How should fantasy owners approach injury replacements? When will this year's rookies start heating up? Which DL guys are wise buy-low trade targets? Our experts Michael Beller and Eric Mack have answers in this week's roundtable.
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Beller: I want to start this week by talking about injury replacements. I have one fantasy baseball league about which I care very deeply. It's a 16-team league divided into two conferences with eight teams, and each of those is divided into two divisions with four teams. We call it the Mega League, mainly because we're huge dorks. Anyway, Jose Reyes was a keeper of mine for this season, one who pushed me over our league's luxury tax and cost me quite a pretty penny to have on my roster. When I went looking for a replacement, I was lucky enough to find that Jean Segura was available. However, there were other worthy options, including power hitters, at least as far as shortstops go, in Jhonny Peralta and Zack Cozart. My question to you is, when replacing a starter due to injury, should fantasy owners look for a reasonable facsimile of that injured player? Or should they grab the best player, regardless of the skills he brings to the table?
In my opinion, owners should try to replace exactly what they lost, so long as doing so is a somewhat reasonable proposition. I built my team thinking I'd have an elite base stealer and run scorer playing shortstop, as well as a guy who would give me above-average OBP. When Reyes went down, I lost a key contributor to those three categories. Instead of trying to overcompensate in the power categories by adding a player like Peralta, I went after Segura, the best approximation of Reyes on the waiver wire, and thus far it has been rewarding.
Admittedly, this isn't a perfect example. Segura also happened to be the best overall player available. But would you go down a tier to get a player who features a similar skill set to your injured starter? Or would you go after the most valuable player no matter what?
Mack: Segura makes a lot of sense for you. He's a potentially solid source of steals. It's not entirely advisable to stretch to replace skills lost to the DL, but Segura is a fortunate replacement. I'm surprised he was available in a league of that size and type.
For those replacing Reyes in leagues where Segura is not available, Cozart is an intriguing option. He showed pop as a rookie and he's at the right age for a breakthrough. I anticipated needing to get him out of my middle infield in Tout Wars, but he hit three homers early and looks like he can be a poor man's J.J. Hardy.
Speaking of replacements, I saw a Twitter shoutout to the Weekly Planner and the advice on adding Tony Cingrani as Johnny Cueto's (lat) replacement. Cingrani should have some bumps in the road, but the strikeout potential is exciting. The Reds are a top contender who can make him a winner -- maybe even the NL Rookie of the Year.
Speaking of rookies: They're off to a slow start this year, particularly after last season's legendary class. Which prospects do you have your eyes on right now for potential pre-May arrivals?
Beller: Along with the rest of the fantasy community, I'm watching Mariners catcher Mike Zunino and waiting for what should be an impending promotion to the majors. Baseball America had him as the No. 17 prospect entering the season, and he hasn't disappointed, hitting .278/.341/.750 with four homers and 18 RBI through nine games. You pointed out in last week's Prospect Watch that the University of Florida product is a superior defender to Jesus Montero, which should help accelerate his rise to the majors. Fantasy owners should be ready to add Zunino in leagues of all sizes once he gets the call. In fact, if you're in a league that allows you to own minor leaguers and you can afford to stash him, I'd go ahead and grab him now.
Meanwhile, we both loved Wil Myers heading into the season, and I know that hasn't changed for either of us. He has yet to go yard this year, but is still hitting .297 with a .417 OBP through 10 games. The Rays have had a terrible start to the year offensively, scoring just 35 runs and hitting .205/.281/.288 through 12 games. Myers might be the shot in the arm this offense needs.
Adding a big-time prospect is just one way an owner can turn around a fledgling team, though. The trade market is always an attractive route to take. Have you considered making any trades in any of your leagues yet? I know I haven't. I'm not afraid to pull the trigger on a move in April, but I also know that I drafted this team the way I did for a reason just three weeks ago. Fantasy baseball is a much different beast than fantasy football. In football, a few bad weeks in September can sink your playoff hopes. We have plenty of time to read and react in baseball. It's a game for cooler passions. Do you have any hard-and-fast rules that guide you when considering early-season trades?
Mack: Generally, I think making a deal in the first month of the season is a rash move -- unless you're the one capitalizing on someone's knee-jerk reaction. I hold the same timetables for free-agent moves as I do for trades: 1) Early round picks get multiple months to prove their value; 2) Mid-round picks get multiple weeks to show their value; 3) Late-round picks or waiver claims get the early hooks. And no one tends to want to trade for category No. 3.
One thing you can try to capitalize on is dealing for injured players, but only do that if you have ample reserves or DL spots. Even then, you have to be careful, because not all injuries are created equal. Mark Teixeira's wrist injury, for example, is a riskier proposition than Curtis Granderson's broken arm.
Here's how I rank the most-owned DL guys currently worth attempting to acquire via trade: 1) OF Curtis Granderson (forearm), New York Yankees; 2) OF Yoenis Cespedes (hand), Oakland Athletics; 3) 1B Freddie Freeman (oblique), Atlanta Braves; 4) C Brian McCann (shoulder), Atlanta Braves; 5) SS Hanley Ramirez (thumb), Los Angeles Dodgers.
We've seen a rash of injuries this year, with more big names going down early in the season than I can ever remember. Outside of the five players I just ranked, which DL guys do you have on your buy-low list, if any?
Beller:You picked off most of the guys I'm targeting, though count me out on McCann. He had a dreadful season a year ago, and I'm worried that a right shoulder injury will sap his power. But I'd happily target the other four, especially Granderson and Cespedes.
While injured pitchers are a much riskier proposition, there are a few I'd chase if the price is right. At the top of that list are Matt Garza and Brandon Beachy. Garza is expected to make his first rehab start Friday with Low-A Kane County. He'll likely throw just a few innings, but it's an encouraging sign that he can return in mid-May, as the Cubs expected when they placed him on the DL before the season.
Meanwhile, before Kris Medlen swept through the National League last year, Beachy looked like the best young pitcher in Atlanta. In 13 starts, he had a 2.00 ERA, 0.96 WHIP and 7.6 strikeouts per nine innings. Then he suffered an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery, and that was the end of that. However, he remains on schedule for a return in late June. Anyone who drafted him knew they'd have to stash him, so they might not be willing to sell him low, but it's worth checking in on his status.
It's your turn to bring it home this week, but I'm picking the topic. We're only three weeks into the season, but is there anything you're crowing about already? I know I'm patting myself on the back about the Rockies, who are off to a hot start. As for my man Jonathan Lucroy, well, it's early.
Mack: Your Rockies are going to cool off and finish below .500 (because of their suspect pitching), while your Lucroy is already starting to heat up, posting back-to-back big games. But yes, it's still too early for any full evaluations. Because of that, I wouldn't feel comfortable crowing about anything just yet. Baseball can be far too humbling, and we are only 1/12th of the way through the six-month grind.
Conversely: I'm sincerely bummed about Stephen Strasburg's start, although he really has only suffered one bad game. Assuming he stays healthy, he is going to be as good as advertised in the long run. I love the starts of Justin Upton, Chris Davis, Chase Utley, Dexter Fowler, Matt Harvey, Justin Masterson and Clay Buchholz. I'm shocked by John Buck, but we all know he's going to cool off.
In fact, we'll almost certainly be asking "What's wrong with Buck" in this space at some point this season. Maybe as soon as next week.