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AL-Only Waiver Wire Team of the Week: MLB Week 12

Every week in baseball, a significant player will hit the disabled list, slip into a slump, or get traded out of a good spot. How fantasy owners adapt to these situations can make or break the season as a whole. One lousy add might not hurt the long-term standing of a team, but failing to take advantage of breakouts or impact bats before others sure can.

The primary challenge of playing in an NL or AL-only league is often the lack of options regarding adding and subtracting players when needed. In mixed leagues, the players on the waiver wire are usually starting for an NL-only staff. So then how does one wade through the names of players that even regular fantasy players have never heard of, and that often will not even start for their teams to begin with? That is where this series comes in.

Instead of owners spending time digging the waiver wire of 0% owned players, this article will give owners a player at each position to fill the gap, or at the least, keep an eye on to add or stash. Not all of these players will replace that injury, but offer the best option off the scrap heap. Often the players advocated for here are long shots due to the nature of shallow leagues. No quick fixes, but some upside that could turn into much more.  With that onto the island of misfit fantasy toys.

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AL-Only Team of the Week

C - Martin Maldonado (C, LAA) - 4% owned

Known more for his glove than his bat over the past few seasons, Maldonado has snuck into a productive role this year in California. In 52 games he is slashing .247/.301/.354 with three homers. Also, a good sign, the BB% rate is up a few points, and the K% is down a few points. While he does not look to be on pace for the 14 homer output from last season, fantasy owners will trade that for the 30 point jump in average so far. Overall the approach this year seems to be the same, but small changes in the profile stand out. First, his Hard% is up five points, and Soft% is down the same mark. To add to that, the LD% is up seven points. What this means is that more balls are finding the outfield grass, as evidenced by his 10 doubles so far. When he posted 19 all of last season, this could turn into a 25+ doubles campaign, and owners should be willing to take that production.  With catching overall being a black hole this season, Maldonado could end up being a top-five player at the position in the American League when all is said and done.

1B - Joe Mauer (1B, MIN) - 7% owned

This ownership level should jump up with Mauer leaving the disabled list, so interested owners should grab him while they still have a chance. To be honest, it was surprising to see how quickly owners moved away from the former MVP even with the injury issues. So far through 40 games in 2018, Mauer is batting .281/.400/.349 chipping in one homer. Mauer is an average only fantasy player, but with the Twins heating up, expect some counting stat support as well. The walk rate is way up this year, from 11.1% last season to 16.5% this campaign. To put more of a point on it, Mauer has walked more than he has struck out by a factor of seven. Even if the power is declining, the great eye is still there. Mauer will play when healthy and should be able to get another 300 AB this season, meaning if that average can stay up this will be a solid floor at the position.

2B - Erik Gonzalez (2B/SS, CLE) - 0% owned

The word coming from Cleveland (at least from Tom Hamilton on the radio broadcast) is that Kipnis will be sitting for a bit to give him time to work with the hitting coach on his approach at the plate. If true, this opens up, even more, playing time for Gonzalez at the keystone. So far, this has been an excellent season for the utility player, and after a slow start, his numbers sit at .308/.348/.492 with one homer and one steal. With playing time in the past few weeks, Gonzalez should add 1B eligibility as well, and while not the power play, could slot in nicely at CI. The downside is that Gonzalez does strikeout a bit, with a current 24.6 K%, but also makes up for it with a high number of doubles. So far out of 20 total hits, seven has been for two bases. With playing time expect the numbers to keep up, and with a good team around him. Gonzalez is more than just a utility player for fantasy purposes.

3B - Hunter Dozier (1B/3B, KC) - 0% owned

The former top prospect for the Royals, Dozier has not bloomed as expected in his limited time in the majors so far. With the injury to Cheslor Cuthbert, Dozier has gotten more playing time this season and has at least worked himself into the fantasy conversation in deeper leagues. This season, in 29 games, Dozier has slashed .232/.296/.343 with two homers and eight runs. Why should owners look past the performance so far, and roster Dozier? First, even without much power to show, Dozier has made a ton of hard contact. This season he has posted a HARD% of 49.3 which is up from 18.2% in 2016. Hard contact is not everything but shows a good approach which should pay off over time. Second, even though the .323 BABIP is a bit high for the power hitter, this is much lower than he posted in the minors. If Dozier keeps the contact rate up the BABIP should improve, or at the very least, he is worth a shot for a struggling fantasy team.

SS - Alcides Escobar (SS, KC) - 2% owned

Another Royal to make the list, Escobar is not a fantasy staple but seems to be keeping up his playing time this season. The .209 average hurts, but expect some regression to the numbers for the career .250 hitter. What stands out for this player, is that the 29 R so far in 2018 are the best mark for American League shortstops and second basemen available on the waiver wire. For roto owners with a good team average so far, or those who are already towards the bottom of the rankings, this would be a smart play for the counting numbers. The other piece to the profile, as it often mentioned in this column, the K% is down a few points, and the BB% is up a few. Expect a better approach the rest of the season, and when he does, how many more runs will he score?  Not a team changer, but a smart play.

OF - Denard Span (OF, SEA) - 14% owned

The big hit versus Boston the other night made the highlight shows, but since his move from Tampa Bay, Span has been a great player for the Mariners. In 16 games in the Northwest Span is hitting .320 with two homers and five RBI. Even with Tampa he had posted a 113 OPS+ so not the throwaway season most expected. Playing time will be limited, but with the ability to come off the bench late, expect him to play more moving forward. Six steals over his tenure with both teams this season means that a 15+ steal season is not out of the question. Good batting average, slightly below average power, and steals upside makes Span a solid OF3 play rest of season.

OF - Matt Joyce (OF, OAK) - 1% owned

For owners looking for power on the wire, the pickings are slim. In steps Matt Joyce with his seven bombs so far this season.  This is the best line for outfielders owned in 25% of leagues or less. While Joyce is currently still on the DL, he is expected to finish a rehab assignment at Nashville this week and should be back with the club soon. Not a great campaign so far with a sub .200 batting line, but some of that might be tied to the injury that put him on the disabled list. Even with the slow start, Joyce has 23 R in 55 games, which means there is a solid floor in the profile. Much like Escobar, if he fits with a team makeup in roto leagues, Joyce could be an excellent power source the rest of the season.

OF - Chad Pinder (2B/SS/OF, OAK) - 1% owned

June 16th was Pinder’s best game of the season going three for three with a homer and three runs scored. Pinder is the type of player that owners can expect to have some ups and downs, but at the end of the season should even out if played smartly.  This means some June 16 performances to count on, and some duds to deal with as well.  Best play for Pinder is at MI or OF4, but in 46 games so far he has held his own. This campaign Pinder is batting .252/.327/.452 with six homers and 21 runs. The downside has been that in the last week he has posted a .452 OPS, but that is good news for owners looking to roster him.  Bad weeks means cuts, and cuts mean he should be there in most leagues.  If owners can look past this week, they will see that against lefties he is hitting .300 with two homers making him a good match-up play with roster flexibility.  Pinder is best played in a daily league but can provide some production in weekly formats.

P - Shane Bieber (SP, CLE) - 9% owned

Making a return to the list, Bieber was recommended first based on his great command numbers from the minors.  This time he makes the list due to playing time moving forward. With Carlos Carrasco hitting the disabled list for what could be a long stretch, Bieber should be in line for a more extended stay in Cleveland. The first start went as well as could be expected for a big league debut, and until a rocky sixth inning, matched up well with a good Twins team. The question for Bieber will be if his high walk numbers are a sign of good command, or just too many strikes to be successful at the major league level. Strike throwers are good, but if batters can rely on swinging at pitches in the zone, as opposed to chasing, Bieber might be in some trouble. The Cleveland starter is a player for owners to watch, and with a good start against the Twins for a second time, should be in owned in most AL-only leagues.

P - Lou Trivino (RP, OAK) - 1% owned

Trivino was a surprise name on the list, as he was snuck his way as the 171st overall player in fantasy this year. How has he done that? To start a 1.82 ERA in 24+ innings helps, and 9.45 K/9 is the icing on the cake. The odd save here and there should keep Trivino at least a valuable reliever to roster if not start.  The kicker?  If Blake Treinan gets dealt at the deadline, he could be in line to take over the role. An 11.1 HR/FB% is a bit high, but that low ERA shows that it does not affect the overall line. If the homers come down, the whole line looks even better.  Do not count on the saves, but be happy when he falls into them.

P - Wade LeBlanc (SP/RP, SEA) - 13%

An afterthought coming into this season, LeBlanc has made a few excellent starts to get himself back on the radar. This past week, 7.2 scoreless innings against Boston got him on the highlights show, but the overall line has been there for the pitcher this season. In nine starts he has three wins to no loses and has posted an ERA of 2.63. With the FIP sitting at 3.81, the ERA should jump a bit, but not enough to scare off owners. 7.59 K/9 sits a bit above average, but remember that for most of the past few seasons he has been a long man or reliever out of the pen, so the good numbers this year stand out. Most starters lose some velocity when they return to the rotation, and even in LeBlanc has, there is no effect on this strikeouts. With a hot team around him, this seems like an excellent dart to throw for teams needing starting pitching.


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