So much for a quiet All-Star break. The Cubs and White Sox pulled off a blockbuster centered around left-hander Jose Quintana on Thursday, which officially opens the door on trade deadline season. We should see plenty more deals with fantasy ramifications in the coming weeks, but I’m keeping the focus on the first half to start things out here.
Yes, it’s time to name my first half Waiver Wired MVP and Cy Young. The idea is pretty simple, as I’m recognizing the most valuable position player and pitcher who were widely-available at the start of the year. Here we go.
First Half Waiver Wire MVP
This was a pretty easy choice. Aaron Judge had an average draft position of 193.2 this spring and was drafted in just 16 percent of Yahoo leagues, yet he was the most valuable hitter during the first half. Oh, and he took the baseball world by storm in the process. Showcasing his awe-inspiring power with regularity, the 25-year-old bounced back from a rough introduction to the majors by hitting .328/.448/.691 with 30 homers and 66 RBI. He ranks first in the majors in homers, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage. Only four players have hit for a higher average and only two players have drawn more walks.
The 6-foot-7, 280-pound Judge has struck out 29.8 percent of the time and it’s ridiculous to expect anyone to maintain a .426 BABIP over a a full season, so it’s easy to poke holes in the batting average, but the rapid progress with his stance and swing has been nothing short of remarkable. A legitimate MVP Award could be in his future this year.
Editor’s Note: Introducing FanDuel Mixup, the newest way to play FanDuel Baseball. Smaller lineups, so you can draft your team on the go, plus fun themes every week! Play now.
First Half Waiver Wire Cy Young
Jason Vargas has come out of nowhere with a 2.62 ERA this season, but that’s still not good enough to beat out what Dodgers left-hander Alex Wood has done. With an average draft position of 185.9 in Yahoo leagues, Wood has gone 10-0 with a 1.67 ERA and 97/22 K/BB ratio over 80 2/3 innings. While he missed some time with SC joint inflammation during the first half, his performance has him ranked behind only Max Scherzer, Clayton Kershaw, and Chris Sale among fantasy starters.
As I noted in our Rotoworld Roundtable piece earlier this week, maybe Wood won’t post a sub-2.00 ERA in the second half, but I don’t think it’s crazy to think he can continue to be a top-of-the-rotation force for fantasy owners. With increased velocity and increased usage of his changeup, he’s getting more swings and misses than ever before while inducing grounders at a career-high clip. He’s the real deal.
Have specific questions about your roster? Ask @djshort on Twitter.
Clint Frazier OF, Yankees (Yahoo: 29 percent owned)
Called up in the wake of the unfortunate injury to Dustin Fowler, Frazier has impressed by batting .292 (7-for-24) with six extra-base hits (including three homers) and eight RBI through his first seven major league games. The 22-year-old is already showing off the electric bat speed which has made him one of the top position-player prospects in the minors. I see him as more of a short-term addition in mixed leagues, as he figures to be squeezed out of playing time after Aaron Hicks returns from his oblique injury, but he’s worth a shot in this situation while the at-bats are there.
Patrick Corbin SP, Diamondbacks (Yahoo: 27 percent owned)
It’s been a while since I’ve mentioned Corbin in this space. I had high hopes for him in his first full season back from Tommy John surgery last year, but he disappointed with a 5.15 ERA and actually ended up in the bullpen down the stretch. It’s been a mixed bag for him this year as well, but he’s been on a nice run of late, putting up a 3.34 ERA and 41/10 K/BB ratio in 35 innings over his last six starts. There have been some fortunate assignments in there (Padres, Phillies), but the southpaw is missing more bats this year while showing better control. Arizona is a tough place to pitch, but oddly he’s been significantly better at home (3.15 ERA) than on the road (7.57 ERA) this season.
Brad Miller 1B/2B/SS, Rays (Yahoo: 36 percent owned)
After hitting 29 homers combined in 343 games between 2013-2015, Miller slugged 30 homers last season. Some skepticism about the sudden power spike was understandable, but he’s completely dropped off the table this year while missing significant time with an abdominal strain and a groin injury. Miller has shown more patience when healthy this year, but he’s also making contact less often while hitting ground balls as a career-high clip. I realize I’m not making a strong case to pick him up, but Miller just returned from the disabled list prior to the All-Star break and opportunities should be there at second base. He still has multi-position eligibility in his favor and we know he’s better than what he’s shown this year.
Cameron Maybin OF, Angels (Yahoo: 47 percent owned)
Maybin has slipped under the 50-percent threshold in Yahoo leagues with a recent 9-for-64 (.141) slide at the plate, but he still leads the American League with 25 steals. Despite the struggles, Angels manager Mike Scioscia has stuck with him out of the leadoff spot. I’m curious if Scioscia will rethink things when Mike Trout returns on Friday as Yunel Escobar was hitting leadoff prior to going down with a hamstring injury in May. He’s been hitting cleanup for the past month and a half with Trout out of the mix. The situation is worth monitoring, but Maybin provided enough in the first half to be worth a pickup where he’s available.
Tommy Pham OF, Cardinals (Yahoo: 32 percent owned)
Paul DeJong is the hot add of the week in fantasy leagues, but I’m leaving him out here since that’s obvious already and I mentioned him when it looked like he was in line for regular playing time. Instead I’ll just mention that I find it weird how DeJong is already owned in more leagues than Pham, who has been the Cardinals’ best player so far this season. The 29-year-old has contributed across the board in fantasy leagues by batting .299/.386/.510 with 11 homers, 34 RBI, 11 steals, and 42 runs scored across 59 games. And while Dexter Fowler is back from the disabled list, I don’t see how he doesn’t get the majority of at-bats over Randal Grichuk in left field. Pham left Sunday’s game with some hip tightness, but here’s hoping it’s not a big deal.
Jerad Eickhoff SP, Phillies (Yahoo: 35 percent owned)
Eickhoff has been representative of the stalled progress for the Phillies this season. After posting a 3.44 ERA over his first 41 starts in the majors, the 27-year-old right-hander struggled with a 4.63 ERA over 15 starts during the first half while also missing some time with a back injury. Eickhoff hasn’t been as fortunate with balls in play this year (.329 BABIP compared to .279 last year), but that’s only part of the story, as his walk rate has jumped sharply as opposing batters chase fewer pitches outside the strike zone. He fired five scoreless innings with eight strikeouts and one walk in his return from the disabled list against the Padres last weekend — giving him his first win of the season in the process — which is hopefully the start of a turnaround. The time away could have been beneficial from a mechanical perspective. With his excellent curveball, Eickhoff is capable of being a useful back-end rotation option in mixed leagues.
Marcus Semien SS, Athletics (Yahoo: 20 percent owned)
After missing nearly three months due to a fractured right wrist, Semien was finally able to rejoin the Athletics just before the All-Star break. He was off to a rough start prior to the injury, but he’s hit safely in three out of four games since returning while collecting a homer, a double, three RBI, and three runs scored. Semien is a .243 career hitter in the majors and swings the bat better against lefties than righties, but he’s just a year removed from amassing 27 homers, 75 RBI, 10 steals, and 72 runs scored over 159 games. I wonder what impact the wrist will have on his power, but the potential for counting stats makes him relevant in most formats as a middle infielder-type.
Cesar Hernandez 2B, Phillies (Yahoo: 17 percent owned)
Hernandez has missed the last month with an oblique strain, but he was struggling long before that. After a red-hot start to the season, he batted just .211 with a .566 OPS over his final 29 games prior to hitting the disabled list. It’s no surprise he’s been dropped in so many leagues, but Hernandez began a minor league rehab assignment Wednesday and should be back with the Phillies in the next week. The ceiling is limited even when he’s at his best, but Hernandez offers strong on-base skills and provides some value in the speed department, even though he’s somehow just 43-for-68 in stolen base attempts in the majors. I’d rather own Semien, but here’s another option if you need a middle infielder. By the way, Hernandez is logical trade candidate this month.
Arodys Vizcaino RP, Braves (Yahoo: 13 percent owned)
Jose Ramirez RP, Braves (Yahoo: 4 percent owned)
Jim Johnson has looked like an obvious trade candidate for a while, but he could be in danger of losing his closer job even if he sticks around. The veteran right-hander blew his major-league leading seventh save in his most recent appearance last Friday and owns a 5.40 ERA in 16 appearances since the start of June. Vizcaino is the most obvious name to stash if you want to speculate on a potential change, though he’s on the disabled list right now with a right finger strain. The initial hope was that he would be ready shortly after the All-Star break, so it doesn’t sound overly serious. Ramirez (2.70 ERA and 31/17 K/BB ratio in 36 2/3 innings) is probably the top alternative among their healthy pitchers.
Nicholas Castellanos 3B, Tigers (Yahoo: 34 percent owned)
There’s a theme with a few of the players in this week’s column. Yet another player who underachieved on the whole during the first half, Castellanos hit just .248 with 10 homers and a .746 OPS through 85 games. After beginning the year in the No. 2 spot, he’s now hitting in the bottom-third of the order. Castellanos essentially took the progress he made from 2016 and regressed to his 2015 levels. The 25-year-old still hits the ball hard with the best of them, but unfortunately he’s been pounding the ball into the ground. His ground ball percentage has jumped all the way up to 41.1 percent, a significant increase from the 31.5 percent clip he had last year. Still, he’s quietly making some progress in recent weeks, hitting .311 with 16 extra-base hits (including six homers) and a .929 OPS over his last 34 games. I'm not giving up on him yet.
Shopping at the five-and-dime:
(Players owned in under 10 percent of Yahoo leagues)
Homer Bailey SP, Reds (Yahoo: 4 percent owned)
Hey, long time no see. After arm problems limited Bailey to just eight starts between 2015-2016, he was finally able to make his return last month. It wasn’t pretty early on, as he was hammered for 14 runs in 4 2/3 innings over his first two starts, but he has turned things around in dramatic fashion by allowing two runs in 12 2/3 innings over his final two starts going into the break. It would be one thing if he was pitching against weak offenses, but he held the Rockies and Diamondbacks in check on the road. Pretty impressive. Bailey’s velocity is back where it was prior to Tommy John surgery and he piled up 24 swinging strikes over his last two starts. He’s been a useful arm in fantasy leagues before, compiling a 3.61 ERA in 88 starts between 2012-2014, so it’s worth seeing where this return story goes in deeper formats.
Rhys Hoskins 1B, Phillies (Yahoo: 5 percent owned)
You don’t need me to tell you to stash Yoan Moncada or Amed Rosario at this point. Their time is presumably coming very soon, so do what you need to do, so I’m going to turn my focus to another player with a legitimate path to value during the second half. While Hoskins is blocked by Tommy Joseph at first base right now, there has been quite a bit of trade speculation circulating over the past week or two. Hoskins could end up getting a look no matter what, but he would see the bulk of at-bats if Joseph ends up getting dealt. That could be an exciting scenario for fantasy owners, as Hoskins has shown legitimate power potential over the past two seasons in the minors. He’s batting .289/.385/.576 with 20 homers through 88 games this season with Triple-A Lehigh Valley.
Reynaldo Lopez SP/RP, White Sox (Yahoo: 2 percent owned)
It doesn’t sound like the White Sox have immediate plans to call up any of their prospects following the Jose Quintana trade with the White Sox, but Lopez makes for an obvious stash wherever he’s available at this point. Ranked as the No. 59 prospect on Baseball America’s midseason list, the 23-year-old is sporting a 3.97 ERA and 89/37 K/BB ratio in 93 innings through 17 starts this season with Triple-A Charlotte. The Yankees acquired Garrett Cooper from the Brewers on Thursday, but he’s not in the system on Yahoo yet. Given the team’s issues at first base, he’ll be worth adding whenever that happens. The 26-year-old was batting .366/.428/.652 with 17 homers through 75 games with Triple-A Colorado Springs. Obviously the setting needs to be taken into account here, as he never put up these kind of numbers before this season. Still, there’s opportunity with the big club right now.
Bartolo Colon SP, Twins (Yahoo: 4 percent owned)
Again, this is an obvious stash. After the Braves cut ties with Colon, it appeared to be almost a forgone conclusion that he would return to the Mets, but he signed a minor league deal with the Twins instead and should have a rotation spot relatively soon. Perhaps the 44-year-old is cooked, but I wouldn’t bet against a decent rebound. He’s just a year removed from a 3.43 ERA. It’s just a shame he won’t be able to swing the bat on a regular basis anymore. By the way, Zack Granite was recently called up by the Twins and deserves to be on the radar after hitting .360/.412/.492 with three homers, 24 RBI, and 15 steals through 59 games this season with Triple-A Rochester. I have no idea how the Twins intend to use him, but his speed could give him value, even in a part-time/bench role.
Chad Bettis SP, Rockies (Yahoo: 0 percent owned)
Out all season while undergoing treatment for cancer, Bettis is set to begin a minor league rehab assignment Thursday with Double-A Hartford. This is essentially his spring training, so look for him to take the full 30 days before rejoining the Rockies. Bettis has been a reliable arm in the Rockies’ rotation over the past two seasons, posting a 4.57 ERA over 52 starts. Of course, that’s obscured a bit by Coors Field. He actually has a 104 ERA+ in that time, which is better than the league average. The baseball stuff is obviously secondary, but I’ll be rooting like heck for him as he tries to make it back.
Dominic Smith 1B, Mets (Yahoo: 1 percent owned)
It’s very possible that the Mets will just play T.J. Rivera down the stretch if they end up trading Lucas Duda this month, but Smith is the future at the position and it’s probably a good idea to give him an extended look in advance of 2018. The 22-year-old Smith has thrived in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League this season by hitting .330/.382/.500 with 12 homers through 89 games with Triple-A Las Vegas. The big question is how much power he’ll show in the long-term, but he’s consistently hit for average in the minors.