As a Joe Smith owner in multiple Fantasy leagues, I spent a great deal of time lately praying the Angels would hold off in their pursuit of a closer and trust Smith in the role the rest of the season. Angels manager Mike Scioscia even got our hopes up by finally endorsing Smith after preferring to keep him in more of a setup role because of his versatility to pitch in multiple situations.
Alas, over the weekend we found out the hard way that Angels general manager Jerry DiPoto still calls the shots when it comes to roster decisions and traded for Padres closer Huston Street.
|1.||Jacob deGrom, SP, NYM||72 (+22)|
|2.||Joaquin Benoit, RP, SD||37 (+19)|
|3.||Danny Salazar, SP, CLE||53 (+18)|
|4.||Odrisamer Despaigne, SP, SD||53 (+16)|
|5.||Shane Greene, SP, NYY||47 (+15)|
|6.||Brandon McCarthy, SP, NYY||43 (+13)|
|7.||Jake Odorizzi, SP, TB||81 (+12)|
|8.||Edinson Volquez, SP, PIT||63 (+12)|
|9.||Chris Johnson, 3B, ATL||43 (+12)|
|10.||Stephen Vogt, C, OAK||63 (+10)|
Baseball-wise, it's a pretty good move. Street is a reliable closer when healthy and will definitely shore up the back of the Angels' bullpen. From a Fantasy standpoint, the trade sent a ripple effect through many leagues, as not only was Smith bumped from the closer's role, but Joaquin Benoit became a popular pickup after he was anointed the Padres' closer.
With the way the rumor mill is shaping up as the July 31 trade deadline approaches, it appears Street might not be the last closer changing teams. As one scout recently told ESPN.com writer Jerry Crasnick, "There are 15 teams out there looking for relievers."
On that note, I figured it was a good time to throw out a few just-off-the-radar names Fantasy owners might want to keep tabs on or perhaps use a speculative stash on since the reliever landscape could look a lot different in a few weeks.
Ken Giles, RP, Phillies (owned 14 percent of leagues): I won't spend too long on Giles since I featured him last week as a speculative add, but I want to bring him up again since the interest in Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon continues to build. The Dodgers and Tigers don't seem too scared off of Papelbon's hefty contract, even if the veteran reliever ends up as a very experience setup man. Heck, it seems the desperation teams are showing in their search for a reliever, a sleeper team might emerge in the Papelbon sweepstakes. Giles is a power arm that has closer potential, and it seems the Phillies would be open to looking at him in that role, if Papelbon is dealt.
Kevin Quackenbush, RP, Padres (1 percent): It seems the Padres are on the fence about trading Benoit, but it could just be a ploy to get a better offer. If Benoit gets dealt, then it appears Quackenbush would be next in line to close, even though Dale Thayer is still on the roster. Manager Bud Black said this weekend the Padres are ready to trust Quackenbush in more high-leverage situations, which is a strong indication they could be preparing him for the closer's role. Quackenbush has experience closing games in the minors, where he was a pretty dominant reliever (1.16 ERA, 1.07 WHIP) and had a great strikeout rate (11.9 K/9).
A.J. Ramos, RP, Marlins (3 percent): With the Marlins' hopes of making the playoffs dwindling, teams could ratchet up their interest in closer Steve Cishek, who is under team control through the 2017 season. The Marlins don't have to move Cishek, but they might get an offer they can't refuse. If that happens, the team could go to a closer-by-committee approach, but if not, then Ramos is one of the more intriguing names to take over as closer. Granted, Ramos continues to have some control problems (6.6 BB/9), but they don't seem to be burning him too much, as he is 4-0 with a 2.06 ERA. Ramos was a closer in the minors (83 saves) and still posted good numbers (2.29 ERA, 1.05 WHIP) despite a high walk rate (3.6 BB/9).
Adam Ottavino, RP, Rockies (2 percent): There hasn't been much talk of the Rockies dealing closer LaTroy Hawkins, but their playoff hopes are also fading, so teams might increase their interest in the veteran reliever. The obvious choice to step into the closer's role would appear to be Rex Brothers, but his command is still not great and he's been giving up a lot of hits lately. Tommy Kahnle is another interesting option since he has closer experience in the minors. However, I think Ottavino might be the guy who gets a chance to close. Outside of a rough June, he's been one of the team's most consistent relievers and has been pitching in high-leverage situations all year. But, with no clear-cut candidate, manager Walt Weiss might choose a committee approach, if Hawkins is dealt.
Junichi Tazawa, RP, Red Sox (4 percent): The Red Sox don't seem keen on trading closer Koji Uehara, but it appears they are still willing to listen to offers. If he is dealt, it would seem Edward Mujica would be the guy to take over in the ninth-inning role, but he hasn't been great this season and has been used in a lot of low-stress situations. Burke Badenhop is another candidate as well, but Tazawa could be the guy who replaces Uehara since he's been used a lot in a setup role and has been consistent all season. He's had a great strikeout rate in his career (8.8 BB/9) and he doesn't walk a lot of batters (1.8 BB/9), which makes him an ideal candidate for the ninth-inning role.
Josh Fields, RP, Astros (5 percent): Closer Chad Qualls is under contract through 2015, with a fairly cheap team option ($3.5 million) for 2016, so Houston doesn't have to move the veteran reliever. But there's incentive since he's having a pretty strong season and isn't getting any younger (35 years old), so Houston probably wouldn't be opposed to dealing him to pick up an emerging prospect. Outside of Qualls, the Astros bullpen is mostly a joke, but it's worth taking a look at what Fields has done lately. Since May 17, he is 2-1 with a 0.79 ERA in 20 appearances. He has 38 strikeouts and has walked just four batters over 22 2/3 innings in that span. The biggest concern for Fantasy owners might be the amount of save opportunities, but Fields is finally settling in at the major-league level and could be a potential long-term option at closer.
Neftali Feliz, RP, Rangers (15 percent): If the Rangers deal closer Joakim Soria, then it wouldn't surprise me if manager Ron Washington went to a committee approach at closer because there doesn't appear to be a likely choice to replace Soria. Feliz might be the most intriguing option just because he has experience in the role. But he's pitched in low-stress situations since returning from the minors and still doesn't appear to have fully returned to the dominance he showed before having Tommy John surgery in 2012. But in a lost season, the Rangers might throw Feliz back into the closer's role and get him ready for next season.
If I was ranking these players by waiver priority, Giles would top the list followed by Quackenbush, Fields, Ramos, Feliz, Tazawa and Ottavino.
Wade Miley, SP, DiamondbacksOwnership in CBSSports.com leagues: 71percent (up 12 percent)
Miley is having a pretty strong July, going 3-0 with a 1.88 ERA in four starts. He also has 29 strikeouts in 28 2/3 innings this month and is striking out a career-high 8.4 batters per nine innings this season. While I'm not sure Miley will be able to keep up the strikeout rate, I have no problems with mixed-league owners adding him as a back-of-the-rotation arm or bench option. Miley still has room to get back to his career norms. He had a 3.33 ERA in 2012 and a 3.55 ERA in 2013, and his xFIP indicates his ERA should be at 3.30, so it appears he is in the midst of a positive market correction. It's also worth pointing out Miley has been a very good second-half pitcher in the past. He went 7-6 with a 3.64 ERA in 15 second-half starts in 2012 and 4-3 with a 2.93 ERA in 14 starts after the All-Star break last season. The wins could obviously be tough to come by on a potential last-place team, but that doesn't mean Miley still doesn't have his place in Fantasy leagues.
Leagues worth owning him: 14-team Head-to-Head and Rotisserie
Danny Salazar, SP, IndiansOwnership in CBSSports.com leagues: 53 percent (up 18 percent)
The talk is that Salazar has regained his form and is back pitching like he did last season as a rookie, when he went 2-3 with a 3.12 ERA and 1.14 WHIP in 10 starts. It does seem Salazar is headed down that path after going 2-2 with a 3.47 ERA in four June starts and 1-1 with a 2.55 ERA in three July starts for Triple-A Columbus. Though, perhaps the most encouraging sign was his 52 strikeouts in 40 2/3 innings over his last seven starts. Even with his struggles at the major-league level this season, Salazar was striking out 10.4 batters per nine innings. My biggest concern, though, remains his control problems. Salazar walked 14 batters in 17 2/3 innings this month for Columbus, so it's not like he's hitting on all cylinders as he returns to the majors. The potential is there if Salazar gets his control problems fixed. But for now I'm still more comfortable calling him a bench option or back-of-the-rotation arm in mixed leagues.
Leagues worth owning him: 14-team Head-to-Head and Rotisserie
Chris Johnson, 3B, BravesOwnership in CBSSports.com leagues: 43 percent (up 12 percent)
Johnson has quietly produced a .309/.337/.455/.792 slash line since June 3. It's worth taking notice because Johnson has traditionally heated up around this time of year. He has a career .299/.466/.801 line after the All-Star break. In 2012, he slugged .515 in 59 games after the break, and last season he hit .311 in the second half. He averaged 17 Fantasy points over the last six scoring periods and has been the fifth-highest scoring third baseman in Rotisserie leagues over the last 28 days. However, even with third base being a weak position, I'm just not ready to tell Fantasy owners to mortgage the farm to get the 29-year-old third baseman on your roster. He still doesn't have great home run power, which limits his upside, especially for a corner infielder. I could definitely see Johnson being grouped among Fantasy third basemen with the likes of Trevor Plouffe, Matt Dominguez, Lonnie Chisenhall and Casey McGehee, but he's not ready to give a serious run at being a top 12 Fantasy third basemen -- no matter how well he's played over the last six weeks.
Leagues worth owning him: Deep formats
Nick Swisher, 1B, IndiansOwnership in CBSSports.com leagues: 38 percent (up 5 percent)
Swisher finally seems to be getting his act together offensively, batting .262 with a .446 slugging percentage, .740 OPS, three doubles, three home runs and 15 RBI in 17 July games. He clearly was due since his current line (.207/.285/.344/.629) is nowhere near his career line (.252/.354/.455/.809). It is encouraging to see his BABIP at .341 in July, and his ISO is .185 this month after being at .184 in June (per FanGraphs.com). So when he has connected since June, it has been at least hard contact. He has a career .203 ISO, so it seems Swisher might be returning to form. Though, I'm still a little hesitant because Swisher is striking out a lot. He's never been a low strikeout guy, but his strikeout rate (26.9 percent) is more than 5 percent higher than his career average (21.7 percent) and his walk rate (10.1 percent) is down about 3 percent from his career average (13 percent). Maybe we just have to come to the realization that this is just a hot streak and it's going to be a big down year for Swisher.
Leagues worth owning him: Deep formats
Brett Anderson, SP, RockiesOwnership in CBSSports.com leagues: 10 percent (up 2 percent)
Anderson's profile has been raised since he allowed just one run in seven innings Saturday against the Pirates. Still, it's no surprise Anderson is much better away from the thin air in Colorado. He is 0-1 with a 2.25 ERA in three road starts, as opposed to 0-2 with a 6.55 ERA in two home starts. Once upon a time, Anderson was an elite pitching prospect, but a long history of injuries and inconsistency has made him just an average major-league arm. We've seen the potential (his 2.80 ERA in 2010 and 2.57 ERA in 2012), but that was with the A's. The Rockies are fading in the playoff picture and Anderson still has to learn how to pitch in Colorado. Sure, you could stash Anderson in deeper formats and potentially use him as a one-week sleeper in mixed leagues when he has two road starts, but right now he's just not worth a flier in most standard formats. He needs to work on staying off the disabled list and showing some consistency before he gets to that level.
Leagues worth owning him: Deeper formats
David Freese, 3B, AngelsOwnership in CBSSports.com leagues: 22 percent (up 2 percent)
Freese has posted pretty good numbers over the last month, batting .312 with a .369 on-base percentage, .484 slugging percentage and .853 OPS in his last 27 games. However, he has just three home runs in that span. It's like I'm writing analysis about Chris Johnson all over again. Maybe Freese is making better contact and his RBI rate is up, but he's still striking out a lot (30 times in his last 27 games) and not showing much home run power. The high strikeout rate is really hurting him in points leagues, as he averaged 14 points over the last five scoring periods. Perhaps the big difference between Freese and Johnson is that Freese has showcased 20 home run potential in the past, so the power has been there. Unfortunately, Freese has just 14 home runs since the start of the 2013 season and hasn't looked much like the guy who hit 20 home runs during an All-Star campaign in 2012. Freese credits his recent surge to hitting to all fields, which is encouraging because a lot of his home runs either go to center or right field. Still, it's probably best to wait for a power surge from Freese before really buying into a turnaround.
Leagues worth owning him: Deep formats
American League options
Sam Fuld, OF, TwinsOwnership in CBSSports.com leagues: 6 percent (up 1 percent)
Since he began to see fairly regular playing time in mid-June, Fuld has been a steady contributor for Minnesota. He is batting .368 with a .470 on-base percentage, .456 slugging percentage, .926 OPS, one home run, three doubles, eight RBI, 11 runs, 14 walks and seven stolen bases in his last 23 games (22 starts). He's averaged 15.6 Fantasy points over the last five scoring periods and has been a top 25 Fantasy outfielder in Rotisserie leagues the last 28 days. Hitting for average and getting on base isn't surprising since that was Fuld's MO in the minors. He was an OK base stealer as well. But he didn't have home run power and still doesn't. Fuld will probably see a decent amount of time in center field, as long as no one poses a major threat to steal playing time. The return of Danny Santana will likely cut into Fuld's playing time, which is why Fantasy owners should proceed with some caution until Fuld proves he's more than a stopgap option. His plate discipline won't hurt you in points leagues, but if he doesn't increase his RBI output or show he can be a major threat for steals, then he has low-end value.
Leagues worth owning him: Deep formats
National League options
Peter Bourjos, OF, CardinalsOwnership in CBSSports.com leagues: 4 percent (up 1 percent)
When the Cardinals were in Colorado in late June, Bourjos decided he needed to make changes to his approach in order to revive his dormant offensive game. It looks like mission accomplished since Bourjos has a .355/.375/.548/.923 slash line over his last 17 games. Sadly, those numbers don't tell the whole story since over that span Bourjos has started just five games. Even though he is producing, he just can't get regular playing time in a crowded Cardinals' outfield. If Bourjos was starting every day, I would be telling Fantasy owners to add him like I've been touting J.D. Martinez, Steve Pearce and Lucas Duda since they've experienced a lot of success since making changes to their approach. Until Bourjos' playing time situation changes, he's going to remain a single-league Fantasy option.
Leagues worth owning him: NL-only
Player you might reconsider dropping
Xander Bogaerts, 3B, Red SoxOwnership in CBSSports.com leagues: 75 percent (down 3 percent)
Let's face it -- Bogaerts has been bad this season. He was OK from a Fantasy standpoint to start the year, then really boosted his value during a four-week stretch from Week 7 through Week 10, when he averaged 22.8 Fantasy points per scoring period. But since Week 11, Bogaerts has totaled 23 Fantasy points over the last six scoring periods. That is not a typo. Since June 8, Bogaerts is batting .127 with two home runs and seven RBI in 32 games. Despite the slump, I see upside in those numbers because it really can't get any worse. There's more room to improve, so now seems like the ideal time to buy into a bounce back for the rookie shortstop. All anyone talks about with this kid is his upside and how he has hit at every stop along the way in his career. Maybe he just put too much pressure on himself trying to live up to the hype or maybe the position switch to third base has been a bigger distraction than expected. Boagerts has been troubled by sliders and inside fastballs, and it's been mentioned he's tried to pull everything instead of using the whole field. However, Bogaerts has been putting in the work to correct his swing, and I think in time he's going to see the results.
Leagues worth owning him: 10-team Rotisserie, 12-team Head-to-Head
C.J. Cron was dropped in my league. Do you expect him back up soon? I have Kendrys Morales as depth on my bench. Who do you prefer for rest of season? --@KidAuggie
MH: It's interesting the Angels chose to keep Efren Navarro over Cron, even though Cron has been performing fairly well. I understand he has was struggling prior to his demotion over the weekend -- mired in a 9-for-44 slump in July -- and the Angels needed pitching and middle-infield help, but his demotion was nonetheless surprising. With that said, I don't anticipate a lengthy demotion for Cron and I haven't dropped him in any leagues, which include a 12-team mixed-league format with just five bench spots. It does appear the move was a way to work on getting Cron's confidence up. As for Morales, he hasn't been great since joining the Minnesota lineup and his home run swing has been pretty non-existent. I would much rather have Cron on my roster over Morales, especially since Cron will be in a better lineup once he returns from the minors.