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Dear Mr. Fantasy: Maximize those bench spots!

Senior Fantasy Writer
  •  

Go ahead and cut the guy.

That one you thought you could trust who has already let you down time and time again this season, consider him as good as gone.

I'm not talking about your early-round picks or big-dollar players -- the Tim Lincecums, Eric Hosmers and Alex Gordons of the world -- but I assume you'd know that by now. If not, you're obviously new to the game and destined to take your lumps regardless of what I tell you. But just for clarification's sake, if you cut an underachieving stud, he won't even get through waivers. You'll lose him to one of the long list of Fantasy owners who line up to claim him and most likely spend the next five months wondering how you could have been so careless.

Most Added Players (as of 4/25)
Player % change
1. Philip Humber, SP, White Sox 41
2. Bartolo Colon, SP, Athletics 36
3. Ross Detwiler, SP, Nationals 35
4. Luke Scott, OF, Rays 34
5. Jason Hammel, SP, Orioles 31
6. Chase Headley, 3B, Padres 28
7. A.J. Pierzynski, C, White Sox 25
8. Francisco Cordero, RP, Blue Jays 25
9. Nolan Reimold, OF, Orioles 23
10. Henry Rodriguez, RP, Nationals 21

But if you cut an underachiever who was a last-ditch pick in the first place, he'll most likely just sit there on the add-drop list, free for you to claim him again if he ever gets his season back on track.

So say goodbye to Francisco Liriano. Pull the plug on Dayan Viciedo. Free Mike Leake and Brian Matusz. You won't miss them.

Because they won't really be gone.

And that's the key to the whole thing. So often, Fantasy owners stress about whether or not one of their pet sleepers from Draft Day can right the ship after a slow start when, most of the time, it's a moot point. Not every move has to be forever and ever. The main function of your bench -- yes, even above roster depth -- is to protect the players that might fall into somebody else's hands if left unprotected. Nobody's going to make a move for a pitcher with a 9.00 ERA -- not unless he's so high-profile that the whole world expects him to turn it around, like a Mat Latos or Adam Wainwright.

You know the difference. In every draft, you reach a point when you stop assembling the foundation of your team and start taking fliers on high-upside guys instead. Maybe it's Round 15. Maybe it's earlier or later. Wherever it is, you shouldn't feel obligated to stick with those fliers.

Of course, that's easy to say without context. The size of the league, depth of the rosters and relative value of the alternatives obviously makes a difference.

With Jair Jurrjens going to Triple-A, should I drop him for Ross Detwiler, Jason Hammel, Tommy Milone, Jonathon Niese or Joe Saunders in my 16-team Head-to-Head league? -- @CT_FOX (via Twitter)

SW: Even if Jurrjens wasn't on his way to the minors, he'd be a pretty safe choice to cut right now given his 9.37 ERA and 2.45 WHIP. But I want to emphasize that giving up on him now isn't the same as giving up on him for the rest of the season. He's supposedly healthy, and his stuff doesn't seem to be that far off, which gives me reason to hope that with a little time to clear his head and tighten his mechanics, he can get back to being the effective innings eater he has been in between DL stints over the last few years.

So why cut him? He's a waste of a roster spot, man. The only reason you wouldn't cut him is out of fear someone else would add him, but who's going to add a minor-leaguer with an ERA over 9.00? Not me -- and I'm the optimist when it comes to Jurrjens.

Of course, this is a 16-team league and not the usual 12-team variety, and in some of those deeper formats, the waiver options are so lacking in upside that you might just be better off stashing Jurrjens and hoping for the best. Fortunately, that's not the case for this one. I'm encouraged enough by what I've seen from Detwiler, Hammel and Niese that I'd be willing to drop Jurrjens for any of them at this point. And Milone and Saunders aren't exactly slouches either.

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Niese would be my first choice because he was the biggest sleeper entering the season and has what I'd consider the best pedigree. But Hammel seems to have turned a corner by introducing a sinker to his arsenal, and Detwiler is a former first-round pick who the Nationals have maintained is the real deal even throughout his shaky minor-league career. I see the upside in all three.

Someone in my points league traded Tim Lincecum for Jake Peavy, Derek Jeter, Brandon McCarthy and Carlos Zambrano. Who got the better end of the deal? -- @neclarke126 (via Twitter)

SW: On the surface, this trade looks like one of those overwhelm-them-with-excess scenarios that seemingly every Fantasy newbie falls for at one point or another and that seemingly everyone in my position should know better than to endorse. But some of the specific parameters of this deal give me enough cause for pause that I have to admit, in the right context, I might ultimately side with the excess.

For starters, I'm genuinely concerned about Tim Lincecum. Though his average fastball velocity has never been as good as it was during his initial Cy Young season in 2008, it's at an all-time low this year at 90.2 miles per hour. And it's no guarantee to improve in the weeks ahead. In fact, according to Danny Knobler of CBSSports.com, some scouts say Lincecum's inability to incorporate his lower body into his delivery -- which is what enables him to pack so much power into such a tiny frame in the first place -- is so apparent that some even wonder if he's playing with a hip injury.

Maybe he is; maybe he isn't. But the concern for me isn't as much the possibility of a DL stint as the continued deterioration of his arsenal beyond the point where it's still effective. The reduced velocity combined with the rising walk rate and declining strikeout rate over the last two years is reason enough to question whether he'll perform like the ace everyone drafted him to be.

Of course, it's not like the other side is getting an ace in return -- not unless you count Peavy, who I think is the second reason not to immediately dismiss this deal. Through four starts this season, he looks like he might just be back -- and by "back," I don't mean the Peavy who struggled in his first go-around the AL before his right shoulder muscle ripped from the bone in 2010, but the one who claimed the NL Cy Young award in 2007. His strikeout and hit rates are as good as they've been since those days of dominance, and though his shutout Monday came against the light-hitting Athletics, he was nearly as effective when he faced the Rangers and Tigers earlier this year.

He says he's the healthiest he's been in years, and so far the numbers back it up. It's not so far-fetched for a 30-year-old now more than a year removed from surgery.

I don't want to mislead anyone into believing Peavy is suddenly more valuable than Lincecum. Both have made only four starts, and in a sample that small, sometimes wackiness happens. But considering the possible explanations for this wackiness, the gap between the two has already closed enough that players like Jeter and McCarthy (not so much Zambrano, who I consider more of an intriguing throw-in) might just make up the difference. They're not exactly studs, but you won't (or at least shouldn't) find them on waivers in any leagues either. They're legitimate assets in Fantasy, and if your league is deep enough that you can't look to the waiver wire to patch up the holes on your roster, legitimate assets are exactly what you need.

As a general rule, I favor the side of the deal that gets the best player, and Lincecum is absolutely the best player in this deal. But if you find yourself lacking at shortstop and starting pitcher and without much hope of redeeming those positions apart from a trade, this one seems like a reasonable way to rid yourself of a potential trouble spot.

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I'm in a standard 10-team league and need to dump a few bench players for two-start options. Keeping in mind I need to hold on to one shortstop and one second baseman, which of these players should I drop: Yunel Escobar, Jhonny Peralta, Kelly Johnson and Dustin Ackley. -- Chris Silvestri (via e-mail)

SW: Smart move, Chris. Backing up all of your infielders in a shallow league isn't the most efficient use of your roster space. If one of your starters gets hurt, you'll be able to find an adequate replacement on the waiver wire, so unless those backups have so much upside that you can honestly see them overtaking your starters on an every-week basis, you're better off loading up on pitchers and making the most of two-start weeks.

I'd stick with Peralta and Ackley, which I'd assume are the two you drafted to be your starters in the first place. I understand Peralta is off to a slow start and don't necessarily believe he'll be able to replicate last season's batting average, but I still think his home runs will distinguish him from Escobar in the end. I also understand Johnson is off to a hot start, ranking third among second basemen in Head-to-Head leagues, but his past inconsistencies have me second-guessing his potential to maintain this pace. Frankly, I trust Ackley's pedigree more.

It's a closer call than the shortstop debate, though, so I might ask you to go only halfway on this plan, at least for now. Johnson was the fourth-ranked second baseman in Head-to-Head leagues two years ago, after all, so I could see him challenging Ackley for the starting job on your team. I still trust Ackley more, but because he's relatively unproven, cutting the third-ranked second baseman just doesn't make sense right now. I imagine you'll have some clarity within the next week or two, and then you can set the full plan in motion.

What do you predict for J.D. Martinez and Colby Rasmus this year? They are looking like must-haves. -- @DLcamfield (via Twitter)

SW: They are, aren't they? Martinez in particular has me thinking I underrated him coming into the year. His 12 walks rank seventh among all hitters and should help distinguish him in Head-to-Head points leagues. I still think he'll fall short of 20 homers, at least at this stage of his career, but with the high walk rate and the potential for a high batting average, he could be in line for a Nick Markakis-like season, which obviously makes him worthy of a roster spot right now. The minor-league numbers seem to support the comparison.

I'm a little more skeptical of Rasmus because we've seen him get off to hot starts in the past -- shoot, he hit .301 with an .867 OPS just last April -- but he obviously has yet to meet Fantasy owners' expectations over a full season. True, he might benefit from the change in environment late last season. Obviously, the upside remains impressive, and he still has plenty of time to meet it at age 25, so you wouldn't be wrong to add him by any means. But knowing how many times he's fooled us in the past, I'm still shying away from him in certain leagues.

I'm without a closer in my AL-only league. Which setup men have a chance to provide saves down the line? -- @jmingleus (via Twitter)

SW: First, I should point out that none of these relievers is a miracle cure. You're not solving your save crisis by adding them. You're simply giving luck a chance to work in your favor. Perhaps that's obvious, but it's worth stating anyway.

Tom Wilhelmsen is one of the more popular choices to inherit save duties midseason. The hard-throwing Seattle setup man clearly has the arsenal to close, and if the Mariners sink in the standings as expected, they may be inclined to deal Brandon League, who's on the verge of free agency.

Hector Santiago still has yet to prove himself in the closer role, and the fact the White Sox were willing to entrust him with it in the first place shows just how committed they are to keeping Matt Thornton and Jesse Crain in setup duty. Former college closer Addison Reed, then, would be the most-likely fallback option for saves in Chicago.

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Jonathan Broxton appears to have the Royals' trust for now, but he hasn't gotten enough chances yet to convince me he's completely over the struggles that cost him his job in Los Angeles. I'm keeping Aaron Crow on my radar. Joe Nathan has a long track record of success in the ninth inning, but with his stuff on the decline at age 37, Mike Adams and Alexi Ogando are on notice. Likewise, if the Indians someday realize that Vinnie Pestano is a more effective reliever than Chris Perez, little would stop them from making that switch.

While we're at it, let's touch on a few NL options as well.

Kenley Jansen and Aroldis Chapman are obvious candidates to close because of their ability, though I do have faith in Javy Guerra and Sean Marshall in front of them. Brian Wilson replacement Santiago Casilla is still too unproven in the role for you to dismiss a top setup man like Sergio Romo. Frank Francisco and Jon Rauch could dance the same dance they did in Toronto last year, making both rosterable in deeper leagues. The Padres have a couple of closer candidates in Andrew Cashner and Luke Gregerson if they end up having to trade Huston Street. And if Brett Myers doesn't pan out in Houston, Wilton Lopez looks like he could at least be competent in the role.

Clearly, you'll find no shortage of prospective closers out there, but again, none of them are more than a roll of the dice. J.J. Putz could get hurt tomorrow, and then you'll be asking me why I didn't include David Hernandez on the list.

Or would it be Bryan Shaw?

People have dropped Lance Berkman, Carl Crawford and Ryan Howard in my 10-team Head-to-Head points league. Should I stash any of them for the future? -- @Ehlers_Jeff (via Twitter)

SW: Ah, yes. The DL-bound. We've seen quite a few of them already this season, including a rash of starting pitchers over the weekend.

The bottom line is, even in this shallow format, Berkman, Crawford and Howard will all be must-have options when they come off the DL. The key to your dilemma is what you'd be sacrificing in the meantime.

Just by virtue of those three being available, I can assume your league doesn't offer DL slots. I've never known a Head-to-Head league not to offer bench slots, though, so it's not like you'd be taking a bunch of zeroes from these three while waiting for them to return. You would, however, be missing out on two-start options, which are especially important in Head-to-Head leagues, and you'd have fewer opportunities to secure some of the breakout candidates still available on the waiver wire in such a shallow league. For that reason, I wouldn't want to devote bench slots to all three.

The variables to consider here are "proximity to return" and "expected contribution upon return." Berkman and Crawford both seem likely to return before the end of May. Meanwhile, Howard's timetable is a little more up in the air since he's coming back from the more significant injury, and his high strikeout rate limits his potential in this particular format anyway. Considering his homers have also been on the decline the last couple years, he's probably closer to Mark Reynolds than Prince Fielder even when healthy, so I'd let someone else take a shot at him.

Are Jason Kipnis and Chad Billingsley sell-high candidates? -- Paul Chirichiello (via e-mail)

SW: In order for a player to qualify as a sell-high candidate, he has to have significantly exceeded expectations so far. Considering Kipnis is batting .232 with a .290 on-base percentage, you might not find as many takers for him as you think. Yeah, his surplus of extra-base hits currently ranks him fifth among second basemen in Head-to-Head leagues, but alongside those poor percentages, I don't think anyone will be fooled.

Then again, you might be. After all, Kipnis was a consistent .300 hitter and on-base specialist in the minors, so you could argue he's actually off to a slow start this year, apart from the extra-base hits. To consider selling him when he has yet to demonstrate the full extent potential seems a little short-sighted to me.

Billingsley, on the other hand, seems like a logical player to shop right now. He has enough of a track record and pedigree that you'll find some Fantasy owners willing to believe in him, but considering the control problems that popped up in his last start are the same ones that have held him back over the last three years, I'm skeptical he's made any real progress.

His overall numbers still look impressive because of his first three starts, so you may be able to couple him with another player to land an underachieving Mat Latos and Adam Wainwright. I have more faith in them coming around than Billingsley sticking around.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us on Twitter @CBSFantasyBB or Scott White at @CBSScottWhite . You can also check us out on Facebook or e-mail us at fantasybaseball@cbsinteractive.com .

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