Fantasy Baseball

Week 5: top fantasy free agents

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John Halpin

John Halpin has been a fantasy contributor for FOXSports.com since 2007. He has written and co-hosted webcasts about fantasy football for FOXNews.com, and managed websites for the NHL, the U.S. Olympic Committee and USA Network. Listen to his "Fantasy 15 Podcast" on FOXSportsRadio.com and follow him on Twitter.

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The season is almost a month old. It’s early for wholesale roster turnover, but tinkering is always encouraged. However, if one more person tweets or e-mails asking if they should trade Matt Cain

Please note that, as in past seasons, no player will be mentioned in this space more than once in a four-week span, because we don’t want to beat you over the head all year long about the same players. Example: “Why the %$#@! Is Justin Ruggiano owned in 4.8 of our leagues?” Let’s get going!

Catcher: Russell Martin, Pirates (owned in 7.4 percent of FOXSports.com leagues) I know he’s having a slow start and is almost guaranteed to have a bad batting average, but Martin hit 39 home runs in 2011-12 for the Yankees. If you need a free agent backstop, you could do a lot worse.

Digging deeper: You and I might let Jesus Montero hit his way out of his slump. Mariners manager Eric Wedge seems to think differently, as he’s given Kelly Shoppach (0.2 percent owned) three starts this week. Shoppach hit 19 homers in 440 at bats over the last two seasons, and power like that can help your AL-only squad in a part-time role.

First base: Brandon Belt, Giants (owned in 5.3 percent of FOXSports.com leagues) Is Belt ever going to live up to his old prospect hype? Maybe not, but he’s only 25, so don’t give up on him just yet. Could he hit .275 (like last season) with 12-15 homers and 10 steals? Absolutely. Many of you can use production like that.

Digging deeper: I think manager Joe Maddon has magic fairy dust that he sprinkles on castoff players. He did it with Kyle Farnsworth and Fernando Rodney, he’s doing it now with Roberto Hernandez, and he’s also doing it with James Loney (1.6 percent owned). Loney is batting .327, with that number protected by his nailed-to-the-bench role versus southpaws (he has a .664 OPS against them), and he’s smoking line drives all over the place. You might still be able to get him in AL-only leagues.

Second base: Jedd Gyorko, Padres (owned in 7 percent of FOXSports.com leagues) Gyorko was certainly overhyped in draft season, but he’s probably not as bad as his current .593 OPS, either. Gyorko is seeing a steady diet of breaking balls, but his overall contact rate isn’t bad, and his plate discipline is still pretty good. Is “give him one more chance” a good argument for a fantasy free agent? Maybe not, but Gyorko’s power potential is worth a gamble.

Digging deeper: The Dodgers say that Jerry Hairston Jr. (0.2 percent owned) will share time with Juan Uribe and Nick Punto at third base for awhile, but Hairston is the one who’s gotten three starts there this week. He might hit a homer here and there and steal the occasional base without killing your batting average.

Third base: Jordan Pacheco, Rockies (owned in 2.3 percent of FOXSports.com leagues) The Denver Post reported Thursday that Pacheco is expected to see most of the at bats at first base while Todd Helton is on the disabled list. Last season, Pacheco batted .309 with five homers, seven steals, 54 RBI and 51 runs scored. That’s about the kind of production you can expect this season, and it plays a lot better at third base than first base for your fantasy team (Pacheco is eligible at both).

Digging deeper: Jayson Nix (0.2 percent owned) is miscast as an everyday player, but that’s essentially what he’s become for the Yankees because of all their injuries. The role might not be good for Nix’s batting average, but his counting numbers have a chance to help your AL-only squad. Nix had four homers and six steals in 177 at bats for the Yankees last season, along with 12 homers and seven steals for the Blue Jays (between Triple A and the majors) in 2011. Look for him to play three or four times per week for a couple of months.

Shortstop: Ruben Tejada, Mets (owned in 2.1 percent of FOXSports.com leagues) Tejada is a better real player than fantasy player, but not everyone can be Jose Reyes (the healthy version, I mean). Despite his bad BABIP-fueled slow start, Tejada is leading off as a decent on-base threat who figures to score 70-some runs in that spot. He’ll hit at least .270, too.

Digging deeper: Munenori Kawasaki (0.3 percent owned) has emerged as the Blue Jays’ everyday shortstop in Reyes’ absence. Since Kawasaki’s 115 plate appearances with the Mariners last season don’t tell us much, let’s look back at his Japanese League stats. What’s this? He had 264 stolen bases in nine seasons as a regular? OK.

Outfield: Lucas Duda, Mets (owned in 10.4 percent of FOXSports.com leagues) Remember last season, when I kept saying Duda would hit 30 home runs? Um, sorry about that. He might get 25 this season, though. Duda is batting cleanup for the Mets – until Ike Davis straightens things out – and has walked a ridiculous 17 times in 74 plate appearances. Walks probably don’t help your fantasy squad directly, but guys who get on base a lot score runs. Duda just sneaks above my cut line for standard mixed leagues, and can help in any other format.

Digging deeper: Robbie Grossman (0.1 percent owned) was called up in the wake of Justin Maxwell’s hand injury, and had led off in both of his games as an Astros. Grossman has decent power and speed, along with excellent plate discipline that has propelled him to a career on-base percentage of .381 over four-plus seasons in the minors. Manager Bo Porter seems to really like Grossman, too.

Starting pitcher: Jose Quintana, White Sox (owned in 18.5 percent of FOXSports.com leagues) My dad protected this guy for $5 in our AL keeper league, and I laughed at him. I’m not sold yet, but I’m not laughing as much anymore. Quintana has a 2.78 ERA with a 1.06 WHIP in his first four starts. He’s throwing harder than he did last season, his strikeout rate is way up, and his control has improved. At age 24, maybe this is progression instead of a small-sample fluke. You might want to grab Quintana and find out.

Digging deeper: Stop worrying about Vance Worley’s (1.7 percent owned) 6.38 ERA. His BABIP is a terribly unlucky .398, and his LOB% is an equally star-crossed 56.3. He’ll be fine, probably as a 3.75-ERA kind of guy. I’d take a chance on Worley in most formats.

Relief pitcher: Ed Mujica, Cardinals (owned in 19.8 percent of FOXSports.com leagues) Many of the closer vultures are gone in most leagues, but you’ve been slow on the draw with regard to Mujica. He’s the guy for now, folks. What are you waiting for?

Digging deeper: Tanner Scheppers (0.3 percent owned) hasn’t allowed a run in 11/23 innings, and has emerged as Joe Nathan’s primary setup man. Nathan is terrific, but do you trust him to stay healthy at age 38? Me neither. Even as a setup man, Scheppers and his high-octane heat will probably help your strikeout totals.

One more note about Scheppers: During a session on minor leaguers at First Pitch Arizona (an annual fantasy baseball symposium) a few years ago, MLB scout Jason Grey related how those watching Scheppers at the Arizona Fall League had taken to calling him “Nasty McFilthy.” How can you not love a guy with a nickname like that?

Tagged: White Sox, Yankees, Mariners, Rangers, Blue Jays, Astros, Dodgers, Mets, Pirates, Padres, Giants, Rockies, Rays, Jerry Hairston Jr., Joe Nathan, Jose Reyes, Jayson Nix, Ike Davis, Ruben Tejada, Lucas Duda

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