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Digging Deeper: AL-Only Waiver Wire Report for Week 14

very 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 for 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. Now, onto the AL version of the Island of Misfit Fantasy Toys. Note, all FAAB recommendations are based on a $1000 budget.

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C - Tom Murphy (C, SEA)

1% owned, FAAB $8

After being DFA’d by his original team, the Rockies, Murphy landed in a reserve role with Seattle early this season. With David Freitas stuck at Triple-A, and with only four plate appearances to his line this year, it looks to be the Murphy and Omar Narvaez show for now. While Murphy lacks an elite glove for a typical reserve catcher, the prospect hype was always attached to the bat. The good news is that even with a time split, the catcher rotation seems to be a stable platoon. This means chances each week, with match-ups to boost the value.

After years of sub-.230 batting lines in Colorado, Murphy has responded to the playing time since the move. To date, he is slashing .268/.297/.527 with eight homers and one steal. The power is the selling point, as even with the move away from Coors, Murphy flashes 25 homer upside over a full year. The concern has been the contact rate, as a .218 career batting average entering the year was hard to roster. Still, with the time split, and a team that likes to hit the homer, Murphy has found a fantasy-relevant role. Buy the value, and enjoy what he has been doing to date.


1B - Cheslor Cuthbert (1B/3B, KC)

1% owned, FAAB $17

Even with some early career struggles adding some blemishes to the profile, it is a bit shocking to see Cuthbert sitting at the 1% ownership mark this deep into the season. After getting off to a slow start, Cuthbert is slashing .288/.319/.441 with four homers and one steal. Add in the 10 runs and 15 RBI, and Cuthbert has made the most of his 28 games back with the team. While the .232 xBA expects this run to stop, even a .250 batting line would be worth a roster spot in most formats due to the other counting support.

The other pieces to like are tied to his OBP and Hard Hit%. While he is only posting league-average exit velocities, Cuthbert is making hard contact 34.9% of the time. Add in the .325 xWOBA, and Cuthbert is a player who can compete in every at-bat. Even when he makes outs, the contact is there is expect runs batted in as well. A low ceiling but an emerging floor for this corner option, Cuthbert might be finally living up to the limited prospect hype.


2B - Franklin Barreto (2B/SS, OAK)

1% owned, FAAB $12

While there is apparent prospect fatigue with Barreto, this is another player with the skills to make a quick impact in fantasy leagues. The red flags have been there since the beginning of the year, with the front office willing to trade assets to block him at second behind Jurickson Profar. While there are other reasons to add the utility infielder form Texas, when Barreto has been the heir to the position for a few years, this is a definite step back. Due to all of this, and being limited in the field, Barreto offers a clear buy-low option this week.

Ignore the first eight plate appearances of the year based on the sample size, and instead, owners can see improvements in the minor league numbers on their own. At Triple-A this year, Barreto was slashing .296/.379/.549 with 12 homers and 13 steals. Compare this to previous .259 batting line and 16/6 homers and steals over a full season. With a former prospect playing this well, and in fact, the best of his professional career, the reasons to buy are clear. If he hits, Oakland will play him, and the momentum is there for it to work this time. While owners are buying a hot start to the minor league year, his upside makes the risk worth it versus the veteran alternatives on the wire.


3B - Logan Forsythe (1B/2B/3B, TEX)

3% owned, FAAB $27

After a rough start to his time in Los Angeles, and the trade to Minnesota for Brian Dozier, Forsythe was a low-risk signing for the middling Rangers this offseason. Even after cooling off a bit from a hot start, Forsythe is still slashing .257/.363/.398 with three homers and two steals. Add in the 25 runs scored with 31 RBI, and Forsythe has been valuable even without the power and speed production. In what is still a rebound season, Forsythe has taken over regular duties on the team, and with Asdrubal Cabrera’s struggles, might take over the third base gig for good.

Not only does Forsythe offer some movement with his positional eligibility, but has a bat that plays at each of those positions. The batting average is safe in the .260 range, with a track record of power, owners can expect the current return to increase. Forsythe is hitting the ball harder this year, and with more loft, so eventually, he will start to produce more power at the plate. Even if there is a decline, expect the park to push up the power in the hot summer. Forsythe is a cheap buy this week, with the context to make an impact after the break.


SS - Jorge Mateo (SS, OAK)

1% owned, FAAB $17

While still currently playing at Triple-A, Mateo’s inclusion shows the lack of options at the shortstop spot this week. Joey Wendle is a good bet, but with a 5% ownership rate, might not be there in many leagues with deep benches. Still, Mateo has seen his stock jump after the trade to Oakland, will get a look at some point this year. Am injury to Marcus Semien would be the quickest route, but with Mateo also playing a bit of outfield in the minors, there are other paths.

After posting a .267 career batting average in the minors to date, Mateo has hit .307 this year. With 13 homers and 17 steals, all the tools are starting to come together. If the power can keep up, then Mateo profiles as one of the better offensive shortstops in the game. The glove has always been there, with interest to add some utility value to this profile. Mateo will be up soon at this pace, and owners will have a hidden chip to play down the stretch. At the very least, Mateo will be a utility option on a team that can score runs.


OF - Chad Pinder (2B/OF, OAK)

4% owned, FAAB $14

Pinder was high on my draft list entering the year, and big things were expected after positive signs in 2018. So far this campaign Pinder is slashing .251/.294/.432 with seven homers. While not the break-out season many, myself included, expected, this is far too good a line to only be owned in 4% of leagues. Not only is Pinder on pace to break his career home run totals, but also is posting batting line in precisely the same range as last year. All of this means that Pinder might not take a jump, but is still one of the better second-tier, fantasy options at second.

The red flags are tied to his expected batting numbers, as they think that Pinder will fall off in the second half. With a .244 xBA and .309 xWOBA, Pinder will be back to a reserve option. Still, these numbers do not take into account changes to his swing approach. For one, he has cut his walk rate in half and is seeing fewer pitches per plate appearance. A bit more patience would change the course of his second-half, and owners should be willing to take the gamble for power in the MI spot; especially, when this would be a return to his core skills. There is still time for that break-out to happen, and the price is too good to pass up for the chance.


OF - Jordan Luplow (OF, CLE)

1% owned, FAAB $7

Luplow has been hot and cold this year and has cooled off since a good return from the minors a month ago. Still, Luplow is slashing .254/.331/.500 with nine homers, so all is not lost in the shuffle. As one of the only right-handed bats on the team, Luplow has a bit more playing time stability than others in his role. Even more, when he is starting to add the power this year, the value is going up in the eyes of the team as well. Added as a cheap cover for the outfield from Pittsburgh this offseason, Luplow has been played like a potential future piece since his arrival.

Like Pinder, the expected numbers do not like Luplow to keep up his current pace. Still, with the demotions already this year, there will be a bit of noise in the projection systems. Even more, Luplow has a .235 xBA, so the drop is not all that drastic from his current .254 batting line. While the drop would move him off fantasy teams, there is reason to think that he can keep a .245 floor based on his actual production. For now, buy into the playing time, and with the power, owners could be sitting on an OF3.


OF - Jon Jay (OF, CWS)

1% owned, FAAB $11

Jay was another sleeper that I liked heading into the year, but an injury has kept him out for longer than expected. The value with Jay comes from batting lead-off, and not for signing Manny Machado as the White Sox have learned. The batting order is key, and allows him to compensate for his lack of power with run production. While the White Sox are not a great team for offensive value in general, Jay was one of the better run options in fantasy even while playing for the Padres in the past, so there is a skill that owners can buy. Jay will score runs, and even if they start on singles, all those runs count.

A career .286 hitter, Jay, should be able to produce this same average in Chicago, as he does not need protection as a slap hitter. Even more, a player with a declining K rate as he ages, Jay still has all the same discipline at the plate to keep up the average as well. Owners are buying a batting average and run floor but will need to find their power elsewhere. Add Jay this week before others know that he is back, and Jay will be a regular starter for a team on the rise.


SP - Trevor Cahill (SP, LAA)

1% owned, FAAB $3

On a pitching staff that is in desperate need of depth, Cahill offers one of the "safer" veteran arms on that staff. While owners are not expecting elite performance, Cahill still has the stuff to hang with the counting production, if, and a big if, he can limit runs. Through 64 innings this year, Cahill has three wins with 48 K but also has a 6.85 ERA. The 1.40 wHIP is not much better, and Cahill is clearly an option that many are avoiding, hence his ownership rate.

The value comes from the playing time and batted ball profile. For one, the team needs starters to eat innings, so Cahill has a long leash until he loses his spot. He might be a reliable option in the pen, but team needs dictate that starters are the key for now. The batted ball profile also shows some differences, with batters hitting the ball harder than before, and Cahill is allowing more hard contact than in past years. Either this is the sign that Cahill is over the line, or, a source of changes in the second half. For owners in need of pitching, when there is not much out there in the American League, Cahill at least offers some upside on the wire.


RP - Nick Wittgren (RP, CLE)

2% owned, FAAB $6

As usual, a non-closer to end the list at reliever. When he first got the call this year, Wittgren was the best reliever on the staff. Since then, he has kept this up, with a 3.16 ERA and 1.02 WHIP over 36 innings. Add in the 10 SV+Hs, and he has played in crucial innings, earning fantasy value in the right leagues. The stuff plays, with a 28.5 K%, with more than a K per inning. While the role is in flux, he appears to be the 7th or 8th inning arm, depending on the righty mix. That only plays in his favor, with one of the better bullpens around him in support.

What separates Wittgren from others on the wire is the walk rate. This year, he has walked five total batters or 4.1% of opposing hitters faced. Blending well into a team philosophy around walk rate, Wittgren was a precise fit after being waived by Miami. In what itself was a surprising move, Cleveland added a key arm that is now paying off for fantasy owners in the American League. For owners in need of a WHIP anchor, or that can settle for stuff and a few saves, Wittgren is a key add this week.


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