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NL FAAB Factor: Sleeper Bound For LA?

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.

The Overview:

The FAAB Factor-NL is our weekly look at the National League free agents you should be targeting with your acquisition budget. 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 free agent acquisition budget.

Starting Pitching:

Aaron Cook - Cook, already dealing with a shoulder injury earlier this year, was then sidelined with a broken right ring finger, both of which have now healed. Cook threw 35 pitches in an extended spring training game and made his first Minor League rehab start against Double-A Tulsa on Saturday. He figures to make three rehab starts before the end of the month, at which point he will likely be activated from the disabled list. Cook was fairly solid from 2007-09, but fell off the table last year as control issues, which plagued him earlier in his career, reared their ugly head again. It remains to be seen if Cook will be inserted into the Rockies' rotation, replacing Clayton Mortensen or Esmil Rogers, or into their bullpen. Mixed: $1; NL: $4.

Doug Davis - Davis was called up to start the Cubs' game Saturday against the Giants, giving up three runs - one earned - on four hits and a walk while striking out six over five innings. Davis spent last season with division rival Milwaukee, but two separate ailments limited him to just eight starts. He had no success in those outings, finishing the season with a 7.51 ERA and 1.98 WHIP, but he gave up just two earned runs in 10.1 innings over two minor league appearances in the last couple weeks. He is now healthy, but with Randy Wells starting a rehab stint and Andrew Cashner a bit behind him, Davis' window to remain in Chicago's rotation may be small. Mixed: $0; NL: $2.

Rodrigo Lopez/Mike Minor/Julio Teheran - Lopez, Minor and Teheran are the three likely options at the Braves' disposal to replace Brandon Beachy, who is expected to miss at least three weeks with his strained oblique. Lopez seems to be the least likely choice given that the Braves would have to begin paying him a $1 million salary. Minor, the seventh overall pick in the 2009 draft, was beaten out by Beachy for the fifth starter spot this spring. He began last season at Double-A and ended the season in Atlanta's rotation. After dominating at Double-A (11.3 K/9IP with strong control), he had a 1.89 ERA with a 37:12 K:BB ratio in 33.1 innings at Triple-A Gwinnett and was called up to Atlanta in early August. He pitched well early on, but then struggled and was removed from the rotation. Minor made a spot start the first week of the season for Atlanta and then was sent down to Gwinnett, where he has gone 2-1 with a 2.04 ERA, 1.071 WHIP and 43:13 K:BB ratio in 39.2 innings while benefitting from a .270 BABIP. I profiled Teheran last week when he was called up and made his big league debut against the Phillies on Saturday, giving up three runs on four hits and two walks in 4.2 innings. His stay was a brief one as he was optioned back down Sunday since Atlanta's rotation was healthy at the time. Teheran used his mid-90s fastball, plus changeup and developing curveball, along with a baseball IQ rare for his age, to move up three levels and climb to Double-A last season. He entered the year as one of the best pitching prospects in the minors and has done little to tarnish that view, going 3-0 with a 1.91 ERA and 32:12 K:BB in five starts for Gwinnett this season. Whoever replaces Beachy could make as many as four starts, but the Braves could also opt to send Wednesday's starter back to the minors and use a four-man rotation until May 31. Lopez - Mixed: No; NL: $0; Minor - Mixed: $1; NL: $4; Teheran - Mixed: $2; NL: $7 (go a bit higher once it's determined who gets the nod).

Anibal Sanchez - Sanchez completely dominated the Nationals last Sunday, giving up just two singles over seven shutout innings while striking out 11, and then went one better Saturday, shutting them out over eight innings, surrendering just three hits and two walks while striking out nine. He's only got three wins on the season, but his 2.90 ERA, 9.29 K/9 and 2.53 K/BB rates are outstanding and by far the best marks of his career, as is his 1.26 GB/FB rate. Sanchez stayed healthy last year and had a breakthrough campaign. This year, his overall numbers are pretty similar, save for that rise in K/9 and K/BB ratios, and he if he keeps up that pace, Sanchez is almost certain to significantly outperform his draft day price. Mixed: $16 (doubtful he is available, but just in case).

Randy Wells - Wells, out with a strained forearm since his first start, threw two innings in an extended spring game Thursday and will make his first rehab start at Single-A Peoria on Tuesday. But he will likely make a couple of rehab starts before returning, so he's still about two weeks away from the major league mound. Wells pitched nearly as well last year as he did as a rookie, but without the desirable cosmetic results. His strikeout rate actually went up - to a respectable 6.7 K/9IP, and he did a better job of inducing groundballs (1.53 G/F). Wells' walk and home-run rates rose slightly but not enough by themselves to explain the big jump in ERA and WHIP. It was largely a .324 BABIP (as opposed to .290 in 2009) and a 71.1 percent strand rate (78.7 in 2009) that made the difference. Add in the lack of run support and a poor bullpen, and the result is four fewer wins in five more starts. He had a solid first start prior to being sidelined and is worth a look. Mixed: $4; NL: $13.

Relief Pitchers:

Mitchell Boggs/Fernando Salas - The St. Louis closer situation has been in a state of flux since the first day of the season. Ryan Franklin was finally pulled from the role and it looked like Boggs might be the answer, but manager Tony La Russa also turned to Salas, Eduardo Sanchez and Trevor Miller to get saves, with Sanchez appearing to be the main option to close games in the Arch City. That is no longer the case, because since recording his first save on April 27, Sanchez issued at least one walk in each of his last seven appearances - though he did have three saves, a win and a hold before blowing Friday's save - and pitching coach Dave Duncan believes that the young right-hander's approach has changed in the ninth-inning role. For now, the likely closer options are Salas, who has allowed just two runs on nine hits and five walks with 14 strikeouts in 15.2 innings, and Boggs, who has struggled after notching three straight saves in late-April, but this situation could remain fluid until one reliever finally seizes the job and records outs consistently. Boggs - Mixed: $2; NL: $7; Salas - Mixed: $4; NL: $14.

Jose Contreras - Contreras, out since late-April with a Grade 1 strain of his right forearm, threw 40 to 50 pitches off a mound Tuesday and said he felt good after. Contreras is nearing a rehab assignment and should be back with the Phillies before the end of the month. The question when he does return is what role will he fill? Prior to getting injured, Contreras had been serving as the Phillies' closer with Brad Lidge on the DL. Ryan Madson has more than ably filled in Contreras and should remain as the closer until Lidge returns around the All-Star break, relegating Contreras to set-up duty. Mixed: $1; NL: $4. (go higher if think he closes till Lidge returns)

Kenley Jansen/Mike MacDougal - It's time for that part of the column known as the weekly look at the LA closing situation. Once again, what looked like a set bullpen has had some cracks appear, creating opportunities. With Jonathan Broxton out for possibly another five weeks, Vicente Padilla appeared to have seamlessly moved into the role, especially with Hong-Chih Kuo out with anxiety. However, Padilla faltered Friday and needed to be bailed out by Jansen, who struck out Melvin Mora to nail down the save. Jansen got off to a horrific start and was sent down to the minors, but hasn't allowed a run in any of the three appearances he has made since being called back up to take Broxton's spot on the roster. The Dodgers did not have a save opportunity Saturday, but if they did, MacDougal might have been called upon. MacDougal has past closing experience but struggled last season and was a non-roster invite this spring. He made the LA roster and has posted a solid ERA and WHIP despite a 9:7 K:BB ratio in 12.3 innings. For now, Padilla is still the top option in LA but his hold on the job might have slipped a notch with his poor outing Friday. Jansen - Mixed: $3; NL: $9; MacDougal - Mixed: $1; NL: $5.


Welington Castillo/Koyie Hill - With Geovany Soto on the 15-day DL with a groin injury, Castillo, who had a very strong spring for the Cubs, will fill in behind the plate along with Hill. Hill should see most of the action at catcher, with Castillo filling in periodically. Soto is expected back when he is eligible; so don't go overboard on either. Castillo - Mixed: No; NL: $0; Hill - Mixed: $0; NL: $2.

Wilson Ramos - Ramos and Ivan Rodriguez have been splitting time behind home plate for most of the season, but it looks like Ramos will start getting more playing time moving forward. Manager Jim Riggleman has started to use Ramos for 2-3 games in a row, then turning to Pudge for one, before going back to Ramos; a situation that should continue going forward. If this scenario does play out, Ramos gets a bump up in value, as he should see an increase in counting stats. Ramos, who came over to Washington in last year's Matt Capps deal, won't hit for a lot of power but should have a good average with a decent OBA. Mixed: $5.

Carlos Ruiz - Ruiz, who originally hurt his back April 19 against Milwaukee and ultimately was sidelined after aggravating the injury April 27 against the Diamondbacks, was activated off the DL on Friday. His return comes at a perfect time as Brian Schneider landed on the disabled list with a hamstring injury. Ruiz was struggling when he was injured, but had his best season a year ago and should be able to pick up from where he left off last year. Mixed: $7; NL: $17.

First Basemen:

None noted (though Ty Wigginton qualifies at first and Daniel Murphy may get a mild spike in PT, as he should be at first base daily with Ike Davis out even against lefties).

Second Base:

Orlando Hudson - Hudson, on the disabled list since May 4 with a strained right hamstring, has traveled to Tucson, where he will play his rehab games with the Padres' Triple-A club Monday and Tuesday. The expectation is for Hudson to be back with the big league club sometime during their series against the Brewers on May 18-19. Prior to getting injured, Hudson was only hitting .245 but had posted a solid .360 OBA and stolen a surprising 10 bases. Hudson's batting average has fallen each year since 2008, and with a .344 BABIP, even he starts to cut down on his strikeouts, his batting average may not rise that much. Mixed: $3; NL: $9

Jeff Keppinger - Keppinger, who underwent surgery in January to remove the sesamoid bone in his left foot and had being doing his rehab at extended spring training in Kissimmee, began a minor league rehab assignment with Double-A Corpus Christie on Thursday. The plan is for Keppinger to play nine innings at second Thursday and Saturday, DH Friday and Sunday, and then move on to Triple-A Oklahoma City. From there, his return will be contingent upon how his foot feels. It appears as though we could see Keppinger back with the Astros by the middle of next week if he doesn't have any setbacks. Keppinger had a solid 2010, but appeared to be relegated to a utility role when Bill Hall was signed. Hall has struggled, but Anibel Sanchez and Jason Bourgeois have filled in well for him, so Keppinger looks like he will remain in a utility role, playing second and third base. Mixed: $1; NL: $4.

Justin Turner/Willie Harris - The injury to Ike Davis (bone bruise, ankle) has resulted in the Mets shifting Daniel Murphy back to first base, opening up second. The plan is to platoon Turner, who was already seeing time against lefties, and Harris, who got off to a hot start filling in for Jason Bay but had plummeted back to earth. Harris last saw action at second base in 2009 but will see some action at the position, though it's not known if it will be a lefty-righty platoon as Tuner started against righty Bud Norris Friday. Davis is expected back when he is eligible, so bid wisely. Turner - Mixed: $2; NL: $7; Harris - Mixed: $1; NL: $4.

Chase Utley - Utley, who did not play this spring and has been out with patella tendinitis in his right knee, played in extended spring training and began a rehab assignment Tuesday with High-A Clearwater. We now have a timetable for Utley's return, as rehab assignments are limited to 20 days. Though he is playing in the minors, even when Utley returns at the end of May he may be a bit rusty having missed all spring. In addition, keep in mind his OPS and overall production has fallen the past three weeks. That said, if he truly is healthy, and once he scrapes off the rust, Utley should be a top-five second baseman. (Go the max if available).


Rafael Furcal - Furcal, out since April 12 with a broken left thumb, is tentatively scheduled to begin a minor league rehabilitation assignment Saturday with Triple-A Albuquerque. This is somewhat surprising as LA originally said he would not start rehab until he could swing right-handed, which he is still unable to do without discomfort. He will initially bat only from the left side, though he will either bunt or take pitches while batting righty. Mattingly said he wants Furcal to be able to bat right-handed and get 25-30 at-bats in the minors before he is activated, so he may not return until the week starting May 22. When he does come back, Furcal will regain his starting shortstop back and likely lead off. Mixed: $15; NL: $40.

Third Basemen:

Juan Francisco - Francisco, who has been out since mid-April with a calf injury, started his rehab with Triple-A Louisville this past week. Francisco is eligible to return and should be activated before too long. His playing time depends on if Scott Rolen (shoulder) has any setbacks after returning on Friday. Mixed: No, NL: $0.

Scott Rolen - Rolen, who landed on the disabled list in mid-April with pain and stiffness in his left shoulder and neck, was activated Friday. Rolen, who has been bothered by shoulder woes for years, may not need to go on a rehab assignment before being activated. He had a turn-back-the-clock season last year with 20 HR and 83 RBI, but had a .909 OPS before the All-Star break, before most of his injuries, and a .772 OPS after the break while only playing in 58 games. Given his injury history, expect him to miss some time in the second half and his power numbers to also be more like 2007-09 rather than his 2010 performance. Mixed: $4, NL: $11.

Ty Wigginton - Wigginton, on the 15-day DL retroactive to April 27 with a strained oblique, started his rehab appearances with Triple-A Colorado Springs Thursday. Wigginton played two games with Colorado Springs and was activated Friday. Ian Stewart failed to make the most of his opportunity at the hot corner and was optioned down to Triple-A to make room for Wiggy, who regains the starting role there. In addition, Wiggy will likely also see time at first and second base and possibly the outfield. Mixed: $4, NL: $11.


Chris Denorfia - Last week I profiled Will Venable. This week, it's Denorfia's time. Denorfia went 3-for-4 Thursday with a home run, RBI, two runs scored and a couple of walks. With this kind of production (.942 OPS after Saturday), Denorfia is making it hard for manager Bud Black to send Venable back in. As much as the Padres talked up Venable to begin the season, Denorfia has certainly been the better player thus far. Mixed: $3; NL: $9.

Mark DeRosa - DeRosa, who was on the disabled list with soreness in his left wrist, was activated this past week. Giants manager Bruce Bochy said he plans to give regular starts to DeRosa at third base while Pablo Sandoval is sidelined for another 3-to-4 weeks, confident that his problematic wrist has healed to the point where he can contribute. If that holds true, Miguel Tejada and Mike Fontenot will battle to see who starts at shortstop. Mixed: $2; NL: $7.

Erik Hinske - Hinske has seen additional time lately with Jason Heyward battling a shoulder injury. Heyward's MRI revealed only inflammation in his injured shoulder and no structural damage, and he received a cortisone shot Thursday. Heyward will still miss a few days, but he could be back as soon as Sunday. It is just a matter of resting the shoulder and letting the pain and inflammation subside on its own. If the injury flares up, Hinske would be the primary beneficiary, as he would see most of the action in right field. In addition, with the Braves in AL parks for interleague play, Hinske may see some time as their DH. Mixed: $2, NL: $7.

Fernando Martinez - With Ike Davis (ankle) landing on the disabled list on Thursday, the Mets called up Martinez to take his roster spot. Martinez may not have been the first choice, as Lucas Duda likely would have been promoted if he weren't dealing with a back issue. F-Mart is not expected to play center field even though Angel Pagan is out; instead he will back up at both corner outfield spots. Martinez, who never seems to stay healthy and missed time earlier in the year with an injury, was hitting .292/.361/.477 at Triple-A Buffalo. He is showing a better eye at the plate and a slight tick up in contact rate, though he still had 15 strikeouts in 65 at-bats and benefitted from a .340 BABIP. Martinez's status as a top-prospect is on very shaky ground and he could be on the way out if he doesn't continue to make progress. Mixed: No; NL: $2.

Cameron Maybin - Maybin went 4-for-4 with two home runs and three RBI against the Rockies on Friday and followed it up by going 2-for-4 with a pair of runs scored Saturday. The four hits Friday gave Maybin back-to-back four-hit nights and he now has five home runs and 13 RBI this season to go with his six stolen bases. The 10 hits the last three games have upped Maybin's average from .233 to .280 on the year and he just might be ready to deliver on that five-tool potential we've all been awaiting. To build off this hot stretch and take that next step forward, Maybin will need to cut down on his strikeouts - 36 in 143 at-bats - and to improve his contact rate that has historically been low. Mixed: $11.

Logan Morrison - Morrison, who went on the disabled list on April 21 with sprained ligaments and a strained muscle in his left foot, was activated Friday and homered in his first game back. Morrison had been playing in rehab games with High-A Jupiter since Monday, getting 10 at-bats with the Hammerheads. Morrison was off to an extremely start this season, showing major improvement in his ISO power while also improving his contact rate and cutting his strikeouts. He looks like he is on his way to a breakout season, and if for some reason he is still out there on the waiver wire, he should be snapped up immediately. Mixed: $35; NL: $85 (doubtful he is available in any format, but just in case).

Wily Mo Pena - Pena has carried an impressive spring over to the start of the season with Triple-A Reno. Through 29 games, he's hitting .383/.444/.800 with 14 homers and 39 RBI. He's not currently on the 40-man roster, so Pena would need the D-Backs to make some adjustments if they were going to call him up. Unfortunately for Pena, Gerardo Parra is playing very well in left field to this point and there won't be many at-bats for him unless Parra slows down or unless one of the three regular outfielders succumbs to an injury. Plate discipline was often Pena's Achilles' heel in the past, but he's cut back on the strikeouts a bit with a 10:25 BB:K ratio in 130 plate appearances this season. GM Kevin Towers has noticed Pena's hot hitting, but his defensive limitations and right-handed bat are factors as to why he is still in the minors as Russell Branyan is the only lefty off the bench. So Pena will have to bide his time in the minors and be productive to get a call up to the minors when a spot opens. Mixed: $0; NL: $3.

Trayvon Robinson - Robinson has taken huge strides the past two seasons in turning tools into production. The key has been a walk rate that has jumped from seven to 14 percent over a two-year period. After batting .306/.375/.500 in the hitter-friendly California League the year prior, Robinson proved 2009 was no fluke, batting .300/.404/.439 as a 22-year-old in the Double-A Southern League in 2010. That line included nine home runs and 38 stolen bases. This year, Robinson is batting .307/.380/.539 with seven home runs and 22 RBI in 127 at-bats for Triple-A Albuquerque. Despite the good numbers, Robinson has struck out 38 times and only has a 38:14 K:BB ratio. In addition, he has benefited from an absurdly high BABIP the past two years, including a .399 average this season. That said, if the Dodgers decide that Jerry Sands needs more seasoning, or shift Sands to first to replace the mildly resurgent James Loney, Robinson could be promoted to play left field as he may be the best leadoff hitter LA currently has. Mixed: $2; NL: $7 (speculative bid).

Nate Schierholtz - Schierholtz went 3-for-4 with an RBI and a steal - his third of the year - during the Giants' win Thursday. Schierholtz also recorded an assist from right field, as he continues to be a valuable reserve outfielder. He has stolen some time away from Aaron Rowand, starting again Friday, but we will need to see if the return of Andres Torres relegates Schierholtz back to a reserve role. Mixed: $1; NL: $4.

Andres Torres - I ran this information two weeks ago, but with Torres coming back, I thought it would be beneficial to post it again. Torres had been out since April 9 with an Achilles injury and San Francisco welcomes his return, as it should provide a nice boost to their lineup. Look for a nice combination of stolen bases and a bit of power. (Just an FYI as he should already be owned).