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NL FAAB Factor: New Faces in Houston

Jan Levine

Levine covers baseball, basketball and hockey for RotoWire. In addition to his column writing, he's the master of the MLB and NHL cheatsheets. In his spare time, he roots for the Mets.

This is our weekly look at the free agents in each league. We have two goals for this article:

- Identify likely free agents and discuss their strengths and weaknesses.

- Try to estimate how much of your free agent budget you should bid on them.

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:

- League size of 12 players (either NL or Mixed, we'll specify)
- 5x5 categories
- Each team has a $100 FAAB budget

Starting Pitchers:

Josh Banks – Banks was promoted from Triple-A Round Rock and started in place of the injured Felipe Paulino on Saturday vs. Texas. He allowed six runs in four-plus innings. Banks is not really a prospect anymore, but he has had some success this season, posting a 2.97 ERA in 15 starts. Since May 1, he is 7-2 with a 2.67 ERA (20ER/67.1IP), but his overall 34:24 K:BB ratio indicates that he probably won't do much to help out fantasy teams, even in the short term. Mixed: No; NL: $2.

Madison Bumgarner – We wrote up Bumgarner, who had a cup of coffee with the Giants last season and is their top pitching prospect, two weeks ago when all signs pointed to him getting called up in the near future. That future is now as Bumgarner was promoted to start Saturday. He picked up the loss against Boston, giving up four runs on five hits and a walk while striking out five. After struggling in his first two starts this season, in which he gave up 11 runs and 21 hits in seven innings, Bumgarner made a mechanical adjustment that has given him more velocity; and he also started throwing a cutter. His overall numbers – a 3.04 ERA, 59 strikeouts and 22 walks in 82.2 innings – for Triple-A Fresno show how far he has come. Mixed: $7; NL: $22.

Aroldis Chapman – Chapman, who started the year in the rotation for Triple-A Louisville, was shifted to the bullpen Wednesday and is expected to be called up and pitch in that role for the Reds in about three weeks. Chapman is expected to be a starter down the road, but the Reds have a need in the bullpen that Chapman can fill. Chapman throws a mid-90s fastball that can hit triple digits, as well as a developing slider, a curveball and a changeup. He went 5-5 with a 4.57 ERA on 60 hits and 40 walks with 76 strikeouts in 65.2 innings in Triple-A this season. Chapman started his transition from reliever to starter Wednesday. He threw the seventh and eighth innings in relief and gave up one run, two hits, and one walk with three strikeouts. With Edinson Volquez in the midst of his rehab assignment and Homer Bailey expected back in the next few weeks, the Reds decided to move Chapman to the bullpen; but they will need to use him carefully due to his control issues that often had his pitch count near his limit of 100 by the fifth inning. The Reds signed Chapman in January to a six-year, $30.25 million contract, so look for him to be a starter next year. For now, he will get his feet wet in the bullpen. Mixed: $1; NL: $4 (obviously much higher in keeper leagues).

J.A. Happ – Happ, who will make his fifth rehab start for Triple-A Lehigh Valley Tuesday, said his forearm felt pain-free after his rehab outing Wednesday, but his decreased velocity remains a concern. Happ allowed three runs on seven hits over five innings at Double-A Reading, striking out four and walking none. Happ, who has been out after making only two starts this season, was throwing his fastball in the upper 80s (as opposed to his regular 92-93 mph), but he believes he is getting close to 100 percent. Happ was a godsend for the Phillies last year, beginning the year in the bullpen before moving into the rotation in late May, where he quickly established himself as one of the team's more consistent starters. If Happ can make some strides with his control while also pushing his strikeout rate up towards the ratios he posted in the minors he could be in for another good season. However, if his walk rate slips and his BABIP normalizes (the .270 BABIP from last season is not likely to be repeated), Happ could find himself with an ERA well above the 2.93 ERA he posted in 2009. When Happ returns, look for Kyle Kendrick to be moved to the bullpen. Mixed: $10; NL: $32.

Daniel McCutchen – McCutchen was recalled Saturday to replace Zach Duke and lasted six innings, giving up four runs and seven hits, walking two and striking out two against Oakland. McCutchen struggled with the Bucs in four appearances earlier this year (including three starts) in April -- 18 runs allowed in 12 innings – but he should get a few more starts after his lastest promotion. Mixed: No; NL: $2.

Relief Pitchers:

Bill Bray/Nelson Figueroa/Jon Link/Adam Ottavino/Bobby Parnell/Chris Sampson/Alejandro Sanabia/Brian Schlitter/Justin Thomas/Jose Veras/Mike Zagurski - This week’s cast of middle reliever/end of bullpen fillers are in player alpha order: Cincinnati, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, St. Louis, New York, Houston, Florida, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Florida and Philadelphia. All - Mixed: No; NL: $0.

Trevor Hoffman – Manager Ken Macha said earlier in the week that there's a chance Hoffman could reclaim the Brewers' closer role from John Axford. While it’s certainly not a knock against current closer John Axford, who has converted all six of his chances, Macha indicated that Hoffman, who has made six straight scoreless appearances since June 3, is throwing the ball well enough to return to his former role. The Brewers skipper added that he's not sure how the situation will play out, but based on his comments it's clear that it's too early to write Hoffman off completely. Mixed: $3; NL: $9.

Ryan Madson – Madson, who broke his left big toe after kicking a metal chair in April, will begin a rehab assignment on Sunday at High-A Clearwater. Madson is targeting a return to the Phillies roster before the All-Star break and his role will depend on whether Brad Lidge is fully embedded in the closer role by then or still working his way back. Mixed: $3; NL: $9 (go higher if you think he will get a chance to close).

Takashi Saito – Saito, who missed close to three weeks with a strained left hamstring, was activated off the 15-day disabled list Tuesday. Saito posted a 2.92 ERA and a 0.97 WHIP in 25 outings before getting hurt; however, he gave up two runs on two walks and a home run in two-thirds of an inning in Saturday's win over Detroit. He has given up four earned runs and two home runs in 2.2 innings since returning from the DL, so he may need a few more outings until he's back to full speed. Saito may need to find his form fast if Billy Wagner continues to be bothered by his sore ankle, which required a cortisone shot Saturday. Mixed: $2; NL: $7.


Jason Castro – We mentioned Castro, who was selected 10th overall in 2008, in the comments section last week but wanted to cover him in a bit more detail this week. The Astros recalled Castro from Triple-A Round Rock where he not exactly tearing it up, hitting .265 with four HR and 26 RBI, but he was hitting better lately and also sports a .365 OBP and a mature 34:32 K:BB ratio. His hot streak came as a result of a mechanical change at the plate, which allowed him to be quicker to balls on the inner half of the plate. Castro is the Astros’ top hitting prospect and it looks like the club will give him a shot to be the team's starting catcher. He is solid in all aspects defensively and projects to be an average to an above-average hitter with a solid batting average and decent, but not spectacular, power that could get better as he matures. Mixed: $5; NL: $16.

Ryan Hanigan – Hanigan, who has been out with a fractured left thumb since the end of May, began his rehab assignment on Thursday with Triple-A Louisville. Hanigan's rehab assignment is expected to last 7-to-10 days, and then he should be back with the Reds. Prior to the injury, Hanigan had been getting a little more than half the playing time behind the plate for Cincinnati; and since Ramon Hernandez hasn’t excelled in Hanigan’s absence, it would not be surprising if that split went back into effect when Hanigan returns. Mixed: $3; NL: $11.

Josh Thole – The Mets recalled Thole from Triple-A Buffalo on Thursday. Thole was called up to give the Mets another catcher with Rod Barajas dealing with a sore back. He will back up and see minimal action behind Henry Blanco and may be sent down shortly as Barajas was able to catch Saturday. Mixed: No; NL: $0

First Basemen:

Gaby Sanchez – Sanchez saw his eight-game hitting streak end on Friday but was right back at it Saturday with two more hits. Sanchez is hitting 32-for-86 in June, upping his season average to .307, and also has four home runs and 13 RBI this month. He has been hitting in the No. 2 hole, so with Chris Coghlan also performing well from the leadoff spot, the top of Florida's lineup is producing at a high level. Sanchez may just be holding the first base spot warm for Logan Morrison, but he is showing that he won’t just hand the job over when Morrison is ready. Mixed: $14.

Second Basemen:

Ruben Tejada – Manager Jerry Manuel said on Wednesday that Tejada, subbing for the injured Luis Castillo (foot), would remain in the starting lineup for the foreseeable future. Tejada, known as a good-glove, weak-hitting second baseman, is on a nine-game hitting streak and seems to be holding his own at the plate. Don't look for much production, but he will provide enough to possibly have relevance in NL-only leagues. Mixed: $2; NL: $7.


Oswaldo Navarro/Geoff Blum – Navarro was recalled from Triple-A Round Rock on Wednesday to take the place of the injured Tommy Manzella, who will be out six weeks with a fractured finger. Navarro was seen as a good-glove, weak bat type before this season, but he hit .298/.400/.566 with four home runs at Triple-A. He could be worth a look in deeper leagues, as he is expected to split time with Blum with Manzella out. Still, Navarro's play at Triple-A is way above his minor league career track record (previous high of a .724 OPS) and the odds are low that he has significantly changed his skill set at the plate at age 24. Blum now qualifies at first, third and shortstop, which adds to his value, though with Houston on a youth movement, it would not be surprising to see Navarro get most of the playing time. Blum will still see action at first and third. Navarro - Mixed: $0; NL: $3. Blum – Mixed: $1; NL: $5.

Third Basemen:

Chris Johnson – Like Jason Castro, we mentioned Johnson in the comments section last week. Houston recalled Johnson from Triple-A Round Rock last Sunday and it looks like Johnson will get a shot to hold down the starting role. He hit .329/.362/.570 with eight home runs and 33 RBI in 38 games with Round Rock this season. Mixed: $4; NL: $13.


Jason Bourgeois – Like Jason Castro and Chris Johnson, we mentioned Bourgeois in the comment section last week. The Astros recalled Bourgeois, who hit .345/.405/.477 with five homers, 28 RBI, and 18 steals in 235 at-bats, from Triple-A Round Rock last Sunday. With Carlos Lee, Michael Bourn and Hunter Pence set in the Houston outfield, Bourgeois replaces Cory Sullivan as the Astros’ top reserve outfielder. However, if Lee is dealt as has been rumored, Bourgeois could be in line for more playing time and provide some cheap speed. Mixed: $3; NL: $9.

Cole Gillespie – Gillespie, who was up earlier in the year, was promoted from Triple-A Reno by Arizona Monday. Look for Gillespie, who was hitting .289/.417/.493 with five homers and 26 RBI in 40 games, to start in left field against left-handed pitchers in a time-share with Gerardo Parra. Mixed: $0; NL: $3.