Fantasy grind makes waiver-wire finds key
In addition to trades, owners need to scour for potential contributors
As we move into May, it is time to make some tough roster decisions. Those who correctly sell high or buy low on surprising players now will drastically boost their chances of winning fantasy titles in 2014.
Owners must continue to use the waiver wire aggressively, because depth in all areas will be needed to deal with eventual injuries. The daily grind of fantasy baseball is already one-month old, but in many ways is just beginning.
Here are some notable players on whom you should keep an eye.
Collin McHugh: 3.42 -- Few anomalies from the current season have been as eye-opening as McHugh being the most valuable fantasy starter last week. However, McHugh's career ERA sits at 6.89, and many fantasy pundits have been quick to dismiss him based on his poor Major League track record. But reasons for optimism do exist. The right-hander, 26, posted a 3.42 ERA in the Minors last year, and he had an impressive 100-to-27 strikeout-to-walk ratio in those 113 innings. If that is not enough to attract attention, McHugh owned a 2.91 Minor League ERA in 2012. His walk rate has been gradually improving, and at his age, his skills could still be in a growth phase. No one is suggesting that McHugh is the newest fantasy ace, but mixed-league owners would be wise to give him a roster spot and then monitor his upcoming start against the Mariners.
Jose Reyes: 0 -- Reyes won a batting title with the Mets in 2011, but his basestealing abilities have driven most of his fantasy value across the past decade. But the speedster has yet to attempt a steal in nine games this season. Reyes' conservativeness on the bases, however surprising, has not come completely out of left field. In 294 second-half plate appearances last season, Reyes attempted just 12 steals, and he was caught five times. It's fair to assume that his ankle injury lingered last season, and a March hamstring injury could be affecting the 30-year-old right now. This is significant, as Reyes should not be regarded as an elite fantasy shortstop if he is not running the bases aggressively. If the leadoff hitter strings together a few multihit games, smart owners may choose to trade him at full value and go with a safer option at shortstop. It is possible that 30 steals will be Reyes' new ceiling.
Prince Fielder: 8 -- Fielder's arrival in Texas was supposed to put the boom back in his bat, but so far, that has not happened. The 29-year-old is hitting just .200 with two homers and eight RBIs in 26 games, and fantasy owners are losing patience. But those with the guts to buy low on a struggling star could get terrific value in a Fielder trade right now. He has whiffed just 14 times in 95 at-bats, which is nearly identical to his 2012 strikeout rate, when he hit .313. Fielder has walked 16 times, and he has scored 12 runs in the Rangers' talented lineup. With a few more base hits and a couple more homers, he would be meeting expectations, and those stats will likely emerge when the weather warms up and opposing hurlers melt in the summer Texas heat. The former Tiger is unlikely to get back to the 40-homer mark in any future season, but Fielder could still reach the .280, 30-homer, 100-RBI plateaus in 2014.
Nate McLouth: 30 -- Bryce Harper's injury will give McLouth a clear path to playing time against right-handers for at least two months. The 32-year-old is off to a slow start this season, which has kept him on waivers in almost all leagues. But those in search of cheap speed may want to give McLouth an opportunity, because he stole 30 bases with the Orioles last season. The 30 steals ranked 14th in the Majors, so there is little doubt that McLouth is worth a mixed-league roster spot if he is playing regularly and hitting at least .240. The outfielder also chipped in 12 dingers last year, so don't be surprised to see him display a bit of power.
Matt Harrison: 133 -- Harrison still carries some clout with owners because of his 18-win season in 2012, but there are reasons to avoid him in mixed leagues. The 28-year-old had a nice '14 debut last weekend, but his lack of whiffs will limit his overall value. Harrison has never struck out more than 133 batters in a season, and it took him 213 1/3 innings to reach that total in '12. With such a low strikeout rate, he needs to deliver plenty of wins, a low ERA and a low WHIP in order to help mixed-league teams. Harrison may be hard-pressed to meet all of those goals. Not only has he rarely pitched in the past year, his best single-season WHIP is 1.26, which he posted in '12. Fantasy owners should also note that Harrison's 2014 debut came against a slumping, lefty-heavy Mariners offense, giving the hurler a decided platoon advantage that he may be hard-pressed to get on a regular basis. Those in American League-only formats can add the southpaw, but he should stay on waivers in mixed leagues.