We're only about a week and a half away from the All Star break now, and as the season begins to move into its second half, fantasy owners should have a pretty firm idea of the strengths and weaknesses of their squad. In many ways this makes hunting on the waiver wire easier. You know exactly what you need and how to go after it. My biggest piece of advice at this point is to take a good hard look at your team and when scouting look as much for skillsets as for players. You don't just want to target a 2nd baseman, you want to target batting average. You don't just want a outfielder, you want power.
Hopefully this article will make your free agent hunting a little easier. As always, I've taken a look at what I consider to be the top 5 free agents for next week's games. These players are all owned in less than 50% of leagues and I think that they're all in the right position to make an impact for fantasy owners next week. Let's get started then.
Dayan Viciedo, OF, CHW
2014 Stats: .242 BA, 39 Runs, 9 HR, 29 RBI, 0 SB
Ownership: 8.2% Yahoo!, 12% Fleaflicker
Viciedo was a player I had my eye on in the preseason as a decent sleeper pick. He seemed to justify this belief during the first month and a half of the season, but after that ferocious April/March in which he hit .348/.410/.528, he went into a profound slump that dragged his batting average down to .242.
Now however he seems to be locked in again. Since June 27th Viciedo has knocked in 4 home runs and has gotten two straight starts hitting cleanup in the Sox lineup. Toss in a series in a hitters park like Fenway and you get the picture of a hitter in an excellent position to succeed in the immediate future. If you're looking for cheap power and RBIs off free agency, I'd grab Viciedo and ride him as long as the streak lasts.
Billy Butler, U / 1B, KC
2014 Stats: .268 BA, 33 Runs, 2 HR, 34 RBI, 0 SB
Ownership: 49.9% Yahoo!, 52% Fleaflicker
Opponents: (at) Rays, Tigers; Games Scheduled: 7
I gave a pretty detailed explanation of why I like ol' Country Breakfast so much in a previous post, so rather than reinventing the wheel, I'll just direct you there. The gist is that Bulter's underlying stats aren't that bad this season, and given his history of being a very useful fantasy player, I'm more likely than not to take a chance on him while he's available.
The schedule isn't bad either. When he plays against the Rays, he'll get to enjoy at-bats against the struggling Jake Odorizzi (4.18 ERA) and Eric Bedard (4.82 ERA). The Tigers have a tougher pitching staff of course, but luckily the Royals will just miss having to face Max Scherzer during their series next week. Without him and with Justin Verlander struggling mightily this season, the Tigers rotation isn't quite the fearsome monster people might assume it is.
P.S. If you're worried about Raul Ibanez stealing at-bats away from Butler, I wouldn't be overly concerned. The Royals seem to be under the impression he's still capable of playing the outfield and considering he's hitting beneath .200 on the season, I don't think he's much of a threat to Butler even with his struggles.
Tommy La Stella, 2B, ATL
2014 Stats: .270 BA, 9, 0 HR, 14 RBI, 2 SB
Ownership: 6.9% Yahoo!, 4% Fleaflicker
If you've been reading my articles the past month, La Stella's inclusion on this list shouldn't surprise you. I love La Stella's skillset, which I've often compared to Marco Scutaro's. The big knock on him is that his game is rather one dimensional in that he doesn't offer any real speed or power to speak of. But at 2nd base, a true talent .290 hitter is a very valuable thing to find on free agency at this point in the season. He's my top 2nd base pick next week by a wide margin because of this.
Chris Johnson, 3B, ATL
2014 Stats: .284 BA, 22 Runs, 3 HR, 27 RBI, 2 SB
Ownership: 37% Yahoo!, 17% Fleaflicker
Schedule: (at) Mets, (at) Cubs; Games Scheduled: 7
Johnson is coming off a great June in which he hit an excellent .327/.345/.409 and in case you think that's just a small sample mirage, remember that this is the same player who hit .321 last season. Johnson might not have a lot of power, but he's a major contributor in batting average, runs and RBI. Next week he'll also have the advantage of playing against a very much weakened Cubs pitching staff which just dealt away their two best pitchers. Johnson isn't a flashy pickup, but he's the kind of player you can plug into your lineup and count on. There's a lot of value in that, especially in a weak 3rd base market.
Chase Headley, 3B, SD
2014 Stats: .202 BA, 22 Runs, 6 HR, 24 RBI, 3 SB
Ownership: 33.7% Yahoo!, 63% Fleaflicker
Because of the issues Chase Headley is continuing to have with his back (specifically a herniated disk which he recently received an epidural injection for), I can't put him any higher on this list. That said the upside on him this week is enough that I can't leave him off either. Headley will be traveling with his team to Coors Field where they'll be taking on a Colorado pitching staff which has allowed a whopping 4.95 ERA this year. They're the worst in the majors in preventing home runs, having allowed 105 so far, and have the second worst batting average allowed numbers, with opponents hitting .272 off of Rockies starters. For a 3rd baseman who's been able to hit for power in the past in one of the best run scoring environments in baseball, this is an inviting opportunity. I'd roll the dice myself.