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
Casey Kelly, Padres – Kelly, who was called up Monday, should receive a couple of starts the balance of the season, with the first one likely coming on Sept. 26 against the Diamondbacks. Kelly, who missed all of 2013 after Tommy John surgery and most of 2014 with an elbow injury, struggled in the minors this season, but he has the upside to be a possible No. 3 or 4 starter in the majors and is definitely worth a bid in keeper leagues. Mixed: $1; NL: $4.
Adam Wainwright, Cardinals – Wainwright, who had surgery in late April to repair a torn Achilles’ tendon, will find out Monday if he can return before the end of the regular season. He was expected to need 9-12 months to recover from the injury, but he’s recovered much faster than expected. Wainwright, who has been throwing bullpen sessions but hasn’t fielded his position, likely will only be used out of the bullpen and may not be ready until the postseason, but there is a shot he’ll pitch as a reliever the last week of the season. Mixed: $3; NL: $9 (if in a keeper league).
John Axford, Rockies – Axford notched his 24th save Friday. After losing the closer role for a bit, he has been solid since regaining that job. Since Aug. 13, Axford has allowed just two runs while striking out 20 batters in 14.2 innings. In addition, his fastball is sitting in the upper 90s regularly since his insertion back into the closer's role. Roll with him the remainder of this year and it looks like he could be the closer in 2016 as well. Mixed: $15; NL: Owned.
Chris Hatcher, Dodgers – Hatcher has been solid out of the bullpen since returning from a strained oblique in mid-August. Prior to being sidelined, Hatcher struggled, posting a 6.38 ERA with 19 strikeouts and seven walks across 18.1 innings. Since returning, he has allowed two runs on nine hits and four walks while striking out 18 in 15 innings. He’s also added a save and four holds, giving him some additional fantasy value. Mixed: $1; NL: $4.
Carter Capps, Marlins - Capps, on the disabled list with a strained flexor muscle since early August, was to throw a simulated game Friday and possibly be activated Sunday. Prior to being sidelined, Capps posted a 1.16 ERA, 0.81 WHIP and 58 strikeouts in just 31 innings out of the pen. Mixed: $1; NL: $4.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Diamondbacks – Saltalamacchia is not in the lineup daily, but he has produced when he has played, as he’s 9-for-26 with four home runs and eight runs batted in over his last 15 games. Salty is now in a platoon with Welington Castillo, so you should be able to ride the hot bat when he’s expected to plays. Mixed: $2; NL: $7.
Matt Adams, Cardinals – Adams, out since late May with a torn right quadriceps that required surgery to repair, was activated last week. He had originally been cleared to hit and not play the field, though that changed soon after his activation. As a result, Adams has seen semi-regular playing time at first base, as the Cardinals look to get him at-bats and see if he will be a starter for or on the postseason roster. Mixed: $5; NL: $14 (upped bid due to increased usage and potential).
Justin Bour, Marlins – Bour has been red-hot at the plate. Over the past month, he’s hitting .287 with seven home runs and 27 RBI. He should enter 2016 as the team’s starting first baseman, building off his minor league success the past two seasons. Mixed: $14; NL: owned.
Cody Decker, Padres – Decker, who has been a career minor leaguer, finally received a promotion Monday, He has shown great power in the minors, blasting 48 home runs over the last two seasons with Triple-A El Paso. With the Padres out of contention, Decker could see some time at first base the last few weeks of the season. Mixed: No; NL: $2.
Darin Ruf, Phillies – Ruf received additional starts at first base last week with Ryan Howard (knee) sidelined. Ruf has shown he can rake against southpaws, but he’s getting a chance to show he can hit righties as well. Through Friday, he had a .376/.445/.635 line with six home runs and 18 RBI over 85 at-bats against lefties but just a .150/.179/.241 line with two home runs and 18 RBI over 133 at-bats vs. righties. Mixed: $4; NL: $11.
Andres Blanco and Darnell Sweeney, Phillies – Blanco and Sweeney are each seeing time at second base due to Cesar Hernandez’s season-ending injury. Blanco saw lots of time for a while, but lost his spot at third with Cody Asche moving back there, so this gives him regular at-bats. Sweeney had already been in the lineup almost daily despite his slump at the plate, so this affords him multi-position eligibility the remainder of this year and possibly for 2016. Blanco - Mixed: $2; NL: $7; Sweeney - Mixed: $1; NL: $4.
Howie Kendrick, Dodgers – Kendrick, out since Aug. 10 with a hamstring injury, was finally activated Friday. Prior to being sidelined, Kendrick was hitting well, upping his line to .296/.341/.418 on the year. He should regain his spot as the Dodgers' everyday second baseman despite the addition of Chase Utley. Just an FYI as he should be owned in all leagues.
Starlin Castro, Cubs – Castro continued his hot hitting by blasting two home runs and driving in six runs Friday and then went 2-for-4 with an RBI on Saturday. Over his last 15 games Castro is hitting .391/.417/.696 with four home runs and 13 runs batted in. With Addison Russell, Javier Baez and Kris Bryant all available, Castro is not guaranteed a starting role, but if he keeps raking like this, manager Joe Maddon will make sure he is in the lineup daily. Mixed: $22; NL: owned.
Chase d’Arnaud, Phillies – D’Arnaud, despite batting just .268/.317/.354 with five home runs in the minors this season, was called up Monday. He should see some time at short and third the rest of the year as he auditions for a role in 2016 as a utility infielder. Mixed: No; NL: $2.
Jordy Mercer, Pirates - Jung-Ho Kang is out for as much as 6-8 months after undergoing knee surgery Thursday, thrusting Mercer back into the role as the Pirates’ starting shortstop the rest of the season. Mercer lost his job due to poor performance and then landed on the disabled in July due to a lower-leg contusion. He hasn’t been much better at the plate since his late-August return, hitting .226 with just two extra-base hits (both doubles) through Friday, so don’t expect much. Mixed: No; NL: $3.
Josh Harrison, Pirates – The season-ending injury to Jung-Ho Kang should allow Harrison to see consistent playing time the rest of the season. After struggling a bit after his return, Harrison, has been hot lately, batting .345/.406/.448 in his last seven games through Friday. He'll still have to battle Aramis Ramirez for playing time at third base, but with Kang gone, Harrison should be the primary option at the hot corner when Ramirez shifts to first against southpaws. Mixed: $7; NL: owned.
Maikel Franco, Phillies – Franco, diagnosed with a small, non-displaced fracture in his wrist nearly two weeks ago, took normal batting practice Friday. If he comes out of that without issue, he could head to the Phillies' spring training facility to get at-bats in simulated games. Barring any setbacks, Franco, who is batting .277/.340/.490 with 13 homers and 48 RBI in 77 games, could return at some point over the final two weeks of the regular season. Just an FYI as he should be owned in all leagues.
Tommy Pham, Cardinals – Pham has made the most of the additional time he has seen in the outfield due to the myriad of injuries in St. Louis. He went 2-for-5 Saturday, making him 25-for-78 since getting called back up Aug. 17. While he didn’t do much in his initial stint this year for the Cardinals, he played well in Triple-A, hitting .327/.398/.503 with six homers and nine steals in nine attempts in 48 games. The recent returns of Randal Grichuk and Matt Holliday could cut into his playing time, though look for Pham to play almost daily if he remains hot. Mixed: $8; NL: $22 (upped bid).
Matt Holliday, Cardinals – Holliday, out since the end of July with a quadriceps injury, was activated Tuesday. Of course, that return hasn’t been smooth, as he was hit in the helmet with a pitch Friday. Holliday is reportedly okay and should be in the lineup shortly, though, due to the original injury, he should be eased into game action and may only pinch hit down the stretch. Mixed: $2; NL: $7 (in case he was waived).
Jorge Soler, Cubs – Soler, out since Aug. 24 with a strained oblique, was activated Thursday and slid back into his starting spot in right field Saturday, when he hit his eighth home run of the season. Likely still owned.