With the Cardinals offense sputtering, Oscar Taveras's name has been on the lips of many. It's understandable, given that we've been awaiting his arrival for over a year now. Beset by an ankle injury, he was limited to 46 games in Triple-A last season and never did get a chance to make his major league debut. He continued to have issues with the ankle this spring, but he has been healthy enough to play in 20 games in Triple-A this year and hit .303/.354/.474 with three homers and 12 RBI in 76 at-bats.
So, is now the time to pick him up in mixed leagues? I don't think so.
For starters, the Cardinals are far from desperate. They're 14-12 even in their collective funk, and they know they're going to hit. Allen Craig is much better than this. Second baseman Kolten Wong looked terrific this spring, and I'm confident he'll snap out of it. Jhonny Peralta and Matt Holliday haven't been quite as bad, but they're not playing up to their ability, either.
For another, he's not as easy of a fit for the roster as some may think. Taveras has primarily played center field in his minor league career, but this year, he's made just two of his 18 outfield starts there. He's clearly going to be a corner guy for the long-term, and while he's playable in center now, he'd be a big downgrade from Peter Bourjos and a modest one from Jon Jay defensively.
Also, Jay has actually stepped up nicely as a left-handed-hitting center fielder for the Cardinals, batting .283 with a homer and nine RBI in 52 at-bats to date. Jay had a rough 2013, but he's a career .292/.356/.401 in the majors. Taveras, for all of his potential, is at .305/.345/.466 in 249 Triple-A at-bats over the last two seasons. That line in the PCL doesn't translate to being an upgrade over what Jay gives the Cardinals offensively.
So, I'm far from convinced it's in the Cardinals' best interests to call up Taveras. Obviously, Taveras has to get at-bats after missing most of 2013. Promoting him to take on a part-time role might be a possibility after the All-Star break, but he needs to be an everyday guy now. If the Cardinals added him, that'd essentially leave nothing for Jay to do and it'd also limit Bourjos to starting against left-handers only. Both of those guys are too good for those roles.
Of course, all bets are off if an injury strikes one of the Cardinals' top four outfielders or first baseman Matt Adams. If that happens, Taveras should certainly get a shot. But even then, I don't think he'd be a fantasy star right away. Taveras doesn't yet have big-time home run power, and he's not much of a basestealer. I fully expect Taveras to be a top-10 outfielder someday with his ability to make hard contact, but that's probably a couple of years off.
- The Angels have turned to Joe Smith as their closer for now, but he was signed to pitch the eighth; there's little doubt they'd love to go back to Ernesto Frieri as soon as he strings a few good innings together. Hopefully, the first of those innings came Saturday, when he pitched a hitless eighth with the Angels down one to the Yankees. It was the home run ball that cost Frieri his job, but his velocity remains good and he's striking out four batters for each one he walks. He's well worth holding on to in all formats.
- Jim Johnson is back looking strong for the A's, and my guess is that this is the week he gets his closer gig back. He struck out two in a perfect frame Sunday, giving him six straight scoreless appearances. Meanwhile, Sean Doolittle has suddenly fallen into a slump. Luke Gregerson has done OK, but he's actually taken three blown saves (the first coming in a setup role) to Johnson's one this year. Johnson has earned another opportunity.
- With Mike Pelfrey and Kevin Correia both currently winless and sporting ERAs of 7.32 and 7.33, respectively, changes should be coming to the Twins rotation soon. I'd like to see left-hander Kris Johnson get a shot. The one-time Red Sox prospect had a breakthrough season for the Pirates' Triple-A club last year, leading the International League in ERA, and now he has a 2.86 ERA and a 20/8 K/BB ratio in 22 innings for Triple-A Rochester so far this season. He doesn't have big-time upside, but I think he might be able to stick at the bottom of the rotation.
Other options for the Twins include Samuel Deduno, Trevor May and top prospect Alex Meyer. Deduno has deserved to be in the rotation all along, but if the Twins thought he was better off in the pen all spring, I'm not sure anything has changed there. May has a 4.91 ERA and a 20/7 K/BB ratio in his 18 1/3 innings for Rochester. Meyer will get his shot eventually -- and he's the most interesting of all of these guys for fantasy purposes -- but his time is probably at least a month away. He has a 3.48 ERA and a 24/8 K/BB ratio in 20 2/3 innings for Rochester.
- Even though Anibal Sanchez's stint on the DL with a finger blister figures to be a short one, the Tigers are leaning towards calling up Robbie Ray to replace him. Ray, the best of the pieces the Tigers got back in the Doug Fister trade with the Nationals, has a 1.93 ERA in four starts for Triple-A Toledo. Last time out, he threw 8 1/3 scoreless innings with a 7/1 K/BB ratio. He'd only make a start or two, so there shouldn't be any urgency to get him into AL-only lineups. Still, it's notable that he's already their top fallback for the rotation; he could have a spot for the long haul if anyone ahead of him goes down with a significant injury later.
- Seattle's Fernando Rodney finally pitched his first one-two-three inning of the season on Sunday, earning him his fifth save in six chances. He's struck out 12 in 8 1/3 innings overall, but he's also walked six -- including four in his last five outings -- and given up nine hits. The big thing he has going in his favor is that he so rarely allows homers (none so far this year) meaning the walks aren't as damaging as they might otherwise be. Still, as shaky as he's been, it shouldn't take more than a couple of blown saves in a row to put his job in serious jeopardy. It's still worth owning Danny Farquhar as his fallback.
- A day after assuming the leadoff spot for the first time, Michael Saunders was finally given his first start of the year in center field by manager Lloyd McClendon on Sunday. The writing is on the wall for Abraham Almonte, who might soon be sent down to Triple-A.
- David Freese's malaise seems to have carried over to the American League, and now the Angels are giving Ian Stewart significant time at third base against right-handers. I think that's the smart thing in the short term, but Stewart isn't necessary a capable long-term solution. Included in his nice start this year is an ugly 18/2 K/BB ratio in 43 at-bats, and OBP is always going to be a problem for him. We're eventually going to see Grant Green get a look if Freese continues to struggle. Green is batting .369/.419/.524 in 84 at-bats for Triple-A Salt Lake, and he's starting to play third base more frequently of late. He'd be nice to have stashed away in AL-only leagues.
- So steady and effective his first six years in the league, Hiroki Kuroda has definitely lost something this season. His fastball velocity is down a bit, and he's getting fewer hitters to chase his slider and splitter than ever before. I don't think he's as bad as his 5.28 ERA suggests -- his 4.26 FIP better describes him right now, I'd say -- but he should be regarded as a spot starter in mixed leagues going forward.
- Oddly enough, the Orioles' response to Chris Davis's oblique injury has been to stick Jemile Weeks into the lineup as a leadoff-hitting DH the last two days. It seemed likely that Delmon Young would get those at-bats, but apparently he'll continue to play only against lefties for now. Weeks seems likely to have some AL-only value for these two or three weeks.
- Manny Machado (knee) could come off the DL as soon as Tuesday, though Friday still seems to be the more likely date. It's worth activating him in AL-only leagues now, but not in mixed leagues. Still unclear is whether it will be Ryan Flaherty or Jonathan Schoop sent down to make room for him. I'm guessing Schoop will be farmed out, mostly because the Orioles seem to like Steve Lombardozzi at second base and Schoop shouldn't be kept around unless he's going to be in the lineup most of the time.
- Houston's Collin McHugh is someone to root for, no doubt. I'm not as sure that he's someone to own in fantasy leagues. His velocity is up some from where it was in his previous looks with the Mets and Rockies, but he still lacks an outpitch and I don't believe he's here to stay, even if he does have an 0.59 ERA after two starts. Mixed leaguers can do better. AL-only leaguers can give him a try with a relatively soft matchup against the Mariners coming next.
- Will George Springer's slow start make the Astros gunshy about trying Jon Singleton? Because it now seems to be about that time. Chris Carter has picked it up of late, but first base remains wide open for Singleton with Marc Krauss hitting .132/.220/.264 in 53 at-bats. Singleton is at .314/.417/.556 with eight homers and 26 RBI in 86 at-bats in Triple-A.
- There was a good case for Mike Montgomery being added to Tampa Bay's rotation even before he pitched the first 8 1/3 innings in a no-hitter for Triple-A Durham on Saturday. Having him replace Erik Bedard now would seem to be an obvious move. Montgomery, a former top prospect in the Royals system acquired in the James Shields trade last year, has a 2.81 ERA and a 28/12 K/BB ratio in 25 2/3 innings for Durham. I'm not at all sure that he's good enough to start in the majors, but given the alternatives, he's worthy of a look.
- Grant Balfour has still blown just the one save for the Rays, but his fastball velocity is down, causing him to throw it less. More sliders have led to more walks, but not to more strikeouts, which seems like a bad sign. He's given up nine walks and two homers in 10 1/3 innings so far. I'm worried enough that I'd be grabbing Jake McGee as a fallback. Juan Carlos Oviedo is also a possibility there, but even though the Rays would prefer not to drive McGee's arbitration price through the roof by letting him rack up saves, it'd be really difficult to bypass him when he's so obviously their best reliever right now.
- Minor league journeyman Scott Carroll showed low-90s heat in winning his major league debut for the White Sox on Sunday, limiting the Rays to two runs -- one earned -- in 7 1/3 innings. Still, this is a guy who had a 4.82 ERA in 255 2/3 career innings in Triple-A. His curveball looked average, his slider below average. The strong outing should give him an opportunity to serve as Erik Johnson's replacement in the rotation for the next few weeks, but I doubt he'll last.
- While I don't believe the Cardinals need Taveras, the Pirates have to seriously consider calling up Gregory Polanco this week. The 22-year-old is sitting at .400/.460/.644 with four homers and four steals for Triple-A Indianapolis at the moment. Meanwhile, the Pirates' corner outfielders are currently sporting OPSs of .665 (Travis Snider), .613 (Jose Tabata) and .612 (Starling Marte).
Obviously, the assumption has always been that Polanco would replace the right field platoon when he was called up. However, the Pirates are going to have to weigh demoting Marte to Triple-A. He's struck out a whopping 37 times this season, putting him on pace to exceed the major league record. I don't think he needs a major overhaul, but sending him down with the message that he needs to improve his approach could pay off in the long run. That said, hopefully it won't come to that, and even if it does, it shouldn't be anything more than a two- or three-week thing.
- Mark Trumbo's foot stress fracture ensures that both Cody Ross and A.J. Pollock will play pretty regularly for at least the next month. Still, I'm not sure there's any mixed-league value to be had there. Pollock was pretty interesting back when he was expected to lead off for the Diamondbacks, but Gerardo Parra has been handed that assignment against right-handed pitching. Ross just doesn't hit righties enough to justify all of the at-bats he's about to get. I'd rather see the Diamondbacks mix Eric Chavez in more by putting Martin Prado in left field, but they've been afraid to go that route so far.
- Bryce Harper hustled his way to the DL with a thumb injury sustained sliding head-first into third on a triple, and if the ligament is torn, he'll probably miss over a month. For comparison's sake, Hanley Ramirez missed 5 1/2 weeks after surgery to repair his torn thumb ligament last year. The Nationals will go to Nate McLouth against right-handers for as long as Harper is out. McLouth has been worthless in his part-time role, but he could have some value in deeper mixed leagues while playing most of the time.
- Speaking of Ramirez, the fear was that he reinjured his thumb ligament on a swing Saturday, but it turned out that it was just a bruise, and he could be back in the lineup on Tuesday. He seems to be warming up at the plate, and he should be kept active in mixed leagues.
- Kyle Farnsworth's first week in the closer's role saw him notch two saves for the Mets, but it also saw him give up runs in two of his three appearances. On Saturday, he took a loss after entering a tie game in the 10th and giving up a home run to Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Meanwhile, Daisuke Matsuzaka has allowed one run in 6 2/3 innings and struck out 10 in five appearances since being called up to join the Mets pen, putting him next in line for the gig now. He did get his first major league save last week in a three-run game after Farnsworth had pitched two straight days.
Matsuzaka the reliever hasn't experienced much of a velocity spike in shorter stints, but he's relying less on his fastball and throwing more cutters. It's working so far; not only is he getting strikeouts, but his groundball rate is quite a bit higher than usual. It's still an awfully small sample, and I wouldn't get overly excited about him. However, given that the alternative is Farnsworth, Matsuzaka is probably worth speculating on if you need saves.
- Pedro Strop was undone by a Starlin Castro error and wildness in his lone save chance for the Cubs last week, though he might have gotten out of it if Rick Renteria hadn't made the decision to remove him because of his pitch count (after he fanned Paul Goldschmidt with the bases loaded for the second out of the ninth, Renteria brought in James Russell, who completely blew it). One would think Strop would deserve more chances after such an outing, and he may yet get them. However, it's notable that he pitched the eighth and Hector Rondon worked the ninth in a 4-0 win over the Brewers on Sunday. Strop is probably still the favorite for saves, but things are far from settled in Chicago, and since the Cubs generate so few save chances, neither Strop nor Rondon has that much value right now.
- I'm not sure whether it was due to my advice or not, but the Padres have started playing Chris Denorfia regularly. It's something that needs to continue even with Cameron Maybin (biceps) back from the DL. Maybin went 2-for-4 with a double Sunday in his season debut, and he doesn't need to hit overly much to be a big help to the Padres. Right now, the plan should be to go with Denorfia-Maybin-Will Venable outfield the majority of the time, with Seth Smith giving Maybin regular days off against righties and Xavier Nady playing over Venable against left-handers.
- This is also Yonder Alonso's big chance to sink or swim for the Padres. They've sent down Tommy Medica, making Alonso the everyday guy again, and they desperately need him to step up with Chase Headley (calf) on the DL. If he doesn't get it done these next couple of weeks, then it will be time to bench him and give Kyle Blanks a try. Blanks is currently hitting .267/.370/.633 with six homers in 60 at-bats for Triple-A El Paso.
- Homer Bailey is sitting there with a 6.15 ERA after five starts, but I still have no concerns at all. His velocity is good and his strikeout rate is better than it's ever been. That he's given up seven homers is the big reason his ERA is inflated, and it looks like quite a fluke, considering he actually has the best groundball rate of his career. Try to buy low on him, if you can.
- It hasn't translated into power numbers yet, but B.J. Upton is making better contact and hitting the ball harder since getting glasses. I still think the Braves have been crazy to keep him in the two hole this year, but he's looking more useful there lately, and he definitely has more fantasy upside there than he does batting sixth or seventh in the lineup. He should be grabbed in any mixed leagues in which he was dropped.
- The Pirates had to put both closer Jason Grilli (oblique) and catcher Russell Martin (hamstring) on the DL over the weekend. Mark Melancon will fill in for Grilli for at least the next couple of weeks, and as shaky as Grilli has been, there's at least a slim chance that Melancon could run away with the job. Tony Sanchez will probably get more starts than Chris Stewart while Martin is out, making him the better pickup in NL-only leagues.
- With just four teams playing seven games this week and a handful playing only five, there aren't as many quality two-start spot starting options available. Wade Miley, who is currently owned in just 24% of Yahoo leagues is a good one: he gets the Rockies at home and the Padres on the road this week. Tyson Ross really shouldn't be unowned in any leagues, but if he's an FA in yours, this is a good time to grab him: he gets the Giants on Monday and then he'll oppose Miley and the Diamondbacks on Sunday. For a one-start guy, Brandon McCarthy on the road against the Padres is pretty good.
One final note: May rankings next week.