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NL FAAB Factor: Lukewarm Corner in Atlanta

Jan Levine

Levine covers baseball, basketball and hockey for RotoWire. In addition to his column writing, he's the master of the MLB and NHL cheatsheets. In his spare time, he roots for the Mets.

This is our weekly look at National League free agents. We have two goals for this article:

1. Identify likely free agents and discuss their strengths and weaknesses.
2. Estimate how much of your free-agent budget you should bid on them.

One size does not fit all, and we could never hope to encompass all league structures, so bids are based on:

• 12-team league (either NL or Mixed, we'll specify)
• 5x5 categories
• $100 FAAB budget


Starting Pitching

A.J. Cole, Nationals – Cole has been up and down this season, making a spot start in April (in which he was pounded), as well as two relief appearances in May. He will be called back up to replace Stephen Strasburg (neck) in the rotation. Cole pitched Friday for Triple-A Syracuse, so he is aligned perfectly to replace Strasburg in the Nationals’ rotation. He may only make two starts before getting sent back down, but that depends on if Strasburg will be back after 15 days. Added to the mix: Doug Fister’s forearm injury could also keep Cole in the rotation a bit longer. Cole uses a plus fastball that he can locate well along with a slider, curve and changeup, but he’s not an overpowering pitcher, so he won’t rack up strikeouts. He profiles as a back-end starter. Mixed: $0; NL: $3.

Brad Hand and Jose Urena, Marlins – Hand, making a spot start, threw five shutout innings Wednesday against Pittsburgh, giving up four hits without a walk and striking out two in 74 pitches. That solid outing may earn him a second turn in an injury-plagued Miami rotation. Hand has historically struggled while starting in the majors, so don’t expect that much. Urena, who posted a 1.21 ERA in six starts for Triple-A New Orleans, got a call-up to start this week. That outing didn’t go particularly well, as Urena allowed five runs on 10 hits over 4.2 innings. His inability to generate strikeouts at the upper levels make him a risky bet and he likely will be sent down when any of Mat Latos, Jarred Cosart or Henderson Alvarez return. In addition, Justin Nicolino, profiled last week, could replace him in the rotation. Hand - Mixed: $0; NL: $3. Urena – Mixed: No; NL: $0.

Raisel Iglesias, Reds – Iglesias, profiled last week, gets another mention, as he has moved into the Reds’ rotation following the shift of Jason Marquis to the bullpen. Iglesias pitched well for five innings Saturday but faltered in the sixth, as he tired and allowed five runs in the start. His 5.11 ERA is poor, but his 25:9 K:BB ratio, decent FIP and high BABIP in 24.2 innings bodes well for future success. Mixed: $4; NL: $11.

Steven Matz, Mets – Matz, profiled last week due to questions about Dillon Gee, gets another mention as there are health questions now about Jon Niese. While Niese says he is healthy, he has struggled to generate groundballs, usually his forte, and has allowed four runs or more in four straight starts, sending his ERA soaring from 1.95 to 4.42. If Niese continues to struggle, the Mets may turn to Matz, who has a 1.99 ERA, 1.05 WHIP and 68:21 K:BB ratio in 63.1 innings for Triple-A Las Vegas. Mixed: $2; NL: $7 (upped early speculative bid).

Williams Perez, Braves – Perez, profiled the past two weeks, gets another mention, as he looks fairly locked into a rotation spot. He has carried his minor league success into the majors and should get an extended stay in the Atlanta rotation. After a rough first appearance, Perez has been solid in his last four (including three starts) and is averaging about a strikeout per inning while limiting walks and generating lots of groundballs. Mixed: $3; NL: $9.

Tyler Wagner, Brewers – Wagner was promoted from Double-A Biloxi to start Sunday against the Diamondbacks, replacing Wily Peralta, who was placed on the 15-day disabled list earlier in the week with a strained left oblique and is expected to miss the next 4-6 weeks. Wagner, a fourth-round draft choice n 2012, was 5-1 with a 2.01 ERA and 1.12 WHIP with 38 strikeouts in 53.2 innings over nine starts. If he pitches well, he could remain in the rotation for as long as Peralta is out. If not, Taylor Jungmann or Tyler Thornburg is likely next in line. Mixed: $1; NL: $4.

Injury activation/updates:

Brandon Beachy, Dodgers – Beachy, recovering from his second Tommy John surgery in a span of 21 months, is slated to begin a rehab assignment next week following the Dodgers' road trip. He likely will need 4-5 rehab starts before being ready to join the Dodgers, when he’s likely to replace Carlos Frias in the team’s rotation. He has changed his mechanics in order to lessen the stress he puts on his elbow and we will have a better sense how successful that change has been when he starts his rehab stint. Mixed: $1; NL: $4 (early spec return bid).

Matt Cain, Giants – Cain, who had bone chips removed from his elbow last August and has been sidelined since April 3 with a strained flexor tendon, threw 25 pitches in a simulated game Tuesday and threw 30 pitches to live hitters Saturday. He is now penciled in for three innings or around 45 pitches in an extended spring training start Wednesday. There is no timeframe for his return, but Cain hopes to be ready around the All-Star break. However, given what we have seen from Cain the last two years, tread lightly. Mixed: $0; NL: $3 (early spec return bid).

Jose Fernandez, Marlins – Fernandez, who required Tommy John surgery after making just eight starts and throwing 51.2 innings last year, is slated to throw 45 pitches in his first extended spring training start Monday. He is still targeting a return prior to the All-Star break, but his quicker-than-expected progress might allow him to come back around July 1. Before being sidelined, Fernandez showed improvement across the board, building off his fine rookie campaign. When he is activated, Fernandez will be about 13 months removed from the surgery and is expected to be close to prior form before too long. Mixed: $7; NL: $18 (early return spec bid if he is available in your league).

Dillon Gee, Mets – Gee, sidelined with a groin strain since May 3, will be activated and start this Wednesday against the Padres. He made three rehab starts, looking solid in each, and will be part of a six-man rotation. The Mets may use that format for most of the summer, though it wouldn’t be surprising to see Gee or Jon Niese dealt. Mixed: $2; NL: $7.

Brandon Morrow, Padres – Morrow, out with right shoulder inflammation since May 3, is scheduled to make a rehab start with Double-A San Antonio on Tuesday. The cortisone shot he received earlier this month appears to have worked wonders, as Morrow has moved from bullpen sessions to a simulated game Thursday and side session Saturday. The next step will be the rehab start, during which he will throw 60 pitches. Morrow likely will need one more rehab start after that and could be back by next weekend. Mixed: $4; NL: $12.

Jake Peavy, Giants – Peavy, out since mid-April with a muscle strain and continued issues with the SI joint in his lower back, made his second rehab start this past week. Partially due to his struggles in that second start, he will make two more rehab outings before rejoining the Giants, though the timeframe for that is unclear as he is still dealing with pain in his back. Peavy pitched well in the regular season, but struggled in the playoffs after joining the Giants last year. Mixed: $1; NL: $4 (early spec return bid).


Relief Pitching

David Goforth, Taylor Hill, Vidal Nuno, and Hunter Strickland - This week’s key middle reliever call-ups/activations, as well as expected call-ups, were/will be in Milwaukee, Washington, Arizona and San Francisco. None have any substantial value. All - Mixed: No; NL: $0.

Adam Liberatore, Dodgers – Liberatore is starting to be used in high-leverage situations by the Dodgers, seeing time in the eighth inning. He has posted a 1.38 ERA, 0.69 WHIP and 11:3 K:BB ratio over 13 innings, building on the success he had at Triple-A Durham last season. Liberatore could be a sneaky source of strikeouts and holds. Mixed: $0; NL: $3.

Addison Reed, Diamondbacks – The swinging door at closer for Arizona may be landing back on Reed, who has been much better of late. Manager Chip Hale said he is still looking closely at the matchups, but Reed, who has given up two runs in eight innings since being removed from the closer's role, could replace Brad Ziegler, who has been a bit shaky, as the closer. Reed doesn’t inspire tremendous confidence and should be viewed as a lower-tier option at the spot, but saves are saves. Mixed: $4; NL: $11.


Catcher

Tucker Barnhart and Brayan Pena, Reds – If Devin Mesoraco opts to undergo surgery on his injured hip, it will require four months of rehab, meaning his 2015 season would be over. In Mesoraco’s absence, Pena and Barnhart have split catching duty, an arrangement that likely will continue the remainder of the year. Pena got off to a great start last year, seeing time behind the plate and at first base, but struggled mightily the final month of the season. He is going through a mild rough patch now, but is still the favorite over Barnhart to see most of the playing time. Barnhart - Mixed: No; NL: $2. Pena - Mixed: $5; NL: $14.

Ed Easley, Cardinals – Easley was promoted from Triple-A Memphis when Matt Adams (quad) landed on the disabled list. He had a .295/.422/.400 line in Memphis, with his slugging percentage adversely impacted by him having has just three homers and two doubles in 128 plate appearances. Easley, who had 10 home runs in 2014, has not played any first base since 2012, but he may see the occasional start there to spell Mark Reynolds with Adams possibly out for the rest of the season. Mixed: $0; NL: $3.

Peter O’Brien, Jordan Pacheco, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia, DiamondbacksTuffy Gosewisch, who was starting at catcher for the D-backs, likely has a tear in his the ACL of his left knee, creating a void at catcher. To fill that breach, Pacheco, who came over from Colorado last year, and Saltalamacchia, who signed a minor league deal with the D-Backs after getting waived by the Marlins, will split time behind the plate. Saltalamacchia, despite his 2-for-29 start to the season and .188/.222/.375 line in 36 plate appearances in the minors, likely will be the starter backed up by Pacheco. Looming is O’Brien, who wasn’t recalled when Gosewisch went down because he needs more reps behind the plate. If O’Brien, who is slashing 343/.385/.657 with 12 home runs at Triple-A, can continue to progress defensively, he could be promoted and start behind the plate before too long. O’Brien – Mixed: $1; NL: $4 (early spec bid). Pacheco – Mixed: $0; NL: $3. Saltalamacchia - Mixed: $2; NL: $7.

Injury activation/updates:

Jonathan Lucroy – Lucroy, who fractured a toe on a foul tip six weeks ago, began a rehab assignment with High-A Brevard County on Thursday. Assuming he has no setbacks, look for Lucroy to rejoin the Brewers on Monday. Lucroy is wearing newly modified cleats which have toe caps made from carbon fiber covered in rubber. The hope is that the modifications will prevent an aggravation of the toe injury. Just an FYI as he should be owned in all leagues.

Jeff Mathis, Marlins – Mathis, sidelined with a fractured ring finger since mid-April, began a rehab assignment at Triple-A New Orleans last Sunday. Once Mathis is ready to return, Miami likely will activate him and have him serve as the backup catcher behind J.T. Realmuto. Mixed: No; NL: $2.


First Base

Justin Bour, Marlins – Bour, profiled last week, gets another mention, as he is in line for the majority of the playing time at first base for Miami with Mike Morse out with a sprained right ring finger. Even before Morse was injured, Bour was cutting into his playing time and now he has a shot to run with the job. Bour is hitting .361 with three homers and nine RBI building off the success he had last year, when he batted .306/.372/.517 with 18 home runs and 72 RBI in 103 games with Triple-A New Orleans. Mixed: $4; NL: $11.

Ben Paulsen, Rockies – Paulsen has posted good numbers in the minors, but has never earned a shot in the majors. Recently, manager Walt Weiss seems to have settled on Paulsen as the primary replacement for Corey Dickerson in the outfield. Paulsen had shown the ability to make good contact, draw walks and provide power. He now has a semi-regular role along with multi-position eligibility in some leagues. Mixed: $2; NL: $7.

Mark Reynolds, Cardinals – Reynolds is in line for consistent playing time at first base with Matt Adams out for 3-4 months after surgery on his strained quad. You know what you get from Reynolds – power with a low batting average and solid defense at first base and third base. Ed Easley, as well Xavier Scruggs, Dan Johnson and possibly even Stephen Piscotty (despite his lack of experience at first base), could be in the mix for playing time as well. Mixed: $4; NL: $11.

Injury activation/update:

Yonder Alonso, Padres – Alonso, out since May 8 due to a bone bruise on his right shoulder that stemmed from a diving play for a ground ball against Arizona, began a rehab assignment this past week. There is no set timeframe for his return to the lineup, but when he is ready to return, he likely will regain his starting first base job. In Alonso’s absence, the Padres have used a number of players to fill the void at first base. Mixed: $3; NL: $14 (early return spec bid).


Second Base

Donovan Solano, Marlins – Solano will likely start at short the next few games while Adeiny Hechavarria is sidelined with a bruised left shoulder after colliding with Christian Yelich in Friday's game. Mixed: No; NL: $0.

Injury activation/update:

Anthony Rendon, Nationals – Rendon, sidelined since March 9 with a sprained MCL in his knee, started a new rehab assignment Friday with Double-A Harrisburg, playing seven innings at second base. He began his rehab assignment on April 24 and played just two games before he got shut down. Presuming Rendon has no further setbacks he could be back in a week or two, It’s still up in the air if Rendon will play third or move back to second when he returns, as Yunel Escobar has looked more comfortable at the hot corner. Regardless, Rendon has dual eligibility and Washington will be very happy to get him back in the lineup, whenever that may be. Just an FYI as he should be owned in all leagues.


Shortstop

Ruben Tejada, Mets – Tejada, who saw some time at short earlier this month with Wilmer Flores struggling, has started back-to-back games at third base. It’s possible Tejada, who notched multi-hit games in both starts, has overtaken Eric Campbell for playing time at the hot corner with David Wright (back) out. Tejada could provide a decent BA and OBA with some runs, but don’t expect more than that. Mixed: $0; NL: $3.

Injury activation/update:

Jean Segura, Brewers – Segura was activated Friday after missing just the minimum 15 days with a fractured right pinky finger. He slides back into his role of starting shortstop, moving Luis Sardinas to a backup role. Just an FYI as he should be owned in all leagues.


Third Base

Cody Asche, Phillies – Asche, who began the year as the Phillies’ starting third baseman, now will get a shot in left field. The Phillies sent Asche to Triple-A a few weeks ago to hone his skills in the outfield so the team could evaluate Maikel Franco at third base. Franco is fairly ensconced at the hot corner now, so Asche, who hit fairly well in 15 games at Lehigh Valley, will have to show he can handle the outfield to see regular playing time over Ben Revere, Odubel Herrera or Jeff Francoeur, though Revere is slated to split time in RF with Frenchy, ceding left to Asche. If the Phillies do move Ryan Howard, Franco could move across the diamond with Asche sliding back in at third. Mixed: $2; NL: $7.

Matt Duffy, Giants – Duffy, profiled last week, gets another mention, as he now is the full-time third baseman after Casey McGehee was designated for assignment last Sunday. Duffy is a contact hitter who has some speed and will chip in with the occasional home run. His value is higher in leagues in which he qualifies at middle infield, as he played nine games at second and seven at shortstop last year. Mixed: $2; NL: $7.

Will Middlebrooks, Padres – Middlebrooks got off to a decent start to the season before hitting a rough patch, but lately has started to come around at the plate. He is hitting over .300 the past two weeks and may qualify at another position. The Padres' infield will be more crowded when Wil Myers (wrist) and Yonder Alonso (shoulder) return from the DL, but manager Bud Black could create regular at-bats for Middlebrooks by slotting him in at shortstop, where he has played three games so far. Alexi Amarista is better defensively, but if Middlebrooks can be passable there, he could see regular time at short, enhancing his fantasy value. Mixed: $4; NL: $11 (up if he gets regular time at short).

Justin Turner, Dodgers – The trade of Juan Uribe to the Braves is a boon for Turner, as he is now the Dodgers’ primary third baseman, starting around five days a week. Turner, who raked in LA after coming over last season, has shown no signs of slowing down at the plate. He will need to continue to hit to keep the job, as Alex Guerrero is second on the depth chart and Hector Olivera is expected to be ready within a month. For now, Turner has excellent value and may qualify at other positions, as he played 14 games at second and 15 at short last year. Mixed: $8; NL: $22.

Injury activation/updates:

Chris Johnson, Braves – Johnson, out with a fractured left hand, was activated from the DL on Wednesday. Atlanta recently acquired Juan Uribe from the Dodgers, and it remains to be seen how manager Fredi Gonzalez doles out playing time to Johnson and Uribe, though it looks like Uribe may be the favorite. That trade reduces the value of Johnson, who likely would have slotted back in as the full-time starter. Mixed: $1; NL: $4.

Jake Lamb, Diamondbacks – Lamb, who has been on the disabled list since April 21 with a stress reaction in his left foot, is not expected to return for two more weeks. He was able to run at full speed in an extended spring training game Wednesday but will still need a rehab assignment before he rejoins the D-Backs. Lamb was one of the Diamondbacks' better hitters before he went down, hitting .414 with three doubles, one triple and one home run in 29 at-bats. While Lamb has been sidelined, Yasmany Tomas has stepped in at third and has been hitting well lately, albeit with no power. It remains to be seen what will happen when Lamb comes back, though Arizona does miss his left bat in the lineup. Mixed: $2; NL: $7.


Outfield

Cameron Maybin, Braves – Maybin, after a slow start, had a big May. Over his last 30 days through Friday, Maybin is 27-for-86 with 13 walks, 15 RBI, and five stolen bases. He continue to hit at the top of the order for a Braves team that has struggled to score runs. After a breakthrough 2011 campaign, Maybin regressed the next three seasons, partially due to injuries. Now that he is healthy, Maybin could regain his status as a possible 15/25 candidate. Mixed: $7; NL: $18 (though likely owned).

Gerardo Parra, Brewers – Parra, who started for a few weeks while Carlos Gomez was out with a hamstring injury, is in line for additional playing time with Khris Davis sidelined with a torn meniscus in his right knee. Davis will undergo surgery Tuesday and Parra will likely start in left field most of the rest of the first half of the season. Mixed: $3; NL: $9.

Injury activation/updates:

Jon Jay, Cardinals – Jay, out with wrist tendinitis since May 10, was activated off the disabled list Friday. Prior to being sidelined, Peter Bourjos had cut into Jay’s playing time, and while sidelined, Randal Grichuk played well as well. Now that Jay is back, it’s uncertain, however, what role he will play with Bourjos and Grichuk still there as well. Mixed: $0; NL: $2.

Melvin Upton Jr., Padres – Upton, recovering from sesamoiditis in his left foot, is two weeks into his rehab assignment with Triple-A El Paso. He will likely get 40-50 minor league at-bats before joining the Padres, where he will serve as outfield depth. Mixed: No; NL: $2 (early return bid).