Welcome to the first edition of Waiver Wired for the 2016 baseball season. I’m D.J. Short and I'll be your host each and every Thursday, where I’ll recommend widely-available names on the waiver wire in mixed fantasy leagues as well as AL-only and NL-only formats. It’s so good to be back.
I’m officially entering my seventh season doing this column, so I guess you could say that I’m a crusty old veteran at this point. I’m living the dream in a lot of ways. If you are new here, keep in mind that I don’t include players in this column if they are owned in over 50 percent of Yahoo leagues. It’s the best way to help as many people as possible. I try to find the balance between helping those in standard leagues and deeper formats, which isn’t easy, but I’m confident that you’ll find some names that will help you along the way.
This is the toughest Waiver Wired to write every year, because there are just so many ways to go, but you won’t find Week One sensations like Trevor Story (89 percent owned), Steven Souza (60 percent owned), Juan Nicasio (59 percent owned), and Aaron Sanchez (71 percent owned) below. There has been some clarity with closer situations over the past few days, but you won’t find Jeremy Jeffress (67 percent owned) and Luke Gregerson (79 percent owned) here either. Alex Colome (45 percent owned) appears to be the most popular pickup as a fill-in option with the Rays, but it still looks like a true committee to me. Oh, and I’m also staying away from the Phillies’ closer situation, at least for now. It's hazardous to your health.
Have specific questions about your roster? Ask @djshort on Twitter. With the introductory spiel out of the way, let’s get down to business.
Michael Taylor OF, Nationals (Yahoo: 19 percent owned)
The Ben Revere trade seemingly killed Taylor’s momentum in fantasy leagues a couple of months back, but it didn’t take long for him to find himself back on the radar. Revere’s oblique injury this week suddenly makes him a must-own in all formats. While the 25-year-old batted just .229 with a .282 on-base percentage last season, he amassed 14 home runs and 16 stolen bases in 138 games. That’s some nice power/speed appeal. And there’s reason to believe that more is coming. New Nationals manager Dusty Baker appears content using Taylor out of the leadoff spot for now, which might not be the best idea from a real baseball perspective, but fantasy owners aren’t complaining. It’s unclear how the playing time will shake out when Revere returns, but Jayson Werth hasn’t exactly been the model of health over the past couple of seasons and he posted a lowly .685 OPS in 2015. Taylor could easily play himself into a bigger role in this outfield after Revere returns.
Vincent Velasquez SP, Phillies (Yahoo: 19 percent owned)
2013 No. 1 overall pick Mark Appel was the most familiar name as part of the haul in the Ken Giles trade back in December, but Velasquez was the true centerpiece of the deal with the Astros. Thankfully, the Phillies did the right thing and gave him a rotation spot out of spring training. Fellow rotation-mates Aaron Nola (Yahoo: 40 percent owned) and Jerad Eickhoff (Yahoo: 28 percent owned) have received some love from fantasy owners this spring, but the hard-throwing Velasquez might just be the most intriguing arm on this staff. His control is a work in progress and I wonder how far the Phillies will push him after he logged just 88 2/3 innings between the majors and minors last season, but I like him as an early-season flier in most formats.
J.T. Realmuto C, Marlins (Yahoo: 41 percent owned)
If you play in a one-catcher league, you probably aren’t married to your starting option unless you struck early and landed someone like Buster Posey, Kyle Schwarber, Jonathan Lucroy, or Brian McCann. At a certain point you can afford to wait on the position in your draft or even play the waiver wire. Realmuto quietly has the upside of someone who can be a top-12 or even top-10 catcher in mixed leagues. I know it might not look like it on the surface, as he batted .259 with 10 home runs and a .696 OPS last season, but he had a very good second half and led all MLB catchers with eight stolen bases. He stole 18 bases in Double-A in 2014, so this isn’t a fluke. Maximizing your roster by getting speed from unlikely places can make a tangible difference in the standings.
Domingo Santana OF, Brewers (Yahoo: 39 percent owned)
Acquired from the Astros in the Carlos Gomez deal last July, Santana is getting a chance as the regular right fielder and leadoff man for the rebuilding Brewers. While his stock increased with an excellent spring, the 23-year-old was still left undrafted in a lot of leagues. I think that’s a mistake, as Santana finds himself in an enticing situation in this lineup and ballpark. Strikeouts are a concern, so the batting average might not be there, but I could see him reaching 20 homers while being an asset in other counting stats. I look at him like a poor man’s Curtis Granderson out of the leadoff spot for Milwaukee, though with fewer walks and runs scored. Still, a guy who can come in handy in most leagues.
Chris Owings 2B/SS, Diamondbacks (Yahoo: 27 percent owned)
A.J. Pollock is impossible to replace for fantasy owners, but like the Diamondbacks, we must do our best to move on. Arizona at least has two intriguing internal options with Owings and Socrates Brito (Yahoo: 8 percent owned). I’m highlighting Owings here because he’d be my first choice between the two of them. He has basically zero experience in center field, so who knows how the experiment will go, but the position-eligibility gives him a better chance to be useful in mixed leagues. He’s only a .244/.283/.355 hitter in the majors, but it would be great if he sticks in the No. 2 spot in the order. The opportunity is there for the taking.
Odubel Herrera OF, Phillies (Yahoo: 22 percent owned)
I’ll admit I was skeptical about Herrera early last season, but the Rule 5 pick turned out to be a nice surprise as Philadelphia’s regular center fielder by batting .297/.344/.418 with eight home runs, 41 RBI, 64 runs scored, and 16 stolen bases over 147 games. That’s some solid across-the-board production, but the 24-year-old was ignored in a lot of mixed league drafts this spring. While he had a .387 BABIP (batting average on balls in play) last year and a strikeout rate approaching 25 percent, he’s also speedy and hits a lot of balls on the ground. It’s not crazy to think he’ll still post a useful batting average while continuing to do a little bit of everything. Herrera batted second against Raisel Iglesias on Opening Day and third against left-hander Brandon Finnegan on Wednesday, so he’s in a good place in this lineup.
Anthony DeSclafani SP, Reds (Yahoo: 27 percent owned)
If you use the disabled list correctly, it’s like having some extra bench spots as we watch how the beginning of the season plays out. With DeSclafani, he’s coming back from an oblique strain and could make his season debut as soon as Sunday against the Pirates. The young right-hander was a favorite target of mine this spring after posting a 4.05 ERA over 31 starts as a rookie last year. After making some changes with his arsenal, he had a promising 65/9 K/BB ratio in 64 2/3 innings over his final 11 starts. Raisel Iglesias is getting most of the hype in this rotation in fantasy leagues, but I think DeSclafani is a guy who will end up being owned in most leagues by the end of the year. Kevin Gausman (Yahoo: 20 percent owned) is another interesting DL-stash to consider.
Jonathan Schoop 2B, Orioles (Yahoo: 32 percent owned)
I mentioned Schoop in a fantasy sleepers video this spring, so I just couldn’t leave him out of the first Waiver Wired of the season. Somehow it continues to fly under the radar that he mashed 15 home runs in just 86 games last season. If you go by at-bats per home run, he came in higher than notable sluggers like Jose Abreu, Justin Upton, and Kris Bryant. Not bad at all. I certainly get the downside here. Schoop never walks (just 24 walks in 821 major league plate appearances) and he strikes out too much to expect a high batting average, but he’s in a cushy setting for power. While I’d like him a bit more if his place in the lineup was different (As Matthew Pouliot recently noted, he’s batting behind some slow, low-OBP guys), it’s well worth taking a chance on him out of a middle infield spot. There aren’t many guys that offer more power upside.
Joe Panik 2B, Giants (Yahoo: 39 percent owned)
Second base is admittedly deep this year, but Panik deserves more respect than he’s getting. Through 175 major league games, the 25-year-old owns an impressive .308/.363/.421 batting line. While a back injury limited him to 15 games during the second half last year, he’s feeling good now and batting second in what has the chance to be one of the National League’s best offenses. Sure, there isn’t a ton of power here, but his elite contact rate should help the batting average stick and he should score plenty of runs. He has even swiped double-digit bases in the minors before. I underestimated Panik a year ago, but I’m not going to let that happen again.
Adam Conley SP, Marlins (Yahoo: 10 percent owned)
After posting a 3.76 ERA with 7.9 K/9 and 2.88 B/9 over 11 starts and four relief appearances as a rookie last season, Conley generated plenty of buzz due to a great spring and an uptick in velocity. The 25-year-old southpaw sat in the low-90s with his fastball in 2015, but he was regularly clocked in the mid-90s during Grapefruit League action. He already got plenty of whiffs last year (mostly on his changeup and slider), so you can see why people are getting excited about him. With starts against weak division foes like the Phillies and Braves in his future, why not take a chance on him in deeper formats?
Shopping at the five-and-dime:
(Players owned in under 10 percent of Yahoo leagues)
Jonathan Villar 3B/SS, Brewers (Yahoo: 5 percent owned)
It’s probably just a matter of time before top prospect Orlando Arcia makes his way to the majors, but Villar should handle starting shortstop duties with the Brewers through at least the early part of the summer. Most fantasy owners are familiar with him from his time with the Astros, but he shouldn’t be overlooked if you are short on speed coming out of your draft. Villar has swiped 42 bases over 201 games in the majors. I don’t expect much help in batting average, but there’s some decent pop here and it looks like he’ll bat second against southpaws. With his eligibility between third base and shortstop, he should be owned in more leagues. Give this speedster a spin.
Sam Dyson RP, Rangers (Yahoo: 7 percent owned)
Rangers closer Shawn Tolleson was dominant in Monday’s season opener, but he completely imploded Wednesday against the Mariners by allowing five runs (including a two-run homer to early AL MVP favorite Robinson Cano) without recording an out. Rangers manager Jeff Banister has mentioned the possibility of using matchups in the ninth inning, so Tolleson’s leash might not be as long as you might expect for someone who posted a 2.99 ERA with 35 saves last season. Remember, Banister even shied away from Tolleson during the postseason last year. Keone Kela has been considered a future closer, but Dyson would be my pick to stash in this bullpen. The 27-year-old right-hander has electric stuff and posted a 1.15 ERA and 30/4 K/BB ratio over 31 1/3 innings after being acquired from the Marlins last July. I've been stashing him where I can, even before Wednesday's blow-up.
Nick Tropeano SP, Angels (Yahoo: 0 percent owned)
After showing a steady drop in his velocity during his season debut Tuesday against the Cubs, Andrew Heaney was placed on the disabled list Wednesday with a strained left flexor muscle. While the Angels say there’s nothing wrong with his ulnar collateral ligament, it’s still a bummer. No official announcement has been made, but the expectation is that Tropeano will take his place in the rotation and start next Monday against the Athletics. The 25-year-old right-hander had a 3.82 ERA and 38/10 K/BB ratio over 37 2/3 innings with the Angels last season. He’s no sure thing to keep a spot (in addition to Heaney, Tyler Skaggs and C.J. Wilson should be back at some point), but he’s a must-add for now.
Craig Gentry OF, Angels (Yahoo: 0 percent owned)
The Angels resisted making a big splash on the free agent market over the winter, so they are going into the season with a platoon of Daniel Nava and Gentry in left field. It’s not the most exciting combination, but Gentry is worth a look if you need some speed. The 32-year-old appeared in just 26 games at the major league level last season, but he swiped 75 bases from 2011-2014. He should start regularly against left-handers and the Angels will face a pair of them (Cole Hamels, Martin Perez) this weekend against the Rangers.
Ryan Raburn OF, Rockies (Yahoo: 0 percent owned)
We pretty much know what Raburn is by now, right? He’s a guy who mashes lefties (.826 OPS vs. LHP in his career), but has never hit enough against righties to justify being a regular. This makes him difficult to roster in a lot of fantasy leagues, but he can be useful if you are in a format which allows for daily lineup changes. There’s extra incentive to try it when the Rockies are at Coors Field, which they will be this weekend vs. the Padres. Raburn could get a start over Charlie Blackmon or Gerardo Parra against left-hander Drew Pomeranz on Saturday.
Aledmys Diaz 2B/SS, Cardinals (Yahoo: 1 percent owned)
It took injuries to Johnny Peralta, Ruben Tejada, and Tommy Pham, but Diaz has found his way onto the Cardinals’ roster and might end up getting significant playing time at shortstop in the coming weeks. Signed for $8 million back in 2014, the 25-year-old Cuban proved to be a disappointment initially and even passed through waivers unclaimed at one point, but he socked 10 homers over his final 47 games last season between Double-A Springfield and Triple-A Memphis last season and followed that up with a strong performance in the Arizona Fall League. Jedd Gyorko is also going to get time at shortstop, but there’s a window for Diaz to make an impact here.