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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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Player News
Adrian Gonzalez confident in 'deeper lineup' for Dodgers
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(10:26 am ET) Dodgers first baseman Adrian Gonzalez had an MLB-best 116 RBI in 2014, mostly batting in front of the likes of Matt Kemp and Hanley Ramirez. While both players are no longer part of the Dodgers' batting order, Gonzalez is not worried about lineup protection, per the Los Angeles Times.

"I think we're deeper, so I don't think we're going to be so dependent on the middle of the order," Gonzalez said Monday. "People say that we lost power, but I think we just put the power in different areas of the lineup."

Some of the key acquisitions this offseason for the Dodgers have been shortstop Jimmy Rollins, catcher Yasmani Grandal and second baseman Howie Kendrick. Gonzalez is confident in the new additions to the lineup.

"They're going to battle every at-bat," Gonzalez said. "They're going to be prepared. I'm not saying that we didn't before, but I think the guys that we got are guys that are going to be tougher to game plan for. From that end, it will be a deeper lineup."


Orioles' Matt Wieters has goal of being ready by opening day
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(10:15 am ET) Orioles catcher Matt Wieters, who is throwing from 150 feet in his recovery from Tommy John surgery, said he is preparing to be ready by opening day.

"The rehab's going well and going how it's supposed to from all the talk I've gotten with Dr. (James) Andrews and my physical therapist down here and Richie (Bancells)," Wieters said, per MASNsports.com. "Everything's kind of moved along and we're preparing for me to be ready for opening day. We still have a good couple of months before we're there, so it's still going to be a lot of work to put into it, but that's what I'm preparing for. We're trying to get all the steps checked off before we get there.

"We'll see when I'm actually going to be able to get behind the plate and catch in games during spring training, but it's just a matter of making sure the arm has been tested enough to where when we do get into games with adrenaline and a little bit of pressure that we're ready to go."

Wieters added making sure his shoulder is also in good shape is part of the rehab process coming off elbow surgery.

"(Monday) we went out to 150 just to test it out a little bit," he said, "and everything has kind of checked out and we've had nothing really major to set back the progression."


Indians want Michael Bourn to get back to his base-stealing ways
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(1/26/2015) The Indians want outfielder Michael Bourn to get back to his base-stealing ways, according to the Plain Dealer

Prior to joining the team, Bourn had compiled five straight seasons with at least 40 steals. Since joining the team, he's stolen 33 bases in two seasons. Injuries have played a role in his decline. Bourn admitted he had some trouble adjusting to the American League in his first season with Cleveland. He tore his hamstring on the final day of the season, and had offseason surgery, but the issue still plagued him in 2014. 

Manager Terry Francona agreed, saying "When he gets on base, he has to disrupt the game." Francona added, "he wants to do it really bad, he just wasn't in position to do it the last couple of years. Hopefully, those injuries are limited and he can use his legs because he's a huge part of what we do."

Bourn, 32, hit .257/.314/.360 over 444 at-bats last year.


Rockies, Adam Ottavino avoid arbitration
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(1/26/2015) The Rockies have avoided arbitration with pitcher Adam Ottavino, according to MLB.com.

Ottavino agreed to a one-year deal with the club. Ottavino will make $1.3 million next season, according to CBSSports.com Baseball Insider Jon Heyman.

The 29-year-old posted a 3.60 ERA over 65 innings last year.


Astros looking at pitcher Kevin Correia
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(1/26/2015) The Astros are looking to add pitcher Kevin Correia, according to CBSSports.com Baseball Insider Jon Heyman.

Houston is said to be seeking a backend starter, and Correia fits the bill. The 34-year-old posted a 5.44 ERA over 154 innings with the Twins and Dodgers last year. 


Angels hopeful Garrett Richards will be ready for opening day
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(1/26/2015) The Angels are hopeful that pitcher Garrett Richards will be ready by opening day, according to the Orange County Register

If Richards isn't ready for the start of the season, the team expects him to be back shortly after that. Richards had knee surgery in August, but he's been able to make progress. General manager Jerry DiPoto said he was "optimistic" about Richards' status. Richards has been able to increase his running on a treadmill, and hasn't experienced any issues with his throwing program, according to DiPoto. Richards is currently throwing from 125 to 150 feet about five times per week.

Richards posted a 2.61 ERA over 168 2/3 innings last year.


Orioles' Matt Wieters throwing from 150 feet
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(1/26/2015) Orioles catcher Matt Wieters has begun throwing from 150 feet, according to MASN.

Wieters underwent Tommy John surgery last season, and is working his way back from the surgery. He was cleared to start throwing from 150 feet on Monday. Wieters had previously been throwing from 120 feet. He said he's preparing as if he'll be ready for opening day.

Wieters hit .308/.339/.500 over 104 at-bats last year.


Orioles bring in Parmelee, De La Rosa on minor-league deals
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(1/26/2015) The Orioles have signed outfielder Chris Parmelee and pitcher Dane De La Rosa on minor-league deals, according to MLB.com.

The 26-year-old Parmelee spent his first four seasons in Minnesota before becoming a free-agent during the offseason. Parmelee hit .256/.307/.384 over 250 at-bats last year.

De La Rosa, 31, pitched just 2 1/3 innings with the Angels last season. He had knee surgery in September.


David Buchanan will compete for one of two spots in Phillies' rotation
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(1/26/2015) Phillies starting pitcher David Buchanan said refininig his curveball has been a point of emphasis this offseason, as he prepares to compete for a spot in the rotation this spring, per The Philadelphia Inquirer.

“I had success with (my curveball) in certain games,” he said. “It started coming along there toward the end. But it’s definitely something that has a lot of work still to go. It’s definitely something I’m working on. It’s getting better, which is all I can ask for.”

There is two spots currently open in the rotation behind Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee and Aaron Harang. Buchanan, Jerome Williams and Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez are considered the leading candidates for the openings in the rotation. 

“There’s going to be some competition,” Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said last week. “I think that’s the only way that you can get better is by creating competition. I can’t sit here and tell you today that David Buchanan’s going to be one of our guys in the rotation, but he absolutely is going to get an opportunity to pitch in spring training and be ready and compete for one of those spots.”


Santana fine after throwing bullpen session; winter-league status is TBD
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(1/26/2015) Free agent starting pitcher Johan Santana threw a bullpen session Sunday and is said to be feeling fine, according to CBSSports.com Baseball Insider Jon Heyman. It is now up to his Venezuelan winter league team to decide if he will pitch for them in the finals.

Santana has been dealing with some shoulder discomfort, which has put his status for the remainder of the winter-league season in doubt. Santana is hoping to latch on with another major-league team after suffering a torn Achilles in June.

The Yankees, Padres and Blue Jays are among the teams showing interest in signing the former two-time AL Cy Young award winner.


 
 
 
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