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Reality Check: The Replacement Game

Senior Fantasy Writer
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The suspensions are in. The uncertainty is gone. We've now entered the "Red Rubber Ball" phase in Fantasy.

As in, "yeah, the worst is over now."

Of course, the preceding line of the 1960s tune -- "I think it's gonna be all right" -- isn't necessarily true. Unless you can find a shortstop to replace Everth Cabrera or Jhonny Peralta or an outfielder to replace Nelson Cruz, it won't be all right.

That's where I come in.

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Unfortunately, in deeper leagues that consist of 16-plus teams or rely on limited player pools, you can only do so much. By design, every usable player is already owned, so your best bet for a Fantasy replacement might just be the real-life replacement. In the case of Cabrera, that would be Logan Forsythe (who has yet to earn eligibility at shortstop). In the case of Cruz, that would be either Craig Gentry or Engel Beltre. In the case of Peralta ... well, you may have missed the boat there. Jose Iglesias is already owned in 51 percent of leagues.

Then again, if you play in one of those leagues, I can only hope you locked up a fallback option in advance, like the Tigers themselves did by acquiring Iglesias in a three-way deal with the Red Sox and White Sox. It's not like you were caught by surprise. These suspensions are significant and unprecedented, but not out of left field.

Owners in standard mixed leagues, on the other hand, should find ample alternatives on the waiver wire, including some good enough that they may not even notice a drop-off.

Peralta owners might actually benefit from the Biogenesis suspensions. We'll never know for sure how the rest of his 2013 season would have played out, but judging by his track record, it was destined to end with a thud. Never before had he hit over .300 in a season. He did hit .299 in 2011, but mostly because he struck out only 16.5 percent of the time. His strikeout rate this year was close to one every four at-bats, which translates to more of a .270 batting average, if his first few years in the big leagues taught us anything.

Granted, players can change over the course of their careers, but a change in batting average without a corresponding change in plate discipline or power is rightful cause for skepticism. Peralta's BABIP was bound to fall and may have already begun to do so. In his final 47 games before Monday's suspension, he hit just .261 (46 for 176).

Thus, his absence gives his Fantasy owners a chance to broaden their horizons, to capitalize on some of the up-and-coming talent available on waivers instead of going down with the ship, so to speak.

Yeah, the worst is over now ... and the best is yet to come.

Nick Franklin, for instance, has already proven to be a better source of home runs and stolen bases than Peralta. He's had some ups and downs with his batting average as a rookie, but nothing you couldn't have anticipated from Peralta the rest of the way. In the end, batting average might not make much of a difference anyway. Since arriving in the big leagues May 27, Franklin is the ninth-best shortstop in both Head-to-Head and Rotisserie leagues. During that same stretch, Peralta is 11th.

Most Added Players (as of 8/7)
Player % change
1. Chris Johnson, 3B, Braves 27
2. Joe Kelly, RP, Cardinals 27
3. Danny Farquhar, RP, Mariners 25
4. Chad Gaudin, RP, Giants 25
5. Alex Avila, C, Tigers 21
6. Mike Moustakas, 3B, Royals 21
7. Junior Lake, OF, Cubs 19
8. Wade Miley, SP, Diamondbacks 18
9. Stephen Drew, SS, Red Sox 17
10. Tyson Ross, SP, Padres 17

Of course, at 71 percent ownership, Franklin may no longer be available in your league, but his teammate, Brad Miller, is widely available at 46 percent ownership and brings just as much to the table.

He may fall short of Franklin in terms of pure power, but he'll make up for any shortage of home runs with doubles and triples. No, his .244 batting average doesn't inspire much confidence, but seeing as he hit .334 over three minor-league seasons and already has 11 multi-hit games in the majors, I feel comfortable predicting he'll hit better than the .270 mark you could have reasonably predicted for Peralta the rest for the way. Just watching Miller, you get the sense he'll contend for a batting title someday. He's one of those guys who can seemingly hit the ball wherever he wants.

And as with Franklin, the overall production counts for more than the batting average itself. Since arriving in the big leagues June 28, Miller ranks sixth among shortstops in Head-to-Head leagues and the 10th in Rotisserie. Peralta, meanwhile, ranks 11th and seventh.

Franklin and Miller happen to be my two favorite replacement shortstops in mixed leagues, but you'll find others. Junior Lake has certainly opened eyes since joining the Cubs July 19 and may actually be a little over-owned at 71 percent. Still, given his eligibility at shortstop, you'd be crazy not to take a flier and see if his early power surge is even halfway legitimate.

Brian Dozier has had a power surge of his own recently, his six homers in his last 42 games making him the third-best shortstop in Head-to-Head leagues during that stretch. Though much of it was due to a .320 batting average, he did slug .491 in his last full minor-league season, so perhaps he's not quite the nobody his overall numbers make him out to be.

Erick Aybar hit .347 with four homers, 13 steals and an .868 OPS over his final 50 games last year and is showing signs of another strong finish this year, batting .319 with three homers, seven steals and a .784 OPS over his last 44 games. Even if Peralta was playing, I'm not sure he'd be able to hold off the Angels shortstop.

Naturally, any of these substitutes would also work for Cabrera owners, most of whom would probably prioritize them the same way. But what makes Cabrera so much more difficult to replace in Fantasy is not just the fact he's better than Peralta, ranking alongside Ben Zobrist and Ian Desmond in total Head-to-Head points, but also the fact he's a one-category specialist, leading everyone at his position with 37 steals.

In Rotisserie leagues, that's a big loss. Most likely, the rest of your team hinges on having that middle infielder who can carry you in steals, and in that case, while I still say Franklin and Miller should be your top priorities off the waiver wire, I could understand you passing on Lake, Dozier or Aybar for, say, a Jonathan Villar type.

Judging by his 21 strikeouts in 51 at-bats, Villar's bat doesn't appear major-league ready, but with three more steals Monday, he already has nine in 14 games. The Astros have eliminated just about every other option at shortstop, so I suspect they'll stick with him for richer or poorer. He will give you steals ... and quite possibly nothing else.

Also, Dee Gordon is back in the picture, earning the call with Hanley Ramirez nursing a jammed shoulder. His previous stints in the majors have all ended in failure, but he's coming off a 17-game hitting streak at Triple-A Albuquerque that elevated his batting average to .307. He's not as safe as Villar, but if he finally capitalizes on his potential, he'll be a player everyone wants, regardless of need or format.

And then there's Xander Bogaerts, the ultimate upside stash among shortstops. Maybe through some unfortunate set of circumstances, every potential replacement mentioned here -- both the well-rounded types and the steals specialists -- are already owned in your league, and the best you can do at the position right now is Zack Cozart or Brandon Crawford. At some point this year, the Red Sox will call on Bogaerts to play either shortstop, where he's already eligible, or third base, and while no one can predict how he'll perform in the majors at age 20, he offers a Hanley Ramirez-type bat in the long run. You want to have him stashed just in case he makes good on that potential right away.

So what about the Cruz owners? Well, outfield is a little more straightforward than shortstop. It's an abundant position, giving Cruz owners their pick of replacements. Of course, few offer the power potential he does.

Michael Morse is one, and his most recent stint on the DL has his ownership down to 68 percent. With three doubles and a homer in his last four games, he's coming around at the plate and is a safer bet than Cruz for batting average in the long run. I actually ranked him higher among outfielders coming into the year. Carlos Quentin has been a good source of power recently but is currently nursing a sore knee. All the more reason to prioritize Morse over him.

For those deep leagues where the idea of Morse or Quentin being available is nothing short of laughable, Darin Ruf is the perfect find off the waiver wire. He had only seven homers in the minors this year compared to 38 last year, but the monster shot he hit off Kris Medlen Friday shows just how much power he has. And the fact he has reached base in all 23 of his games in the majors this year shows he's comfortable at the highest level. I also think Ryan Ludwick is a nice pickup as he nears a return from shoulder surgery. He hit 26 homers in only 422 at-bats last year, so as long as he's legitimately healthy, I could see him hitting a dozen the rest of the way.

Well, why not? Reduce a season down to two months, and so many quirky things are likely to happen that if one player is the difference between you winning and losing, you're probably just not paying attention. You can survive without Cabrera, Peralta and Cruz -- if not with the waiver claims mentioned here, then some others that nobody sees coming.

And hey, if losing them forces you out of complacency and into a deal that lands you a Jean Segura or Justin Upton type, even better.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us on Twitter @CBSFantasyBB or Scott White at @CBSScottWhite .

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