- Matthew Berry, Fantasy
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Let's start with an e-mail.
Jon (San Diego): I've always snickered at those who look at dumping star players when they start slow the first week of the season. But I woke up this morning and was shocked to see that I have already dropped Jorge Posada and Edwin Encarnacion. Have I turned into the object of my own scorn? I'm in an 8-team shallow mixed league and picked up Mark Reynolds for Encarnacion and Ryan Doumit for Posada? Hasty, or smart? Or both?
TMR: Both. First, this is one of the problems with a league that shallow. You're constantly faced with seemingly insane decisions just like that, where dropping a guy like Posada isn't penalized because there are always other guys available to pick up. I like Reynolds more than Encarnacion, so you're good there, but I'd have stuck with Posada.
I shared this e-mail because this is one of the concerns with writing a free-agent pickup column: different circumstances for everyone. Other concerns, of course, include having to spend a lot more time than should be required looking at the Tampa Bay Rays depth chart.
So, take all these suggestions as just that: suggestions. You know your league, your team needs and the tendencies of the other guys in your league better than anyone. Whether you pull the trigger on anyone here depends on who else you have, you dig?
So, this is a list of players who have seen an increase in value and may be available in your league.
Working the wire
Joey Gathright, OF, Royals: Look, he's not batting-average friendly. But you know that. You've known that forever. Your best bet is to do the same thing people who are scared of heights do. Just don't look down. At his batting average. Because it's bad. But what he is, is available in a lot more leagues than other trendy speed guys like Michael Bourn or Carlos Gomez. Consider that he is currently tied for the major league lead in steals and that, heading into Friday, only one team had attempted more steals than the Kansas City Royals. They need to generate offense there and he's a guy who can do it.
Peter Moylan and Manny Acosta, P's, Braves: One of these guys is getting the saves in Atlanta while Rafael Soriano is on the shelf. Personally, I like Moylan as the best bet for success. With a 1.93 ERA and 1.29 WHIP this year, Moylan is first in the National League in holds. Now, the Atlanta Journal Constitution says Manny Acosta will be the guy. And he may get the first shot. He has pitched well since giving up two home runs in that crazy game against the Pirates, but he's put baserunners on in three of his four appearances this year and needed 25 pitches to get through the inning in his last appearance. More a gut call here than anything, but I think Moylan has a better chance of long-term success in this role, if he gets the shot.
Sean Casey, 1b, Red Sox: With the injury to Mike Lowell, Kevin Youkilis moves over to third base while Sean Casey will get the majority of starts at first. A career .301 hitter, he's off to a hot start so far (.357 through Thursday). You know what you're getting here: good average, a little pop and, since he's on the Red Sox, some solid RBI opportunities.
Justin Ruggiano, OF, Rays: Called up when Cliff Floyd went on the DL (who had April 9 in the pool? Bill?) Ruggiano figures to get a lot of playing time. He was a 20/20 guy while hitting better than .300 last year for Triple-A Durham, and was off to a very good start this year. I'll be putting in a bid on him for my AL Tout Wars team later today. I suggest anyone in an AL-only league do the same.
Edwin Jackson, P, Rays: See what I mean about hanging out with Tampa Bay's depth chart? And E Jax (I call him E Jax) is not the last Ray we'll mention today. Sigh. Anyway, here's what I wrote about him in my preseason "Love / Hate" column:
"Only if you are in a deep AL-only league, but there's something here. Had seven wins in the last two months of the season and a 2.46 ERA in August. (Of course, September was 6.75.) Still, he's only 24 and had a K/9 of 7.16 last year."
Jackson has now put together two straight quality starts to begin the year. He's 2-0 with a 0.64 ERA and 0.93 WHIP. He has 10 strikeouts in 14 innings, and one of the teams he beat was the Yankees.
Angel Pagan, OF, Mets: I'm like you in regard to Angel Pagan. Really? That guy? But through Thursday's games, he was hitting .370. He's top 10 in the National League in batting average, runs scored and RBIs. He also ranks seventh in the NL in OBP (.457). He's also playing every day.
Shawn Hill, P, Nationals: Very under-the-radar for a lot of folks, but he'll be back from the DL next week and, last year, when healthy, he was quietly very effective. Before the All-Star break, he was 3-3 with a 2.70 ERA in eight games. I like him.
Randy Wolf, P, Padres: He gets two starts next week, he's pitching in a great home park and, so far this year, has been very solid: a 2.25 ERA, 1.00 WHIP and nine strikeouts in 12 innings.
From the Obvious Names department
Here are some players who have also seen an increase in value and may be available in very shallow leagues or leagues where you play with idiots.
Jason Kubel, OF, Twins: Two home runs and eight RBIs in his first eight games. A lot of that came in one great game, but it all counts the same. He's always been a big-time prospect and now, finally healthy and getting a chance, good things are in store.
Randy Johnson, P, Diamondbacks: He's coming off the DL on Monday to get two starts next week, and he's been looking good in rehab. He hit 92 on the gun and struck out seven in six innings in his last rehab start. I said in my Thursday TRUM that he gets to 300 wins this year. He needs 16 to do so. I stand by that.
Kevin Millwood, P, Rangers: Generally speaking, I've never been a big Kevin Millwood fan. And I really don't like Rangers pitchers. That said, you have to sit up and take notice of what he's done so far this year. A 1.29 ERA, a 1.33 WHIP, he is 1-2 with 11 strikeouts in 21 innings. He's a spot starter to me, but before the season, I wouldn't have said he was even that.
J.D. Drew, OF, Red Sox: I hate J.D. Drew. Always have. Always will. And the fact that he is owned in only 83 percent of ESPN.com standard leagues despite the fact he's hitting .440 tells me some of you agree with me. That said, he also has two home runs and seven RBIs through his first seven games. He'll never be on one of my teams, but I'm not always rational about these things.
Kazuo Matsui, 2B, Astros: He's coming back from the-injury-that-always-makes-you-giggle and he may very well have been forgotten about in your league. He'll be back early next week, if not before, and he has speed. If you need a high-average middle infielder with some wheels, I like Kazuo.
Wily Mo Pena, OF, Nationals: He's coming back soon and he has always been able to hit in the National League. He hit a home run every 18 at-bats after the All-Star break last year.
Micah Owings, P, Diamondbacks: Here's what I wrote about him in my preseason "Love / Hate."
"Hitters batted just .219 off of him in the second half last year Had a brutal July but turned it around in August (3.03 ERA) and September/October (3.00 ERA). Gets to follow Webb, Haren and Big Unit in the rotation. Only 24 years old. Lots to like here, especially in NL-only leagues."
This year, he's 2-0 with 13 strikeouts in 13 innings. In case you were wondering, yeah, he's legit.
Just below the Mendoza line
Here are some players who have recently seen an uptick in value and whom you should keep an eye on, or grab now in deeper leagues.
Clete Thomas (OF, Tigers) has been playing very well while filling in for the no-timetable-for-his-return Curtis Granderson. He has speed and will hit for average. I'm still not 100 percent sure I believe in Justin Germano (P, Padres) but you should know he has yet to give up an earned run in 13 innings so far this year. Speaking of pitchers I'm not sure I believe in, Dana Eveland (P, A's) is 1-0 with a 0.68 ERA and 0.98 WHIP with 13 strikeouts in 13 innings this year. Those in deep AL-only leagues should note that Jeff Niemann (P, Rays) will get the call to replace Matt Garza in Tampa's rotation. I'm not convinced he's ready yet, but in Triple-A, he was 12-6 with a 3.98 ERA and a 1.45 WHIP last season, with 123 strikeouts in 131 innings pitched. Kris Benson (P, Phillies) has started throwing and will probably be back by late May or early June. You may have heard Nate Ravitz and I interview Jonah Keri on Thursday's podcast. He spoke about his conversation with the A's upper management regarding their view on closers in general and Huston Street in particular. So it's very much worth noting that Keith Foulke (P, A's) got the save opportunity last night (and converted) when the A's needed to rest Street.
Matthew Berry -- The Talented Mr. Roto -- is ESPN's senior director of fantasy. He was just as surprised as you to find out it's a real job. He is a multiple award winner from the Fantasy Sports Writers Association, including a Writer of the Year award. He has been playing fantasy sports for more than 20 years, writing about it professionally for more than 10. He currently appears on or in ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNEWS, ESPN the Magazine, ESPN.com, ESPN Mobile TV and, as soon as he learns to say "ground-ball/fly-ball ratio" in Spanish, ESPN Deportes.
Matthew Berry presents his pickups of the week, led off by speedy Joey Gathright and his favorite to close in Atlanta, Peter Moylan.