- It's time to get back on the Greg Bird hype train now that he's on the verge of returning to the middle of a top-notch Yankees offense.
Think all the way back to March. Depending on where you live, the weather may not have been very nice. You were likely enjoying the NCAA tournament. Even back then, you knew we’d be stuck with a largely uncompetitive, entirely predictable NBA playoffs. And, if you were anything like most people preparing for fantasy baseball drafts, you were enamored by Greg Bird.
Bird was the fantasy community’s favorite late-game target at first base. In fact, he has held that title for two straight years. Bird impressed in limited duty in 2015, hitting .261/.343/.529 with 11 homers, nine doubles and 31 RBIs in 178 plate appearances. He lost his entire 2016 season to a torn labrum in his right shoulder, however, delaying what was supposed to be his first full year in the majors. He returned fully healthy this season, only to foul a ball off his ankle at the end of spring training. After 19 largely frustrating games where he went 6-for-60, the Yankees placed Bird on the DL. He has been there ever since.
The good news is that the light has appeared at the end of the tunnel. Bird moved his rehab assignment to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre after playing six games with High-A Tampa. Bird has still yet to play a full nine innings in the field or consecutive games at first base, but it’s clear he’s not far from rejoining the Yankees. Once he does, it’s safe to say he’ll take over everyday first base duties in short order. In his absence, the Yankees have had the least productive first basemen in the league. Chris Carter, who has started nearly every game with Bird on the shelf, is hitting .195/.284/.382 with a 34.8% strikeout rate.
Back in March when everyone loved Bird, we weren’t sure what to expect from the Yankees. No one saw this coming from Aaron Judge. Or Starlin Castro. Or Aaron Hicks. The Yankees rank second in the majors with a .345 wOBA, and only the Astros, Nationals and Rockies have scored more runs. When Bird returns, he’ll be sliding into the middle of one of the best lineups in baseball. The RBI and run-scoring opportunities should be plentiful.
It’s likely at least one owner in every league is struggling at first base. Specifically, owners who lost Freddie Freeman or Justin Bour, and those who have been disappointed with Hanley Ramirez, Eric Hosmer, Ian Desmond and Adrian Gonzalez come to mind. If you fall into either of those groups, now is the time to grab Bird. You’d rather be too early than too late, especially if he proves to be one of the last available solutions at first base this season.
Aaron Altherr, OF, Phillies
Altherr has slowed down considerably since a hot start, and that has landed him on a fair number of waiver wires and free agent lists. While he was always playing over his head early in the season, there’s still good reason to believe in him as a top-40 outfielder. Even with the downturn, he’s slashing .298/.379/.554 in 190 plate appearances. The real Altherr may be a bit worse than that, but we’ve likely already seen him hit rock bottom. Things should normalize for him from this point forward.
Yoan Moncada, 2B/3B, White Sox
Alright, Rick Hahn, we’ve waited long enough. It’s time to get Moncada to the majors. Baseball’s top prospect is hitting .285/.372/.446 with seven homers, six doubles, 19 RBIs and 13 steals in 223 plate appearances at Triple-A Charlotte. There’s not much more he can do in the minors, and while the White Sox like what they’re getting out of Yolmer Sanchez at second base, Moncada’s time is nigh. Todd Frazier is locked in at third base, but he’s one of the teams many trade candidates. If they can find a taker for him, the White Sox would be able to plug Moncada and Sanchez into their everyday lineup. They shouldn’t have to wait to move Frazier, however, to call up Moncada. If you have the space to stash someone, Moncada is a worthy candidate.
Steven Souza, OF, Rays
Souza was the focus of last week’s waiver wire column. He cooled off a bit since then before Friday’s 3-for-5 night, during which he was a double shy of the cycle. Souza’s heavy-whiff ways are going to lead to valleys amid the peaks, but the latter are high enough to deal with his struggles. All told, he’s hitting .261/.371/.488 with 11 homers and 36 RBI this season, holding down an everyday gig in the middle of one of the league’s most productive lineups.
Alex Avila, C, Tigers
Nepotism seems to be working, at least in one place in the country. That place is Detroit, where Tigers general manager Al Avila signed his son, bringing him to the Motor City after a one-year exile in Chicago. All Avila has done since then is hit .322/.439/.635 with nine homers in 139 plate appearances while remaining one of the best game callers in the majors. We have more than 2,500 plate appearances worth of evidence that this isn’t going to last, but it’s worth noting that Avila does have one monster offensive season to his credit. Back in 2011, he slashed .295/.389/.506 with 19 homers and 82 RBI, earning his lone trip to the All-Star Game. Given the low barrier to entry behind the dish, Avila is worth a look in all fantasy formats.
Logan Morrison, 1B, Rays
Seriously, what does Morrison need to do to get some love from the fantasy community? Forget about the .237 batting average, and pay attention to the .347 OBP, .545 slugging percentage, 17 homers and 38 RBIs. Morrison ranks 10 among first basemen in standard 5x5 leagues. Seriously, what are you waiting for? In fact, you should only be turning to Bird, the focus of this week’s waiver wire column, if Morrison is owned in your league.
Lucas Duda, 1B, Mets
Duda is another first baseman deserving of more attention. He has been one of the best hitters in the league for nearly a month now, hitting .281/.379/.573 with six homers and 15 RBIs since returning from the DL on May 12. His season-long slash line sits at .267/.373/.573, to go along with 10 homers and 22 RBIs. The power and plate discipline is for real, making Duda an asset in OBP leagues.
Junior Guerra, SP, Brewers
Guerra has thrown the ball well in three starts since returning from the DL, allowing two runs on 14 hits in 16 2/3 innings, with 11 strikeouts against nine walks. The lack of control is a bit troubling, but Guerra has been a quietly effective pitcher going back to the start of last season. In 24 career starts, he has a 2.67 ERA, 3.89 FIP, 1.14 WHIP and 115 strikeouts in 141 1/3 innings. That translates into easy value at the backend of a rotation in any fantasy format.
Tyson Ross, SP, Rangers
Ross has been knocked around in his last two rehab starts, and that’s forcing him to stay in the minors longer than previously planned. Still, he should be in the Rangers' rotation within the next couple weeks, and he’s worth a look in all fantasy formats. We can’t be sure exactly what kind of pitcher he is after missing nearly all of last season, but he struck out 9.4 batters per nine innings across 391 2/3 frames in 2014 and 2015 combined.
Carlos Rodon, SP, White Sox
Rodon took a big step in his rehab from a biceps injury, making his first rehab start earlier this week. He allowed five earned runs in 3 1/3 innings with High-A Winston-Salem, but also fanned six batters. The most important development was that he didn’t report any issues with his arm in the few days after the outing. Even in a best-case scenario, we likely won’t see him until after the All-Star break, but now is the time to think about stashing him on the DL.
As always, we will keep a list at the bottom of our weekly waiver wire column of relief pitchers who are not closers, but can still be fantasy assets because of their strikeout rate, ERA and WHIP. The relievers are listed in order of fantasy value.
Carl Edwards, RP, Cubs
Hector Neris, RP, Phillies
Archie Bradley, RP, Diamondbacks
Will Harris, RP, Astros
Brad Hand, RP, Marlins
Darren O’Day, RP, Orioles
Adam Ottavino, RP, Rockies
Arodys Vizcaino, RP, Braves
Nate Jones, RP, White Sox
David Phelps, RP, Marlins