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
Zach Duke – Duke was activated from the disabled list and started Friday against Houston after sitting out since June 16 with a strained elbow. Prior to landing on the DL, Duke had surrendered 20 runs and 38 hits over his last four starts (22 innings). The Pirates limited Duke to 79 pitches on Friday and he allowed two runs on five hits over five innings. Duke sat at 86 mph with his fastball, which is around his average, and appeared to get through the game without suffering any further injuries. Mixed: $1; NL: $5.
James McDonald – McDonald, who has dealt with both a broken fingernail and a Grade 2 hamstring strain this season, will start on Monday against the Giants. McDonald will replace John Ely, who was optioned to Triple-A this past week after back-to-back poor starts. McDonald spent the majority of last season in the LA bullpen but he returned to a starting role in the minors and allowed one run over 6.1 innings in his last Triple-A start. Though he's clearly no "sure thing," NL-only leaguers will want to pounce. Mixed: $2; NL: $7.
Edinson Volquez – We profiled Volquez, coming off Tommy John surgery, shortly after he made his first minor league rehab start about a month ago for High-A Lynchburg. He made a few appearances for Lynchburg before moving up to Triple-A Louisville for four starts. Volquez dominated in his last start with Louisville and posted a 1.96 ERA and 21:8 K:BB ratio in 21 innings. He was activated off the 60-day DL to start Saturday against Colorado and allowed just one run in six innings to get the win. Volquez allowed just three hits, posted a 9:2 K:BB ratio, and was hitting 95 mph on the gun. If you're looking for potential difference makers on your waiver wire, Volquez is clearly worth a guy to consider. Keep in mind, however, that control is often the final element to return for a pitcher coming back from Tommy John surgery. Mixed: $16; NL: $40.
Wesley Wright - The Astros announced Saturday that they plan to recall Wright in time to start Tuesday against the Cubs. Felipe Paulino was originally slated to start, but he had a setback with his shoulder and is being sent to Houston to have an MRI. Wright has pitched well at Triple-A since his demotion in June, allowing just five earned runs in 19 innings, and could stick in the rotation if he pitches well and Paulino is sidelined a while longer. Mixed: No; NL: $0.
Michael Dunn/Chad Durbin/Ernesto Frieri/Jhan Marinez - This week’s cast of middle reliever/end of bullpen fillers are in player alpha order: Atlanta, Philadelphia, San Diego and Florida. The only one with potential value is Marinez. Marinez struck out an impressive 60 hitters in 40 innings between the High-A and Double-A levels this season, so he has monster stuff. However, as is typically the case with young pitchers, his command is a bit inconsistent. He is unlikely to be used in save situations in the short term, but may be one to keep an eye on for the future with the rumors that Leo Nunez could be dealt. All except Marinez - Mixed: No; NL: $0. Marinez - Mixed: $0; NL: $3.
Erik Kratz – The Pirates called up Kratz on Friday to take Jason Jaramillo’s spot on the roster. Kratz hit .296 with nine homers and 37 RBI for Triple-A Indianapolis to earn the promotion. He has spent nine seasons in the minors and will back up Ryan Doumit behind the plate. Kratz got the start Saturday and went 2-for-5 with an RBI and could see some additional starts if he proves adept behind the plate defensively. Mixed: No; NL: $2.
Luis Castillo – Castillo, who has been on the disabled list since June 4 with bruised feet, has made rapid progress of late and is expected to return to the lineup on Monday. Castillo began a rehab assignment last Wednesday with High-A St. Lucie and has gone 3-for-13 with a 3:2 BB:K ratio in four games. The Mets have used Alex Cora and Ruben Tejada in place of Castillo, but they clearly could use Castillo’s ability to hit and get on base with the team’s offense struggling of late. Mixed: $4; NL: $14.
Justin Turner – The Mets recalled Turner on Friday to serve as an emergency infielder while Jose Reyes copes with an oblique injury. Turner, who receive 27 major league at-bats for Baltimore will have a limited role and probably isn't worth grabbing in the vast majority of fantasy leagues. Mixed: No; NL: $0.
Alex Gonzalez – The Braves acquired Gonzalez and two minor league players from Toronto on Wednesday in exchange for Yunel Escobar and Jo-Jo Reyes. Gonzalez entered the All-Star break hitting .259 with 17 homers, 25 doubles and 50 RBI. He's strong defensively and will give the Braves much more power from the shortstop position than Escobar was giving them, but Gonzalez is 33 years old and doesn't have nearly the upside that Escobar possesses. In addition, Gonzalez has a propensity for striking out and has some issues getting on base, but the Braves are gunning for a deep playoff run this year and were willing to deal Escobar, who had clearly fallen out of favor in Atlanta. NL: $30.
Carlos Beltran – We profiled Beltran a month ago when he started playing extended spring training games as part of his rehab from multiple knee surgeries. Beltran, who played 14 games in the minors and returned to the Mets’ lineup Thursday, said his most-recent MRI exam showed some improvement in a bruised area of his right knee that kept him out for more than a year, aside from 20 games at the end of last season. However, he said there has been no improvement in the other injured area, which could impact him now that he is back playing games. The biggest impediment facing Beltran is the brace on his knee. It doesn't allow for full range of motion, but he doesn't believe he will be inhibited in the field or on the bases. Beltran played three straight games after being activated, but he on sat Sunday and will see occasional days off as manager Jerry Manuel finds places for Angel Pagan to play and slots in Jeff Francouer. When healthy, Beltran is a top-tier talent - just keep in mind that the specter of micro-fracture surgery still looms. Mixed: $16; NL: $40 (go higher if you believe he is fully healthy).
Lorenzo Cain – The Brewers recalled Cain from Triple-A Nashville on Friday. Cain missed half of 2009 with a torn MCL then played poorly when he returned, but he has been hitting well in the minors this season. Cain hit .341 in 10 games in Triple-A after earning a promotion by hitting .324 in Double-A. Cain, who had 25 stolen bases between both levels, has improved his plate discipline, which had been an issue in the past. Cain is a big part of the Brewers' plan for the future and this move suggests that they might give Cain a chance at the expense of Carlos Gomez. Mixed: $3; NL: $11.
Allen Craig – The Cardinals recalled Craig from Triple-A Memphis to give the team some outfield depth, with Nick Stavinoha heading to the DL. Craig went just 1-for-19 for the Cardinals in two stints earlier this year, but he has torn the cover off the ball for the Redbirds. Craig had 11 home runs and 65 RBI in 67 minor league games, including seven and 35 in June. Matt Holliday, Colby Rasmus, and the injured Ryan Ludwick are set in the outfield for St. Louis, so Craig’s stint may only last until Ludwick comes off the DL. Mixed: No; NL: $2.
Luis Durango – The Padres recalled Durango from Triple-A Portland on Friday. The Padres already have six guys on their team that can play the outfield, so Durango will slide into a reserve role for the next couple weeks. That stint might last only as long as Mat Latos is out since Ernesto Frieri was called up to take Mike Adams’ spot. Mixed: No; NL: $0.
Jason Heyward – Heyward, who had been out since late June with a strained ligament in his left thumb, returned to the Braves’ lineup Thursday and went 0-for-4. However, he did make two spectacular defensive plays in the Braves’ victory over the Brewers. Heyward has just one home run since May 29; and while he drew 13 walks in June, he struck out 30 times while going 17-for-94 (.181). His struggles have lasted longer that a typical slump, so his owners and the Braves are hoping that much of that was due to the injury. (just an FYI as showed be owned in all formats).
Lastings Milledge – Milledge, who had been part of a platoon with Ryan Church recently, opened the post All-Star break as the Pirates' regular right fielder. "Lastings has earned it," manager John Russell said. "It's not about Church. It's about what Lastings has been able to show, how he's handled it, and that he looks like he's ready." Milledge has hit .330 (32-for-97) since the beginning of June, so it’s time to grab him while he’s hot. Mixed: $11; NL: $30 (in the unlikely scenario he isn't owned in an NL-only format).
Manny Ramirez –Ramirez, who was out with a hamstring injury, was activated from the 15-day disabled list Thursday. Manny lasted one full game before leaving Friday’s contest with right calf tightness, which had him on the bench Saturday. Ramirez had a calf injury earlier in the season, but it's not exactly the same injury. "I think we have to keep an eye on him," manager Joe Torre said. "This started out in Pittsburgh early in the year. It's not the same as the one earlier, but probably related." (just an FYI as should be owned in all formats, activate him at your own risk until he shows he is fully healthy).
Will Venable – Venable, who was bothered by lower back stiffness for several days in late June before landing on the DL, made a rehab appearance with High-A Lake Elsinore on Wednesday. The plan is to have Venable play with Lake Elsinore through the weekend before rejoining the Padres on Tuesday in Atlanta. Venable has been somewhat of a disappointment in what was expected to be a breakout campaign, and his performance to date is lending credence to the view that he is a good fourth outfielder but is not suited for starting. That being said, he will likely regain his role as the starting right fielder when he returns to action. Mixed: $3; NL: $11.