Given a threshold of 50 percent ownership in Yahoo! leagues, give or take a few percentage points, here's the best lineup that fantasy owners could hope to put together off the waiver wire this week:
OF –> Alejandro De Aza: You can't fault De Aza's numbers as a member of the White Sox. In Chicago, De Aza owns a 5x5 line of .312, 6 HR, 30 RBI, 44 R and 15 SB in 218 ABs. His career OPS splits for LHP and RHP are nearly identical, giving more validity to the idea that he might be able to bring a similar level of production to an every-day role. Now the ChiSox's regular leadoff hitter, De Aza sits among the top 75 in the Yahoo! game, and is top 30 in the league in extra-base hits. He can still be had in roughly half of Yahoo! leagues.
2B –> Jose Altuve: We billed the Astros' mighty mouse as a nice late-round flyer that could provide some speed and pop at the plate. And, so far, he's done just that, hitting .351 with a steal and five runs scored in his first nine games of '12. Altuve produced an OPS in the upper .800s in over 200 minor league games and advanced to Houston without a stop in Triple-A. He'd benefit from drawing more (some?) walks, but his bat hasn't been overmatched in his short time in Houston. He should end up with 20-30 steals to go with a respectable batting average. And if the 'Stros let him back near the top of the order, he should do just fine in the Runs department, as well.
OF –> J.D. Martinez: The Astros rookie is going fast in Yahoo! leagues, and for good reason. Since he's arrived in Houston, he's been beastly with runners on base (.351), and that's led to fantastic RBI numbers (45 RBI in 63 games). He did fan four times in four ABs on Monday to end a nine-game hitting streak, but it was against Stephen Strasburg, so we can give him a pass for that. As the Astros No. 3 hitter, Martinez is in an ideal run-producing role. And like his teammate Altuve, he hit like a machine in the minors, ultimately skipping Triple-A en route to The Show. After walking just 13 times in 53 games last season, it's a good sign that he's walked five times in his past five games.
1B –> Adam LaRoche: Only Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier and Chris Young have more RBIs than LaRoche (12). It's especially heartening to see LaRoche make a positive impact in April, as he's a notorious first-half slug. Even when he struggled out of the gate in the past, his second-half surges usually propelled him to something like .270, 25 home runs and 85-90 RBIs. As the Nats' clean-up hitter, those numbers might be closer to his floor given the strong start. He's still available in over half of Yahoo! leagues despite a current top 50 overall rank in the Y! game.
OF –> Nolan Reimold: On the heels of home runs in three straight games, Reimold is now the most added player in Yahoo! leagues. At age 28, the once highly-regarded Orioles prospect started the season, like teammate Chris Davis, in post-hype territory. But there's nothing like a three-game home run binge to remind us of why we once had high hopes for this guy. He's got 25-home run potential and, although he's probably no better than a .260-.270 batting average bet, at best, he might be able to compensate his roto line with 10-15 SBs if he remains at the top of the O's order.
3B –> Chris Davis: We've probably all taken at least a short ride on the rollercoaster that has been Davis' volatile MLB career. And, most of us are well aware by now of the fact that this guy has mashed in the minor leagues, where he owns an OPS above 1.000 in over 300 games at the Double- and Triple-A levels. Unfortunately a .757 OPS and 348 Ks in a similar number of games at the MLB level have turned our attentions elsewhere. But the massive power upside remains, and he only just turned 26 years old. Could he be this year's Alex Gordon, a post-hyper finally making good? A 1.019 OPS through eight games is enough to pique my curiosity. After all, he did hit 17 home runs with a .285 average in 80 games as a rookie in Texas. And, when it comes to hitters, certainly Texas doesn't need to be as patient as most clubs. If you have power problems, it's time to give Davis another chance.
DH –> Cody Ross: I didn't have the patience to stick with Ross as he struggled to open the season. Of course, since dropping him in the Yahoo! Friends and Family League last week, Ross ranks in the top 25 in the Y! game. Hitting behind Adrian Gonzalez, Kevin Youkilis and David Ortiz isn't a bad place to try and make a fantasy living – his eight runs driven in ranks behind only Ortiz on the team. If he continues to get regular ABs somewhere close to the heart of the Boston lineup, a repeat of his '09 numbers with the Marlins (.270, 24 HR, 90 RBI) is very possible. He's owned in just over 10 percent of Y! leagues.
C –> Jonathan Lucroy: You can have the buzzier waiver wire grab Chris Iannetta. For my money, I'll take Lucroy, thank you. I'm sorry, but Iannetta had 458 games in the cushiest hitting park in the league to make his case, and he delivered a .235 batting average and nary a 20-home run season. Lucroy, on the other hand, looks like a much better batting average bet – .298 hitter in the minors, .263 hitter in first 729 MLB ABs. And there's some hope for power, too, as he's hit 13 home runs in his past 124 games for the Brewers. He didn't show much power at the upper level of the minors or in his rookie season in Milwaukee in '10, but he's only 25 years old and he has a 20-home run campaign (in 129 games) in Single-A in '08. So there's reason to believe he can provide serviceability in that department for fantasy owners.
SS –> Mike Aviles: A career .288 hitter, the former Royal buzz baby has started to come on for the Red Sox with home runs in two of his past three games. His power is something to keep a close eye on. He never hit more than 10 home runs in KC, but he did smack nine long balls in 35 late-season games at Triple-A Omaha last season. A .280, 15/15 type season is very possible. Owned in roughly half of Yahoo! leagues, the three-position eligible (2/3/SS) Aviles was Monday's most added player at either the corner or middle infield positions in the Yahoo! game.
SP –> Jonathon Niese: After posting a solid K/9 rate of 7.67 in his rookie season in '10, Niese pushed that number up to 7.89 last season. And, after two starts in '12, his K/9 rate sits at a lofty 8.53. In his 12.2 IP this season, he's throwing harder than ever, and he's relying more than ever on his cut fastball, decreasing the emphasis on his nasty curveball. Uncle Charlie is still his bread-and-butter offering, but decreasing emphasis on it is a solid move for self preservation, and it makes it even tougher for hitters to deal with it when he does throw it. Niese finished last season with a 4.40 ERA, but his xFIP (3.28) indicates he dealt with a fair amount of bad luck. To get a starter off the wire (57 percent available) that can deliver a mid-3 ERA and whiff eight batters every nine innings is a gift. Accept it with arms wide open.
RP –> Matt Thornton: Thornton offers all that you are looking for in a rosterable set-up man. He delivers elite ratios, he strikes out more than a batter per inning, he satisfies those in Holds leagues, and his path to the closer role is well within reach – Andy Behrens ranks the White Sox's closer situation as the seventh-most tenuous in MLB at the moment. Available in 60 percent of Y! leagues, Thornton is a saves spec play that won't hurt you even if he doesn't find himself in an end-game role any time soon.
CL –> Henry Rodriguez: Armed with a fastball that regularly touches the upper 90s, Rodriguez has fanned eight hitters and has not yielded an earned run in 5.1 IP. He's picked up two saves in the process and, seemingly, has the edge right now over Brad Lidge in the closer committee in Washington while Drew Storen is out. Wildness is a big concern for Rodriguez, but he minimizes damage typically because he's tough to hit – especially home runs (only three allowed in 102.2 IP).
First Base: Brandon Belt – Two straight starts! Keep the faith.
Second Base: Aaron Hill – Hard to dismiss his 3 HRs in 10 games after averaging 31 from '09-'10.
Third Base: Kyle Seager – .900-plus OPS in minors the past two seasons, and 3B his to lose in Seattle.
Shortstop: Zack Cozart – Has solid pop in bat and hitting in front of Votto should keep the Runs steady.
Outfield: Delmon Young – He's never had a good April, but hitting behind Miggy and Prince will pay off eventually.
Catcher: Chris Iannetta – Only Yadier Molina has more combined RBI and Runs at catcher.
Starter: Ted Lilly – Seven shutout innings in his first outing off DL. Always delivers 10-plus wins, mid-3 ERA, 150-plus Ks.
Reliever: Jonny Venters – Premiere middleman should be universally owned – 80 IP with a sub-2 ERA and 10 K/9 plays anywhere.
Closer: Brett Myers – Trade rumors abound, but until something comes of them, he's the man in Houston.