Toronto is paying more to players sitting in the hospital or on the bench than some smaller market clubs are paying their entire team. This has created some interesting fantasy options, if you navigate it correctly. Troy Tulowitzki is on the 60-day DL and Josh Donaldson can’t throw a ball due to the ominous sounding injury – dead arm.
— Toronto Blue Jays (@BlueJays) March 29, 2018
Dead arm is a shoulder ailment usually associated with pitchers not fielders. This injury has been nagging Donaldson throughout spring training, although it really came to light Opening Day, and it is worrisome that he hasn’t been able recover.
Donaldson is a major concern because he was drafted in the third round and is already hurt. I often wish in a case like this the team would put the player on the DL and let him heal. Long term that would give you better fantasy numbers. Instead Toronto moved Donaldson to DH.
Fantasy Advice – Hold
I would hold on to Donaldson for now and hope he recovers and gives you the season you invested in. If you try and sell you are going to get pennies on the dollar. I wouldn’t look to buy either, as I don’t have faith Donaldson will rebound over the short term and I am unsure of his long term prognosis.
The big winner as a result of the injury troubles in Toronto is Yangervis Solarte. Solarte has always been a better real baseball player than a fantasy option, but he showed promise in San Diego in 2016 slashing .286/.341/.467.
An oblique injury in 2017 sidelined him for a month and slowed his growth. Solarte also struggled to get the ball over the fence in Petco Park, one of the worst batters parks out there. I was intrigued when the Blue Jays gave up two valuable prospects to acquire Solarte. With all the injuries Solarte will likely bat cleanup and offers multi-position flexibility.
Rogers Centre isn’t known as a great home run park but will be a big step up from Petco. Solarte hit his first home run on Saturday and already drove in a couple of RBI.
Fantasy Advice – Buy
He is 76 percent owned in CBS leagues, but I imagine his owners don’t know what they have. Look to add him for the short term, especially if you need to replace Ian Kinsler or haven’t yet found a viable spot holder for Daniel Murphy.
Byron Buxton is batting 8th right now, and that should worry all Buxton owners. He is batting far lower in the order than any other batter with a Top 75 average draft position. If Buxton doesn’t move up in the order soon then you overpaid for him.
The only way a player can hit home runs, steal bases and drive in runs is to get up to bat. That is opportunity, and opportunity is very valuable for fantasy baseball success.
Guys who bat at the bottom of the order lose plate appearances. Joe Douglas at RotoGraphs calculated that each drop in the order costs a player 14 PA over a season. To realize how much it hurts a player, understand that a player batting eighth loses at least 100 plate appearances during the season when compared to the heart of the lineup.
So Buxton faces a greater uphill battle to fantasy superstardom than just stealing bases and hitting home runs. The only way Buxton moves up in the lineup is to cut his K-rate and increase his on-base percentage
He isn’t off to a great start, striking out 4 times in his first 11 trips to the plate. I think Buxton can do enough to jump Max Kepler and Eduardo Escobar in the order, but it is a stretch to assume Buxton will take over leadoff duties this year, an ideal position for someone with Buxton’s speed.
Fantasy Advice – Sell
I would look to sell any shares you have while the optimists look past the looming troubles. If you’re lucky you may be able to trade Buxton for Tommy Pham or Whit Merrifield. Both have lower ceilings than Buxton, but are batting second and have a higher floor.
The Cubs played a 17 inning game Friday night. If they do that often enough the Cubs will have enough at-bats for all their players. That is the best hope you have for getting the numbers you expected from Javier Baez. Assuming the Cubs play mostly the more traditional nine inning games then Baez faces the same dilemma as Buxton.
Playing for the Cubs is a blessing and a curse. Baez plays for a very good Cubs team and every guy in the lineup hits and gets on base. By virtue of being a Cub, Baez drove in 75 RBI and scored 75 times in 2017. Baez also showed enough power and speed to hit 23 home runs while swiping 10 bags.
However, I am not sure if Baez can repeat those numbers. The biggest problem Baez faces is plate appearances. The Cubs have too many players deserving of every day at-bats. Joe Maddon did a great job utilizing each player last year, but finding AB for Baez, Ian Happ, Ben Zobrist, Addison Russell, Albert Almora and Jason Heyward isn’t easy.
Happ offers the most potential and will see the most playing time. This really hurts Baez in fantasy, because he loses 20 or more starts this year. He sat on Saturday so Zobrist could get a day at second base. This will be a regular occurrence all season.
Baez further hurts himself with a 28 percent strikeout rate and .276 OBP. On Opening Day Maddon slotted Baez in as the 8th batter and that isn’t likely to change unless he can get on base more regularly. As noted with Buxton, the lower a player bats in the order the fewer PA they receive over a season.
When you combine the position competition with his low place in the order, Baez becomes a guy you don’t want on your team. It isn’t difficult imagining Baez only getting 500 AB. If this happens he could score 15 fewer runs and drive in 15 fewer RBI.
Fantasy Advice – Sell
Baez has strong name recognition and looked good last year, so it isn’t too late to trade him away. It may be a reach, but I would offer Baez for Rich Hill or Trevor Bauer and then pick up the earlier mentioned Solarte or Tim Anderson off the waiver wire to fill your middle infield position. Anderson is off to a quick start and only 50 percent owned in CBS leagues at the time of writing this.
Justin Verlander had a good start on Opening Day. He didn’t allow any runs through six innings of work, while striking out five in a respectable 90 pitches. Several analysts had Verlander slotted as a bust this year. Both SI and Rotoballer cited Verlander’s 2017 xFIP as an omen of things to come. However, recall there was a night and day difference in Verlander’s stats between his Detroit and Houston games last year.
In 2017, Verlander’s first half xFIP was an unattractive 5.03, but his second half dropped to 3.28. Few pitchers improve as the season rolls along, so Verlander’s numbers are notable. Verlander talked often about Houston’s advanced analytics helping him improve, and Houston’s brain trust was hard at work when they used that wild shift against Joey Gallo.
I think we may see Verlander’s best season since 2011. Verlander wasn’t perfect in his first start, but with Houston’s talent backing him up in the field and driving in runs at the plate we may see Verlander’s first 20 win season in 7 years. That will be accompanied with the usual strike outs and a sub-3.50 ERA.
Fantasy Advice – Buy
His price may be higher now than draft day, but if you are looking to trade for an ace then Verlander could still have the lowest price out there. If you own him then hold tight. You can sleep well knowing you acquired a 35-year-old starting pitcher who looks more robot than man these days.