Articles like this are tough to write on April 19, because you don’t want to give too much weight to fast or slow starts. Over time, players with track records will usually reach their levels, so stop asking if you should trade Matt Cain, or give up the farm for Jed Lowrie. It’s early, folks.
With that said, here’s our latest edition of Free Agent Frenzy – many owners need to make moves, right? Please note that, as in past seasons, no player will be mentioned in this space more than once in a four-week span, because we don’t want to beat you over the head all year long about the same players. Let’s get going!
Catcher: Carlos Ruiz, Phillies (owned in 12.9 percent of FOXSports.com leagues)
“Chooch” is eligible to return from his 25-game suspension on Sunday, April 28. If you wait any longer to get him, you might miss the boat on this top-15 catcher. He hit .325 with 16 homers in 114 games last season, and while that performance included far more power than he had ever shown before, he’s a high-BA backstop who will pile up some counting stats because he plays almost every day. Ruiz isn’t a star, but he’s close to the low-end No. 1 fantasy catchers.
Digging deeper: I’m a Yankee fan, and I’m as unenthused about Francisco Cervelli (5.6 percent owned) as you probably are. Maybe that’s because I was spoiled by Jorge Posada for so many years. However, Cervelli has a .274 career batting average in about 600 plate appearances, and that’s not terrible for a guy who plays more often than not.
First base: Yonder Alonso, Padres (owned in 6.4 percent of FOXSports.com leagues)
Here’s another high-BA, modest power guy. That’s not usually what you want out of a first baseman, but it depends on what’s available. Alonso batted .273 with nine homers in 155 games last season, and isn’t projected to hit more than 15. Still, he plays, his batting average won’t hurt you, and he’ll post decent totals in runs and RBI.
Digging deeper: David Ortiz is back, but Jackie Bradley Jr. has been sent to the minors. Mike Carp (0.2 percent owned) might get some lefty platoon at bats as a 1B/OF, and he’s only two years removed from hitting 33 homers between Triple A and the majors. Take a chance, AL-only owners.
Second base: Kelly Johnson, Rays (owned in 2.1 percent of FOXSports.com leagues)
The Rays always seem to make guys useful even when they don’t play every day. The BA-challenged Johnson has three homers with a respectable .776 OPS, and even though he’s batting .205 at the moment, the Rays will do what they can to maximize his strengths while hiding his weaknesses. Remember that Johnson averaged 21 homers and 14 steals from 2010-12.
Digging deeper: Ryan Flaherty (0.2 percent owned) has had a part-time role since Brian Roberts went on the DL, but he hit six homers in 153 at bats last season, and 19 between the minors and majors in 2011. AL-only owners needing to replace a middle infielder could get modest value from Flaherty.
Third base: Juan Francisco, Braves (owned in 3.5 percent of FOXSports.com leagues)
Francisco and Chris Johnson are both hitting well in the early going for the Braves, with Johnson getting time at first base during Freddie Freeman’s absence. When Freeman returns, so will Atlanta’s hot corner platoon, with Francisco (a lefthanded hitter) as the likely busier half. The 25-year-old Francisco has solid power – he hit nine homers in 192 at bats for the Braves last season, and 18 in 105 games between the minors and majors for the Reds in 2011.
Digging deeper: With 2B Aaron Hill on the DL, the Diamondbacks are juggling their infield in a way that gave Eric Chavez (0.6 percent owned) two starts in a three-game series against the Yankees. If Chavez plays against righties for the time being, he’ll help your NL-only squad, and maybe even your deep mixed league team.
Shortstop: Maicer Izturis, Blue Jays (owned in 10.6 percent of FOXSports.com leagues)
Izturis has been getting everyday duty at second base, and your deep, daily lineup mixed league team will be happy to know he has 2B/3B/SS eligibility. Izturis doesn’t hit for any power, but he can run a little and has a .272 career batting average. If you’re scrambling and can’t get a higher-upside guy (like my man Everth Cabrera), Izturis won’t kill you for a little while.
Digging deeper: Eduardo Nunez (1.4 percent owned) now appears to have a three-month hold on the Yankee shortstop job. Is he a butcher in the field who might lose the job? Sure, but he also might steal 15 bases between now and the All-Star break.
Outfield: Justin Maxwell, Astros (owned in 11.2 percent of FOXSports.com leagues)
WARNING: Beware of excessive strikeouts.
Maxwell has been making a bit more contact than usual so far, but it’s still early – his career K rates are off the charts. He had 18 homers with nine steals last season, and occupies the second slot in the Astros’ batting order. As free agents go, you could do worse than Maxwell’s modest power/speed package.
Digging deeper: Craig Gentry (0.5 percent owned) doesn’t need to play every day to have AL-only value – if you can still get him, that is. He already has three steals in a part-time role, and should get to 20 before the season is over.
Starting pitcher: Wade Davis, Royals (owned in 7.9 percent of FOXSports.com leagues)
Are we sold on Davis? Not yet, but early signs are encouraging, as he’s got a 2.25 ERA through three starts, and his K rate is up from his starting days with the Rays. We might learn more when Davis starts against the Tigers early next week, but unless you’re streaming starters – which is what I would do – Davis could become a worthwhile pickup. His upside isn’t huge, but he could be solid.
Digging deeper: Roberto Hernandez (0.5 percent owned) is the pitcher formerly known as Fausto Carmona, and I suspect that he may have changed his name (or, more accurately, gone back to using his real name) because he wanted to trick fantasy owners into drafting him again. I don’t trust this guy for a second, but after seeing a higher-than-usual K rate in his first three starts and then reading this interesting article from last week, I’m willing to take a chance in a fairly deep league as long as he’s a free pickup. Don’t spend any FAAB dollars on him, though.
Relief pitcher: Joaquin Benoit, Tigers (owned in 6.8 percent of FOXSports.com leagues)
Jim Leyland says Benoit is his primary closer, so who are we to argue? Let’s revisit this if and when Jose Valverde is summoned from the minors. Speaking of Valverde …
Digging deeper: Valverde (1.8 percent owned) has been pitching at extended spring training, but will move on to A ball tonight, and presumably head to Triple A after not too long. If you have a bench and want to speculate on saves, grab Valverde. You’ll know within a few weeks if it was worth your time, and the payoff could be big. Maybe he’ll stink as much at Triple A as he did with the Tigers last season, and maybe he’ll save 25 games. Closer roulette is fun, isn’t it?