Fantasy Baseball Waiver Wire: Do you dare start Bryce Harper or opt for a one-week sleeper like Justin Bour or Jacoby Ellsbury?
Is Bryce Harper a better bet than a waiver claim like Justin Bour or Jacoby Ellsbury? Scott White weighs the possibilities and also looks at two-start options like Collin McHugh and Jake Junis.
How perfect is this?
You hold onto him for the full six weeks since he bruised his left knee, against all odds of him actually contributing for your Fantasy team, and lo and behold, on the eve of the final lineup lock, a report surfaces that he'll be activated for Monday's game at Philadelphia. With all of those stars aligning in just such a way for you to take advantage, you owe it to yourself to start Bryce Harper, right?
Maybe. But here's the better question: Can you afford to?
The answer, of course, depends on your exact circumstances. The depth of your league. The format. The stakes. Whether or not Week 26 (Sept. 25-Oct. 1) is the start of a new matchup or the continuation of an earlier one. I own Harper in a league where the championship is on the line, so I can answer this question with complete sincerity.
It's a 10-team mixed league where each team starts only three outfielders, but the format is Head-to-Head points, which means Harper's walk rate should prevent total disaster if he needs some time to find his groove at the plate.
But there's also the Head-to-Head aspect. A team as good as mine is throwing everything it can at me in pursuit of a championship. And here's the kicker: I'm already down nearly 100 in our two-week matchup. Is now really the time to start a player coming off a six-week absence who hasn't had the benefit of a rehab assignment and who's mostly just trying to shake off the rust before the start of the actual playoffs?
You could argue it's the perfect time given the hole I'm already in. We all know Harper's upside, and I'll need to cash in on some high-variance plays if I hope to catch up. But what upside does he really have if the Nationals aren't actually turning him loose? Here's how The Washington Post sees it playing out:
"The Nationals could have sent [Harper] to West Palm Beach, Fla., where the Nationals' instructional league season begins Monday, where he could ease back into low-pressure situations. Instead, he will stay in the big leagues, where he has time to get 15 to 20 at-bats before the end of the regular season -- and will get them against major league pitching.
"While Harper said Saturday the key for him will be regaining his timing, the key for the Nationals will be his stamina. Baseball games require a unique sort of leg strength. Standing in cleats for three hours at a time while starting and stopping on demand is a difficult thing to duplicate. Harper has not done that since the injury. Fatigued muscles are at risk of injury. The Nationals have been particularly slow and steady when nursing stars back to health this year and seem unlikely to make a stark departure from that policy, despite the time crunch imposed by October."
Given that the Nationals have nothing to play for this final week, the temptation to run Harper out there every day is so easily defused by this question: Why risk it?
And given that you have everything to play for this final week, I ask you the same: Why risk it?
Maybe if it's a five-outfielder lineup, maybe if it's a Rotisserie league where you're not directly competing against another owner but simply trying to strike that right balance of stats, maybe if it's such a deep league that a neutered Harper is still obviously your best choice, you do it.
But in a standard-size league, with bats aplenty on the waiver wire, I'd prefer to turn to one of these options.
Justin Bour shows up second in my Top 10 Sleepers for Week 26 -- where -- but he deserves special distinction considering he had homered in four straight games before taking an 0-fer Sunday. His batted-ball tendencies supported the breakout season he was having before a strained oblique wrecked it in July, and he gets three games at Coors Field this week before facing the Braves pitching staff for four.
I touted Tim Anderson for stolen bases -- and he still may be the best source of them on the waiver wire -- but Jacoby Ellsbury is also heating up at the plate and on the base paths. And unlike Anderson, his plate discipline actually makes him out to be a high-average hitter. He also has the better matchups of the two, getting the Royals and Blue Jays pitching staffs for seven games, which places him ninth in .
Blake Snell isn't a newcomer to the two-start pitcher rankings, first published Friday, but he's still the best among those owned in less than 80 percent of CBS Sports leagues, looking like a different pitcher now that he has the walks under control. He two-hit the defending World Series champions over seven innings last time out, and his strikeout total during this six-start stretch doesn't do his swinging strike rate justice.
As two-start sleepers go, Collin McHugh is riskier than Snell both because he recently had a start skipped due to a finger injury and because he's not as assured of making two starts. He's only in line because Lance McCullers was re-inserted into the starting rotation Sunday, giving the Astros a surplus of arms heading into a seven-game week. But McHugh wouldn't be one of their top two options in a playoff series, so they wouldn't have much incentive to rest him on the final day or two of the season. Having added the Brad Peacock slider to his repertoire this season, McHugh has pitched well when healthy.
Because he rarely has gotten the opportunity to go six innings as a rookie (the minimum required for a quality start), Jake Junis pretty much has to be in line for two starts to have a chance of factoring in mixed leagues, and since he looked like he wouldn't be in Week 26, he's back to being available in more than 50 percent of CBS Sports leagues. But a rotation shakeup this weekend has him in line for two even if the Royals decide to re-insert Sam Gaviglio for one last start. Since returning from the minors in early August, Junis has been like a poor man's Aaron Nola, piling up called strikes with his impeccable control.
Need some extra saves in this final week? No need to get cute if some of the more established options like Arodys Vizcaino, Blake Treinen and Shane Greene are still available in your league. But if saves are a little harder to come by, Mike Minor looks like the clear front-runner in Kansas City, having gotten each of the Royals' last two save opportunities and, more importantly, converted them. He has been their most effective reliever all season, so for all the problems they've had at the end of games recently, it's a logical choice.
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Scott White is a senior fantasy writer for CBS Sports and released his latest trade chart
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