Memorial Day weekend is upon us. It’s often referred to as the first major benchmark for the baseball season. Teams are about 50 games deep into their respective schedules, so you can begin to look at the standings more closely and take stock of strengths and weaknesses. The same goes for your fantasy roster.
The entire purpose of this column is to make tweaks around the margins of your roster. Maybe those small tweaks turn out to make a noticeable difference in how the season turns out. That’s the goal with this piece, anyway. The waiver wire is a critical tool to season-long success, but in between grilling and spending time with family and friends this weekend, take a look at the direction your team is trending in and your standing in each category. Maybe try to match an area of surplus with a fellow owner who has a clear need.
Everyone wants to do well in a trade, but the best deals are the ones where you aren’t trying to put one over on the other owner. That’s the sort of small stuff which keeps leagues together for the long haul. Be safe this weekend.
Have specific questions about your roster? Ask @djshort on Twitter.
(Players rostered in under 50 percent of Yahoo leagues)
Note: Percentages are from the morning of Thursday, May 23
Jimmy Nelson SP, Brewers (Yahoo: 19 percent rostered)
Nelson’s long and winding road back to the majors is almost complete. The 29-year-old broke out with a 3.49 ERA and 199 strikeouts over 175 1/3 innings in 2017 before suffering a labrum tear and rotator cuff strain in his right shoulder on a dive back into first base. It was a freak play which resulted in surgery and kept him rehabbing all of last year. There was an elbow scare toward the end of spring training this year, but he’s bounced back from that and has posted a 3.77 ERA with 16 strikeouts and six walks in 14 1/3 innings during his rehab stint with Triple-A San Antonio. He was at his best last time out, spinning 5 2/3 scoreless innings with eight strikeouts. It’s possible he could be activated after his next start. Shoulders are obviously very tricky, so it would be unfair to expect him to pick up from where he left off in 2017, but it’s certainly reasonable to stash him away until we get a closer look.
Scott Kingery 3B/SS/OF, Phillies (Yahoo: 31 percent rostered)
Kingery was a popular waiver pickup a few weeks back before hitting the injured list with a strained right hamstring, but he’s worth adding again now that he’s back to full health. A lot of this is about context. Odubel Herrera just hasn’t been good for a while now and Maikel Franco has really dropped off from the first couple of weeks of the season, so there’s clear opportunity here. He’s actually started in center field in three out of the last four games. Kingery really struggled as a rookie last year while trying to learn shortstop on the fly, but he’s still got that prospect pedigree on his side. It also helps that he’s eligible at three different positions.
Scott Oberg RP, Rockies (Yahoo: 21 percent rostered)
Wade Davis has been excellent as the Rockies’ closer this season, but he’s now facing an extended absence due to a left oblique strain. The veteran right-hander hasn’t pitched since May 14, but these injuries are known to sideline players for a while. With multiple potential fill-ins in the running, Rockies manager Bud Black announced Wednesday afternoon that Oberg will serve as the primary closer for now. The 29-year-old posted a brilliant 2.45 ERA and 0.97 WHIP in 56 appearances last season and owns a 1.77 ERA through his first 18 appearances this year. There are some warning signs, though, as he’s walked 11 batters and struck out just 13 in 20 1/3 innings so far. Keep in mind that he walked just 12 batters in 58 2/3 innings for all of last season. Monitor names like Carlos Estevez and Bryan Shaw if he struggles.
Tyler Mahle SP, Reds (Yahoo: 18 percent rostered)
Is Mahle a thing? I think he could be a thing. After finishing with a 4.98 ERA over 23 starts last year, Mahle is a different pitcher this year. And I’m not just saying that the results have changed. They have. He has a 3.51 ERA, after all. But he’s switched up his pitch mix in a big way, ditching his slider and changeup in favor of a splitter and curve. It’s hard to argue with the results. His control is suddenly elite, with just 11 walks in 51 1/3 innings, and he’s also notched 54 strikeouts. Interestingly, he’s done this without a notable increase in swinging strikes. Left-handed batters still give him trouble, but the results have been so good that you have to keep rolling with him.
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Clint Frazier OF, Yankees (Yahoo: 33 percent rostered)
Frazier was just 6-for-40 (.150) with 15 strikeouts in his first 12 games after returning from a left ankle sprain, but he busted out on Tuesday with a pair of homers and five RBI against the Orioles. Yes, the Orioles are handing out home runs like Halloween candy — in fact, Frazier has hit five of his eight homers against the Orioles — but It was a nice reminder of the production he was showing prior to his injury. There could be some playing time issues soon, but Giancarlo Stanton was pulled off his rehab assignment Wednesday due to a new calf injury. There’s still a window for Frazier to make a statement.
Pedro Strop RP, Cubs (Yahoo: 45 percent rostered)
Steve Cishek (Yahoo: 52 percent rostered) has done a nice job holding down the closer role in recent days, but Strop is getting closer to rejoining the Cubs’ bullpen. Coming off another hamstring injury, he completed a 25-pitch bullpen session on Wednesday with no issues. He’s expected to throw another one before going out on a brief minor league rehab assignment, so look for him to rejoin the Cubs’ bullpen by the end of the month. Cishek has been good enough where it’s worth wondering if it’s a sure thing Strop will get save chances right away, but this is definitely a situation where you stash and figure the rest out later. Strop had a 2.53 ERA in 11 appearances before a brutal blown save against the Marlins on May 6.
Gregory Polanco OF, Pirates (Yahoo: 47 percent rostered)
I mentioned Polanco as an injury list stash about a month ago and he’s been a useful option in mixed leagues since returning, posting a .282/.351/.506 batting line with 10 extra-base hits (including four homers), 11 RBI, and 15 runs scored through 22 games. Coming off shoulder surgery, he went without a homer over his first 10 games, but he’s socked four of them in his last 12 games. That’s nice to see. While he’s been a little more aggressive than usual, he’s still drawing plenty of walks. Polanco stole 12 bases last year and has swiped as many as 27 in a season before, so we should see him be active on the basepaths very soon. Locked in as the Pirates’ No. 3 hitter, Polanco is quite simply a player who should be rostered in virtually every mixed league.
Ian Desmond 1B/OF, Rockies (Yahoo: 37 percent rostered)
It wasn’t too long ago that Desmond was hitting under .200, but he’s put things together in recent days by going 12-for-33 (.364) with two homers, two triples, two doubles, six RBI, and eight runs scored over his last 10 games. On the surface, things might not look very different from his production last year, but Desmond has seen a huge increase in his fly ball rate so far this year. He’s up to 37.5 percent after checking in at just 21.5 percent last year. HIs barrel percentage has also nearly doubled from where he was last year. Playing time has been tricky in recent days, but give him another shot in mixed leagues, especially with the Orioles coming to Coors Field this weekend. Giddy up.
Sean Newcomb SP/RP, Braves (Yahoo: 42 percent rostered)
Newcomb was a pitcher I was generally avoiding in fantasy leagues this spring. The 25-year-old had a disappointing second half last year and his control was still a concern. I didn’t necessarily see a demotion coming, but the Braves decided to make a change in April after Newcomb posted a 4.38 ERA with 15 hits and eight walks allowed in just 12 1/3 innings through his first three starts. He continued to pitch as a starter in the minors, but the Braves brought him back as a reliever earlier this month and he’s reeled off 8 1/3 scoreless innings since. Perhaps most importantly, he hasn’t walked a batter in that time. He’s shown a bump in average fastball velocity with the new role while also pounding the zone with first-pitch strikes. Newcomb notched his first career save on Monday night and could see more opportunities in certain situations or if Luke Jackson turns into a pumpkin. Of course, the Braves could also just sign Craig Kimbrel. But feel free to speculate for now.
Shawn Kelley RP, Rangers (Yahoo: 38 percent rostered)
If you don’t have Jose Leclerc (Yahoo: 56 percent rostered) stashed away, you absolutely should. Pulled from the closer role after a brutal April, he’s allowed just one run on one hit with 16 strikeouts and four walks over nine innings this month. He’s very close to getting his old job back, but Kelley has notched saves in back-to-back days since returning from an infection which required surgery to remove the lymph nodes from his vocal cords. Chris Martin has scuffled recently and will now move back into a set-up role. Until Leclerc officially gets his job back, Kelley needs to be tucked away.