Couldn't make a deal? Pick up Davis
Now you know how J.P. Ricciardi feels.
The trade deadline for ESPN.com standard leagues has passed, and despite negotiations and offers and counteroffers, you're left in a post-deadline haze, having not quite pulled the trigger on every deal you needed to make your fantasy team a winner. But don't let the media hounds in your fictitious town get you down. You're not a do-nothing stooge. (Just don't put Alex Rios on waivers. Or, better yet, don't sign him to a massive contract in the first place.)
In fact, there are still opportunities for you to help your bottom line. In standard ESPN leagues, an awful lot of help is available on the waiver wire; you just need to know where to look. Here, then, is my up-to-date "These Guys Are Owned in Fewer Than 50 Percent of Leagues; Go Pick Them Up" list. There's only one way to improve your roster now. Go to it.
Catcher: Kurt Suzuki, A's (28 percent owned). Quick, name the top 5 fantasy catchers so far in 2009. According to our player rater, the order goes like this: Joe Mauer, Victor Martinez, Brandon Inge, Mike Napoli and Suzuki. Yet he's the 18th-most-owned catcher in our game? Granted, it's a bad time for offensive catchers right now, and Suzuki's .319 on-base percentage isn't making anyone forget Johnny Bench. The fact is, though, that he's tied for sixth in RBIs among catchers with 53 (he's knocked in 16 since the break), is fourth in runs scored and seventh in batting average (.283). If you're scuffling by with the Yadier Molinas and Chris Iannettas of the world, it might be time to look at Suzuki.
First base: Billy Butler, Royals (15 percent owned). Butler has hit .330 with a .966 OPS since the break and has driven in 21 in that time, compared to 38 in the first half. His plate discipline has improved quite a bit, having gone from a 2.24 strikeout-to-walk ratio in the first half to 1.54 in the second, and while his 13 homers don't blow you away for a corner infielder, he's finally showing the contact skills the Royals have been gushing about for a couple of years (he's hitting .375 in August). No, he's not the guy to add if you need an instant infusion of power, but he hits third in Kansas City's lineup most nights, so runs and RBIs should be there if he keeps hitting.
Second base: Mark Ellis, A's (5 percent owned). Since coming off the 60-day DL because of a bad calf strain, Ellis has been money for Oakland, hitting .297 with five homers, 27 RBIs and four steals, and more importantly he has 13 RBIs so far in August alone. Second has been a black hole for fantasy this year after the top 5 or 6 guys, and I suppose guys like Alberto Callaspo of the Royals and Adam Kennedy of the A's also deserve consideration. But when he's been healthy in his career, Ellis has been known to submit torrid streaks that often come with surprising bursts of power. I'm not saying he is absolute mixed-league fodder in all leagues, but if you're suffering with Ian Kinsler on the DL and can't find a remedy, adding Ellis for a couple of weeks to see if this stretch continues isn't a terrible idea.
Third base: Gordon Beckham, White Sox (48 percent owned). Here's another spot where Adam Kennedy would be a fine candidate, because he's got double-digit homers and steals for Oakland after being waived by the Rays this spring training. And Beckham is eligible at shortstop, so he's probably going to play that position in most fantasy leagues this year. But if you're desperate for a third baseman, I don't mind Beckham in that spot, either. His batting average has cooled in August, but his on-base percentage is still going strong and sits at .369 in 217 at-bats, which is impressive for a rookie, especially one who started his big-league career by going 11-for-61. He's scoring runs, has more than six-homer pop as his 19 doubles attest and could hit .300 the rest of the way. Especially because of that shortstop eligibility, I think Beckham should be owned in all leagues.
Shortstop: Erick Aybar, Angels (12 percent owned). If it's stunning to see Suzuki in the top 5 among catchers, it's at least a mild jolt to see Aybar at No. 11 among shortstops. Since July 1, he's hitting .345 with three homers, 22 RBIs and three steals. Stephen Drew has been half the player Aybar has been pretty much all year, yet he's owned in 89 percent of leagues. It's possible that fantasy owners see Maicer Izturis producing a pretty nice second half for the Angels and think that he must be doing at Aybar's expense. Not so. Izturis has been splitting time at second with Howie Kendrick, while Aybar has pretty much been playing every day; in August, he's got 42 at-bats, compared to 25 for Izturis and 23 for Kendrick.
Outfield: Andrew McCutchen, Pirates (45 percent owned). Over the past 15 days, McCutchen has been the fifth-best fantasy outfielder in baseball, and it's no fluke. We've been waiting for him to assume a spot at the top of the Pittsburgh lineup for more than a year, and he's finally done so, taking over in center field while he's at it. There are probably hotter outfielders (in fact, I'm about to name one of them whose initials are R.D.), but I daresay no one who's unowned in more than half of ESPN leagues can suddenly stuff a stat sheet as well as McCutchen can. In August alone, he has a three-homer game and a three-steal game. Overall, he's also stolen 12 bases and scored a whopping 43 runs despite spending all of April and May in the minors. In the past month alone, he's scored 19 times, tied for eighth among all outfielders.
Outfield: Gerardo Parra, Diamondbacks (3 percent owned). Parra was Baseball America's No. 2 prospect in Arizona's admittedly depleted system this spring, so you'd consider him a legitimate prospect. He's not much of a power hitter, though, and has just five steals (and has been caught five times this year), so as a fantasy player he hasn't been mixed-league fare. That is, until recently, when he's gone on a .352 rampage since July 3. His strikeout-to-walk rate in that span is kind of bad: 25-to-6. But he's driven in a hearty 19 runs (giving him 43 on the year), and with Chris Young in the minors for the D-backs, Parra looks like an everyday player the rest of the way. I don't see a reason you shouldn't try to ride his hot streak for a while.
Outfield: Rajai Davis, A's (14 percent owned). Davis is the second-most valuable fantasy outfielder of the past two weeks, and the fifth-most-valuable -- behind Matt Holliday, Nyjer Morgan, Kendry Morales and Carl Crawford -- over the past month. He's also been added in about 10 percent of leagues in the past week, so people are starting to catch on. Davis has always been fast, so the fact that regular playing time has helped him steal 13 bases in Oakland's past 30 games isn't shocking. The fact that he's hitting .351 since the break? Yeah, that's pretty shocking. He is a lifetime .268 man, after all, and has certainly benefited from a .344 batting average on balls in play this year. But does that fully explain his .944 OPS in July and August? Sure, it's probably just some small-sample-size madness, but at the very least, if you need steals, why not take a chance?
Starting pitcher: Joe Blanton, Phillies (20 percent owned). Despite an awful April, which saw him post an ERA of 8.41 and a WHIP of 1.97, Blanton has been fantasy's 45th-best starting pitcher this season. From May 26 forward, he's featured a 2.46 ERA, a 1.11 WHIP and a 74-to-18 strikeout-to-walk rate in 13 starts and 87 2/3 innings. He's allowed three runs or fewer in eight consecutive starts. And on the season he features the highest strikeouts-per-nine rate (7.57) of his career. He recently told the Philadelphia Inquirer that he chalks up his success to a mechanical adjustment that, among other things, has helped him pitch better from the stretch. I really think Blanton should be owned in all leagues.
Starting pitcher: Jorge De La Rosa, Rockies (19 percent owned). Sure, De la Rosa got rocked by the Phillies two starts ago, but he came back against the Cubs Monday and struck out 11 and allowed just one run in 7 2/3 innings. That makes it eight of his past nine starts in which he's allowed three runs or fewer. I can understand the reluctance to believe in this lefty, considering he was such a tease for several years with the Royals. But he's got 131 strikeouts in 130 innings and a strong 47.4 percent groundball rate. Like Blanton, he's been more consistent than a ton of more hyped starters.
Starting pitcher: Randy Wolf, Dodgers (44 percent owned). I guess I can understand the bias against Wolf: He seems to get hurt in the second half every year and is not a huge strikeout guy, having fanned 111 hitters in 155 innings so far in '09. But look at those ratios: 3.43 ERA and 1.17 WHIP. In fact, despite his relative strikeout limitations, Wolf is the No. 30 starting pitcher in our Player Rater for the entire season. That's higher than Matt Garza, Roy Oswalt, James Shields, Carlos Zambrano, Rich Harden, Max Scherzer and Joba Chamberlain. If you need quality innings to get you that slight nudge downward in your averages, Wolf should be your choice.
Starting pitcher: Joel Pineiro, Cardinals (34 percent owned). If Wolf is amazing at No. 30, how do you feel about Pineiro at No. 25? Man, Red Sox fans who've had to suffer through outing after outing of John Smoltz, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Brad Penny are saying to themselves, "Why can't we get guys like that?" Pineiro is yet another Dave Duncan reclamation projection in St. Louis, and he's walked all of 15 batters in 148 1/3 innings. He's even more K-limited than Wolf: He strikes out only 4.1 batters per nine, so all you'll get from him is a degree of ERA and WHIP stabilization. But geez -- that's some stabilization. Pineiro's season ERA is 3.22 and his season WHIP is 1.22. Own him. Now.
Starting pitcher: Brett Anderson, A's (11 percent owned). Here's my fourth and final Oakland player on this list. Now, before I break my arm patting myself too hard on the back for having endorsed Anderson as a mixed-league fantasy weapon on TV way back in April, I should also confess that along the way this season I was also pretty into Josh Outman and Vin Mazzaro. (I still say Outman was a good call, but he needed Tommy John surgery. Mazzaro? Whoops.) Still, since June 20, Anderson has a 2.50 ERA, a 1.02 WHIP and 56 strikeouts in 57 2/3 innings. The big lefty isn't an elite fireballer, but he'll get it up there at 93 or 94 with good control (he has only 18 walks in that same span), and he's got a really strong slider that big league hitters haven't been able to get good wood on since the break.
Relief pitcher: Jason Frasor, Blue Jays (15 percent of leagues). Want proof that some of your leaguemates aren't paying attention? Scott Downs is still owned in twice as many leagues as Frasor is, despite the fact that Downs is down with continued foot problems, and Frasor is closing in Toronto. Long known as the guy the Jays traded away Jayson Werth to get, Frasor has done well in a saves role, converting five of seven opportunities. Do I love him in this role? I do not, but he hasn't spit the bit yet. The reason we say don't pay for saves is so you can pick up guys like this for nothing late in the year.
Relief pitcher: Jim Johnson, Orioles (12 percent of leagues). Chris Ray is owned in 18 percent of leagues. Please drop him. Johnson is the closer in Baltimore now that George Sherrill is setting up for the Dodgers, and he's 3-for-4 since inheriting the role. Honestly, his skill set isn't suited for closing: he walks too many hitters (16) and doesn't strike enough out (37, in 52 1/3 innings), plus is throwing nearly 10 percent fewer grounders this year. But again, he's a closer. Don't overthink.
Relief pitcher: Mike MacDougal, Nationals (12 percent of leagues). What was that I just said about not overthinking? I know that despite their recent eight-game win streak, the Nats are on pace to lose 105 games. But Mike McDougal has five saves already in August. In fact, he was used so frequently last week, the Nats actually had to sit him and give save chances to Jorge Sosa. You never know when a terrible team is going to win a close game. Hey, it happens.
Relief pitcher: Leo Nunez, Marlins (15 percent of leagues). Matt Lindstrom is off the DL but has a 6.21 ERA and a 1.83 WHIP on the season. Over the past few days, the Marlins have used Lindstrom in non-save situations to try and get him right, which has given Nunez a chance to reassert himself. He's pretty obviously been the better pitcher this year and had converted 10 straight save chances until he blew one against the Astros on Tuesday. In 10-team mixed leagues, it's a little tough to justify carrying a guy if you aren't sure he's the closer. But for Lindstrom owners? If you're counting on him, you almost have to go out and handcuff Nunez to him.
Christopher Harris is a fantasy analyst for ESPN.com and is a six-time Fantasy Sports Writing Association award winner. You can find him at www.facebook.com/writerboy.