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Setting the Trends: Free agent bargain hunting

Senior Fantasy Writer
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Francisco Liriano is currently owned in 54 percent of CBSSports.com leagues. He is started in just 15 percent. He has an ERA of 11.02, with a 2.33 WHIP. He's not good. At least, not right now.

Way back in 2011, there was another pitcher, Javier Vazquez, who carried a miserable 6.39 ERA into May. At the All- Star Break, he had dropped his ERA to, for him, a relatively-low 5.23. And then something clicked. Vazquez became a monster in the second half of the year, posting a 2.15 ERA and 0.86 WHIP. He struck out a batter per inning. He walked just three in 38 September innings.

Most Owned Minor Leaguers (as of 5/1)
Player % owned
1. Trevor Bauer, SP, D-Backs 47
2. Jair Jurrjens, SP, Braves 40
3. Andy Pettitte, SP, Yankees 38
4. Julio Teheran, SP, Braves 27
5. Shelby Miller, SP, Cardinals 27
6. Anthony Rizzo, 1B, Cubs 26
7. Nolan Arenado, 3B, Rockies 24
8. Brett Jackson, OF, Cubs 19
9. Lonnie Chisenhall, 3B, Indians 17
10. Danny Hultzen, SP, Mariners 17

Nothing but some kind of feeling that he would turn it around kept him on Fantasy rosters before the turnaround. And that turnaround came slowly: First, there was a start on June 21, where he didn't allow an earned run in 5 1/3 innings pitched. The very next game, he went seven innings without allowing an earned run. Two starts later, he struck out 10 batters in seven innings. He'd hit double-digit strikeouts two more times before the year was over. And his numbers led plenty of teams to Fantasy glory, just for either having faith in a pitcher who had been brilliant (albeit, with some pretty bad mixed in) in the past, or for jumping on the bandwagon when they saw him rise on the Most Added lists.

Sometimes it doesn't matter how you get there, just that you got there. This isn't meant to be a stirring defense of Francisco Liriano, but I'd monitor him closely -- read the local papers, follow the Twins beat writers on Twitter -- because if he figures out whatever it is he's doing wrong, he'll likely be blazing back up the Most Added lists (he began the season owned in 93 percent of leagues) before long. And Liriano, like Vazquez, can carry a team on his back when he's on.

For now, though, we present the current movers in CBSSports.com Roster Trends ...

Most added highlights

Less than 50, more than 50
Players owned in less than 50% of leagues who should be owned in more than 50%
Player % owned
1. Geovany Soto, C, Cubs 49
2. Scott Downs, RP, Angels 49
3. Stephen Drew, SS, D-Backs 45
4. Felix Doubront, SP, Red Sox 35
5. Wei-Yin Chen, SP, Orioles 32

Scott Downs, RP, Angels
Jump in ownership: 44 percent (from five percent to 49)
Reason for the jump: He's the possibly-temporary/possibly-more-than-temporary closer for the Angels
Why you should join the crowd: There's a fairly long history of "temporary" closer moves that end up being more permanent than we're led to believe. It usually plays out with the demoted closer revealing he has been injured, followed by a stint on the DL, which turns into a longer stint on the DL, all while the temporary closer pitches brilliantly and secures the job. This doesn't look to be the case here, as Angels manager Mike Scioscia said that Jordan Walden needed to work on "repeating a pitch" and "being able to get a breaking ball that's consistent." He also managed to be very vague in not giving an actual timetable on how long Walden might in the middle relief role. Downs isn't exactly a stranger to the closer's role: he has 18 career saves, the most coming with Toronto in 2009, when he successfully converted nine saves.
Devil's Advocate: It really could just be a temporary move for Walden.

Jose Altuve, 2B, Astros
Jump in ownership: 41 percent (from 48 percent to 89)
Reason for the jump: Of his last seven games, five have been multi-hit.
Why you should join the crowd: Altuve came up last year and hit a forgettable .276, with two home runs in 221 at-bats. He also stole seven bases. It wasn't a debut that caught the attention of numerous owners. This resulted in a 286 ADP for 2012. But Altuve has been scorching hot so far this year, posting a .361 average through Tuesday morning, with four steals and one home run. And a look at his minor league numbers show that this isn't a fluke; over 382 games, Altuve amassed a .327 average. The only season in the minors in which he hit lower than .300 was in 2008, when an 18 year-old Altuve batted .284. He also flashed some power with 10 home runs in 2011 and 15 in 2010. In 2011, his OPS was 1.017. And the speed seems to be legit, as well -- Altuve stole 42 bases in 2010, and 24 in 357 minor league at-bats last year.
Devil's Advocate: Altuve did skip Triple-A entirely, so there's always a chance that major league pitchers discover a way to get him out consistently at the higher levels. But that's a bit of a stretch.

Chris Davis, 1B/3B, Orioles
Jump in ownership: 27 percent (from 38 percent to 65)
Reason for the jump: Three home runs in the last six games.
Why you should join the crowd: Davis isn't exactly an unknown to owners; he hit 21 home runs in 391 at-bats with the Rangers in 2009 before slowly sliding into a rut/the minors and being traded to Baltimore late last season. But Davis has been stellar so far in 2012, batting .310 with four home runs and 12 RBI. He has never had 400 at-bats in a season, and his minor league numbers are great: a .318 average in 472 games with a .971 OPS. He has hit more than 20 home runs in three separate minor league seasons and those totals would likely be higher if not for his call-ups to Texas. On top of it all, Davis can be slotted at either first or third base in pretty much every league.
Devil's Advocate: We've been tantalized by Davis' possibly-realized potential before only to see him slide back, hit around .230, and be sent to the minors. With Wilson Betemit and the slumping Nick Johnson able to play first base, there's no guarantee Davis will be given too long of a leash if he hits a prolonged slump.

Tony Campana, OF, Cubs
Jump in ownership: 17 percent (from three percent to 20)
Reason for the jump: He's running wild on the basepaths.
Why you should join the crowd: After Marlon Byrd's trade to Boston, Campana became the De facto starting center fielder for the Cubs. He's currently batting .370 with seven steals in just 27 at-bats on the season. Last year, in a late-season stint with the Cubs, Campana stole 24 bases in 143 at-bats -- a rate better than even Dee Gordon's. He has seasons of 66 and 48 steals in the minor leagues with a career .303 average over five seasons.
Devil's Advocate: Campana also has a total of one home run in the minors and has a minor league track record eerily similar to Joey Gathright, who never caught on in the major leagues but had stellar minor league numbers. Complicating matters is the eventual call-up of Brett Jackson, Chicago's presumed center fielder of the future, which will likely mean a decreased amount of playing time for Campana.

David Phelps, SP, Yankees
Jump in ownership: Nine percent (from two percent to 11)
Reason for the jump: He will start on Thursday for the Yankees.
Why you should join the crowd: You'd likely be ahead of the crowd on this one. While Phelps has been a solid member of the Yankees' bullpen so far this year, his name may elicit a bunch of "who?"s from even Yankees fans. With Freddy Garcia struggling, Phelps, who started in 86 of his 87 minor league appearances, has been moved into the rotation. He doesn't have the exciting "top prospect" status of a Phil Hughes or Joba Chamberlain, but he does have some really impressive minor league numbers: a 2.61 career minor league ERA, and a 1.18 career WHIP. He doesn't get a ton of strikeouts, but he's probably good for five or six in his seven-inning starts.
Devil's Advocate: The Yankees still have Andy Pettitte looking to take someone's spot in the rotation and if Phelps stumbles in his role as a starter, he could be moved back to the bullpen.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us on Twitter @CBSFantasyBB or Nando Di Fino at @NandoCBS . You can also send our staff an e-mail at fantasybaseball@cbsinteractive.com .

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Player News
Report: MLB could have decision regarding Josh Hamilton next week
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(12:13 pm ET) Major League Baseball could have a decision on whether or not to discipline Angels outfielder Josh Hamilton as early as next week, industry sources told FOX Sports.

Currently, MLB is undecided about having Hamilton enter a rehabilitation program following a drug relapse, according to the Los Angeles Times. An arbitrator has been appointed after the four-member panel -- with two representatives each from MLB and the MLB Players Association -- assigned to Hamilton's case could not reach a majority opinion on the proper course.

MLB officials believe Hamilton should be suspended for at least 25 games and potentially for one year. However, the union is arguing for a lesser penalty, potentially 15 games and Hamilton entering a treatment program.

If Hamilton is sent to rehab, he would receive his full salary for 30 days, and then half his salary over the next 30 days. If he's suspended, Hamilton would not be paid during the suspension and would not have to enter a treatment program. 

Hamilton, who was suspended from baseball from 2004-06 for issues related to cocaine and alcohol abuse, admitted to MLB he experienced a relapse a few months ago, according to CBSSports.com Baseball Insider Jon Heyman. A source told Heyman in late February that Hamilton confessed to going on a binge that involved cocaine.


Indians' Gavin Floyd has Cactus League start pushed back
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(12:10 pm ET) Indians pitcher Gavin Floyd had his Cactus League scheduled start on Sunday pushed back to an unknown date in the near future, according to MLB.com on Thursday.

Floyd has pitched in just 14 games over the past two seasons due to elbow injuries. He had Tommy John surgery in 2013, and then broke his elbow after making nine starts in 2014. Manager Terry Francona told reporters he's taking a cautious approach with the right-hander moving forward.


Dodgers' Zack Greinke, Hyun-Jin Ryu scheduled to throw BP
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(12:02 pm ET) Dodgers pitchers Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu are scheduled to throw batting practice Friday and Saturday, respectively, per MLB.com. Both players are dealing with injuries, and remain one start behind the other pitchers on the roster. Both pitchers will make their spring debut five days after their BP session.

Pirates' Jordy Mercer looks to build from last season's strong finish
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(11:54 am ET) Pirates shortstop Jordy Mercer worked on improving his defensive struggles last year with Clint Barmes and his offensive struggles with first-base coach Nick Leyva, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

"What's the best thing that Barmes could do for our ballclub? That's to tutor this young kid, and that’s exactly what he did," Leyva said. "It was phenomenal to watch that."

Mercer hit .199 through the first 49 games last season. He bounced back with a .278 batting average, a .333 on-base percentage, 11 home runs and 19 doubles since June 2. Now that Mercer is the incumbent starter at shortstop, he is hoping to use his experience as an advantage to beat out Korean shortstop Jung Ho Kang for playing time throughout the season.

"You can't substitute for innings played, you can't substitute for at-bats, you can't substitute for innings pitched at this level," Leyva said. "You talk all you want about it, but when you get 450 at-bats, you've had a major league season. When you've played 140 games, you've played a major league season. The only way you're going to get those is by competing and getting the job done."


Indians 2B Jason Kipnis (hand) to make spring debut Saturday
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(11:50 am ET) Indians manager Terry Francona said second baseman Jason Kipnis will make his spring debut Saturday against the Dodgers, per MLB.com. Kipnis had surgery in December to repair a damaged tendon in the ring finger on his left hand.

Tigers' Ausmus: Miguel Cabrera really close to running on flat ground
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(11:45 am ET) Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera (ankle) has run at 72 percent body weight on the AlterG anti-gravity treadmill, manager Brad Ausmus said Thursday. Once Cabrera can run at 80 percent body weight, he will be cleared to run on flat ground and have grounders hit directly at him.

"He should be really close," Ausmus said, per the Detroit Free Press.

Cabrera participated in batting practice on the field Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

"He was hitting balls 425 feet out to left-center," Ausmus said.


Yankees might not have room on roster for Pirela as bench option
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(11:39 am ET) Yankees manager Joe Girardi said he is curious about keeping Jose Pirela on the roster as a bench player, according to The Journal News. However, there is no clear path right now for Pirela, and it might take an injury for him to get on the roster.

“We’re going to move him around because that flexibility is nice to have,” Girardi said. “In the limited time that he was up last year, he did a really good time for us. And you could put him in the outfield as well. I don’t know how much we’ll put him in the outfield in spring, but I’m comfortable putting him out there anywhere. You never know how things are going to shake out in camp.”


Reds 1B Joey Votto getting closer to playing in spring games
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(11:30 am ET) Reds manager Bryan Price said Thursday first baseman Joey Votto is getting closer to making his spring debut, per the Cincinnati Enquirer. Votto missed 100 games last season with a left knee injury. 

"You won't have to hold your breath, I promise you, you won't have to hold your breath for this," Price said. "Just to reiterate, we just went too far into the rehab and made a commitment to do an extensive rehab to do anything before we feel he's ready. I think he's very close and he's champing at the bit to get in there."


A's 1B Nate Freiman to miss at least two weeks with back injury
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(11:26 am ET) Athletics manager Bob Melvin said first baseman Nate Freiman will miss at least two weeks due to a muscle strain in his back, per MLB.com. Freiman is competing for a spot on the A's bench.

Cardinals' Matheny wants Heyward, Adams to gain confidence vs. LHPs
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(11:24 am ET) Cardinals slugger Matt Adams is tired of hearing folks say he can't hit left-handed pitchers. But the numbers don't lie. He is batting just .197 off lefties in his major-league career, as opposed to .306 against righties.

“People think I can’t hit lefties,” he said, per the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “Coming up through the minors, I hit them. But that’s totally different. Hitting lefties in the minors and hitting lefties in the big leagues is different. The confidence for me is there, in the back of my mind. I know what I can do. That hasn’t changed. This is where I definitely have to focus and put the hammer to it.”

Adams isn't the only starter for St. Louis that struggles against lefties. Outfielder Jason Heyward hit just .169 against lefties in 2014. However, manager Mike Matheny isn't a fan of platooning either player.

“There are certain guys that you don’t want to platoon,” Matheny said. “There are guys you don’t want to have off the field, and I think that’s what they want. They want to be the guy who doesn’t come off the field. They want to be out there all the time. Both of them have shown it in the past that they can have success against left-handed pitching. It’s just a matter of getting them comfortable. With our lineup they’re going to throw a lot of (lefties) at us. Maybe that will help generate that confidence.”


 
 
 
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