AL Waiver Wire: Week 19

Recap: Sorry for being MIA last week, but I took a break for my summer vacation. What we learned in the past two weeks … Alex Cobb threw a shutout, but also had an abysmal start and a mediocre one, so he hasn’t exactly lived up to my lofty expectations, even if I remain a fan … Manny Machado, despite his bright future, has been useless since I praised him, hitting just .152/.171/.212 over the past two weeks … Geovany Soto, on the other hand, has received some regular playing time in Mike Napoli‘s absence and has played well, going .324/.378/.471 over that span … Miguel Gonzalez got pushed around by Texas in his one start since we last touched base

Pedro Ciriaco | Boston Red Sox | 3B / 2B / SS | 38 percent Yahoo ownership; 57.8 percent ESPN ownership
YTD: .345/.358/.473
ZiPS ROS: .264/.274/.375

With shortstop and second base eligibility complementing his regular third base job, Ciriaco, who turns 27 next month, is rightly attracting attention from AL-only owners, as his impressive line has been sustained for nearly two months straight. With 10 steals thrown in, and guaranteed playing time in the absence of Will Middlebrooks and the departed Kevin Youkilis, he’s certainly established himself as a tempting waiver wire pickup.

In deep leagues, of course, there’s nothing wrong with playing the hot hand, so Ciriaco is worth adding to AL-only rosters. But how legit is his good fortune? He’s boasting a .415 BABIP against a lousy 2 percent walk rate, and compiled a pedestrian .272/.299/.357 line in his minor league career, which, it should be said, stretched over the course of eight seasons (indeed, Ciriaco had notched just 40 plate appearances prior to 2012).

And yet, he’s playing well, seems to have found a home on the Red Sox and absolutely murders the ball at Fenway (.373/.388/.542), with an OPS more than 200 points higher than that on the road. He’s going to come back down to earth at some point during September, so keep a look out. But hey—if you need an infielder, you might as well pick him up while he’s killing the ball, especially if he lines up for some Beantown ABs.
Recommendation: Worth picking up in AL-only leagues, though mixed league owners can probably hold back.

Andrew Bailey | Boston Red Sox | RP | 62 percent Yahoo ownership; 67.3 percent ESPN ownership
YTD: 1.69 ERA / 1.125 WHIP / 6.8 K/9
ZiPS ROS: 1.29 / 1.000 WHIP / 9 K/9

Remember Bailey? Sure, you do: the guy’s a former rookie of the year and all-star who notched an average of 25 saves over the past three seasons entering 2012. That’s when a nasty thumb injury hit, vaporizing Bailey’s contributions in the first half of the season, and by the time he returned, Alfredo Aceves had entrenched himself in Boston’s closer role.

Thing is, Aceves isn’t that good, and after blowing his eighth save recently—and engaging in a locker room tirade fierce enough to earn a three-game suspension from the BoSox—he’s surrendered the job. As of Thursday night, a replacement has yet to be named, but we fantasy folk can tell which way the wind blows.

The suggestion that Bailey will inherit the closer’s job is enough to make his value jump, and he’s been fine since coming off the DL earlier this month, posting a 1.69 ERA with a 6.75 K/9 and 1.13 WHIP in seven appearances. Bailey was never much of a strikeout pitcher, so don’t expect his whiff rate to approach strikeout-per-inning territory. Still, FanGraphs reports his average fastball velocity as hovering around 94 mph, and his 8.4 SwStr% has room to grow given his career average, so I expect he’ll pick up some more strikeouts as he warms up down the stretch.

Honestly, if you need saves, you might as well scoop up Bailey now.
Recommendation: Worth adding in all AL-only leagues and mixed leagues now that it seems as if he’ll be the closer in Boston.

Daisuke Matsuzaka | Boston Red Sox | SP | 3 percent Yahoo ownership; 1.1 percent ESPN ownership
YTD: 5.10 ERA / 1.267 WHIP / 7.8 K/9
ZiPS ROS: 4.50 ERA / 1.500 WHIP / 7.5 K/9

I know he sucks. You know he sucks. Hell, by this point, even Dice-K probably knows he sucks. But many of us are already in fantasy crunch time, and hey, the right-hander did throw seven strong innings on Monday for a convincing win against the lowly Royals, so yeah, we might as well take a look at this trash bag to see if there’s anything there.

What you know already: Dice-K is poisonous to ERAs, never stays healthy and doesn’t gather wins anymore, which used to be his fantasy calling card. This year, Matsuzaka returned from TJ surgery in June to do a whole lot of nothing, going 0-3 with a 6.65 ERA over five starts, and then landed on the disabled list to address a right trapezius (shoulder) strain. To his credit, he gutted out the recovery to return for the final month of 2012 for a team that’s not going anywhere, and probably has a steady job in Boston now that Josh Beckett is out of town.

However, one should also take notice of the Red Sox’ decision to place the soon-to-be 32-year-old on waivers, as a new home could exile him to middle relief duty or, perhaps, a fresh start in a pitching-hungry rotation. Until we find out if he’s leaving—more to the point, if the Red Sox can find a taker for that contract—this is all speculation, but it should factor into the decision-making.
Recommendation: It’d be nice to see Dice-K return to fantasy relevance, but we’ll need to more about his future, and see him put together a couple more decent starts, before he’s trustworthy in AL-only leagues.

David Phelps | New York Yankees | SP | 10 percent Yahoo ownership; 5.5 percent ESPN ownership
YTD: 2.96 ERA / 1.129 WHIP / 9.4 K/9
ZiPS ROS: 5.14 ERA / 1.48 WHIP / 6.8 K/9

The question with the Yankees’ fill-in starter isn’t whether he’s effective—he’s gone 1-1 with a 8.5 K/9, 4.50 ERA and 1.11 WHIP over his past three starts—it’s whether he is worth adding in fantasy as Ivan Nova (rotator cuff inflammation) and Andy Pettitte (left ankle injury) try to return to the rotation.

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You can probably scratch off Pettitte for at least the rest of the fantasy season, since the 40-year-old hurler is still only throwing off flat ground as of this week. Even if Pettitte returns for the end of the regular season, it certainly sounds like he’d be appearing for the last week or so of the regular season. As for Nova, he’s not even eligible to come off the DL until Sept. 6, and he estimates he’ll need at least a week on top of that to return.

The Yankees, while a near lock to make the playoffs, are still facing competition from the Rays and the Orioles in the AL East, so while they’re not going to rush Nova back while he recovers from a shoulder injury, they really can’t afford to sit back and let him take his time, either.

Even if Nova comes back good as new, there’s a chance it could be Freddy Garcia who’s pushed to the bullpen, as he’s struggled to keep his ERA under five all season and was replaced in the rotation by Phelps back in April. The 35-year-old Garcia gives the Yankees some stability in the rotation, and Phelps has more experience pitching out of the bullpen this year, so it’s not inconceivable that the rookie is the one who loses a spot when Nova returns.

But that’s something to worry about later. Considering that Garcia didn’t make it out of the fifth inning in either of his last two starts, Phelps is in control of his own destiny; as some strong pitching over the next week or so could force the Bombers’ hand in keeping him in the rotation. And considering Garcia’s age, there’s the possibility that he could tire down the stretch himself.

Phelps won’t make it on to too many Rookie of the Year ballots this season, but he’s been decent this year, seems comfortable pitching at Yankee Stadium and is almost certain to get at least another week or so in the starting rotation. Even without the benefit of a long-term forecast of his remaining 2012 season, owners can pick up Phelps with the expectation that he can pitch in (har, har, har) as fantasy postseason time nears.
Recommendation: Worth a look in some AL-only leagues, and mixed league owners can probably take a look as well.

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Karl, a journalist living in Washington, D.C., learned about life's disappointments by following the Mets beginning at a young age. His work has appeared in numerous publications, and he has contributed to the 2014 and 2015 editions of The Hardball Times Annual. Follow/harass him on Twitter @Karl_de_Vries.

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