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AL FAAB Factor: Waiver Pickups of the Week

Erik Siegrist

Erik Siegrist is an FSWA award-winning columnist who covers all four major North American sports (that means the NHL, not NASCAR) and whose beat extends back to the days when the Nationals were the Expos and the Thunder were the Sonics. He was the inaugural champion of Rotowire's Staff Keeper baseball league. His work has also appeared at Baseball Prospectus.

This is our weekly look at American 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 $100 starting free-agent budget you should bid on them.

This year, we're incorporating grids into the FAAB articles, so users can easily see at a glance how certain players stack up against others and how much they should command in a variety of formats.

The grids, which are sortable by column (click on the header), include a very basic "player grade" column. This serves as a reflection of a player’s skills and role on an A-E scale. Andrew Benintendi would have been an "A" grade player last year -- that mark will be reserved for similar high-impact prospects stepping into an everyday role.

As always, if there is a player that was not discussed in the article that you would like to know about, feel free to ask about the player in the comments.

PLAYER TEAM POS GRADE $ (12-Team Mixed) $ (15-Team Mixed) $ (AL-Only)
Alec Asher BAL SP D No 1 4
Andrew Cashner TEX SP C No 3 7
Jharel Cotton OAK SP B 7 Owned Owned
Dylan Covey CHI SP D No No 3
Jesse Hahn OAK SP C No 2 5
Brent Honeywell TB SP B No 2 5
Chih-Wei Hu TB SP C No No 3
Jordan Montgomery NY SP C No 2 5
JC Ramirez LA SP D No No 2
Jason Vargas KC SP C 1 3 7
Tony Barnette TEX RP E No 1 3
Matt Bush TEX RP C 1 4 9
Santiago Casilla OAK RP C 3 8 21
Chris Devenski HOU RP C 2 5 Owned
Sean Doolittle OAK RP C 2 6 15
Jeremy Jeffress TEX RP C No 3 7
Jose Leclerc TEX RP D No 1 4
Blake Parker LA RP E No No 1
Erasmo Ramirez TB RP C No 1 4
Tony Zych SEA RP C No No 2
Kyle Higashioka NY C D No No 3
Omar Narvaez CHI C E No No 3
Austin Romine NY C E No No 3
Kevan Smith CHI C E No No 1
Chris Coghlan TOR 2B D No No 3
Mike Freeman SEA 2B E No No 1
Adam Rosales OAK 2B D No No 2
Yunel Escobar LA 3B C 2 5 Owned
Darwin Barney TOR SS D No No 4
Franklin Barreto OAK SS A 3 7 15
Ryan Goins TOR SS E No No 1
Daniel Robertson TB SS D No No 2
Abraham Almonte CLE OF D No 2 6
Lonnie Chisenhall CLE OF C 1 4 9
Jaff Decker OAK OF E No No 1
Leury Garcia CHI OF D No 1 5
Willy Garcia CHI OF E No No 1
Taylor Motter SEA OF C 1 4 11
Shane Peterson TB OF E No No 1
Joey Rickard BAL OF E No No 1

Starting Pitcher

Alec Asher, Orioles: The former Phillie made a splash in his first start of the season Saturday, holding the Blue Jays to one run over 6.1 innings with a 5:1 K:BB. Granted, Toronto's bats are ice-cold to begin the year, but Asher has been effective since the beginning of 2016, in a limited sample, after he geared his approach more towards producing weak contact instead of strikeouts. The 25-year-old righty might have a low ceiling, and his stay in the rotation might only last until Chris Tillman is ready, but Saturday's debut was good enough to warrant attention in deep formats. 12-team Mixed: No; 15-team Mixed: $1; 12-team AL: $4

Andrew Cashner, Rangers: Cashner returned from a shoulder injury to make his debut for the Rangers on Saturday and didn't exactly wow anyone, managing a 2:3 K:BB over 5.1 innings. On the surface, it looked like more of the same mediocrity he showed the last couple of years in San Diego and Miami, as his once-blazing fastball averaged 92.2 mph, but a deeper dive shows that the 30-year-old was touching 95 mph with his four-seamer but using his two-seamer more often to drag down the average. There's risk here, but also potentially still some upside. 12-team Mixed: No; 15-team Mixed: $3; 12-team AL: $7

Jharel Cotton, Athletics: Cotton rebounded from a tough first start to shut out the Royals over seven innings Monday. He's probably not available in any format, but GMs with itchy trigger fingers in shallow leagues might have cut him loose in the first week given his limited resume of big-league success. The 25-year-old with the killer changeup could easily make them regret that decision in the coming months. If Cotton also looks good against the Astros on Sunday, don't hesitate to bid aggressively. 12-team Mixed: $7; 15-team Mixed: Owned; 12-team AL: Owned

Dylan Covey, White Sox: Covey finally made his big-league debut Friday after being named the White Sox's fifth starter out of camp and didn't look out of place, although his 1:3 K:BB in 5.1 innings was hardly inspiring. The Rule 5 pick will hold down the fort until Carlos Rodon gets healthy, but there's nothing about his four-pitch repertoire that really stands out. Still, in deep leagues, innings is innings. 12-team Mixed: No; 15-team Mixed: No; 12-team AL: $3

Jesse Hahn, Athletics: Hahn got another shot at the starting rotation after Raul Alcantara's flameout and turned in a quality start Thursday against the Royals, striking out seven. MLB's new radar readings straight of the pitcher's hand have been particularly kind to the righty, who's averaging 94.5 mph with his fastball through the early part of the season, and the same factors that made Hahn a preseason sleeper last year make him worth paying attention to now that the results might be catching up to the scouting reports. 12-team Mixed: No; 15-team Mixed: $2; 12-team AL: $5

Brent Honeywell, Rays: Honeywell's ridden his screwball to a fairly ridiculous stat line at Double-A, posting a 20:4 K:BB over two starts and 13 innings. The 22-year-old is too good for the level, but the upper levels of the Rays minor-league system is stacked and he only made 10 starts at Montgomery last year, so back to Double-A he went. Jake Odorizzi's hamstring injury could open the door for Honeywell to jump straight over Triple-A and into the majors, however. His huge ceiling makes him well worth a spec bid, but if Odorizzi is only going to miss a couple of starts Tampa will likely make do with Erasmo Ramirez rather than promoting a prospect. 12-team Mixed: No; 15-team Mixed: $2; 12-team AL: $5

Chih-Wei Hu, Rays: While Honeywell is the bigger name in prospect circles, if the Rays to decide to call someone up to fill Odorizzi's spot it might be Hu who gets the nod instead. The 23-year-old, unlike Honeywell, is already on the 40-man roster, and he's had a tremendous beginning to 2017 of his own, posting a 1.64 ERA, 1.00 WHIP and 9:1 K:BB through 11 innings. Hu doesn't have elite strikeout potential, but he's shown good control and an ability to limit homers thanks to a nasty changeup. He's also really the only option for Tampa at Triple-A, as Jose De Leon and Taylor Guerrieri are hurt and Jacob Faria can't find the plate. If Hu gets a shot, his relatively anonymous profile as a prospect could make him a steal. 12-team Mixed: No; 15-team Mixed: No; 12-team AL: $3

Jordan Montgomery, Yankees: The 24-year-old lefty made his big-league debut Wednesday and struck out seven Rays in 4.2 innings, with the quick hook being due to Montgomery throwing a less-than-efficient 89 pitches. He's got a polished four-pitch arsenal (fastball, cutter, curve, change) and tore through the upper minors pretty easily last year, so there's reason to think he can stick around as the Yankees' fifth starter. Expect some growing pains, but he also might have a bit more upside than his initial scouting reports hinted at. 12-team Mixed: No; 15-team Mixed: $2; 12-team AL: $5

JC Ramirez, Angels: Making his first start since 2011 – in Double-A – Ramirez got predictably hammered by the Royals on Friday, giving up five runs in five innings. The 28-year-old was maintaining his fastball velocity in the 95 mph range into the fifth inning, which counts for something, but his lack of useful offspeed pitches becomes an even bigger liability when he's being asked to turn over a batting order a couple of times. The Angels are desperate for healthy arms, so Ramirez will probably get a couple more starts, but don't expect too much. 12-team Mixed: No; 15-team Mixed: No; 12-team AL: $2

Jason Vargas, Royals: Talk about making up for lost time. Vargas has come out of the gates firing this year, posting a 14:2 K:BB through his first two starts and giving up just a single run over 13.2 innings. The 34-year-old lefty only made 12 starts over the previous two seasons, but he put up similar numbers in three starts at the end of 2016 so maybe there's something going on here. You'd never know it from his radar gun readings, of course – Vargas still sits in the mid-80s with his fastball – but plenty of crafty veteran lefties have made a good living well into their 30s before him. Just be ready for the inevitable regression from his current lofty level of production. 12-team Mixed: $1; 15-team Mixed: $3; 12-team AL: $7

Relief Pitcher

Tony Barnette, Rangers: Oh good, just what fantasy GMs needed, another possible closing option in the Rangers bullpen. When Jose Leclerc got his five-out save Wednesday, it was Barnette – not Matt Bush, not Jeremy Jeffress, and definitely not Sam Dyson – who was warming up to pitch the ninth if Texas hadn't tacked on some insurance runs in the top of the inning. The 33-year-old righty has a completely fungible arsenal and nothing much on his resume to indicate he'd be a good candidate to close, but he did collect 55 saves over two seasons in Japan, so I guess manager Jeff Banister figured that was good enough. Opportunity remains the biggest driver of value for closers, though, so the mere fact that Barnette has a chance of falling into the job makes him worth stashing if you have room. 12-team Mixed: No; 15-team Mixed: $1; 12-team AL: $3

Matt Bush, Rangers: Bush got written up last week, and while his relative situation hasn't changed much, the specifics certainly have. The 31-year-old has been battling shoulder soreness and hasn't pitched in a week, which is a worrying sign given his late transition to the mound. On the other hand, Dyson keeps getting worse and while he managed to throw a scoreless inning Saturday, that only brought his ERA down to a hideous 24.75. Even Dyson himself admits there's something wrong with his sinker, so it seems like it's only a matter of time until he's officially taken out of the closer role. A healthy Bush is the Rangers' best option to replace him, but ay, there's the rub. If the shoulder injury is no big deal, it creates a last window to potentially get him on the cheap before the saves start rolling in. If it isn't, well... 12-team Mixed: $1; 15-team Mixed: $4; 12-team AL: $9

Santiago Casilla, Athletics: While Texas' bullpen picture gets muddier, Oakland's has started to gain some clarity. The four-headed closing hydra is down to two, with Casilla and Sean Doolittle in an effective platoon. Of course, since that arrangement was announced by Bob Melvin, Casilla has two holds and no saves, so shrug emoji. As the right-handed half of that duo, the former Giant should see more action and more save chances, but he also doesn't have Doolittle's impressive raw stuff. 12-team Mixed: $3; 15-team Mixed: $8; 12-team AL: $21

Chris Devenski, Astros: OK, this is getting ridiculous. Devenski's now thrown nine innings across three appearances and has a 17:1 K:BB. Classic LIMA theory says you should pick him up now while he's a long reliever because his skills will earn him a more valuable role down the road, but what he's doing at the moment seems plenty valuable to me already. 12-team Mixed: $2; 15-team Mixed: $5; 12-team AL: Owned

Sean Doolittle, Athletics: Now the left-handed yin to Casilla's yang*, Doolittle should get the save chances for the A's against lefty-heavy ninth-inning lineups. I say “should” because he blew his first save of the season Saturday, relieving Casilla in the eighth inning and giving up a homer to George Springer. Again, shrug emoji. Until someone else gets ninth inning work, we have to take Melvin at his word that these two are his closers. Doolittle does have big-time strikeout stuff, so at least he'll help you there if you end up overpaying for saves that never come. 12-team Mixed: $2; 15-team Mixed: $6; 12-team AL: $15

Jeremy Jeffress, Rangers: While Dyson implodes and Bush rests, Jeffress just goes about his business. He's already appeared in seven games, posting a solid 3.18 ERA and 0.88 WHIP but only a 3:1 K:BB in 5.2 innings. His average fastball velocity is down, but he's relying more on his two-seamer so it's less a loss of stuff and more a change in approach. His closing experience last year in Milwaukee could eventually get him into the ninth-inning mix, but for the moment the Rangers seem content using Jeffress in a setup role. Dyson's struggles make him worth pursuing, though. 12-team Mixed: No; 15-team Mixed: $3; 12-team AL: $7

Jose Leclerc, Rangers: Yeah, yeah, he got a save Wednesday when he pitched the eighth then stuck around after the Rangers scored a couple of insurance runs, but that's actually not the most notable thing about Leclerc's season so far. The 23-year-old has always featured a big fastball in the minors and strikeout potential, but control was his big bugaboo. In 15 innings for Texas last year, for instance, he whiffed 15 and walked 13, and that's after posting a 50:28 K:BB in 43 Triple-A innings. This year? 10:0 K:BB in 6.1 frames for Texas. Small sample size? Maybe, but if he has figured out how to put the ball over the plate on the regular, Leclerc's 96 mph heat is going to quickly make him a key part of their bullpen, whether he's closing or not. 12-team Mixed: No; 15-team Mixed: $1; 12-team AL: $4

Blake Parker, Angels: The 31-year-old journeyman is enjoying a tremendous start to 2017, compiling a 10:0 K:BB in six innings. Parker doesn't have elite stuff, but in a thin Angels bullpen he's going to see high-leverage action as long as keeps striking out guys. 12-team Mixed: No; 15-team Mixed: No; 12-team AL: $1

Erasmo Ramirez, Rays: If Odorizzi's stay on the DL is going to be a short one, or even if it isn't, Ramirez might be the logical candidate to fill in for him. The 26-year-old tossed four innings of long relief after Odorizzi strained his hammy Saturday, and his numbers over the last two seasons for Tampa in a swingman role have been solid. There isn't a while lot upside here, but the floor is high, and sometimes that's all you need on your fantasy staff. 12-team Mixed: No; 15-team Mixed: $1; 12-team AL: $4

Tony Zych, Mariners: Zych and his career 12.7 K/9 rejoined the Seattle bullpen Friday. He underwent surgery on his biceps in October, and it's unclear whether his 96 mph fastball is all the way back or what role he'll have, but that strikeout potential can't be ignored. If you're looking to stash high-K middle relievers for emergencies, he could end up being among the best if he's fully recovered. 12-team Mixed: No; 15-team Mixed: No; 12-team AL: $2


Kyle Higashioka, Yankees: With Gary Sanchez now ruled out until early May or so, Higashioka becomes a little more interesting than he was last week. Austin Romine will start for the Yankees but his offensive upside is basically nil. Higashioka, on the other hand, has some power after cranking 21 homers in the high minors last season. He's also 0-for-8 to begin his big-league career, but you're looking for a couple of homers here, not batting average, 12-team Mixed: No; 15-team Mixed: No; 12-team AL: $3

Omar Narvaez, White Sox: Geovany Soto hit the DL on Thursday, leaving Narvaez as the starter behind the plate for Chicago. He doesn't offer much from a fantasy perspective, but could stumble into some runs and RBI with extra at-bats. 12-team Mixed: No; 15-team Mixed: No; 12-team AL: $3

Austin Romine, Yankees: Romine should get plenty of run over the next few weeks while Sanchez is on the shelf, and he's actually off to a good start at the plate this year, slashing .313/.368/.563 through 19 plate appearances. That won't last – he's a career .226/.262/.340 hitter in 144 big-league games – and Romine's biggest impact might come on the Yankees' pitching staff (it's maybe no coincidence that their starters have mostly looked like aces since Sanchez got hurt), but at-bats is at-bats. 12-team Mixed: No; 15-team Mixed: No; 12-team AL: $3

Kevan Smith, White Sox: Smith will back up Narvaez while Soto is out, and mostly play against left-handed pitchers. He was off to a hot start at Triple-A and could contribute in that platoon role, but Soto isn't expected to be out long enough to make Smith worth more than a contingency bid. 12-team Mixed: No; 15-team Mixed: No; 12-team AL: $1

Second Base

Chris Coghlan, Blue Jays: Called up from Buffalo after Josh Donaldson hit the DL, Coghlan will likely come off the bench for the Jays, but he's got a track record of unlikely hot streaks which make him worth a couple of bucks on spec given that Toronto's offense is a mess and no one's really stepped up in left field. Coghlan hitting .400 for a couple of weeks and pushing his way into the starting lineup as a 31-year-old wouldn't even be the craziest thing that's happened in his career. I mean, this is a dude who beat out Andrew McCutchen for the 2009 NL Rookie of the Year, and how crazy does that look in retrospect. 12-team Mixed: No; 15-team Mixed: No; 12-team AL: $3

Mike Freeman, Mariners: Freeman got called up this week and hit a solo homer in his first start Wednesday but hasn't seen at at-bat since, which tells you where he stands on the depth chart. He isn't a big power hitter, but has flashed good contact ability in the minors and might steal the occasional base if he gets any playing time. 12-team Mixed: No; 15-team Mixed: No; 12-team AL: $1

Adam Rosales, Athletics: Marcus Semien has a sore wrist, and that means Rosales should see some starts at shortstop in the short term, as the A's don't have anyone else on their 25-man roster to fill in. If Semien hits the DL, Franklin Barreto probably gets the call, so Rosales likely won't see a ton of extra at-bats either way. He might get you a homer or two while he's in the lineup, though. 12-team Mixed: No; 15-team Mixed: No; 12-team AL: $2

Third Base

Yunel Escobar, Angels: The veteran infielder is enjoying a strong start to 2017, slashing .320/.358/.440 through 53 plate appearances. Escobar's been doing this for a couple of years now, so while he doesn't offer much upside in power or speed, he does provide a safe harbor if you need a bat to plug into your 3B, CI or Ut slots in shallower formats. 12-team Mixed: $2; 15-team Mixed: $5; 12-team AL: Owned


Darwin Barney, Blue Jays: Barney has become the starter at third base for Toronto after Josh Donaldson aggravated his calf issue, which means he should see plenty of at-bats in the short term. He's not likely to do much with those at-bats, but if the rest of the Blue Jays lineup starts hitting around him he could collect a handful of runs and RBI while filling in. 12-team Mixed: No; 15-team Mixed: No; 12-team AL: $4

Franklin Barreto, Athletics: The A's top prospect is merely hitting .342/.409/.579 at Triple-A to begin the season, and while his 13 strikeouts in 10 games suggests he'll struggle when he does get the majors, Oakland might not have time to worry about such niceties if Semien's wrist issue proves to be serious. The initial diagnosis is bone bruise, but bone bruises far too often turn into hairline fractures upon further examination. Barreto's got massive upside, offering potential five-category production if he hits the ground running in the bigs, and with a path to a job potentially opening up now's the time to grab him if he's available, before he officially gets called up and his price skyrockets. Even if Semien's injury doesn't sideline him for long, Barreto's still probably coming up for good before the season (or even the first half) is over, so an early bid now likely won't be wasted. 12-team Mixed: $3; 15-team Mixed: $7; 12-team AL: $15

Ryan Goins, Blue Jays: With Barney in the starting lineup at third base, Goins should see an uptick in playing time as the new top utility infielder. He still can't hit, though. 12-team Mixed: No; 15-team Mixed: No; 12-team AL: $1

Daniel Robertson, Rays: Tim Beckham's hitting .156 and Matt Duffy's heel doesn't seem to be getting much better, so Robertson could get a shot at the starting shortstop job for Tampa at some point. Of course, Robertson's not hitting much better than Beckham is, and his minor-league resume doesn't suggest much fantasy value, but in deep leagues where every at-bat is precious any potential starter is a worthy target. 12-team Mixed: No; 15-team Mixed: No; 12-team AL: $2


Abraham Almonte, Indians: The Indians continue to mix and match with their crowded outfield, but Almonte does seem to be emerging as a regular starter in right field against right-handed pitching. His career high is 232 at-bats but with 25 through 11 games already, he's well on pace to top that. Combining 2015 and 2016 together, he hit .256 with six homers and 15 steals in 414 ABs, giving you a good idea of his ceiling as a lineup semi-regular. 12-team Mixed: No; 15-team Mixed: $2; 12-team AL: $6

Lonnie Chisenhall, Indians: Profiled last week, Chisenhall's hot start since coming off the DL doesn't really move the needle yet on his likely value this season, but it'll probably force you to shell out a couple of extra bucks to get him. He's still a 28-year-old with a career .264/.311/.418 slash line. Don't get carried away. 12-team Mixed: $1; 15-team Mixed: $4; 12-team AL: $9

Jaff Decker, Athletics: Called up to take Mark Canha's spot on the roster, Decker was hitting .387/.472/.452 at Triple-A. He's always been able to work a count in the minors while showing decent power/speed numbers, but in cups of coffee dating all the way back to 2013, that skill set hasn't translated into big-league production. He also hits left-handed, meaning he's no use as a platoon partner for Matt Joyce, so Decker's at-bats could be limited this time around too. 12-team Mixed: No; 15-team Mixed: No; 12-team AL: $1

Leury Garcia, White Sox: Jacob May's been a flop in center field, so Garcia looks like he'll get the next kick at the can as the starter for the White Sox. Garcia's minor-league numbers look awfully similar to Charlie Tilson's, as he's shown an ability to hit for a high batting average and steal some bases, but it hasn't clicked yet for him in 350 plate appearances in the majors, and at 26 years old Garcia might not have much time left to figure it out. If he does begin to produce, though, he might be able to lock down the starting gig before Tilson gets healthy. 12-team Mixed: No; 15-team Mixed: $1; 12-team AL: $5

Willy Garcia, White Sox: The 24-year-old was called up to take Melky Cabrera's spot while Cabrera is on the paternity list, so while Garcia's stay in the big leagues will probably be brief, he was around long enough to be part of an all-Garcia starting outfield alongside Leury and Avisail. 12-team Mixed: No; 15-team Mixed: No; 12-team AL: $1

Taylor Motter, Mariners: Motter began the season as the replacement utility man with Shawn O'Malley on the shelf, but now he's the starting shortstop with Jean Segura also hurt, and by the time either of them get back Motter could be very hard to dislodge. The 27-year-old's hitting .333 and six of his seven hits and have gone for extra bases, giving him a stunning .810 SLG in 21 at-bats. He won't keep that up, but it's not like Motter's been an offensive dud in his minor-league career, as he posted a .292/.366/.471 line with 14 homers and 26 steals as recently as 2015 with Triple-A Durham. He's already played one game in left field, and when Segura returns if wouldn't be a surprise to see him get regular at-bats at that spot. There's enough to like here to be a little more aggressive in bidding that you might be for another probable early-season, small-sample fluke. 12-team Mixed: $1; 15-team Mixed: $4; 12-team AL: $11

Shane Peterson, Rays: Called up Friday when Mallex Smith hit the DL, Peterson promptly hit a homer in his first start. He's also a 29-year-old journeyman with a career high of 12 HR in the minors, so don't get your hopes up that he'll hit another while he's in Tampa. His track record does suggest he could hit for a decent batting average, though. 12-team Mixed: No; 15-team Mixed: No; 12-team AL: $1

Joey Rickard, Orioles: Rickard looks set to come off the DL in the middle of next week, but it's hard to imagine him getting much playing time as Craig Gentry has only seen 12 at-bats since Rickard went down, mainly getting used as a late-game defensive option or pinch runner. That's assuming, of course, that the O's don't option Rickard down to Triple-A after activating him, and just stick with Gentry in that role while keeping Trey Mancini around. 12-team Mixed: No; 15-team Mixed: No; 12-team AL: $1

* - Generally speaking 'yin' is associated with the left hand and 'yang' with the right hand, but in the traditional yin/yang symbol we're all familiar with, the yin (which literally translates as “shady side” and is represented by the dark half of the circle) is on the right and the yang on the left, so it's not completely clear to me that Doolittle is, in fact, the yin in the A's closing duo. However, if we interpret the dots on the symbol to be baseballs, then the yin baseball is being thrown from the left and the yang baseball from the right, so the traditional associations hold. Or, in this case, are saved.