Fantasy: Free agents make big impact

Welcome to the 2012 season’s first edition of “Free Agent Frenzy,” which will try to steer you in the right direction when trying to fill roster spots. This feature will normally appear on Sunday nights/Monday mornings, but with most drafts finished and some injuries already appearing, we thought a final preseason edition would be helpful.

Note: Ownership percentages below are from FOXSports.com leagues. If you’re not registered for our great (and FREE) fantasy baseball game already, what are you waiting for?

Catcher

Standard Leagues: Russell Martin (45.4 percent owned) has a .267 career batting average, so he’ll probably top last season’s .237 mark. Thanks to the homer haven known as Yankee Stadium, Martin hit 18 home runs and added eight stolen bases in 2011. Your league doesn’t have 12 catchers better than Martin.

Deep Leagues: Josh Donaldson (0.3 percent owned) will be the A’s starting third baseman, but qualifies here based on his play in 2010. In Triple A last season, Donaldson hit 17 home runs with 13 stolen bases in 115 games. Sure, that was in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, but he’s not bad.

First Base

Standard Leagues: Lucas Duda (20.1 percent owned) will be the Mets’ starting right fielder, but also carries first-base eligibility. If Citi Field’s new dimensions help hitters as much as the Mets hope, Duda could hit 25 home runs.

Deep Leagues: The Twins appear set to start the season with Justin Morneau at DH and Chris Parmelee (0.7 percent owned) at first base. Parmelee doesn’t have the breakout potential of someone like Baltimore’s Chris Davis (0.8 percent owned), but he carries better odds of being a solid contributor. Parmelee batted over .300 with 17 homers and 97 RBI between Double A and the majors last season.

Second Base

Standard Leagues: The Red Sox will go with Mike Aviles (13.5 percent owned) as their starting shortstop, but Aviles qualifies at second and third in most fantasy leagues. A guy who might hit 12 homers and steal 15 bases is a nice free pickup in any format.

Deep Leagues: Veteran Mark Ellis (2.3 percent owned) will open the season as the Dodgers’ No. 2 hitter. Ellis isn’t flashy, but he had seven homers and 14 stolen bases in 480 at bats in 2011.

Third Base

Standard Leagues: San Diego’s Chase Headley is owned in just 28.9 percent of leagues, and you might be tempted to stay away from him because of his cavernous home park. However, Headley has averaged nine homers and 13 steals over the last three seasons, and 2011’s low homer total (four) was probably due to a combo of injury and bad luck.

Deep Leagues: Chris Johnson (0.7 percent owned) was ignored in many early drafts because most people thought Jimmy Paredes would be the Astros’ starting third baseman. However, Paredes was sent to the minors 10 days ago, and Johnson has the job. Johnson has limitations, such as swinging at everything between Baton Rouge and Albuquerque, but he could pop 15 homers this season.

Shortstop

Standard Leagues: Tampa Bay’s Sean Rodriguez (7.7 percent owned) might hurt your batting average over a full season, but his likelihood of reaching double digits in homers and steals makes him an interesting free-agent target, as does his multi-positional eligibility (2B/3B/SS). Rodriguez also has power upside, as he hit 51 homers as Triple-A player over 2008 and 2009.

Deep Leagues: Minnesota’s Trevor Plouffe is expected to see playing time at second base, shortstop and right field, so 400 at bats aren’t out of the question. Plouffe hit 23 homers between Triple A and the majors last season, and has always had decent pop for a middle infielder.

Outfield

Standard Leagues: Peter Bourjos is owned in just 10.5 percent of our leagues right now? Come on, people! Bourjos batted .271 with 12 homers and 22 stolen bases last year for the Angels, and his minor-league track record suggests that the stolen bases could go up. Grab this guy and keep him.

Deep Leagues: Concussion-related issues derailed Denard Span’s (2.6 percent owned) 2011 season, but over 2009 and 2010 he batted .287 while averaging 91 runs, 63 RBI and 24 stolen bases. Span appears healthy and ready to start in center field for the Twins, so go get him unless you need a home-run hitter.

Starting Pitcher

Standard Leagues: As I mentioned a couple of times during the preseason, Cubs’ ace Ryan Dempster (14.2 percent owned) is underrated. Last season, Dempster pretty much maintained his K, BB and ground-ball rates from 2010, so his 4.80 ERA seems to have been more about bad luck than anything else. Look for a return to the 3.75 range, with a top-25 strikeout total.

Deep Leagues: The strong spring numbers posted by Baltimore’s Brian Matusz (0.7 percent owned) recall his lofty fantasy draft status of 2011. Matusz closed 2010 strongly, appeared poised for a breakout, and flopped. The idea of Matusz living up to his promise as the O’s new fifth starter is far from guaranteed, but if you can grab him off the wire in a deep mixed or AL-only league, there’s plenty of upside.

Relief Pitcher

Standard Leagues: Even if Jonathan Broxton (18.6 percent owned) gets the Royals’ closer job, he won’t be able to pitch on more than two consecutive days early in the season. With all those winning streaks the Royals are expected to reel off – come on, you laughed – there should be more saves to go around. Greg Holland (5.6 percent owned) has the stuff to succeed, should get some of Broxton’s scraps, and could take over if Broxton flops or gets hurt. Even as a setup man, Holland can help you in three categories. He hasn’t been officially passed over for the big job yet, either.

Deep Leagues: Closers are replaceable, right? Take a flier on one if you have an opening right now. Jesse Crain (0.5 percent owned) is one of the candidates for the White Sox. Oakland’s Fautino De Los Santos (0.3 percent owned) can whiff batters with the best of them, and could emerge if Grant Balfour doesn’t take to his maiden voyage as a closer. Brad Lidge (2.1 percent owned) and Henry Rodriguez (0.6 percent owned) will fill in for Nats’ teammate Drew Storen for the season’s first couple of weeks. Finally, when discussing Andrew Bailey’s thumb injury on Friday, Bobby Valentine floated Alfredo Aceves’ (6.4 percent owned) name as a potential fill-in. This position is volatile, so you’ll see new names here often.

See you back here later this week!

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