This is our weekly look at National League free agents. We have two goals for this article:
1. Identify likely free agents and discuss their strengths and weaknesses.
2. Estimate how much of your free-agent budget you should bid on them.
One size does not fit all, and we could never hope to encompass all league structures, so bids are based on:
• 12-team league (either NL or Mixed, we'll specify)
• 5x5 categories
• $100 FAAB budget
Scott Baker, Dodgers – Baker will be promoted from Triple-A Oklahoma City and make a spot start for the Dodgers on Sunday in San Diego in order to give the Dodgers’ rotation an extra day of rest with a heavy stretch of games upcoming. Baker is 1-1 with a 1.06 ERA and an 0.65 WHIP in 17 innings over three starts for OKC. He likely will be sent back down after the outing, though Brandon McCarthy’s arm injury could give Baker the opportunity to stick in the rotation. Mixed: No; NL: $2.
Tim Cooney and Tyler Lyons, Cardinals – Adam Wainwright suffered an ankle injury Saturday against the Brewers which could sideline him. If that does occur, with Marco Gonzalez (shoulder) out, Cooney or Lyons could be next in line. Cooney posted a 14-6 record with a 3.47 ERA in 158 innings for Triple-A Memphis last year and is off to a solid start this season. He is viewed as a back-of-the-rotation starter, but could get the nod here. Lyons bounced up and down between the majors and minors and could be a short-term fill-in, though his upside is limited. Cooney – Mixed: $1; NL: $4; Lyons – Mixed: No; NL: $0.
Ryan Vogelsong, Giants – Vogelsong, moved into the rotation with Jake Peavy landing on the DL with a back injury, gave up two runs on three hits and one walk while striking out five in six innings Thursday against the Dodgers. He is expected to remain in the rotation and start Tuesday again against LA. Vogelsong was solid in 2011-12, but fell back to earth in 2013. He rebounded last season, so there is some hope he could be if he remains in the rotation. Mixed: $2; NL: $7.
Joe Wieland, Dodgers – Wieland, who came over from the Padres in the Matt Kemp trade, was a candidate to get called up to start Saturday or Sunday against his former team, but he was passed over for Scott Baker. Wieland has a 1.80 ERA and 14 strikeouts in 10 innings (two starts) this season for Triple-A Oklahoma City after having a solid spring for LA. After undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2012, Wieland needed a cleanup procedure on the elbow in early 2013, which kept him off a big league mound until the end of the 2013 season. Wieland got a taste of the majors last year and may get another chance, possibly if Brandon McCarthy’s arm injury sidelines him. If that does occur, Wieland could stick in the rotation until McCarthy or Hyun-Jin Ryu is able to return. Mixed: $0; NL: $3.
Jose Fernandez, Marlins – Fernandez made just eight starts, throwing 51.2 innings, before requiring Tommy John surgery. Before being sidelined, he showed improvement across the board, building off his fine rookie campaign. Fernandez will take the next step in his recovery, throwing 15 pitches to live hitters Thursday. He will need to throw several of these sessions and then progress to a rehab stint before a final return date can be decided. That said, a mid-to-late June return seems possible. Mixed: $7; NL: $18 (early return spec bid if he is available in your league).
David Hale, Rockies – Hale, out with an oblique injury he suffered in March, threw 47 pitches, including 35 strikes, for High-A Modesto on Monday in his first rehab start. He opened last season in the Atlanta rotation, but after four starts shifted to the bullpen, where he was up and down. Hale could get a shot at starting or filling a bullpen role for Colorado when he is ready to return. Mixed: $0; NL: $0 (early return spec bid).
Josh Johnson, Padres – Johnson, profiled last week, gets another mention this week. He is working his way back from his second Tommy John surgery last April and tossed his third bullpen session Friday, If Johnson is able to make one more Monday or Tuesday, he could begin a minor league rehab stint in early May. Johnson’s history means that all this must be taken with a major grain of salt, but he did make a successful return from his first Tommy John surgery in 2012 in Miami, so maybe lightning will strike twice. Mixed: $0; NL: $3 (updated info).
Ian Kennedy, Padres – Kennedy missed just the minimum with his hamstring injury, as he was activated off the DL to start Saturday. He tossed six innings and threw 81 pitches in an extended spring training start Monday with no setbacks, showing he was ready to return. His activation bumps Odrisamer Despaigne, who was solid as a starter, back to the bullpen, though Kennedy’s return left a lot to be desired, as he allowed eight runs in just 4.1 innings. Mixed: $11; NL: likely owned.
Charlie Morton, Pirates – Morton, who had offseason hip surgery and was shut down earlier this month, made his second extended spring training start Thursday, but pitched only one inning before the game was rained out. That outing comes on the heels of him throwing 55 pitches in his first extended spring game last week. Morton will pitch Monday and hopes to throw 70 pitches or four or five innings. He likely will pitch once or twice more after that before rejoining the Pirates in the middle of May. Mixed: $0; NL: $3 (early spec return bid).
Hyun-Jin Ryu, Dodgers – Ryu, sidelined since March 20 with shoulder inflammation, will be throwing a bullpen session in the next couple of days, possibly as early as Sunday. Once he throws several sessions, we will get a better sense as to a return date - an early estimate is late May or early June. Likely owned.
John Axford, Rockies – Axford, who just returned to action after spending time with his family (his young son was bit by a rattlesnake), notched the save Thursday when Adam Ottavino was unavailable due to forearm tenderness. Ottavino returned to action by notching the save Friday, but Axford could still be in the mix. At worst, he could be a nice source of strikeouts and holds in Colorado. Mixed: $3; NL: $9.
Arquimedes Caminero, Jared Hughes, and Tony Watson, Pirates – Caminero has mixed very good with very bad outings this year, but his arm makes him an intriguing bullpen option. He works with a mid-90s heater that can run up near triple digits from time to time, mixing in both a changeup and a slow curve to induce plenty of missed swings, but he has been susceptible to the long ball throughout his career. What could hold Caminero back is his spotty control, though he has been a bit better to start this year. Hughes has five holds already this year, building off the success he had in 2014. The big righty, who can throw multiple innings, crafted a 1.96 ERA and 13 holds in 64.1 innings last season, though with just a 36:19 K:BB ratio and 3.99 FIP. This year, he has a 10:2 K:BB ratio in nine innings. Watson, the main lefty in the Pirates’ bullpen, went 10-2 with a 1.63 ERA and 1.02 WHIP in 77.1 innings along with an NL-leading 34 holds. He was brilliant the first three months before regressing slightly the next three. This year, Watson has a 10:0 K:BB ratio in 11 innings, but with two home runs allowed already after just five last year. Mark Melancon has been struggling and his velocity is down, but manager Clint Hurdle gave him a vote of confidence Wednesday, saying he will remain in the closer role for now. Watson notched the save Wednesday but Melancon rebounded with saves Thursday, Friday and Saturday. No change is imminent, but keep these three names in mind if a switch is to occur. Caminero - Mixed: $0; NL: $3; Hughes – Mixed: $1; NL: $4; Watson – Mixed: $2; NL: $7.
John Cornely, Gonzalez Germen, Matt Grace, Mitch Harris, Michael Kohn, Hector Neris, Kevin Quackenbush, Hansel Robles, and Sergio Santos - This week’s key middle reliever call-ups/activations, as well as expected call-ups, were/will be in Atlanta, Chicago, Washington, St. Louis, Atlanta, Philadelphia, San Diego, New York and Los Angeles. None have any substantial value save for Santos, who could work his way into high-leverage situations with the Dodgers with Kenley Jansen still out. All save for Santos - Mixed: No; NL: $0; Santos – Mixed: $0; NL: $3.
Yimi Garcia, Dodgers – Garcia may be the next man up in the Dodgers bullpen to close while Kenley Jansen works his way back from his foot injury. He threw a perfect inning to notch his first save Friday, and with Joel Peralta out with a dead arm, despite manager Don Mattingly saying he will mix and match in the ninth inning, Garcia should be the man. Garcia has a 0.93 ERA, 16:3 K:BB and just three hits allowed in 9.2 innings this season, building off the success he had when called up last season. Take a flier on him, as he still should be a nice source of holds and strikeouts even if he doesn’t close. Mixed: $5; NL: $14.
A.J. Ramos, Marlins – Ramos has been solid since getting promoted in 2012, improving annually. That is no different this year, as he has allowed just one earned run with 13 strikeouts in 9.2 innings in his first eight appearances after striking out 73 in 64 innings a year ago. Steve Cishek, despite his early-season struggles, is still Miami’s closer, but Ramos is now second in line and could step in if a change is made. Mixed: $1; NL: $4.
Juan Centeno and Martin Maldonado, Brewers – Lucroy left Monday’s game against the Reds after a foul tip caught a toe on his left foot. An X-ray showed a fracture that will sideline the All-Star catcher for six weeks. In that breach, Centeno and Maldonado will try to replace one of Milwaukee’s best players. Look for Maldonado to see most of the playing time and be backed up by Centeno, but don’t expect much from either. Centeno - Mixed: No; NL: $0; Maldonado - Mixed: $0; NL: $4.
A.J. Pierzynski, Braves – Pierzynski extended his hitting streak to eight games with a hit Saturday. He was expected to be on the light side of a platoon with Christian Bethancourt, but has seen more playing time than expected early this season. Pierzynski should continue to play as long as he hits, but as a lefty, his time may only be limited against southpaws, at least until Atlanta starts playing for the future. Mixed: $3; NL: $9.
Kevin Plawecki, Mets – The injury bug struck the Mets twice Sunday, with Jerry Blevins and Travis d’Arnaud suffering broken bones that will sideline both of them for at least a month. To replace d’Arnaud, Plawecki, selected 35th in 2012, was promoted. Plawecki started 0-for-17 this year at Triple-A Las Vegas, but was 8-for-his-last-18 with six RBI and hit .309-11-64 between Double-A Binghamton and the 51s last season. He is not a power hitter, but will make solid contact and should be in the lineup almost every day with Anthony Recker also seeing some playing time. Mixed: $5; NL: $14.
Justin Bour, Marlins – Bour rebounded from a poor 2013 campaign by hitting .306/.372/.517 with 18 home runs and 72 RBI in 103 games with Triple-A New Orleans last year. He had several cups of coffee with the parent club in 2014, but lost any shot at a spot when Mike Morse and Ichiro Suzuki were signed. Bour was called up with Christian Yelich (back) landing on the DL, giving the Marlins another option at first base if they elect to give Mike Morse a couple starts in left field with Yelich out. Mixed: No; NL: $2.
Danny Dorn, Diamondbacks – Dorn was called up when Jake Lamb landed on the disabled list with a stress fracture in his left foot. Dorn can play some first and outfield, but likely will be used mainly as a pinch hitter. Mixed: No; NL: $0.
Hector Gomez and Elian Herrera, Brewers – Gomez and Herrera will fill in the next two weeks while Scooter Gennett recovers after a shower accident that required stitches to close a cut on his knuckle. Gomez hit .282/.325/.483 with 15 home runs and 49 RBI last year at Triple-A while Herrera bounced up and down between the minors and majors last season. Neither is a great option, but Gomez may have a bit more short-term upside even though Herrera hit Herrera hit .422 (19-for-45) in 11 games with Triple-A Colorado Springs before his promotion. Gomez - Mixed: $0; NL: $2; Herrera - Mixed: No; NL: $0.
Addison Russell, Cubs – Chicago brought up their second stud prospect of the past week, calling up Russell from Triple-A Iowa to play second base. The keystone position has been black hole for Chicago this year. Javier Baez failed to earn a spot this spring, while Tommy La Stella, Arismendy Alcantara and Jonathan Herrera did not inspire any confidence. The Cubs’ second basemen had a .369 OPS, prompting the promotion of Russell, who was hitting .318 with a home run and nine RBI to begin the season at Iowa. Russell is usually a shortstop, but will play second with Starlin Castro at short, likely giving him dual eligibility in your league. Mixed: $17; NL: $45.
Anthony Rendon, Nationals – Rendon, sidelined with a sprained MCL in his knee, began a minor league assignment Friday, playing five innings at Double-A Harrisburg. After several setbacks, Rendon finally turned the corner this week, playing three innings at third base in an extended spring training game Tuesday. While Rendon admitted he’s still experiencing some stiffness in the knee, he told manager Matt Williams that he no longer has any pain. It’s still up in the air if Rendon will play third or move back to second when he returns, as Yunel Escobar has looked more comfortable at the hot corner. Regardless, Rendon has dual eligibility and Washington will be very happy to get him back in the lineup. Likely owned.
Zack Cozart, Reds – Cozart struggled mightily last year, batting just .221, which was 33 points below what he hit in 2013. This year, he has gotten off to a tremendous start, hitting .328 with four home runs, matching his long-ball total from all of last year. Granted there are some troubling signs, seen in his high strikeout and low walk rates, plus his BABIP, while not insanely high, is way above where it usually is. All that said, Cozart’s defense keeps him in the lineup and he did have 12 home runs and 63 RBI in 2013, so roll with him. Mixed: $4; NL: $11.
Yunel Escobar, Nationals – Escobar extended his hitting streak to seven games Saturday and has hit safely in 14 of his last 15 starts. He is starting at third with Anthony Rendon (knee) sidelined. When Rendon returns, Escobar could stick at third with Rendon playing second, though the two could swap spots. One other change is that Escobar likely will slide down to the bottom third of the order when Rendon comes back, slightly impacting his production. Mixed: $3; NL: $9.
Freddy Galvis. Phillies – Galvis is finally getting consistent playing time and is making the most of it. He struggled in the past, but that might have somewhat been due to the inconsistent nature of when he received at-bats. Galvis is hitting a surprising .326, taking advantage of Jimmy Rollins’ departure. Even if his bat slumps a bit, his glove should keep him in the lineup. Mixed: $1; NL: $4.
Chris Owings, Diamondbacks – After a horrific start, Owings has hit in five straight and seven of eight to up his batting average to .242 on the year. It’s possible his offseason shoulder surgery contributed to his slow start. He is still regaining his power, but already has four stolen bases. Owings could be a 15-15 candidate and now qualifies at second and short, having played 14 games at the keystone. Mixed: $5; NL: $14.
Aaron Hill and Yasmany Tomas, Diamondbacks – Hill lost his starting job at second with Chris Owings shifting there to make room for Nick Ahmed. There was some speculation that Hill would see decent playing time at third, but Jake Lamb played well enough to hold down the spot. Lamb landed on the DL on Tuesday with a stress reaction in his left foot that will sideline him 2-3 weeks, opening up the position. Hill and Tomas, profiled last week, will fill the spot, with Tomas likely getting the first shot. If Tomas struggles offensively or defensively, then Hill will slide in to the position. Tomas showed little this spring and in the minors, so temper your expectations. Hill - Mixed: $1; NL: $4; Tomas - Mixed: $3; NL: $9 (upped bid from last week).
Alex Guerrero, Dodgers – Guerrero has made the most of his limited playing time this year, going 9-for-19 with four home runs and 12 RBI on the year. A good portion of that has come as a pinch hitter, as he has started just three games this season. Guerrero appears more at ease in the U.S. after arriving from Cuba last year. Now the question is where to get him additional at-bats. It could come at third or in left field, though LA has a lot of depth at both, so Guerrero may just have to continue making the most of his spotty at-bats. Mixed: $$; NL: $14 (up it if you think he will get consistent at-bats).
Andre Ethier and Scott Van Slyke, Dodgers – Yasiel Puig’s hamstring injury is likely to land him on the disabled list, opening the door for Ethier to see more playing time. Ethier had a horrible season last year and still has three years remaining on a five-year, $85 million extension he received in 2012. That expensive backup will need to produce until Puig. Look for Van Slyke to play against lefties, who he crushed to the tune of a 315/.415/.630 line in 2014, with either Ethier or Carl Crawford sitting. Ethier - Mixed: $4; NL: $11; Van Slyke - Mixed: $2; NL: $7.
Jonny Gomes, Braves – Gomes is off to a slow start but should continue to see consistent playing time early in the season. With Atlanta likely looking to the future, Gomes may be dealt before the trade deadline, but until then, the Braves will try and maximize his value. Gomes had a big 2012 and was a leader for Boston in 2013, but bottomed out last year. He should start only against southpaws, but likely will continue to see starts against righties with little else available in Atlanta. Mixed: $1; NL: $4.
Chris Heisey, Dodgers – Los Angeles called up Heisey on Tuesday, likely to provide some depth with Yasiel Puig dealing with a hamstring issue and Carl Crawford battling an illness. He was sent back down a day later, but could be called back up if Puig lands on the DL, Heisey’s plate discipline and isolated power went by the wayside in Cincinnati, so even if he gets playing time, don’t expect much. Mixed: No; NL: $0.
Justin Maxwell, Giants – Maxwell, who has bounced around the majors since making his debut with Washington in 2007, earned a spot with the Giants with a strong spring. He has carried that fine play into the season, posting a 300/.400/.500 line in 35 at-bats. Maxwell had been platooning with Gregor Blanco in right field, but with Blanco off to a slow start, manager Bruce Bochy is doling out more playing time to Maxwell, starting him Thursday and all three games this weekend. Maxwell rewarded that faith with home runs Thursday and Saturday. With Bochy giving him more PT, Maxwell has some short-term value, at least until Hunter Pence returns. Mixed: $2; NL: $7.
Ichiro Suzuki, Marlins – Ichiro will see a lot of playing time in left field with Christian Yelich landing on the DL with a bulging disk in his back. His numbers continued to tumble last year, but he should post a decent OBA while scoring some runs and stealing a few bases while Yelich is out, though Mike Morse could also see time in left. Suzuki continues to build toward 3,000 hits in the US, as he is now just 147 shy of that mark. Mixed: $2; NL: $7.
Domonic Brown, Phillies – Brown, who was shut down March 19 due to tendinitis in his left Achilles, said he expects to play his final rehab game with Triple-A Lehigh Valley on Sunday or Monday. He played six games at High-A Clearwater before moving to Triple-A Lehigh Valley last Friday. Brown has struggled in his rehab stint, but he should see most of the action in right field when he is activated this week. Mixed: $2; NL: $7 (slightly upped bid).
Hunter Pence, Giants – Pence, who fractured his left forearm in late March, has moved from swinging a wiffle bat and light swings with a fungo bat to swinging a regular bat and hitting off a tee. Additionally, he has been running and the bone has healed. Pence hit soft toss in the batting cage Friday and could begin a rehab assignment in the near future, possibly by the weekend.. His May 1 target date will not be met but he could be back by the middle of May. When he returns, Pence will assume his usual spot as starting right fielder and bat fourth or fifth for the Giants. Likely owned.
Denard Span, Nationals – Span, sidelined with an abdomen injury, was activated off the DL last Sunday. To make room for him, Michael Taylor, who was filling in for Span in center, was optioned to Triple-A Syracuse. Span is back in his usual CF and leadoff spot. Likely owned.