Fantasy Baseball 2012: Top 15 Waiver-Wire Pickups for Week 16
The following slideshow touts the top 15 waiver-wire pickups right now, recognizing the best free agents from the majority of 12-team roto leagues.
For the most part, this list rewards players who have already fostered productive starts to the 2012 season.
Savvy readers will notice the rankings are different from last week's offering. These changes can be attributed to the waiver-wire graduations of Homer Bailey, Michael Brantley, Marco Estrada, Andrew Cashner and Norichika Aoki—forgotten (or largely ignored) assets on draft day, but now contributing pieces with their current teams.
That's how it should be with this countdown: Here today, gone tomorrow.
Enjoy the show!
15: (2B) Alexi Amarista, San Diego Padres
If Alexi Amarista boasts four homers and 17 RBI since June 17, and a .429 average in the last seven days, then why did he barely make this countdown?
Well, the 23-year-old talent remains embroiled in a competition at second base with Logan Forsythe. This is also his first few months in the Padres organization, after being dealt from the Angels (for reliever Ernesto Frieri) in early May.
Bottom line: Amarista may never hit 20 homers in the majors, but his upside with steals, runs and batting average trumps anything from the power department.
It also helps that he plays a position (second base) that could always use an infusion of fantasy talent.
14: (SP) Jacob Turner, Detroit Tigers
Jacob Turner may not be in Trevor Bauer's strata of young arms (very few are), but sitting a notch below that realm of elite talent isn't so bad, either.
In 330.2 minor league innings (covering two-plus seasons), Turner has a 3.21 ERA, 1.15 WHIP and 269/89 strikeout-to-walk ratio—solid numbers for a prospect with a healthy upside in the majors.
And in his only MLB start for this season (June 21), Turner held the world champion Cardinals to just one run over five innings.
Will Turner stick with the Detroit rotation this time out? Only time will tell...but he's certainly worth the flier for owners in search of cheap arms and high ceilings.
In 12-team leagues, owners should move quickly to benefit from Turner's two-start week (against the Angels and White Sox).
13: (SP) Travis Blackley, Oakland A's
I'm not the biggest fantasy supporter of pitchers with marginal strikeout numbers (only 20 K's since June 10), especially in 12-team leagues.
But who among us can resist Travis Blackley's stats in his last six appearances (spanning 31 innings)—a 2-0 record, 1.74 ERA and 0.77 WHIP?
Assuming the A's are happier with Blackley as a rotation building block, compared to a top-shelf long reliever, he could be an interesting fantasy asset, as a No. 7 starter.
12: (RP) Sergio Romo, San Francisco Giants
As stated before in this blog, Sergio Romo would be a high-end closer if given the full-time opportunity to be a back-end anchor.
And who knows, that day may be on the horizon if Santiago Casilla (four blown saves since June 24) continues to be hindered by a blister on his finger.
But this countdown selection isn't a referendum on Casilla...it's a hearty tribute to Romo (0.68 ERA, 0.75 WHIP) and his uncanny knack for stifling MLB hitters in the late innings.
With Casilla owners, Romo is a must-handcuff; and for GMs in 12-team leagues, he's just about the closest thing to setup-reliever perfection.
11: (1B/3B) Casey McGehee, Pittsburgh Pirates
OK, so Casey McGehee isn't the No. 1 example of why the Pirates are viable contenders in the National League Central race—an occurrence no one saw coming back in March...or even mid-May.
That honor goes to Andrew McCutchen (21 HR, 64 RBI, 61 runs, 14 steals, .371 BA).
But McGehee has certainly been no slouch, either. In the last 30 days, he's batting a robust .295 with five homers, 21 RBI and 13 runs; and in the month of July, McGehee already has three games of three hits or more.
Another admirable feature of McGehee: That dual-position versatility (1B/3B) is pure gold to the fantasy owner who lives by the creed that you can never have enough corner infielders during a pennant chase.
10: (OF) Darin Mastroianni, Minnesota Twins
Since July 30, Darin Mastroianni has played in only six games.
In that span, he has seven steals, including two separate games of three thefts.
That alone should be enough to own Mastroianni in a 12- or 14-team league; but wait—cue cheesy TV announcer voice—there's more!
Since June 17, Mastroianni is batting at a .345 clip; and in the 15-day window, he's hitting a surreal .444.
Now, it's fair to ask why Mastroianni doesn't start more games for the Twins. Shouldn't a solid hitter with elite speed log regular starts with a last-place club?
But even with the current arrangement, Mastroianni can still be a late-season gem for owners who need to make a big move in steals.
9: (1B/3B/OF) Chris Davis, Baltimore Orioles
This countdown pick is more of an endorsement of Chris Davis's three-position versatility (1B/3B/OF) than his .200 batting average since July 1.
We all know about Davis's streaky approach to hitting. He's one of the rare waiver-wire stalwarts who can carry real-world and fantasy clubs in short bursts.
And now that Baltimore has faith in him as a left fielder, Davis should garner regular reps at the plate, while getting ample chances to resemble the masher who collected five homers and 25 hits from April 14-May 5.
8: (1B) Chris Carter, Oakland A's
I've been waiting for this endorsement for three years.
In 2009, at the tender age of 22, Chris Carter ravaged the opposition at two minor league levels, totaling 28 homers, 115 RBI, 115 runs, 13 steals and a scintillating .329 batting average.
It was one of the greatest five-category tallies in minors history...even if Carter had regressed a bit, belting 11 fewer homers than the prior season.
For the 2010 and '11 seasons, Carter struggled mightily for the parent club (39 total games), barely clearing .150 batting and notching only three homers and seven RBI. As MLB starts go, Carter bore little resemblance to Frank Thomas or Ryan Howard.
But this story can still have a happy ending. Through eight games with the A's this season, Carter already boasts five homers and a .346 batting average.
Bottom line: Carter will likely compete, or perhaps platoon at first base with Brandon Moss; but then again, the playing time will take care of itself if Carter keeps shredding the opposition.
Just like the old days.
7: (SP) Christian Friedrich, Colorado Rockies
At this point in their respective careers, it's hard to choose between Rockies pitchers Christian Friedrich and Drew Pomeranz.
The southpaws—perhaps the best pairing of under-25 arms in Colorado franchise history—would likely project as front-of-the-rotation stars...if they didn't pitch half their games at Coors Field.
At least that was the old rationale.
In Friedrich's case, he has allowed just two runs in his last two home outings. He also tallied 12 strikeouts and one win in that pair of games.
That run of success almost mirrors Friedrich's first two outings of the season, when he collected 17 strikeouts and surrendered only two runs over 13 innings.
All this begs the question: What's the more accurate portrayal of Friedrich—the aforementioned four starts from above...or the pockets of subpar pitching from May 19 to June 26?
I'm siding with the former. Fingers crossed on that scenario playing out.
6: (SP) Lucas Harrell, Houston Astros
The fantasy pessimist would fixate on Lucas Harrell surrendering five or more runs four times since May 30. He/she might even mention the two outings of four walks since June 27.
But the fantasy optimist, like me, chooses to focus on Harrell's numbers in the last four games—a 1-1 mark, 2.42 ERA, 1.27 WHIP and 29 strikeouts.
Granted, it's a small sample size, but it's still enough to believe that Harrell—one of three 27-and-under talents in Houston's current rotation—might be forging a significant turnaround in his third MLB season.
Especially for the low, low price of a risk-free waivers pick.
In 12-team leagues, Harrell is a respectable No. 6 or 7 starter...with an upside to move up a spot or two by season's end.
5: (OF) Brett Gardner, New York Yankees
We've been down this road before with Brett Gardner and his injured elbow, being teased by the prospect of an MLB return to the Yankees lineup.
But by all appearances, it looks like Gardner (49 steals, 87 runs last year) may finally be ready to re-enter the big leagues sometime around Aug. 1. A rehab assignment in the minors may launch this week.
As a result, fantasy owners should act reasonably quickly to acquire a top-30 outfield talent (when healthy) who has a decent shot at 12 steals, 26 runs and a .280 batting average from this point forward.
UPDATE: There are TV reports that Gardner has incurred another injury setback and may miss the remainder of the season. If that's the case...forget that I even included him in the countdown, please. I was a fool to buy back into the pre-setback hype.
4: (SP) Carlos Villanueva, Toronto Blue Jays
Carlos Villanueva (4-0, 2.68 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 57 strikeouts) earns a spot in this countdown for three main reasons:
1. In his last 10 appearances (reliever/starter), Villanueva didn't allow an earned run eight times.
2. In his last two outings (both starts), he blanked the opposition while collecting two victories and 15 strikeouts.
3. The Blue Jays have been ravaged by pitching injuries this season, meaning that a highly effective Villanueva should have little difficulty maintaining a spot in the Toronto rotation.
3: (SP) Trevor Bauer, Arizona Diamondbacks
Of the eight pitchers listed in today's piece, no one can touch the upside or fantasy ceiling of Trevor Bauer, the 21-year-old dynamo who has drawn favorable comparisons to Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke at similar stages of their careers.
And while there's no guarantee that Bauer will fulfill that promise in his first MLB season, there's little risk in acquiring him off waivers.
Especially after last week's sterling outing against the Dodgers, where Bauer allowed zero runs and two hits, while collecting the victory and six strikeouts.
Here's one more reason to love Bauer (and his 12.1 K/9 rate in two minor league seasons): For head-to-head league owners, he'll log two starts this week (Reds, Astros).
2: (C) Salvador Perez, Kansas City Royals
Last week, I corrected a miscalculation on Salvador Perez from June, acquiring him in three leagues.
But apparently, the rest of the fantasy world hasn't been so quick to embrace a catcher who's batting .400 since July 1 and .373 for the season. Of my 10 fantasy leagues, Perez has a free-agent rate of roughly 54 percent.
Back in March, I had concrete plans of waiting until Round 18 or 19 to draft Perez (.331 batting in 39 games last year), believing his Year 2 upside would yield Round 8 value by season's end.
But a freak knee injury during spring training scuttled the start of Perez's season; as a result, he returned to the Royals lineup in late June, amid little or no fanfare.
At least that was the case before he started crushing major league pitching.
Bottom line: There's a reason why the Royals didn't wait long to lock Perez up, contract-wise, for the foreseeable future, and there's a reason why the majority of fantasy owners should at least speed-walk to grab him off waivers.
1: (SP) Michael Fiers, Milwaukee Brewers
We'll keep the capsule for this week's No. 1 waiver-wire gem short and sweet:
In his last three starts, spanning 20.2 innings, Fiers has a 0.89 ERA, 0.94 WHIP and 26 strikeouts.
Yes, Fiers only has three major league victories to his credit, and yes, he's just now experiencing his first significant taste of The Show at age 27.
But just like Brewers teammate Marco Estrada, Fiers has the type of talent that shines through the TV, that easy grace of a sustainable fantasy pitcher.
Of similar importance, the Milwaukee coaches have exhibited total confidence in Fiers's game, allowing him to eclipse 100 pitches in each of the last four outings.