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
Alec Asher, Phillies – Asher, who came over to the Phillies in the Cole Hamels trade, was called up and will start Sunday, replacing Jerome Williams in the team’s rotation. In four starts for Triple A Lehigh Valley since the trade, Asher was 2-0 with a 2.08 ERA and 12:3 K:BB in 26 innings. Asher has a 94 mph fastball and posted a 4.73 ERA (6.02 FIP) over 64.2 innings at Triple-A Round Rock, but he may have benefitted from the change in scenery. He should remain in the Philly rotation the balance of the season. Mixed: $2; NL: $7.
Chad Bettis, Rockies – Bettis, sidelined since July 18 with elbow inflammation, was activated and started Tuesday for Colorado. He allowed one run on five hits and two walks while striking out four in five innings to defeat the Braves. Prior to being sidelined, Bettis had a 4.88 ERA and struck out 65 batters over 75.2 innings, but posted a 8.55 ERA over four June starts, suggesting that he was pitching through the injury for a bit. Now that he’s healthy, he should remain in the Rockies’ rotation. Mixed: $1 NL: $4.
Jhoulys Chacin, Diamondbacks – Chacin was a bit of surprising call-up from Triple-A Reno to start Tuesday for Arizona. He allowed just two earned runs over 6.1 innings against the Cardinals with five strikeouts and one walk, earning a second start. Chacin, who won 14 games for Colorado in 2013 before suffering a shoulder injury last year, pitched well at Reno (3.39 ERA, 1.31 WHIP) to earn the promotion. Arizona could go with a six-man rotation, which would likely keep Chacin as a starter the final month of the season once rosters expand and he is called back up, as he was sent down Saturday night. Mixed: No; NL: $2.
J.A. Happ, Pirates – Happ pitched well again for the Pirates on Saturday, and after a rough start, he has really turned it around. In his last four starts, Happ has allowed just two runs on 18 hits with a 18:5 K:BB in 23 innings. It seems like every time a struggling pitcher becomes a Pirate that his numbers improve. Happ is benefitting from the new scenery and is work a look down the stretch. Mixed: $4; NL: $11.
Chris Heston, Giants – Heston, who had been assigned to Triple-A to basically rest, was recalled Friday and will start Sunday against the Cardinals due to Matt Cain (elbow) landing on the DL. Heston was 11-7 with a 3.34 ERA, 1.22 WHIP and 110:48 K:BB in 145.2 innings with the Giants before his team-imposed rest. He should be up for the final month of the season. Mixed: $14; NL: $35 (in case he was waived).
Mat Latos, Dodgers – Latos, moved to the bullpen after his August 13 start, threw a five-inning simulated game Tuesday and remains on track to return to the rotation Saturday against the Cubs. He had struggled prior to the move, allowing 10 earned runs on 14 hits over his last 8.2 innings, so the hope is that the time off would help him regain his stuff. Mixed: No; NL: $2.
Robert Stephenson, Reds – Stephenson, who missed 15 days with a sore right wrist, returned to action Friday, tossing four shutout innings for Triple-A Louisville. After a rough start to the season, Stephenson really righted the ship, posting a 2.36 ERA over his last 10 starts to lower his overall ERA to 3.68 and earn a promotion to Louisville. Since the step up in level, Stephenson is 4-2 with a 3.13 ERA in nine starts. His walk rate, which was a major concern last year and a big reason for his struggles at Double-A, continues to remain high, but that is offset by his strong strikeout rate, though that has come down a bit at the higher level. Stephenson has pitched 124.1 innings this year after throwing 136.2 last season, which should allow him to get a few starts in the majors when he is promoted in September. Mixed: $1 NL: $4 (much higher in keeper leagues).
Allen Webster, Diamondbacks – Webster was called up and started Sunday for Arizona. He struggled earlier in the season with the D-Backs, posting a 6.86 ERA, 1.67 WHIP and 13:16 K:BB in 20 innings. Things did not improve at Triple-A Reno, where he had a 8.37 ERA and 1.87 WHIP in 71 innings. Buyer beware. Mixed: No; NL: $2.
Manny Banuelos, Braves – Banuelos, sidelined with a bone spur in the back of his elbow since July 25, likely will rejoin Atlanta when rosters expand in September, but will be limited to throwing three innings at a time. He made a pair of rehab starts last week, but may only work out of the bullpen for the Braves. Banuelos should get a chance to break camp next spring as a starter for Atlanta. Mixed: $1 NL: $4 (spec keeper league bid).
Archie Bradley, Diamondbacks – Bradley, sidelined since early June with right shoulder tendinitis, was activated and sent to Triple-A Reno to make a start or two before rejoining the big club in September. He hit 97 mph with his fastball and will need to show he can remain healthy and be stretched out a bit before he is promoted. At the beginning of July, Bradley looked to be on his way back before he was shut down completely for 10 days to allow his shoulder to rest. The time off has accomplished the stated goal for Bradley, who is 2-3 with a 5.80 ERA in eight starts for Arizona. Mixed: $1 NL: $4 (same early spec return bid).
A.J. Burnett, Pirates – Burnett, out since July 30 with a strained flexor tendon, could be back with the Pirates by mid-September. Originally, the concern was that Burnett’s season and career were over, but the UCL turned out to be intact. Burnett has progressed from throwing a ball to long toss and a completed a 55-pitch bullpen session Tuesday. He will throw three innings in a simulated game Sunday and then will likely make 1-2 rehab starts before rejoining the team’s rotation, as long as his he has no setbacks and is able to throw his curveball. Mixed: $1 NL: $4 (early spec return bid).
Jarred Cosart, Marlins – Cosart, who has been dealing with vertigo due to a nerve issue for more than two months, allowed four runs on five hits and a walk over five innings Thursday during a rehab start with High-A Jupiter. That start came after he threw four scoreless innings and 44 pitches for the Gulf Coast League Marlins the prior Saturday. Cosart, on medication to treat the nerve problem, is hitting 94 mph on the gun and should be up around September 1 when the rosters expand. Mixed: $1; NL: $4 (upped early spec return bid).
Jose Fernandez, Marlins – Fernandez, out with a strained biceps since August 7, could be back with the Marlins in mid-September. He threw an excellent 30-pitch bullpen session Thursday, and will likely throw one more bullpen, followed by a simulation game, before getting back on the mound in a real game. Just an FYI as still should be owned in all leagues, but if not, an early $4/$11 bid is warranted.
Tim Hudson and Tim Lincecum, Giants – Hudson, sidelined with a shoulder injury since the end of July, and Lincecum, out with a forearm injury since the beginning July, are expected to be activated September 1 or earlier. Both should work out of the bullpen, though it’s possible one of them – likely Hudson – will replace Ryan Vogelsong in the Giants’ rotation. Hudson - Mixed: $1; NL: $4; Lincecum - Mixed: No; NL: $2.
Steven Matz, Mets – Matz, sidelined with a slightly torn lat muscle since July 5, allowed just one hit over six shutout innings, walking none and striking out six, in his first rehab start with Double-A Binghamton (and third overall) on Wednesday. He threw 56 pitches and will make one more start for Binghamton - in which he’ll throw 75-80 pitches - before returning to the Mets' rotation, probably on September 5. At that point, the Mets will use a six-man rotation to limit the innings of Matt Harvey and Noah Syndergaard. Mixed: $6 NL: $17 (slightly upped spec return bid, to continue to rise as he gets closer to returning).
Collin Balester, Jacob Brigham, Mike Broadway, Simon Castro, Jairo Diaz, Jason Gurka, Sugar Ray Marimon, Juan Nicasio, Nefi Ogando, Matt Reynolds, Fernando Rodney, and Sam Tuivailala - This week’s key reliever call-ups/activations, as well as expected call-ups, do not have any substantial value, save for Broadway, who posted a 0.93 ERA, 0.68 WHIP and 64:8 K:BB in 40 appearances with Triple-A Sacramento and could notch some holds down the stretch. Broadway – Mixed: $0; NL: $2. All others – Mixed: $0, NL: $0.
Christian Bethancourt, Braves – Bethancourt, who opened the year with the Braves but was sent down June 15 after hitting just .198 with a one home run and nine RBI in 29 games, was called back up last week. He earned a second chance by hitting .327 with four home runs and 31 RBI in 52 games at Triple-A Gwinnett. In addition, Bethancourt used the time in the minors to regain his confidence defensively. With Atlanta out of contention, the last five weeks of the season could be used by the Braves to evaluate Bethancourt by giving him lots of playing time. Mixed: $0; NL: $2.
Peter O’Brien, Diamondbacks – O’Brien, who has moved out from behind the plate, has had a solid year for Triple-A Reno. His 24 home runs rank third in the Pacific Coast League and he’s slashing .288/.336/.543. Unfortunately, O’Brien no long has the clear path to playing time he had when he was a catcher, as Arizona is well-stocked in the outfield. In addition, his 5.7-percent walk rate leaves a lot to be desired and he also isn’t helped by a 22.9-percent strikeout rate. O’Brien should get a September promotion, but he may need a trade to be able to get playing time. Mixed: $0; NL: $2 (much higher if he qualifies as a catcher, though that will only be this season).
Cameron Rupp, Phillies – Rupp is having a big August as he tries to show the Phillies he can be the starting catcher in 2016. He blasted a three-run homer Friday and is hitting a blistering .327/.390/.712 with six home runs in 52 at-bats this month. Carlos Ruiz is signed through next year, and Jorge Alfaro and Andrew Knapp are also in the system, so Rupp might only get part of next season as a starter even if he earns the job. Mixed: $3; NL: $9.
Michael Cuddyer, Mets – Cuddyer is seeing time in left field, splitting action with Michael Conforto, while also making the occasional start at first base with Lucas Duda (back) out. The time on the disabled list appears to have done wonders for Cuddyer’s injured knee, as he is 15-for-45 with two homers and seven RBI since his return earlier this month. Prior to being sidelined, he had posted a .250/.303/.380 line. Mixed: $2; NL: $7.
Matt Adams, Cardinals – Adams, out since late May with a torn right quadriceps that required surgery to repair, could rejoin the Cardinals next weekend against the Pirates. He is expected to kick off a rehab assignment in the next few days, paving his way to coming back to the parent club. Adams, the team's starting first baseman and cleanup hitter, may come back as a pinch hitter, though it wouldn’t be shocking to see him see consistent action down the stretch to determine if he is ready for a bigger role in the playoffs. Mixed: $4; NL: $11 (upped very early spec return bid).
Justin Morneau, Rockies – Morneau, out since suffering a concussion and neck sprain while diving for a groundball in May, started a rehab assignment at Double-A New Britain on Friday. He will play three games there before getting reevaluated, and assuming he has not suffered any setbacks, could rejoin the Rockies on September 1. Morneau was off to a decent start – .290/.317/.450 with three home runs and nine RBI over 100 at-bats in 27 games – before he was sidelined. Mixed: $4; NL: $11 (upped early spec return bid).
Wilmer Flores, Mets – Flores, at this point most known for crying on the field when it looked like he was headed to Milwaukee a month ago, has used that incident as a springboard at the plate. He’s batting .317/.349/.524 in August and was up to .264-14-54 on the year. Flores, who now qualifies at second and short, will basically be in the lineup somewhere in the middle of the batting order, but manager Terry Collins will keep Ruben Tejada involved with occasional starts. Mixed: $18; NL: likely owned.
Tommy La Stella, Cubs – The Cubs called up La Stella after a short stint in the minors to replace Jorge Soler (oblique) on the active roster. He will see some time at second, sharing the spot with Starlin Castro and possibly Javier Baez. Mixed: No; NL: $2.
Jose Peraza, Dodgers – Peraza, who got a two-game cup off coffee in LA earlier this month before getting sent down to when Justin Turner was activated from the disabled list, was promoted Friday with Yasiel Puig sidelined with a strained hamstring. He hit a combined .302/.327/.398 with 41 RBI and 27 steals in 106 Triple-A games between the Braves and Dodgers organizations to earn the first promotion. However, his splits were very skewed, as he posted a .333/.337/.455 batting line at Triple-A against southpaws, and a .281/.312/.353 line against right-handers. Peraza should remain with the team with the rosters set to expand Tuesday and likely will be a spot starter and pinch runner the rest of the season. Mixed: $1; NL: $4 (go much higher in keeper leagues).
Kelby Tomlinson, Giants – Tomlinson has more than stepped into the breach created by Joe Panik’s back injury. Since his call-up, Tomlinson is hitting .364 with a .944 OPS in 21 games, enabling the Giants to stay on the cusp of playoff contention. Panik may be back by mid-September, but look for Tomlinson to be in the lineup almost daily until then. Mixed: $2; NL: $7.
Howie Kendrick, Dodgers – Kendrick, out since August 10 with a hamstring injury, was expected to begin a rehab assignment at the end of the week. Unfortunately, he seems to have plateaued in his recovery and could miss another week. Prior to being sidelined, Kendrick was hot at the plate, upping his line to .296/.341/.418 on the year. Upon his return, Kendrick will remain the Dodgers' everyday second baseman despite the addition of Chase Utley. Just an FYI as he should be owned in all leagues.
Joe Panik, Giants – Panik, out since the beginning of the month with lower-back inflammation, threw, took groundballs and hit off a tee Friday and was scheduled to take batting practice Saturday. There is a good possibility he’ll join Triple-A Sacramento to begin his rehab Tuesday. Panik likely will need about a week of games before he rejoins the Giants. Just an FYI as he should be owned in all leagues.
Starlin Castro, Cubs – After riding the bench, Castro has seen consistent playing time lately at second base. That action has corresponded with Chris Coghlan moving back to the outfield to replace Jorge Soler, who is on the DL with an oblique injury. Castro, who has suffered through a nightmarish campaign at the plate, is now eligible at second and shortstop but his spot ion the lineup is far from safe, as Tommy La Stella is on the roster and Javier Baez could be an option in September. Mixed: $3; NL: $9.
Greg Garcia, Cardinals – Garcia was promoted for the fourth time this season last Sunday. With Kolten Wong and Jhonny Peralta set in the middle infield, Garcia will be limited to spot duty and pinch hitting. Mixed: No; NL: $0.
Javier Baez, Cubs – Baez, who missed seven weeks with a fractured finger, should be up with the Cubs in September. Despite playing just 68 games at Triple-A Iowa, Baez has posted a .316/.380/.530 line with 14 doubles, 13 homers, 60 runs batted in and 16 stolen bases. Baez has benefitted from a .399 BABIP and has a weak K:BB ratio, but when he makes contact, it’s solid. Baez’s power potential could allow him to claim the everyday second base role over Starlin Castro and Tommy La Stella with Chris Coghlan back in left due to Jorge Soler’s injury. Mixed: $5; NL: $14 (higher in keeper leagues and upped bid based on his possible starting role).
Hector Olivera, Braves – Olivera, acquired in a three-team deal a month ago while sidelined with a hamstring injury, will hopefully join the Braves on Tuesday. He has struggled a bit during his rehab stint , which is now at Triple-A Gwinnett. Olivera, who played well before the injury, is hitting just .222 at Gwinnett after going 1-for-17 between the GCL and Low-A. Despite that, he should play every day at third base when he is activated, replacing Adonis Garcia. Atlanta is investing $6.5 million for each of the next five years, which gives them ample incentive to see what Olivera can do. Mixed: $5; NL: $14 (maybe the promotion will wake up his bat).
Maikel Franco, Phillies – Franco, diagnosed with a small, non-displaced fracture in his wrist nearly two weeks ago, is expected to play again this season. He has been cleared for all activity except swinging a bat, which could come following an exam this week. Once that happens, Franco, who is batting .277/.340/.490 with 13 homers and 48 RBI in 77 games, could be back with the team in a week. Just an FYI as he should be owned in all leagues.
David Wright, Mets – Wright, out since mid-April with hamstring and back injuries, finally rejoined the Mets against Philadelphia on Monday. He came back with a bang, blasting an upper-deck home run in his first at-bat. Wright, who has slightly altered his batting stance to take pressure off his back, is starting at third base but will rest often in place of Juan Uribe. Mixed: $7; NL: $18 (same return bid as a week ago).
Aaron Altherr, Phillies – Altherr, who had a .293/.367/.487 line with 14 homers and 16 steals between Double-A and Triple-A and was promoted last week when Maikel Franco landed on the disabled list with a fractured wrist, will see an increase in playing time. To date, all of his action has come against lefties, but in September he should see regular playing time, which will come at the expense of Cody Asche and Domonic Brown. Mixed: $3; NL: $9.
Billy Hamilton, Reds – Hamilton, out with a sprained capsule in his right shoulder, is unlikely to be ready to come off the DL when first eligible on Sept. 3. He is still wearing a shoulder brace and just started mobility exercises this past Monday. Hamilton now may be out until mid-September and any setback could sideline him for the season. Just an FYI as he should be owned in all leagues.
Jon Jay, Cardinals – Jay, out since late June with a wrist injury, is on track to begin a rehab assignment later this week. He took batting practice Monday and Tuesday without any issues reported, leading to speculation that he could rejoin the Cardinals shortly. Jay could push for at least a part-time role in center upon his return with Randal Grichuk (elbow) and Matt Holliday (quad) sidelined. Mixed: No; NL: $0 (early spec return bid).
Wil Myers, Padres – Other than a brief three-game stint in June, Myers has been out since May 10 with wrist injuries that ultimately required surgery. He is now pain-free and has progressed to the point where he will head to High-A Lake Elsinore on Tuesday to begin his rehab assignment. Myers won’t be ready when the minor league season ends September 7, but he might be back a week later. Mixed: $3; NL: $9 (early spec return bid in case he was waived).
Angel Pagan, Giants – Pagan, out since August 11 with right patella tendinitis, played at High-A San Jose on Saturday and Sunday and will see action in one game with Triple-A Sacramento before rejoining the Giants when the rosters expand September 1. Injuries have plagued Pagan all season, as he has batted just .258/.290/.308 with no homers and six stolen bases in 102 games. Now that he is almost back, it remains to be seen how he will be deployed following the acquisition of Marlon Byrd, return of Nori Aoki and solid play of Gregor Blanco, even though Hunter Pence is out with an oblique injury. Mixed: $2; NL: $7.
Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins – Stanton, out since June 27 with a left wrist fracture that required surgery, is planning to return to the Marlins in about a week. He had some minor discomfort last week, but faced live pitching in batting practice Monday. Prior to being sidelined, Stanton was off to a tremendous start, batting .265 with 27 homers and 67 RBI over 74 games. Stanton may not be at full strength for a while, but still hopes to return soon. Due to ongoing issues with the wrist, temper your expectations when he does return. Just an FYI as he should be owned in all leagues.
Christian Yelich, Marlins – Yelich missed just the minimum 15 days with a right knee contusion, as he was activated Tuesday. Unfortunately, he is still dealing with soreness in the knee, sidelining him Thursday and Friday. After a rough start, Yelich finally started to turn it on before he suffered the injury, but he will need to show he is healthy before playing daily. Just an FYI as he should be owned in all leagues.