Article first appeared 6/1/08
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:
Joba Chamberlain - We'll lead off this week with Chamberlain, who will make his first start of the year on Tuesday. In most leagues he's already owned, certainly so in AL-only leagues. How well will he pitched now that he has to pace himself a little? We think that the strikeout rate will probably decline a little bit, though it's not as if he's never started before - just not at the major league level. His pitch count will be around 65-to-70 pitches in his first couple of starts, so it'll be tough for him to stick around long enough to pick up the win. Mixed: $12.
Kyle Davies - Davies helped end the Royals' 11-game losing streak, and he'll be in the rotation for the foreseeable future. Don't be too overjoyed by his outing - he needed 100 pitches to work through five innings, walking three, while facing a pretty disappointing Indians lineup. Davies' control problems have long held him back at the major league level, and so far there's little indication that he's improved considerably in that department. Nonetheless, the Royals are doing the right thing here with Davies, instead of trotting out a washout like Brett Tomko every fifth day. Mixed: $0; AL: $1.
Radhames Liz - Liz is our speculative player for the week, and his promotion from Triple-A Norfolk appears imminent. The Orioles have already passed over Steve Trachsel once, and aren't willing to commit to him yet for his next scheduled start on Tuesday. Liz would be one of the candidates to replace him. Liz was incredibly wild in his major league debut last year, walking 23 batters in 24.2 innings. He also struck out 24 batters in that span, demonstrating an ability to miss bats that is hard to find. His current walk rate (25 walks in 60 innings) at Norfolk is the lowest of his recent career, so he's developing well in his first go at Triple-A. If he does get the call, he'll probably struggle initially, but if you're Orioles GM Andy McPhail, why not give Liz starts over Trachsel, unless you think that Liz needs more time in Norfolk? As a fantasy owner, watch from afar to see how Liz does initially, or otherwise stow him on reserve. Check back in 2009 - he might have some value then. Mixed and AL: $0.
Justin Masterson - Masterson will be up for his third run as a spot starter for the Red Sox on Tuesday, filling in for the injured Daisuke Matsuzaka. This callup might last a couple of starts, instead of the one-and-done of the previous two outings. He had just gotten his promotion from Double-A Portland to Triple-A Pawtucket, and has been pretty good in the minors so far. He's got two home starts this week, against Tampa and Seattle. He's not going to match his 1.50 ERA from his first two starts, and he's walked seven batters in those two starts, but at the same time, this isn't such a bad spot for him. Mixed: $1; AL: $4.
Jose Arredondo - We talked about Arredondo when he first got the call, but it's worth tracking his progress. Francisco Rodriguez is a free agent at the end of the season, Justin Speier has an ERA over 5.00 and has given up six homers this year, and Scot Shields began the season with a forearm strain. In a keeper league, you might think about taking a chance on Arredondo now with an eye on him closing next year. He was groomed as a closer in the minors, and he's started to stabilize after giving up a homer to the first batter he faced as a major leaguer. Mixed and AL: $0.
Grant Balfour - Balfour got the save on Saturday night, recording the final out, but that was more because Rays manager Joe Maddon was alternating his relievers in a situational context. It's worth noting how well Balfour was pitching at Triple-A Durham before his promotion, striking out 39 (albeit with 10 walks) in 23.2 innings while closing there. Before his arm woes, Balfour was a rising relief prospect with the Twins, so the pedigree is there. Just don't expect him to get that fantasy-friendly role most times out - witness the Rays bringing him into the game in the sixth inning on Sunday. Mixed: $0; AL: $1.
Kiko Calero - Calero made his 2008 debut on Friday after spending most of the season on the DL with a rotator cuff injury. With the A's bullpen injuries, Calero might work his way into high-leveraged roles soon, but once the likes of Santiago Casilla and Joey Devine come back, his role will recede. Don't view him as a potential future closer. Mixed: No; AL: $0.
Jesse Crain - Crain has taken over the set-up duties for the Twins along with Matt Guerrier, now that Pat Neshek is out for the season. Though his role is more important, the performance hasn't followed. Citing stats with relievers after two months worth of stats is dangerous business, but Crain's 12:10 K:BB ratio and low groundball rate certainly isn't very encouraging. Mixed: No; AL: $0.
Al Reyes - Reyes and Dan Wheeler will be the co-closers while Troy Percival is out, though we're giving Wheeler the nod as the most likely to get save chances first. Reyes has pitched well since returning from the DL. If he can avoid the nightclub extracurricular activities, he'll have some value the rest of the season. Mixed: $3; AL: $10.
Dan Wheeler - While Troy Percival is out, Wheeler should be considered the first among equals in the Rays bullpen, though he'll have to share the closing duties perhaps with Al Reyes. Don't be too dismayed by him not getting the save on Saturday; that was more of an aberration. Wheeler is also the best long-term guy to count on as a potential closer with that club, at least from their options at the major league level. Mixed: $5; AL: $20.
Brad Ziegler - The A's three primary set-up men (Santiago Casilla, Joey Devine and Andrew Brown) are all on the DL, creating an opportunity for Ziegler to get the call. Ziegler has been used strictly as a reliever in the minors, and at age 28, he's no prospect, but he could prove useful for the A's for the short-term. He likely won't be put into a role that'll help you too much. Mixed: No; AL: $0.
Jeff Clement - Clement picked right back up where he left off after getting demoted to Triple-A Tacoma and has hit .300 with five homers over his last 10 games there. The Mariners were rather shortsighted and hasty in sending him down after he first struggled. Chances are that they'll give him another shot in the near future. If you can, go ahead and beat the rush and pick him up if his previous owner dumped him after the demotion, while the price is cheap. Mixed and AL: $1.
Ivan Rodriguez - We're adding Rodriguez to the list week due to a reader suggestion, after he had been cut in his mixed league. For all the attention that other slumping Tigers have gotten, Rodriguez should be high on the list of culprits. He's never been a patient hitter, but he's usually been able to compensate for that by hitting for average and driving the ball a little bit. That's no longer the case. His walk rate has improved from "downright pathetic" (.02) to "alarmingly bad (.04)," but he is no longer hitting for average or power. The drop in batting average might not be a fluke, either, with his contact rate up and his BABIP at .301. In a 12-team mixed league that starts just one catcher, you really can't view him as a starter any longer, even while sitting in that potentially-potent Tigers lineup. Mixed: $0; AL: $5.
Curtis Thigpen - Once viewed as a possible catcher of the future for the Jays, Thigpen's star has dimmed significantly in the last year. He's up now with the big league club with Gregg Zaun on the DL, but only as a backup to Rod Barajas. Thigpen has hit just .228/.271/.310 at Triple-A Syracuse after not hitting for power in 101 major league at-bats last year. The Jays once were dabbling with changing Thigpen's position, but so long as he hits like this, it really doesn't matter where he plays. Mixed: No; AL: $0.
Willy Aybar - Meet the player that once blocked Evan Longoria. That's not entirely fair to Aybar (Longoria's demotion at the start of the season really had nothing to do with Aybar), but hey, it's a better legacy than his substance abuse problems of last season or his domestic violence case in winter ball. Aybar is out of options, so the Rays are employing him rather than Ben Zobrist as their utility infielder. The only problem is that he's not really capable of playing shortstop, make him a less useful utility player. Mixed: No; AL: $0.
Jeff Bailey - Bailey is your typical "Quad-A" hitter - he mashes Triple-A pitching (.318/.412/.665) yet took long enough to be proficient at that level that he doesn't project to be a major league hitter. He'll be sent back down most likely this week when the Red Sox call up Justin Masterson. Mixed and AL: No.
Jeff Larish - The Tigers have gone through a number of off-the-radar injury replacements, like Clete Thomas (see below) and Matthew Joyce. Larish is a step above them, at least in terms of his long-term projection. He has raked in the minors, hitting .277/.372/.592 at Triple-A Toledo after going .267/.390/.515 with 28 homers at Double-A Erie last year. Larish isn't especially young (25), so that puts him out of the elite prospect pantheon, but he's definitely worth tracking in keeper leagues, and perhaps for the duration of 2008. He should get a little bit of a longer rope than Joyce or Thomas. Right now he's platooning as the DH while Gary Sheffield is out. Mixed: $2; AL: $12.
Andy Marte - The underlying fear for Indians fans is that Andy Marte becomes the next Brandon Phillips - a young player that struggled in a number of limited trials, gets a bigger chance elsewhere and becomes a star. Prior to this week, he's been chained to the bench, getting only 26 at-bats. But given the struggles of Casey Blake this year (.680 OPS), and Blake's age (34), it only makes sense for the Tribe to at least work Marte into the rotation. It certainly can't hurt their struggling offense. Mixed: $1; AL: $5.
Mike Aviles - Aviles isn't really a prospect, even though he was hitting well for Triple-A Omaha (.296/.332/.463). He's 27 years old, repeating at Omaha after putting up a .680 OPS there last year. Still, it's defensible that the Royals might call him up and try their hot hand out at shortstop, when they've gotten so absolutely little from incumbent Tony Pena Jr. That's not really what's happening, though - he's gotten one start since getting called up. They sent down Billy Butler in a punitive measure when promoting Aviles. Sure, Butler has been somewhat disappointing, not hitting for power at all, but aren't the Royals punishing the wrong guy, and calling up the wrong replacement? It's a waste of time now and especially in the future if you're not going to play Aviles, and trot out dreck like Ross Gload at first base, instead of employing someone, anyone really, that has a semblance of upside. It's not a travesty in and of itself that Aviles isn't playing ahead of Alberto Callaspo or even Esteban German, and in the abstract sending down Butler could be defensible, but the pieces just don't fit when you look at the overall picture. Mixed: $0; AL: $3.
Akinori Iwamura - Iwamura isn't going to match the power numbers he posted in Japan, but as the Rays' leadoff hitter he's slowly starting to get on-base more frequently, and with that position he's scoring a good number of runs. He'll end up being among the top run scorers among second basemen this year, and chances are that he'll end up hitting for decent average and will steal around 10 bases in the process. Mixed: $8.
Howie Kendrick - Kendrick is back after an extended stay on the DL due to his hamstring injury. Kendrick had a number of false starts in his attempt to come back, so while you should definitely activate him if you've been stowing him on the DL, don't expect the stolen bases to come right away. Mixed: $10; AL: $27.
Juan Uribe - Uribe is back from the DL, but he finds himself without his starting second base job. White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen is a "hot hand" sort of guy, meaning that Alexei Ramirez gets to keep the spot for now over Uribe, who in fairness could be displaced by a "tepid hand" right now too. Uribe doesn't run or hit for average, so there's not a whole lot to like, aside from some occasional power. Mixed: $0; AL: $2.
Travis Buck - Buck's slow start was one of the bigger disappointments of the season, but he raked in Triple-A Sacramento after his DL stint and now is back with a good opportunity to play. The A's recent spate of injuries (Frank Thomas, Mike Sweeney and Ryan Sweeney all out) has opened the door for Buck to step right back in. When he's going well, Buck will get on-base frequently, steal an occasional base or two and score a number of runs. He's not going to hit for a lot of power, however. Mixed: $1; AL: $7.
Shin-Soo Choo - The Indians have a bit of a dilemma with Choo. They're off to a disappointing start, at 25-30, but are still only five games back in a division full of disappointments. So while they can't really be in the business of giving open tryouts, they're also getting a certain lack of production from many of their regulars. Choo is finally off the DL from his elbow injury and is out of options, so they'll have to do their evaluation of him at the major league level. But where is he going to get any playing time? Ben Francisco is firmly establishing himself as one of the other corner options, so Choo has to compete with David Dellucci and Franklin Gutierrez for the other corner spot. Travis Hafner's DL stint creates a little temporary relief, but when Hafner returns, Choo could find himself chained to the bench. Mixed: $0; AL: $2.
Carlos Gonzalez - Jay Bruce and Clayton Kershaw have gotten most of the ink among recent callups, and justifiably so, but Gonzalez could prove to be more than just a consolation prize. Because the A's have already gotten good mileage from Dana Eveland and Greg Smith, it's sometimes hard to remember that Gonzalez and Brett Anderson were the centerpieces to the Dan Haren trade. Gonzalez needs to work on cutting down his strikeouts and working a few more walks, but he has a pretty high ceiling. He's still a little raw, so it's more likely that he'll struggle initially, but end up as a pretty good long-term keeper, particularly in terms of hitting for power. Mixed: $4; AL: $17.
Nick Swisher - Swisher has remained in a slump all season long, one that has left him hitting just .201 entering play on Sunday. On Saturday, the White Sox took the unique step of batting him ninth in the order. He's one of a number of slow starting Sox hitters. Swisher had a hip flexor injury in April, but since then there has been no mention of an injury. If he's healthy, there's really no good reason why he's hitting so poorly, or at least a reason that would indicate that he'd continue to hit like this. His BABIP is only .246, while his walk and contact rates have remained consistent with his career levels. He's a good buy-low prospect, or someone to snag if his owner in a mixed league has gotten impatient. Mixed: $8; AL: $25.
Clete Thomas - When we last saw Thomas, he was getting semi-regular playing time in center field with Curtis Granderson out. This time, he's up a backup, replacing the slumping Matt Joyce. Thomas doesn't really project to be a big league regular. He might pick up the spare stolen base or two, but if you roster him, there are going to a lot of games where you get no at-bats. Mixed: No; AL: $0.