Hello and welcome to the first edition of Waiver Wired for the 2021 MLB season. My name is D.J. Short and I’ll be your guide on the waiver wire every Thursday from now until the end of September. This is my 12th season writing this column, but here’s hoping that I’m just coming into my prime as a fantasy analyst. Nelson Cruz is my inspiration, after all.
For those just joining the party, the recommendations within this column are for players rostered in under 50 percent of Yahoo leagues. It’s very difficult -- nay, impossible -- to be one-size-fits-all with this sort of column, so I always try to sprinkle in players in both shallow and deeper formats. Hopefully you'll find something to help you on your way.
With an unprecedented and brief 2020 season and a limited number of games so far, the impulse to overreact is overwhelming. More than it usually is at this time of year, even. I totally understand that. Yes, it’s temping to pick up the players who are hot out of the gate, but part of scouring the waiver wire is suggesting those who haven’t hit their stride yet but certainly have the ability to do so. Either way, I’ll try to back my recommendations with evidence and tell the truth about what I know and don’t know. Deal? Let’s get started.
Have specific questions about your roster? Ask @djshort on Twitter.
(Players rostered in under 50 percent of Yahoo leagues)
Note: Percentages are from the morning of Thursday, April 8
Carlos Rodón SP, White Sox (Yahoo: 45 percent rostered)
It’s a big week for former top prospect lefties. Going back a couple of months ago, Rodon wasn’t on the mind of mixed league managers after an injury-shortened season, but he’s legitimately earned it. The southpaw had a great spring and kept that going with nine strikeouts over five scoreless innings Monday against the Mariners. He walked three and hit a couple of batters, so the control wasn’t perfect, but he induced 33 called strikes plus whiffs (19 whiffs, 14 called strikes) in his 95 pitches. Rodon got eight whiffs on 11 swings against his slider, which is simply ridiculous. His average fastball velocity checked in at 95.4 mph, a massive increase from last year. Rodon maxed out at 98.4 mph, so we’re talking about a different pitcher right now. Can he stay healthy? Can he maintain this velocity as the year moves along? Two big questions. But this is a case where you’ll need to be aggressive in most formats.
Cedric Mullins OF, Orioles (Yahoo: 23 percent rostered)
This one has been a long time coming. Mullins had some momentum in mixed leagues coming out of 2018, but he went 6-for-64 (.094) to begin the 2019 season and didn’t see the majors again that year. The 25-year-old put himself back on the map in last year’s shortened season and currently finds himself as the Orioles’ starting center fielder and leadoff man. That he’s red-hot (12-for-25, six-game hitting streak) certainly helps his case, but so does the context, as he’s seeing volume and calls Camden Yards home. Playing time also shouldn’t be a concern with DJ Stewart and Austin Hays both injured. Mullins has speed and a little bit of pop, making him a good candidate for a surprise 15/15 type of season.
Yusei Kikuchi SP, Mariners (Yahoo: 49 percent rostered)
Kikuchi just made the cut for the purposes of this column and I’m so glad that he did, as he was one of my favorite late-round targets in drafts this spring. The southpaw posted a rough 5.17 ERA last season, but that obscured nice jumps in velocity and swinging strike rate. Advanced metrics liked what he did. While Kikuchi took the no-decision in his season debut while allowing three runs — including two homers — six innings against the Giants last weekend, he tied a career-high with 10 strikeouts and threw more first-pitch strikes than any of his previous starts in the majors. This was the key behind his 40.4 CSW (called strikes + whiffs) percentage, an elite number. He also topped out at 97.4 mph on the radar gun. He’s a true breakout candidate who should be rostered in all competitive formats.
Randal Grichuk OF, Blue Jays (Yahoo: 45 percent rostered)
There were real concerns about Grichuk’s spot in the lineup coming into the spring, but that has changed due to the status of George Springer. The big free agent addition suffered a Grade 2 oblique strain during spring training and was nearing a return before feeling tightness in his right quad while running the bases on Tuesday. His return date is now up in the air, clearing the way for Grichuk to see regular at-bats for the time being. While we feel sorry for Blue Jays fans and fantasy managers impacted, Grichuk is certainly capable of taking advantage. The 29-year-old did a nice job cutting down on his strikeouts last season while hitting .273 with 12 home runs and .793 OPS over 55 games. Even if he reverts back to his standard approach, his power should help most rosters. He’s smacked at least 22 homers in every full season dating back to 2016. The bonus is that the Jays will be playing their early home games in Dunedin, a place where hitters should thrive.
Jeimer Candelario 1B/3B, Tigers (Yahoo: 15 percent rostered)
As tempting as it is to discuss early-season sensation Akil Baddoo in this space, do you really need my help with that one? He’s probably rostered just about at the level he should be right now, but his teammate Candelario absolutely isn’t. It’s a bit of a mystery, as Candelario legitimately improved his quality of contact in the truncated 2020 campaign. His line-drive rate was top-10 among qualified hitters and he posted career-bests in the areas of barrel percentage, hard-hit percentage, and average exit velocity. It might be tough for Candelario to maintain a .300 batting average over the course of the season, but he’s a solid source for counting stats as a middle-infielder and should be in a prominent part of the lineup for the rebuilding Tigers all year long. For those seeking a corner-infielder in deeper formats, Travis Shaw is interesting with the Brewers in platoon role at third base and Ryan Zimmerman could have some short-term relevancy with Josh Bell sidelined due to the Nats’ COVID-19 situation.
Manuel Margot OF, Rays (Yahoo: 23 percent rostered)
Adalberto Mondesi and Fernando Tatis are both hurt right now, with no clear timetable for their respective returns, so that takes away two of the most prominent sources for speed in the majors. Myles Straw is no sure thing to keep his role and Andres Gimenez might be in a platoon, so it’s important to find steady speed sources where you can. Margot checks that box, with the chance at increased playing time with Kevin Kiermaier on the injured list due to a left quad strain. He’s swiped 32 bases in 198 games dating back to the start of 2019 and has become more more efficient during that time. While he hit just one homer in 47 regular season games last year, his five postseason bombs functioned as a reminder that he’s not a zero there either. But this is mostly about speed and opportunity. He’s got both.
Steven Matz SP, Blue Jays (Yahoo: 40 percent rostered)
I’m just as surprised as you are, but it was hard to not be impressed by Matz’s Blue Jays debut against the Rangers on Monday. The southpaw allowed just one run and two hits over 6 1/3 innings while striking out nine with one walk and one hit batsman. It’s one thing to just recite a line like that and tell you to pick him up, but Matz averaged 95.3 mph with his fastball, up from 94.5 last year. He topped out at 96.6 mph, the hardest he’s thrown in a game since the 2016 season. He induced 15 swings and misses, mostly relying on a fastball/changeup mix. Matz has been a useful pitcher to round out mixed league rotations in the past, so maybe a change of scenery could be what he needs to get his career back on track. You’ll obviously want to avoid in certain matchups in the AL East, but Matz should at least be on the radar with upcoming starts against the Angels at home (in Dunedin) and the Royals on the road.
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Nick Senzel OF, Reds (Yahoo: 37 percent rostered)
Speaking of speed, Senzel is straight-up elite in that area. Unfortunately, he just hasn’t been healthy enough to show that off on a consistent basis. That includes this year, as he suffered a minor groin strain toward the end of the spring and hurt his shoulder on Opening Day. He’s bounced back quickly, though, including five hits and six runs scored over his last two games. His .186 batting average last year didn’t show it, but he actually improved his contact rate. There’s simply no way he’ll have a .204 BABIP over a full season. Hitting sixth in the Reds’ lineup, he’s a legitimate five-category threat in fantasy leagues. Let’s just hope he can stay on the field long enough to realize that potential.
Raimel Tapia OF, Rockies (Yahoo: 31 percent rostered)
Tapia was a popular pick in mixed league drafts this spring with the prospect of hitting leadoff as the regular center fielder for the Rockies, but here he is available in more than two-thirds of Yahoo leagues. What has changed? His first homestead has been underwhelming, but it would be a mistake to give up on him now. Tapia is a strong contact hitter and he’s made some legitimate strides with his approach and opposite-field approach last season. Getting that volume at Coors Field is no small thing, with double-digits in homers and steals a real possibility. Grab and hold.
(Players rostered in under 10 percent of Yahoo leagues)
Kevin Newman 2B/SS, Pirates (Yahoo: 7 percent rostered)
Is Ha-seong Kim (Yahoo: 31 percent rostered) worth a shot while Fernando Tatis Jr. (shoulder) and Tim Anderson (hamstring) are on the shelf? Sure, why not. Kim posted huge numbers in the KBO and should see a steady dose of starts in the Padres’ infield. However, let’s dig for an alternative in deeper formats. The goal isn’t to replace Tatis or Anderson as much as remain competitive as we wait things out. With Newman, there’s the potential to see some impact across the board. He was a popular pick as a middle-infielder option this time last year after slashing .308/.353/.446 with 12 homers and 16 steals over 130 games in 2019. He’s not off to a great start at all so far this season, but if we based all of our decisions off of that, we would be in a lot of trouble. While it would be a surprise to see Newman hit 12 homers again, he’s one of the best contact hitters in the league and could be quite the bargain if he starts running again. The Pirates are going to need as much offense as they can get, so they could dial up the aggressiveness on the basepaths.
Emmanuel Clase RP, Indians (Yahoo: 9 percent rostered)
I don’t want to spend a ton of time in this column talking about closers, as we’re going to see lots of turnover this year and chances are you need to react in the moment rather than stewing on something before making a decision. Jake Diekman (Yahoo: 41 percent rostered) makes sense as an add with Trevor Rosenthal likely needing surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome, but you probably know that. Ian Kennedy looks like the best option in the Rangers’ bullpen at the moment, which isn’t saying much, but you probably know that too. What we don’t know is how the Indians’ bullpen will play out, but it’s hard to not be excited about Clase. Asked to pitch the eighth inning against the middle of the Royals’ lineup in a tie game on Wednesday, he struck out a pair while reaching 100 mph an amazing nine times in his 15 pitches. Nine times. He also averaged 90.5 mph on his slider. Ho-hum. Nick Wittgren actually notched the save on Wednesday, but I don’t think that necessarily indicative of the hierarchy in this bullpen. He’s also proved to be homer-prone amid his success over the past two seasons. James Karinchak is obviously a factor here too, but I’ll stake my claim on Clase winning out.
Jonathan Loaisiga RP, Yankees (Yahoo: 8 percent rostered)
Let’s face it, this is going to be a weird year for pitchers. Nobody quite knows what to expect coming out of a year where pitchers had lighter workloads, so finding bulk-inning pitchers could deliver quite a bit of value. I’m a big fan of Michael Kopech (Yahoo: 38 percent rostered), but Loaisiga needs to be rostered in more leagues. The 26-year-old has thrown four perfect innings with five strikeouts through his first three appearances, earning a victory against the Blue Jays on Saturday. He’s garnered some intrigue as a starter in the past, but his stuff is playing up in his new role. He averaged 97.5 mph on his fastball on Wednesday and topped out at 98 mph. The Yankees’ offense is plenty potent to take leads in the middle innings, so Loaisiga could vulture several wins in this new role.
Trevor Williams SP, Cubs (Yahoo: 3 percent rostered)
Kikuchi’s CSW rate was just mentioned, but Williams also deserves some recognition for what he did Monday against the Brewers, flirting with a perfect game before ultimately allowing two runs over six-plus innings. He kept the opposition of balance with his varied arsenal of pitches, picking up 17 swinging strikes and 16 called strikes in his 85 pitches. That’s a 36.5 percent CSW. Williams lost his way over the past couple of years, but he’s rededicated himself to his mechanics and using the assortment of pitchers which led to a 3.56 ERA in 62 appearances (56 starts) between 2017-2018. He’s an automatic start against the Pirates, his former team, this weekend.
Matt Shoemaker SP, Twins (Yahoo: 10 percent rostered)
Shoemaker might always fall in the bucket of the “if he can stay healthy” pitchers, but what we saw against the Tigers on Monday was plenty good, as he tossed six innings of one-run ball with five strikeouts and no walks. He didn’t allow a hit until the fifth. It was interesting to go back and see how much hard contact he gave up, a reminder of all the homers he gave up last year, but he did what he was supposed do with this matchup. Shoemaker is a regular on the injured list, but there are times you’ll want to use him as long as he’s on the field. This weekend against the Mariners also qualifies.
Rougned Odor 2B, Yankees (Yahoo: 2 percent rostered)
The Yankees picked up Odor from the Rangers this week and while they won’t have to pay him anything, they actually gave up some decent talent for him. This would seem to suggest that they really think they can unlock something. There’s obvious reason for skepticism with how things have gone south since 2017, but perhaps a change of scenery and a new hitter-friendly ballpark will do the trick. Perhaps he’ll get some at-bats at second base, with DJ LeMahieu serving as more of a fill-in for Luke Voit at first base? With his power and the situation, it’s worth a shot in AL-only formats.
Chris Rodríguez SP, Angels (Yahoo: 1 percent rostered)
I mentioned Jonathan Loaisiga as a bulk-inning reliever to consider, but Rodriguez is also deserving of attention as an emerging name. The 22-year-old has barely pitched in recent years due to back surgery and COVID-19 shutting down the 2020 minor league system, but he showed off electric stuff during spring training and was a surprise addition to the Opening Day roster. It looks like the Angels could be onto something, as he’s allowed one run in 4 2/3 inning with six strikeouts through his first two appearances this season. He’s pumping high-90s gas, with a high-spin rate to go along with it. The Angels could still give him as shot as a starter in the long-term, but let’s enjoy him in this role right now. He’s a fun story.
Andrew Stevenson OF, Nationals (Yahoo: 1 percent rostered)
Stevenson was looking like a potential late-round dart throw in deeper fantasy formats before the Nationals ended up signing Kyle Schwarber. However, he could have some short-term value in NL-only leagues with Schwarber sidelined due to the Nationals’ COVID-19 outbreak. Stevenson, 26, has done nothing but produce when called upon over the past two seasons. Good speed, even a bit of pop.
Josh VanMeter 1B/2B/OF, Diamondbacks (Yahoo: 0 percent rostered)
This certainly isn’t how the Diamondbacks drew it up. After losing shortstop Nick Ahmed with a knee issue, Ketel Marte left Wednesday’s game with a scary-looking hamstring cramp. It’s unclear yet if he’ll need a stint on the injured list. Prospect Geraldo Perdomo has been forced into shortstop duties and we’ll probably see more of VanMeter in the lineup in the coming days. He actually made the start out of the No. 2 spot on Thursday afternoon. Acquired from the Reds in the Archie Bradley deal last year, VanMeter offers multi-position eligibility and isn’t too far removed from being a player of interest in fantasy leagues.