Free Agent Friday: Bad Breaks

By: Russell Shaffer

Injuries happen in baseball just like any sport. Guys pull muscles, strain ligaments, suffer concussions, rupture tendons and even break bones.

Seldom do baseball injuries come courtesy of a WWE-style body slam.

But that’s exactly what happened as Thursday’s light slate of MLB games came to a raucous close with a brawl between the Dodgers and Padres at Petco Park. That’s when Carlos Quentin charged the mound after getting plunked by a 3-2 fastball from Zack Greinke with no outs and the Dodgers clinging to a 2-1 lead in the 6th inning (video here).

I’ll leave all of the commentary about the rationale for the bean ball and subsequent altercation to others, but suffice it to say the broken left (non-throwing) collarbone Greinke suffered was a senseless injury that now finds the Dodgers and fantasy owners without his services for 4-6 weeks.

Falling from the mound is a bit more conventional than being tackled off it, but it’s still a pretty flukey way to get hurt. Unfortunately for Jered Weaver last Sunday in Texas wasn’t his lucky night. After being battered by the Rangers offense for 5 runs, Weaver took a tumble off the mound to avoid a Mitch Moreland liner back through the box. An awkward landing caused Weaver to break a bone in his left (non-throwing) elbow, an injury that likely will have him sidelined about 4 weeks.

The most conventional bone break of the week is probably the least serious of them all. During Thursday’s contest (ironically also against the Rangers) hot-hitting Seattle slugger Michael Morse was hit by a pitch on the hand. Unlike Quentin’s beaning – which was barely a glancing blow – this HBP did some damage as it fractured a bone in Morse’s pinkie. Fortunately for the Mariners and Morse owners it appears to be a minor setback and he should be back in the lineup in about a week.

In the meantime, if you’re scouring the waiver wire for SP help to plug a hole created by Greinke or Weaver or need a power infusion until Morse returns here are some names that could help.

 

Evan Gattis (Atlanta Braves, C – 21%): If you are familiar with the Josh Hamilton story then you have the Crib Notes version of Gattis’ tumultuous journey to the big leagues. After being out of baseball completely due to substance abuse issues, Gattis hit his way onto the Braves Opening Day roster in the wake of Brian McCann’s shoulder injury. Gattis was supposed to back up veteran backstop Gerald Laird until McCann convalesced and rejoined Atlanta in late April. That lasted about 4 days, and now Gattis appears to be a fixture in the potent Braves offense – even batting cleanup following Freddie Freeman’s trip to the DL. His position in the batting order alone makes Gattis worth a look, never mind the gaudy .391 AVG with 3 HR and 6 RBI he has posted thus far. The 26-year-old appears to be the future behind the plate in Atlanta as McCann is likely to walk in this his free agent year. The rapid development of Gattis could hasten the departure of Atlanta native McCann, who could be a lucrative trade chip this summer should the Braves need to fill a hole in a playoff hopeful club. Gattis is reaching the point where he needs to be owned in all leagues, so pick him up while you still have the chance but don’t drop an established top 10 C to do it.

 

Barry Zito (San Francisco Giants, SP – 52%): People seem to forget Zito has a Cy Young Award on his resume (having won it as a member of the Athletics in 2002). I suppose it’s understandable since Zito has been mediocre to downright awful in recent years; never really living up to a big-money contract he signed with the Giants following the 2006 season. That is, perhaps until now. Zito has been filthy through 2 starts, using his big-bending curveball to rack up 2 W and a 0.00 ERA and 1.00 WHIP in 14 IP. You can more than live with that in the middle-to-end of your rotation, even if it comes at the expense of strikeouts (just 8 K in those 14 IP). Some regression to the mean is certainly in order, but even if Zito falters some the vast expanses of AT&T Park make him at worst a matchup play for home starts. Get him now while he’s in a groove if your rotation is besieged by injuries.

 

Justin Masterson (Cleveland Indians, SP – 66%): As an Indians fan, I hate listing Masterson here. That’s because doing so will almost certainly jinx him into giving up 7 runs in 2.2 IP his next time out – effectively hurting my favorite team and landing my name on the naughty list of owners who trusted this column. All that aside, it’s hard to ignore the dominance displayed by Masterson across his first 2 starts. In 13 IP, he has 2 W and 13 K with a 0.69 ERA and 0.92 WHIP. That comes against a strong-hitting Toronto club and scrappy Tampa Bay offense. Veteran fantasy players will recall Masterson was a late-round sleeper last season after a breakout 2011. Perhaps he is now the definitive post-hype sleeper, and for the sake of my Tribe and Masterson owners I hope so. But as an Indians fan with a long memory, I recall a 2012 Opening Day start (also against Toronto) where Masterson spun a masterful 10 K gem. He then collapsed en route to a 4.93 ERA and 1.45 WHIP. If you need pitching depth, pick up Masterson and play him against favorable matchups. But at the first sign of troubled water, cut bait and move on to the next streamer.

 

Brandon Moss (Oakland Athletics, 1B/OF – 41%): The Athletics are a lot better than anyone realized and are proving 2012’s improbable division title was no outlier. A big reason for Oakland’s early season success is Moss, who is hitting a robust .367 with 2 HR and 10 RBI. As long as guys like Coco Crisp continue to get on base, I expect Moss will keep driving them in. If his 21 HR and .291 AVG across 265 AB in 2012 are any indication, Moss has the potential to be the real deal. Consider him a poor man’s Allen Craig. That makes Moss more than adequate to fill your corner infield or utility spot.

 

Chris Carter (Houston Astros, 1B/OF – 12%): Moss’ former teammate with the A’s, Carter (seen right with the Athletics) brought youth and prototypical power to the offensive offense of the Astros during an offseason trade. After scuffling out of the gate, Carter heated up this week thanks to a series in Seattle and is currently batting a respectable .270 with 3 HR in 37 AB. The problem in Houston is that Carter is likely to have few runners on base when he goes deep or have anyone drive him in when he simply reaches. His power is legit – having clubbed 16 HR in just 218 AB in 2012 while playing his home games in the cavernous confines of Oakland. But in addition to the weak offense around him, Carter appears to be the swing-and-miss kind of slugger a la Adam Dunn and current teammate Carlos Pena who will kill your AVG over time. I see Carter as a real nice source of HR (30+ isn’t out of the question) but little else. For that reason, he’s an injury fill-in and bench player in standard mixed leagues for now.

Have a question about a hot free agent not covered here? Do you think we’ve got a player pegged all wrong? Ask your questions or give us your feedback in the Comments section below.

You can also follow us on Twitter @RussellShaffer and @TopTeamFantasy to get the latest fantasy news and advice

Players appearing in this column are owned in less than 70 percent of Yahoo! Standard 5X5 rotisserie leagues at the time of publication.

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Russell Shaffer

About Russell Shaffer

Russell has won several league titles during his 12 seasons playing fantasy baseball and football which helps offset the pain of rooting for his beloved Cleveland Browns, Cleveland Indians and Ohio State Buckeyes. He is a Doylestown, Ohio native and resides in Bentonville, Ark. with his wife and two young children. A former newspaper sports reporter, Russell has received numerous awards throughout his 12-year career as a professional communicator working in advertising, corporate communications and journalism. Follow Russell on Twitter @RussellShaffer!