timetable for Dahl’s return.
Matt Bush RP, Rangers (Yahoo: 29 percent owned)
I wasn’t super confident about Sam Dyson coming into the year, but I didn’t think we’d be talking about his job security this early in the season. While it’s still probably too soon to panic, it’s hard to imagine someone getting off to a worse start than what we’ve seen this week. Dyson gave up a grand slam to Francisco Lindor to blow a save Wednesday night and has now allowed eight runs on seven hits and two walks (with no strikeouts) through his first two appearances. Ouch. Bush has all the makings of a future closer and would be my first priority to stash away in this bullpen. The hard-throwing 31-year-old had a 2.48 ERA and 61/14 K/BB ratio over 61 2/3 innings last season. At the very least, be sure to be sure to secure a handcuff if you have Dyson right now.
Mitch Haniger OF, Mariners (Yahoo: 16 percent owned)
The Mariners came into spring training planning to bat speedsters Jarrod Dyson and Jean Segura at the top of the lineup, but Haniger was installed in the No. 2 spot after an impressive showing during Cactus League action. Haniger, acquired along with Segura from Arizona in the Taijuan Walker deal in November, batted .229/.309/.404 with eight extra-base hits (including five homers) in 123 plate appearances during his first taste of the majors last season. That’s not overly impressive. The righty-swinging Haniger will have to produce in order to stick in the No. 2 spot, but he showed big-time power in the minors after overhauling his swing last year. The patience has always been good and he’s also capable of providing some speed. Like a bunch of the players I’ve mentioned today, Haniger is in a favorable spot to thrive if things click. That’s the sort of thing you are looking for with an early-season waiver wire pickup. It’s not going to sink your season if he stumbles.
Shopping at the five-and-dime:
(Players owned in under 10 percent of Yahoo leagues)
Cesar Hernandez 2B, Phillies (Yahoo: 9 percent owned)
I’ll admit that Hernandez frustrates me a bit. He actually had a sneaky good year in 2016, batting .294 with a .371 on-base percentage while establishing himself as the Phillies’ leadoff man during the second half. It’s just that he went just 17-for-30 in stolen base attempts. That’s to the point where you wonder whether it’s even worth giving him the green light. When you watch Hernandez, it certainly feels like he should be better than that. Phillies first base coach Mickey Morandini has been working with Hernandez to improve his technique and stated that their goal is to get him to 30 steals this season. I have no idea if it will happen, but regular at-bats out of the leadoff spot sets the stage for the possibility.
Charlie Morton SP, Astros (Yahoo: 9 percent owned)
Remember my introduction when I said that this column will feature somebody who I wrote about in my very first Waiver Wired back in 2010? Morton is that guy. The 33-year-old has had a decent career since while showing flashes of upside along the way. I’m going back to that well again this week. Some scratched their heads when the Astros gave Morton a two-year, $14 million coming off a year where he was limited to four starts due to a severe hamstring injury, but those folks might know what they are doing. Morton quietly showed an uptick in velocity early last season and maintained that during a dominant showing in spring training. He allowed two runs over six innings against the Mariners in his season debut on Wednesday. We’ve always known Morton as a ground ball pitcher (bench the nickname “Ground Chuck”), but he could be pretty interesting if the velocity and strikeouts hold. I definitely think he should be owned in more leagues.