Every name-player injury hurts us in fake baseball, but some injuries sting a little more than others. When Bryce Harper hurts, everyone feels it.
The news came down Monday: Harper needs left-thumb surgery and isn't expected back until early July. Fantasy owners are scrambling for a replacement, something we'll get to in a second.
Harper has become a pet player during his brief career, a fantasy commodity that some owners can't seem to stop reaching for. Harper's Yahoo ADP was a lofty 10.4 this year, despite the fact that he's never posted legitimate first-round numbers before. Owners want it for Harper so badly; they pine for the day when Harper can be Cassidy to Mike Trout's Sundance. Owners want to be there when it all clicks for Washington's franchise player. Prospect hounds ache to be validated for every pro-Harper stance they had prior to his debut in 2012.
To borrow a phrase from Tracy Flick, you're not voting for Bryce Harper on draft day – you're voting for yourself.
Like everyone else, I see the awesome potential with Harper. I don't take any joy in seeing players get hurt, especially exciting young players with expansive upside. And although Harper has been injury prone through his career, it's too early to attach a fragile label to him. Sure, he plays the game hard (hush, Matt Williams), maybe even a little reckless at times. But a lot of injuries are nothing more than bad luck.
We're deep enough into the season to attach standing-context to the current Harper strategy. If your club is off to a terrific start already, maybe it's time to try to acquire Harper. Conversely, the Harper-owned teams that already face an uphill climb have to consider a possible trade, a play-for-now gambit. There's now way to offer one piece of standard advice on this one; it's all situational and contextual.
As for possible outfield replacements, I'm happy to compile a list. Here's a mini-shuffle of outfielders, drawing from players who are owned in less than half of Yahoo leagues.
$12 Dexter Fowler
$11 Nick Castellanos
$11 Alejandro De Aza
$11 Nick Swisher
$11 Matt Joyce
$10 Khris Davis
$10 Nick Markakis
$10 Josh Reddick
$9 Marcell Ozuna
$9 Lucas Duda
$8 Eric Young
$8 Dayan Viciedo
$7 Marlon Byrd
$7 Jason Kubel
$7 Colby Rasmus
$7 B.J. Upton
$7 Cameron Maybin
$5 David Murphy
$5 Denard Span
$4 Gregory Polanco
$4 A.J. Pollock
$4 Jarrod Dyson
$3 Nate McLouth
$3 Kelly Johnson
$3 Brian Barnes
$2 Grady Sizemore
$2 Chris Denorfia
$2 Ichiro Suzuki
$2 Corey Dickerson
$2 Raul Ibanez
• Once you moved past Chris Sale, expectations were tame for the 2014 Chicago White Sox. Their projected win total was in the 74.5 range (my head scout shouted over), the rotation looked skimpy after Sale, the bullpen an absolute mess. Just another ballclub.
The pitching staff still looks choppy after Sale (and he's currently on the disabled list), but the Chicago offense has turned out to be a smash (150 runs, tops in the majors). Monday was unofficially Jose Abreu day at The Arcade (see Andy's piece here, or my corner ranks here); for Tuesday, let's take the sights a little lower. Time to examine the work Dayan Viciedo and Marcus Semien are doing.
Viciedo was a hot prospect when the White Sox signed the Cuban defector at the end of 2008, but he hasn't put big numbers on the board yet. He wasn't even guaranteed playing time into this season, but the Avisail Garcia injury created an opportunity. So far, so good: Viciedo has a .354/.413/.524 slash over 82 at-bats, with nine walks against 13 strikeouts. He's still just 25, maybe this is the year things clear up for him. And this certainly looks like a fun offense to be invested in.
Viciedo's run-production numbers are lighter than you would expect: 12 runs, nine RBIs. The opposite is true for infielder Semien. Although he's batting just .230 and already struck out a whopping 36 times, he's making the most of his hits (18 runs, 15 RBIs). He's homered three times and swiped three bases, delicious category juice.
The 23-year-old Berkeley product posted an interesting season in the minors last year, splitting time between Double-A and Triple-A. Check out the 137-game result: .284/.401/.479, 110 runs, 19 homers, 66 RBIs, 24 steals. I'm curious to see where the story goes. The return of Gordon Beckham forces Semien to play third base for now, but it's not like the White Sox are enamored with Conor Gillaspie. Let's kick some tires and see what happens. Semien qualifies at two infield spots (second, third), and is unowned in 88 percent of Yahoo leagues.
• There's no hard rule of thumb when teams move to temporary closers. Sometimes the new guy takes the job and runs with it, sometimes teams quickly flip back to the old plan on the clipboard. The pitchers usually take care of things with how they perform; most managers want to avoid difficult decisions as often as possible. The entire save rule is part of the problem, of course – it makes it easy for skippers to hide behind a definition as they meander through endgames.
With that all in mind, let's take a look at what's going on in Anaheim and Oakland.
Joe Smith's first OC opportunity was a coconut stroll: three outs around one single, easy Monday handshake. It's not that difficult to protect a three-run lead.
Smith had a messy four-run appearance against Oakland on Tax Day, but otherwise he's unscathed through 12 appearances this year (3 BB 11 K). The Angels won't take a financial hit if Smith becomes the full-season closer; he's on a three-year deal, signed for a hearty $15.75 million through 2016. Although Ernesto Frieri had two clean appearances on the weekend, I don't see any incentive for the Angels to force a switch back (Frieri's deal is up after the season, for whatever that's worth). If I had just one dart to throw on an Angels reliever for fantasy purposes, it would have to be Smith.
It's more complicated in Oakland, in part because there are three pitchers to think about (or four, if you think Ryan Cook has a shot; given they way they shielded him from the ninth last year, I don't like his chances).
Jim Johnson is always going to be a pitch-to-contact reliever, a chuck-and-duck guy, but he's been posting bagels of late (7.2 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 8 K). If Johnson can throw strikes, the Athletics will live with the results (in part because of his lofty ground-ball rate). Manager Bob Melvin seems ready to give Johnson another closing shot in the near future.
If Johnson sees the ninth this week, it's probably because Sean Doolittle and Luke Gregerson haven't been anything special of late. Doolittle was tagged with two losses last week, and he's allowed seven runs over his last five appearances. The A's handed him a big contract extension, sure, but that doesn't mean Doolittle has to be the ninth-inning man (and the A's seem more open to bullpen creatitvy than most clubs). Gregerson also picked up a loss last week; he's had three smooth appearances and two spotty ones over his last five appearances.
Examining tiny samples from relievers might seem a little absurd, but we have to do it – heck, it's why Johnson lost his gig in the first place. If saves were all that mattered and I needed one Oakland reliever to roll with, Johnson would get the check mark.