Fantasy Baseball

Playing for a Payday

“Show Me The MONEY”! We all know the infamous line from Jerry McGwire. Rod Tidwell is in the final year of his contract and looking for a big payday, a scenario that emulates many of today’s athletes oh so well. This year it was Max Scherzer screaming it from the roof of his multimillion dollar mansion; last season it was Robinson Cano holding MLB hostage in an attempt to join the hundred million dollar club.

At the conclusion of the 2015 season there will be a number of high-profile players headlining the “Show Me the Money” club. Justin Upton, David Price, Ian Desmond, Jordan Zimmerman, Johnny Cueto, Jason Heyward and potentially Zach Greinke will be the stars everyone will be watching, but what about the rest of the group. While guys like Ben Zobrist, Howie Kendrick, Matt Wieters and Alex Gordon may not draw the headlines of the above players, it doesn’t make them any less interesting; especially for the 2015 season.

These players (and many more) like the stars listed above are playing for a payday. Whether it’s a long-term or 3-4 year deal, they are all looking for Jerry McGwire to show them the Quan. While most of us don’t care how much money these players get in real life, their payday is tied to their production in 2015. That could mean some career years, a bump in fantasy value at the draft table and some players you may want to target in this year’s draft. Below are some of the more interesting lesser names you may want to roll the dice on during this year’s draft, any one of which could easily outperform their ADP and help bring home the fantasy gold.

C – Matt Wieters, Orioles: Last year Wieters finally showed us that .300 batting average we’ve been waiting for. Granted it was only 104 at bats, but it’s a start. With an average of 22 home runs over the past 3 seasons, the only thing holding Wieters back from joining the likes of Jonathan Lucroy and Yan Gomes behind Posey at the top of the leaderboard is the Brian McCann like batting average.

The experts at FantasyPros have Wieters ranked as the 10th best catcher and he’s going off the board on average in round 16. Is this the year Wieters puts it all together? At his current price it is worth it to find out if you decide not to play the catcher game early in your draft.

1B – Chris Davis, Orioles: Baltimore has several contract players next year. To say Davis fell flat in 2014 would be an understatement. The home run and RBI totals were acceptable, just not for someone drafted in the first round. The odds of him getting back to the level he was at in 2013 are slim, but 2012 when he hit 33 homers with a .270 average isn’t out of the question, is it? It is sink or swim time for Davis who can follow in the footsteps of Adam Dunn or Mark Reynolds.

FantasyPros has him ranked as the 16th best first baseman and he’s going off the board in Yahoo near the end of round 9. This is a rather expensive risk based upon where he is being drafted and not for the weak of heart. A bounce back though would not only give him a large contract, but it would pay dividends for your fantasy team. No Guts…No Glory.

2B – Daniel Murphy, Mets & Howie Kendrick, Angels: Two ho-hum second basemen with a lot in common other than pending free agency. Both hit for around the same average, have similar speed, power and RBI potential and each scores around the same amount of runs. They are even ranked together on FantasyPros at 11 and 12. The one place they differ is in the draft room with Murphy going off the board in round 12 on average while Kendrick can be had in round 17. Value wise, if you’re looking to gamble on one of these men having a career year it would be Kendrick. Worst case scenario, you get a cheap top 12 unimpressive second baseman.

OF – Yoenis Cespedes, Tigers: After an impressive debut in 2012 Cespedes has slowly backtracked. In 2013 the power was there but the batting average fell off. Last season the average picked up some but he lost some power. The experts haven’t lost faith in him as he ranks 17th at FantasyPros and the fantasy community are still high on him as well selecting him near the end of round 5. We saw the effect Miguel Cabrera can have on players hitting around him; that is a big positive for Cespedes. That protection means better pitches and more potential home runs and corresponding RBI totals. I’m not a fan of Cespedes, but if there were a year I was going to gamble on him, it would be this year.

Alex Gordon, Royals: Gordon has tailed off the past few years. His batting average hovered around the .300 range from 2011 to 2012 but the past 2 years it has been .265. Everything else has been there so he has been a consistent source of fantasy points, but an increase in average would make him the complete package. Gordon did undergo wrist surgery in January which makes him a risk to decline. If he starts out slow he would make a nice trade target since he should be 100% before long.

Gordon is the 24th ranked outfielder on FantasyPros and is going off the board between round 7 and 8. There is little risk here, but there could be a nice reward to be had.

Jason Heyward, Cardinals: I mentioned Heyward in the intro with some very high-profile players. The difference between him and those other players is; they have fantastic track records that could get them a huge payday. Heyward is a great defensive player, but offensively he’s been lacking ever since his breakout in 2012. His underlying stats are going in the wrong direction, but his age, pedigree and upside keep people coming back with hopes he becomes the player we all think he can be. St.Louis has a way of reviving careers and getting the most out of their players; Carlos Beltran is a perfect example. This could be Heyward’s year.

FantasyPros ranks him just above Alex Gordon above and he is going off the board around the same time. If Heyward puts up the type of numbers he has the past few years that 7th/8th round pick becomes a waste. If the Cardinals work their magic though, he could turn out to be a steal. Feeling Froggy?

Austin Jackson, Mariners: He has never lived up to the hype and Detroit finally grew tired of waiting and shipped him off to Seattle. Jackson hit .229 once he arrived which is a negative, but he did steal 11 bases in 54 games after stealing only 9 in 100 games for Detroit. He was even more successful being caught just twice; half as many times as in Detroit. If he can get the average back up to his career average (or higher) and is given the green light like upon his arrival, we could be looking at a 30+ steal season.

FantasyPros has him at #54 and he’s not going off the board until round 17 or later. That’s quite a bargain for a player that could potentially be as valuable as Leonys Martin, Brett Gardner or even Jason Heyward above. Jackson will need everything to break right, but for where he is being drafted; it’s worth the risk. Low risk/high reward.

Shane Victorino, Red Sox: Everyone and their grandmother have written off Victorino. He’s 35, injury prone and has a young replacement waiting in the wings. As far as being injury prone; yes, Victorino did deal with a plethora of injuries in 2014. In 2013 he played in 122 games, 154 in 2012 and 132 in 2011. While he did miss about a month’s time in two of those three years, he still managed to reach double digits in home runs and steal 19 or more bases. There is still talent here. The second factor is his age. Victorino is 34 which is old for baseball but not ancient and to the point he can’t produce.

For those of you, who are still not sold, let me remind you of another 34-year-old outfielder who was written off as a declining player with injury problems. This man defied the odds, spit in the faces of fantasy owners and has become a regular in drafts despite being 37 years old now. That man is Marlon Byrd. Still think Victorino can’t turn things around? If you look at the consolidated rankings at FantasyPros, not many there think he can with a ranking of #81. Al Mechior over at CBS gave Victorino a vote of confidence with a 48 rankings so I’m not alone in thinking there is still value here. Victorino can be had as an end game pick, anywhere after round 20. This could be fantasy gold for pennies on the dollar. Considering where he is being drafted (if he is even being drafted at all), isn’t it worth a risk?

SP – Jeff Samardzija, While Sox: After years of struggles the Shark finally harnessed that raw power and turned in a banner performance. The question is, has he truly turned the corner or was 2014 his career year. Samardzija has always had the strikeouts; it was the rest of his game that was in question. If he has figured things out, the best could be yet to come. He moves to a home park that favors the home run, but he was able to limit the long ball while on the other side of Chicago in the first half of 2014. His walk rate fell once he was shipped to Oakland and if he can keep the walks in check again, a drop in WHIP could be in order. The White Sox have an improving lineup so Shark could see double-digit wins for the first time in his career. This could be the year, but he won’t come cheap – well, as cheap as in 2013.

FantasyPros has him ranked #18 sandwiched between Julio Teheran and Hisashi Iwakuma. If you want him you will have to grab him around round 8. You’ll know when it’s time as Shark is going after those man as well as Sony Gray and even James Shields. There is a chance he regresses some, but the upside puts his value ahead of all 4 of those pitchers. With a fat contract on the line, I’m betting on Samardzija being dialed in.

Mat Latos, Marlins: Many are down on Latos is a similar way they’ve been down on Jered Weaver for years. Experts point to his underlying stats and scream regression just like they have done with Weaver for years. Weaver refused to listen and always performed better than expected and I think the same thing will be true with Latos. His ERA, WHIP, strikeout totals, all have been fairly consistent over the years. Even last year his numbers were in line with his career norm; minus a few K’s but those returned in August. Now he has a new spacious home, a friendly division with similar roomy parks and a young fiery team behind him. What’s not to like.

FantasyPros has him ranked at 39 and he is going off the board on average in round 14. Latos is being taken after pitchers like Verlander, Fister, Archer and even Cliff Lee before he went down. I’m a Latos homer and own him in every league so maybe I’m a little biased here, but given his history, contract status and new surroundings I can see a career year in the cards. Even without the big year Latos is still a bargain for where he is being taken. Drink the Kool-Aid children.

Both Doug Fister (Nationals) and Hisashi Iwakuma (Mariners) were mentioned above; while I did not plan it that way, both are playing for a contract as well. Like Latos above, both put up very consistent numbers and play in roomy home parks. Iwakuma would be the more expensive option of the two judging by where they are ranked and being drafted, but Iwakuma has the ability to rack up more strikeouts than Fister. Fister on the other hand could produce the better ERA playing against the hapless Phillies, stripped down Braves and Mets (insert your favorite Mets joke here).

A few other interesting names are Yovani Gallardo, Brett Anderson, Tim Lincecum and Justin Masterson; all of which have had past success and can be had for cheap (or even taken off waivers). Next year’s free agent pitching class is going to be fun.

Obviously the players mentioned in the intro deserve your attention, probably even more so since they have more on the line. On the other hand players like David Price and Ian Desmond will probably command a large salary regardless of what they do in 2015, but a career year would more than help their cause. Do players in contract years usually play better? Not always, but millions of dollars over multiple years is a great incentive for anyone. If you’re looking for a potential breakout players in 2015, you might want to gamble on a few of the names above, I know I did.

By Jim Finch

The self proclaimed Grand High Exhausted Mystic Ruler of Fantasy Baseball. While I am not related to Jennie or Sidd Finch, I will attempt to uphold the integrity of the Finch family name as it relates to baseball.