Article first appeared 4/13/08
This is our weekly look at the free agents in each league. We have two goals with this article:
One size doesn't fit all, and we could never hope to encompass all league structures, so we have to have a set of base assumptions. Those assumptions are:
Jeff Niemann - Niemann got the call to replace the injured Matt Garza and picked up the win in his major league debut on Sunday, beating the Orioles. Niemann's previous injuries and his lack of consistency after returning has lowered the expectations the Rays have of him, but even then he struck out nearly a batter per inning last year at Triple-A Durham. If he pitches well later in the month against tougher competition, he might find a way to stick in the rotation. A lot depends upon how quickly both Garza and Scott Kazmir return from the rotation. There may be the need to remove two pitchers from the rotation - Jason Hammel is presumably one of them, but it'll be tough to choose among Niemann, Edwin Jackson and Andrew Sonnanstine for the other spot. Mixed: $2; AL: $7.
Greg Smith - Smith was one of the unheralded parts coming to Oakland in the Dan Haren trade, and like Dana Eveland, he's already paying dividends. Smith should get at least a couple of starts with both Justin Duchscherer and Rich Harden on the 15-day DL. He may not be as dominant as Eveland, but he's another lefty that can strike out his share of batters and could prove useful this season. The A's season could shape up to be one big tryout, and Smith is off to a good start in making his impression. Mixed: $0; AL: $5.
Francisco Liriano - Liriano's 2008 debut against the Royals was pretty spotty. He gave up four runs over 4.2 innings, giving up six hits and five walks. His fastball was topping out at 90-91 mph on a dreary day in Kansas City. He wasn't helped out on a play where Denard Span turned a flyball by Miguel Olivo into a double, but he didn't pitch well enough to overcome that. The lone bright spot was the four strikeouts he recorded against the Royals. He'll have better days, but expect some rough patches initially. Mixed: $15.
Armando Galarraga - Galarraga gets the first chance to fill in for the Tigers while Dontrelle Willis is on the DL. He's off to a great start at Triple-A Toledo - in two outings, he has a 2.25 ERA and a 11:1 K:BB ratio in 12 innings. In his previous major league experience, Galarraga really struggled with his control. Don't expect this to be a long-term trial for him. Mixed: No; AL: $0.
Cliff Lee - For the second time this year, Lee shut down the A's on Sunday, holding them to one run on two hits over eight innings, striking out eight. He's off to a superb beginning of the season, lowering his ERA to 0.61 after three starts. His strong start has caught us offguard, though it's worth noting that last year's poor season can be at least partially blamed on his abdominal injury suffered in spring training. Mixed: $4; AL: $19.
Gavin Floyd - Floyd has beaten the Tigers twice now to begin the season, taking a no-hitter into the eighth inning on Saturday. We're reluctant to think that Floyd has turned the corner entirely, however. He has a 6:6 K:BB ratio over 13.1 innings, still isn't inducing a lot of groundballs (while pitching in a park that will punish flyball pitchers generally), and was facing a watered-down Tigers lineup on Saturday that was missing Curtis Granderson and Carlos Guillen. Tread carefully here. Mixed: $0; AL: $2.
Brian Burres - After Burres won his first start of the season earlier in the week against the Rangers, he got served a wakeup call by the Rays on Sunday, giving up six runs over 4.2 innings. Burres is miscast as a rotation starter - he's more qualified to be a swingman. There's not a whole lot of upside here - Burres is a fairly fungible part that will be tossed aside as soon as some of the pitching prospects in the O's system are ready. Mixed: No; AL: $0.
Steve Trachsel - Trachsel is the very definition of an innings-eater, taking the ball every fifth day until the O's can dig someone else up that's more capable of doing so. He had an ugly 45:69 K:BB ratio last year, and he's well on that path so far this year, with three strikeouts and six walks over his first two starts. That 3.00 ERA he has in two starts is a mirage. Mixed and AL: No.
Ryan Rowland-Smith - Add Rowland-Smith to the Mariners' late-inning mix, after he picked up a save against the Rays earlier in the week and then pitched a scoreless eighth inning the following day. The Mariners considered converting him from relief work to starting, but the transition didn't work out so well in winter ball in Venezuela. He quietly turned in decent numbers in relief last year, striking out 42 in 38.2 innings, though he did give up four homers in that span. Mark Lowe got the save on Friday and has to be considered the primary closer while J.J. Putz is out, but Rowland-Smith is probably next on the totem pole. Mixed: $0; AL: $5.
Brandon Morrow - Morrow has thrown 5.1 shutout innings so far for Double-A West Tennessee, striking out seven and walking four in the process. That pretty much summarizes his skills - he's capable of missing a lot of bats, but he's also capable of missing the strike zone frequently. It wouldn't be a surprise to see him included into the late-inning mix for the Mariners until J.J. Putz comes back. The bid here assumes that he'll get called up this week. Mixed: $0; AL: $4.
Scot Shields - Shields is probably taken in AL leagues already, but if not, he's worth a speculative bid in case Francisco Rodriguez's ankle injuries act up again. Shields isn't exactly pitching with a clean bill of health himself right now, having just returned from a DL stint with a forearm injury. He's not the same money-in-the-bank reliever he was just two years ago. Mixed: $0; AL: $3.
Justin Speier - This one is more for AL leagues than mixed leagues, also in a speculation mindset in case K-Rod and Shields are less than whole. Speier had a hard time kicking a virus last year, but when he was on the mound, he was every bit if not more effective than Shields. Mixed: No; AL: $0.
Joey Devine - Devine was once (and still is in some circles) a trendy closer-in-waiting prospect. Watch his walk numbers - that'll be the indicator whether he'll get another shot somewhere down the line. His development might help persuade the A's to trade Huston Street in the future. Mixed: No; AL: $1.
Rafael Betancourt - Joe Borowski's below-normal radar readings and his blown save on Monday have raised the seemingly-annual warning flags on him, perhaps opening the door a crack for Betancourt. The only problem is that both Betancourt and Rafael Perez, the top two alternatives in the Indians' bullpen, are off to slow starts themselves. Still, one bad outing can skew the picture for a reliever, especially at this time of year. Betancourt remains one of the more valuable set-up men in the game, and he's probably only available in mixed leagues. Mixed: $4.
Scott Downs - Downs got a save on Friday night against the Rangers, coming in after Jason Frasor started the inning and created the save situation. Downs is a useful set-up guy to own, but it's unlikely he'll pick up more than a couple of opportunities. B.J. Ryan is off the DL, and while Jeremy Accardo has struggled recently, he's still next in line. Mixed: No; AL: $1.
B.J. Ryan - Ryan came back from the DL on Sunday, perhaps a few days earlier than expected. Jeremy Accardo has been having troubling spotting his splitter lately, perhaps encouraging the Jays to accelerate Ryan's rehab schedule. Don't be surprised if he's held back from pitching on back-to-back days initially, but he'll settle into the closer's role fairly quickly. Mixed: $10; AL: $30.
Leo Nunez, Ron Mahay - Joakim Soria is in no danger of losing his job as the Royals' closer, but it's worth noting how well other members of the Royals' no-name bullpen has pitched. Nunez hasn't allowed a run yet in 5.2 innings, striking out seven in the process. Mahay has a 1.42 ERA in 6.1 innings, with a 8:1 K:BB ratio. If anything happens to Soria, either Nunez or Mahay could be capable of filling in his stead. Mixed: No; AL: $0 for both.
Brian Bruney - Bruney is off to another good start, throwing seven scoreless innings while striking out nine to begin the season. He got off to a similar good start last year. Just keep in mind that he's behind Joba Chamberlain in the pecking order for set-up duties. Traditionally, his biggest problem has been his control - last year he walked 37 batters in 50 innings; but he'll get you plenty of strikeouts. Mixed: No; AL: $1.
Aquilino Lopez - Lopez came up big on Friday night, pitching four strong innings in relief of an injured Dontrelle Willis to pick up the win. Lopez now has an 0.79 ERA in 11.1 innings to start the season, striking out eight while walking one so far. Denny Bautista has worked himself into the primary set-up job for now, but Lopez is a sleeper. Mixed: No; AL: $0.
Jose Molina - Molina has gotten an extended run of playing time over the first two weeks of the season thanks to Jorge Posada's sore shoulder, and has put it to good use, hitting .345 heading into Sunday. It's been an empty .345, though, with no walks and only one RBI. Overall, Molina isn't going to hit for much power and clearly won't run. Posada should be cleared to do more than just DH this week, so Molina's playing time is about to dry up, at least for now. Mixed: $0; AL: $1.
Evan Longoria - Willy Aybar's hamstring injury forced the Rays' hand, perhaps pushing them to call Longoria up before they had planned. They weren't able to keep him down long enough to prevent him from likely earning "Super-Two" arbitration status later in his career, but they did push back his free agent eligibility year by one season. He's almost certainly up to stay, barring a collapse at the plate. If his owner in your league panicked when he got sent down, grab him. Mixed: $10; AL: $55.
Joe Crede - He's available in at least one mixed league, so we'll quickly address Crede here. The job at third base for the White Sox is his unless and until he gets traded - even if/when he starts to slump, the Sox need to keep him in the lineup to showcase him. Given their good start and the Tigers' slow start, the impetus for them to trade has been lessened, so he'll continue to enjoy playing half his games in one of the better hitters parks in the game. Mixed: $15.
Aubrey Huff - Huff had a big first week of the season, and a monster game on Monday against the Rangers, but after Sunday's 0-for-4 (leaving seven men on-base), he's settling into his usual April malaise. He could end up being a cheap source of 20 homers, but don't stretch your expectations beyond that. Mixed: $9.
Daric Barton - Barton's slow start has him on the waiver wire in a number of mixed leagues. His power potential is low for the position, but he should be able to hit for better average going forward. He hasn't homered yet, but does have four extra-base hits and should score a lot of runs while batting third in the A's lineup. His spring training hand/wrist injury might be hurting his power output right now. Mixed: $8.
Sean Casey - Casey will play nearly every day at first base while Mike Lowell is on the DL, with Kevin Youkilis sliding over to third base. He's batting lower in the order (though sixth on Sunday night with David Ortiz getting the night off), so while he'll benefit from the overall quality of the Red Sox lineup, he's not in the greatest run-producing spot. Mixed: $5; AL: $19.
Joe Inglett - Inglett got the call over the weekend, and immediately got the start at third base on Saturday night, going 3-for-4. He might end up in a bit of a platoon with Marco Scutaro at third until Scott Rolen returns from the DL. For the short-term, Inglett could offer a few counting stats and the ability to hit for average, but he isn't likely to help much in terms of power or speed that much, and he no longer qualifies at second base, at least in terms of traditional position-qualification rules. Mixed: No; AL: $0.
Akinori Iwamura - In leagues that require a player to play 10 games at a position to qualify there, Iwamura is now second-base eligible. He's not off to a great start, but with him batting leadoff in a good offense like the Rays' offense, he should score a lot of runs.
Mark Ellis - Ellis quietly has turned into a nice fantasy option at second base, capable of doing more than just hitting for an empty high batting average. He's hitting high in the A's lineup, hitting for a modicum of power, and stealing the occasional base. After playing 150 games last year, he's probably shed the injury-prone label as well. Mixed: $5.
Alberto Gonzalez - Gonzalez was the last player included in the Randy Johnson deal prior to the 2007 season. He doesn't hit for much power or speed, so even though he and not Wilson Betemit is getting the playing time at shortstop while Derek Jeter is out, he won't do much for you. Jeter is due back this week. Mixed: $0; AL: $1.
Jed Lowrie - The Red Sox called up Lowrie after Mike Lowell went down and Alex Cora got hurt. Once they're comfortable that Cora can play, Lowrie will probably get sent back down so that he can play every day. He's an elite middle infield prospect, but he had a bad spring training and started slowly with Triple-A Pawtucket. Grab him now only if you're stashing him for the future. Mixed: No; AL: $0.
Nathan Haynes - Haynes is one of the primary beneficiaries of the injuries to Cliff Floyd and Rocco Baldelli. He'll be on the dominant half of the platoon in right field, splitting time with Justin Ruggiano. Haynes won't offer much in the way of power, but he's already stolen three bases in the nine games he's played in. If you're looking for a short-term boost in speed, he's a nice option. Mixed: $3; AL: $10.
Justin Ruggiano - The Rays called up Ruggiano after Cliff Floyd went on the DL, and he'll split time in right field with Nathan Haynes. He's on the weaker side of the platoon, so his playing time could be sparse. He needs to make a pretty good impression in this short window, as at age 26 the time is running out for him to be considered a prospect. Ruggiano has some power, will take a walk, but also strikes out frequently (151 times for Triple-A Durham last year). Mixed: No; AL: $2.
Jonny Gomes - This one is more for the mixed leaguers out there - Gomes is clearly owned already in AL-only leagues. He's technically in a platoon with Eric Hinske now at DH, but he's getting more at-bats than your average right-handed hitter in a platoon. Somewhat surprisingly, Gomes stole 12 bases last season and already has one this year - a byproduct of manager Joe Maddon's proclivity to let his players run. Mixed: $5.
Carlos Quentin - Quentin has taken advantage of his opportunity to play in left field and has gotten on-base at .382 clip heading into Sunday's win over the Tigers. His playing time picture will be clouded once Jerry Owens comes off the DL, but for now he's distanced himself from Alexei Ramirez, who has barely played since the first two days of the season. At worst, he'll settle into a platoon with Owens down the road. Mixed: $4; AL: $10.
Jason Kubel - Kubel has played regularly, mostly at DH, since Michael Cuddyer's injury, forcing Craig Monroe to share time with Denard Span in the lineup. This makes a whole lot of sense for the run-deprived Twins, who are going to need to try to find pockets of offense wherever they can. Kubel finished 2007 on a high note, and while he may never approach being the player he was before he obliterated his knee, he's got the best chance this year among the Twins outfielders at becoming a productive middle-of-the-lineup hitter. Mixed: $7.
Adam Lind - This is our speculative pick up suggestion for the week. All Lind does when healthy is rake. He's not going to be a speed or defense guy, but the Blue Jays are short on left-handed power, something Lind can readily supply. He's off to a great start at Triple-A Syracuse, hitting .378/.442/.669 in 37 at-bats. His impediments in front of him are Shannon Stewart and Matt Stairs, so it's not hard to envision a scenario where he'll get the callup and the playing time. Mixed and AL: $0.