The Long Game: The Other Guys
September for fantasy baseball owners is the bizarro version of the month as seen by normal folk. While parents sternly round up their young scamps and lock them back up in school, rotisserie owners welcome their own young scamps with beaming smiles and open arms as prospects get released into the sunlight of the major leagues when rosters expand, and inject some late life into flagging fantasy rosters.
While elite talents like Travis d'Arnaud and Xander Bogaerts have already gotten the call, and big-time likely call-ups like Billy Hamilton and Kevin Gausman need no introduction, there are plenty of other names who could be added to rosters when the calendar flips who should be on your radar too. I'm talking about major leaguers returning from injury, guys who don't have the bloom of youth on their cheeks but instead the pallor of convalescence. DL'ed veterans may not be as sexy as prospects, but clubs who sink resources into a lengthy rehab are more likely to give that player a chance to establish a regular role than they might an unproven kid, and having some kind of track record of big league success always gives you a leg up on the competition.
Here are some names to remember as potential September reinforcements who may come cheaper than your typical top 50 prospect, but could still have value both down the stretch and as a part of your 2014 roster.
Scott Baker, ChC: Expected to make a big return from Tommy John surgery this year, Baker instead got shut down in spring training due to continued elbow soreness and didn't get back on the bump until July. A succession of rained-out rehab starts further delayed him, and it's only now that he's finally beginning to inch close to an actual major league appearance. The Cubs don't exactly have a lot of rotation depth behind Jeff Samardzija, so if Baker does make it back in September and looks even halfway decent it wouldn't be a surprise to see him re-sign another one year deal with the northsiders to try and get his career firmly back on track in 2014. Of course, pitching scarcity being what it is, a decent September could also get him a multi-year deal from a more desperate club. Either way, a modest investment now could pay off nicely.
Kyle Blanks, SD: Blanks is never going to be a huge slugger in San Diego, mainly because it's almost impossible for anyone to be a big slugger in that ballpark. How Adrian Gonzalez managed four consecutive 30-plus homer seasons in Petco Park is a mystery of the modern age. But given the wasteland that is the Padres' outfield roster at the moment (let me sum it up for you thusly: Mark Kotsay is still getting at-bats for them) anybody who possesses any sort of recognizable baseball skill is going to get playing time for them, and Blanks can hit a ball a long way when he's healthy as his 204 ISO on the road this year will attest. His overall .256/.318/.425 line with just eight home runs in 242 at-bats was unimpressive enough to make him a fantasy afterthought earlier in the year, but when he returns from his Achilles injury in September he could supply a nice bit of added thump to your lineup down the stretch. If you can stream him during the Friars' 14 away games, including a long trip through Philly, Atlanta and Pittsburgh from September 10th through 19th, so much the better. As for his 2014 outlook, who knows? Maybe you'll get lucky and Blanks will get dealt to the Rockies or White Sox in the offseason and have that one magic Carlos Quentin year where he stays healthy and rakes. For a couple of FAAB bucks, he'll be worth taking a chance.
Neftali Feliz, Tex: The former wunderkind is finally almost back from Tommy John surgery, and the Rangers seem resigned to Feliz being a reliever rather than risk his electric arm on another rotation experiment. That means he'll be firmly in the mix for the 2014 closer spot following Joe Nathan's expected departure from Arlington, and while Joakim Soria might have the edge due to his experience in the role the former Royal hasn't shown quite the same life on his pitches since his own return from TJ surgery. If Feliz comes back firing bullets once again, he could pay big dividends in 2014.
Frank Francisco, NYM: At this point it's looking like a long shot that Francisco pitches in the majors this season. He's a free agent in the offseason and the Mets aren't playing for anything other than draft position, so they really have no reason to add him to their September roster. If he does get some major league innings in though, the journeyman reliever still has 67 saves between 2009 and 2012 on his resume and he could get a contract from a club trying to find a bargain basement answer to their ninth inning question next year and/or a flippable asset, much as the Astros did with Jose Veras this season. It'll cost you almost nothing to find out.
John Jaso, Oak: The remainder of Jaso's 2013 campaign is in some jeopardy thanks to post-concussion symptoms, but the A's are decisively in the postseason hunt and if he does get cleared to return you can be sure he'll get added to their September roster. Any skill with the stick from a catcher has value in most rotisserie and dynasty formats, and while in normal leagues Jaso might be a poor man's Salvador Perez, in OBP leagues Jaso's patience and ability to put the ball in play makes him a true gem. Either way, having a cheap catcher on your roster that won't hurt you offensively is a worthy use of a roster spot, so if he does make it back before the season is out snap him up.
Brett Myers, Cle: Myers started the year in the rotation and got absolutely decimated, before elbow trouble shut him down. (I'd include his April numbers but there may be children reading this.) Using him as a starter was a gamble by the Indians anyway though, as the only real success Myers has had recently came when the Astros used him as their closer last season. The Tribe plan to bring Myers back in September in a relief role, and that's where fantasy owners should start to get interested. Chris Perez is making north of $7 million on a one-year deal, and previous Closer of the Future Vinny Pestano completely lost the strike zone this year, to the point of getting demoted back to Triple-A himself. There is a visible path to saves for Myers in 2014 if he proves he's still got something left in the tank, so if you're looking ahead to next year and acquiring closer lottery tickets Myers is someone you should definitely keep your eye on.
Felipe Paulino, KC: Early last year, Paulino's escape from Coors Field seemed almost Snake Plissken-esque as he was on fire for the Royals, but Tommy John surgery put an end to any thoughts of a big season. Elbow and shoulder soreness slowed his rehab this season, and his control (which was never strong to begin with) has been poor during his six rehab appearances, so he may not get a look at all this September. If he does join Kansas City's roster though, the promise of those seven outstanding starts in 2012 is still hanging tantalizingly in the air, and the Royals could definitely use a pitcher with some upside in their 2014 rotation behind James Shields. Of all the names listed here, Paulino's got the highest potential keeper value of them all.