While the most valuable fantasy commodities will always be the players who fill multiple categories, there's something to be said for the specialists, too. The barrier to relevance is low in two specific instances: anyone who gets saves or steals bases can easily endear himself to us, even if there's not much else to the profile.
With that in mind, it's time for me to talk you (or myself) into Jordan Schafer, the center fielder for the Astros. That's right, there's still a baseball club in Houston. Pretty little stadium, too.
The speedy Schafer stole three bases in Tuesday's loss to the Braves, his former team, and he has a strong hold on the leadoff spot in Houston. The Astros are going to let him run liberally; it should be a loose year in that dugout as the team is a few years away from any hopes of contention. Every big league city is a potential source of fantasy value, even the bad clubs and the small markets. Although there's been spirited Schafer movement this morning in the Yahoo! universe, he's still available in 95 percent of leagues as we go to press.
Schafer was considered a prospect of note back in his Atlanta days; not a headliner by any means, but someone with an intriguing future. Alas, his profile to this point is mostly covered in red ink. He had a 50-game suspension for PED use back in 2008, a wrist injury trashed his 2009 season, and he was arrested for marijuana possession last winter (a few months after joining the Astros in the Michael Bourn trade). Schafer has crammed a lot of ups and downs into his 25 years. Even his first camp in Houston came with a cloud over it; he dealt with a hand/wrist injury for half of March.
Still, at his tender age, there's ample time for the story to blossom into something juicy. Schafer already knows what he's doing as a base thief (he's 27- for-33 on stolen-base attempts for his career) and he's drawn 57 walks against 488 at-bats in The Show. The puny .232 average isn't what we want, but he doesn't need much improvement in that area before we have to take him seriously. Young players can (and often do) improve, and the development curve is different for everyone. Schafer took his off-season workouts seriously, adding 15-20 pounds to his frame.
Okay, if you're in the thinnest of mixed leagues, this isn't a Glengarry Lead for you (please remember, coffee is for closers, only). But if you're fighting for scraps in a moderate or deep mixed league, you need to find a few ugly ducklings that turn into swans. There are surprises to every season; maybe Schafer is finally ready to run his way into a meaty role.
And even if Schafer isn't for you, let's consider some of the other Astros hitters as possible roto assets. Left fielder J.D. Martinez was useful in his rookie debut, and he's off to a 6-for-18 start with a homer and four RBIs, settling in as the team's No. 3 hitter. He's still out there in 77 percent of the Yahoo! world. Spark plug second baseman Jose Altuve is hitting .357 through four games, and yet he's free for the taking in 79 percent of leagues. Even an established name like Carlos Lee is somewhat underrated; despite his cleanup post, strong start (.389, homer, six RBIs) and multi-position eligibility, he's ignored in 32 percent of Yahoo! pools. Hey, the Astros don't get shut out every night.
Closer Brett Myers (51 percent) is also worth a look; every team has the potential to support a closer (think 25 saves or so) and Myers is the rare handshake man who also has starting-pitcher eligibility. Bud Norris is also under-owned at 58 percent; high-upside strikeout sources (he had 176 last year) don't grow on trees, and he'll enjoy the NL environment for one more summer (Houston shifts to the American League next year, when MLB finally evens out all six divisions).
• It's a fun time to be a Detroit baseball fan, and the smiles might get wider later in the season. Victor Martinez apparently didn't need a knee reconstruction after all, and although it's a long shot, he has a chance to rejoin the club in late August or September. There's no way I'd give Martinez a fantasy DL slot in a non-keeper league (especially if you already have big names stashed away), but if you happen to be sitting on an empty DL tag (never do that, by the way), it might be worth throwing a buck at this lottery ticket.
Chris Iott of MLive.com presents the pro-Martinez case here; it's mostly timetable speculation and there isn't anything imminent to this comeback story, but the game of fantasy baseball is all about maneuvering between what is likely, what is possible, and where profit potential lies. "Any chance of Martinez returning to play late in the 2012 season would be determined at the time of his follow-up MRI in July," a team official told Iott. So noted. We'll clip and save.
To be clear, I wouldn't give up anything significant for this dream, but if your buy-in is next to nothing, you have to consider it. Imagine a 3-4-5 Murderer's Row of Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder and Victor Martinez, taking dead aim on the poor pitching staffs from the AL Central. Do you feel lucky, gamer? I have a couple of DL slots that aren't tied to buzzy names; I'm going to swap them out for Martinez if I can. He's still grandfathered in as a Yahoo! catcher, too.
• Although Clayton Kershaw was on top of his game (7 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 0 BB, 7 K, 65 of 88 pitches for strikes), he had to settle for a no-decision in LA's home opener as his mates didn't do much against Kevin Correia. Andre Ethier (who looks terrific thus far) ultimately took control of things, homering off Jason Grilli in the bottom of the eighth. Javy Guerra dodged one baserunner in the ninth and recorded his third save; sorry Kenley Jansen fans, but Guerra's hold on the closing gig is secure. Dee Gordon stole his fourth base of the year; the bandwagon is so full here, it might be time to start shorting the stock.
Legendary Dodgers announcer Vin Scully (cold) wasn't up to the opener, so we were subjected to the ramblings of Charlie Steiner, a monumental dropdown. Sully is the ultimate master of subtlety, someone who chooses his words with a surgeon's precision. In many key instances, he'll simply stay quiet and let the picture tell the story. Steiner's rule of thumb is to never use five words when you have a 29-word ramble just dying to get out; he's the broadcasting equivalent of "how many college kids can you stuff into a phone booth?" Please get well soon, Mr. Scully.
• The Kansas City at Oakland match from Tuesday has a weird look in the box score, as rain wiped out the final inning and a half of play. The umpires eventually had to call the game, awarding the Royals a 3-0 victory. Intriguing lefty Danny Duffy (6 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 4 BB, 8 K) won't be the last person who takes advantage of this streaming assignment, though it's the final chance he'll get in this park for 2012 (the Royals don't come back to Rockville after this week). Aaron Crow picked up the unconventional save, striking out two in the seventh inning, then sitting back and watching the raindrops fall. (Jonathan Broxton was probably muttering to himself, "This never happens in LA.")
Picking on the Athletics offense isn't difficult to do, but let's focus on the buzziest name in this lineup: center fielder Yoenis Cespedes. Everyone knows all about the import's three homers to this point (a couple of mammoth blasts in there, highlight-film stuff), but let's not miss the fact that he's hitting just .222 and he's already rung up 10 strikeouts over six games. He's yet to try a stolen base, either, though I can blow that off pretty quickly: he doesn't have a single yet, and he's only walked twice. As my buddy Erik Siegrist was positing Tuesday at Rotowire, this could be an ideal time to shop Cespedes. High-expectation rookies and imports are normally chased in the draft and auction season, and the early homers may have strengthened market confidence.
Boiling it down to the simplest terms, I think the market is probably overrating Cespedes in most leagues. And he's not going to get much help from his home ballpark or the hitters around him. There are already some exploitable holes in Cespedes's swing, and you better believe the deep staffs in Texas and Anaheim will be paying attention to the tape. Your mileage will vary (I can't guarantee you there's a Cespedes Fan in your league), but this is the type of player I'd always be looking to cash in on, as soon as my league environment allowed for it.
• Not every injured player from March turns into a full-blown injury nightmare in April, but there's a logical argument to be made for downgrading these guys at your draft or auction table. Obviously it depends on how much your local market discounts these guys — if confidence slides too far, you might have a buying opportunity — but I'd like to buy a healthy team before the season if I can, not take on too much risk with physical issues. As loyal Shuffle Up readers have seen (and often debated) through the years, I tend not to make strong comeback assumptions when injuries become long-term waiting games. It's not my shoulder, it's not my hamstring, it's not my elbow, and it's not my million-dollar investment, either.
With that theme in mind, let's consider the plight of the poor Nationals, who are still smarting from the Drew Storen hit Monday. It turns out Michael Morse is also singing the setback blues; he felt soreness in his lat area Monday night and is headed for a re-examination. There's no specific timetable available on Morse until the club reveals some info, and he might be carrying the "indefinite" tag even after results are known. Given that Morse only has a year and a half of fantasy relevance and he's already 30, this is not the type of player I'm going to be optimistic about looking forward. If I were re-ranking the outfielders (or corner men) for Shuffle Up right this second, I'd probably keep Morse tucked in the $5-6 area.
David Wright was another dinged-up player I avoided in March and it might turn out to be the right play, if for the wrong reason. Wright suffered a small fracture in his right pinky finger in Monday's game, and although he's expected to avoid surgery and might be able to play through the discomfort, any finger, hand or wrist injury has to be taken very seriously with an offensive player, especially a power hitter. I wish the Roto Gods would stop kicking Wright around; he was probably my favorite player in the National League 4-5 years ago. His career path is starting to look pretty darn similar to Scott Rolen's, isn't it?