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Dear Mr. Fantasy: Jose, can you play?

Senior Fantasy Writer
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In these days of perpetual media, where complex ideas are often reduced to only 140 characters, it doesn't take much for a word or two to get blown out of proportion.

Blue Jays manager John Farrell knows it all too well. His seemingly innocuous comments to an MLB.com reporter Sunday have incited what can only be described as the Great Jose Bautista Panic of 2012, complete with cryptic e-mail chains, impromptu roster purges and moonlit cries of woe.

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In that instance, Bautista's wrist injury went from being just a minor two-week annoyance to ... well, no one knows exactly what it is now.

If nothing else, Farrell did his best to muddy the waters, going out of his way to say the Blue Jays expect Bautista to return before season's end. So why is that a bad thing? Because in his efforts to reassure the masses, he acknowledged a possibility that previously wasn't in question: Could Bautista's injury be season-ending?

Of course, no one knows why he felt the need to say it, which is why I personally feel like the concern is overblown. Presumably, whatever question the reporter asked him invited such a response, and if that's the case, all Farrell did was dismiss the concerns without backing himself into corner. Ultimately, though, I don't know all that goes on behind the scenes, and I can't predict the future. What I do know is that Bautista has already suffered one setback, has yet to resume swinging, and is running out of time. I also know he's going in for a second MRI in the next couple days, which invites a whole new slew of inferences.

Still, because we have no concrete reason to believe he's done for the season, he has some measure of value on the trade market -- not as much as if we knew he was returning next week, but enough that you could land a pretty good player in return.

So should you go all-in on him now and pray for big rewards later or cash in your chips and live to fight another day?

There is no wrong answer, really. As usual, it's a matter of context.

I've been offered Jose Bautista for Jason Kubel in 10-team league. With the latest on Bautista, is this a risk worth taking? Josh Hamilton, Jacoby Ellsbury and Jayson Werth can fill out my outfield in the meantime. I'm right on the edge of making the playoffs in this league. -- Eric Seegel (via Facebook)

SW: You know how I said Bautista could still land you a pretty good player on the trade market? Kubel is such a player. His summer surge has vaulted him to 22nd among outfielders in Head-to-Head leagues, making him a perfectly reasonable choice to start every week, but his lack of track record and general inconsistency keep him well out of the elite class at the position. In other words, the return requested here for Bautista is plenty reasonable.

The question, Eric, is whether you're in a position to oblige. Being "on the edge of making the playoffs" isn't the ideal spot for a Bautista owner. If you're the one waiting on him, you want to know your playoff spot is secure. For someone on the fringe, every win could be the difference between making and missing the playoffs, which makes now the priority. On your bench, Bautista is nothing more than a wasted asset. If, at season's end, you find out Kubel would have made all the difference, you'd feel awfully stupid for trading him regardless of what Bautista does over the final two weeks.

Of course, you, Eric, play in a relatively shallow league where Kubels, or players like him, grow on trees. Werth, for instance, could easily perform like a top-25 outfielder the rest of the way now that he's back playing every day and walking like crazy for the Nationals. He's not as safe as Kubel, of course, but the upgrade isn't significant enough to justify what you'd be losing in Bautista.

In short, I don't see Kubel being the difference in you making the playoffs, but I could see Bautista being the difference in you winning the championship. Sounds like a deal to make, no?

Should I trade Hunter Pence to get Joey Votto in a Head-to-Head points league? -- @MatthewValdez26 (via Twitter)

SW: Yes. Quick, before the other guy retracts the offer.

Unlike Bautista, Votto has a defined timetable. He's supposed to return 3-4 weeks after his July 17 knee surgery, which means he's only about a week or two away. He's taking batting practice. He's doing some fielding. He appears to be right on track. And unlike the Blue Jays, the Reds are actually playing for something. They'll press to bring Votto back as soon as humanly possible instead of waiting the extra day every step along the way.

Of course, why wait the extra week or two in Fantasy if you already have a stud player in Pence? It'd be a valid point if Pence actually was a stud player. Yes, that's what he was drafted to be, but now, given his .264 batting average two-thirds of the way through the season, it's pretty safe to assume his .314 mark last year was the result of an unsustainably high .361 BABIP. And now that he's left a hitter's park in Philadelphia for a pitcher's park in San Francisco, his power numbers will likely suffer as well. He's pretty much to the point where he's no longer a must-start option in mixed leagues, putting him closer to Freddie Freeman than Votto in terms of Fantasy value.

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When healthy, Votto is the kind of player who has no upgrade, and the more of those you have, the bigger your advantage on a week-to-week basis. He's worth waiting the extra week or two.

Would you drop Mike Olt for Mike Moustakas and play him at utility over Ike Davis in a 10-team mixed league? -- @theonly1Avenger

SW: Maybe in a perfect world -- one where the Rangers turn the page on Michael Young and give Olt his fair shake -- but I'm not living in that world.

Look, I like Olt's skill set. With his power potential and patient approach in that ballpark, I don't think it's too much of a stretch to say he could approach Jim Thome numbers in his best years. But his rookie year -- or, more accurately, this two-month warmup for 2013 -- isn't going to be one of those years.

Quite simply, the Rangers don't have room for Olt. He's not bumping Beltre at third base, and, sadly, he's not bumping Young at DH. He'll spell Mitch Moreland against lefties, sure, but he's not going to amount to much in Fantasy starting only two or three games per week.

Now, if he's so impressive in those two or three games per week that he forces the Rangers' hand, either bumping Moreland from the lineup completely or reducing Young to part-time status, we can revisit this discussion. Stranger things have happened, and he's worth a reserve spot in deeper leagues just for that possibility.

But in 10-team mixed leagues, only the best of the best make the cut. A part-timer isn't even in the discussion. I understand Davis and Moustakas aren't quite the best of the best (and agree that Olt probably has more upside than both), but they're not embarrassing starts either. If they weren't on your roster, they'd be on someone else's.

And considering Davis has 15 homers in his last 46 games, I'm not sure what he's doing now is so far off from what Olt would do if he got the opportunity.

Would you prefer Yu Darvish or Dan Haren for the rest of the season? -- @theREALbTRAT (via Twitter)

SW: How can you trust Darvish at this point? Yeah, the stuff speaks for itself, as does the Strasburg-like strikeout rate, but his lack of progress has gone from being irritating to downright destructive. If anything, he's moving backward, posting a 7.76 ERA over his last five starts. His 21 walks in 31 1/3 innings during that stretch pretty much tell the whole story.

Yes, I acknowledge he could get better -- much, much better -- but having shown no signs of it through the first four months of the season, does he have enough time to regain your trust? One good start isn't going to do it. He's liable to walk six guys next time out. And judging by some of his recent comments, he's perfectly content being his own worst enemy.

"In general, I think I'm starting to maybe think about the walks too much, paying too much attention to not walking guys," Darvish said after his Aug. 1 start against the Angels. "I think that's getting into my head, kind of affecting my mentality. I think the next time, whether I walk 10 guys, not being afraid to walk guys, but giving my all and helping the team win, that's all I'm going to care about."

Yeah, that's his problem: being too afraid of walks.

Haren, meanwhile, has come back from the first DL stint of his career a changed pitcher. No, he hasn't struck out 10 batters in a game or given any other loud affirmation that he's "back," but he does have a 2.00 ERA and 1.00 WHIP in three starts, which is a vast improvement over his numbers before going on the DL. Maybe the back issue that forced him to the DL, which he said had plagued him pretty much all season, was the source of his struggles all along.

If that's the case, I think he's more likely than Darvish to perform like an ace the rest of the way. Both come with some risk, yes, but at least for Haren, a worst-case scenario has him going back to the DL, where he won't be able to do any of the damage Darvish's wild ways will.

Which starting pitchers do you see finishing the season strong? -- @MacVincent1 (via Twitter)

SW: If you happened to catch "Need Week" on either the podcast or Fantasy Baseball 360 last week, you already have a good idea which pitchers I'm going to name here.

First, though, I need to lay down a couple ground rules. For starters, I assume affordability matters to you. Surely, you don't need me to tell you acquiring Felix Hernandez would give your pitching staff a boost the rest of the way. Secondly, I trust you're looking for safer options than whatever potential contributor you could grab off the waiver wire right now, such as Brandon McCarthy, Dan Straily or Franklin Morales. If we're in agreement on those two points, I have an answer for you.

Doug Fister is an excellent choice. Yes, I understand he's on the hottest of hot streaks right now, putting him at risk for an oversell, but that's why he'd be so easy to acquire right now. His owner is probably anxious to "sell high" on him, which sounds like nothing you want a part of, but I don't think his recent performance is all that unsustainable. His impeccable control has always kept his WHIP low and allowed him to pitch deep into games, and his strikeout rate improved by leaps and bounds after joining the Tigers last year. Granted, he wasn't doing any of those things over the first few months of the season, but he was also afflicted by rib and oblique injuries during that time. If this is what he's capable of doing at full capacity, then he should be able to pile up victories with the Tigers offense backing him.

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That Tigers offense should also mean more victories for Anibal Sanchez, who hasn't been as bad over his last 15 starts as his 4-8 record would have you believe. Granted, he hasn't been great either, but he rebounded from a midsummer slump last year to post a 2.03 ERA in five September starts. Bats tend to heat up during the middle months. Maybe he's one of the pitchers most afflicted by it.

Ben Sheets, like both Fister and Sanchez, has the command to pitch deep into games and the offensive support to reward him for it. Some people worry about injuries with him, but for as little as he'd cost right now, he's well worth the risk.

Among the bigger names, Adam Wainwright (3.06 ERA over his last 10 starts) and Josh Johnson (3.00 ERA over his last 16) have both shown signs of coming around, but their owners may have become so disenchanted by their earlier inconsistencies that they haven't even noticed. Jon Lester, Tim Lincecum and Dan Haren don't have quite as much momentum, but given their upside, even the faintest signs of a turnaround are reason enough to gamble on them. It all depends on the asking price.

Who would you go with the rest of the way: Rafael Furcal or Josh Rutledge? -- @BacanoMan (via Twitter)

SW: Ah, the classic battle of old vs. new. Or maybe just old vs. different.

Look, Furcal wasn't supposed to be good this year. He's no longer a significant contributor of steals and had just seen his OPS dip below .700 last year. At age 34 -- nearly ancient by shortstop standards -- his Fantasy value was on life support. So while his hot start this year was great for those who could afford to gamble on him, you couldn't expect it to last forever.

And it hasn't. With his .202 batting average since June 1, his OPS is back below .700. He's the 23rd-ranked shortstop in Fantasy during that stretch.

Meanwhile, Rutledge, a virtual unknown before the season, has blown up on the waiver wire, offering a high batting average, tons of power and even a little speed. And considering his minor-league numbers were just as impressive, how could you not look into him?

I think you can safely conclude we've reached the end of the road with Furcal -- squeezed every last drop of value out of him this year -- and move on to whatever else catches your eye. In other words, I'm not sure it matters if Rutledge's performance is 100 percent legitimate. Why waste your time on deadweight if you have the potential to strike gold?

For the record, I think Rutledge's performance is mostly legitimate. Playing half his games at Coors Field, he should continue to provide good power for a shortstop, with enough stolen bases to remain relevant in the category. His poor plate discipline might cause his batting average to dip a bit, but if J.J. Hardy is the low end of what he can deliver, he's a good option to have in mixed leagues.

I'm preparing to declare my keepers for next year and am having trouble deciding between my five outfielders. Can you rank them in terms of keeper appeal: Austin Jackson, Desmond Jennings, Starling Marte, Brett Jackson and Domonic Brown? -- Jason Lewandowski (via e-mail)

SW: I don't know if you play in one of those leagues where each keeper's cost is relative to where you drafted him this year or if you can keep everyone on equal terms. I'm going to assume the latter.

Of course, based on where you likely drafted these guys this year, I don't know that it makes much of a difference. Jackson is my first choice either way. His improved plate discipline was a bit exaggerated earlier in the year, but if nothing else, you can trust he's no longer one of those guys who'll challenge for the league lead in strikeouts every year. With his improved power at age 25, his skill set isn't that far off from Andrew McCutchen's. He may never take the colossal step forward McCutchen has this year, but even in his current state, Jackson would be a fixture on any Fantasy team.

Jennings has similar upside -- perhaps even more given his superior base-stealing ability -- but isn't as advanced at age 25 and obviously has had his struggles this year. His season got off on the wrong foot with a sprained left knee in early May, and he's been struggling to catch up ever since. But he's no more of a lost cause than Jackson was last year, when he hit .249 with a .690 OPS. If anything, Jennings' heightened plate discipline (relative to where Jackson's was to begin his career) gives him a bit of a head start, so I suspect that next year, following an offseason of rest, he'll live up to whatever you have to pay to keep him.

By comparison, Marte, Jackson and Brown are all shots in the dark. All have upside, but not on the level of Bryce Harper or even Wil Myers. None has done anything to distinguish himself from the others yet either. I suspect they're all cheap to keep, so it's really just a matter of preference. The Phillies have all but handed Brown the starting job next year, so I'd probably go with him first despite my concerns that they've dwarfed his potential by butchering his swing and confining him to the minors for so long. I'd probably give Marte the edge over Jackson just because I suspect Jackson's crazy strikeout rate in the minors will put him in a deep hole to begin his major-league career.

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
Twins' Tommy Milone awarded final rotation spot
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(9:18 am ET) Twins pitcher Tommy Milone has been awarded the fifth and final spot in Minnesota's rotation, according to MLB.com. He beat out Mike Pelfrey and Trevor May for the role. May was optioned down to Triple-A.

Milone has a 4.50 ERA through four spring starts. He has eight strikeouts in 14 innings.


Christian Vazquez (elbow) on MRI: They 'found something' there
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(9:14 am ET) Red Sox catcher Christian Vazquez underwent an MRI on his injured elbow, and told reporters on Saturday that they "found something," but have to make a firm diagnosis. He's scheduled to undergo a second opinion in the Fort Myers area, according to WEEI.

"I think I'm going to be fine for it," Vazquez said, per the Boston Globe. "I hope I'm going to be fine for Opening Day. That’s the goal here, you know?"

Vazquez caught a minor-league game on Friday, but was prohibited from throwing to bases. Manager John Farrell downplayed the issue and assured that Vazquez did not suffer a setback.

"To answer questions that might be unanswered at this point and hopefully give a little peace of mind to Christian himself," Farrell said, per the Globe. "There hasn't been a setback. As a matter of fact, his throwing has increased.

"We want to answer every possible question. Once we get all the information, we'll have a better read on everything."

With eight spring games left before the start of the season, Vazquez's Opening Day status remains up in the air. The Red Sox will likely consider Ryan Hanigan and prospect Blake Swihart as possible replacements for Vazquez.

"There's a little bit there, but I've got more in my tank," Vazquez said. "I want to be 100 percent to help the team. I need to be ready to help the team win.

"That's my goal, be ready and healthy because this is my first time getting hurt. I'm a little bit sad with myself for my first time, but I'm fine."


Rockies pitcher Rex Brothers working to fix command issues
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(1:25 am ET) Rockies pitcher Rex Brothers gave up four runs on four hits in Thursday's game, his first rough patch of spring training. Brothers thinks his command faded when he got batters down in the count, reports the Denver Post.

"It was like an out-of-body experience," he said Friday. "Just one of those oddity nights. I was sharp until I got into put-away counts, then it was brutal. Absolutely brutal."

Manager Walt Weiss isn't concerned about his appearance and thinks it was more of an aberration.

"There's been enough positive signs in spring to feel good about where he is," Weiss said. "But fact of the matter is, that stuff is always right around the corner. Not just him, but anybody."


Seven no-hit innings for Royals' Yordano Ventura
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(12:56 am ET) Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura threw seven no-hit innings in Friday's start. 

Ventura walked two and struck out four, while throwing 49 of his 88 pitches for strikes. He lowered his spring ERA to 5.14.

The Royals took Ventura from the game after the seventh, as reliever Jason Frasor made it one out further before giving up a hit. 

The bullpen completed the one-hitter. 


Brewers pitcher Will Smith holds key to success out of the bullpen
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(12:49 am ET) Brewers pitcher Will Smith could be the best cog in Milwaukee's bullpen this season. Manager Ron Roenicke sure hopes so, reports MLB.com.

"I think coming into it, we're counting on him to pitch some high-leverage innings," Roenicke said Friday. "He's going to be a huge part of that bullpen and what we do and how I match up the seventh and eighth inning. He's going to be important."

Smith has a 0.87 ERA in eight appearances this spring and posted a 3.70 ERA in 78 games last season.

"My last two outings I felt really good out there, really strong," Smith said on Friday. "Me and the catchers are on the same page for everything now. I think I'm good to go now."


Still no decision between Mariners' Taijuan Walker, Roenis Elias
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(12:43 am ET) Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon still hasn't named a winner in the battle for the fifth spot in the starting rotation. 

RHP Taijuan Walker and LHP Roenis Elias are in the running for the spot. Walker has a 0.00 ERA in 18 innings this spring, while Elias' ERA is 6.75. 

McClendon said he wouldn't announce his fifth starter until the final week of spring. Saturday marks the start of the final week, and McClendon said he'd "be close" to making the call, per MLB.com's Greg Johns.


Brewers to decide leadoff hitter Monday
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(12:36 am ET) Brewers manager Ron Roenicke plans to decide between Scooter Gennett and Carlos Gomez for the leadoff spot in the lineup by Monday, reports the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Gennett hit .289 with 54 RBI and 55 runs scored in 440 plate appearances last season while Gomez hit.284 with 23 home runs and 73 RBI in 574 plate appearances.


Phillies' Jake Diekman historically bad in loss
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(12:33 am ET) Phillies pitcher Jake Diekman declared his Friday appearance, "the worst outing in the history of the world." 

Diekman entered a scoreless game in the fifth inning and promptly gave up a double and four singles before recording an out. He ended up allowing seven runs in one third of an inning.

"I fell behind in counts and every strike I threw they took a good swing at," Diekman said, per CSN Philly. "It’s embarrassing. ... It's unbelievable." 

Despite his 12.27 ERA, Diekman got a vote of confidence from manager Ryne Sandberg. "There’s no concern," he said. 


Brewers' Jonathan Lucroy gets first start at first base Friday
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(12:30 am ET) Brewers regular catcher Jonathan Lucroy drew his first start at first base after being cleared from a strained right hamstring injury. Manager Ron Roenicke wanted to be able to see Lucroy's versatility.

"Thought we needed to do it, so hopefully we can do it at least once more,” said Roenicke to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "But as much as he gets out there, it will help. There’s some pitchers that we still want him to catch and if we can get through those then maybe some other days we can get him over there again."

Lucroy was happy to finally be back on the field.

"I've been doing a little bit out there every day," Lucroy said. "Taking some grounders and stuff to stay sharp over there."


Cardinals' John Lackey ready for the regular season
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(12:25 am ET) John Lackey pitched seven innings, the longest of any Cardinals starter so far this season. 

Lackey allowed one run on six hits and didn't walk a batter, throwing 84 pitches. 

"Throwing seven innings, that was probably a little bit further than I thought I'd go today with the pitch count," said Lackey, per MLB.com's Jennifer Langosch. "But they were pretty aggressive, and I was throwing a lot of strikes. It worked out pretty good."

Lackey had his catcher call the game as if it were a regular season game, and his performance indicates that he's ready for the season to begin.

"That's what it looked like," coach David Bell said. "It looked like he was making all his pitches. The velocity was there. He probably had a little more in the tank, which is a good thing."


 
 
 
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