April 28, 2011

Amid the chatter of the NFL Draft and the drama of the NBA and NHL playoffs, the fantasy baseball season keeps chugging along, and if you hope to taste some of that late-season drama yourself this fall, you'd be wise to consider a few of the more intriguing free-agent possibilities on the waiver wire.

Hong-Chih Kuo, Dodgers -- The Dodgers' bullpen is a mess right now thanks to the stylings of Jonathan Broxton. Word broke that the Dodgers would move to a closer-by-committee, then Don Mattingly came out and said Broxton was still his closer. In the aftermath of the confusion, Vicente Padilla got the first save chance, converting in 1-2-3 fashion Wednesday against the Marlins. With that said, the guy I'm endorsing (remember, it's already election season) in the Dodgers' bullpen is the injured (back) Kuo. If you have an open DL spot where you can stash Kuo, he's worth the investment. The Dodgers expected to activate him from the DL Friday, but after surrendering four hits to five batters on day two of his first back-to-back appearances at Single-A Rancho Cucamonga that looks in doubt. Still, Kuo was dominant last year, posting a 1.20 ERA with a 73:18 K:BB ratio in 60 innings. He has had durability issues in the past, but most of those have been arm issues. Mattingly will likely get him into low-leverage situations when he first returns, but once he proves himself capable, I wouldn't be surprised to see the Dodgers turn to him as the closer.

Darwin Barney, Cubs -- His first name is fitting considering he survived a preseason battle with Jeff Baker and Blake DeWitt to start for the Cubs at second base on Opening Day. He's hitting .329 and has at least one hit in all but one of his 20 starts this season. Baker, initially thought to be the right-handed bat in a platoon with DeWitt, has been crushing lefties (.433/.433/.633), but manager Mike Quade is committed to Barney as his regular second baseman, starting Baker at first base in place of Carlos Pena against lefties. Barney isn't going to offer much power, but hitting at the top of the Cubs' order he could push up to 90 or 95 runs with a .300 batting average.

Domonic Brown, Phillies -- Brown made his first rehab start with Single-A Clearwater Wednesday and immediately answered any questions about whether the broken bone in his hand would sap his power once he returned. He went 2-for-4 with a long home run that cleared the batter's eye in center field. He'll stay at Clearwater for a few more days before the Phillies decide what to do with him next. They likely won't rush him since Ben Francisco is performing ably in the outfield, but this is still a team that isn't exactly making anyone forget the '27 Yankees. They're in the middle of the pack in runs and team slugging percentage. Before he broke his hand, the Phillies slotted Brown in the middle of the order, expecting him to pick up the slack for the departed Jayson Werth. In most leagues, the opportunity is there for you to get him on the cheap. He should be back with the big league club soon, and he should be a five-category contributor once he returns.

Wilson Ramos, Nationals -- Pudge Rodriguez is hitting .194/.237/.333 this season. Ramos is hitting .375/.426/.563 and has started four of the last five games, going 6-for-16 with two homers and four RBI in that stretch. I think we're about to see the gap in playing time widen between the two, and Ramos is a guy I absolutely want going forward. The batting average is going to come back down to earth thanks to a high strikeout rate, but if you're in a game of darts behind the plate, you might as well throw one in Ramos' direction. Now that he appears to have a firm grip on the majority of the starts, he's easily a starter in a 12-team mixed league, and could push into the top-10. I'd prefer him to someone like Carlos Ruiz, Kurt Suzuki or J.P. Arencibia.

Scott Baker, Twins -- I didn't realize how widely available Baker was until trying to make a trade for him earlier this week and seeing his ownership percentage. I chronicled my irrational love for Baker this offseason, and it seems like he's finally cashing in on all that potential. He has a 3.24 ERA, 1.12 WHIP and 24 strikeouts in 25 innings. His BABIP is just .250, but his home run/fly ball rate is 13.3 percent, high by even his homer-friendly standards. There hasn't been a ton to get excited about in Minnesota this year, but Baker has given Twins fans, and his fantasy owners, something to cheer about. If he's available in your league, grab him now.

Pat Burrell, Giants -- Yes, I know we've been down this road before. That also means the level of familiarity is high. We all know what to expect out of Burrell: good power, bad batting average. Now that he has an everyday job in San Francisco, however, fantasy owners can once again take advantage of that power as long as they're willing to look the other way on the average. In nine seasons with the Phillies, Burrell played at least 125 games eight times. He averaged 29 homers and 94 RBI in that stretch. He already has five homers this season and should reach the 30-homer plateau for the first time since 2008. Also, Burrell isn't a drag in OBP leagues. His career OBP is .362, a number he is directly in line with thus far this season. In 12-team mixed leagues, he's a viable third outfielder.

Offer your concise thoughts to me on Twitter, @MBeller.

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