Last week, we examined the fantasy fallout of Manny Ramirez’s abrupt retirement and what it meant for his current-turned-former Rays teammates. This time, let’s look at how another erstwhile big-time AL stud might impact his fellow outfield mates’ fantasy production. Except in this case, it’s a return.
Grady Sizemore I Ownership: 89.4% ESPN I
The Indians activated Sizemore from the DL on Sunday and immediately inserted him into the leadoff spot and put him in centerfield. In his first two games, he’s gone 5-for-9 with two doubles and a homer, showing little, if any, rust following a long layoff from his microfracture surgery last June. The 28-year-old will be handled with care — don’t expect everyday PT until he proves his knee can take it — because he’s too important to the franchise, either as a potentially dynamic player that can help the team maintain its surprising start or as a possible trade chip to bring back some goodies if not. It’s also unlikely Sizemore, a thieving baserunner in the past, will push his knee enough to swipe even double-digit bags. But the power (.205 career ISO) appears to be there — three of his six hits during a five-game minor-league rehab assignment went for extra bases, including a four-bagger — and he should be snatched up in any league where he’s available. He’s already owned in 14-teamers or AL-onlies, but in 10- or 12-teamer’s he’s a good high-risk/high-reward gamble; if he pans out, the payoff could be equivalent to a No. 2 OF, and if he has struggles with the stick or misses time, there will be plenty of replacement options in free agency.
Shin-Soo Choo I Ownership: 100% ESPN I
Despite his two homers and three steals, Choo is really struggling at the moment with a .213 average and a career-worst walk-to-strikeout ratio (0.35). Aside from a buy low trade proposal, there’s not much actionability because he’s owned in every league. He’s not chasing pitches (17.5% O-Swing) or even swinging all that much overall (39.4% Swing), yet on the cuts he is taking, he’s whiffing slightly more than usual (12.5% SwStr) and his contact numbers (72.6% Contact, 76.9% Z-Contact) are below the norm for him. Something to keep an eye on, but nothing to freak out over based on only 61 ABs. It stands to reason that the über-consistent Choo, a 28-year-old just entering his prime, will find his swing sooner rather than later, just like it does that a healthy Grady atop the lineup will help stabilize the entire batting order. Sizemore’s solid on-baseness (.364 career OBP) should provide Choo with more RBI opps once he gets going. And not to worry: On days when Sizemore rests, the next guy on this list will act as fill-in leadoff man…
Michael Brantley I Ownership: 4.0% ESPN I
…a role he’s more than capable of handling, evidenced by his .385 OBP this season and .388 during his minor-league days. Upon his return, Sizemore displaced Brantley both in center and leadoff, but that’s more a nod to how much the Indians value Sizemore rather than an indictment of Brantley’s skills, and the team has already said Brantley will handle Sizemore’s duties during his off days. While the 23-year-old brings next-to-nothing in the power department (16 HRs in 566 minor-league games and a .069 MLB ISO), there’s a savvy steals play here, especially now that Brantley, currently hitting .304 with three thefts, is finally showing plate discipline in the majors (12.1% BB) that lines up with his minor league rate (13.7%). If he can maintain an OBP north of .350, there’s a good chance for 20 steals and a possibility for a 30-swipe season, regardless of where he hits in the lineup. But his runs production will obviously depend in part on whether his hitting leadoff or in the bottom third of the order. A smart owner in a daily 12-team league (or deeper) will keep tabs and use Brantley as a plug-and-play whenever Sizemore is scheduled for a day off.
Austin Kearns/Travis Buck/Shelley Duncan I Ownership: <1% ESPN I
None of these three was ever all that appealing, even in the deepest of AL-only leagues. And that was before Sizemore took over the outfield spot that was being used as their musical chair over the first 14 games. Neither Kearns (.524 OPS) or Buck (.611) are worth much to fantasy owners at this point, whereas Duncan’s pop (.192 career ISO) could be put to use if the Indians deploy him as a platooner against lefties (.232 ISO). The lefty-hitting Brantley actually holds his own vs. southpaws (.278 average compared to .266 vs. RHPs), but Sizemore struggles (.230), so one option to maximize Cleveland’s offense against lefthanders would be to give Grady his day off, shift Brantley to center and make room for Duncan in left. Regardless, something will have to give, as one of these three will be sent down today when the team recalls starter Jeanmar Gomez to fill the rotation spot of injured Mitch Talbot, who was placed on the DL to open the roster spot for Sizemore in the first place. (See how everything comes full circle?) Kearns is staying put, but both Buck and Duncan have minor-league options remaining. If you’re closely following that sort of decision for its impact on your fantasy team, you must be playing in an AL Central-only league.
Jason Catania is an MLB Lead Writer for Bleacher Report who also contributes to ESPN The Magazine, ESPN Insider and MLB Rumor Central, focusing on baseball and fantasy content. When he was first introduced to fantasy baseball, Derek Jeter had 195 career hits, Jamie Moyer had 72 wins and Matt Stairs was on team No. 3. You can follow him on Twitter: @JayCat11