Get all of Michael Beller’s columns as soon as they’re published. Download the new Sports Illustrated app (iOS or Android) and personalize your experience by following your favorite teams and SI writers.
The news of Dee Gordon’s suspension struck like a thunderbolt at the start of the weekend. There’s no easy way to replace a guy who was not just an early-round pick, but who also has a unique skill set. There simply aren’t a lot of guys out there capable of matching the .333/.359/.418 season with 58 steals that Gordon put up last year. Gordon’s owners’ teams are worse this week than they were last week.
Moreover, there isn’t exactly a deep roster of attractive second basemen sitting on the average waiver wire. The position remains one of the shallowest in the fantasy game, and any second basemen who shows the tiniest hint of lasting power gets scooped up quickly. Gordon owners aren’t going to be able to replace him, and they shouldn’t set out to do that. Their case, however, is not hopeless. There may not be a Gordon facsimile available, but there are a few players most Gordon owners can grab now to help offset the loss of one of their best players.
When the White Sox signed Brett Lawrie, it was clear that their infield defense would improve. What wasn’t clear then, but appears to be now, was that Lawrie would also give the team’s offense a shot in the arm. Lawrie is hitting .267/.347/.444 with three homers, seven doubles and a pair of steals in 101 plate appearances. Lawrie’s name is anathema to a lot of fantasy owners because he has never lived up to his potential, but it’s time to stop making him pay for past sins. He has swung the bat well this season and he plays every day (and his glove will guarantee that remains true), something that isn’t true of all widely available second basemen. He hits sixth behind Jose Abreu, Todd Frazier and Melky Cabrera, which will lead to plenty of RBI opportunities. He has a power-speed combo that should lead to 15 homers and 10 steals. Lawrie is the best bet at second for most Gordon owners.
If Lawrie isn’t an option for you, all you have to do is change a letter. Jed Lowrie is off to a great start in his second go-round with the A’s. The 32-year-old is hitting .314/.358/.360 with four doubles and 13 RBI. He, too, plays every day, hitting mostly in the top half of the order. He has hit second more than any other spot, though he was in the cleanup spot earlier this week and has been there four times this season. His environment—both his lineup and home park—isn’t ideal, but replacing Gordon isn’t an ideal situation. Lowrie at least has a chance to recoup most of what you lost in the rate department because of Gordon’s suspension.
Joe Smith, RP, Angels
Huston Street suffered an oblique strain last week, opening the door for Smith to take over as the Angels’ closer. Smith has been among the best setup men in the league for the last five years, amassing a 2.51 ERA, 3.19 FIP, and 1.10 WHIP since 2011. He has had a few chances here and there to close, but hasn’t had an extended hold on the job since 2014. An oblique strain typically keeps a pitcher out for six weeks, so Smith should have plenty of fantasy value into June.
Ketel Marte, SS, Mariners
After a terrible start to the season, Marte has gotten going at the plate. Marte is 13-for-31 with three doubles, two RBI, six runs and a steal in his last eight games. His recent hot streak has pushed him back to the top of the Seattle order, and the importance of that cannot be overstated. Marte entered the season with his fair share of hype based on his debut last year, when he hit .283/.351/.402 with eight steals in 247 plate appearances. He has started to resemble that player over the last two weeks.
Brandon Drury, 3B/OF, Diamondbacks
Drury can’t yet fill in for Dee Gordon in most fantasy formats, but he could in the not-too-distant future. If and when that happens, he’ll be right there with Lawrie and Lowrie in terms of being the most attractive Gordon replacements. The 23-year-old entered this season as the No. 3 prospect in Arizona’s system, behind pitchers Braden Shipley and Archie Bradley, and in front of Socrates Brito. Drury, who came over from Atlanta in the Justin Upton deal in 2013, has made the most of his opportunity, hitting .294/.310/.588 with four homers and 10 RBI in 71 plate appearances. He has already played four different positions, spending time at third, second, and in both left and right field. He can push the 20-homer mark in one of the most potent lineups in the league.
David Freese, 3B, Pirates
It’s somewhat remarkable that Freese remained a free agent into February, but the Pirates are certainly happy he did. Now it’s time for him to get more attention from the fantasy community. The 33-year-old is slashing .293/.387/.402 in 106 plate appearances this season. He’s not going to give you a ton of power, but he should hit a respectable 12 to 15 homers over the course of a full season. More importantly, he hits third every day in Pittsburgh’s lineup, behind Andrew McCutchen and in front of Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco. That’s a great spot for any hitter, especially one with Freese’s on-base ability. He’s a worthwhile add in all deeper formats.
Sean Manaea, SP, A’s
Manaea made his major league debut last week, allowing four runs on the same number of hits in five-plus innings. He struck out three batters, but walked four more, running his pitch count up to 87. He was cruising through five innings, allowing just one run on a solo homer by Evan Gattis but the wheels came off in the sixth. He hit George Springer to start the inning, then walked Carlos Correa and surrendered an RBI single to before being removed from the game. Both and Gattis came around to score with Sean Doolittle on the mound, making Manaea’s line appear worse than he deserved. The 24-year-old will remain in Oakland’s rotation, and has the ceiling to turn into a top-40 fantasy starting pitcher this year.
Tyler Glasnow, SP, Pirates
Lucas Giolito, SP, Nationals
Our prospect pitcher triumvirate turned into a duo when the Twins promoted Jose Berrios last week, but we still need to check in on Glasnow and Giolito. The former is doing everything he can to get to the majors, and could be up sooner rather than later, depending on how Juan Nicasio fares in the Pittsburgh rotation. Glasnow beat Durham (Rays) last week, striking out 11 batters in six shutout innings. He surrendered just two hits and a walk in the outing, and it’s starting to look like he has nothing left to prove in the minors. Get him on your roster while you still can. If you wait for his promotion, chances are you’ll miss out. Giolito, meanwhile, continues to struggle with his efficiency at Double-A Harrisburg. He needed 77 pitches to get through four innings against Bowie (Orioles), allowing two earned runs on six hits, striking out four and walking two. If the Nationals do end up promoting him to the majors this season, it likely won’t be until midsummer, at the earliest.
Hector Neris, RP, Phillies
Jeanmar Gomez has a hold on the ninth inning in Philadelphia, but Neris has proved himself capable if and when Gomez falters. Even if Neris spends the entire year as a setup man, he can provide value in a lot of different formats. He has made 13 appearances this year, posting a 0.63 ERA, 0.70 WHIP and a ridiculous 23 strikeouts in 14 1/3 innings. Neris is the rare reliever who throws both a four-seam and two-seam fastball, but it’s the splitter that has turned him into a real weapon at the backend of the Phillies bullpen. The pitch has a 35.7% whiff rate and 71.4% ground-ball rate on the year. Basically, when Neris throws his splitter, he almost always gets a whiff or a ground ball. That’s a pretty great mix for any pitcher, but especially a reliever who’s going to inherit a lot of runners this season. Like Dellin Betances before him, Neris can find a spot on a roster in leagues that don’t count holds because of his rates and strikeout upside.