In jettisoning Mike Napoli last week, the Red Sox gave themselves a two-month head start in trying to figure out their first base plans for 2016. Even before his disappointing campaign launched, it already seemed unlikely that Napoli would stay with the Red Sox beyond the season. His poor performance at age 33 was simply the clincher. However, Boston’s in-house replacement, Allen Craig, has had an even uglier campaign, most of it spent hitting for little power in Triple-A.
So, the Red Sox have to decide how they’re going to play this going forward. They could move Hanley Ramirez to first base and hope that he wouldn’t be even worse there than he’s been in left field. They could play it safer and shift Pablo Sandoval to first and Hanley to third, a position at which Ramirez has experience and hasn’t embarrassed himself. Still, that would mean sacrificing some defense at third and living with an unexceptional bat at first. They could give Craig another chance. He has a .377 OBP in Triple-A, but that comes with just 11 extra-base hits in 256 at-bats. For now, they’re going to give Travis Shaw a look, as he’s surprised with a .306/.350/.500 line in 36 major league at-bats. That’s after he hit just .249/.318/.356 in 289 at-bats in Triple-A.
For the long haul, there’s also Sam Travis in Double-A. A 2014 second-round pick, he’s hit .303/.376/.421 in 152 at-bats since his promotion this year after coming in at .313/.378/.467 in high-A. He’s not a candidate to open 2016 in the majors, but he could finish it in Boston, depending on how the alternatives work out.
It seems to me that the right call, as things stand now, is to put Sandoval at first and Hanley at third. I’m not sure I’d do it as in-season move -- there isn’t really much point -- but it would solve Boston’s problems for 2016 while also allowing the team to shore up the outfield defense alongside Mookie Betts and, presumably, Rusney Castillo. Most likely, they’d bring in someone else for the third spot rather than let Jackie Bradley Jr., Brock Holt and Craig compete for the job.
They could also pay another team to take either Ramirez or Sandoval, but that’d be a costly proposition, particularly with no ready-made replacements for either.
For now, it’s Shaw’s job to win or lose, though not a whole lot should be expected. Craig will get promoted if he deserves it. Prospect Garin Cecchini could also enter the mix if he takes another step forward after his horrible first half in Triple-A. He’s mostly playing left field right now, so it’d help his chances if the Red Sox move Hanley back to the infield.
As for Napoli, he was starting to look like a mixed-league option again with his recent showing with the Red Sox. However, he’ll be on the bench against most righties in Texas, with Prince Fielder and Mitch Moreland sharing first base and DH duties. He won’t have much fantasy value as Moreland’s platoonmate.
American League Notes
Baltimore: Jonathan Schoop is hitting and working his way up towards the middle of the Orioles lineup. He’s not going to come close to maintaining his current .314 average, but with his power, he’s turning a mixed-league option at second base. … Wei-Yin Chen makes for a great streaming option this week with starts against the Mariners and A’s.
Boston: Still likely to exit Boston is Alejandro De Aza. The Red Sox were playing him with Betts (concussion) sidelined, but they’d rather go younger with Betts coming back this week. … Henry Owens did well enough in his first two starts to earn some mixed-league consideration, but I’m skeptical he’ll have rest-of-season value. That said, this week’s matchup against Seattle makes him a streaming option. … Koji Uehara (wrist) could be DL bound after getting hit by a comebacker Friday. Junichi Tazawa would likely be the favorite for saves, but it could be a committee of sorts with Jean Machi and Tommy Layne involved. … Dustin Pedroia (hamstring) isn’t likely to return this week.
Chicago: I’m not seeing anything to worry about with Chris Sale, even though his 7.61 ERA might be the biggest surprise of the second half to date. He says he’s healthy and he looks healthy, so I fully expect that he’ll turn it around in short order. … The White Sox still haven’t acknowledged Geovany Soto’s obvious offensive superiority to Tyler Flowers by giving him back-to-back starts at any point. They’ve been playing better with Flowers behind the plate anyway, so perhaps nothing will change. … Carlos Sanchez finally figuring out how to hit seems to have doomed Micah Johnson’s chances of getting another shot at second. I doubt Sanchez will keep this up, but since he’s considerably better on defense, he doesn’t have to outhit Johnson to be the best option as a starter.
Cleveland: I understand what the Indians were trying to accomplish in dealing Michael Bourn, Nick Swisher and $10 million for Chris Johnson, but I think the deal would have made more sense as Swisher for Johnson straight up. In return for spreading out their financial obligation between 2016 and ‘17, the Indians received the least useful player of the three. Johnson might go back to hitting for average, but he’s a lousy third baseman and seemingly unworthy of playing time given the Indians’ current alignment. At least moving Bourn, the most useful player in the deal, appeared to open up center field to give Tyler Holt a shot… except the Indians sent him down to Triple-A the next day to go with Abraham Almonte. Presumably, Michael Brantley will also see considerable time in center, with Jerry Sands getting some starts in left. The best-case scenario is that Tyler Naquin gets the job in two or three weeks. He’s just returning to action after missing time at Triple-A Columbus with a concussion, but he offers more offensive upside and probably better defense than Holt. In the meantime, Sands looks like a better AL-only pickup than Almonte.
Detroit: Alex Wilson’s tender shoulder presented Bruce Rondon with a save chance Saturday against the Red Sox, and Rondon was able to convert it. Wilson is supposed to be ready to go this week, but if Rondon stays on his recent trajectory, he should be in line for more save chances. After all, he’s the guy in the pen the Tigers would like to see blossom into the long-term closer. He’s made five straight scoreless appearances, and he’s posted a 14/3 K/BB ratio (with a 3.72 ERA) in 9 2/3 innings since the All-Star break. … I’m not much of a Matt Boyd believer, and I’d be wary about picking him up in AL-only leagues.
Houston: Perhaps the Lance McCullers demotion shouldn’t have caught me off guard, but it did. The Astros have to figure out how best to manage his innings going forward while also potentially keeping him in play as a postseason starter. They do have that fallback option of shifting him to the pen, and with Luke Gregerson going into a little skid, it might be getting more tempting. Wanting a more dominant ninth-inning option, the Astros made a play for Craig Kimbrel at the deadline. McCullers obviously lacks the experience, but many projected him as a long-term closer before he took such a step forward as a starter this year. It’s not hard to imagine him stepping into the pen and immediately taking over as the Astros’ best reliever. Still, we’ll have to see how that plays out. … In the meantime, Gregerson would hardly seem to need replacing in the ninth, but the Astros could open the door for other relievers to pick up saves. I’d like to see what Josh Fields could do with increased responsibility. He possesses big-time strikeout stuff, and he hasn’t walked a batter in eight innings since the break.
Kansas City: Just when it seemed like Danny Duffy might be figuring things out, he got pulled in the fourth inning Sunday against the White Sox. Before that, he had allowed one or no runs in four of five starts, with his only “bad” outing coming against the Blue Jays in Toronto (for a lefty in Toronto, giving up five runs in six innings is pretty much par for the course). Unfortunately, Duffy wasn’t racking up the strikeouts, even during the better outings (56 K in 92 1/3 IP for the season). He’s still throwing 92-95 mph, so one would think he’d be missing more bats. Instead, he’s largely relied on the excellent defense behind him, and he’s not even taking full advantage of that because he’s been walking too many batters. There isn’t a lot to like about him as a mixed-league starter right now.
Los Angeles: Jered Weaver was able to hold the Orioles to two runs in five innings and strike out seven in his return from the DL on Sunday, but he didn’t show enough oomph on his fastball to suggest that he’ll return to being useful in mixed leagues. … David DeJesus has been ice cold since joining the Angels, opening the door for C.J. Cron to play more against righties. The Angels set up platoons in left field and at DH by acquiring DeJesus, David Murphy and Shane Victorino, but the opportunity is still there for Cron to set himself up as the regular DH again.
Minnesota: The collapse of the Twins’ pitching was a long time coming, but 52 runs allowed in the last five games was pretty extreme. It’s almost certainly too little, too late, but the Twins could give Jose Berrios a try after he threw seven scoreless innings for Triple-A Rochester on Saturday. Berrios has a 3.02 ERA in seven starts since moving up to Triple-A and is 11-4 with a 3.06 ERA and a 135/35 K/BB ratio in 135 1/3 innings overall. Most likely, the Twins will shut him down at least a couple of weeks early next month, so fantasy owners wouldn’t get him for the rest of the season. But he could make some immediate noise given the chance. … It’ll be interesting to see what the Twins do with Byron Buxton, who just started a rehab assignment Friday after missing six weeks with a sprained thumb. Aaron Hicks has been great in center field in his absence, and Eddie Rosario is also getting the job done in left. Torii Hunter is the weakest link in the outfield right now, but DH is spoken for by Miguel Sano and Hunter probably isn’t getting benched more than once a week. No one of Hicks, Rosario or Buxton will have much mixed-league value if the Twins opt to mix and match. Leaving Buxton in Triple-A until Sept. 1 is one option.
New York: The Yankees stopped stealing bases. Almost entirely. They’ve tried two since the All-Star break, with Mark Teixeira, of all people, achieving the lone success. Jacoby Ellsbury hasn’t attempted one since July 11. Brett Gardner, who had 15 steals in his first 55 games, hasn’t attempted one since June 12, a span of 47 games. It’s taking an unexpected toll on their fantasy values. … Luis Severino was impressive enough in his debut against the Red Sox to justify a spot on mixed-league rosters. Plus, he gets two starts this week. It’s just too bad the second comes against the Blue Jays.
Oakland: Edward Mujica’s ugly blown save Sunday against the Astros didn’t cost the A’s in the end, but with seven runs and 14 hits allowed in 8 1/3 innings since the All-Star break, he hasn’t really endeared himself to fans in his new role as closer. On the plus side, Sean Doolittle (shoulder) is on the road back, having started a rehab assignment, and while the early reports on his velocity weren’t thrilling, he could pick it up some in his next few appearances. If all goes well, he’ll return to the closer mix late in the month. I’d still rather see Fernando Rodriguez in that role for now, but I’m not counting on it happening. Evan Scribner might also be reemerging as an alternative with his recent performances. … Danny Valencia’s first four games with the A’s couldn’t have gone much better. He’s not going to hit righties in the long run, but if the A’s play him regularly and hit him cleanup, he could have some short-term value in mixed leagues.
Seattle: Breaking in Jesus Montero at Logan Morrison’s expense made a ton of sense. I’m not so sure trying to squeeze Ketel Marte into the lineup was quite as well thought out. Marte played second base while Robinson Cano was hurt, but now, in order to remain in the lineup, he needs to start in center over Austin Jackson or at shortstop in place of Brad Miller, with Miller displacing Mark Trumbo or Seth Smith in the outfield. The Mariners currently have him doing both and batting leadoff, which seems like an awful lot to ask of a 21-year-old. Marte could be a plus defender in center with experience, and he’s better than Miller at shortstop, though he’s not a future Gold Glove guy there. Offensively, his game is pretty much all singles at this point. I don’t know that the Mariners are worse off with him, but it would have been nice if they had a real plan in place before they called him up. … Montero is looking like a legitimate mixed-league pickup. I don’t think Marte will offer that kind of value.
Tampa Bay: The Rays’ pickup of Daniel Nava on waivers seemed like a good idea, but it’s going to lead to another complicated playing time situation, particularly with Desmond Jennings (knee) set to return this week. I assume Joey Butler will go to make room for Jennings this week. If Jennings and Kevin Kiermaier play fairly regularly, that leaves John Jaso, Richie Shaffer, Grady Sizemore, Nava and Brandon Guyer fighting for two lineup sports most days. Jaso is probably the best of those guys against righties and Shaffer should get a chance to play fairly regularly to see if he should be in the plans for 2016, so there wouldn’t seem to be a whole Sizemore and Nava to do. And as much as I’d like to see Guyer in an expanded role against righties, he’s going to be limited to playing versus lefties. … Sizemore, surprisingly enough, has four homers in 32 at-bats since the All-Star break. I wonder if a contender might want to add him as a bench player.
Texas: If there was any interest in Leonys Martin before the trade deadline, it was obviously quite limited, and now he’s been sent back to Triple-A while Delino DeShields Jr. serves as the Rangers’ everyday center fielder. It’s possible he’ll be traded this month, and he’d be an interesting pickup. His lack of offensive progress is disturbing, but he can still go get it in center field and the team that picks him up would be able to pay him about $4 million in arbitration next year and have control of him through 2018. That’d seem to make him a smart grab by the Brewers in particular and maybe the Padres, Indians or Mariners. Perhaps the Marlins could get him and then trade Marcell Ozuna for a young pitcher. As far as reclamation projects go, he’d seem to have a lot to offer.
Toronto: Cliff Pennington gives the Blue Jays an upgrade over Munenori Kawasaki in a utility role, but he won’t have much to do if Devon Travis (shoulder) can return in a couple of weeks. The original hope was that Travis would make it back this week, but that’s not happening. … The news that Marcus Stroman might return from his torn ACL as a reliever in September wouldn’t seem to have any fantasy impact, but it could make the Jays quite a bit more imposing in October.
National League Notes
Arizona: It’s gone largely unnoticed outside of Arizona, but Chris Owings has blossomed into a truly terrible player this year. Not only is he hitting .227, but the average comes with a 98/14 K/BB ratio. 98/14! He also has just 22 extra-base hits in 344 at-bats, giving him a .577 OPS. And his play at second base has been average at best. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Owings didn’t walk last year, either, but his .261/.300/.406 line was solid enough, and he had pretty good defensive numbers at shortstop. I’m not sure where Owings goes from here, but he can’t be handed a starting job again next spring. He’s lucky Aaron Hill has struggled, too, and that the Diamondbacks haven’t had anyone else worth using over him this year. … Jhoulys Chacin, whose career was sidetracked by shoulder problems, has been fighting to make it back to the majors with the Diamondbacks, going 5-3 with a 3.36 ERA in 10 starts for Triple-A Reno. However, on Saturday, he was allowed to throw 128 pitches in 7 2/3 innings, an irresponsible decision from Reno manager Phil Nevin. It’s eight more pitches than he ever threw in an MLB start. One wonders if he’ll still be healthy to get the call when rosters expand in September.
Atlanta: I’m not sure picking up Bourn and Swisher from the Indians rates as a coup, but both seem more useful to the Braves than Chris Johnson was going to be and neither will make any money in 2017, which is when the Braves are aiming to return to contention. With Freddie Freeman (oblique) out, the Braves can give both Bourn and Swisher all of the playing time they can handle. Once Freeman does return in a few weeks, those two will likely battle for at-bats in left field, assuming that Cameron Maybin is still healthy as well. Bourn is likely to win out there. Now that he’s back in the leadoff spot and perhaps motivated to steal a few bases, Bourn could have a little value in mixed leagues. … Hector Olivera (hamstring) is expected to resume playing in minor league games this week and join the Braves before the end of the month, displacing Adonis Garcia at third base.
Chicago: Chris Coghlan spent most of his minor league career as a second baseman, but he hadn’t started a game there since 2009 before Cubs manager Joe Maddon put him in the infield Friday to make room for Kyle Schwarber in left. That sent Addison Russell to shortstop and Starlin Castro to the bench. Even if Coghlan doesn’t prove playable at second, the Cubs are getting Tommy La Stella back this week as another option there. It doesn’t bode well for Castro, who needs to be dropped in mixed leagues. Meanwhile, it’s good news for center fielder Dexter Fowler, who seemed in danger of losing playing time against righties. … Hector Rondon was awfully shaky Sunday against the Giants and probably would have blown a save had Hector Sanchez possessed the tiniest shred of plate discipline, but he’s still gone scoreless in 31 of his last 33 appearances. He really shouldn’t have anything to worry about right now.
Cincinnati: The Reds finally figured out that batting Billy Hamilton ninth wasn’t working and returned him to the leadoff spot Saturday. The other option was to send him down to Triple-A for a few weeks, and while I wouldn’t have taken issue with that, he’s still easily their best center field option, even with the putrid offense. Time will tell if leading him off does any good, but it’s a show of confidence he likely needs and it’s not like there was anything to lose. The extra at-bat per game will certainly help his fantasy value. … Former Padres prospect Keyvius Sampson has always possessed pretty good stuff, but he also had a 6.40 ERA and 119 walks over 169 innings in parts of three seasons in Triple-A. So, while it’s a nice surprise that he’s come up and put together a pair of fine starts for the Reds, I don’t think it’s very likely that he continues to demonstrate decent enough control to remain useful for fantasy purposes.
Colorado: The Rockies chose talent over experience in making Tommy Kahnle the closer over Rafael Betancourt. He won’t rack up a ton of saves, but he’s the guy in the pen to own. … Kyle Parker is up and getting a look in left field, which isn’t a bad idea given that Brandon Barnes was the primary alternative with Corey Dickerson (rib) back on the DL. I don’t think Parker will ever make enough consistent contact to be a quality regular, but he has power and Coors Field on his side, making him worthy of some attention. He’s an NL-only guy right now. … I’m still surprised no one has traded for Drew Stubbs, but there’s a few more weeks for that to change. Some contender out there is going to need a guy who can play all three outfield spots and pound some lefties.
Los Angeles: Corey Seager is off to a 12-for-32 start at Triple-A Oklahoma City this month, but with Jimmy Rollins having performed well of late (.260/.333/.479 since the All-Star break), it still doesn’t look like a shortstop handoff is upcoming. … The Dodgers are expected to regain Justin Turner’s services mid-week after 15 days on the disabled list with an infection. That should be a big lineup boost with Alex Guerrero and Alberto Callaspo offering nothing offensively of late.
Miami: The Marlins were in a bad spot with Jose Fernandez; it would have made sense to gear his Tommy John recovery for 2016, especially after their poor start, but trying to get him to agree to go that route might have been impossible. Now he has a biceps strain and everyone is pointing to his 112-pitching outing Aug. 2 as a culprit. That is probably 10-15 more pitches than he should have been throwing, but they weren’t exactly stressful offerings (he pitched six scoreless innings in the game). I instead blame manager/GM Dan Jennings for letting Fernandez throw 38 pitches in the fourth inning of Friday’s start. It seems a more likely culprit than anything that happened five days prior. The Marlins have to go very carefully with Fernandez here. Even if it turns out to be a minor strain, shutting him down for the season would be the best thing for the team. … With Fernandez set to join Jose Urena (knee) on the DL, it could give the Marlins a rotation of David Phelps, Tom Koehler, Brad Hand, Adam Conley and Justin Nicolino for a little while. I’m not very fond of Conley and Nicolino as anything more than fringe NL-only guys right now, but I’d rather have Nicolino.
Milwaukee: It’ll hurt the defense if the Brewers start giving the newly promoted Jason Rogers time at third base, but it will probably help the offense. As is, Hernan Perez and Elian Herrera are seeing time there since the Aramis Ramirez trade. Perez is hitting .190/.203/.241 since the All-Star break, and Herrera doesn’t have a whole lot more to offer. Rogers is worth a try in NL-only leagues, in part because he could also step in at first in the event of an Adam Lind trade. … I’d still like to see the Brewers give Domingo Santana a shot in center, but he hasn’t played there even once since joining Triple-A Colorado Springs. A product of the Carlos Gomez deal with the Astros, he’s off to an 11-for-30 start while splitting time between left and right with his new team. He’s not any sort of long-term center fielder, but the Brewers have no one else worth playing there anyway and they need to decide whether Santana might be an upgrade on Khris Davis next year.
New York: David Wright (back) will begin his rehab assignment Monday, and is expected to spend about a week in the minors. The Mets will have a really crowded infield if Wright pulls off a successful comeback, though we shouldn’t simply take that for granted. New acquisitions Juan Uribe and Kelly Johnson would seem to be the big losers. Uribe would simply serve as Wright’s backup at third, and Daniel Murphy would presumably start over Johnson at second against righties. … Michael Cuddyer (knee) is coming off the DL on Monday, but he figures to sit against most right-handers as long as Michael Conforto sticks around. The roster crunch could get interesting when Wright returns. Eric Campbell is the obvious choice to go to make room for Cuddyer, but there’s no easy option to drop for Wright. Unless they decide to cut Uribe or Johnson, they might need to send down Conforto until Sept. 1 in order to preserve their roster flexibility. It could depend on how Conforto plays this week.
Philadelphia: Chase Utley went 3-for-9 with a couple of doubles in his first two games back from the DL before taking a seat Sunday. If he can impress a contender, all signs point to him being traded this month. The Angels and Yankees would seem to have the greatest need of him, but the Cubs could use him if Coghlan doesn’t work out and the Blue Jays might also need help at second if Travis can’t return from his shoulder issues. The Cubs would have the first dibs of the contenders on waivers. Until Utley goes, he, Cesar Hernandez and Freddy Galvis all figure to be part-timers.
Pittsburgh: It’s a shame that Gregory Polanco stopped running as soon as he started hitting, but at least he is hitting and doing so with power, having collected eight doubles and three homers in 20 games since the All-Star break. That’s particularly important since he could have been in line to lose playing time following Josh Harrison’s return from a thumb injury. I still think Polanco has what it takes to be quite useful in mixed leagues the rest of the way. … The Pirates decided to skip J.A. Happ’s turn in the rotation, making Jeff Locke a two-start guy this week. However, since those starts are on the road (against the Cardinals and Mets), he doesn’t seem like a very good mixed-league play.
St. Louis: Stephen Piscotty doesn’t have a homer or a steal in 18 games since being called up, but I’m still liking him as a mixed-league option for as long as Matt Holliday is out. Lots of line drives to all fields.
San Diego: With Robbie Erlin having a lost year in Triple-A and Casey Kelly failing to impress in Double-A, the Padres have decided to bring up Colin Rea to pitch in Odrisamer Despaigne’s spot this week. Rea, 25, had a 1.08 ERA in 12 starts in Double-A to begin the year, though he’s at 4.39 ERA through six starts in Triple-A. Overall, he’s struck out 80 and walked 23 in 101 2/3 innings, allowing just three homers. He wasn’t regarded as much of a prospect entering the year, but with his velocity having jumped a bit, he could be a middle-of-the-rotation guy for the long haul. He’s worth a try in NL-only leagues. … The Padres still could do some selling after getting off to a poor start this month. Guys like Justin Upton and Tyson Ross are probably off the table, but James Shields and Jedd Gyorko should be out there. Will Venable also might be, and while Joaquin Benoit wouldn’t clear waivers, he could at least make it to an NL contender that might be able to pull off a trade for him.
San Francisco: Mike Leake will miss his second start this week with a hamstring strain, but he’s expected to be ready to go after that. Ryan Vogelsong is filling in. … The Giants also think they’ll get Joe Panik back after the minimum 15 days on the DL with back inflammation. Ehire Adrianza and Kelby Tomlinson are platooning in his place, with Adrianza starting against righties.
Washington: On the one hand, losing two out of three to the Rockies at home was undoubtedly a bad weekend for the Nationals. On the other hand, Stephen Strasburg looked flat-out dominant in his return from the DL, Ryan Zimmerman and Ian Desmond continued their fine recent stretches and even Jayson Werth showed a sign of life with his homer Sunday. I’d still like to see Clint Robinson play, though, obviously, it’d have to be over Werth, not Zimmerman. Zimmerman is batting .318/.392/.705 with four homers in 13 games since coming off the disabled list. … The Nationals had little choice but to pick Joe Ross over Doug Fister for the fifth spot in their rotation. Ross should be owned in all mixed leagues and active this week for starts in Los Angeles and San Francisco.
(No column next week. I’m taking what I hope will be my lone break of the season.)