People get hurt. It’s one of the downsides of life – like a Katherine Heigl movie or the script for Season 4 of The Walking Dead. Like all of God’s creatures, baseball players will also get hurt (they’re people, too, right?). So unless you can put in a Cal Ripken “max health” cheat code into your fantasy baseball players’ bodies, dealing with injuries is something you’ll have to stomach for the next five months.
In each of the past two weeks I’ve covered some of the top players to stash on your team’s DL. That route can be pretty cut and dry. All fantasy owners should continue that process, but there are other ways to maximize injury potential. It may sound a little grim, but targeting injured or injury-prone players in trades, or players that you may want to give up in a trade, is a savvy strategy that could net you a nice return.
To succeed in fantasy baseball you can’t be complacent. Opposing owners often get frustrated with players who are constantly on the trainer’s table, and that’s always a good time to buy low. It’s also a smart move to trade away a player who may be healthy now, but who’s been known to have worse luck than a cast member in one of the Final Destination flicks.
It’s a dirty business, but gambling on a player’s health can be profitable…
HITTERS TO BUY:
Miguel Cabrera, Tigers: He’s the biggie here. The reigning two-time MVP has started 2014 with a thud, slashing .232/.306/.375 with just one home run and seven RBI. Miggy had offseason groin surgery (ouch) and has rightly come out of the gate at a snail’s pace. Depending on your league, he was probably drafted either first or second, so the price could be steep, but there’s no better time than now to buy low on the Tigers’ 31-year-old first baseman. A top pitcher and a No. 2 outfielder could pry him away from an impatient owner.
Chase Headley, Padres: Okay, Headley may be a little of a reach here, but I still think he can have a productive season. He’s off to a bad start, batting .182 with a 22.4% K-rate and just three walks, but the potential is there. He hits in the middle of the Padres’ lineup, and while the Padres stink like moldy cheese, batting in the heart of any lineup has fantasy appeal. Dioner Navarro hit .343 with 4 HR and 13 RBI while operating out of the No. 3 and 4 spots for the Cubs last season! Headley has sat out three games over the past week with a biceps injury, which could very well be the source of his early season hitting woes. He is only 70 percent owned in ESPN leagues, which makes him an easy target to trade for in deeper leagues where he’s still rostered. An important thing to note here is that he is set to become a free agent this winter, which gives him lots of incentive to put on a show in the coming months.
Josh Hamilton, Angels: HamBone had surgery on April 11 to fix a torn UCL in his thumb and isn’t supposed to begin baseball activities till the beginning of May. The coming days represent a great time to trade for the Angels slugger. He was off to a great start, slashing .444/.545/.741 with two homers, seven runs scored and six RBI, but as the days go by, many owners will forget those first two weeks of the season and could be willing to part with him. He won’t likely be at full strength until June, but you could probably nab him for a decent pitcher if your trade partner’s rotation has been hurt by the recent slew of injuries to hurlers. Once Hamilton comes back, he could easily hit 20 homers the rest of the way.
Will Middlebrooks, Red Sox: Since his rookie campaign, Middlebrooks has thoroughly disappointed. His poor season last year even got him sent down to Triple-A. He put on muscle this offseason and was looking to make things right again, but a calf strain landed him on the DL. The Red Sox have been going with Brock Holt, Jonathan Herrera and the recently released Ryan Roberts in his stead – not the most ideal of options. At one point this spring there were murmurs of Scott Bor – err – Stephen Drew re-signing with Boston and Middlebrooks getting cast aside, but the third base job is Middlebrooks’ to lose for now, or at least until Garin Cecchini is ready. The average won’t be there, but 20-homer potential out of the hot corner could be a valuable commodity in fantasy leagues come August.
Jurickson Profar, Rangers: The Rangers are starting to get back some of their previously injured players. Colby Lewis already made his return and Matt Harrison is expected to join the big club this week. Adrian Beltre is due back this weekend, too. There has also been some good news coming from the Jurickson Profar front. The team announced Sunday that their young second baseman, who tore a muscle in is shoulder during spring training, could be back by early June. While he is owned in just 30 percent of ESPN leagues, more competitive owners have likely stashed him. Now might be a good time to try and pry him away from them. Unlike Hamilton, or even Middlebrooks, Profar hasn’t shown much offensive prowess in the majors yet, but hitting in a potent Rangers’ lineup has tremendous upside. Teams in redraft leagues with holes to fill could easily part with him for a back-of-the-rotation starting pitcher. If that pitcher is nothing but a streamer to you, why not offer him to the Profar owner in your league before you drop him?
HITTERS TO SELL:
Jose Reyes, Blue Jays: When Reyes is on the field, he’s an explosive fantasy force. The problem is, you never know when his next injury may pop up. Hamstring issues have plagued the Jays’ shortstop for a good portion of his career, and playing half his games on the hard, unforgiving turf in Toronto won’t aid in keeping him off the sidelines. Wait for Reyes to heat up (and put together a string of consecutive games played) and deal him to the Canadian owner in your league, or at least one looking for middle infield help or speed.
Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox: Pedroia is a fantasy darling – always gets you a .290+ BA, 15 HR and 70 or so RBI. Steals 20 bases, too. A wrist injury may be the cause of his terrible start to begin 2014 (.274 wOBA, 0 HR, 1 SB), but there’s more to it than that. He’s now playing in his age 30 season, and while it may be slight, Pedroia seems to be declining. A HR/FB rate of 11.4% led to a career-high 21 HR in 2011. That number dropped to 8.5% in 2012 and 5.6% in 2013, so it’s not a coincidence that his home run numbers also dropped to 15 and 9 in those two years, respectively. His stolen base numbers have also gone downhill, peaking at 26 in 2011, and then falling to 20 in ’12 and 17 last season. He had thumb surgery last year and his wrist has been bothering him enough that he’s needed cortisone injections. His apprehension on the base paths could be directly related to the thumb (not wanting to slide headfirst into a bag) and the wrist will be a problem all season unless he gets some extended time off. Even with his struggles, the “Pedroia” name alone could be worth a nice haul in return if you should choose to trade him. It’s a move that is worth exploring if you’re an owner looking ahead to the summer months.
Manny Machado, Orioles: What makes Machado different than my first two “sell” guys, is that he is still on the DL — but that could give him some interesting appeal to a possible trade partner. Because he’s yet to play, owners can only go off his stats from previous years – which were pretty damn good. Machado led the AL with 51 doubles last year and had 14 HR, 71 RBI and 88 runs scored to boot. For the most part, you know what you’re getting with the young third baseman, and there’s no guarantee his surgically repaired knee holds up. Selling him for even two-thirds of his value is a smart move, especially if you didn’t have to make a huge investment on him during your draft. Third base is very deep this season and it’s likely you already have someone performing well in his absence. It’s really a no-risk situation that could net you a decent return.
Other Injury Notes:
Kole Calhoun, Angels: A sprained ankle will sideline Calhoun for the next 3-5 weeks, which means he may not return till late May at the earliest. He’s definitely worth stashing if you have a DL spot, but if you are in shallower leagues, dropping him for a hot free agent is not unreasonable. The other “Angels in the Outfield” – J.B. Shuck and Colin Cowgill – are AL-only fodder, if that. I’ve got a fever, and the only prescription is less Cowgill.
Matt Harrison, Rangers: As mentioned above, Harrison is set to return to the Rangers rotation this week. He was initially expected to require one or two more rehab starts, but following Saturday’s eight shutout innings, it looks like he’s good to go. Nick Martinez was set to start for the injured Tanner Scheppers on Tuesday, but that could be up in the air with Harrison returning. Harrison won’t pitch Tuesday because he will have had only two days rest, but Ron Washington may opt to push everyone back a start, which would put Yu Darvish’s two-start week in jeopardy. Damn YU!
Danny Espinosa, Nationals: Ryan Zimmerman is hurt again. This is nothing new to fantasy owners. After being cast aside for two seasons, Danny Espinosa has a prominent role in the Nats’ offense once again. He hit his first homer of the season on Saturday and could provide a nice source of power and speed from the 2B spot. He strikes out a ton, but the former LBSU Dirtbag hit 38 HR and stole 37 bases between 2011-12. He’s still just 26 years old. Ride him as long as Zimmerman remains sidelined.
Shane Victorino, Red Sox: The Flyin’ Hawaiian made a rehab start on Saturday and could be ready to play in Boston by mid-week. He was dropped in 11 percent of ESPN leagues, so make sure to check your wire to see if yours was one of them. Leading off for the Sox will give him a ton of fantasy value.
Joe Kelly, Cardinals: Kelly hit the DL with a hamstring injury, but not before he posted a 1-1 record with a sparkling 0.59 ERA. The Cards will start Tyler Lyons in his place, but he’s not the long-term option. Carlos Martinez should have that rotation spot sewn up, but Mike Matheny seems content with him in a set-up role. As long as C-Mart doesn’t get the promotion, Kelly had been pitching well enough that he should slide back into to rotation once he returns. Grab and stash if you have the open DL spot.
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