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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
Braves' Jason Grilli strikes out three, earns 13th save
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(5:51 pm ET) Braves closer Jason Grilli pitched a scoreless ninth inning on Sunday to earn his 13th save in his team's 2-1 win over the Brewers.

Grilli struck out the first two batters he faced before issuing a walk, but he was able to strike out one more batter to slam the door on his team's win. He's rattled off three straight scoreless outings, but Sunday's three-strikeout game was his first since April 13. Grilli owns a 4.11 ERA and 23:7 K:BB ratio in 15 1/3 innings.


Royals catcher Salvador Perez dealing with leg injury
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(5:46 pm ET) Royals catcher Salvador Perez has been playing through an apparent leg injury for some time, manager Ned Yost said on Sunday per FOX Sports Kansas City.

Yost called it a slight groin injury, while Perez described it as a tight left hamstring. He was given the final inning of Sunday's game off as a precaution. He went 1 for 3 with an RBI in the game and is now hitting .306 with 24 RBI on the season.


Braves' Mike Foltynewicz strikes out seven in win vs. Brewers
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(5:45 pm ET) Braves pitcher Mike Foltynewicz earned a win on Sunday, allowing one earned run on just three hits and one walk while striking out seven in his team's 2-1 victory over the Brewers.

Foltynewicz (3-1) delivered the best start of his young career on Sunday, limiting the damage to a sacrifice fly in the seventh inning. It was his fourth straight start with seven strikeouts and his second straight outing with only one free pass.

Foltynewicz owns a 4.25 ERA and 30:12 K:BB ratio in 29 2/3 innings. He's slated to face the Giants on Friday.


Brewers' Jimmy Nelson walks five in loss vs. Braves
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(5:40 pm ET) Brewers pitcher Jimmy Nelson took a loss on Sunday, allowing two earned runs on five hits and five walks in 5 2/3 innings while striking out four in his team's 2-1 defeat against the Braves.

Despite his wildness, Nelson (2-5) was able to string together five scoreless innings before the Braves took a 2-0 lead in the sixth. It's the second time this season he's walked five batters in a game and his second straight start with at least four walks.

Nelson owns a 3.67 ERA and 47:23 K:BB ratio in 56 1/3 innings. He's slated to face the Diamondbacks at home on Saturday.


Rangers don't plan on moving Delino DeShields to second base
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(5:40 pm ET) Rangers outfielder Delino DeShields appears to be locked into his position, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

DeShields was rumored to be moving to the infield to play second base, but manager Jeff Banister said Sunday he will remain in the outfield and likely platoon in center with Leonys Martin.

DeShields played second base in the minors for three seasons, but hasn't done so since 2013. He is hitting .271 with 10 RBI in 70 at-bats this season.


Angels pitcher Cam Bedrosian knocked around in first appearance
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(5:31 pm ET) Angels pitcher Cam Bedrosian didn't receive a warm welcome to the majors on Sunday. Bedrosian, who was called up to replace the injured Mike Morin, allowed three runs on four hits in just 1/3 of an inning in Los Angeles' 6-1 loss to the Red Sox.

"Had to give him the ball and hopefully give him a chance to get his feet on the ground and get a good inning," manager Mike Scioscia said to the Orange County Register. "The stuff looked good but he couldn't command it enough to be effective."


Mets recall Danny Muno, option Johnny Monell
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(5:30 pm ET) The Mets recalled infielder Danny Muno from Triple-A Las Vegas after Sunday's game and optioned catcher Johnny Monell to the same club.

Muno, who went 1 for 6 in four games with the Mets in April, has hit .280/.354/.400 with one home run, 12 RBI and three stolen bases in 100 at-bats with Las Vegas. Monell was 1 for 16 with a double in his stint with the Mets and returns to a .397/.455/.638 line with four home runs and 15 RBI in 58 at-bats with Las Vegas.


Red Sox's Brock Holt hit in arm, loses feeling in hand
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(5:25 pm ET) Red Sox third baseman Brock Holt came out of Sunday's game against the Angels due to an arm injury after taking a batted ball off his forearm, the Providence Journal reports.

Holt initially stayed in but was removed for a pinch-hitter before his next at-bat. He said after the game that he started to lose feeling in his left hand, and that the ball that struck him "jarred a nerve." The utility player has hit .297/.379/.429 with one home run, 11 RBI and one stolen base in 91 at-bats.


Nationals' Anthony Rendon headed for rehab assignment
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(5:23 pm ET) Nationals third baseman Anthony Rendon is expected to begin his Class A rehab assignment for Brevard County on Monday and play 3-4 innings, according to the Washington Post.

Rendon, who is currently on the 15-day DL with knee and oblique injuries, was able to participate in batting practice on Saturday. He has taken part in baseball activities, but this will be his first game action since suffering the injuries. Rendon is yet to play this season after posting a .287 average with 21 home runs and 83 RBI in 2014.


Padres pitcher Brandon Morrow tosses bullpen session on Sunday
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(5:16 pm ET) Padres pitcher Brandon Morrow was able to throw a second bullpen session on Sunday, using all of his pitches in a 45-pitch session, according to U-T San Diego.

Morrow also tossed a bullpen on Thursday and is expected to throw a simulated game on Wednesday. Morrow is currently on the 15-day DL with right shoulder inflammation and has been out of action since May 3 with the injury. 

Morrow is 2-0 with a 2.73 ERA in five starts.


 
 
 
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