Hello there and welcome to the first edition of Waiver Wired for the 2014 baseball season. I'm D.J. Short and I'll be your host each and every Thursday through the end of September. This is my fifth straight season doing this weekly column and I couldn't be more thrilled to be back. Writing about baseball (both here and on HardballTalk) is a dream come true and I still enjoy every second of it.
Anyway, before we get into this week's recommendations, let's go over how I usually approach things. You'll find coverage of mixed leagues here, as well as AL-only and NL-only formats. With the mixed league side, I will only include players who are owned in fewer than 50 percent of Yahoo leagues. I aim to help those in standard mixed leagues, but I also want to think about those who play in deeper formats. The approach has worked pretty well so far, so we'll stick with it for 2014.
The first week of the season generally consists of a lot of overreaction to small sample sizes. Hello, Emilio Bonifacio (a useful enough player for his speed and multi-position eligibility, but he's already approaching 50-percent ownership after two games). And hey, I get it. That's the impulse after a long winter. You want to get off to a quick start. But just remember that you drafted the players on your team for a reason. And a handful of games shouldn't change your valuation of them unless there's an injury or a change in role.
Granted, we have seen quite high-profile injuries early on (Jose Reyes, Wilson Ramos, Bobby Parnell among them) and there's already a lot of closer chaos around MLB. By the way, I'm not going to waste your time including Sergio Santos, Matt Lindstrom, Jose Valverde, and Francisco Rodriguez among the names below. They are obvious adds in all formats. But my hope this week is that you'll find a couple of players who can stick on your roster all season.
Have any specific questions about your roster? Ask @djshort on Twitter.
Kolten Wong 2B, Cardinals (Yahoo: 32 percent owned)
I talked a little about Wong in the Opening Day edition of the Daily Dose, but I'll repeat it here since it seems that some fantasy owners haven't gotten the message yet. Not only is Wong the new starting second baseman for the Cardinals now that Matt Carpenter has been moved over to third base, but he's also serving as the club's No. 2 hitter (UPDATE: He did hit eighth last night, but I assume that was because of the matchup against the lefty). While the 23-year-old didn't do much in a small sample last year, he was a .301/.365/.446 hitter over three seasons in the minors and offers the potential for 20-plus stolen bases. The playing time should be there with Mark Ellis on the DL and he could be an excellent value if he hits enough to stick in the No. 2 spot. Pick him up for your middle infielder spot.
Chris Owings SS, Diamondbacks (Yahoo: 21 percent owned)
Didi Gregorius was a popular flavor of the week in fantasy leagues early last year, but he faded significantly as the season moved along and he lost the starting shortstop job to Owings in the spring. Fortunately, Owings is a much more exciting option from a fantasy perspective. While his plate discipline is a work in progress, the 22-year-old reached double-digits in home runs and steals in each of the last three seasons in the minors. And now he'll play half of his games in one of the more hitter-friendly ballparks in the National League. Owings is a middle infielder option for me right now, but I could see him flirting with top-12 shortstop value before the year is out. A power/speed combo is a very nice thing.
Travis d'Arnaud C, Mets (Yahoo: 10 percent owned)
Assuming bigger names like Miguel Montero, Jason Castro, Alex Avila, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia are off the board, I'd be willing to take a chance on d'Arnaud if you are looking for an injury replacement for Wilson Ramos. Sure, the 25-year-old hit just .202/.286/.263 over 31 games in his first taste of the majors last year, but it was a small sample and he missed a large chunk of the season with a foot fracture. Injuries might be the biggest concern of all here, but he showed the ability to hit for average and pop in the minors. The Mets are all in on him this year, so he's worth a spin in deeper leagues.
Rick Porcello SP, Tigers (Yahoo: 38 percent owned)
If you know me, you know how much I like Porcello. Granted, I'd feel better about him if he had Jose Iglesias behind him at shortstop, but the infield defense should still be better than what he has had behind him in recent years and I still believe in the progress he made last season even if it didn't reflect in his ERA. His strikeout rate went up considerably in part due to throwing more curveballs while his walk rate remained excellent and he continued to induce grounders more than 50 percent of the time. It seems like we say this every year, but I really think 2014 will be his best year yet.
Avisail Garcia OF, White Sox (Yahoo: 38 percent owned)
We saw a little bit of what Garcia can do last season. In 72 games between the Tigers and White Sox, the 22-year-old hit .283/.309/.422 with seven home runs and 31 RBI. Slated to serve as the starting right fielder for Chicago this year, Garcia is capable of providing pop and speed and the RBI opportunities should be there if he finds a home in the middle of the lineup. The plate discipline obviously needs work and it would be nice to see him hit more fly balls, but It helps that he plays in the most hitter-friendly ballpark in the majors for right-handed batters. It wouldn't be surprising if he's owned in most mixed leagues by the end of the year.
Yonder Alonso 1B, Padres (Yahoo: 11 percent owned)
I included Alonso in my first edition of Waiver Wired last year and I'm back at it again this year. The 26-year-old batted .281 with a .341 on-base percentage in 2013, which was decent enough, but he hit just six home runs in 375 plate appearances while his .368 slugging percentage was lower than the likes of Marco Scutaro and Alberto Callaspo. Not exactly what you want from a power position like first base. However, I'm optimistic that we'll see a progression from him this year. Keep in mind that Alonso was bothered by a right hand injury for most of last year, which can't be good from a power perspective. He also plays in a park which is kinder to left-handed hitters these days (just see Will Venable's breakout from last year). I'm not saying Alonso should be your starting first baseman, but he's absolutely worth considering if you need a corner infielder. I still there's another level here.
Dan Straily SP, Athletics (Yahoo: 39 percent owned)
Straily held his own during his first full season in the majors last year, posting a 3.96 ERA, 1.24 WHIP and 124/57 K/BB ratio over 152 1/3 innings en route to a fourth-place finish in the American League Rookie of the Year balloting. While the 25-year-old right-hander found himself optioned to Triple-A Sacramento multiple times during the season, he won't have to worry about that this year with the injuries in Oakland's rotation. Straily is a fly ball pitcher, but that's less of a concern given that he'll make half of his starts in the cozy confines of O.Co Coliseum. And while he isn't going to blow batters away with an average fastball velocity of 90 mph, he has a solid arsenal of pitches (including an excellent slider) and induced swinging strikes above the league average last year. He could take another step forward this year, but even if he doesn't, he should still be pretty useful in nearly all mixed leagues.
A.J. Pollock OF, Diamondbacks (Yahoo: 12 percent owned)
Pollock was solid-if-unspectacular from a fantasy perspective last season, batting .269/.322/.409 with 40 extra-base hits (eight home runs), 12 stolen bases, and 64 runs scored over 137 games. However, his all-around game, including his excellent defense in center field, made the Diamondbacks feel comfortable trading Adam Eaton to the White Sox in the three-team Mark Trumbo deal over the winter. Pollock is now assured of regular playing time and should bat leadoff a couple of days per week. That's a pretty good situation. Don't count on him to stand out in any one category, but he should do enough in all of them to be useful in most leagues.
Nathan Eovaldi SP, Marlins (Yahoo: 10 percent owned)
Eovaldi brings the heat -- his 96.1 MPH fastball velocity was the highest among all pitchers with at least 100 innings last season -- but we're still waiting on his secondary pitches to come along. That's a big reason why he has only averaged 6.25 K/9 so far in the majors. The 24-year-old right-hander has been working hard on his offspeed stuff and at his age, we can't discount the possibility that something will click. His slider has shown signs of being pretty good. He pitched well in his season debut Tuesday against the Rockies, allowing two runs over six innings while striking out six and walking one. Making half of his starts in the pitcher-friendly Marlins Ballpark, Eovaldi is definitely someone I would take a chance on in deeper formats. Even if he fails to progress, it won't cost much to find out.
Justin Smoak 1B, Mariners (Yahoo: 31 percent owned)
Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. What happens if we get fooled three times or even four? It feels like we're getting there with Smoak, who owns a disappointing .229/.315/.391 batting line in the majors. Should his early production do anything to change what we were thinking about him coming into the season? It really, really shouldn't. But he has power and he's hitting cleanup behind Robinson Cano. And that's something. I'd rather have corner infielders like Todd Frazier, Adam Lind, Justin Morneau if they are out there on the waiver wire, but Smoak is worth a speculative add if you're feeling lucky and need some thump in your lineup. Just keep your expectations in check. He's had a string of good games before.
Jonathan Broxton RP, Reds (Yahoo: 11 percent owned)
OK, so I'm not going to completely ignore the closer situations around the majors this week. Broxton is actually on the disabled list right now as he makes his way back from flexor mass surgery, but he could return as soon as next week and it sounds like Bryan Price will give him save chances until Aroldis Chapman (nose, eye) returns. I don't think it's the best idea, but he has previous experience in the role and the big contract. And I guess that counts for something. Sigh. I doubt the Reds will have him throw more than two days in a row early on, so JJ Hoover is worth keeping in the short-term, but Broxton is widely available and can be stashed away in a DL spot. This recommendation doesn't come with much enthusiasm, but hey, saves are saves.
Shopping at the five-and-dime:
(Players owned in under 10 percent of Yahoo fantasy leagues)
Jenrry Mejia SP, Mets (Yahoo: 5 percent owned)
Mejia really impressed me in his five starts last season prior to his elbow cleanup and he pitched his way onto the Opening Day roster with a solid showing during Grapefruit League play. He has been dealing with a bunion on his foot in recent weeks and was hit in the forearm with a comebacker in his final exhibition outing, but the plan calls for him to make his season debut Friday night against the Reds. I have my doubts about Mejia's ability to hold up for the entire season and he'll likely run into an innings limit even if he does stay healthy, but he's a different pitcher now than when we first saw him back in 2010, complete with a nasty slider. He also has good command and should induce plenty of grounders. Worth a look in deeper leagues for as long as he hangs around.
Devin Mesoraco C, Reds (Yahoo: 5 percent owned)
Another potential fill-in option for Wilson Ramos, Mesoraco is currently on the disabled list with an oblique injury. However, he's slated to play a minor league rehab game on Thursday and could be activated as soon as this weekend. The 25-year-old has received sporadic playing time so far in the majors, but he's in position to receive significant at-bats this season now that Ryan Hanigan is with the Rays. Mesoraco has struggled against right-handed pitching so far in his career, but the power potential is there and he plays in a great home park. Not a bad gamble if you are hurting at catcher.
Mike Olt 1B/3B, Cubs (Yahoo: 7 percent owned)
Olt was regarded among the top position prospects in the game a couple of years ago as a farmhand with the Rangers, but his stock took a big hit last season as he struggled through some vision problems. He hit just .192/.302/.368 with 14 home runs and a 126/55 K/BB ratio over 420 plate appearances at the Triple-A level. Ouch. The good news is that the vision issues appear to be behind him and he mashed his way to a spot on the Cubs' Opening Day roster with a big spring. He's not a sure thing to play everyday and the strikeouts still worry me, but you have to like the power potential and he's far more likely to be a long-term piece for the Cubs than Luis Valbeuna. Give him a shot as a corner infielder (CI) option or just stash him on your bench for now. I think he's a sleeper.
Abraham Almonte OF, Mariners (Yahoo: 2 percent owned)
Acquired from the Yankees in the Shawn Kelley deal last February, Almonte had a cup of coffee with the Mariners last September and earned the starting center field job this spring. Most encouraging of all, he has batted leadoff in each of the team's first three games this season. It's a pretty good situation for him, as this Mariners' lineup could be better than expected. The 24-year-old switch-hitter showed patience in the minors as well as an ability to provide some pop and speed. He stole 202 bases over 696 minor league games, including no fewer than 26 swipes in each of the last five seasons. Perhaps he'll be a fourth outfielder in the long-term, but he's well worth a shot in five-outfielder formats.
Yangervis Solarte SS, Yankees (Yahoo: 0 percent owned)
A career minor leaguer with the Twins and Rangers, Solarte surprisingly found a home on the Yankees' Opening Day roster after a fantastic spring. Eduardo Nunez, once thought of as the heir apparent for Derek Jeter at shortstop, was given the boot to make room for him on the 40-man roster. The 26-year-old switch-hitter owns a 286/.336/.397 batting line over eight seasons in the minors and has some pop, so he's an interesting player to monitor. With Brendan Ryan out indefinitely with a back injury and a bunch of injury questions all over New York's infield, he could get some playing time.
Chris Young SP, Mariners (Yahoo: 0 percent owned)
Young failed to secure a rotation spot with the Nationals despite pitching well this spring, but he signed a one-year, $1.25 million deal with the Mariners in late March and will begin the year in the starting rotation. The 34-year-old right-hander is a well-documented injury risk, but he had a 4.15 ERA and 80/36 K/BB ratio over 115 innings with the Mets during his last stint in the majors in 2012 and Safeco Field is a pretty good spot for a fly ball pitcher. Who knows how long he'll hold up and Taijuan Walker and Hisashi Iwakuma should be back before long, but give him a shot for now.
Gonzalez Germen RP, Mets (Yahoo: 0 percent owned)
Bobby Parnell has been shut down with a partially-torn elbow ligament and is potentially facing season-ending Tommy John surgery, so the Mets will turn to Jose Valverde to close games for now. It makes sense given his lengthy experience in the role, but forgive me for being skeptical about how much he has left in the tank. With that in mind, let's consider the alternatives. Assumed eighth-inning man Vic Black is in the minors as he attempts to find his command, so that leaves Jeurys Familia and Germen as the most likely successors. Familia throws hard, but he has yet to show that he can consistently throw strikes on the major league level. I'll give a slight edge to Germen, who struggled a bit Wednesday, but has a plus-changeup and could be interesting if he can harness the rest of his arsenal. It might pay to get ahead on this situation. He's a sleeper.
Jake Arrieta SP, Cubs (Yahoo: 0 percent owned)
Arrieta fell behind schedule this spring due to right shoulder tendinitis, but he's scheduled to begin a minor league rehab assignment Thursday and could join the Cubs' rotation by the end of the month if all goes well. The 28-year-old thrived after coming over from the Orioles last season, posting a 3.66 ERA and 1.12 WHIP over nine starts, but the peripherals weren't overly impressive and he was the beneficiary of some good luck in the BABIP (batting average on balls in play) department. Still, if his velocity is there upon his return, there's reason for optimism with a full season in the National League. Put him in a DL spot if he's still available.