It's a wild time in the fantasy baseball world. With the second half in full swing, we have the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline less than one week away and the Biogenesis cloud looming over our heads. There should be plenty of deadline fallout to discuss in next week's Waiver Wired, but it might pay to start thinking ahead in regard to Biogenesis.
I was originally under the impression that any potential suspensions wouldn't have much of an impact on this season, so Monday's announcement regarding Ryan Braun came as quite a surprise to me. Who knows if MLB has the same level of evidence on other players mentioned in the scandal (Nelson Cruz, Jhonny Peralta, Everth Cabrera) or whether those who have already been suspended will face further punishment (Bartolo Colon, Melky Cabrera), but don't let yourself get caught off guard here. It's time to start being proactive about backup plans. Fortunately we're at that time of the year where trades often open the door for new opportunities.
Speaking of a new opportunity, here's your chance to enter FanDuel's King of the Diamond fantasy baseball tournament. It's as little as $1 to enter and you could win as much as $555,555 in prizes when all is said and done. I hope to see you guys there.
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Matt Adams 1B, Cardinals (Yahoo: 10 percent owned)
One of the more talented bench players in the majors, Adams is getting a chance to play every day while Matt Holliday is on the disabled list with a hamstring strain. A second-round pick of the Cardinals from 2009, "Big Mayo" is batting .307/.366/.520 with seven home runs, 11 doubles, and 29 RBI in just 164 plate appearances this season. His .886 OPS would be 16th in the majors if he had enough plate appearances to qualify. Holliday could be back as soon as this weekend, so I wouldn't drop anyone important in order to make room, but Adams should be on your radar in deeper formats by now. All he needs is an extended opportunity.
Colby Rasmus OF, Blue Jays (Yahoo: 36 percent owned)
Replacing Ryan Braun is an impossible task for fantasy owners, but Rasmus is one of the more productive players out there who is still widely available in standard leagues. Currently enjoying his best stretch of the season, the 26-year-old outfielder is batting .265 with 16 home runs, 49 RBI, and an .808 OPS in 95 games. With a lofty 30.5 percent strikeout rate, his .351 BABIP (batting average on balls in play) has helped keep his batting average respectable. I wouldn't count on that to continue, but with his hitter-friendly home stadium, he's an excellent source of power.
John Axford RP, Brewers (Yahoo: 37 percent owned)
After Francisco Rodriguez was traded to the Orioles this week, Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said that he planned to flip-flip Axford and Jim Henderson (Yahoo: 56 percent owned) in the closer role based on matchups. Well, Axford pitched a scoreless eighth inning last night while Henderson notched his first save since June 21. I wouldn't bail on Axford quite yet, as he has allowed just one run over his last 32 appearances dating back to May 15. He's worthy of getting another chance at the closer role at some point, though the Brewers could move him in a trade over the next week.
Michael Morse 1B/OF, Mariners (Yahoo: 43 percent owned)
Out since July 20 with a strained right quad, Morse is 2-for-9 with a homer through three rehab games with Triple-A Tacoma and appears on track to rejoin the Mariners this weekend. The 31-year-old slowed down significantly after getting off to an insane start this season, but the nagging quad injury was likely a big reason for that. Now that he is finally back to full health, hopefully he can finish as strong as he started. His dual-eligibility between first base and the outfield gives him a chance to be a difference-maker down the stretch.
Rex Brothers RP, Rockies (Yahoo: 41 percent owned)
Rafael Betancourt was placed on the disabled list over the weekend following an emergency appendectomy, which makes Brothers an automatic pickup if you need saves. The 25-year-old southpaw walks a lot of guys, but he has 44 strikeouts in 42 2/3 innings and opposing batters are hitting just .188 against him. Betancourt hopes to be back from the disabled list when he's first eligible, but that's obviously no guarantee. Brothers shouldn't be sitting on the wire in this many leagues.
Dillon Gee SP, Mets (Yahoo: 17 percent owned)
Gee just keeps on rolling. After flirting with a no-hitter in his most recent outing against the Braves on Monday, the 27-year-old right-hander now has a 2.39 ERA and 55/18 K/BB ratio in 67 2/3 innings over his last 10 starts. Only nine pitchers (min. 50 IP) have a lower ERA during the same timespan. Gee was quietly having a nice season last year until he needed surgery to remove a blood clot from his shoulder, so it appears he has picked off from where he left off. Home runs can be an issue for him at times, but he's a fine backend starter in most fantasy formats.
Junior Lake 3B/OF, Cubs (Yahoo: 13 percent owned)
Lake has been nothing short of ridiculous since being called up from Triple-A Iowa last week, hitting .519 (14-for-27) with two home runs, three doubles, five RBI, three runs scored, and a stolen base in six games. Now that's an instant impact. While the 23-year-old has exclusively played in the outfield since joining the Cubs, he is eligible at third base and even shortstop in some fantasy leagues. Lake isn't going to maintain a .600 BABIP (batting average on balls in play), but he stole 117 bases over 619 games in the minors and also has some pop in his bat. Alonso Soriano, Nate Schierholtz, and David DeJesus could all be moved in the coming weeks, so Lake could be a useful option down the stretch.
Felix Doubront SP, Red Sox (Yahoo: 26 percent owned)
Doubront hasn't received much fanfare, but aside from John Lackey, he has been Boston's best starter over the past couple of months. After struggling to begin the season, the 25-year-old southpaw owns a 2.71 ERA and 68 strikeouts in 79 2/3 innings over his last 13 starts and has allowed three earned runs or fewer in all of them. Only 14 pitchers (min. 70 IP) have a lower ERA during that stretch. Equally encouraging, his ground ball rate is on the rise and his velocity has increased as the year has moved along. Doubront still walks a few too many batters, so there's always the chance for a blowup outing, but the powerful Red Sox offense gives him plenty of win potential the rest of the way.
Kelly Johnson 2B/3B/OF, Rays (Yahoo: 48 percent owned)
After struggling to the tune of a miserable .116 batting average in June, Johnson has turned things around dramatically this month by hitting .341 with four home runs in 44 at-bats over 13 games. The 31-year-old is notoriously streaky, so the huge peaks and valleys are nothing new, but his power-speed combo and multi-position eligibility should continue to make him relevant in most mixed leagues. Just keep in mind that Joe Maddon has been sitting him lately against southpaws.
Shopping at the five-and-dime:
(Players owned in under 10 percent of Yahoo! leagues)
Devin Mesoraco C, Reds (Yahoo: 2 percent owned)
Mesoraco has thrived with Ryan Hanigan sidelined this month, hitting .354 with two home runs, three doubles, nine RBI, and a .938 OPS through 14 games. It wasn't too long ago that the 25-year-old was considered one of the top catching prospects in the game, but Reds manager Dusty Baker hasn't given him much of an opportunity to show what he can do. Shocking, I know. Hanigan was only hitting .193 with two home runs and a .569 OPS in 168 plate appearances prior to his wrist injury, so there's a strong case to be made that it's time for Mesoraco to carry the load behind the plate. Those in two-catcher formats should be willing to gamble.
Jake Marisnick OF, Marlins (Yahoo: 3 percent owned)
If you read Waiver Wired two weeks ago, you already knew to stash Christian Yelich for the second half, but Marisnick should also be on your radar now that he's also up in the big leagues. Acquired from the Blue Jays in December's blockbuster, the 22-year-old was batting .294/.358/.502 with 12 home runs and 11 stolen bases through 67 games this season with Double-A Jacksonville. The Marlins aren't calling him up to be a part-time player, so look for him to get most of the starts in center field moving forward. With his plate discipline a work in progress, I'm not expecting much in the batting average department, but Marisnick has enough pop and speed to be interesting in deeper formats.
Pedro Strop RP, Cubs (Yahoo: 4 percent owned)
The common line of thinking has been that Strop could make for a fine pickup in the event that Kevin Gregg gets traded, but he might not need that to happen in order to get an opportunity. While Gregg has shown his true colors recently, Strop has delivered 8 2/3 scoreless innings since joining the Cubs while allowing just three hits and two walks to go along with 11 strikeouts. Blake Parker has also been mentioned as an alternative -- in fact, I included him in Waiver Wired recently -- but the hard-throwing Strop has the most long-term upside.
Jonathan Villar SS, Astros (Yahoo: 1 percent owned)
The Astros designated Ronny Cedeno for assignment over the weekend, clearing the way for Villar to take over as the regular shortstop. Speed is the main reason you should be paying attention here, as the 22-year-old has swiped 193 bases over 543 games in the minors, including 31 in just 91 games this season in Triple-A. The switch-hitting Villar strikes out a lot, so don't expect much in the way of batting average, but he has made some strides with his power in recent seasons. It's never a bad idea to fill your MI (middle infielder) spot with some cheap speed off the wire.
Carlos Martinez SP, Cardinals (Yahoo: 3 percent owned)
Remember last week I mentioned how Martinez could be interesting if Chris Carpenter suffers a setback? Well, Carpenter has decided to put his rehab assignment on hold after he felt numbness in his hand during his most recent start on Saturday. With his return no longer a sure thing, Martinez could be poised to fill a rotation spot before long. Armed with a mid-to-high 90s fastball and a 12-to-6 curveball, "Little Pedro" has a 1.96 ERA and 35 strikeouts in 41 1/3 innings over eight starts in Triple-A this season. The Cardinals just sent him back down to the minors on Thursday, so one wonders if they are stretching him back out in preparation for a return as a starter later this summer. There have been all sorts of trade rumors with the Cardinals, so nothing would surprise me over the next week, but keep an eye on Martinez in deeper leagues.
Logan Schafer OF, Brewers (Yahoo: 1 percent owned)
In the wake of Ryan Braun's suspension, Schafer stands the best chance to benefit. While the 26-year-old outfielder is batting just .226/.281/.344 in sporadic playing time with the Brewers this season, he was a .294 hitter over five seasons in the minors and amassed 11 home runs and 16 stolen bases in 124 games last season in Triple-A. The newly-recalled Khris Davis could also see some playing time in left field, but Schafer has the ability to be relevant in NL-only and some deeper mixed leagues the rest of the way.
Mike Olt 1B/3B, Cubs (Yahoo: 2 percent owned)
Part of the haul in this week's Matt Garza deal, Olt has seen his stock fade a bit this year due to vision problems. While he's hitting .251 with 11 home runs in 49 games at the Triple-A level since missing most of May, he has also struck out 32 percent of the time. Still, the Cubs were more than happy to buy low. Peter Gammons of MLB Network writes that the Cubs plan to keep Olt in Triple-A for a little while in order to find his 2012 swing, but he's known more for his power and plus-defense at third base than his ability to hit for average, anyway. Stash him away for the stretch run.
Chris Colabello OF, Twins (Yahoo: 0 percent owned)
Colabello had a brief stint with the Twins earlier this season, but he's back after a ridiculous first half with Triple-A Rochester in which he batted .354/.432/.652 with 24 home runs in 85 games. The 29-year-old journeyman led the International League in host of categories, including batting average, home runs, extra-base hits, OPS, and RBI. He may turn out to be nothing more than a Quad-A bat, but the Twins have little to lose by giving him a chance. Keep him on your radar.
Jose Cisnero RP, Astros (Yahoo: 0 percent owned)
With Jose Veras on the trade block, it's high time to consider his replacement for the closer role. With a 5.03 ERA, the Astros have the worst bullpen in the major leagues, but Cisnero has been a bright spot since his call-up in April. While the 24-year-old right-hander has struggled a bit recently, especially with his control, he still has a fine 3.38 ERA and 40 strikeouts over 40 innings. Coming into play Thursday, his swinging strike rate (11.9 percent) ranks 22nd among relievers with a minimum of 40 innings pitched. The Astros could go with a committee if Veras is dealt, potentially including Hector Ambriz and/or someone they acquire at the deadline, but Cisnero is the best in-house bet at the moment.