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Dear Mr. Fantasy: Waking from the injury nightmare

Senior Fantasy Writer
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Joey Votto and Joey Bats -- they're more alike than you'd ever know.

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On the surface, they're complete opposites. One bats left-handed, the other right-handed. One is from Canada, the other the Dominican Republic. One plays for the Reds, the other the Blue ... Jays, which would have pitted them against each other even in the Intellivision days.

But both were consensus first-rounders coming into the season. Both currently rank among the top 12 hitters in Fantasy. And now, both are hurt.

Not just the kind of hurt that inconveniences you for a week or two, but the kind that could severely alter the standings in your Fantasy league.

Votto's torn meniscus requires surgery, which should sideline him for at least a month, Jose Bautista's wrist injury is debilitating enough for the Blue Jays to call on top prospect Anthony Gose as his replacement.

By the time they return, the playoffs will have already started in some leagues, which means if your team is at all on the fringe right now, you can't afford to wait around for them.

So what do you do?

What should I do if I'm down two Joeys? -- @LeNewf (via Twitter)

SW: As bad as that sounds, it'd be even worse coming from a kangaroo.

And that's about the most consolation I can offer right now. From a Fantasy perspective, losing two stud-of-all-studs-type players in the same night is like something out of the book of Job. It's a nightmare of Biblical proportions, a tragedy beyond our understanding and the kind of event that will spawn a series of documentaries 25 years from now.

But it doesn't have to be a deathblow.

The key is to act swiftly and decisively. Not crazily, which is sometimes the third wheel in that relationship, but not timidly either. Unless you play in such a shallow league that you have incredible depth on your bench already, you have to make a trade, and you have to do it today. If you hedge your bets and ride it out with a Yonder Alonso type for two weeks, hoping you can survive this trial with a quick waiver claim, you might put yourself in too deep of a hole to do anything about it.

The one silver lining with Joey Votto's injury is that he plays the deepest position in Fantasy. A staggering 29 first basemen are owned in 85 percent of Fantasy leagues or more, compared to 13 second basemen, 22 third basemen and 13 shortstops. It's not like Fantasy owners have more first base spots to fill. Those 29 are owned simply because they're worth owning. Granted, some might be filling DH or utility roles for their Fantasy teams, but even so, with 29 names to go around, you'll find plenty of excess at first base.

Your best bet, rather than targeting specific players, is to survey the league, looking for whichever of those 29 are stuck on somebody's bench. If, however, you came here looking for names, here are four who could come at a discount. I'm thinking you could potentially acquire one for a fourth or fifth starting pitcher or a third or fourth outfielder.

Paul Goldschmidt. Since May 19, he's batting .358 with 10 homers and a 1.117 OPS -- numbers that are in line with his minor-league track record and that make him the ninth-best first baseman in Fantasy during that stretch. Votto is eighth.

Michael Morse. He was last year's version of Goldschmidt, getting off to such a slow start that Fantasy owners were less than sold on him even as his hot streak stretched on for months. He wound up hitting .303 with 31 home runs and seems to be back on that path now after looking rusty in his first couple weeks off the DL.

Freddie Freeman. Buried in the rankings after a 27-game stretch in May and June in which he hit .188 (19 for 101) with two home runs, Freeman has yet to climb back to respectability despite hitting .356 (26 for 73) with four homers over his last 20 games. But if his vision problems and thumb injury were the reasons he slumped, his climb is just beginning.

Allen Craig. Be it as a minor-leaguer, a part-timer, a postseason fill-in or a full-timer, Craig has thoroughly established himself as a .300-hitting, .900-OPS monster. Now that the Cardinals know what they have in him, he won't sit for more than a game here or there. Yet Lance Berkman's return from the DL has Craig's Fantasy owners petrified he will.

See the value in that group? Some might include Eric Hosmer or Kendrys Morales as well, and yes, they are buy-low candidates based on what they did (or didn't do) in the first half. But remember: You're looking for immediate production in Votto's absence. If you have to wait for it, it's not worth it.

Bautista's situation is a little trickier, both because he plays a weaker position (be it third base or the outfield) and because his timetable is less certain, but hopefully with enough maneuvering of the pieces and place, you can fill his lineup spot with a first base-eligible player (of the four mentioned, Morse and Craig both qualify in the outfield, which helps). Safe to say an Adrian Beltre type would cost significantly more.

Would now be a good time to pick up Wil Myers in a 12-team Head-to-Head league? -- @im_bs (via Twitter)

SW: I can't give a wholehearted answer without knowing who else is out there and what kind of lineup decisions you have to make on a week-to-week basis, but assuming your bench is strictly excess and that you have a free spot where none of the flavor-of-the-week pickups to this point have stuck, then yeah, adding Myers is probably a smart move.

With the arbitration concerns now well behind us, he's at a point where the Royals could call him up any day. Yes, general manager Dayton Moore says he wants to give Lorenzo Cain, fresh off the DL, a chance to establish himself first, so you shouldn't expect Myers to take over as the team's regular center fielder anytime soon. But if the Royals trade off right fielder Jeff Francoeur before the deadline or if they decide tomorrow that they're comfortable with a three-man rotation between those two positions, Myers will be on his way to Kansas City. And if you wait until that moment arrives, you'll have so much competition for him off the waiver wire that you can't expect to be the one who walks away with him.

And as Mike Trout and Bryce Harper have shown us, you absolutely want to walk away with him. Myers may not be quite as highly regarded as those two, but he's the next-best thing, as far as hitting prospects go. We all know the kind of impact Eric Hosmer made in Fantasy last year after tearing up Double-A Northwest Arkansas and Triple-A Omaha, and Myers' numbers between the same two minor-league stops this year -- a .325 batting average, 28 home runs and 1.079 OPS in 332 at-bats -- suggest the impact will be similar.

He'll arrive at some point. I can guarantee that much. The Royals' offseason plans partially hinge on Myers' major-league readiness, which is something they can't determine without seeing him in action.

Which of these pitchers, if any, should I try to sell high on: Lance Lynn, Chris Sale or Wade Miley? -- Wott Scite (via e-mail)

SW: I'd say all three have sell-high potential, but the trick is getting the right return. I feel like that's the crucial element so many Fantasy owners miss in the sell-high strategy. It's less about dumping a potential headache than making a long-term upgrade. You're selling high, which means, in terms of season-to-date production, what you get in return should equal what you're giving up.

Why make the distinction? This late in the season, no player is so certain to decline that you should operate as if he already has. Legitimate breakouts do happen, and if you're so preoccupied with getting a full return on your timely waiver claim that you lose sight of the potential for a breakout, chances are you'll get less than a full return.

If Sale has been a top-five starting pitcher to this point, then someone should pay the same for him that he'd pay for Matt Cain or Cole Hamels. If you accept anything less, you're taking on all the risk without any of the reward.

Now, do you honestly expect someone to pay that much for Sale? In the right circumstances, it could happen, but his transition from the bullpen to the starting rotation this year has gotten so much attention that I think most seasoned Fantasy owners would be fearful of a second-half decline. And if that's the case, you're better off taking your chances with him. Hey, C.J. Wilson didn't fade down the stretch in 2010.

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Your asking price on Lynn and Miley can be a little more reasonable, which in my mind makes them better sell-high candidates. Between the two, I'd rather attempt to sell high on Miley, believing his success is flukier than Lynn's, but unfortunately, that ship may have already sailed. His last three starts have been his worst three -- and by a considerable enough margin that you're not going to be able to hide it from anyone. If you can still get a Matt Garza or Alejandro De Aza type for him, great, but if the best you can do is a fringe waiver type, why bother?

If your goals are both to maximize return and minimize risk, Lynn is probably the most logical sell-high candidate of the three. He has bounced back from a rough patch with back-to-back dominant starts, redeeming his short-term value in a way Miley has yet to do, but because he spent most of last season in the bullpen, his chances of a breakdown are just as high as Sale's. I'm betting you could get an impact hitter like Billy Butler for him.

I'm fifth in total points, but somehow I'm in 10th place in my 12-team league. I have Carlos Santana at catcher, Billy Butler at first base, Neil Walker at second base, Miguel Cabrera at third base, Emilio Bonifacio at shortstop (replacing Jed Lowrie), Austin Jackson, Shane Victorino and Allen Craig in the outfield, Madison Bumgarner, C.J. Wilson, Yu Darvish, Mat Latos and Anibal Sanchez at starting pitcher, and Joel Hanrahan and Alfredo Aceves at relief pitcher. Please tell me you're as surprised as I am that I'm in 10th. -- Scott M. (via e-mail)

SW: As a general rule, yeah, I'd expect the fifth highest-scoring team to have the fifth-best record, but I have to admit this team seems like the kind that would throw that correlation out of whack.

The whole is less than the sum of its parts. Yes, over the course of 15 weeks, it may have accumulated the fifth-most points, which is good enough to beat the teams with the 10th- and 11th-most points just about every time, but what about all the others jumbled in the middle? Maybe yours is the steadiest of the bunch, but if those other teams' best weeks are better than yours, you're still going to lose a high percentage of the time.

In short, I think your team lacks the star power to pull out the close ones. That may sound like the kind of nonsense you hear on an NBA pregame show, but there is some logic to it.

Let's assess the hitters first. Who are the real game-changers on your team, the ones capable of going off for 35 points any given week? I see only one: Cabrera. You certainly have other nice players, including Butler, Jackson and Victorino, but in a 12-team league, every team has players like that. They're not what set you apart. So what does?

Not the pitchers. Again, your rotation is adequate and perhaps even has some untapped upside, but only two players (Bumgarner and Wilson) qualify as high-end. And of those two, only one actually ranks in the top 15.

Clearly, you drafted Cabrera in the first round. I don't know what happened to your second-, third- and fourth-round picks, but because none of your players have performed up to that standard, you're left with a roster of supporting players.

It's not that it's bad, but without those 35-point efforts every now and then, your team is likely stuck scoring the fourth-, fifth- or sixth-most points every week. Meanwhile, if the sixth or seventh highest-scoring team has more star power, it might have occasional weeks when it scores the second- or third-most points. And if that happens, you lose.

Not every team constructed like yours faces this predicament -- an element of luck comes into play -- but if you settle for middle-of-the-road, you leave yourself vulnerable to the extremes.

It's just another reason why you should never rest on your laurels, content with what you already have. In mixed leagues, you should always be looking to consolidate those useful pieces for bigger and better talent, filling in the gaps with whatever emerges in free agency.

Would you prefer Frank Francisco or Steve Cishek for the rest of the season? What about Bryan LaHair or Tyler Colvin? -- @dread0924 (via Twitter)

SW: The closer conundrum is interesting because based on how I assess the Marlins' bullpen situation, Francisco should be the easy call. But he's not. He was all set to return from the DL this week, but then he tweaked his oblique injury on a rehab assignment Sunday, which likely delays his return by at least a couple weeks.

Given what the Mets will have to endure with Bobby Parnell and company closing out games between now and then, they'll only become more motivated to trade for a higher-end closer, with Huston Street being the most rumored name. And if that happens, Francisco, regardless of his health, is useless in Fantasy.

In Miami, yes, Heath Bell is technically out of the closer role for now, just like he was for about a week in May, just like Bobby Jenks was over and over again during his last couple years with manager Ozzie Guillen in Chicago. My point is Guillen can say whatever he wants, but talk is cheap, especially from him and especially in this situation.

Would Cishek be the favorite to close in Miami if Bell was out of the role for good? Yes. Would he fare better than Francisco in the role? I think so, but since I don't think Bell is out of the role for good, the point is moot. What isn't moot is that Francisco's claim the closer role is just as shaky as Cishek's at this point, which has me thinking I'd prefer to gamble on the higher-upside guy.

Between LaHair and Colvin, it's not much of a contest anymore. The Cubs hardly ever start LaHair against lefties, and if he's playing only two-thirds of the time, he's simply not productive enough for mixed-league use. Colvin, meanwhile, has been a top-five outfielder over the last 21 days, has started 15 of the last 16 games for the Rockies and only figures to gain at-bats (if that's even possible) with Todd Helton on the DL. On the spectrum of how thrilled I'd be to own them right now, they couldn't be further apart.

I would like your take on a trade I made recently. I believe general manager Mike Rizzo is going to stick to his guns when it comes to Stephen Strasburg's innings limit this year, so I decided to trade Strasburg straight up for Yu Darvish. What do you think? -- Chris Field (via e-mail)

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SW: Oh dear, Chris. Time for Part 2 of my "selling high means selling high" rant.

I, too, believe Rizzo will stick to his guns with the innings limit for Strasburg. He's said it since before the season started and hasn't once wavered from it. But back then, I don't know that he expected the Nationals to be the best team in the NL this late into the season. I don't know that he expected it even when they were playing so well in April and May. Here we are, though, a week into the second half, and it's still the case.

With each Nationals victory, I become slightly less convinced of Rizzo's resolve, to the point that I'm now 60-40 on the Nationals shutting down Strasburg in a month. In other words, I'm not nearly confident enough in my worthless opinion to sell him for 75 cents on the dollar.

And as a matter of principle, I wouldn't anyway. The whole purpose of trading Strasburg now is to get the maximum return for his value, and this trade is the antithesis of that. A true ace like Strasburg should land you another true ace, not a prospective one. If prospective is the best you can do, you're better off holding on to Strasburg in the ever-plausible hope that Rizzo is just full of air.

Darvish has enough upside that this trade may ultimately work out for you, but given his inconsistencies so far, banking on him the rest of the way is more risk than you should have to absorb in return for a player as highly regarded as Strasburg.

Is it time to take a flyer on Chris Carter? Would you rather start him, Everth Cabrera, Alexi Amarista or Daniel Nava? -- Alex Butterman (via e-mail)

SW: I'm excited about the prospect of Carter in deeper leagues, and if you're weighing him against players like Cabrera, Amarista and Nava, I'd say yours fits the bill.

For three straight years, from 2009 to 2011, Baseball America included Carter among its top 100 prospects. He wasn't the most well-rounded player, but his power and patience made him something like a right-handed version of Adam Dunn, with perhaps the potential for a higher batting average.

But his first two stints in the majors in 2010 and 2011 were less than encouraging, forcing the Athletics to leave him at Triple-A Sacramento. And, as often happens for players who get stuck at the same level, possibly due to loss of focus and drive, his numbers stagnated. Baseball America dropped him out of the top 100 this spring, and Fantasy owners widely considered him a lost cause.

Yet here he is four months later doing what his pedigree said he'd do all along.

True, he's splitting starts with Brandon Moss rather than playing every day, but his improved numbers aren't the result of any dramatic platoon splits. In fact, he's actually performed better against right-handers, hitting three of his five home runs to go along with a .455 batting average. If that continues, the team will find at-bats for him. He's the future, after all.

I suppose you could dismiss his success as the product of a small sample size, and of course that's a possibility. But his two weeks on the job this year have been so dramatically different from the previous two years that you have to at least acknowledge the possibility that he's turned the corner at age 25. If, out of some stubborn conviction that 30 at-bats don't mean anything, you don't pounce on him now, someone else will. To get something good, sometimes you just have to take a leap of faith.

I really don't see the harm in backing Carter, given his upside. Yeah, I wouldn't drop anyone too high-end for him, but Amarista is a part-timer with minimal pop and Nava is a bench player with Jacoby Ellsbury and Carl Crawford back. If you need steals, Cabrera might be worth rostering instead, but Carter's overall upside is higher.

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 check us out on Facebook or e-mail us at fantasybaseball@cbsinteractive.com .

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Player News
Report: Padres have discussed Phillies pitcher Cole Hamels
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12/21/2014) The Padres have discussed a trade for Phillies pitcher Cole Hamels, according to the Daily News

Newly-acquired outfielder Wil Myers would be used as the centerpiece in the deal. By bringing in Myers, Matt Kemp and Justin Upton, San Diego has a glut of talent in the outfield. While it seems strange that the team would turn around and deal Myers, he would be the type of talent the Phillies are said to be seeking for Hamels. Philadelphia reportedly wants two or three "premium" prospects for Hamels. 

The 30-year-old Hamels posted a 2.46 ERA over 204 2/3 innings last season. He's owed $90 million over the next four seasons. 


Scott Boras: Matt Wieters will be ready by opening day
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12/21/2014) Orioles catcher Matt Wieters will be ready by opening day, according to his agent, Scott Boras. 

Wieters underwent Tommy John surgery is June, and is working his way back from the injury. It's unclear if Wieters will be able to catch full-time at the beginning of the year, or if he'll have to be worked in slowly. Manager Buck Showalter recently told reporters he wasn't sure Wieters would be ready by opening day, but he expected him to good shortly after. Wieters hit .308/.339/.500 over 104 at-bats before having surgery. 


Report: James Shields seeking $110 million
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12/21/2014) Free-agent pitcher James Shields is reportedly seeking a contract worth about $110 million, according to the Boston Globe

That type of deal would be similar to the one signed by Cole Hamels back in 2012. It's believed the 33-year-old Shields could receive a five-year deal. Both the Giants and Red Sox are involved with Shields, and the Yankees have been mentioned as another suitor. Shields posted a 3.21 ERA over 227 innings last season. He's exceeded 200 innings pitched in each of the last eight years.


Chase Utley staying put in Philly
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12/21/2014) The Phillies will enter the season with Chase Utley, according to the Daily News. 

With Jimmy Rollins gone, some have expected the team to entertain dealing Utley. As of right now, that's not going to happen. "I've had some dialogue with Wolfie [agent Joel Wolfe] but frankly, he doesn't want to go anywhere," general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said. "He wants to honor his contract and that's how we have to perceive it." 

Amaro admitted that the team needs to listen to any offer for the 36-year-old Utley, but doesn't perceive Utley changing his mind at this time. Utley hit .270/.339/.407 in 589 at-bats last season.


Giants' Sabean: No plans to talk to Max Scherzer
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12/20/2014) Giants general manager Brian Sabean said that the Giants have not talked to free-agent pitcher Max Scherzer and have no plans to do so, the Mercury News reports.

Scherzer is the biggest name on the pitching market and could be seeking a deal north of the $155-million pact signed by Cubs pitcher Jon Lester. His price tag may not be feasible for the Giants' budget. The 2013 AL Cy Young winner went 18-5 with a 3.15 ERA and 252:63 K:BB ratio in 220 1/3 innings with the Tigers in 2014.


Report: Nick Hundley has two-year offer, unlikely to rejoin Orioles
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12/20/2014) Free-agent catcher Nick Hundley has a two-year offer on the table from an unidentified team, making him unlikely to return to the Orioles, masnsports.com reports.

The Orioles declined a $5-million option on Hundley for the 2015 season but had interest in bringing him back into the fold at a lesser salary. He hit .243/.273/.358 with six home runs and 22 RBI in 218 at-bats between Baltimore and San Diego in 2014.


Report: Phillies could join Asdrubal Cabrera market
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12/20/2014) The Phillies could become involved in the market for free-agent infielder Asdrubal Cabrera, ESPN.com reports.

The Phillies traded their longtime starter at shortstop to the Dodgers this offseason and will be looking to fill that hole in the infield. However, the team will have to shed some additional payroll in order to make a run at the infielder, according to the report. Cabrera hit .241/.307/.387 with 14 home runs, 61 RBI and 10 stolen bases in 553 at-bats between Cleveland and Washington in 2014.


Rangers release Ben Rowen
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12/20/2014) The Rangers have released relief pitcher Ben Rowen . Rowen, who was designated for assignment earlier in the week, posted a 4.15 ERA in 8 2/3 innings with the Rangers in 2014 as well as a 3.45 ERA and 31:9 K:BB ratio in 47 innings with Triple-A Round Rock.

Nationals sign Mark Minicozzi to minor-league deal
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12/20/2014) The Nationals have signed infielder Mark Minicozzi to a minor-league deal.

Minicozzi, 31, hit .298/.400/.470 with 12 home runs and 62 RBI in 315 at-bats with Triple-A San Jose in 2014. He has yet to appear in a regular-season game in the majors.


Indians sign pitcher Scott Downs to minor-league contract
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(12/20/2014) The Indians announced they signed pitcher Scott Downs to a minor-league contract Saturday.

Downs also received a non-roster invite to MLB camp.


 
 
 
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