The hammer finally came down this week on those connected to the Biogenesis PED scandal. While Alex Rodriguez naturally commanded most of the attention for his 211-game suspension and subsequent appeal, fantasy owners were dealt a tough blow by the losses of Nelson Cruz, Jhonny Peralta, and Everth Cabrera. The writing was on the wall after Ryan Braun accepted his suspension from MLB last month, so hopefully you weren't caught off guard.
These suspensions have presented opportunities for other players, though unfortunately I don't most of the replacements making a big impact in fantasy leagues. Craig Gentry and Engel Beltre figure to see an uptick in playing time with the Rangers, but the biggest development might be that Leonys Martin is assured of regular at-bats against both righties and lefties. More on him in a bit. The recently-acquired Jose Iglesias will take over at shortstop with the Tigers, but he'll be more valuable with his glove than his bat. The Padres added veteran shortstop Ronny Cedeno to the roster on Tuesday, which could cut into the value of Alexi Amarista and Logan Forsythe, who are far more interesting from a fantasy perspective. Not much to work with here.
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Danny Farquhar RP, Mariners (Yahoo: 36 percent owned)
Acquired from the Yankees last year in the Ichiro Suzuki trade, Farquhar may have found a home as the Mariners' closer, converting the team's last three save chances. It's been a rapid rise for the 26-year-old right-hander, who had an ugly 7.61 ERA over his first 17 appearances this season, but his skills were bubbling under the surface all along. With a curveball that is slowly becoming a legitimate weapon, he has eight straight scoreless appearances under his belt to go along with a 20/4 K/BB ratio over 12 2/3 innings. The Mariners sent Tom Wilhelmsen to the minors this week, so Farquhar may have a legitimate shot to run away with the job.
Alex Avila C, Tigers (Yahoo: 28 percent owned)
Avila's trip to the disabled list in June may have been just what the doctor ordered. Since returning from a bruised forearm on July 2, the 26-year-old backstop is hitting .256 with four home runs, five doubles, 23 RBI, and an .800 OPS over 23 games. It's a massive improvement when you consider that he hit just .172 with five home runs and 13 RBI over his first 48 contests this season. Avila continues to strike out at a very high clip, so don't get too carried away, but it's safe to give him a chance again in deeper leagues and two-catcher formats.
Josh Willingham OF, Twins (Yahoo: 39 percent owned)
Sidelined since the end of June due to left knee surgery, Willingham began a minor league rehab assignment on Monday with Triple-A Rochester and could be activated for Friday's doubleheader against the White Sox. The 34-year-old was hitting just .224 in 70 games prior to the injury, but he's still a legitimate power source and has sneaky value in leagues which use on-base percentage as a category. His track record and upside warrant ownership in most leagues.
Danny Salazar SP, Indians (Yahoo: 14 percent owned)
Salazar should have already been on the fantasy radar after his impressive debut against the Blue Jays last month, but Wednesday's start against the Tigers cemented it. While he gave up four runs over 7 2/3 innings, he also struck out 10 batters. Miguel Cabrera whiffed three times before he finally got to the young right-hander with a two-run homer in the eighth. Still, there was a lot to like here for fantasy owners. Armed with a fastball in the high-90s and a nasty split-change, Salazar had a 2.71 ERA and 129/24 K/BB ratio over 93 innings this season between Double-A and Triple-A. The rotation spot should be there now that Corey Kluber is expected to miss 4-6 weeks with a finger strain, so he should be owned in most fantasy leagues.
Stephen Drew SS, Red Sox (Yahoo: 29 percent owned)
Look who is finally coming around. After beginning the season with a lousy .211 batting average over his first 57 games, Drew is hitting .333 with 13 extra-base hits (four home runs) and 16 RBI over his last 26 contests. This includes his current eight-game hitting streak, during which he has five multi-hit games. The 30-year-old averaged 15 homers and 63 RBI per season from 2007-2010, so it's not like we haven't seen this sort of production from him before. He's worth a pickup if you recently lost Derek Jeter to the disabled list or need to replace Jhonny Peralta or Everth Cabrera.
Alex Rodriguez 3B, Yankees (Yahoo: 27 percent owned)
Why the heck not? While his 211-game suspension for Biogenesis looms over everything, Rodriguez has looked better than expected three games into his return from January hip surgery. The 38-year-old doesn't have an extra-base hit yet, but he's 3-for-11 with two walks and a hit-by-pitch. He has also moved around pretty well on the bases. I'm not expecting Rodriguez to be the player he used to be, but something close to his production from last year would still make him relevant in most fantasy leagues. Like him or not, he's a decent upside play the rest of the way.
Leonys Martin OF, Rangers (Yahoo: 32 percent owned)
Can Martin play against the Angels every night? That's the hope of some fantasy owners, as the 25-year-old outfielder has stolen three bases in back-to-back games. He's the first player to steal at least three bases in consecutive games since Jacoby Ellsbury in 2008. Rangers manager Ron Washington has batted Martin leadoff in each of the last 10 games and while his patience is a work in progress, he'll get a nice boost in value if he stays there. Assured of regular at-bats against righties and lefties moving forward, he's doing enough in all categories to consider in shallow mixed leagues. Give him a shot if you lost Nelson Cruz to the suspension or Carlos Gonzalez to the DL this week.
Alex Wood SP/RP, Braves (Yahoo: 11 percent owned)
Wood has transitioned nicely to the Braves' rotation, winning back-to-back starts while allowing four runs over 13 innings to go along with a 10/3 K/BB ratio. With an unconventional delivery, the 22-year-old southpaw struck out a batter per inning in the minors and continues to miss bats at a high rate on the major league level. I like Wood as a streaming option this weekend against the last-place Marlins, but he's quickly looking like a nice sleeper pick in mixed leagues for 2014.
Shopping at the five-and-dime:
(Players owned in under 10 percent of Yahoo! leagues)
Joe Kelly RP/SP, Cardinals (Yahoo: 8 percent owned)
This might come as a surprise, but Kelly has the lowest ERA in the majors (1.89) among pitchers with at least 50 innings pitched dating back to May 4. This includes a 0.78 ERA over his last four starts. It's worth noting that he also has a 12/11 K/BB ratio over 23 innings in those starts, so don't expect this ridiculous pace to continue. Still, I'd be willing to give him a chance as a streaming option this weekend against the weak-hitting Cubs. You might remember that I mentioned his teammate Carlos Martinez (Yahoo: 3 percent owned) a couple of weeks ago. Well, he's making his first major league start Thursday and is worth watching if he sticks around.
Wilmer Flores 3B, Mets (Yahoo: 0 percent owned)
With David Wright expected to miss 3-5 weeks with a right hamstring strain, the Mets have called up Flores to be the primary fill-in at third base. While the 22-year-old isn't known for his defense, he was having a heck of a season with Triple-A Las Vegas, batting .321/.357/.531 with 15 home runs and 86 RBI in 107 games. His numbers were undoubtedly inflated by playing in the Pacific Coast League, but he's capable of hitting for average and providing a little bit of pop. That's enough to put him on your radar in deeper formats.
Will Venable OF, Padres (Yahoo: 5 percent owned)
Venable has been red-hot of late, hitting .415 (17-for-41) with eight extra-base hits (two home runs) three RBI, four stolen bases, and six runs scored over his last 14 games. His batting average has jumped from .225 to .251 in the process. While the 30-year-old outfielder is now up to 13 homers and 13 stolen bases on the year, his power-speed combo continues to fly under the radar in mixed leagues. Assuming you can put up with him sitting against most left-handed starters, he's a useful piece to have around in deeper formats.
LaTroy Hawkins RP, Mets (Yahoo: 8 percent owned)
Bobby Parnell is on the disabled list with a herniated disk in his neck and may end up needing season-ending surgery, which leaves the backend of the Mets' bullpen unsettled. Early indications were that David Aardsma would fill in at closer, but he struggled in back-to-back appearances over the weekend, leading to Mets manager Terry Collins opting for a committee approach. Hawkins might be at the top of the pecking order at the moment, as he closed out Tuesday's win over the Rockies and owns a fine 2.92 ERA and 37/9 K/BB ratio over 49 1/3 innings this season. Feel free to speculate if you need saves.
Robbie Grossman OF, Astros (Yahoo: 7 percent owned)
Grossman struggled in his first taste of the majors earlier this season, but he's on a 10-game hitting streak since returning from the minors in late July, during which he's batting .472 (17-for-36) with three homers, three doubles, nine RBI, four stolen bases and 10 runs scored. The 23-year-old switch-hitter has a very patient approach at the plate, so he makes for an ideal leadoff man for the rebuilding Astros. There are probably better options available in shallow mixed leagues, but Grossman's speed, pop, and on-base ability should come in handy in five-outfielder formats.
Scooter Gennett 2B, Brewers (Yahoo: 0 percent owned)
Rickie Weeks injured his left hamstring running to first base in Wednesday's game and later told reporters that he felt "a little pop," so a trip to the disabled list appears inevitable. This likely means that Gennett will get an extended opportunity at second base. Standing at 5-foot-10, the 23-year-old is hitting just .231 (12-for-52) through 22 games with the Brewers this season, but he makes consistent contact and regularly hit for a high average in the minors. He's a fine stopgap option.
Dee Gordon SS, Dodgers (Yahoo: 2 percent owned)
Called up from Triple-A Albuquerque on Monday, Gordon made the start at shortstop on Wednesday night and should continue to get semi-regular playing time until Hanley Ramirez's jammed shoulder is closer to 100 percent. The slender 25-year-old owns a weak .253/.298/.310 batting line in the majors, but he's also 61-for-80 in stolen base attempts over 163 career games. It goes without saying, but that sort of speed shouldn't be sitting on the wire in NL-only leagues.
Chris Nelson 2B/3B, Angels (Yahoo: 1 percent owned)
The Angels traded Alberto Callaspo to the Athletics last week, which leaves Nelson as the favorite to get the majority of the playing time at third base the rest of the way. Fortunately for fantasy owners, he's still eligible at second base. Don't look for the numbers Nelson posted in Colorado last year, but he's capable of hitting for a decent average thanks to his line drive approach and may even hit a few homers.
Sonny Gray SP, Athletics (Yahoo: 1 percent owned)
Gray made a pair of relief appearances for the Athletics last month, but he appears poised to get his first chance in Oakland's rotation. The Athletics have yet to make an official announcement, but the expectation is that Gray will be called up to make his first major league start Saturday against the Blue Jays. Drafted 18th overall in 2011, the 23-year-old right-hander owns a 3.42 ERA and 118/39 K/BB ratio in 118 1/3 innings over 20 starts this season in Triple-A. While Brett Anderson is making his way back from a foot injury and Tommy Milone figures to return from the minors at some point, Gray could make a big impact down the stretch. He's a must-own in AL-only leagues and should even have some appeal in mixed leagues assuming he gets the opportunity.
Michael Choice OF, Athletics (Yahoo: N/A)
With the Athletics' offense sputtering in a big way, don't be surprised if we see Choice at some point down the stretch. Selected 10th overall in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft, the 23-year-old outfielder is batting .297/.387/.452 with 14 home runs through 109 games this season with Triple-A Sacramento. He's off to a slow start in August after a red-hot July and we're still waiting to see more of the power he displayed in the California League in 2011, but put him on your watch list in AL-only leagues in case he gets the call.