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NL FAAB Factor: Need a Hand?

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:

Homer Bailey - Bailey, out since spraining his shoulder during an at-bat on May 26, began a rehab assignment Saturday with Triple-A Louisville. In his first outing, he gave up three runs on four hits and a walk while striking out three in three innings. He is set to make two rehab starts before being activated, so he is still about two weeks away from returning to the major league roster. Bailey demonstrated some improvement in 2010, raising his strikeout rate while maintaining decent walk and home run rates, and his overall record looked a little worse than it could have been, thanks to a 68-percent strand rate and a .321 BABIP against. This year, Bailey built on the growth he showed last season, hitting the ground running when he returned in early May from shoulder soreness, so there is no reason to believe his return this time should be any different. Mixed: $5; NL: $14.

Brad Hand - Hand improved his control while maintaining his K/9IP rate as a 20-year-old last year at High-A Jupiter, and as a result put himself firmly in the Marlins' future plans. He projects to have three solid pitches - low-90s fastball, hard curve and change-up - although none of them are exceptional, which makes him a mid-rotation starter at best in the majors. His strikeout rate regressed during a brief stint at Double-A Jacksonville last season, and continued this year, but he earned a call up this past week to take Josh Johnson's turn in the Florida rotation. Hand, who was selected in the third-round in 2008, earned a few more turns in the rotation with his solid outing against Atlanta coupled with a lack of clear timeframe for Johnson's return. Mixed: $2; NL: $7

Tom Koehler/Chris Sampson/Elih Villanueva - Manger Edwin Rodriguez said Koehler, Sampson and Villanueva are the candidates to start one game of the Marlins' doubleheader Wednesday. Koehler struck out 145 while posting a 2.84 ERA and 1.182 WHIP in 158.2 innings at Double-A Jacksonville in 2010, but he has struggled against Triple-A's superior talent in 2011. He has posted an unimpressive 1.484 WHIP and sub-par 48:34 K:BB through his first 63.1 innings there. Villanueva impressed Rodriguez in spring training and went 14-4 with a 2.31 ERA, 0.955 WHIP and 115:34 K:BB ratio in 179.2 innings last year at Jacksonville but he has a 5.23 ERA, 1.645 WHIP and 47:28 K:BB through 72.1 innings at Triple-A New Orleans. Sampson has not started an MLB game since 2008, and he has averaged less than six innings per start in four outings thus far for Triple-A New Orleans. None of the three candidates are on the 40-man roster and whoever does get called up will likely be a one and done. Koehler/Sampson/Villanueva - Mixed: No; NL: $0

Mike Leake - Leake was promoted two weeks ago to replace the demoted Edinson Volquez and then remained in the rotation for the injured Homer Bailey. Prior to being recalled, he had a 5.70 ERA in 36.1 innings with 32 strikeouts in 36.1 innings. The long ball had been something of a problem for him as he had given up five homers with the Reds and three in just 7.1 innings at Triple-A Louisville, but Leake has pitched much better since getting called back up, stringing together four straight quality starts including Saturday, lowering his ERA from 5.70 to 4.06. Note that with Volquez back and Bailey a week or so away, Leake may be in a battle with Travis Wood to remain in the rotation and Wood has quality starts in seven of his last nine outings. Mixed: $3; NL: $9

Mike Minor - Minor gets profiled again as he was called up to start Saturday against the Astros, He was coming off a near perfect game with Triple-A Gwinnett on Sunday, and preceding that he gave up four earned runs over 11.2 innings in two major league starts after a shaky debut to the season. Minor pitched well Saturday, allowing two runs on four hits and two walks while striking out four in six innings, and should remain in the rotation for at least two more turns before Bandon Beachy is ready to return from his injury. Mixed: $3; NL: $9.

Esmil Rogers - Rogers' (lat) Triple-A rehab start went well Thursday, but his role with the Rockies is still undetermined. Rogers has been out the past month with a strained right lat muscle, and with seemingly no room in the Rockies' starting rotation; he was expected to either pitch out of the bullpen or start for Colorado Springs. That may change as Jason Hammel was forced to leave his start Saturday with a stiff back, but even if Rogers starts for him, his early-season performance does not inspire a lot of confidence as he was hit hard after winning his first two starts of the year. Mixed: $0; NL: $2.

Ryan Vogelsong - In terms of the pecking order of the Giants' rotation, Vogelsong clearly falls behind Lincecum, Sanchez, Cain and Bumgarner, yet in terms of production, he has more than held his own. Vogelsong was supposed to just be a stand-in for the injured Barry Zito, yet he continues to impress start-by-start. Vogelsong has a 1.81 ERA, though his 3.10 FIP ERA looks a slightly worse because he has been aided by a .281 BABIP, balanced by a solid K/BB and GB/FB ratio. Even if/when that rises, the Giants will need to decide if a returning Barry Zito gives them a better chance of winning than Vogelsong (probably not), or if they can deal a starter to get the bat they so desperately need, so either way Vogelsong should remain in the rotation for at least a few more turns. Mixed: $7.

Barry Zito - Zito, recovering from a sprained right foot suffered in his third start of the year, made the first of three rehab starts Monday. Manager Bruce Bochy raved about Zito's stuff and command while limiting Stockton to two hits in 6.2 innings Monday night but said he wanted Zito to exceed 100 pitches "a couple times" before completing his minor league rehab assignment. Zito is slated to start again Saturday at High-A San Jose and the Giants likely are grooming him to return June 28, when they play a doubleheader at Wrigley Field. Assuming the team's starters remain healthy, Zito will be returning in a bullpen role. Mixed: $0; NL: $2.

Relief Pitchers:

Randy Choate/Steve Cishek - Manager Edwin Rodriguez said he will go with a "closer by committee" while Leo Nunez is sidelined with a stiff back, and mentioned Choate and Cishek as candidates to close. Cishek notched the save Friday and Choate would likely get the chance if a lefty was at the plate. Nunez is expected back in action Saturday, but with Clay Hensley out with an injury, if Nunez is sidelined again, the bullpen pecking order seems to be Cishek then Choate. Cishek - Mixed: $1; NL: $4; Choate - Mixed: No; NL: $0.

Kenley Jansen/Hong-Chih Kuo - With Vicente Padilla, who was nearing a return from a forearm injury, now dealing with a bulging disk in his neck that will sideline him indefinitely and Jonathan Broxton still out with his elbow injury until at least late this month, the LA closer situation is still a mess. Matt Guerrier and Javy Guerra are seeing time in the role but neither are a true closer. That said, relief - pardon the pun - could be on the way. Jansen, out since late-May with right shoulder inflammation, threw two shutout innings in his second appearance for Double-A Chattanooga on Saturday. He did not allow a base runner between his two appearances with Chattanooga during this rehab stint and should be back in the Dodgers' bullpen Monday. Prior to getting hurt, Jansen did notch a save in mid-May, and after his fine work last year, he could slot into the closer role despite his struggles this season. Kuo, dealing with anxiety disorder, pitched a scoreless inning for High-A Rancho Cucamonga on Tuesday. Manager Don Mattingly said Kuo has asked for his next appearance to be in the middle of an inning with runners on base to take the next step in his return. Kuo's anxiety level rose as he got closer to returning, so each outing will give a better sense as to how ready he is. Kuo has suffered from this problem before, and his 11.57 ERA in nine appearances this season shows he may have been struggling with it after returning from a back injury in the beginning of May. Jansen - Mixed: $4; NL: $13; Kuo - Mixed: $2; NL: $7.

Brandon Lyon - I profiled Lyon last week, but he deserves another mention now that manager Brad Mills has said that Lyon will eventually regain the closer role. Mills that Lyon, who just returned to active duty Thursday after having been out since early-May with biceps tendinitis and a partial tear of his rotator cuff and, will be eased back into the closer's role. Mark Melancon has pitched well in his limited opportunities to work the ninth inning this season, but Mills is more comfortable with Lyon's experience closing out games. As long as Lyon is healthy and effective after coming back from the DL, which so far has not been the case, the save opportunities should gravitate in his direction, though Melancon will get saves early on. Mixed: $4; NL: $14.


Dustin Brown/Wyatt Toregas - The injury to Ryan Doumit, which is a non-displaced fracture in his left ankle with no significant ligament damage that is supposed to sideline him a month, opened up a spot at catcher that the Pirates filled by calling up Brown. Brown, who was hitting .263 with six home runs and 19 RBI with Triple-A Indianapolis, was slated to be the back up behind the plate but Chris Snyder's herniated disc in his back will likely sideline him the rest of the year, making Brown the de-facto starrer at catcher. However, don't expect much more than some singles out of him. The injuries to Doumit, Snyder and Jason Jaramillo forced Pittsburgh to call up Toregas, who was 1-for-29 in his games at Triple-A Indianapolis. Toregas, who hit .258 in parts of eight minor league seasons and .176 in 51 major league at-bats with Cleveland, should start 2-3 games a week. Brown - Mixed: $1; NL: $5; Toregas - Mixed: No; NL: $0.

Carlos Corporan - Corporan recently returned after missing nearly a month with a broken finger on his right hand, making just two minor league appearances before getting the call. He had a strong spring, going .323/.353/.419, and was hitting 250 with three homers and 12 RBI in 88 at-bats for Triple-A Oklahoma City prior to the promotion. Corporan's call-up may pale in comparison to the recent birth of his son, who underwent open-heart surgery shortly after he was born to repair a defect in his left chamber and remains in an Oklahoma City hospital, but is expected to make a full recovery. Corporan replaces Robinson Cancel as J.R. Towles's backup. Mixed: No; NL: $0.

First Basemen:

Kyle Blanks - Blanks was moved up from Double-A San Antonio to Triple-A Tucson after the Padres officially called up Anthony Rizzo this past week. Through 177 at-bats, he hit .282 with four home runs, 27 RBI, and three steals. Blanks will play at first base and in the outfield while at Triple-A to keep him ready to play either position in the majors, though he likely will play left and some right field when he is promoted. Mixed: $2; NL: $7 (speculative bid).

Lucas Duda - Duda, who struggled in his previous brief stints in the majors, has been raking at Triple-A Buffalo, forcing the Mets to promote him to provide some juice to a power-starved lineup. Duda hit .389 (14-36) with 10 runs scored, four doubles, five home runs and 12 RBI in his last 10 games with the Bisons to earn the call. With Jason Bay struggling mightily and the team without Ike Davis, Duda should see time in left field and first base, especially if Daniel Murphy moves across the diamond occasionally to play third. Mixed: $2; NL: $7.

Second Base:

Bill Hall - Hall, who opened the year in Houston but was waived last week, signed Saturday with San Francisco to replace the injured Freddy Sanchez (shoulder). With both Sanchez and Mike Fontenot on the disabled list, Hall should see plenty of action at second base. He posted an .612 OPS in 46 games with the Astros earlier this season, and it would be hard to envision his production improving too much. Mixed: $0; NL: $4.

Orlando Hudson - Hudson, out since late-May with a groin injury, is about a week away from a rehab assignment. There is no question the Padres are being cautious with Hudson, who has been to the disabled list twice this season for leg injuries and just returned to action a few days before he was hurt. Prior to getting injured, Hudson was only hitting .217 but had posted a .326 OBA and stole a surprising total of 10 bases. Hudson's batting average has fallen each year since 2008 and with a .305 BABIP, even he starts to cut down on his strikeouts, his batting average may not rise that much. The timetable for Hudson's return has likely been moved to late-June as a result, and once he does return, he should slide back in as the starting second baseman. Mixed: $3; NL: $9.


Emmanuel Burriss - With Freddy Sanchez landing on the disabled list with a dislocated right shoulder, Burriss should be in line for playing time at second base along with Bill Hall. Burriss should also see some time at shortstop with Brandon Crawford, but he could lose some starts once Pablo Sandoval returns and a decision needs to be made with Miguel Tejada, who suddenly has gotten hot at the plate. Don't expect Burriss to provide any power, though he might have a decent batting average along with some runs and stolen bases. Mixed: $1; NL: $5.

Brandon Crawford - Manager Bruce Bochy indicated this past week that Crawford will be the Giants' starting shortstop going forward. This will be the case even after Pablo Sandoval returns next week, meaning Miguel Tejada is headed to the bench if he's not outright released, though he recently has gotten hot at the plate. Crawford only had a .250 career batting average at Double-A in two stops there in 2009 and 2010 and has no experience at Triple-A. He did compile a .322 batting average and 1.005 OPS in High-A ball this year, for what it's worth, and is likely playing somewhat over his head. That said, starting is starting and Bochy will likely give Crawford every shot to hold on to the job given how solid he is defensively along with his decent power and surprising improvement in plate discipline. Mixed: $4; NL: $11.

Dee Gordon - Gordon was called up after last week's article was submitted, which is why I am including him here. Gordon was promoted as part of an overall shake-up following the oblique injury to Rafael Furcal, and he should be in the lineup every day at shortstop while Furcal is out. The issue in the past with Gordon was his plate discipline, and while he has made some strides there; he still has a ways to go. Gordon should be able to provide some runs, steals and a decent average while he fills in for Furcal. Mixed: $4; NL: $14.

Chris Nelson - I profiled Nelson last week when he was called up, but the Rockies' usage pattern for him warrants another mention. Nelson has started seven straight games at second and could see occasional action at short and third. With Ty Wigginton getting starts at third, Nelson's presence is muddling up the playing time for both Eric Young and Jonathan Herrera, and if Nelson continues to see consistent playing time, his second base eligibility coupled with his decent power and speed makes him a solid middle infield option. Mixed: $2, NL: $7.

Craig Counsell/Josh Wilson - With Yunesky Betancourt slumping both at the plate and in the field, Counsell and Wilson could be in line to see more playing time as manager Ron Roenicke seems ready to explore other options at shortstop. Even if that does occur, don't overrate either one of them, as Counsell is mainly known for his versatility and Wilson for his glove, and even when they play, neither offers much speed or power to get excited about. Counsell/Wilson - Mixed: No; NL: $2.

Third Basemen:

Jeff Baker - Baker, out with a strained left groin, began a rehab assignment Thursday with Triple-A Iowa. Baker is not eligible to be activated until Monday, but if he makes it through this weekend without any setbacks, he figures to return to the team right away. The question when he does return is where will he play, though with Darwin Barney slumping, he could see some time at second base or possibly at first against tough lefties in place of Carlos Pena. Mixed: $1, NL: $4.

Brandon Hicks - Hicks was called up from Triple-A Gwinnett on Friday. With Martin Prado (staph infection) landing on the DL, Hicks will give the Braves a versatile bench option for at least the next couple of weeks. Eric Hinske, who was already playing nearly every day with Jason Heyward out, figures to collect the bulk of the extra at-bats in left field for the Braves. Mixed: No, NL: $0.

Ian Stewart - Stewart has been mashing the ball since his demotion to Triple-A Colorado Springs. The Rockies have been fooled by his minor league output in the past, so they will be cautious about bringing him back up to the majors. That said, he is getting on base at an absurd rate (.447 OBP), and is averaging a home run in every nine at-bats. Stewart has been tampering with his stance and swing during his time in the minors, which could play a part in his recent success. Considering the Rockies' offensive woes, don't be surprised if Stew gets another crack at major-league success, just tread carefully given his past history in the majors. Mixed: $2, NL: $7 (speculative bid).

Ryan Zimmerman - Zimmerman, who injured an abdominal muscle in spring training, and then while out was diagnosed with a sports hernia that required surgery in early-May, is close to returning to action. Zimmerman started a rehab assignment last Sunday, and if everything goes as planned, he will be back in the Nationals' lineup in Washington on Tuesday night. (If waived while he was sidelined, go the max to grab him).


Charlie Blackmon - Blackmon, the Rockies' 2008 second-round pick, hits for a bit of power with some speed. In 2010, he hit .297/.360/.484 at Double-A Tulsa with 11 homers and 19 stolen bases, and he finished the year with a nice showing in the Arizona Fall League with a .264/.372/.417 batting line. This year, he took another step forward in his development, hitting .342/.396/.576 with 10 home runs, 49 RBI, and 12 steals to earn a call-up. With Dexter Fowler landing on the DL, Blackmon looks like he'll get some significant playing time in center field, ahead of Ryan Spilborghs, plus he might move up in the order down the road. If the Rockies decide to play Eric Young Jr. in the outfield, that could cut into Blackmon's playing time, though he might also see some action in right field. Mixed: $4; NL: $13.

Jonny Gomes - While Gomes did provide some power, his overall numbers (16-for-77 in April and 11-for-61 in May) left a lot to be desired. Gomes hasn't changed his approach, but his production has done a 180, as he is hitting .423 (11-for-26) with a home run and eight RBI in his last 11 appearances. Gomes does most of his damage against southpaws, batting 12-for-33 against them this season, so despite his recent upswing, he may still be caught in a platoon at the spot, though he has seen more action since his production has picked up. Mixed: $2; NL: $7.

Jason Heyward - Heyward, who had been dealing with a sore right shoulder all season before finally getting shutdown and landing on the disabled list on May 22, felt good after hitting from a tee and doing other baseball activities Friday. He could begin a minor league rehab assignment by the middle of next week after a second consecutive day of pain-free hitting Saturday. Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said Heyward would need a few minor league rehab games, so it sounds like he could return in about a week if all goes well. The hope has to be that the shoulder caused his major struggles this year and he could explode if truly healthy. (Pounce if for some reason he is available, though that is unlikely.)

Matt Holliday - Holliday is expected to join the Cardinals Saturday and should be activated not long after he is eligible June 16. Holliday has a moderate left quadriceps tear and could be playing as early as Thursday, but he might be delayed a few days beyond that. (Just an FYI as should be owned in all formats.)

Cameron Maybin - Maybin, who is on the disabled list retroactive to May 28 with right knee inflammation, was slated to begin his rehab assignment Thursday and play three games at Triple-A Tucson before being activated early next week. With Anthony Rizzo now up and playing first base and Brad Hawpe taking over right field, Maybin should reprise as the team's starting center fielder upon his return. However, with Chris Denorfia now holding that spot, it would not be surprising to see Maybin's time cut a bit. In order for Maybin to deliver on the five-tool potential we've all been awaiting, he will need to cut down on his strikeouts - 50 in 177 at-bats - and improve his contact rate that has historically been low. Mixed: $7; NL: $19.

Trent Oeltjen - Oeltjen had been tearing up the Triple-A Pacific Coast League, hitting .339 with eight home runs, to earn the promotion Thursday. His two short major league stints - with Arizona and LA - weren't as successful, but he should get a chance to start occasionally, likely against righties, with the Dodgers shaky left field situation. Mixed: $0; NL: $4.

Alfonso Soriano - Soriano (left quadriceps) is scheduled to join Triple-A Iowa on Sunday to start his rehab assignment, with an eye toward being activated from the DL on Wednesday, when he is first eligible. Blake DeWitt and Tyler Colvin have seen most of the at-bats in left field with Soriano out, but the Cubs will welcome back Soriano, who despite his 49:6 K:BB ratio in 177 at-bats, is still a decent source of power, although his running days are over. Mixed: $7.

Marcus Thames - Thames, who missed a month with a quad injury, returned to action for LA this past week. He originally was splitting time with Tony Gwynn Jr. and Jerry Sands, but with Sands now sent down, he will battle the recently promoted Trent Oeltjen for time. Thames should start against southpaws with Oeltjen playing against righties. Mixed: $0; NL: $4.

Will Venable - Venable, who was sent down to Triple-A Tucson earlier in May to work on his swing, showed improvement, prompting his recall Thursday. The 28-year old hit .276 with an .880 OPS in 58 Triple-A at-bats, while driving in 11 runs and hitting three home runs. The Padres designated Eric Patterson for assignment Thursday, so Venable appears to be battling Chris Denorfia for at-bats now that Brad Hawpe is playing right field and Anthony Rizzo is at first. The situation will get even more difficult for both Denorfia and Venable once Cameron Maybin is ready to come off the DL. Mixed: $1; NL: $4.

Matt Young - Young was called up last week to fill a backup outfielder role, but injuries have opened the door for him to see more time. Young, who was hitting .276/.364/.333 with eight stolen bases for Triple-A Gwinnett, has started the past four games, going 6-for-16. With Martin Prado joining Nate McLouth and Jason Heyward on the DL, Young should see most of the action in right field with Joe Mather seeing the occasional start as Erik Hinske has moved over to play left. That may change once McLouth returns as he could play left, but if Young produces, he should stay in the lineup. Mixed: $1, NL: $5.