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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
Carter Capps' return from DL could come soon
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(12:19 pm ET) Marlins reliever Carter Capps could return to the team shortly after rosters expand Sept. 1, MLB.com reports Friday.

Capps, who has been out since late May with an elbow injury, began his minor-league rehab assignment at the team's Gulf Coast League affiliate earlier this week. He had a 3.00 ERA with 15 strikeouts in 12 innings prior to injuring his elbow. 


Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez likely to get first taste of the majors
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(12:11 pm ET) Phillies pitcher Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez has thrived since making the switch to the bullpen at Triple-A Lehigh Valley, and the Philadelphia Inquirer reports Friday is "almost a lock" to join the team when rosters expand next week.

Gonzalez has appeared in 11 games out of the bullpen at Triple-A, posting a 1.72 ERA with 17 strikeouts and eight walks in 15 2/3 innings. The 27-year-old struggled mightily at Class A Clearwater earlier in the season, before the switch to the bullpen was made, after a disappointing run in spring training.

"He wasn't sharp, he wasn't strong in spring training," manager Ryne Sandberg said. "So to see what he's doing now, see what that looks like, anxious to see that if he's one of the guys. He should be one of the guys."


Jorge De La Rosa blocked on waivers
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(11:43 am ET) Rockies pitcher Jorge De La Rosa was claimed on waivers and will not be traded prior to Monday's deadline, reports CBSSports.com Baseball Insider Jon Heyman Friday.

It is not clear which team claimed De La Rosa, but it was apparently done solely to block a trade to a possible contender. The Rockies looked to trade De La Rosa before the non-waiver deadline in July, but he will not head into free agency, where the Rockies intend to make him a qualifying offer before trying to re-sign him.  

He has a 4.19 ERA and 13-9 record in 154 2/3 innings on the season. 


Nelson Cruz, Orioles open to long-term deal
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(11:39 am ET) Orioles outfielder Nelson Cruz has been a bargain this season while working on a one-year, $8 million deal, and CBSSports.com Baseball insider Jon Heyman reports Friday the arrangement could become a long-term one this offseason.

The Orioles and Cruz have not begun early negotiations on an extension, both sides have expressed a willingness to continue to relationship beyond this season. Cruz leads the league with 34 home runs, and is hitting .256/.324/.510 with 88 RBI in 130 games overall.  


Mets discussing Travis d'Arnaud position change
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(11:30 am ET) The Mets have had preliminary conversations with catcher Travis d'Arnaud about possibly changing positions to keep him healthy, the New York Daily News reports Friday.

"We've talked about it,” manager Terry Collins said. "We’ve brought it up. Obviously, with what he's started to do offensively, we've got to see if these concussions are leading to anything. Is he changing his position (defensively), where he is positioning himself behind the hitter, to get less foul tips?"

d'Arnaud has had four reported concussions in his career, an issue that is only exacerbated by playing behind the plate. Despite that, Collins does not think it is likely to happen at this point.

d'Arnaud has made himself an indispensable part of the club's long-term plans with his play this season. Since returning from his latest concussion in June, he is hitting .265/.308/.486 over his last 50 games. 


Joe Thatcher's mound session 'didn't go well'
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(11:20 am ET) Angels reliever Joe Thatcher tried to throw off a mound recently, but his sprained ankle continues to bother him, and he told the Orange Country Register Thursday the session went poorly.

Thatcher is still aiming to return in mid-September, but it is not clear if he has a timetable to throw off a mound again at this point. Once his ankle is healed, however, Thatcher expects to return quickly.

"My arm is in shape," he said. "So as soon as my ankle is ready, I'll be ready to go. There's no build-up process."


Searching for answers, Justin Masterson to pitch out of stretch
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(11:16 am ET) Cardinals starting pitcher Justin Masterson is looking for a solution to his ongoing woes, and he told the St. Louis Dispatch his next start will feature a drastic change.

After trying it out during a bullpen session Wednesday, Masterson told reporters he will pitch exclusively out of the stretch in his start against the Cubs. The decision comes after Masterson has allowed 19 runs in his first 23 innings since the Cardinals acquired him, and the hope is that simplifying his deliver will lead to better results.

"For the most part, I was pitching out of the windup, and things would get better out of the stretch at times," Masterson said. "So we simplified it. I went only out of the stretch (in the bullpen). Less moving parts. You don't have to worry about step back, turn around, ready to throw."

Masterson feels like he can pitch out of the stretch without sacrificing velocity or overall effectiveness. He has struggled mightily with out of the stretch this season, however, allowing a .312/.414/.455 line with runners on base. 


Fernando Salas picks up win No. 5 in extras
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(10:53 am ET) Angels reliever Fernando Salas kept his record perfect on the season as he picked up the win in a 4-3 victory over the A's Thursday.

Salas pitched a perfect top of the 10th inning, striking out one batter and retiring the side in order on 14 pitches. He picked up the win when the Angels scored in the bottom half of the inning, moving his record to 5-0 while lowering his season ERA to 2.23 in 48 1/3 innings of work. 


Slumping Ryan Cook loses it in extras
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(10:40 am ET) Athletics reliever Ryan Cook struggled yet again Thursday, and this time the offense would not bail him out in a 4-43 loss to the Angels.

One night after blowing a save by allowing two runs, Cook had trouble setting the Angels down in the bottom of the 10th. He allowed a leadoff walk followed by a single, and then lost the game on Howie Kendrick's game-winning sacrifice fly.

Cook allowed one run in two-thirds of an inning, raising his season ERA to 3.45 in 44 1/3 innings. He has allowed 17 runs overall on the season, seven of which have come in his last six outings. 


Josh Donaldson homers, reaches four times in loss
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(10:33 am ET) Athletics third baseman Josh Donaldson had gone more than two weeks since his last home run before going deep in a 4-3 loss to the Angels Friday.

Donaldson tied the game with his sixth inning solo home run, a shot that eventually sent the game into extras. He went 2 for 3 overall in the game, while added a pair of walks in the loss.  

Donaldson has found his swing again in the month of August, though he has just three home runs in 85 games. He is still hitting .294/.419/.482 with 12 RBI and nine runs scored in the month.


 
 
 
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