Waiver Wire: Is Wacha worth the risk?
Everyone is going after St. Louis' next pitching callup -- Michael Wacha. But is that the smart move? Our Nando Di Fino analyzes the ebb and flow of this week's free agent market
The Mariners made a surprise move on the heels of last week's Jesus Montero demotion, calling up Nick Franklin from the minors and demoting former top prospect Dustin Ackley .
It's easy to get excited about Franklin. The 2009 first-round pick was hitting .324 with a .912 OPS in 39 minor league games this year. He's stolen 15 or more bases twice in a season (and was on pace to hit that mark again this year). He hit 32 doubles in 2012, had a 3:2 BB/K ratio this season and was on pace for his third double-digit home run campaign.
Franklin, 22, is pretty much assured a starting role for the rest of the year, short of being totally disastrous at the plate or in the field. He's not exactly Bryce Harper (Franklin is older and wasn't as highly regarded as a prospect), but consider him this year's equivalent for the purposes of this parallel -- a young player who was recalled somewhat early in the season and is likely to stick around for the entire year. If Ackley tears it up in Triple-A and forces his recall, Franklin can take his newly acquired second base eligibility, slide over to shortstop -- where he played the majority of his minor league games -- and the duo can play side-by-side.
If I had to choose between Franklin and last week's big-name callup -- Jurickson Profar -- I would go with Franklin. While Profar may eventually prove to have more keeper value, he will likely be sent back down to the minors when Kinsler returns (assuming there are no other injuries in Texas). Franklin, meanwhile, has the entire season ahead of him and should make a nice impact in the middle infield.
The Big Leaps
Michael Wacha , SP, Cardinals (55 percent ownership, up from 14 percent)
Michael Wacha , the 19th selection in the 2012 draft, is set to make his debut Thursday for the Cardinals. Ranked as one of the top 100 prospects in the game by both MLB.com and Baseball America, Wacha is already causing Fantasy owners to drop Wade Miley s and Dan Straily to pick up the 21-year-old. And for good reason -- Wacha has a 1.71 ERA and 0.84 WHIP in 73 2/3 professional innings.
|1.||Michael Wacha , SP, Cardinals||+44|
|2.||Francisco Rodriguez , RP, Brewers||+31|
|3.||Jason Castro , C, Astros||+29|
|4.||John Lackey , SP, Red Sox||+25|
|5.||Tyler Lyons , SP, Cardinals||+25|
|6.||Michael Brantley , OF, Indians||+22|
|7.||Tyler Chatwood , SP, Rockies||+22|
|8.||Dan Straily , SP, Athletics||+19|
|9.||Nick Franklin , SS, Mariners||+19|
|10.||Matt Dominguez , 3B, Astros||+19|
If this sounds familiar, it's because another highly regarded youngster taken in the first round of the 2012 draft crashed the scene last week with a ton of hype and fewer than 75 minor league innings -- Kevin Gausman . After two starts for the Orioles, Gausman now sports an 11.00 ERA and 2.00 WHIP, with four home runs allowed.
While Gausman and Wacha do have a good deal of similarities, they tend to diverge at certain points. Gausman strikes out more batters (as a starter) and walks fewer than Wacha. But Wacha had a better minor league ERA (1.71 to Gausman's 3.23), despite their WHIPs not being too far apart (0.84 for Wacha, 1.00 for Gausman). We can do this silly little dance for 300 words if you like, but there are two views to take here:
1. If you are excited for Wacha, it might be wise to also give a
discarded Gausman another chance and chalk up his first two games to
jitters, bad luck, etc. In short, use your Wacha excitement to remind
you of the love you once had for Gausman.
2. If you view Gausman as a cautionary tale -- a young pitcher with fewer than 75 professional innings pitched getting slapped around by major league batters and dashing the aspirations of overly hopeful Fantasy prospectors, who proudly gobbled up the latest chic free agent and bragged about it to the league -- then you may be better served not wasting the FAAB dollars or waiver priority on Wacha.
Which of these paths should you take? I honestly have no clue. It's a crazy juggling act of expectations, projections and historical performance (with little history to run with). Personally, I will probably take a chance with the former scenario, and look to add both Wacha and Gausman in leagues with 14 teams or more, because the waiver wire is ugly enough to not say, "I'd rather have [Pitcher X] instead." There's enough potential in both of these pitchers where they can be added to a roster, but enough risk involved where you want to add them with extreme caution. I do believe Gausman can right the ship and that optimism gives me hope for Wacha.
Over/under on ERA (season): 4.10
Over/under on K/9 (season): 6.5
Over/under on starts (season): 20
DJ LeMahieu , 2B, Rockies (24 percent, up from 1 percent)
DJ LeMahieu had a very underrated 2012 campaign with the Rockies, hitting .297 with 12 doubles and a stolen base. In fact, from August 1 on, when he saw the most consistent playing time subbing in for Troy Tulowitzki (as Josh Rutledge took over at shortstop), LeMahieu hit .316 with two home runs and eight of his doubles in that span. He was rewarded for his efforts with a trip to the minors to start the 2013 campaign.
LeMahieu responded to the demotion by hitting .364, stealing eight bases and hitting five doubles in 33 games. While this was a major step up from his usual production, LeMahieu has proven to be a solid hitter in the minors -- not only does he have a career average of .321, LeMahieu has never finished below .314 in any of his five seasons. He's had eight or more steals four times, despite only getting more than 450 at-bats once.
Add it all up, and you have the perfect hitter to slot in at second base while your benched Rickie Weeks is figuring things out. In a worst-case scenario, LeMahieu is sent back down or moved to a utility role if Rutledge returns. At best, LeMahieu hits .300, steals some bases, gets your team some doubles and becomes the 2013 version of Marco Scutaro .
Over/under on average (season): .291
Over/under on steals (season): 10
Unadvised Drop of the Week
Jesus Montero , C, Mariners (37 percent, down from 58 percent)
After hitting an ugly .208 with three home runs and nine RBI in just 101 at-bats, Jesus Montero was relieved of his catching duties and optioned to Triple-A to work on learning first base. This came after a 2012 season in which Montero appeared to break out, with a .260 average, 15 home runs and 20 doubles as a 22-year-old rookie.
Montero was a top-six prospect in 2010, 2011 and 2012. And he carried a .308 average over five minor league seasons, hitting 17 or more home runs four times and 25 or more doubles twice. In short, Montero can hit and I'm willing to believe the theory that maybe all of Montero's troubles behind the plate led to him shifting attention away from his hitting and onto his defense. I'm temporarily calling this the Edwin Encarnacion Theory. In 2012, when the man known as "E5" (because of his misfortunes defensively at the hot corner) was moved off of third base, he responded with a 42-home run season -- his biggest power output since hitting 26 home runs in 2008. Take the pressure of the position off and you may open up the player to start hitting better.
I'm not sure where Montero will fit when he comes back up -- Justin Smoak and Kendrys Morales seem pretty locked in at first base and DH. But things happen in baseball -- injuries, trades and huge drop-offs in production -- so I'm going to hold onto Montero and maybe even trade for him in deeper leagues. He will be back (good sign: he's errorless in his first five games at first base in the minors) and he will start hitting at a high level once again.
Over/under on average (season): .265
Over/under on home runs (season): 15
The Flavor of Next Week
Jason Kubel , OF, Diamondbacks (Owned in 38 percent of leagues)
Jason Kubel is a pretty well-known commodity. But since he's been limited to just 27 games this season, Fantasy owners have dropped him down to NL-only territory. Maybe it's a sense of exhaustion, or the fear of Cody Ross , Gerardo Parra and A.J. Pollock clogging the outfield at-bats, but with news that Adam Eaton hit a snag in his rehab, Kubel's playing time outlook just got a little sunnier.
Kubel has hit 20 or more home runs four times in the last five seasons (he hit 12 in 99 games in 2011). After moving to Arizona's cozier home park in 2012, Kubel set a career-high with 30 home runs. He has a career .268 average. He's hit 30 doubles three times since 2007 and was hitting .333 with a .975 OPS before being shelved in late April with a quad injury (which recently popped back up on a more minor level).
Kubel is currently on a stretch of games in Texas and Chicago -- both hitter-friendly parks and places where Kubel can start to catch fire and show off some power, while resting his quad as the team's DH in the first two games against the Rangers (if they so choose -- if not, that should signal his quad being fine). Kubel isn't going to offer much in the way of speed, but he makes for a nice add in most Roto leagues. And things will only get better as he moves away from the quad issues.
Over/under on average (season): .260
Over/under on home runs (season): 20
Over/under on steals (season): One
Pedro Ciriaco , 3B, Red Sox (2 percent ownership)
When Will Middlebrooks was put on the DL, it looked like Pedro Ciriaco and Jose Iglesias would split time at third base. While Ciriaco was the main fill-in when Middlebrooks went down last year, his seven errors in 2013 made it kind of tough to fully embrace him.
However, three of those errors came while Ciriaco was playing shortstop, a tougher position to defend than third base, and, keep in mind, Ciricao is a better hitter than Iglesias. But since we're talking AL-only leagues right now, with decimated rosters and bare waiver wires, Ciriaco will have value even in a time share, especially for the Middlebrooks owner. Ciriaco can hit .300 while stealing a decent amount of bases (he had 16 in 259 at-bats last year). He won't offer a lot in the way of power, but he does have the ability to get some doubles. And adding a little more fun into the mix was Wednesday's revelation that Dustin Pedroia has been playing with a torn ligament in his thumb. If Pedroia needs the occasional day off, Ciriaco can fill in there, too.
Still, for now, this is a short-term play for a team badly in need of anything at third base. Ciriaco won't hurt your average and can offer some counting stats to help tread water while Middlebrooks is sidelined.
Over/under on steals (season): Eight
Over/under on average (season): .280
Nathan Eovaldi , SP, Marlins (4 percent ownership)
When I go looking for pitching replacements in most of my deeper leagues, I like to first sort by strikeouts, then by innings pitched. Nathan Eovaldi has neither right now for the Marlins, as he's been out since spring with a shoulder injury, so it's easy to just pass over him without realizing he's available.
Eovaldi doesn't have the greatest track record in the majors -- a 4.15 ERA and 1.48 WHIP -- but he's just 23 years old and throws a 94-95 mph fastball. He had improved his minor league numbers considerably in 2011 (2.62 ERA/1.18 WHIP) and 2012 (3.09 ERA/1.23 WHIP), while striking out almost a batter per inning. There isn't one thing here that I can point to and definitively tell you that I've cracked the Eovaldi Code, urging you to pick him up. But in the deep landscape of NL-only, Eovaldi has a few things going for him: he's young and still maturing as a pitcher, he's probably going to have that rotation spot with the Marlins for the entire season (and they play in a pitcher-friendly park) and waiver wire vultures probably aren't aware he's even available yet because of free agent search habits. Eovaldi could just end up being a decent pitcher this year, with a few wins and some strikeouts. But in NL-only leagues, those are relatively valuable assets compared to the other choices, and that is probably the baseline of what he can offer, considering Eovaldi's potential.
Over/under on ERA (season): 4.10
Over/under on K/9 (season): 8.0
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