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The Long Game: Remember, Remember, the First of September

Erik Siegrist

Erik Siegrist is an FSWA award-winning columnist who covers all four major North American sports (that means the NHL, not NASCAR) and whose beat extends back to the days when the Nationals were the Expos and the Thunder were the Sonics. He was the inaugural champion of Rotowire's Staff Keeper baseball league. His work has also appeared at Baseball Prospectus.

With the trade deadline fading in the rear view mirror and the races for postseason berths kicking into gear, you should (hopefully) know by now which way you're pointed in your fantasy league. Either you're competing for a spot in the money or you ain't, and even if you were stuck in that dreaded no-mans-land in the middle of the standings at the end of July, the trade deadline probably forced you to decide whether you were a buyer or a seller.

Just because all the deadline fireworks have exploded, though, that doesn't mean you can sit back and coast. As long as your league allows players to be added in FAAB, you should be looking for ways to improve your lineup, either with an eye toward grabbing an extra standings point or two this year with a well-placed addition, or toward adding a piece to next year's roster puzzle.

While most of the focus goes toward prospects who might get called up when rosters expand in September, there's another class of players that tends to get overlooked this time of year that can provide you with an even bigger boost than a raw kid just getting his feet wet in the majors. I'm speaking, of course, of players on the DL, solid veterans who don't have the sex appeal of a Byron Buxton or Corey Seager but may slip under the radar for that very reason. Particularly in leagues with short benches, or in situations where they were on expiring contracts anyway and cluttering up the fantasy rosters of non-contenders, these injured players may well have been cut loose and thus present a great buying opportunity for sharper managers while everyone else is out prospect-hunting.

Below are some of the players I have my eye on as September approaches, and a recommendation as to whether they're worth pursuing for their short-term 2015 production as well as their value in future seasons (making them enticing targets for fantasy teams still playing or this year) or purely as keepers:

Starting Pitching

Derek Holland, TEX -
Holland actually returned to the mound Wednesday night with 6.1 good innings against the Mariners, so you don't have to wait until September to pick him up. The left-hander has made just seven starts over the last two seasons due to shoulder troubles, but he was popping 93 mph with his fastball Wednesday and if he can stay healthy he's capable of delivering some solid numbers down the stretch.

Phil Hughes, MIN -
His successful 2014 performance is still fresh enough that Hughes might not be available, but after a fairly brutal stretch before he landed on the DL (15 earned runs in 13.2 innings over three starts) it's possible he got cut loose in a fit of pique. There's not a lot to like here for the short term, as his K-rate this season has plummeted (5.30 K/9 after last year's 7.98) and his HR-rate spiked (1.75 HR/9, up from 0.69), but if he can use the offseason to re-discover last year's form he could still have value in 2016 if the price is right.

James Paxton, SEA -
Another talented lefty who can't seem to stay healthy, Paxton put up decent numbers in 10 starts earlier this season before he suffered a weird finger tendon strain that has been slow to heal. Unlike Holland, none of Paxton's injuries have been of the scary arm variety and pitching in Safeco is never a bad thing for a pitcher's fantasy value, so his value as a keeper remains strong. His 2015 rest-of-season value could be limited, though, as his timetable for a return remains a bit murky.

Adam Wainwright, STL -
If Wainwright is somehow out there in your free-agent pool, tag him, flag him and do whatever you need to do to make sure you get multiple alerts if and when he comes off the DL. Despite being around seemingly forever he's still only 33, and the two-time Cy Young runner-up likely still has plenty in the tank once he recovers from his torn Achilles' tendon. The Cardinals may well use him out of the bullpen in September, so the immediate returns could be minimal, but Wainwright's keeper value is still sky-high.

Steven Wright, BOS -
Wright hardly counts as a "solid veteran," but the knuckleballer seemed to be figuring things out (2.59 ERA, 25:11 K:BB ratio in 24.3 innings over four starts) before he hit the concussion DL thanks to a wayward pre-game fly ball. The Red Sox have little to lose this season, so expect them to plug him back into the rotation once he's healthy and see if they really do have the next Tim Wakefield on their hands. This is the kind of modest investment that teams playing for next year should be looking at, as for nothing more than a couple of FAAB bucks that are worthless in a month or so anyway, you could get a solid arm for the back of your 2016 rotation.

Relief Pitching

Carter Capps, MIA -
Capps was having a fantastic season as a high-K set-up man, 16.84 K/9 in 31 innings fantastic, before being sidelined by an elbow strain which I'm sure has nothing at all to do with the crazy crow-hop in his delivery. Relievers are the most fungible of fantasy commodities, but if you can get a good one cheap they're worth hanging onto, especially when they pitch for a team that has a history of ditching guys when they get expensive. By the way, A.J. Ramos is going to get expensive in arbitration this offseason after demonstrating that he can close effectively. Just sayin'.

Sean Doolittle, OAK -
Doolittle's shoulder issues have limited him to exactly one inning pitched in 2015, but he was clocking 93 mph with his fastball in rehab late last week and seemed poised to rejoin an A's bullpen in desperate need of a closer. If you need a saves boost to get you over the hump this year, Doolittle should be your No. 1 FAAB target.

First Base

Justin Morneau, COL -
Morneau's career could very well be done after multiple concussions, so don't get your hopes up that he plays again in 2015 or beyond. Then again, he took batting practice last week and if he does make it back onto the field he does still play his home games in Coors Field, at least for the remainder of the year. His keeper value is muddy as he's a free agent and unlikely to return to Colorado, but as a short-term lottery ticket on offense you could do worse.

Third Base

David Freese, LAA -
The Angels have been completely unable to replace Freese since he got hurt, so once the veteran gets healthy expect him to jump right back into the lineup. He wasn't having a great, or even a good, season when he broke his finger (.240/.309/.397 with 11 home runs in 90 games) but as a low-end power option in a solid lineup, he should chip in a handful of homers and some RBI down the stretch.

Josh Harrison, PIT -
Harrison is probably healthy enough to rejoin the lineup now, but with a fairly full infield the Pirates are electing to keep him and Jordy Mercer on their rehab assignments until September roster expansion so they don't have to mess with their current 25-man roster. He isn't having the season he did in 2014, but Harrison still profiles as a useful deep-league asset who will steal some bases, hit for a solid batting average and qualify at multiple positions. He could be squeezed for playing time over the final weeks of the season, though, even given his versatility, so he probably makes a better keeper target than short-term producer.

David Wright, NYM -
Remember when David Wright and Ryan Zimmerman were the future at third base in the NL East? Good times. Wright has seen his fantasy value evaporate the last couple of seasons due primarily to shoulder and back woes, which doesn't bode well for his ability to provide much value either in September or 2016, but Juan Uribe isn't a long-term solution at the hot corner either, and Wright's massive contract ensures he'll get another look next year. If you can get him cheap, he's worth taking a chance on.

Shortstop

Jordy Mercer, PIT -
Like Harrison, Mercer is just biding his time on a rehab assignment until rosters expand. Unlike Harrison, his 2016 value is a little more up in the air as Jung-Ho Kang has done a fine job in his absence and Mercer has yet to really put it all together at the plate. There are some moving parts on the Pirates' infield, as Aramis Ramirez should be gone next season and Neil Walker seems like to head out the door as well, so Mercer could well have a starting job somewhere next April. What he does with it is the real question.

Outfield

Jon Jay, StL -
Jay had completely collapsed at the plate this season even before he landed on the DL with a wrist injury, which has given youngsters like Stephen Piscotty and Randal Grichuk a chance to establish themselves as viable alternatives. Grichuk is now hurt himself, though, so if Jay does make it back for the final month he'll get one more chance to provide some 2015 value in batting average, maybe with a couple steals thrown in for good measure. Don't waste your time on his as a potential keeper, though, as the best-case scenario for him in 2016 is probably as the Cards' fourth outfielder.

Wil Myers, SD -
While Myers' injuries this season have added yet another black mark to his ledger, it's still way too early to give up on him. He's only 24, and despite his disappointing major league career so far he's still managed a 162-game average of .261/.325/.411 with 19 home runs and 83 RBI while playing his home games in two pitchers' parks in Tampa Bay and San Diego. That's a profile of a player who just needs better luck when it comes to his health to break out. If Myers recovers enough from his wrist surgery to play again in 2015, he should be a priority target for rebuilding fantasy teams.

Steven Souza, TB -
The player the Rays brought in to replace Myers hasn't had any better luck with injuries than his predecessor. Wrist and hand issues have plagued Souza, though his astronomical K-rate likely would have crippled his production ever without the injuries. Strikeouts weren't a huge problem for the 26-year-old in the minors, however, so even though his age gives him a smaller window for success than some other prospects, there's still a decent chance Souza can turn things around and be a useful four-category asset next season if he stays healthy.

Denard Span, WAS -
Span's campaign got off to a late start due to offseason sports hernia surgery that he came back from too quickly, and the resulting core muscle issues seem to have cascaded into back trouble. When he was fit to play he looked like his usual self, though, slashing .304/.367/.430 in 59 games, and it looks like he'll be back soon to try and help the Nationals salvage a disappointing season. His 2016 address is unknown due to his status as a free agent that the Nats are unlikely to re-sign, which clouds his keeper value somewhat, but if you need leadoff production for the last few weeks of the year, Span's your guy.