Waiver Wire: A reason to believe

A trio of pitchers started to emerge from a fog of obscurity/slump/not enough respect/disappointment just before the break, and are being added in plenty of leagues heading into the post-All-Star break portion of the season. Ivan Nova, Chris Archer and Danny Salazar all turned the heads of Fantasy players who hadn't dialed out between July 4 and the break. Each comes from a different place and has different prospects for the rest of the season.

We've seen Nova do this before. He tends to have spurts of greatness spoiled by bouts of frustration. When the dust has settled, Fantasy owners end up dropping him, with the bad parts outweighing the good. But the promise of those low-ratio and high-strikeout stretches keeps us coming back. I personally tend to stay away from Nova and the rollercoaster of feelings I must ride yearly with him, but his propensity for decent starts makes him attractive enough where I won't actively shout for owners to stay away. But approach with caution!

Archer was a top prospect in each of the last three years. We've seen this coming for a while. But after a bumpy debut (five runs in four innings) was magnified by the threat of him losing his rotation spot to a returning Alex Cobb, Archer was essentially forgotten. In his next eight starts, Archer put up a 2.27 ERA. So far this month, he has a 0.86 ERA and 0.62 WHIP. While it appears he's gone the way of the Hellickson and lost most of the strikeout potential that was on display in the minors (9.0 K/9 vs. 7.0 K/9 this season), it would be foolish to complain about that in light of the low ratios. Cobb's return is still far away, and even when he does come back he could just supplant another member (Roberto Hernandez?) of the rotation instead.

Salazar is the most intriguing of these three. Limited with his pitch count in the minors, he has tantalizing stuff, but just doesn't last deep into games. Additionally, the Indians have other options for the fifth spot, including a soon-to-return Zach McAllister and the ever-present Trevor Bauer. But Salazar is coming off a stellar debut, has a good amount of skill and if he only pitches six innings a game -- who cares? He can still strike out eight batters and offer a low ERA and WHIP.

If I'm staring down a waiver wire featuring all three of these pitchers, I pick up Archer first, then Salazar, then search for more options elsewhere, then shrug my shoulders and go with Nova.

The Big Leaps

Victor Martinez, DH, Tigers (84 percent ownership, up from 77)

I'm a fairly big believer in the "players don't lose their skills" supposition. Victor Martinez is the prime example of this. From 2004 to 2011, Martinez hit .304 with an average of 18 home runs and 34 doubles per season. He had a .372 OBP over that span and drove in 90 runs each year.

After missing all of 2012 with a knee injury (and the ensuing surgery and recovery), Martinez returned this year and fell flat. By the end of May, he was hitting .228 with two home runs, nine doubles, a .273 OBP and 25 RBI over 52 games. But Martinez had a lot of rust to shake off -- he hadn't played in the majors in 18 months, if you go back to the end of the 2011 season. And the old Martinez eventually came through -- he hit .240 with four homers and a .322 OPS in June. And in 14 July games, Martinez has a .393 average with a .443 OBP, two home runs, 10 RBI and six doubles in 14 games.

Is it safe to say he's back? Probably. Martinez has proven, throughout his career, that he is a .300 hitter who can accrue a lot of doubles, drive in runs and contribute home runs. It may have taken a few months to get into that groove, but he is back to where he used to be and can be started in most Fantasy formats.

Over/under on average (season): .288
Over/under on doubles (season): 31.5

Might-as-well-grab-him of the Week

Brad Ziegler, RP, Diamondbacks (13 percent ownership, up from 3 percent)

Arizona's bullpen is a bit of a mess right now, with no fewer than four pitchers in the mix for saves:

J.J. Putz is a former All-Star who has saved 30 or more games four times in his career, including an average of 38.5 over the last two seasons. He has missed a good portion of the season with elbow problems and the expectation is that he returns to the closer role at that vague date when he has his full arm strength back.
Heath Bell has served as the closer in Putz's absence. He had three straight seasons of 40-plus saves from 2009-2011 before flaming out with the Marlins last year. Bell has 15 saves this season, but has accrued nearly all of them in high-wire fashion, giving up a run here, two runs there and going through a stretch of five straight appearances with a home run allowed (saving two of those games).
David Hernandez had emerged as a solid presence out of the bullpen the last two seasons, but has taken a step back in 2013, sporting a 4.57 ERA through 40 games. In a case of very bad timing, Hernandez has been at his worst recently -- a 6.27 ERA since June 1, when Bell started giving up home runs and Putz was pulled back to work on his arm strength.
Brad Ziegler has a 2.44 ERA and has appeared in a league-leading 50 games this season. He doesn't strike a lot of batters out, but he does have three of the team's last four saves heading into the break.

Looking at this as a whole, my guess is that Ziegler gets a few more chances, but Putz eventually takes the job back over. That being said, it's smart to add Ziegler in leagues where saves are scarce. There's a chance that any number of things happen to knock that timeline off its course -- Putz aggravates his elbow, Bell keeps giving up home runs, Hernandez's struggles continue -- and Ziegler simply holds on to the job. I don't think that's the likeliest scenario, but it definitely has a decent enough chance of happening.

Over/under on saves (season): 9.5
Over/under on ERA (season): 2.32

Stash of the Week

Chris Carpenter, SP, Cardinals (Owned in 31 percent of leagues)

Here's my main argument for picking up and stashing Chris Carpenter in nearly every format: he did this last year, kind of. Against all odds and pretty much left for dead, Carpenter returned for three regular season (and three postseason) games in 2012. He produced a 3.71 ERA and 1.19 WHIP.

I realize there are other factors and slightly different circumstances this season, but I remember Carpenter saying something last year about hyper-preparing for a comeback by doing conditioning and lifting before the surgery, so he would be a bit ahead of schedule when it was time to return. I'm going to apply everything I learned about him last year to his possible value this year. Work ethic, skill and the ability to come back late in the season and be effective.

Carpenter is owned in just 31 percent of leagues, a number I find to be about half of what it should be. And now would be the time to add him -- there's not as much attention being paid during the All-Star break, so not only should you be able to grab Carpenter in most leagues, you might also be able to quietly drop and then re-add whichever end-of-the-bench player you needed to push aside to make room for Carpenter after you DL him.

Over/under on ERA (season): 3.80
Over/under on WHIP (season): 1.21

Flavor of Next Week

John Axford, RP, Brewers (Owned in 20 percent of leagues)

Here's how I came back to loving John Axford:

1. Milwaukee is 38-56 and 14 1/2 games out of a wild card spot.
2. This record and relatively hopeless playoff position leads me to believe they will sell off assets for prospects.
3. One of their most tradeable assets is Francisco Rodriguez, their 31-year-old closer who has a 1.19 ERA, nine saves, and 25 strikeouts in 22 2/3 innings -- and who will be a free agent after this season.
3a. Rodriguez is third among active pitchers with 303 career saves.
4. If Rodriguez is traded, the Brewers are left with two choices to close the rest of the season: Axford or Jim Henderson.
5. Henderson was brilliant before a DL stint. When he returned June 9, though, he started to falter a bit, to the tune of a 4.50 ERA with three blown saves in 15 games.
6. Axford, meanwhile, had a 10.32 ERA on May 1 after 13 appearances. Since then, he's 3-0 with eight holds and a 0.99 ERA, striking out a batter per inning.
7. Just looking at recent performance and Ned Yost's affinity for Axford, I am simply guessing that all of the above leads to Axford closing games for the Brewers if Rodriguez is traded.

Over/under on saves (season): 14 (fun side note: Axford actually has zero saves this season)
Over/under on ERA (season): 2.91

AL-only fun

Most Added Players (as of 7/18)
Player % change
1. Chris Archer, SP, Rays 20
2. Corey Kluber, SP, Indians 15
3. Jeremy Hefner, SP, Mets 14
4. Ivan Nova, SP, Yankees 14
5. Felix Doubront, SP, Red Sox 14
6. Chris Carpenter, SP, Cardinals 14
7. Joe Saunders, SP, Mariners 14
8. Danny Salazar, SP, Indians 14
9. Marlon Byrd, OF, Mets 13
10. Jarred Cosart, SP, Astros 12

Chris Colabello, OF, Twins (1 percent ownership)

The Twins quietly made some relatively big moves right before the All-Star break, sending down Chris Parmelee, Eduardo Escobar and Oswaldo Arcia and recalling Doug Bernier, Chris Herrmann and ... Player X.

Player X is expected to be Chris Colabello, who participated in the Triple-A All-Star game Wednesday and is expected to be officially recalled Thursday. Colabello failed to impress in a series of stints that totaled seven games earlier this season (he started three games and played sparingly in the others), but could see a good amount of playing time in the outfield or at DH this time around, having to only push aside either Herrmann or Clete Thomas for one of the regular corner spots.

For those unfamiliar with Colabello, he spent seven years playing in the independent leagues (mostly with the Worcester Tornadoes in the Can-Am League) before the Twins gave him a shot in 2012. Colabello hit 19 home runs in 134 games in Double-A. This season, he's been even better. In 322 Triple-A at-bats, Colabello is hitting .354 with 24 home runs, 24 doubles and a 1.084 OPS.

So what we have here is a relatively low-risk gamble. Colabello has lots of power and average potential, could easily find his way into regular playing time, and is available in pretty much all leagues. There's enough upside here to eventually have Colabello relevant in a much larger percentage of leagues, but I'd limit him to AL-only until we see what kind of playing time the Twins will give him.

Over/under on average (season): .270
Over/under on home runs (season): 12

NL-only fun

Kensuke Tanaka, 2B, Giants (1 percent ownership)

I am not ashamed to admit I have written 50 percent of the Kensuke Tanaka updates on CBSSports.com. And that's being kind and giving Igor Mello credit for his "Jeff Francoeur will join Giants Saturday" update, which was really more of a Francoeur update and only mentioned Tanaka in passing in the last sentence.

Tanaka has been a bit of an obsession of mine this season. He hit .330 and stole 20 bases in 78 minor league games before getting called up. A veteran of Japan's Pacific League, Tanaka carried a decent average his entire career, while stealing 20 or more bases five times since 2006. Once he started making all those errors at second base, though, I thought his chances of getting called up had shrunk. And then the Giants put him in left field.

A little over a week later, Tanaka was in the majors, starting in left for San Francisco and batting second in the order. Through his first six games, Tanaka is hitting .316 with a .381 OBP. More importantly, he's eligible at second base, even though he's expected to play mainly in the outfield (in a probable platoon with Francoeur). So this is a wonderful scenario for an NL-only owner: a middle infielder who can hit at the top of the order and may be in the better part of a platoon, with significant speed and decent average. If Francoeur fizzles and Tanaka takes over in a more full-time capacity, he'll get some mixed league relevance. For now, consider him the NL equivalent of someone like Dustin Ackley (with Tanaka's lack of playing time balancing out Ackley's lower average and steal potential).

Over/under on steals (season): 11
Over/under on batting average (season): .289

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