Fantasy Baseball: Three Up, Three Down, Three to Watch

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It's been said so many times that it's almost not worth repeating anymore: if you want to win your fantasy baseball league, you have to do it through the waiver wire. It's been a tumultuous first week of the regular season, one that has flipped our expectations upside down. Obviously things won't stay this way all year, but who expected to see Baltimore, Cleveland, and Pittsburgh at the top of their divisions, the Rangers a perfect 6-0, or the Red Sox a disappointing 0-6? To sum it all up without getting to far off task, it's been a crazy week. At this point, here are three guys you should add, three you should drop, and three you should be monitoring. Note: if you are in a very deep league, it's safe to assume most of these guys will be owned, in which case you should go open season on my "monitor" list.


Three Up

Derek Lowe, Starting Pitcher, Atlanta Braves

After two rough seasons with the Braves, Derek Lowe had been left for dead, a virtual afterthought in fantasy drafts this year. Hold the phone, this former All Star is turning back the clock. His 216 ADP signifies he was seen as one of the leftover guys who won't contribute much, and there is still time for him to revert to those old ways, but the veteran pitcher has been just nasty two starts into the 2011 season. After starts against Washington and Milwaukee, Lowe is rocking a 0.77 ERA and 13-5 K-BB ratio in 11 innings to go with his 1-1 record. Barring some sort of freak miracle Lowe won't keep this performance up all year, but he's showing he's still got some left in the tank and he shouldn't be forgotten. With his next upcoming start against Philadelphia and his next couple of starts tentatively versus the Mets, Giants, and Padres, there's a pretty good chance he could keep up this hot streak for awhile.

Jordan Walden, Relief Pitcher, LA Angels

He's been knocking on the door for a year now, and it seems manager Mike Scioscia has finally warmed to the idea of making the young Jordan Walden his closer. Presented his first save opportunity of the season on Wednesday against Tampa Bay, Walden slammed the door shut on the game, recording one strikeout in a perfect inning. With 7 strikeouts and an ERA of 0 in 4.1 innings, Walden should put a stranglehold on the closer gig and never let up. Walden is owned in just under 53% of ESPN leagues, which means there's a decent chance you still have time to nab him. If your group of relief pitching is thin, go get him.

Alfonso Soriano, Outfielder, Chicago Cubs

Coming into this season, many fantasy players, including myself, were very down on Soriano. It wasn't just the depressed batting average or his advanced age and declining power numbers, nor was it his no-longer-existent speed. On a lackluster Chicago team, Soriano has just always been a guy who has never seemed to care; a me-first type of guy, per se. If one is ever going to bet on a player to overcome the natural statistical decline that comes in the early-, mid-, or late- 30's, it's not a very smart bet to put your chips down on a player who doesn't carry a good attitude. Slumps happen, abilities escape you, and if you don't have the mindset to deal with that, you're probably not going to age gracefully in professional sports. I still don't think Soriano will finish with better than a .260 batting average or much more than 20 home runs, but if he keeps up this pace he could very well prove me wrong. A week into the regular season the declining Cubs slugger has hit .273 and knocked in 3 home runs. He may well end up proving me and a lot of others wrong, and he's still available in almost 30% of ESPN fantasy baseball leagues. If your offense hasn't been up to par Soriano should provide a very nice boost off the waiver wire.

Bonus: Edwin Jackson, Starting Pitcher, Chicago White Sox

Ok..make it four up. I was going to first include Jackson on my "watch" list before seeing how few leagues in which he's owned. I had a feeling before this season that Edwin Jackson would have a nice bounce back year for the White Sox. He was straight up filthy following his trade to the White Sox last year and so far he's kept that up this year. After two starts, EJax is 2-0 with 20 strikeouts and 5 walks in 14 innings. He's allowed just two earned runs in that span, including just one in his 8-inning, 12-strikeout performance on Thursday against the Rays. Despite the good numbers Jackson is owned in just 34% of ESPN leagues. His next start comes against Oakland, which should be a cinch. Pick him up now.

Three Down

Kurt Suzuki, Catcher, Oakland A's

I get it that Suzuki has always been a light hitter and probably always will be, but with catcher being such a thin position there are likely quite a few people out there who were depending on Suzuki to be a solid option for plugging a lineup hole. Instead, Suzuki has been the proverbial hole in the lineup this year, as he's hitting a buck eighty-eight with just 4 hits in 19 at-bats. He hasn't scored a run or hit a home run and has driven in just one run so far. Suzuki has started 499 games over the past 5 seasons, so it's very possible that the A's have worn him out just like the Dodgers did with Russell Martin. It's uncertain whether or not Suzuki will return to his .247 average, 15 home run, 88 RBI form from 2009, but if the 27 year old is going to this doesn't look like the year he'll do it. Historically Suzuki has been better in the first half of the season, so this slump is not encouraging. The backstop has been dropped in 22% of ESPN leagues recently, so depending on your outlook it's either time to look elsewhere for catcher, or a good buy-low opportunity may be presenting itself.

Fernando Rodney, Relief Pitcher, LA Angels

After a three-walk, one-hit, two-run blown save against the Kansas City Royals on April 3, Fernando Rodney hasn't appeared in a game for the Angels of Anaheim. According to reports from various sources, he won't be used as the team's closer the next time he does appear in a game. As mentioned above, the job has been wrestled away by Jordan Walden, who has done nothing but impress the Angels coaching staff this spring. Rodney was overrated anyway and should not have been closing to begin with, and after his latest meltdown his ownership has declined by 12% in ESPN leagues. With strikeout rates that have been spiraling downward, walk rates that have been trending upward, and no immediate potential for saves, Rodney has virtually no value and should be dropped. If you can find anyone even willing to take him in a trade, do it. Even if you need help with saves, there are probably much better options out there.

Juan Uribe, Infielder (3B/SS/2B), LA Dodgers

At his age, I certainly didn't have any expectations for Juan Uribe this season. In fact, I thought he fit in quite nicely with Jay Gibbons, Casey Blake, Rafael Furcal, and Rod Barajas; LA's worn out group of retreads. However, I didn't temper my expectations for Uribe this low. After all, he did manage 24 home runs and 85 RBI last year for the Giants so the man definitely deserves some credit. A few games in to his new life with the Dodgers, however, Uribe has struggled to stay healthy and has hit just .133 with 1 RBI. You made a mistake if you're counting on Uribe to play a big role on your fantasy team, and if you own him you may want to start looking for upgrades.


Three to Watch

Brennan Boesch, Outfielder, Detroit Tigers

After a very solid rookie performance with a .256 average, 14 home runs, and 67 RBI, Boesch will have to keep making adjustments at the plate to avoid getting figured out like he was during his second half tailspin from last season. Despite acquiring slugger Victor Martinez, who will mostly DH when he's not catching and having Ryan Raburn playing mostly in left, Boesch is doing his best to ensure that Jim Leyland remembers his name. The sophomore is hitting .400 with one homer and 6 runs scored, doing his best while having to split some playing time with Raburn. Boesch is owned in just 17% of ESPN leagues, so there's no urgent need to add him now, but definitely keep your eye on him. You never know when he could catch fire.

Alex Gordon, Outfielder, Kansas City Royals

After reaching "mega prospect" status a few years ago, most of us decided that by now, Gordon can safely be grouped in the "mega bust" status. However, Gordon, a converted third baseman now playing left field, still wants to have his stay. Fighting to remain relevant on a Kansas City team that is looking to emerge as a playoff contender in the near future, Gordon has hit .379 to start the season, adding 1 home run and 4 RBI. However, most of that offense came off of Chicago's Gavin Floyd, a guy Gordon has always fared well against. Given that and the fact that anyone can get hot or cold for a small stretch of time, I'd advise that you only keep an eye on Gordon for now before pulling the trigger.

Matt Harrison, Starting Pitcher, Texas Rangers

After dominating the supposedly stacked Red Sox lineup to the tune of 7 innings of one-run ball, Harrison looks pretty good, especially given his 8-2 K-BB ratio. Harrison is owned in just 13% of leagues on ESPN formats so you can be patient and track his next couple of starts from afar if you wish to see if this guy is for real. I personally feel he is, because watching him pitch on TV during Sunday's game, he just knows how to get guys out and isn't afraid to pitch to anybody. If you're a fan of playing matchups you'll be thrilled to see his next start comes against the Baltimore Orioles. After that he'll be put to the test against the Yankees before the Rangers enter an easy stretch against teams like the Angels, Royals, A's, and Mariners.