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Reality Check: Time to stockpile starters

Senior Fantasy Writer
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I became emotional this weekend.

The emotion was anger. The reason was stupidity.

Or at least short-sightedness. Look, I don't claim to know much about building a baseball team -- I'm just a fan living a Fantasy, after all -- but if, in the process of transitioning a reliever to the starting rotation, I stumbled upon what looked like a frontline starting pitcher, I wouldn't suddenly move him back to the bullpen.

But that's exactly what the White Sox did with Chris Sale. And he wasn't happy about it.

In their defense, they didn't do it as an act of self-sabotage, somehow reasoning that Sale was more valuable to them as a one-inning man than a seven-inning man. They did it to protect his elbow, which was apparently sore after his last start.

"We're doing it because we feel it's best for him, his career and his health," pitching coach Don Cooper told the Chicago Tribune on Friday. "It's the best way to keep him healthy and strong."

Yeah, because Brian Wilson, Joakim Soria and Ryan Madson are practically invincible right now.

Maybe the decision wouldn't bother me so much if I hadn't come to depend on Sale in so many of my Fantasy leagues. Yeah, I'll admit some sour grapes here, and I'll even recognize that in some leagues -- ones deep enough that nobody with even a glimmer of hope for saves is available on the waiver wire -- Sale might actually gain value with this move. He's not just going to the bullpen, after all, but the closer role, where he's had some success for short stints in the past. His owners now get a boost in a category where they may not have had any hope, especially with injuries to Mariano Rivera, Huston Street, Sergio Santos, Drew Storen, Kyle Farnsworth and Andrew Bailey.

Practically invincible, like I said.

But it's still discouraging to think that in a world where we already have to contend with innings limits for Stephen Strasburg and skipped starts for Neftali Feliz and Drew Smyly, teams are actually getting more cautious with their most talented arms. I mean, banning a guy from doing what would make him most valuable for fear of him getting hurt is like ... well, what's the line from Ferris Bueller's Day Off?

"He never drives it, Ferris. He just rubs it with a diaper."

And it only figures to get worse. With Cory Luebke -- another talented left-hander who at times has caused his team to question where he fits best -- likely headed for Tommy John surgery after an MRI revealed damage to his UCL, you can bet some teams will stop to reassess whether they're doing everything they can to protect their young arms, more concerned about breaking eggs than making an omelet.

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With that mindset, no one is safe, which only reinforces the age-old adage that you can never have enough starting pitching. Remember what happened to Alexi Ogando in the second half last year? Or Bartolo Colon? Or Michael Pineda? Your steady and stable starting rotation may have a shorter shelf life than you think.

So even if you're not a Sale or Luebke owner looking to fill a specific need, you can learn from others' misfortunes and use this opportunity to clear a bench spot for yet another starting pitcher.

Plenty of good ones are available still. Among those owned in less than 60 percent of leagues, these are some of my favorites, provided they actually stay in the rotation:

R.A. Dickey. Though he lacks sizzle as a 37-year-old on the cellar-dwelling Mets, he consistently pitches into the seventh or eighth inning, which not only earns him points in Head-to-Head leagues but also improves his chances of winning each time out. His ERA since the start of 2010 is only 3.18.

Jake Arrieta. He hasn't been especially consistent so far this year, but he throws hard enough that I expect his strikeout rate to remain relatively high and his hit rate relatively low. His early success isn't completely unprecedented either: He went 5-1 with a 4.03 ERA in his first nine starts last year before developing elbow problems.

Jarrod Parker. Most top prospects get hyped to the hills, but Parker has remained under the radar, for whatever reason, even though he's 2 for 2 in quality starts so far. His supporting cast may be lacking, but his stuff clearly isn't. He deserves a flier even if he's relatively unproven.

Henderson Alvarez. His strikeout rate of 2.6 per nine innings is downright depressing, but he has a 2.83 ERA in six starts and just threw a shutout last time out. With a fastball in the mid-90s, he can't be all smoke and mirrors.

Jeff Niemann. Though a Fantasy mainstay for various stretches over the last three years, Niemann has yet to go six innings in a start this season, keeping him buried in the rankings. I'm not sure why the Rays are handling him with kid gloves so far, but given his track record, I have a feeling it won't last.

James McDonald. He was a popular sleeper entering last year, but now that he's actually commanding the strike zone and pitching into the seventh inning, McDonald can't find any takers in Fantasy. His pedigree suggests the stuff is legit, even if it was slow to develop.

Jerome Williams. Four years out of the game helped Williams refine his once highly touted arsenal. He's the biggest Hail Mary of this group, but as impressive as four of his first five starts have been, he deserves to be owned in more than 18 percent of leagues.

I'm not ready to predict a best-case scenario for any of these seven, but of the pitchers available in nearly half of all leagues, they're the ones who intrigue me the most. If I had to rank them in terms of how secure I'd feel with them, I'd go Dickey, Arrieta, Niemann, Parker, Alvarez, McDonald and Williams.

So if you can justify the roster spot, take a flier on one of them. At least then when the baseball world throws you a curveball, you'll have a full arsenal of replacements.

None of them as good as Sale, though.

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In the now ... A look at how recent events have impacted certain players' Fantasy value

Jason Hammel, SP, Orioles: Hammel's hot start seems a little too good to be true, given his career track record, and understandably, Fantasy owners have been hesitant to buy into him. He's a top-10 pitcher, for crying out loud. It won't last. It can't. Maybe not, but one thing his track record doesn't show is the change he's made to his repertoire this year, adding a sinker that has become his bread-and-butter pitch. As we've seen with Brandon Webb in the past, a good sinker can take a pitcher a long way. I'm not necessarily predicting Cy Young votes for Hammel, but I expect him to remain a mixed-league force all season long.

Daniel Murphy, 1B/2B/3B, Mets: Murphy had four hits on Saturday, bringing his batting average up over .300. Now, maybe that's why you drafted him -- he did hit .320 during an injury-shortened 2011 -- but me? I expected a little pop along with it. With the fences coming in at Citi Field, double-digit homers didn't seem like too much to ask. He hit a dozen back in 2009. Needless to say, I'm feeling a little shortchanged by his zero so far. His versatility no doubt helps his cause in deeper leagues, but given his injury history, if you drafted him as your starting second baseman in a standard mixed league, perhaps you're better off making a move than waiting around for something that might never happen.

Jed Lowrie, 3B/SS, Astros: It's finally happening. With a .429 batting average, four homers and 1.286 OPS over his last 11 games, Lowrie is finally making good on all that potential he showed in the second half of 2010. Or at least it looks like it's happening. Of course, it did last April, too, which is no doubt some cause for skepticism among Fantasy owners, but Lowrie's shortcoming then was that he couldn't hit righties, batting .210 with a .582 OPS against them. This spring, the Astros adjusted his stance from the left side of the plate to correct that problem, and so far, so good: He's batting .396 with a 1.046 OPS against righties. Now, the only thing stopping him from becoming one of the top OPS guys at the shortstop position is health, which admittedly has been an issue throughout his career. But while he is healthy, you might as well be starting him.

Clay Buchholz, SP, Red Sox: We're six starts into the season, and Buchholz has allowed five earned runs or more in all of them. What makes him so worth the wait? He couldn't stay healthy last year, and even his breakthrough 2010 wasn't all it appeared to be. His strikeout rate remained below the seven-per-nine-inning threshold, and his 2.33 ERA was completely out whack with his 1.20 WHIP. Most statheads considered him a regression candidate even if he had managed to stay healthy. So what else does he have to hang his hat on? His steady 180 innings? Nope, hasn't gotten there yet. The Red Sox's supporting cast? Yeah, we'll see about that. At this point, you're better off gambling on a Jake Arrieta or R.A. Dickey than sticking with Buchholz.

David Robertson, RP, Yankees: I don't know what's more surprising: that Robertson's ownership percentage has risen 57 percentage points without him even recording a save or that he's still unowned in 21 percent of leagues. I'll go with the latter. When the dust settles, he might actually end up being the better Fantasy option than the man he's replacing, which sounds like blasphemy, sure, but when you compare the numbers side-by-side, Robertson's strikeouts -- he had an even 100 last year -- set him apart. Mariano Rivera's strength is his consistency, which is unmatched in baseball history, but Craig Kimbrel ranked ahead of him coming into the season for a reason. Perhaps the presence of Rafael Soriano prevents Fantasy owners from going all-in on Robertson, but his stuff should make this call an easy one. As long as he doesn't wilt under the pressure, he'll be one of the best three or four closers in Fantasy.

Down the line ... A brief update on some of the minor-leaguers who have caught the attention of Fantasy owners

Johnny Giavotella, 2B, Royals: Giavotella may not technically be a prospect after losing rookie eligibility during his stint in the majors last year, but at age 24, he's the team's future at second base regardless. Why that future hasn't begun yet, with Yuniesky Betancourt on the DL with a sprained ankle, is anybody's guess, but it certainly isn't Giavotella's fault. He's batting .315 with five homers and more walks (15) than strikeouts (10) at Triple-A Omaha. If you play in an AL-only league, you'll want him rostered for when the Royals finally decide Chris Getz isn't the answer.

Christian Friedrich, SP, Rockies: Though Alex White is the favorite to fill the recently demoted Jhoulys Chacin's rotation spot on Tuesday, Friedrich's candidacy is arguably the bigger storyline in Fantasy. Once considered a top prospect because of his performance in the lower levels of the minors, the 24-year-old became a lost cause at Double-A, posting a 5.02 ERA in two seasons. But with his promotion to Triple-A Colorado Springs this year came a return to form. Through five starts, he has a 3.00 ERA to go along with a 27-to-4 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Granted, five starts aren't enough to declare him over the hump, but his hot start combined with his pedigree should renew interest in long-term keeper leagues.

Jake Odorizzi, SP, Royals: After exceeding expectations in the lower levels of the minors, Odorizzi continues to turn heads in his first full year of Double-A Northwest Arkansas, recording 11 strikeouts for the second time this season Saturday to give him 40 strikeouts (compared to only nine walks) in 31 innings. Mike Montgomery was considered the better prospect coming into the season, but his continued command issues at Triple-A might allow the 22-year-old Odorizzi to leapfrog him if a need develops in the majors. Now that Odorizzi is proving he can succeed in the upper levels of the minors, his stock is on the rise.

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 e-mail us at fantasybaseball@cbsinteractive.com .

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Player News
Report: Angels talk extension with closer Huston Street
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(9:30 am ET) The Angels have broached the subject of a contract extension with closer Huston Street and plan to start negotiations during spring training, reports MLB.com. The team exercised its $7 million opion on Street early in the offseason and "would like to lock the 31-year-old right-hander up before he hits free agency next winter," the report said.

Street converted 41 of 44 save opportunities last year, going 2-2 with a 1.37 ERA.


Marlins announce signing of Ichiro Suzuki
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(1/27/2015) The Marlins announced Tuesday they signed outfielder Ichiro Suzuki to a one-year contract.

The deal was expected to be announced once Suzuki passed his physical. He is expected to be the Marlins fourth outfielder as well as a left-handed bat off the bench.


Rays pitcher Matt Moore begins throwing off mound
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(1/27/2015) Rays pitcher Matt Moore took a significant step forward in his receovery from Tommy John surgery when he threw off a mound Tuesday, reports the Tampa Bay Times.

"It felt pretty good," Moore said.

Moore had the surgery in April and said he is pleased with the progress he has made.

"I would have thought a while ago I would have been nervous, but I was looking forward to it," Moore said. "And I felt like I had a lot more that could have come out. That's a feeling I've had the last month or so, and that's a feeling I like to have. I think we're in a good spot right now."


Angels' Garrett Richards to begin throwing off mound in February
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(1/27/2015) Angels pitcher Garrett Richards is ahead of schedule in his return from left-knee surgery and will begin throwing off a mound in the second week of February, reports the Los Angeles Times.

General manager Jerry Dipoto said they have been pleased with the progress Richards has made from the surgery.

"Ordinarily, he'd have thrown off a mound a couple times at this point in January, so he's not too far behind where he'd be in his normal throwing preparation," Dipoto said. "It's a matter of making sure the knee is stable and his lower body is in good shape. We're very optimistic, as we have been throughout."

In 2014, Richards went 13-4 with a 2.61 ERA.


Orioles finalize trade with Pirates for Travis Snider
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(1/27/2015) As part of the trade sending outfielder Travis Snider to the Orioles, the Pirates will receive prospect Stephen Tarpley and a player to be named later, the team announced.

The left-handed Tarpley pitched at Class A in 2014 and went 3-5 with a 3.68 ERA.

Snider hit .264 with 13 home runs and 38 RBI in 2014 and will be a free agent after the 2016 season. Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette said Snider fits in well with the team, reports MASNsports.com. 

"Snider is a solid dependable power-hitting outfielder and is an excellent fit for Camden Yards," Duquette said.

To make room for Snider, the Orioles designated Michael Ohlman for assignment


Rangers plan to stretch out Ross Detwiler's starts in spring training
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(1/27/2015) Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said Tuesday the team plans to stretch out pitcher Ross Detwiler's starts to open spring training, reports foxsportssouthwest.com

Detwiler did not start a game in 2014, making 47 relief appearances with a 4.00 ERA. In 2013, he started 13 games for the Nationals and went 2-7 with a 4.04 ERA.


Red Sox trade Anthony Ranaudo to Rangers for Robbie Ross
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(1/27/2015) The Red Sox and Rangers announced a two player trade Tuesday where Boston sent Anthony Ranaudo to Texas and the Rangers sent Robbie Ross to the Red Sox, both teams announced.

Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said Tuesday Ranaudo is in play to become the No. 5 starter in the rotation, but if he doesn't win the job, he will likely start in the minors.

Ranaudo posted a 4-3 record with a 4.81 ERA in 2014 for Boston in 39 1/3 innings pitched. Ross went 3-6 with a 6.20 ERA in 78 1/3 innings for the Rangers.


Report: Blue Jays also interested in Jonathan Papelbon trade
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(1/27/2015) Along with the Brewers, the Phillies have also discussed trading closer Jonathan Papelbon to the Blue Jays, soruces told MLB.com.

Papelbon is due $13 million next season, which is believed to be one of the sticking points in negotiations. In 2014, Papelbon had 39 saves with a 2.04 ERA.


Report: Orioles, Pirates rekindle Travis Snider trade talks
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(1/27/2015) The Orioles and Pirates have revived trade talks regarding Pittsburgh outfielder Travis Snider, a source told The Baltimore Sun. The Orioles are closing in on a framework for a deal for Snider and are encouraged a trade will happen in exchange for one or two minor-league players.

The 26-year-old Snider is in his second year of arbitration and will be a free agent after the 2016 season. He will make $2.1 million in 2015.


Report: Angels, Garrett Richards set arbitration date
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(1/27/2015) The Angels and pitcher Garrett Richards have reportedly set an arbitration date for Feb. 11, according to the L.A. Times.

Talks for the new contract have been moving slowly with no discussion of a multi-year deal coming, according to the report. Richards asked for $3.8 million, but the team only offered $2.4 million.

Richards went 13-4 with a 2.61 ERA in 2014, amassing 164 strikeouts in 168 2/3 innings.


 
 
 
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