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Waiver Wire: Arms race has begun

Michael Hurcomb
Fantasy Writer
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There was probably nobody this spring that was pushing Jim Johnson as an undervalued Fantasy reliever as much as me.

Looking at his past success, Johnson was the fourth-highest scoring Fantasy reliever in Head-to-Head leagues in 2013 (449 points) and third-highest in 2012 (499 points). For a guy whose Average Draft Position (ADP) was Round 13, I thought Johnson was going to end up a steal. Sadly, two weeks into season he's been a complete bust.

A's manager Bob Melvin gave Johnson a quick hook, removing him from the closer's role last week after watching his ERA jump to 18.90. However, Melvin didn't help Fantasy owners by going to a closer-by-committee approach, leaving us to guess the right player to add off waivers.

Thankfully, Fantasy owners were guessing right. Luke Gregerson and Sean Doolittle were the two most added A's relievers off waivers. Both players earned saves over the weekend, which led Melvin to finally announce Monday he's going to lean on the duo in Johnson's absence at closer.

Gregerson has been added in more leagues than Doolittle, which is the correct instinct. Gregerson has emerged as one of the top setup men in baseball and appears to have the pedigree to close out games. Though, he appears to be too valuable to lock into one role, which is why the A's could be hesitant to hand him the full-time gig at closer.

Most added players on CBSSports.com
Player Own %
1. Jesse Chavez, SP, OAK 69 (+51)
2. Garrett Richards, SP, LAA 74 (+41)
3. Michael Morse, OF, SF 81 (+36)
4. Robbie Erlin, SP, SD 43 (+33)
5. Brandon Morrow, SP, TOR 66 (+31)
6. Jason Kubel, OF, MIN 36 (+29)
7. Charlie Blackmon, OF, COL 86 (+26)
8. Trevor Plouffe, 3B, MIN 75 (+26)
9. Yangervis Solarte, 3B, NYY 58 (+26)
10. Dee Gordon, 2B, LAD 87 (+25)

Perhaps in due time, Gregerson might emerge as the lone closer, but right now Melvin just wants to give himself options. So if you are desperate for saves in Fantasy, don't sleep on Doolittle, particularly in AL-only leagues. He's off to a good start this season and only seems to be getting better in his third season in the majors.

As for Johnson, he's clearly being dumped in many formats, but in deep formats you really need to consider holding onto him. Right now, Melvin is non-committal about putting Johnson back in the closer's role. But Johnson was pretty impressive in his first non-save outing Friday against the Mariners, and it's not like he was a one-season wonder. The guy had a 2.70 ERA and 1.14 WHIP over three seasons from 2011-13 and held his own in one of the toughest divisions in the majors.

The A's are one of the most unconventional teams in baseball, so it's no surprise they have been quick to make changes at the back-end of their bullpen. But we've been down this road with Melvin before. He removed Grant Balfour from the closer's role in 2012 to only eventually hand it back to him later that season, and Balfour was better off in the long run for it. Perhaps Melvin will follow a similar script in 2014.

Brandon Morrow, SP, Blue Jays


Ownership in CBSSports.com leagues: 66 percent (up 31 percent)
It took only one nine-strikeout performance for Fantasy owners to hop back on the Morrow bandwagon. I can't blame you. Morrow has been a high-upside pitcher for quite a while, but one injury after another has slowed his career. Morrow's ownership this week has been aided by his two-start status, so if he performs poorly, then he might get dumped back onto waivers next week. But I think it's wise for Fantasy owners looking for depth to take a flier on Morrow. He has proven in the past he can be successful as a starter, so right now he's still a relatively cheap option off waivers. Worst case, you dump him back onto waivers, but there's definitely plenty more upside than downside here.
Leagues worth adding him: 12-team Head-to-Head and Rotisserie

Robbie Erlin, SP, Padres


Ownership in CBSSports.com leagues: 43 percent (up 33 percent)
Erlin is another pitcher that saw a spike in ownership because of his two-start status for Week 3. However, much like Morrow, he's not a bad add off waivers given his upside. Erlin went 2-1 with a 1.97 ERA and 1.06 WHIP in his last five starts in 2013 and was impressive in his first start this season. Erlin had some rough numbers to begin last season because he was working his way back from an elbow injury that cost him most of the 2012 season. But the farther he gets away from his elbow problems, the stronger he looks. Erlin went 26-13 with a 3.21 ERA, 1.14 WHIP and 9.5 K/9 rate over 426 innings in the minors. If Erlin carries those same numbers into the majors -- and he's clearly capable -- then he could end up a nice option for Fantasy owners.
Leagues worth adding him: 12-team Head-to-Head and Rotisserie

Jason Kubel, OF, Twins


Ownership in CBSSports.com leagues: 34 percent (up 27 percent)
Kubel has moved into the starting lineup for Minnesota due to injuries to Josh Willingham and Oswaldo Arcia. Kubel is handling the transition well, batting .385 with a .615 slugging percentage, one home run, one triple, four doubles and seven RBI in 11 games. Perhaps moving back to the AL has provided Kubel with a familiar comfort level, which has sparked his revival after a horrendous season in 2013. Kubel isn't a .300 hitter, but I don't think it's far-fetched to believe he can keep up his power numbers. He did hit 30 homers and slug .506 in 2012 for the Diamondbacks, which isn't that long ago. I'm just hesitant to consider Kubel a long-term option, especially after he hit just .196 this spring without a guaranteed roster spot.
Leagues worth adding him: 14-team Head-to-Head and Rotisserie

Jason Hammel, SP, Cubs


Ownership in CBSSports.com leagues: 36 percent (up 22 percent)
It's good to see Fantasy owners aren't going crazy adding Hammel off waivers after two impressive starts. There are plenty of reasons to be cautious. For one, he's faced the Pirates in both games. Second, he has an NL-leading 0.51 WHIP among qualified starters, which is well below his career rate (1.43). Also, Hammel's FIP -- which is an estimate of what a pitcher's ERA should look like taking into account fielding and luck -- is 4.82 (per FanGraphs.com). Taking those two numbers into consideration, it looks as though it could get ugly for Hammel very quickly. Lastly, he surrendered three home runs in his first home start last week. Hammel better acclimate quickly to his new home surroundings or he could run into even more trouble in homer-friendly Wrigley Field when the weather warms up.
Leagues worth adding him: 14-team Head-to-Head leagues

Sergio Santos, RP, Blue Jays


Ownership in CBSSports.com leagues: 73 percent (up 22 percent)
It's interesting to see Santos' Fantasy value rising even though Casey Janssen is close to making his return. Santos has been great in Janssen's absence and definitely deserves some consideration to remain in the closer's role, but Janssen did nothing to lose the job. He went down with an injury. That's it. The Blue Jays are well aware of Janssen's track record in the closer's role. He closed out 22 of 25 games in 2012 and 34 of 36 games in 2013. Janssen also had a 2.46 ERA, 0.97 WHIP and 8.9 K/9 rate over the last three seasons. There's always the chance manager John Gibbons goes against conventional wisdom and keeps Santos as the closer, but it's a risky move for Fantasy owners to add him over more long-term sources for saves like Huston Street (77 percent), Tommy Hunter (76 percent) or Jose Valverde (58 percent).
Leagues worth adding him: Short-term option in mixed

Tyler Flowers, C, White Sox


Ownership in CBSSports.com leagues: 27 percent (up 16 percent)
We might finally be witnessing Flowers' breakout run in the majors. It has taken longer than expected, but there's reason to believe his fast start could last. Flowers was quoted a few weeks ago saying he feels like "a different player." He's past the shoulder injury that plagued him last year and even tweaked his offensive approach. The early results have been positive. Let's not forget Flowers was a top-100 prospect once upon a time. He hit .275 with a .391 on-base percentage, .484 slugging percentage and .876 OPS in 535 minor-league games. Those are pretty good numbers for a catcher. Flowers even flashed 15-20 home run power in multiple seasons in the minors. Flowers is only 28 years old and still in the prime of his career, so maybe he's not a lost cause after all.
Leagues worth adding him: 14-team Head-to-Head and Rotisserie

Alfredo Simon, SP, Reds


Ownership in CBSSports.com leagues: 27 percent (up 21 percent)
It's interesting Fantasy owners have made A's starting pitcher Jesse Chavez -- who is a starter with relief-pitcher eligibility -- the most-added player in CBSSports.com leagues. However, there's plenty more hesitation to add Simon, who is another starter with relief-pitcher eligibility and has been equally as impressive as Chavez. Factors that could be impacting the perception are Chavez is a two-start pitcher in Week 3 (April 14-20) and could be a more long-term option than Simon. However, Mat Latos (forearm) isn't close to returning and prospect Robert Stephenson doesn't appear on the verge of a major-league promotion, so Simon's job is safe for now, especially the way he's pitching. Prior to 2014, Simon's only chance to start regularly was in 2011 with Baltimore, and the results were ugly (3-8, 4.96 ERA in 16 starts). But he was a decent starter in the minors and his last two seasons in relief for Cincinnati were impressive. Maybe Simon has finally figured out how to succeed as a major-league starter.
Leagues worth adding him: 12-team Head-to-Head leagues, 14-team Rotisserie

Conor Gillaspie, 3B, White Sox


Ownership in CBSSports.com leagues: 26 percent (up 20 percent)
Gillaspie played his way into the starting lineup with a strong spring and has validated manager Robin Ventura's decision by opening the season with an 11-game hitting streak through Sunday. While Gillaspie is batting .341, he has no home runs and is slugging .439. Not numbers we would like to see from a corner infielder. Gillaspie reminds me a lot of Braves third baseman Chris Johnson. He's a good contact hitter with moderate power. Johnson hit .321 last season, but had just 12 home runs and 68 RBI in 142 games. He finished with 330 Fantasy points, which was less than Todd Frazier, Matt Dominguez and Chase Headley. It doesn't appear prospect Matt Davidson is on the verge of taking over at third base for Chicago, but that could change as we get into the dog days of summer. Gillaspie is a nice option to use while he's performing well, but he's not going to end up being your long-term option at third base.
Leagues worth adding him: 14-team Head-to-Head and Rotisserie

Mark Reynolds, 1B, Brewers


Ownership in CBSSports.com leagues: 33 percent (up 17 percent)
Fantasy owners are drawn to Reynolds' three home runs and .548 slugging percentage in nine games. However, don't forget to look at his batting average and strikeout rate, which continue to be awful. Reynolds might be with a new team, but he's still an all-or-nothing hitter. He's going to have his hot streaks, where he will provide plenty of Fantasy points. But then he's going to have his cold streaks, which will likely give you a reason to dump him. Don't forget Reynolds also isn't playing every day, as he remains in a platoon at first base with Lyle Overbay and is a backup third baseman to Aramis Ramirez. Reynolds is good in stretches, but don't be hesitant to take him out of active lineups or put him back on waivers when he's slumping.
Leagues worth adding him: 14-team Rotisserie

David Murphy, OF, Indians


Ownership in CBSSports.com leagues: 20 percent (up 15 percent)
It's interesting to see Murphy get off to a nice start since he's usually slow out of the gate. He has a .234 average and .396 slugging percentage in March/April -- both career lows for a single month. Murphy's success early in the season has come against right-handed pitchers. He's batting .360 with a .720 slugging percentage, two home runs, three doubles and eight RBI against righties, as opposed to a .167 average with a .333 slugging percentage, one triple, no home runs and three RBI against lefties. Manager Terry Francona has benched Murphy at times this season when a tough lefty has been on the hill, which is a trend likely to continue. Murphy's splits against righties/lefties is concerning because it could open him up to being strictly a platoon player down the road.
Leagues worth adding him: 16-team Head-to-Head and Rotisserie

Edinson Volquez, SP, Pirates


Ownership in CBSSports.com leagues: 21 percent (up 12 percent)
Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage is turning into the new "it" coach in baseball. He's has success reviving the careers of A.J. Burnett and Francisco Liriano in recent years, and now he appears to be working wonders with Volquez, who is starting to show signs of the 17-game winner he was in 2008. We aren't at the point where we are saying Volquez is a completely fixed pitcher, especially not after he posted a 9.64 ERA and 1.86 WHIP this spring. But Volquez is off to a promising start and the most encouraging sign is his control. He is walking just 1.9 batters per nine innings, which is a career-best. His career BB/9 rate is 4.7. There is definitely some sleeper potential with Volquez, and he is certainly worth a look in deep formats.
Leagues worth adding him: 12-team Head-to-Head and Rotisserie

Brandon Crawford, SS, Giants


Ownership in CBSSports.com leagues: 19 percent (up 10 percent)
I'm not among the group of Fantasy owners buying into Crawford's fast start. Why? Because he did this last season and couldn't sustain his fast start. If you recall, Crawford hit .272 with a .511 slugging percentage, five doubles, five home runs and 14 RBI in 27 games last April. He ended up hitting a combined four home runs the rest of the season and never slugged higher than .391 after April. Crawford was never an elite offensive player in the minors either. He hit .266 in his minor-league career, but had just 98 RBI in 265 games and slugged .403. He's definitely in the lineup more for his defense than offense. Unless you are desperate for help at shortstop or at a middle-infield position, I wouldn't recommend wasting a roster spot of waiver priority on Crawford.
Leagues worth adding him: NL-only

Player you might reconsider dropping

Jhonny Peralta, SS, Cardinals


Ownership in CBSSports.com leagues: 75 percent (down 9 percent)
The early returns haven't been great for Peralta, but they never are early in the season for the veteran shortstop. He has just a career .235 average in March/April, which is tied for the lowest in his career (Sept./Oct.). Peralta usually heats up in May, batting .296 with a .495 slugging percentage in his career. Peralta said his slow start is being impacted by changing leagues and being unfamiliar with tendencies of NL pitchers, as well as unfortunate luck. Peralta seems to be onto something with the luck factor, as he has just a .103 BABIP through 12 games, which is well below his .313 career average. Peralta hit .292 with a .563 slugging percentage this spring, so it's not like the talent isn't still there. It's just the hits aren't falling.
Leagues worth adding him: 12-team Head-to-Head and Rotisserie

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Player News
Pirates' Gregory Polanco smacks second home run of season Thursday
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(1:55 am ET) Pirates outfielder Gregory Polanco connected off Padres starter Ian Kennedy for his second home run of the season during Thursday's 11-5 win over the Padres.

Polanco hit the solo home run in the second inning. He finished the game 2 for 5 with one RBI and one run scored. He is now hitting .247 on the season.

Prior to his performance Thursday, Polanco was hitting .333 with one RBI in his last five games.


Pirates C Francisco Cervelli collects three hits in Thursday's win
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(1:49 am ET) Pirates catcher Francisco Cervelli had three more hits during Thursday's 11-5 win over the Padres to raise his batting average to .320 on the season.

During Thursday's contest, Cervelli went 3 for 5 with two runs scored. Over his last five games, Cervelli is 9 for 17 with four RBI and six runs scored.


Pirates OF Starling Marte hits 10th home run of season Thursday
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(1:44 am ET) Pirates outfielder Starling Marte smacked his 10th home run of the season during Thursday's 11-5 win over the Padres.

Marte hit the two-run home run off Ian Kennedy in the third inning. Marte finished the game 1 for 3 with two RBI, two runs scored and one walk.

Prior to Thursday's contest, Marte was hitting .167 with one home run and four RBI in his last six games.


Angels' Erick Aybar (hamstring) not expected to need DL stint
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1:40 am ET) Angels manager Mike Scioscia said after Thursday's win over the Tigers that shortstop Erick Aybar (hamstring) is not expected to need a trip to the disabled list, the Los Angeles Times reports.

Aybar left Thursday's game due to hamstring tightness. He suffered the injury while trying to beat a bunt to first base. The team could call up a capable replacement at shortstop even if the Angels believe Aybar will only miss a few games with the injury. He was replaced Thursday by Taylor Featherston, who had played a total of six innings across four games at the position this season.


Pirates' Andrew McCutchen collects three hits in Thursday's win
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(1:37 am ET) Pirates OF Andrew McCutchen went 3 for 5 at the plate to help lead the Pirates to an 11-5 victory over the Padres on Thursday.

McCutchen drove in two runs and scored two during the contest. Prior to his three-hit game Thursday, McCutchen was hitting .382 with three home runs and five RBI in his last nine games.


Padres 3B Will Middlebrooks collects three hits in Thursday's loss
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(1:32 am ET) Padres third baseman Will Middlebrooks went 3 for 4 at the plate during Thursday's contest, but it was not enough as the Padres fell 11-5 to the Pirates.

All three of the hits for Middlebrooks were singles. He drove in one run and scored a run during the game.

Middlebrooks is 9 for 22 with two home runs and five RBI in his last five games. During that time, he has raised his batting average from .211 to .240.


Pirates SS Jung Ho Kang slugs three-run home run in Thursday's win
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(1:24 am ET) Pirates shortstop Jung Ho Kang connected off pitcher Ian Kennedy in the first inning for his third home run of the season during Thursday's 11-5 win over the Padres.

Ho Kang finished the game 1 for 5 with three RBI. Ho Kang has hit safely in his last 10 games. During that time, he is 15 for 41 with eight RBI and he has raised his average from .270 to .308.


Angels' Chris Iannetta delivers grand slam in win Thursday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1:24 am ET) Angels catcher Chris Iannetta went 2 for 4 with a grand slam in his team's 12-2 win over the Tigers on Thursday.

Iannetta put the cherry on top of a blowout win for the Angels with his seventh-inning slam, which increased the Angels' lead to 11 runs before the Tigers were able to get one back in the ninth. It was the fourth grand slam of the catcher's career.

Iannetta has hit just .178/.263/.307 with 13 RBI in 101 at-bats, but all three of his home runs have come in his last eight games.


Pirates SP A.J. Burnett allows five runs in Thursday's start
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(1:22 am ET) Pirates pitcher A.J. Burnett gave up five runs (four earned) over 5 2/3 innings to earn his fifth victory of the season during the 11-5 win over the Padres on Thursday.

Burnett (5-1) struck out six and walked two batters during the outing. His ERA rose from 1.37 to 1.81.

The Pirates gave Burnett a 7-0 lead before Burnett allowed two runs to score in the fourth inning on hits by Justin Upton and Will Middlebrooks. Burnett permitted more runs in the fifth inning when two hits and two errors led to two runs.

By failing to toss seven innings Thursday, it broke Burnett's streak of four-consecutive starts throwing seven innings. He allowed four earned runs during those outings. His next expected is scheduled for Tuesday at San Francisco.


Angels' Matt Joyce homers in second straight game Thursday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1:21 am ET) Angels left fielder Matt Joyce went 2 for 3 with a home run and two RBI in his team's 12-2 win over the Tigers on Thursday.

After being bogged down offensively for much of the season, Joyce has now homered in consecutive games and looks to be getting on track at the plate. He has hit just .187/.262/.313 with three home runs and 15 RBI in 134 at-bats, but it's improvement on his .360 OPS at the end of April.


 
 
 
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