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Gauging trade value of pitchers on their way back

By Chris Towers | CBSSports.com

Jerry With Cole Hamels' return looming, he's no longer a value.(USATSI)
With Cole Hamels' return looming, he's no longer a value. (USATSI)

The defining story of the first month of this season has been the sheer number of pitchers we've seen go down with injuries. The attrition rate of pitching is stratospherically high in general, but we've already seen an inordinate amount of big-name pitchers sidelined by injuries.

These injuries have left Fantasy owners scrambling for replacements, especially anyone who has been unlikely enough to see multiple pitcher on their staff go down already. Of course, opportunistic -- or lucky -- owners who have managed to float above the carnage are in a great position to start taking advantage of their fellow owners' misery.

If you can afford the dead roster spot, this is the perfect time to start throwing out offers in hopes that a desperate owner jumps at an uneven deal just to get some healthy bodies on the roster. Below, I have created a numeric system for valuing buy-low candidates among those pitchers who are still on the disabled list from the beginning of the season.

Buy-low key:

0 - Don't even make an offer

1 - You're not getting much value

2 - Frustrated owner might be willing to deal

3 - Swoop in for savings

Cole Hamels , Phillies

ETA: April 23 at L.A. Dodgers

Buy-low value: 0

With Hamels set to return Wednesday, the time to make an offer for him is well past. Though a shoulder injury is always a concern for starting pitchers, Hamels posted a 2.12 ERA with just one walk in 17 innings during his minor-league rehab assignment, so he seems to be okay. Still, if he gets off to another slow start like last season, there still might be an opportunity in a few weeks.

Mike Minor, Braves

ETA: Early May

Buy-low value: 1

Minor's situation is interesting, because his delayed entrance into the starting rotation is more due to a urinary tract infection in the offseason that delayed the start to his spring than any subsequent shoulder soreness. He doesn't seem like much of a re-injury risk, and blew hitters away on his rehab assignment, raking up 17 strikeouts in his first 15 1/3 innings. With just one rehab start left, you are nearly out of time to make a play for the talented lefty, though he is worth looking into if his owner is off to a slow start.

Hisashi Iwakuma, Mariners

ETA: Mid-May

Buy-low value: 2

Iwakuma was probably a bit undervalued entering the season, with an average draft position of just 138 despite a 2.66 ERA in 219 2/3 innings of work a year ago. That might work in your favor as a buy-low candidate, because his owner won't be married to the idea of him anchoring his staff. The nature of Iwakuam's injury means you won't have to worry much about setbacks involved his shoulder or elbow, the real killers for pitchers. With a rehab assignment coming, now is the time to pounce.

Doug Fister, Nationals

ETA: Early May

Buy-low value: 3

Fister's situation is very similar to Iwakuma's as he remains a perpetually underrated Fantasy option. His average draft position was a few spots below Iwakuma, but his ownership is already down to 90 percent, indicating that Fantasy owners have been quicker to part ways if in need of a roster spot. Fister doesn't have elite strikeout potential, but he will be joining the third-highest scoring team in the NL and will have plenty of chances to win. He still has solid sleeper potential coming back from a lat strain, especially with a pretty clear timetable.

Taijuan Walker, Mariners

ETA: Mid-May

Buy-low value: 2

At this point, Walker probably has less trade value than anyone on this list, at least in yearly leagues. With his recent setback, as well as limited track record, there is no guarantee he will come back mowing batters down in a reasonable time. That works in your favor if you are looking for buy-low value, but it also drastically increases his chances of being an absolute bust on your own roster. Tread lightly with this boom-or-bust option, and if his owner is a prospect-obsessed type, just walk away -- there's no dealing with them.

Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers

ETA: Mid-May

Buy-low value: 1

This one is pretty much impossible to figure out. Any Fantasy owner who took Kershaw in the first round is probably in bad shape right now, but probable won't want to give up his top pick for nothing just because of that. Kershaw could progress relatively quickly now that he is on the verge of making his return to game action, and you're unlikely to get an owner desperate enough to part ways with him at this point in light of that. There's no downside to making an offer, but you won't get much of a bargain; one recent trade for Kershaw saw Giancarlo Stanton and Chris Davis moved for him, and another featured Adam Wainrwright as the main prize.

Mat Latos, Reds

ETA: Late May

Buy-low value: 3

That ETA for Latos is truly a wild -- though somewhat educated -- guess. Latos has yet to throw as he recovers from a strained flexor mass in his right forearm, and is likely to need a full spring-training type throwing program before he is even able to return to game action. Given the nature of the injury, the team is going to be very cautious with Latos' recovery, and the lack of serious, concrete updates on his progress has to be frustrating for his Fantasy owners -- I would know, I have him in two leagues. You have a good chance of getting Latos for little return, but he is no guarantee to help after already suffering one setback. One recent trade involving Latos saw him fetch the injured Josh Hamilton straight-up, which is a good starting point.

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