Rotational Opportunity: Three Rotations with a High Chance of Turnover
Having a job is half the battle in fantasy. In the real world a manager ideally gets the opportunity to play the most talented player every day, but a fantasy manager exists only at the whims of the real life manager decisions. This can make opportunity an opportunity to acquire players who are undervalued on talent who may get a job sooner than their more talented counterparts. Three major league rotations offer that opportunity both due to their current situations based on injury or depth, or based on what they could do later in the year.
This offseason the Reds traded Mat Latos and Alfredo Simon to the Marlins and Tigers respectively. This leaves their tentative opening day rotation as Johnny Cueto, Homer Bailey (who is questionable to start the year healthy), Mike Leake, Anthony DeSclafani, and Rasiel Iglesias all backed up by Paul Maholm, Tony Cingrani, David Holmberg, and Jason Marquis. First off, if you haven’t already realized that you should own DeSclafani, now is the time to remedy that situation. Of the remaining rotation members, Leake and Cueto have a non-zero chance of being traded, Cingrani and Iglesias might just be relievers, Maholm, Holmberg, and Marquis are just bad.
This means that there could be a lot of opportunity available at the back of the Reds’ rotation. Three names stick out at various levels of production. The guy likely already owned in every league is Robert Stephenson who has been a top prospect since almost as soon as he was drafted. There are still a lot of work to go with Stephenson, and he was a late participant in camp, overall he is likely to be on his own timetable, not the one demanded by rotation needs. The next guy down is Michael Lorenzen, who is more exciting in real life than fantasy because he does not miss bats at a high rate. However, Lorenzen has plenty of stuff and feel to hold down a rotation spot once he gets it. He should open the year in AAA and could be the first two get a permanent spot in the rotation. The real buying opportunity here is Jon Moscot. Moscot flies under the radar because his stuff is just average, but he has made it work up to this point. Moscot won’t be a long term building block, nor will he give you a ton of strikeouts, but if you need a starting pitcher he is someone to watch for a promotion.
Even before ace RHP Joe Kelly felt some bicep discomfort this week, the Red Sox rotation was a dumpster fire. If Kelly ends up missing time at any point, it adds knuckleballer Steven Wright to Rick Porcello, Wade Miley, Justin Masterson, and Clay Buchholz. Porcello is solid if unspectacular. Miley is unlikely to love his rotation spot, but given his struggles and the Red Sox title aspirations a swap is not out of the question. The idea of Buchholz making it through a full year healthy is laughable, and Masterson might just be done. The obvious answer is that the Red Sox are going to fill in with trade acquisitions, but that may not plug all the holes in this sinking ship.
On the prospect side, good luck getting good deals on the top two names here in LHPs Henry Owens and Eduardo Rodriguez. Rodriguez’s stock right now might never be higher (and might actually make him a good sell-high candidate for someone who actually has a job). The next two names are where the fun begins. Matt Barnes may wreck your ERA and WHIP some starts, but the righty’s two walks and nine strikeouts in 6 innings this spring tells you all the story that you need. Barnes could be that big boost in strikeouts that you want, and there is a chance he could start doing that very early in the season. The other pitcher is Brian Johnson, who is a lefty with solid stuff who won’t give you the strikeouts of Barnes, but might be more ready to be plugged into the rotation immediately. Johnson is what he is and could get the call rather than one of the prized prospects as the Red Sox look to manipulate service time or give more developmental time in the minors.
Now that Cliff Lee is done (likely for his career), the Phillies rotation beyond Cole Hamels might be the worst unit in baseball. Right now the next four starters project to be Aaron Harang, Jerome Williams, David Buchanan, and Kevin Slowey with Chad Billingsley likely arriving in late April. Now that probably caused you to wretch a bit and double check that it is actually 2015. The thing is that these piles of crap are really just stand in for real pitchers. A Hamels trade is going to happen at some point, and the rest outside of Buchanan are either going to be traded if good, cut if bad, or injured. That means that by August the rotation could be David Buchanan and four mystery pitchers.
The one near lock is 2014 1st round pick Aaron Nola. Nola was held back from major league camp to get ready for the minor league season so that he can get ready for his big league debut. He has a couple of things to iron out, but he is going to arrive quickly, likely in late June/early July, and could be a mid-rotation starter upon arrival. Beyond Nola, LHPs Joely Rodriguez, Adam Morgan, and Jesse Biddle are all on the 40 man roster and could all start at AAA. Rodriguez is the first one likely to get the call, he doesn’t bring overpowering stuff, but is a ground ball machine who was able to show the ability to miss bats this winter and fall, but is likely a back end guy. Adam Morgan was once a touted prospect until shoulder injuries derailed him in 2013, he is still building strength back, but has mid rotation upside if the stuff returns. Jesse Biddle is likely the best buy here because there is more upside here than he get credit for. Even when he has been at his worse (due to some freak injuries and general control problems) he still misses bats. This spring he has brought back his slider which has been nasty, and has paired it with improved command and good fastball velocity. Biddle won’t be the ace on your staff, but could give you good stats. Three other pitchers to keep an eye on are offseason acquisitions Ben Lively, Zach Eflin, and Tom Windle. Lively already as some AA time so he would be first in line, but watch for which one gets the bump to AAA first.
In the end talent is the best indicator of future results, but the best indicator of who will give you the most stats now is who actually has the job. So while these guys may not lead you on your own to victory, winning the little battles can help you to win the war.