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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
Reports: Rockies prospect Jon Gray to make MLB debut Tuesday
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(9:19 am ET) Rockies starting pitcher prospect Jon Gray will make his major-league debut Tuesday against the Mariners, sources told MLB.com and The Denver Post.

The 23-year-old Gray was the third overall selection in the 2013 MLB Draft. The hard-throwing right-hander is 6-6 with a 4.33 ERA and 1.49 WHIP in 21 outings (20 starts) at Triple-A this season. Although, his numbers are a little inflated due to a rocky start to the season. In his last 17 starts, he is 6-3 with a 3.17 ERA and .256 opponents' batting average.

Gray is 20-11 with a 3.82 ERA and 1.27 WHIP in three minor-league seasons. He is striking out 8.9 batters per nine innings.

He entered the season as a top-25 prospect, according to MLB.com, Baseball America and BaseballProspectus.com.


Athletics RF Josh Reddick (back) doubtful for Monday's game
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(1:44 am ET) Athletics right fielder Josh Reddick is doubtful for Monday's game against the Orioles, according to CSN Bay Area.

“Maybe doubtful tomorrow, but I don’t think it’s enough to where we have to worry about long term,” manager Bob Melvin said.

Reddick left Sunday's game due to lower back tightness. He believed he injured his back while making a play on a foul ball.

“It’s a lot better than when it initially happened,” Reddick said. “My back locked up and started spasming out. After the play I went back and watched it. From what I gathered, it looked like it happened from me avoiding the ballboy, who didn’t move one bit. … Nothing serious. Hopefully it’s something that’s just day to day. I’m sure with Bob (being cautious), I probably won’t start tomorrow. I’ll get some more treatment done so I’ll be ready to go Tuesday.”


Mariners RP Vidal Nuno to make spot start on Tuesday
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(1:40 am ET) Mariners relief pitcher Vidal Nuno will start for his team against the Rockies on Tuesday, according to the Seattle Times.

Nuno last started a game on July 5, but it was for Triple-A Tacoma during a brief demotion.

“It’s just another day,” he said. “Now I just have to go 80 to 100 pitches and set the tone of the game.”

The Mariners are confident Nuno can provide the rotation some much needed rest.

“He can go five easily if we need him to,” McClendon said. “He’s very durable and he’s rested.”


Diamondbacks' Chase Anderson strikes out three in rehab game
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(12:26 am ET) Diamondbacks starting pitcher Chase Anderson tossed four innings during a Rookie League rehab game on Sunday.

Anderson allowed four hits and struck out three batters, but did not allow any runs in what was a solid performance.

Anderson is on the 15-day disabled list with a triceps injury.


Cubs C Miguel Montero goes 1 for 3 in rehab game Sunday
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(12:24 am ET) Cubs catcher Miguel Montero went 1 for 3 in a Double-A rehab game on Sunday.

Montero is out of commission with a thumb injury.


Phillies 2B Chase Utley gets two hits in rehab game
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(12:21 am ET) Phillies second baseman Chase Utley went 2 for 3 with a walk and two singles in a Triple-A rehab game on Sunday.

Utley is on the 15-day disabled list with an ankle injury.


Nationals SP Jordan Zimmermann gives up five runs in loss
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(8/2/2015) Nationals starting pitcher Jordan Zimmermann was not sharp during his start against the Mets on Sunday.

Zimmermann gave up five runs on six hits in six innings of work. He struggled at times with his location, as he allowed a season-high three home runs. Zimmermann did manage to strike out seven batters, but the damage from the home runs he allowed proved too costly.

With the loss, Zimmermann dropped to 8-7 this season with a 3.57 ERA.


Mets closer Tyler Clippard notches 18th save of the season
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(8/2/2015) Mets closer Tyler Clippard closed out the ninth inning of his team's win over the Nationals on Sunday with ease.

Clippard gave up one hit, but then put away Washington to pick up his 18th save of the season. He has a 2.55 ERA in 42 1/3 innings of relief.


Mets SP Noah Syndergaard strikes out nine in win over Nats
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(8/2/2015) Mets starting pitcher Noah Syndergaard was dominant during his start against the Nationals on Sunday.

Syndergaard allowed just two runs on seven hits over eight innings of work. He struck out nine batters and didn't allow a single a walk. Syndergaard made a pair of mistakes on two solo home runs, but was simply masterful besides that.

With the win, Syndergaard improved to 6-5 on the season with an impressive 2.66 ERA.


Cubs' Dan Haren considering retirement after this season
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(8/2/2015) Cubs pitcher Dan Haren is planning to retire after this season, he said on Sunday, per MLB.com.

"I would say right now the chances are this will probably be it," he said. 

He wasn't willing to commit to the plan, 100 percent, however. "I don't want to say this is it and pull a Brett Favre," he said


 
 
 
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