Free-agent frenzy: Claim Gutierrez

Fantasy Baseball Free Agent Frenzy: John Halpin suggests waiver-wire claims to make every week during the MLB season to help owners with their fantasy baseball teams.

No closers are included.

After seeing Joakim Soria – my top-ranked closer in the preseason – lose his job, I’d rather see you pick names out of a hat instead. Your chances are probably better that way.

And now, without further ado, below are 10 free agents owned in less than 75 percent of leagues. Please note that no players will be repeated within any four-week period.

Pablo Sandoval, 3B, San Francisco (74.7 percent owned)

Before breaking a bone in his hand, Kung Fu Panda was in the midst of a rebound season, with a .313 batting average, five homers and a .904 OPS in 24 games. Rumblings are that he could return as soon as next weekend, and even though he’s widely owned, at this level it’s worth looking at your free-agent pool.

Mike Napoli, C/1B, Texas (63.6 percent owned)

All year long, people have been complaining about Napoli’s lack of playing time (only 105 at bats so far). I’ve been one of those whiners, but those days are over. Napoli has 10 homers already, and he’s not playing enough so that his bad batting average (.250 career, .229 this season) is hurting you. Win-win, right?

Geovany Soto, C, Chicago Cubs (41.5 percent owned)

Soto is back after a three-week DL stint because of a groin injury. In case you forgot, he’s a top-10 catcher with a decent career average (.264) and plenty of power (51 from 2008-10). Get him if you can, please.

Rafael Furcal, SS, Los Angeles Dodgers (34.9 percent owned)

Furcal came off the DL last Sunday, and after struggling for a few days, he went 7-for-13 over the weekend. Furcal may be injury-prone, but he’s a pretty good hitter who scored 66 runs and stole 22 bases in just 97 games last season. It’s not like the fantasy shortstop position is full of superstars, anyway.

Franklin Gutierrez, OF, Seattle (29.7 percent owned)

Gutierrez reportedly lost 15 pounds because of a gastrointestinal ailment that delayed the start of his season until May 18, so he’s not a lock to produce. However, he’s had a couple of multi-hit games already, averaged 15 homers and 20 steals over the last two seasons, and was a consensus OF4 in mixed leagues before his spring got derailed. He’s worth a shot if you’re looking for free outfield talent.

Brian Matusz, SP, Baltimore (26 percent owned)

Matusz will make his first start of the season on Wednesday against the Mariners; he’s been out all year with a back injury. Matusz finished 2010 with a 4.30 ERA, but he gave up a total of eight earned runs in his final eight starts. He’s talented, carries a “knows how to pitch” reputation, and should be owned in most formats.

Jonathon Niese, SP, New York Mets (11.6 percent owned)

Niese isn’t great, but he’s OK – he had a 4.20 ERA last season, and checks in at 3.92 through 11 starts this year. He induces an above-average percentage of ground balls, and throws home games in a pitcher-friendly ballpark. Though he’ll never be an ace, Niese can help your fantasy squad, especially if you pick your spots to get his starts at CitiField.

Jordan Zimmermann, SP, Washington (7.8 percent owned)

In his first full year back from Tommy John surgery, Zimmermann is living up to his hype as a preseason fantasy sleeper. Over his last six starts, he has a 3.23 ERA and 30 strikeouts against eight walks in 30 2/3 innings. Zimmermann’s power arsenal is probably a good bet to be useful in all fantasy formats at this point, but watch out for an innings limit later in the season. Nats’ manager Jim Riggleman said on a radio show a couple of weeks ago that 150-160 innings will be Zimmermann’s target, so his value is likely to decrease (or maybe disappear) when September arrives.

Domonic Brown, OF, Philadelphia (3.7 percent owned)

Brown entered the spring as one of baseball’s top 10 prospects, but broke his hand in late March and spent some time on the DL. The Phillies brought him up on May 21, and he’s been heating up lately, with eight hits in his last five games. Brown is platooning in right field with Ben Francisco right now, but he’s loaded with talent, and if he keeps hitting, his power-speed package will be too potent to keep on the bench.

Eric Young Jr, 2B/OF, Colorado (0.9 percent owned)

I had Young ranked among the top 20 fantasy second basemen during the spring, and will admit to being very disappointed when he was sent to the minors. Sometimes, you just need to be patient. Jose Lopez and his bad OBP played their way out of Denver, and Jonathan Herrera’s mediocre skills didn’t really excite anyone, so little EY is getting another chance at the keystone after batting .363 with 17 stolen bases at Triple-A Colorado Springs. Young will lead off for the Rox for the foreseeable future, and he could still justify that lofty preseason ranking. If you’re looking for a speedy middle infielder who will score some runs, he’s your man.