FANTASY PLAYS: Trying to replace Freddie Freeman (you can't)
It's impossible to replace Freddie Freeman in fantasy baseball, but we'll try. There is also a cheap source of steals and two pitchers that are creating fantasy concerns in Week 7's Cheers, Tears and Fears.
Justin Smoak, TOR - We're going to have some tears as we talk about Smoak. Freddie Freeman is out 10-12 weeks with a fractured hand, but that's where the cheers for Smoak come in. Let's face facts; you're not replacing Freeman's production with a waiver wire addition. However, Smoak is available in most leagues, and he's hitting the ball better than ever. Smoak has a career .226 average and high of 20 home runs (2013). Smoak is nearly halfway to that home run mark with nine and is hitting .280. It's not luck either, as Smoak's BABIP is just .292. The main difference for Smoak is his vastly improved plate discipline. Smoak had K-percentage marks of 26.2 and 32.8 the last two seasons, and it's down to 19.2. Smoak has always struggled at the plate, especially against righties. But he's hot against lefties. The improved plate discipline and regular at-bats have helped Smoak take a step forward, and you'll be rewarded by replacing much of the power and RBIs left by Freeman's loss.
Cameron Maybin, LAA - Speaking of players that won't do much for your average, Maybin has a career .258 mark, but he brings plenty of speed. Even with his weak .231 average, Maybin has nine steals in 34 games thanks in part to a solid .345 OBP. Maybin stole 40 bases back in 2011, and the main obstacle to reaching that mark again is just health. Maybin has never played 150 games and missed the 100-game mark in two of the last three seasons. Nevertheless, if Maybin makes it to 140 games this year, he would likely finish with 35-plus steals, and cheap steals are always valuable. The best part about Maybin is that if you pick him up now, you can trade him for a high return value later in the year, when owners scramble to make a late stolen base charge and you are sitting pretty.
Masahiro Tanaka, NYY - There's no nice way to spin it; Tanaka was abysmal his last time out. Tanaka gave up eight runs in 1 2/3 innings, ballooning his ERA from 4.36 to 5.80 - and likely dropping you a few spots in the standings. Should you panic? No, but it would be wise to start avoiding the tougher offenses. Tanaka has allowed 11 runs to the Blue Jays in two starts, which isn't even the scariest of offenses, but also four runs (three earned) in Cincinnati and then the eight to the Astros. In Tanaka's other four starts, he is 3-0 with a 2.30 ERA. There are reasons for optimism, as Tanaka's swinging strike percentage is the second highest of his career, as is his first pitch strike percentage. In fact, most of Tanaka's metrics are in line with his career, outside of an above-average BABIP and high home run rate. Tanaka has been a bit unlucky, and it's compounded by allowing too many home runs. Six of his 10 homers allowed have come at home; a park that exacerbates home run issues. Throw out some ''buy low'' offers on Tanaka, as he's much better than this, as seen in his 2.83 and 1.03 WHIP in the second half of 2016 and play the matchups ... for now.
Edwin Diaz, SEA - Diaz's owners are worried after the Mariners removed him from the closer's role and decided to go with a potluck system. Tony Zych, James Pazos, Steve Cishek and Marc Rzepczynski are all in the mix, but that should actually ease your fears. There is no clear option behind Diaz, and none of those relievers has the upside that Diaz does. As with Tanaka, Diaz's biggest issue is the long ball. His HR/9 is up at 2.4 compared to 0.9 last year. Fortunately, Diaz is forcing much weaker contact overall than he did last year, so it's just a run of tough luck and a few fat pitches. Diaz is still just 23 years old, and the Mariners are simply letting Diaz avoid the high pressure while correcting his issues. Diaz will return to the closer role in short order, so don't sell low. In fact, try to acquire him from worried owners in all leagues possible.
The Rays continue to strike out more than any other team, giving JC Ramirez and Matt Shoemaker of the Angels plenty of upside. Hector Santiago and Ervin Santana of the Twins also face them next week, making them strong streamers as well. All three Diamondbacks pitchers (Robbie Ray, Zack Godley, Patrick Corbin) behind Zack Greinke are strong plays against the Rockies given their propensity to strike out. Just know that the Rockies offense makes each pitch a high-upside, high-risk play, especially Corbin. The Phillies have a four-game series against the Padres, which makes all four pitchers (Jared Eickhoff, Zach Eflin, Jeremy Hellickson, Vincent Velasquez) intriguing matchup plays.
This column was provided to The Associated Press by Jake Ciely of the Fantasy Sports Network, http://FNTSY.com