2015 Fantasy BaseballFantasy Baseball

2015 Fantasy Baseball Week 1 Waiver Wire: 3 to Catch, 3 to Cut, 3 to Keep

In the Week 1 edition of fantasy baseball 3×3, we’re chasing down Micah Johnson, holding tight with Andrew Miller, and giving Joaquin Benoit a great big hug.

But before we do all that, let’s go through a quick introduction, since this is the first 3×3 of the season.

You’ll see this column in this place at (approximately) the same time every week. There are plenty of waiver wire columns out there that provide an exhaustive list of the most added players in fantasy leagues. This isn’t one of them. Here, we’ll run down a few of the most interesting players for fantasy owners, with perspective on who deserves your attention, who deserves your patience, and who deserves to go straight to bed without dessert.

There are three categories:

3 TO CATCH

These are guys who are available in most leagues are should be picked up, when their skills match your needs. This is the most traditional waiver wire column-y part of the article.

3 TO CUT

This is where things start to get a little different. These are players who are owned in most leagues, but players that I recommend moving on from, by trade if you can, but outright cutting in some cases. If they end up in this space, I don’t expect their current rate of production to continue.

3 TO KEEP

These are players who are owned in most leagues, but are looking like candidates to be cut or traded. If they end up in this space, I’m advocating patience, or if you don’t own them, a buy-low opportunity.

I’ll give you three players in each category, along with three possible replacements (or not, depending on the category) for each player. The idea is to give you the information in as useful a format as possible. Any questions or suggestions, hit me on Twitter @gerardowrites.

Let’s get it on.

3 TO CATCH

Players to be picked up; available in most standard leagues

Micah Johnson | Chicago White Sox | 2B

It’s been evident for quite a while, but finally, the Chicago White Sox have officially named Micah Johnson as their starting second baseman. Unfortunately, not nearly enough fantasy owners have done the same.

As Ryan Noonan and I discussed on our Second Base Preview podcast earlier this month, the position has a lot of solid players, but few stars. There aren’t many lower tier players who can make a meaningful contribution to any particular category. Except, of course, for Johnson.

He swiped 22 bases in just over 400 minor league plate appearances last season; ZiPS likes him to snag 31 bags with a full season’s worth of MLB playing time. That might be a bit aggressive, but even if he only makes it to 25, he’ll provide top-level speed for his position. Among second basemen, only Dee Gordon, Jose Altuve, and Emilio Bonifacio reached that level of production last season.

To pick him up, I’d drop: Asdrubal Cabrera, Rougned Odor, Brandon Phillips

Carlos Martinez | St. Louis Cardinals | SP

I don’t quite get why fantasy owners at large aren’t buying in on Carlos Martinez. His surface stats look strong, but even more than that, he seems to pop toward the top of many deeper dives into the less obvious aspects of pitching.

When Eno Sarris wrote a terrific piece on Arsenal Scores, guess who ranked second? Our buddy Carlos.

When Jonathan Judge pioneered his fantastic work on cFIP, guess who came out looking great? Martinez, whose 92 cFIP put him on par with the 2014 output of other fantasy up-and-comers like Jake Odorizzi, Marcus Stroman (tear), and Drew Hutchison.

So you’ll have to excuse the incredulous look on my face (trust me, it’s there) when I see that Martinez is owned in less than 40% leagues on Yahoo! and available in almost 85% of leagues on ESPN. I understand that he’s a bit unproven and wasn’t confirmed as a member of the Cards’ rotation until a few days ago, but come on, people. In 117.2 innings as a big leaguer (almost all before his 23rd birthday), he’s fanned nearly a batter per inning and maintained a 3.15 FIP.

There’s nobody out there with this combination of upside and availability. Scoop him while you can.

To pick him up, I’d drop: Chris Tillman, Henderson Alvarez, Shelby Miller

Jason Grilli | Atlanta Braves | RP

How far the mighty have fallen. If anybody ever questions the volatility of bullpens again, just point them toward the 2015 Atlanta Braves. Just two years ago, the Atlanta pen led the NL with an outrageous 66 ERA- and fanned nearly 23% of the batters it faced, per FanGraphs. Now, they’re led by newly-signed 38-year old who very recently slumped his way out of the only closer job he ever earned.

Jason Grilli isn’t anybody’s dream closer, but he’s probably a better pitcher than he gets credit for. Steamer and ZiPS both like him to whiff about 25% of the batters he faces this season while maintaining an ERA right around 3.00; only 32 relievers pulled off that double last year. Sure, the portion of 2014 that he spent in Pittsburgh was a disaster, but Grilli straightened things out quite a bit after his cross-country move to join the Los Angeles Angels, leaving his home run troubles behind and slicing his walk rate by almost 50% without any loss in strikeouts. He won’t be elite, but he’ll be good enough to hold the job for a while.

So go out and grab Grilli, and remember this episode in three years when Joe Nathan is inexplicably closing for the Kansas City Royals.

To pick him up, I’d drop: Luke Gregerson, Sergio Romo, Ken Giles

3 TO CUT

Players to be traded or dropped, depending on the depth of your league

Rusney Castillo | Boston Red Sox | OF

This has nothing to do with Rusney Castillo’s potential to produce as a major leaguer. It has everything to do with the Boston Red Sox’ apparent opinion on the present value of that potential.

By sending Castillo down to Triple-A, the Boston front office has declared that there’s not enough room in their big league outfield to carve out everyday at bats for Castillo. They’ve declared that, for a team that’s clearly focused on winning now, Shane Victorino is the better option. And, they’ve declared that using Rusney Castillo as a bench player in the majors is not a viable option; he’d be better served getting everyday at bats in the minor leagues. Whether or not you choose to agree with that approach, that’s the approach they’re taking.

In the meantime, it looks like Castillo is going to be down there for a while. This is not a Kris Bryant situation where it’s just a matter or service time. Somebody’s performance is going to have to change drastically in order for Castillo to be called up. If Victorino and the rest of the Boston outfield stays healthy and plays well, Castillo’s detour could last months.

If you’ve got a huge bench, you’re probably fine to hang on to Castillo, but in shallower leagues, I’d try to offload him in a trade as soon as possible. He’s still encircled in an aura of positive hype; use that to get back some value from an investment that (due to decreased playing time) almost certainly won’t return full value on his draft day cost.

I’d trade/drop him for: Rajai Davis, Adam Eaton, Dalton Pompey

Joaquin Benoit | San Diego Padres | RP

Joaquin Benoit just can’t catch a break. After finally beginning a season with a stranglehold on the ninth inning, for a playoff contender, no less, the Padres’ Easter night blockbuster has relegated him back to setup duty.

Poor guy.

He’s still really really good, but with firebreathers like Ken Giles and Wade Davis around, he’s not quite good enough to be rostered if he’s not getting a real chance at saves. He’s droppable just about everywhere.

I’d trade/drop him for: Joakim Soria, Edward Mujica, Brad Boxberger

Byron Buxton | Minnesota Twins | OF

This happens every year. People want to find the next Mike Trout and overreach for prospects on draft day. That’s the only way to explain why Byron Buxton, who’s recovering from a serious injury and has played exactly one game above A-ball, is owned in more Yahoo! leagues than a player like Jarrod Dyson, who’s stolen at least 35 bases in each of the last two seasons.

I understand the logic, but applying it to a player like Buxton, or Addison Russell, or even Joey Gallo, is just misguided. They’re great prospects, but there is a near-zero chance that any of those players sniff the majors this season. If you’re in a redraft league, or even a shallow keeper league, there’s really no reason to own them.

There’s nothing wrong with taking a spin at the prospect wheel, just do it with a player who might actually provide some value this season.

I’d trade/drop him for: Andrew Heaney, Danny Salazar, Javier Baez

3 TO KEEP

Players to hold or trade for; owned in most standard leagues

Andrew Miller | New York Yankees | RP

The New York Daily News is reporting that Yankees manager Joe Girardi has yet to make up his mind on a closer. It seems like he might actually go with a committee, which, while horribly frustrating to fantasy owners, would probably be the most effective way to use the talent at his disposal. Basically, it’d be the baseball version of a Mike Shanahan backfield.

Managers rarely have the patience or the stomach for that kind of approach; recent baseball history would indicate that somebody is probably going to win this job for good at some point. While it’s fair to say that Dellin Betances has an advantage as something of an incumbent, that doesn’t mean that Andrew Miller isn’t worth owning. In terms of skill set, both are easily among the ten best relief pitchers in the league. When these guys test the outer edges of the strike zone, they are damn near unhittable.

Dellin  Betances Zone Profile Andrew  Miller Zone Profile

(Thanks for Brooks Baseball for the charts)

Miller and Betances actually ranked second and third, respectively, in cFIP last season, surpassed only by the incomparable Aroldis Chapman. The two Yanks were among only five relievers to strike out more than 39% of batters while tossing at least 50 innings last year.

Regardless of whether either pitcher wins the job outright, Girardi will likely lean on Miller in enough lefty-heavy ninth innings for Miller to approach double digits in that category. And even if that doesn’t happen, he’ll produce enough value in strikeouts and ratios alone to earn a roster spot in all but the shallowest of leagues.

And just in case you’re wondering… no, I wouldn’t drop him for Grilli.

I wouldn’t trade/drop him for: Tyler Clippard, Neftali Feliz, Wade Davis

Yasmani Tomas | Arizona Diamondbacks | 3B/OF

Given everything I wrote about Rusney Castillo, I can imagine that this might seem a bit like backtracking. The Arizona Diamondbacks did send Yasmani Tomas down to Triple-A, but I really don’t think he’ll be there long. A team like the Red Sox can afford to sit on Castillo for a bit because they’ve got a veteran who can credibly keep the seat warm. The Diamondbacks are holding Tomas’ spot with a combination of Jake Lamb and David Peralta; I can confidently say that neither would be offered anything close a $70 million contract if they hit the open market tomorrow. The Red Sox have the patience that comes with functionally unlimited resources. Teams like the D’Backs don’t drop $68.5 million to build organizational depth.

The way that Lamb pounded his way into the lineup (1.040 OPS in Spring Training, per MLB.com) is impressive, but I still doubt that Tomas will be long for the minors. Arizona has used Peralta as a fourth outfielder before; I wouldn’t put it past them to push Tomas to the outfield if Lamb continues to impress at third, despite the defensive apocalypse that would result from an outfield including both Tomas and Mark Trumbo.

Let’s all say a prayer for A.J. Pollock, just in case.

Once Tomas shows he can hit and/or handle third base, the D’Backs find a spot for him. At worst, I think the timeline will be similar to Yasiel Puig’s. Back in 2013, Puig scorched his way through 40 games in Double-A before ascending to the majors. That’d have Tomas up in ‘Zona by mid-May. There are plenty of fill-ins at third base who can hold down the fantasy fort until then.

I wouldn’t trade/drop him for: Pedro Alvarez, Aramis Ramirez, Martin Prado

Alex Cobb | Tampa Bay Rays | SP

Forearm injuries are often precursors to elbow injures. But unlike some people, Alex Cobb doesn’t actually have an elbow injury. And the Rays, knowing that the AL East will be a bloodbath this season, rightly aren’t rushing what’s been a slow recovery. Cobb may not be back until May, but even so, he deserves a spot on most fantasy rosters.

When healthy, he’s among the best fantasy pitchers in baseball. He’s got a terrific home ballpark and an arsenal that showed significant improvement last season.

Alex  Cobb Whiff Rates

He rode those escalating whiff rates to a top ten ERA in the American League, even as his strikeout rate didn’t quite match the value of his raw stuff. Only 25 starters threw at least 150 innings with a swinging strike rate of 10% or better last season, but Cobb had the fifth-worst K-rate on that list. As he continues to refine his repertoire, I expect he’ll learn to coax more strikeout value from the whiffs he’s able to induce.

He won’t be back until May, but there’s plenty of talent on the wire to fill in while he’s gone. I’d take the Cobb-bination (see what I did there?) of Cobb and whatever I can grab to fill the gap, somebody like Carlos Martinez, Kevin Gausman, or Drew Pomeranz, over most any player that you could realistically get back in a trade.

I wouldn’t trade/drop him for: Francisco Liriano, Mat Latos, Michael Pineda
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