Expect Mariano Rivera to make a successful return next season.
Don’t call it a comeback. Actually, no, you can call it that.
Injuries often scare many away and put a dent in championship aspirations. But fantasy baseball players can capitalize on them by selecting returning stars at a discount.
Last season, Buster Posey, Joe Mauer, David Wright, Stephen Strasburg and Adam Wainwright all bounced back after missing significant time the prior season. These guys came at a cheaper rate to drafters who shrewdly took a risk.
Several key names went down last season, to the chagrin of their fantasy owners, but many of them deserve a second chance in 2013. Their previous unblemished names are now tarnished with a depleted 2012 stat line, but don’t expect them to stay down for long.
Target these players to triumphantly return from injury next year.
Now that the catcher position underwent a youthful resurgence last season, the path is set for a steady veteran to slip through the cracks.
Behind National League MVP Buster Posey, who will undeniably sit cozy in the No. 1 slot next year, talented young backstops such as Matt Wieters, Carlos Santana, Miguel Montero, Wilin Rosario, Salvador Perez and Jesus Montero will quarrel for positioning among fantasy’s top 10 catchers.
As the competition reaches for upside, don’t forget about the returning Victor Martinez.
A torn left knee ligament forced Martinez to sit out the entire 2012 campaign, but Lynn Henning of The Detroit News reported that he is slated to return in time for spring training.
Before going down to injury, Martinez thrived as the Detroit Tigers’ designated hitter, notching a .330/.380/.470 slashing line with 12 homers and 103 RBI during 145 games. The same spot waits for him in 2013, except Prince Fielder has since joined the fold to offer Martinez even more run-producing opportunities.
Give Martinez, who will be 34 on Opening Day, some time to dust off the cobwebs, but avoiding the grind of catching should help the veteran return with a vengeance at the plate.
But don’t worry; he played 26 games at catcher in 2011, so he still holds catcher eligibility in fantasy leagues.
To everyone who remained skeptical of his monumental rise to stardom, Jose Bautista’s tumultuous 2012 felt like sweet, long overdue vindication.
Don’t be surprised, however, if next season proves the off year as the real fluke.
Bautista hit a disappointing .241, but the slugger still managed a .527 slugging percentage and .378 weighted on-base average. Baseball’s new home run king found a way to tally 27 home runs in just 92 games.
Perhaps constantly swinging for the fences was a surefire recipe for Bautista to see his average plummet, but an incredibly low .215 BABIP played an even larger role.
The Toronto Blue Jays also brought in Jose Reyes and Melky Cabrera to boost an already potent offense. Working with Reyes and Cabrera at the top of the order will present Bautista with ample RBI opportunities.
Monitor Bautista’s offseason progress to make sure he recovers from a wrist injury without any hiccups. For now, he looks primed for another season with more than 40 homers, which merits consideration in the second or third round of most drafts.
Not much discussion revolving around Jayson Werth is positive these days.
Signing a massive seven-year, $126 million contract set the grizzly outfielder up for a letdown. When he inevitably fell short of lofty expectations, Werth became baseball’s latest pariah.
Even though he hit .232 in 2011, drafters still rolled the dice on him the following season due to his 20 homers and 19 steals. Let’s see if the same folks will be as forgiving this time around.
Werth missed half of 2012 with a broken wrist, and his power vanished when he stayed on the field. The 33-year-old hit just five home runs in 300 at-bats. Although he also earned a .300 batting average and .387 on-base percentage, drafters must wonder if his muscle will continue to weaken.
The good news is that owners will not need to invest much to find out. ESPN slotted him as the No. 62 outfielder in its early rankings.
As your fifth outfielder, utility player or even a reserve, it’s worth taking a gamble on Werth correcting last year’s 5.3 percent HR/FB rate to reemerge as a 20/20 player.
Any interest in a speedster disciplined at the plate who should lead off in one of the sport’s most productive offenses?
After injuring his elbow in April, Brett Gardner missed nearly the entire season before returning just in time for the playoffs. The outfielder, who stole a combined 96 bases in the previous two seasons, dashed the plans of several fantasy players who thought he would lead the charge in the steals department.
Gardner does not pose much of a threat to top a .300 average, but his ability to draw walks solidifies him as a dangerous weapon that the New York Yankees should employ at the top of their order.
With Derek Jeter uncertain to start the season (via Jeff Bradley of The Star Ledger) and Ichiro a free agent, they might not have any other choice.
Batting ahead of an aging, yet still star-studded lineup gives Gardner an edge to delight fantasy owners with 40-50 steals and 100-plus runs. Hope that everyone else forgot about him and snatch him in the middle rounds of your draft.
So, who else put all their eggs in the Matt Garza basket last season?
Coming off a season in which he registered a 2.95 FIP and 8.95 K/9 ratio, Garza possessed all the makings of an ideal No. 2 or 3 fantasy starter about to blossom into an ace.
Unfortunately, Garza took a step backwards. His 3.91 ERA cannot be written off as bad luck. If anything, Garza posted better numbers than he should have, tallying a .271 BABIP and 4.17 FIP before going down to an elbow injury.
Why not abandon ship on Garza? Although the 103.2 innings he tossed last season were far from spectacular, he still netted an impressive 8.33 K/9 ratio and 2.78 BB/9 rate. Although the Chicago Cubs will offer frugal run support, pitching in the NL Central is primary real estate.
Give Garza one more chance to evolve as more than just a promising arm who never reaches his full potential. Just make sure that opportunity comes at a considerably lower sticker price than last season.
Like Garza, Jaime Garcia populated many “breakout candidate” lists early last season, only to falter before ultimately landing on the disabled list.
Garcia posted pedestrian surface numbers during his third full season, working to a 3.92 ERA and 1.36 WHIP in 121.2 innings pitched. Shoulder ailments derailed any chance of redeeming himself, and he only made matters worse by reportedly pitching at less than full strength during the postseason.
Although a 1.36 WHIP typically is enough reason to send everyone running, hold off before shying past Garcia on draft day. The 26-year-old pitched to a 2.97 FIP and was pummeled by a .339 BABIP that caused him to yield 136 hits.
Don’t expect Garcia to approach 200 strikeouts, but the southpaw has posted a K/9 ratio in the 7.20s throughout his career—a solid mark for a middle-of-the-rotation starter. He’s also limited his walks, dropping his mark to 2.22 free passes per nine innings last year.
Garcia will enter 2013 drafts as a bland commodity that most other league members will ignore, but the previously anticipated breakout season could arrive one year late.
Not too long ago, Drew Storen was regarded as a premier fantasy closer, ranked alongside Jonathan Papelbon and Mariano Rivera.
Quickly receiving the keys to the ninth inning, Storen converted 43 saves for the Washington Nationals in 2011. He recorded a 2.75 ERA, 1.02 WHIP and 74 strikeouts in 75.1 innings.
The momentum died when he missed the first half of 2012 while rehabbing from elbow surgery, and the Nationals did not save the job for him. After years of dominating in the set-up role, Tyler Clippard replaced Storen, with no intentions of ever giving the job back.
With a 1.93 ERA, 0.91 WHIP and 10.4 K/9 ratio before the All-Star break, Clippard seemingly locked down the closing gig, relegating Storen to middle-relief work upon his return.
Then Clippard fell apart, surrendering 22 runs in his final 35.1 innings pitched. Storen, on the other hand, tallied a 2.37 ERA and 0.99 WHIP to recapture his job before the season concluded.
Don’t jolt him back up into the top five just yet, but Storen deserves consideration towards the bottom of the top 10 closers.
Don’t count the old man out.
By far baseball’s most reliable closer, Mariano Rivera lasted slightly over eight innings before going down with a torn knee ligament that cost him the 2012 season.
It took 18 seasons for Rivera to finally disappoint fantasy owners.
Leading up to 2012, Rivera posted an ERA under 2.00 four consecutive seasons. During his career-worst season, he posted a 3.15 ERA and 1.12 WHIP in 2007—catastrophic numbers by the future Hall of Famer’s standards.
Rivera will turn 43 by the end of the month, and this could be his final hurrah in the majors. Drafting an old pitcher a year removed from missing practically a full season seems like a major risk, but closers are a notoriously unreliable bunch anyway.
Do you really feel completely secure with Fernando Rodney, Ernesto Frieri, Huston Street or just about any other closer in baseball? Nearly two decades of supremacy should earn Rivera a free pass for last season’s injury.
For the first—and probably last—time, Rivera could be obtained outside the top tier of closers. Take advantage and ride with him during his swan song.