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MLB Barometer: Opportunities Abound in Toronto

Howard Bender

Howard Bender

Howard Bender has been covering fantasy sports for over a decade on a variety of web sites. For more from him, you can find his personal musings on his blog RotobuzzGuy.com or follow him on Twitter at @rotobuzzguy. For questions, thoughts or comments you can email him at rotobuzzguy@gmail.com.

MLB Barometer: Working Triage

For the past two weeks, I've preached patience with respect to excessive waiver moves and careless trading. So early into a season, fantasy owners have a tendency to overreact to hot and cold starts and the result is a series of panic moves that will inevitably hurt your chances of bringing home the gold by year end. Listen, no one wants to look at their team sitting at the bottom of the standings; especially not after extensive draft prep work that culminated in what you thought was a no-brainer, championship squad. But sometimes, restraint is what will suit your team best. Sometimes you have to let the chips fall where they may. Sometimes the best moves are the ones you don't make.

Until now...

Two weeks into the season and the injury bugs have swarmed around MLB rosters like some biblical plague of locusts. We've seen injuries both major and minor, rehab assignments delayed, precautionary MRI's, you name it. No one seems safe, and what's worse is that you, as a fantasy owner, are now going to have to be at the top of your game when deciding which players are going to be worthy of your FAAB dollars and waiver priority and which ones are likely but a band-aid to be ripped off in two weeks and cast back onto the garbage heap.

Some of the situations are easy to read. Jose Reyes doing something crazy awful to his ankle the other day results in a continued increase of playing time for Maicer Izturis and Emilio Bonifacio, both of whom were actually competing for the job at second base just a few short weeks ago. But with third baseman Brett Lawrie injured, the Jays were able to keep both in the starting lineup, giving each of them a slight boost in value. With expectations of Lawrie returning soon, one of them was going to be on the outside looking in. That is, until Reyes' mishap. Now both will stay in the lineup regularly, at least for the next one to three months.

Add onto that, the recent news that Lawrie will actually be delayed at least another two weeks, your temporary fix will be Mark DeRosa who has recently seen an increase in playing time. Despite the fact that the Jays just called up Munenori Kawasaki, it will likely be DeRosa who sees the steady time on the field. Kawasaki may get a start or two at short which will push Izturis to third, but it's the veterans on the 25-man roster who will see the added playing time. One possible fly in the ointment to all of this - the Jays have started Jose Bautista at third base the last two games. This might open the door for Rajai Davis and/or Anthony Gose to play more frequently.

Other situations remain somewhat cloudy, such as the Oakland outfield. The A's have just put Yoenis Cespedes on the DL with a hand injury and also have Coco Crisp nursing a groin problem. One would think that the situation is easily remedied give the glut of outfielders with whom they opened the season, but the team didn't see it that way and brought up Michael Taylor from Triple-A. Taylor struggled during the spring but seems to have gotten off to a hot start down in Sacramento and now he'll find himself in the mix with Chris Young and Seth Smith.

The only real question in Oakland though, is how long this will last? Cespedes is automatically lost for a minimum of two weeks, but Crisp could be back within a couple of days as his injury doesn't seem to need a DL stint. Is Taylor even worth a look? With Josh Reddick over in right and Young expected to handle duties in center until Crisp returns, you've got Smith and Taylor over in left and at the DH spot. But the A's could mix things up and use someone else as the designated hitter, especially when they face a lefty as neither Smith nor Taylor do a particularly good job against southpaws. Granted, next week's schedule only shows them facing one left-hander which favors the use of both, but Bob Melvin does have a number of interchangeable bodies still at his disposal. The situation, on the whole, becomes less appealing if you're looking for consistent fantasy help.

So when you're sifting through scrap heap because your team, like my team -- like the team of so many frustrated owners right now - is both covered in gauze bandages and hobbling around on crutches, make sure you're doing a thorough investigation of the team's situation. You want to make a smart and savvy investment rather than just grabbing some guy being called up to take a roster space that might not even see more than a handful of at-bats. The proper work should easily pay off for you in the end.

Now here's a look at some players who may interest you in the coming days while there are a number of red flags to be on the lookout for in other situations.

Going Up?

Tony Cingrani, SP CIN - If he's not on your radar already, you better do something fast to wake yourself up. After a year that saw him strike out 172 batters over 146 innings in Triple-A and then whiff nine over five innings in a late-season cup of coffee, Cingrani has opened this season in similar fashion, maybe even better. He's made two starts for the Triple-A Louisville Bats and is 1-0 with a 0.00 ERA and a 21:2 K:BB over just 12.1 innings. Last year he held the opposition to a .191 average. This year, they're batting just .079 against him. With Johnny Cueto nursing a triceps injury, it could be time to give Cingrani a call. And even if he doesn't get it now, it's coming in the future, so best to be pro-active here.

Chris Capuano, SP LAD - Though some mentioned Ted Lilly as the possible replacement for the injured Zack Greinke, it will be Capuano who gets the call here this week. He certainly isn't the be-all, end-all of choices, but the 34-year old veteran lefty has proven that he does work for the Dodgers. Between a favorable pitcher's-park to call home and a division that traditionally leans toward the lighter side of hitting, Capuano was able to put together a 3.72 ERA with a 162:54 K:BB over 198.1 innings last season and while he failed to make the rotation early on this year, he still had some nice moments during the spring which included a 15:3 K:BB over 16 innings. With Greinke out for a minimum of eight weeks, Capuano should see a fair number of starts.

Cody Ross, OF, ARI - The revolving door of injuries in the Arizona outfield continues as Ross gets activated and Jason Kubel finds his way to the disabled list this week. Ross will immediately slot into the starting job in right field and, as a dead-pull hitter, should enjoy the 328 feet line down the left-field line. The batting average, particularly against right-handers, won't be his most desirable asset, but with a career ISO just under .200, you know there's plenty of power to be had.

James Russell, RP CHC - The Cubs bullpen just might set the record for most entries in the MLB Barometer this season. First there was the demise of Carlos Marmol, then the rise of Kyuji Fujikawa, and now we're looking at Russell as the next to accrue saves on the North Side. With Fujikawa landing on the disabled list (but not until after he gave your fantasy team the finger with a three-run meltdown), the Cubs are turning to Russell and possibly even Shawn Camp to hold down the fort in the ninth inning. They even brought back Rafael Dolis to get some work in, but Russell seems to be the guy they will turn to most often. But while he should bring some decent value to NL-only leaguers, mixed-league owners may want to show some restraint. This situation is far from settled and could be up in the air for some time.

Kurt Suzuki, C WAS - If there was ever a time to shine as Suzuki did late last season, it would be now as Wilson Ramos, the supposed catcher-of-the-future for the Nats, lands on the disabled list with a hamstring strain. Reports say that he should be back just after his two weeks are up, but we all know how hamstring injuries can linger, especially if you come back too soon. Not to mention the effects on the legs of catchers. Suzuki was acquired in a trade late last season and batted .301 with four home runs and 12 RBI over the final month of the season as the Nats' starting catcher. If he can even come close to that level again, he will pay immediate dividends to those who grab him.

Going Down

Justin Ruggiano, OF MIA - Somewhere out there on this crazy interweb thingie, there were warnings against drafting Ruggiano this season. While his numbers were fantastic last year, many (including myself) noted the 31-year old, late-bloomer's .401 BABIP and the likely regression you would see, particularly in a seriously weakened lineup. Now that he's batting .219 and barely staved off a late-spring job displacement, Ruggiano is limited with a groin injury that seems to be opening the door even wider for former Rookie of the Year, Chris Coghlan. Ruggiano is day to day, but could find himself on the DL if the Marlins opt to err on the side of caution. But the reason we're highlighting Ruggiano here and not Coghlan in the section above is because this situation could end up in a platoon for some time as opposed to one simply out-playing the other. Tread lightly here. It could get a little hairy.

Eric Hosmer, 1B KC - Another year and it seems to be the same old Hosmer, just mashing balls in the dirt as if he gets a commission on the number of worms he kills over the course of a season. But while some will easily dismiss it as a cold start, you have to look at Hosmer's batted ball data and plate discipline numbers to realize that it's more than just bad lack; that there may be something fundamentally wrong with his swing. As evidenced by his swing rates, he's not up there mindlessly hacking away. He's being selective of the pitches at which he swings and, overall, is making a reasonable amount of contact. In fact, he's sitting on a .350 BABIP which would normally provide a player with an unusually high batting average. But the contact is far from clean and Hosmer can't seem to hit 'em where they ain't. With a ground ball rate of roughly 55.0-percent and no sign of improvement on the horizon, there's a very good chance that this quad injury he is currently dealing with becomes serious enough (wink, wink, nudge, nudge) that he lands on the DL and heads to Triple-A to get his head right and work on his mechanics. Monitor this situation as the Royals are in a win-now state of mind and aren't going to have the patience to hold Hosmer's hand all year.

Brett Lawrie, 3B TOR - As mentioned in the lead-in, Lawrie's rehab assignment has been delayed recently. Originally believed to be the ribs needed additional time to heal, there has now been talk of Lawrie potentially moving over to second base in the wake of the Reyes injury so that Izturis and Bonifacio can handle the left side of the infield. Nothing is etched in stone, but he is playing second for Sunday's rehab game as the team gets a look. Lawrie is likely still two weeks away which now has him slated to miss the entire month of April. Sure, eligibility over at second would be nice, but given Lawrie's draft position, fantasy owners just want to see him get back out on the field.

Jackie Bradley, Jr., OF BOS - The magical Bradley rise could be over in just a few days as David Ortiz is expected to join the Sox by the end of this coming week. That puts Jonny Gomes back into left field and Bradley, who is just 3-for-25, either onto the bench or, more likely, back in Triple-A. If this doesn't prove to you that spring numbers should always be taken with a grain of salt (or in this case, the whole darn salt shaker), I don't know what will. Bradley looked outstanding against soft spring competition and looked like he had the plate discipline of a savvy veteran when he drew three walks on Opening Day, but it's been downhill ever since. The Sox know that he'll benefit more from regular playing time in the minors, so now it's just a matter of what the demotion does to his confidence. Stay tuned for this one.

Dustin Ackley, 2B SEA - Just like Hosmer, Ackley might be at those very same crossroads in Seattle. He's shown very little improvement from what was a massively disappointing 2012 season and is currently en route to an even worse disaster if he doesn't right the ship soon. Just like last season, the high ground ball rate (56.3-percent this year) is killing him at the plate and while he is making above-average contact, it's just a series of worm-killers that he can't outrun. His BABIP is crazy low right now and should regress to the mean, but even that might not be enough to jump-start Ackley's bat and expected overall performance. Though you'd hate to see his confidence get messed with, the Mariners might just be forced to roll with Robert Andino for a little bit while Ackley clears his head and gets his swing back.