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NL FAAB Factor: Two Reds Righties Near a Return

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:

Homer Bailey – Bailey, on the disabled list with shoulder soreness, threw 37 pitches over three innings in an extended spring training game Tuesday. He is still slated to make his first rehab start April 17 and will probably make two starts in the minors before returning to the majors, possibly before the end of April. Bailey is out of options, so he likely will stick with the Reds even if it’s doesn't win a spot in the starting rotation. That said, since he will come off the DL before Johnny Cueto, he should replace Mike Leake in the Reds’ rotation. However, if Sam LeCure continues to pitch well, the Reds may decide to send Bailey to the bullpen when Cueto returns. Bailey demonstrated some improvement in 2010, raising his strikeout rate while maintaining decent walk and home run rates. His overall record was a little worse than it could have been, thanks to a 68 percent strand rate and a .321 BABIP against, so the expectation is he will slot back into the rotation and remain one of the Reds’ five starters. Mixed: $3; NL: $9.

Johnny Cueto – Cueto suffered mild shoulder irritation during spring training and landed on the disabled list to start the season. However, he is just about ready to make his return to the rotation. Cueto threw 34 pitches in an extended spring training game Monday and made his first rehab start for Triple-A Louisville Saturday, allowing one run on two hits and two walks with four strikeouts in 3.1 innings. After a couple successful rehab starts, Cueto should be well on his way to returning from the DL, likely in early May. The question then will become whom he replaces in the rotation. Homer Bailey figures to come off the DL ahead of Cueto and replace Mike Leake. After that, Cueto could replace either Bailey or Sam LeCure. Cueto's numbers show that he has made an effort to become more efficient at the cost of a few extra strikeouts. He lowered his walk rate and his home run rate two years in a row, and the tradeoff has been worth it. Cueto lowered his ERA below 4.00 last season and threw more innings than he did in his previous two seasons. Mixed: $8; NL: $22.

Dillon Gee – Gee will be promoted from Triple-A Buffalo and start Sunday in place of the injured Chris Young. Following another doubleheader Saturday, the possibly of a spent bullpen, and Young unsure how far he could go due to the bicep tendinitis, the Mets decided they needed another start. To open up a roster spot, the team decided to place Young on the DL, retroactive to April 11. Gee is coming off a solid second start for Triple-A Buffalo after he struggled in his first outing of the year. Last year, Gee was named Buffalo's Comeback Player of the Year after missing half of 2009 with a torn labrum in his shoulder. He went 13-8 with a 4.96 ERA and led the International League with 165 strikeouts when the Mets decided to bring him up. Gee posted a quality start in each of his five starts with the Mets last season and he finished with a 2.18 ERA, but he benefited from an abnormally low .232 BABIP and high .848 strand rate, which left him with a much higher 4.37 FIP. Gee mixes a low-90s fastball with a solid changeup and curve and will likely make two starts in place of Young. Gee had success last year, but be aware that his numbers were a bit skewed by luck. Mixed: $1; NL: $4.

Aaron Harang – Harang posted a strong 8:1 K:BB rate and held the Astros to one run over six innings Friday to improve to 3-0 on the season. While there are some early positive signs – his BB/9 rate dropping from 14.59 to 8.50; K/9 rising from 6.61 to 8.00 and ERA dropping from 5.32 to 1.50, keep in mind Harang faced three of the weaker lineups in the National League (Houston, Los Angeles and San Francisco) with two of those starts coming at Petco Park. His struggles with the Reds over the last three seasons cannot entirely be placed upon the confines of Great American Ballpark, so don’t necessarily expect this early season success to continue. That said, Harang should post decent strikeout numbers and will benefit from making half his starts at Petco Park. Mixed: $6; NL: $17.

Alan Johnson – Johnson, who was called up Thursday but was not used in the Rockies’ doubleheader, will likely make a spot start Sunday against the Cubs on Sunday. Johnson has slowly made his way through the minors since being signed as an undrafted free agent in 2005, but has never been a particularly enticing prospect. In seven minor league seasons he has accrued a 4.55 ERA, and he will likely return to the minors when Ubaldo Jimenez (thumb) returns to the rotation Tuesday. Mixed: No; NL: $0.

Kyle Lohse – After suffering through a nightmare 2010 campaign, Lohse has really turned the tide early this season. Last year a forearm injury kept him out of action for nearly three months. After returning, his first several starts off the DL may have indicated he wasn't quite ready to pitch, and he finished with a 6.55 ERA and 1.783 WHIP. This year, Lohse has been excellent in the early going, pitching 7.1 innings of two-run ball to beat the Dodgers on Friday. He allowed six hits, issued one walk and struck out six for his second win of the season, lowering his ERA to 2.82 in the process. Lohse also has a miniscule 0.850 WHIP, aided by allowing just two walks in 22.1 innings. Lohse’s 2010 FIP was 4.48, so his numbers should have been better than they were; and while he likely won’t stay this hot, remember he did go 15-6 back in 2008. Mixed: $5; NL: $16.

Chris Narveson – Narveson pitched extremely well in his first two starts this season, tossing 13 scoreless innings and striking out 14, but he struggled with his control in his third outing of the year Friday. If Narveson can continue to limit his walks, avoid the big innings that plagued him last season and generate groundball outs, he should remain a viable early-season option. Mixed: $5; NL: $13.

Esmil Rogers – I profiled Rogers the first week of the season, but his solid back-to-back starts warrant another mention. Rogers wasn’t as good against the Mets as he was versus the Pirates, but he still improved to 2-0. He has a fastball, curveball and changeup, but in 2010 he debuted a slider that produced good results. Rogers’ numbers as a starter compared to those as a reliever seem to indicate he would be better served pitching out of the bullpen, but he should remain in the Rockies’ rotation with Aaron Cook out. Mixed: $3; NL: $9.

Vance Worley/Kyle Kendrick – Worley and Kendrick are candidates to be recalled if Roy Oswalt’s back forces to miss any time. However, at the moment the Phillies do not think Oswalt will have to miss his next start. Worley is off to a nice start at Triple-A Lehigh Valley, where he is 1-1 with a 2.25 ERA and a 14:3 K:BB ratio in 12 innings. Kendrick has been pitching out of the Philly pen, where he has a 1.80 ERA and a 1:3 K:BB ratio in five innings of relief. Worley - Mixed: $1; NL: $4; Kendrick – Mixed: $0; NL: $3.

Relief Pitchers:

Miguel Batista – Last week I profiled Mitchell Biggs and Jason Motte as possible closer options in St. Louis after Ryan Franklin blew his third save of the season. Manager Tony LaRussa came out and said that Franklin is still the closer, but if he did make a chance, Batista might be next in line. Batista last closed in 2005 for Toronto, then started for two-plus years before moving back to the bullpen. He is a surprising closer candidate, but that may be just because Motte has struggled while Boggs has never closed. However, if looking to sign the pitcher that will most likely to take over for Franklin, right now Batista appears to be the man. Mixed: $1; NL: $4.

Tyler Clippard – Clippard was the one of the better setup men in the league last year, and he is off to another good start in 2011. Clippard notched his fourth hold of the year Friday, lowering his ERA to 1.74 along with a 0.870 WHIP. His fastball/changeup/slider arsenal has allowed Clippard to register 12 strikeouts in 10.3 innings after posting 112 punchouts in 91 innings last season. Batters are hitting just .133 against him with a .206 BABIP, indicating he has been dominant in the early going. Clippard likely won’t see many save chances with Sean Burnett and Drew Storen sharing the closer role in Washington, but his overall numbers still make him extremely valuable. Mixed: $4; NL: $11.

Mark Melancon – I profiled Melancon last week, but his slight change in roles warrants a second mention. With Wilton Lopez landing on the disabled list with nerve damage in his elbow, Melancon will take on a more prominent role in the Astros' bullpen. Melancon has been a middle relief stud to start the season: nine appearances, nine strikeouts, and just five base runners. In leagues that track holds, he could be a valuable add and will likely get any saves that Brandon Lyon does not notch. Mixed: $4; NL: $11.


Jesus Flores – The Nationals surprisingly recalled Flores from Triple-A Syracuse earlier in the year to replace the injured Ryan Zimmerman on the 25-man roster. Thanks to a series of injuries Flores hasn't played in the majors since 2009, so this is a surprising choice considering the Nationals are already carrying two catchers. However, he'll give them another right-handed bat off the bench and provide flexibility to allow either Ivan Rodriguez or Wilson Ramos to serve as a pinch-hitter. Flores likely won’t see much action due to the presence of those other two catchers. Mixed: No; NL: $2.

Ronny Paulino – Paulino, who was placed on the disabled list with anemia when his 50-game MLB suspension was completed, is scheduled to begin a rehab assignment with High-A St. Lucie Friday. GM Sandy Alderson has indicated that Paulino is expected to join the Mets on April 26 in Washington when he is eligible to be activated. When Paulino does return, he will initially see most of his action against left-handed pitching with Jose Thole remaining the starter against righties. Mixed: $1; NL: $4.

First Basemen:

Jerry Sands – While there were hints of a 2009 breakout, 2010 proved to be Sands' coming-out party as a prospect. The former 25th-round pick batted a combined .301/.395/.586 between Low-A and Double-A (he skipped High-A entirely) with 35 home runs and 18 stolen bases. Sands has played first base and the outfield the last couple seasons and was reportedly taking groundballs at third base in the Arizona Fall League, so he's far from settled in terms of a defensive position. This year, Sands has already homered in four straight games and posted a .400.422/.875 line with 17 RBI and only three strikeouts in 40 at-bats for Triple-A Albuquerque. With James Loney providing little pop at first base and struggling this season, the calls for Sands to replace him at Chavez Ravine have started to get louder. Mixed: $2; NL: $7 (speculative bid for now).

Second Basemen:

Darwin Barney – Barney went 2-for-5 with a pair of doubles and an RBI Saturday against Colorado. Making his ninth start of the season, Barney seems to have taken the early edge over Blake DeWitt for the starting spot against right-handed pitching with Jeff Baker getting the nod against lefties. Barney hit second again Saturday, a spot that would put him in position to score a lot of runs if he's able to make contact consistently and maintain a good OBP. Mixed: $3; NL: $9.

Jerry Hairston Jr. – Hairston will split time with Alex Cora, who I covered last week, at third base while Ryan Zimmerman is on the DL for two more weeks with a strained abdominal muscle. Hairston has played five games at third, so check his eligibility since he already qualifies at second base and shortstop. The additional at-bats for Hairston should allow him to grab some steals and score runs, giving him some value in most formats. Mixed: $1; NL: $6.

Jon Herrera – Herrera went 2-for-5 with a run, three RBI, and his first home run of the season in the second game of Thursday's double-header against the Mets. Lost in the hype over Troy Tulowitzki has been the early-season performance of Herrera, who is raking the ball to a tune of a 1.074 OPS. Herrera earned a spot on the big club with a .371/.420/.565 spring and has made the most of his early playing time. Herrera has struggled at the plate a bit in the past, but he was a decent fill-in while Tulo was hurt last year and has built off that success this year. The Rockies acquired Jose Lopez in the offseason to play second, but given Herrera’s hot start, there is a chance Herrera could wind up taking more playing time in the near future. Still, while Herrera is hot, don’t expect that power production to last all season. Mixed: $4; NL: $13.

Daniel Murphy – With Brad Emaus struggling at the plate, Murphy looks to be carving out a larger role at second base. Murphy has been adequate defensively, and if he can continue to do that and hit a little bit, he could dethrone Emaus as the starting second baseman. In addition, with Jason Bay out, Murphy has battled second in games he has started. When Bay returns, Angel Pagan could be shifted back to the two-hole with Murphy battling seventh or eighth. Mixed: $2; NL: $7.


Geoff Blum – Blum, who started the year on the disabled list due to a knee injury, has started running and is nearing a rehab assignment. The upside here is very limited and Willie Bloomquist appears to have entrenched himself as the D-Backs' primary utility man in Blum's early-season absence. In addition, Ryan Roberts has been solid stepping in for Melvin Mora at third base, which will also limit Blum’s chances for playing time. Mixed: No; NL: $2.

Jamey Carroll/Ivan DeJesus Jr. – Carroll, who started at second base in the early part of the season while Casey Blake was out, will now be the Dodgers’ starting shortstop with Rafael Furcal sidelined 4-to-6 weeks with a broken thumb. The Dodgers recalled DeJesus to take Furcal's roster spot, and Uribe can play short a bit if needed, but Carroll figures to be the primary shortstop in Furcal's absence. Carroll won’t provide any pop but should be a decent source of average, runs and some steals while filling in for Furcal. Carroll - Mixed: $3; NL: $9; DeJesus – Mixed: No; NL: $0.

Angel Sanchez – Sanchez has been a pleasant early-season surprise for Houston, posting a .322/.359/.407 line with a home run, nine RBI and 11 runs scored. Sanchez only earned the starting shortstop job after Clint Barmes broke his hand, but he has taken advantage of the opportunity. Barmes is a few weeks away from returning, meaning that Sanchez has a few more weeks to impress. If Sanchez stays hot, don’t be surprised to see Barmes at second base once in awhile at the expense of Bill Hall. Mixed: $4; NL: $11.

Third Basemen:

David Freese – Freese entered 2011 as a bit of a question mark, mainly due to his inability to remain healthy. When he was healthy last season he didn't provide the home runs you would expect from a corner infielder, but his .361 on base percentage showed promise. Originally, manager Tony La Russa wanted Freese to play two out of every three games, or a pace of 108 games for the season. La Russa changed his mind late in spring training and appears ready to play Freese six out of every seven games, or close to a 140-game workload, health and performance permitting. So far, Freese has upheld his part of the bargain, posting a .370/.400/.543 line while playing in 14 of St. Louis’ first 15 games. Mixed: $15.


Jason Bay – Bay, who originally was slated to return no earlier than April 26, might be back as early as Tuesday. Bay played in an extended spring training Friday and went 1-for-2 with an intentional walk in six innings Saturday for High-A St. Lucie. Strained ribcage muscles can be tricky and Bay had a setback a bit ago, but with the Mets desperate for some kind of spark, it would not be surprising to see him return earlier than expected. (just an FYI; likely owned in all formats).

Tyler Colvin – I profiled Colvin last week when he started at first base in place of an injured Carlos Pena and solidified his status as Pena's primary backup. Colvin was slated to see a few starts per week in the outfield given his ability to play all three positions, but his role may change due to the injury to Kosuke Fukudome. If Fukudome’s balky hamstring lands him on the disabled list, Colvin would likely start nearly every day in right field in his absence. Mixed: $7.

Chris Denorfia – With both Will Venable and Ryan Ludwick struggling to start the year, Denorfia has picked up more playing time than originally expected. Last season, injuries to the Padres’ outfield crew earned him a promotion. It did not take him long to make an impact – from the start of July through the end of August, Denorfia piled up nine homers, 25 RBI, four steals and a .291 batting average. However, hamstring and back issues later in the year put a big dent in his production. Denorfia could hit for a decent average, but he doesn't have much power or speed to speak of, which is why he was in the fourth outfielder role. Still, if both Venable and Ludwick continue to struggle, Denorfia could be the guy that gets more playing time. Mixed: $1; NL: $4.

Matt Diaz – Though righty Shaun Marcum was on the hill for the Brewers Wednesday, it was Diaz – and not the left-handed Garrett Jones – who started in right field and went 2-for-4. Marcum apparently retires lefties better than righties, but the important part is the Pirates differentiated from their right field platoon a bit. Manager Clint Hurdle gave Diaz the start because he feels Diaz is swinging a better bat right now, so don’t be surprised if Diaz continues seeing unexpected starts against righties. Mixed: $3; NL: $9.

Darren Ford – The Giants recalled Ford from Triple-A Fresno on Friday with Andres Torres landing on the DL. Ford got off to a quick start with Fresno, hitting .323 with a home run, six RBI, and seven steals in seven games. He will fill a reserve outfield spot for the Giants, but it remains to be seen if he will hit enough in the big leagues to put his good speed to use. Mixed: No; NL: $2.

Jonny Gomes – Gomes went 2-for-4 with two home runs and four RBI in the Reds’ win over the Pirates Saturday. Gomes, who is a platoon candidate thanks to only average defense, has hit well enough early on to hold onto the left field job. He has done a great job driving in runs (14 RBI on the season) and drawing walks (15). Gomes has five home runs and he is fairly entrenched in left field for the time being. Mixed: $11.

Corey Hart – Hart, on the disabled list with a strained right oblique muscle, took swings in a batting cage Tuesday without any discomfort. As of now, the current plan for Hart is to begin a Triple-A rehab assignment Tuesday and return to Brewers' lineup Sunday, April 24. He will resume his role as the Brewers' primary right fielder once he is activated from the disabled list, leaving Nyjer Morgan and Carlos Gomez to split time in center. (just an FYI; should be owned in all formats).

Jamie Hoffmann – The Dodgers recalled Hoffmann from Triple-A Albuquerque on Monday. Hoffmann did not appear in the majors last year after seeing a brief 24 plate appearances in 2009. He's basically around to provide additional outfield depth and could see the occasional start in left field. Mixed: No; NL: $0.

Logan Morrison – Morrison did a solid job when he was called up last season, getting on base at an amazing clip thanks to an elevated BABIP and solid walk rate. His sweet lefty swing gives him a good chance of maintaining that batting average, and though he is not viewed as a big power threat, he has shown some pop early on. Morrison is driving the ball with more frequency and has notched five doubles and four home runs while posting a .320/.424/.660 line. We may be seeing an earlier-than-expected breakout and maturation in Morrison. Mixed: $25.

Eric Patterson – The Padres activated Patterson from the disabled list Sunday after completing a rehab assignment for a hamstring injury kept him out since the end of spring training. He replaced Cedric Hunter and will re-assume the utility role he was slated for. Mixed: No; NL: $2.

Seth Smith – Smith went into 2010 as the Rockies' fourth outfielder, behind Brad Hawpe. However, Hawpe played so poorly that he was eventually released in August, which opened the door for Smith to get more at-bats. Prior to the All-Star break, Smith had been doing fine with 12 homers, 38 RBI, and a .287/.350/.545 line. After the break, however, his production slipped (.192/.267/.372), which indicated that he may not be ready for a full-time role just yet. Smith has seen quite a bit of playing time and is off to a solid start (.283/.346/.522), but he is still losing starts to Ryan Spilborghs when lefties are on the mound for the opposition. Mixed: $10.