April 10, 2013
Jeff Samardzija has the physical ability to be an elite fantasy pitcher; he just needs a veteran's maturity.
Daniel Shirey/USA TODAY Sports

Is Jeff Samardzija the real thing, especially after his breakdown against the Braves? Who are some viable replacements for the newly-injured Jered Weaver? Our experts Eric Mack and Michael Beller have answers in this week's roundtable.

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Mack: Welcome back to the roundtable, Beller. Want to share a Guinness with me at the Atlanta airport as I lick my wounds following Syracuse's Final Four disappointment?

While in Atlanta, I did get a chance to check on the Upton brothers and your man crush Jeff Samardzija at Turner Field. The latter was quite impressive, and after talking to him I can say that he seems like he'd be a great dude with whom to share a postgame beer. With that said, I got a sense he lacked a veteran's maturity. (The stately Tim Hudson in the opposing clubhouse provided an interesting contrast.)

After Samardzija hit Chris Johnson, he lost control of the game. I understand arguing the questionable call, but, to me, it showed Samardzija's not quite mentally or emotionally ready to be an elite pitcher. But physically, he looks like a 250-strikeout monster. Though keep in mind, that same incredible fire that can make him great could also burn him down.

It's like the papa bull and the baby bull looking down on the herd from the top of the mountain. The baby bull says, "Let's run down there and find ourselves a mate." The papa bull says, "No, let's walk down there and have them all."

The crass anecdote notwithstanding, am I overstating circumstantial things here on Samardzija?

Beller:If I were in Atlanta, I'd love to share a Guinness with you. You're speaking my beer language with that one, for sure. That was a helluva championship game, probably the best one since Kansas-Memphis back in 2008. My B1G loyalty had me cheering for the Wolverines, but I was happy both teams gave us a game to remember.

I was actually having this exact discussion with a friend and fellow Cubs fan yesterday. I think Samardzija's mini-implosion against the Braves shows why we can't count him among the fantasy elite quite yet. A top-tier pitcher wouldn't let the HBP of Johnson or the walk to Hudson shake him too much. Both of those at-bats clearly got in Samardzija's head, and he completely unraveled from there. There's no doubt he has the tools to be one of the truly big-time pitchers in the game; his fastball reaches the low-to-mid-90s, and his splitter is one of the best pitches in the game. He has the size to be a workhorse. Now it's just a matter of him mastering the mental side of pitching. I don't think any of his owners are all that interested in dealing him now, but I'd check how his owner values him, just to make sure. He's a star in the making.

One pitcher who may already have it physically and mentally is the Mets' Matt Harvey. I wrote about him briefly in this week's Pitching Report, but it bears repeating here that Harvey looks every bit the ace the Mets hope he can be. Harvey has tossed 14 dominant innings thus far this season, allowing one run on four hits while striking out 19 batters. I'm not wary of diving in head-first on him. I'd trade Adam Wainwright, Jordan Zimmermann, Yovani Gallardo and James Shields for him, straight up. Am I too bullish?

Mack:You, sir, have lost your mind. The only one of those aces anyone should consider dealing for Harvey is Shields.

One reason being: The Mets stink. Even if Harvey pitches consistently well -- no small feat for young pitchers -- he is no guarantee to be better than a .500 pitcher. Another reason: Harvey will be handled with kid gloves as the season progresses.

I love Harvey's start and potential as much as anyone, but c'mon -- we just finished talking about how erratic inexperienced pitchers can be, and then you went and jumped off a pitching cliff. Harvey will be limited to around 170-180 innings in his first full season in the majors, and those aces you just traded for him are all equipped to go well beyond 200. Harvey, like almost every young pitcher before him, will wear down once he reaches his professional high in innings. Expect solid numbers before the All-Star break and regression thereafter.

You win fantasy baseball leagues in August and September. That is when Wainwright, Zimmermann and Gallardo will be at their maximum production, and Harvey at his lowest, if he's even still tallying innings at all. So, thank you for trading those aces to me for a mid-round pick who got off to a hot two-game start. Knee-jerk reaction, meet Mr. Beller.

Speaking of jerks, who are you turning to now that Jered Weaver is out for at least a month? (I'm calling Weaver the jerk here -- not you! -- and in the nicest of ways possible.)

Beller: I admit, I can get way too excited about a youngster who bursts on the scene, especially if said youngster is a starting pitcher. But I also like to be ahead of the curve, not behind it. You make a good point about the Mets babying Harvey this year, though. He might be able to carry your staff through the summer, but if he's not there in August in September, he's probably not worth chasing if you have to deal a sure thing. After all, I saw what happened to my staff last year when the Nationals shut down Stephen Strasburg. It wasn't pretty.

Yes, when Weaver went down, his fantasy owners stampeded toward the waiver wire looking to buttress their staffs now that he'll be out for at least a month. A viable replacement is Jaime Garcia, who's had an impressive start to the season and is only owned in 59 percent of Yahoo! leagues. In 12.1 innings, he has allowed four runs on eight hits with 14 strikeouts. He has walked seven batters, but when he's healthy, there's no reason he can't duplicate his 2011 season when he fanned 156 batters in 194.2 innings and posted a 3.23 FIP.

However, Garcia's owned in 97 percent of ESPN leagues, so depending on your format, he may not be available. One player who's likely on the wire is Jose Fernandez, whom I wrote about in this week's Waiver Wire. The Miami rookie struck out eight and allowed just one run in five innings in his major league debut, and should get plenty of leash from the Marlins this year. Finally, Justin Masterson is available in 50 percent of Yahoo! leagues and nearly 60 percent of ESPN ones. Don't expect him to keep striking out a batter per inning as he has in the early going in 2013, but his extreme ground-ball tendencies make him an attractive stopgap option while Weaver is on the shelf.

Of course, we've seen injuries strike other parts of the diamond, as well. The Braves' Freddie Freeman and the Brewers' Aramis Ramirez are two of the bigger position players to be struck by injuries thus far. Offer up the readers some help at the corners if they just lost Freeman or Ramirez. Michael Young anyone? How about Matt Carpenter?

Mack: Young is a solid fallback when he's playing well, and Carpenter has potential. His fantasy value is enhanced by the fact that David Freese is back at third, allowing Carpenter to get games at second. It might take through this week for games two-five to come, though.

However, the amount of useful alternatives at the corner positions provide something of a silver lining to losing Freeman and Ramirez. The Chris Johnson and Juan Francisco platoon is on hold while Freeman is down for two-three weeks. They can be useful in deeper leagues as full-timers in the meantime.

Ultimately, my recommendation is to go with the hot hands at the deep positions that offer many options. Those players can be disposable fill-ins throughout the season.

Take for instance Mark Reynolds, who's arguably the streakiest -- and strongest -- hitter in baseball. He is an undrafted free agent in the SI.com mock draft league, but he's capable of rebounding for 40 homers with the Indians. He has four already and is available in 30 percent of CBSSports.com's leagues. Lance Berkman and Chris Parmelee are similarly hot, and Parmelee is readily available in many leagues. This just emphasizes the depth at these positions -- I hate losing a middle infielder, catcher or closer, but I know I can recover if I lose a corner infielder.

Speaking of closers: They're dropping like flies, as usual. Jason Motte is rumored to need reconstructive elbow surgery. To wrap up this week's roundtable, should we be telling fantasy owners to just pick up the best relief arms and not worry about the role in the early going? To, for example, pick up a Trevor Rosenthal for the Cardinals because he can be their closer of the future, which might be sometime in 2013?

Beller: I think it depends on the size of your league. If you're in a 10-teamer, you probably don't want to grab a setup man, unless there's a ton of speculation that he might take over as the closer. If you're in anything deeper than 12 teams, I totally support going after the best arm in the bullpen, regardless of role. In my 16-team league, I drafted Kyuji Fujikawa knowing he'd be a contributor, and confident he'd take over as the closer soon enough. I didn't necessarily think it would happen within the first week, but I'm benefitting because I was willing to take him even though he wasn't the closer. For owners in 12-team leagues, which probably describes most people reading this column, I'd say you're right on the border. I wouldn't recommend going after the best pitcher in the bullpen if he has no chance to close games. But if we're talking about someone like Rosenthal or Kenley Jansen, I think it's an addition worth making.

Time to step away from the roundtable for a week. Before we go, Mack and I would like to invite you all to participate in the DraftDay.com Expert Challenge. The two of us are participating, along with 12 more of our fellow fantasy experts. The remaining two spots in the 16-person bracket will go to two players who win the expert qualifiers. The Expert Challenge tournament begins on April 23. Mack and I would love to see some of our readers here on SI participating with us in the tourney. Click here for more details.

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