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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
Blue Jays' Gibbons yet to settle on closer, could use committee
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12:34 pm ET) Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said Tuesday that while Brett Cecil has the ability to close, he might not serve as the team's closer, the National Post reports.

"He could do it. He might not. It might be somebody else," Gibbons said.

The manager also raised the possibility of using multiple closers.

"It could be one of those deals where one night he might be closing, the other night he might have to come in at the end of the seventh or eighth inning," Gibbons said.

Despite the face that Gibbons hasn't deemed Cecil his closer, he did praise his pitching ability Tuesday.

"He’s got some overpowering stuff," Gibbons said. "He’s a lefty and I don’t think there’s a better curveball out there. He can throw it for strikes, he can bring it down low in the zone and bounce it for a strikeout. That’s kind of his go-to pitch. He doesn’t rattle. He’s pretty confident and calm when he’s out there."

Cecil went 2-3 with a 2.70 ERA, 76:27 K:BB ratio and five saves in 53 1/3 innings in 2014. He owns a 11.1 career K/9 rate in relief.


White Sox's Geovany Soto feeling good at the start of spring games
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(12:23 pm ET) White Sox catcher Geovany Soto said he is feeling good after being limited to 78 games the last two seasons due to injuries. He missed time in 2014 because of arthroscopic surgery on his left foot and a torn meniscus in his right knee.

"I love where I'm at," Soto said, per The Chicago Tribune. "My legs feel great. My whole body feels great. I'm just anxious to get started and show these guys what I can do, hopefully stay healthy and break camp."


Dodgers' Mattingly: Hyun-Jin Ryu's (back) next step will be BP
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(12:22 pm ET) Dodgers manager Don Mattingly told reporters that starting pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu came out of Monday's bullpen session "fine," and that his next step will likely be throwing batting practice, according to SB Nation.

Ryu is dealing with a back injury, but has been throwing the last couple of days without pain. At this point, Ryu remains without a timetable for his first spring game. He went 14-7 in 2014 with a 3.38 ERA and 139 strikeouts in 152 innings pitched last season.


Hinch: Astros 'likely' to use seven-man bullpen in 2015
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12:15 pm ET) Astros manager A.J. Hinch indicated that the team is likely to use a seven-man bullpen this season, leaving two spots open for competition this spring, the Houston Chronicle reports.

"Likely," Hinch said of a seven-man bullpen. "There’s always a chance that (changes) depending on how the schedule plays out, and there’s always a debate on how many pitchers to carry during interleague. Now interleague is pretty much year round, so I mean, in a perfect world with our roster, it’s likely to carry a seven-man ‘pen. If we feel like we need an extra pitcher or injury happens, there’s different ways to shape our roster, then we will, but likely 12."

The two open spots will likely be filled by a left-handed pitcher and a long reliever. The competition for the second lefty in the pen likely comes down to Kevin Chapman and nonroster invitees Joe Thatcher and Darin Downs. The long relief role has a broader list of candidates, including Alex White and Asher Wojciechowski, who will prepare both as starters and relievers.

"We’re going to stretch out a lot of our guys," Hinch said. "Some of them are because they’re competing in that fifth starter spot, some of them are bullpen guys. Will Harris is going to throw multiple innings. Obviously (Sam) Deduno has been a starter in the past, he’s in a competition for the fifth man spot. Wojo, White, those guys are going to need to, going to plan for the season on both fronts, whether it’s a starter or reliever. But we’re preaching multiple innings. It’s important if you have a seven-man bullpen that you have a couple of guys that can get four, five, six outs if needed and be a bridge to the rest of the bullpen."


Rangers' Tolleson: 'I'd like to be that bridge' between starters, closers
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(12:15 pm ET) Rangers pitcher Shawn Tolleson told reporters he would like to become the link between the starting rotation and back-end relievers Tanner Scheppers and Neftali Feliz this season, according to the Dallas Morning News.

"I would like to be that bridge," Tolleson said.

Tolleson led the club with 71 2/3 innings of relief last season. He pitched more than one inning 20 times and held left-handed hitters to a .282 on-base percentage.

"He's got the skill set to be one of those that we use in the latter portions of the game," manager Jeff Banister said. "He seems to love the competition."


Nationals faced with tough decision regarding Michael Taylor
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(12:10 pm ET) The Nationals are faced with a tough decision when it comes to outfield prospect Michael Taylor, who appears to be on the cusp of being ready for a regular role at the major-league level.

A major issue is playing time since the Nationals have a starting outfield of Jayson Werth, Bryce Harper and Denard Span. Taylor would be a solid fourth outfielder, but having him coming off the bench is not ideal for his development.

“It’s the same age-old decision that must be made regarding guys that are just on the cusp of being big-league ready and everyday players,” manager Matt Williams said, per NatsInsider.com. “And a question of depth on your team, too. … It’s a question of depth on your team, it’s a question of how much playing time they’re really going to get, and are they better served staying in the minor leagues and getting those at-bats until their opportunity arises. But Mike’s close. He’s really close.”


Nationals' Aaron Barrett: 'I'm ready for a full season'
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(12:06 pm ET) Nationals pitcher Aaron Barrett worked on strengthening his shoulder and legs in the offseason to improve his longevity throughout the entire season. Barrett admitted he wasn't used to a full major-league schedule, which contributed to him feeling "tired" in the middle of his rookie season.

"I'm ready for a full season," Barrett said. "Last year was a long season for me. It was my first year up. I had a lot of appearances, a lot of warm-ups and stuff like that. I think that is part of the process of coming up and working on that. I did as much training as I possibly could for this year."


Daniel Descalso brings versatility, playoff experience to Rockies
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12:06 pm ET) Rockies infielder Daniel Descalso is ready to fill the role of versatile veteran who can play second base, third base or shortstop as needed, the Denver Post reports.

"I'll be ready for whatever comes my way," Descalso said Monday. "It's been a while since I've played just one position for any length of time, so I've worked hard to reach a comfort level at all three spots. I have an idea of what it takes to stay sharp."

Another factor that piqued the interest of the Rockies this offseason was his postseason experience, as he has played in 44 postseason games and won one championship.

"All of that factored in quite a bit," manager Walt Weiss said. "I think we sometimes underestimate the value of that — guys that have played in big games, pennant races, and have won a World Series. Those types of players are valuable, and that's a big reason why we brought Danny in here."

Descalso has made 110 starts at second base, 91 at third base and 88 at shortstop in his five-year career, seeing at least 100 appearances at all three poitions. He hit .242/.333/.311 in 161 at-bats last year with the Cardinals.


Francona: Jason Kipnis likely to make spring debut this weekend
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(12:02 pm ET) Indians manager Terry Francona said Tuesday second baseman Jason Kipnis (hand) will likely make his spring debut this weekend, per MLB.com.

Cubs' Kyle Hendricks targeting 200 innings in 2015
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(12:01 pm ET) Cubs pitcher Kyle Hendricks, who was awarded the No. 4 spot in the starting rotation, told MLB.com that he's targeting 200 innings in 2015.

"That's one of the biggest goals I have for myself is consistency, No. 1, but then eating up innings," Hendricks said. "That's something I pride myself on is staying in ballgames and giving my team a chance to win. I think with the number I threw last year, 200 shouldn't be out of the question for me."

Hendricks put together a solid rookie campaign in 2014, registering a 2.46 ERA and 47:15 K:BB ratio over 80 1/3 innings with the Cubs. Overall, he totaled 183 innings between his time at Triple-A and the majors.


 
 
 
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