Deep Mixed Waiver Wire: Michael Saunders, Josh Tomlin

I’m a sucker for cool comeback stories – at least enough that I don’t readily dismiss fringe players, former top prospects and those with supposedly newfound abilities for one reason or another who are the subjects of them. I can’t help but wonder if they’ll help my fantasy teams, so I do some research and give them a chance to convince me.

Of course, most of them don’t, just as most fantasy owners had suspected. But they’re worthwhile exercises to me, nonetheless. The rate of return in terms of quantity is low, but the potential rate of return relative to the investment can be great.

OF Michael Saunders, Seattle Mariners

Ownership: CBS 8% | Yahoo! 3% | ESPN 1.7%

The M’s optioned underground fantasy baseball sleeper Abraham Almonte to Triple-A Tacoma this past weekend. That move propped open the door for Saunders, at least for the near future. As Eno essentially waxed in March, Seattle seemed to be sold on the idea of Almonte as their everyday center fielder. His plus D in center plus Saunders’ subpar defense there had to be motivating factors.

The Mariners’ offense was stagnant for the season’s first month, but they’ve turned it around. Almonte’s .198/.248/.292 line, enforced by his 73.0% contact rate, hadn’t been helping that cause, and it wasn’t enough to justify the deployment of his plus glove anymore. Thus, James Jones, who has more upside with the bat, receives a shot in center. That has to be a better gig than any with the Oakland Raiders. Kind of like Dexter Fowler, he brings a touch of pop and some speed. He’s a player to watch in deep leagues in his own right.

Anyway, the entry is Saunders’. I’d wanted to endorse him last week because I’d sensed that changes like these were coming, but I second-guessed the notion because of some doubt about the staying power of the recommendation and the comparative niche of owners to whom a move for him would appeal. Not the better decision, in hindsight, because although Saunders’ upside is a tad modest, it’s greater than that of the average backup who lucks into some PT.

Speaking of that upside, fantasy owners shouldn’t be strangers to what Saunders can do. His batting average is a long-term liability, but his ability to go 15-15 to 20-20 in a full season makes up for the hit. The M’s weren’t devoted to him at least in part because he hasn’t been a consistent producer on offense, and they in theory have the depth to make playing time a big issue for Saunders. Logan Morrison (strained left hamstring) could affect this arrangement, I suppose, but his return isn’t imminent.

Saunders, 27, is no sure thing. Lloyd McClendon, whose quotes here suggest that he takes the traditional, whimsical approach to the assembly of his lineup card, won’t commit to the corner outfielder. Let’s hope the 0-for-4 with a sacrifice on Tuesday night didn’t hurt Saunders’ prospects. I’ve been a bit of a fan since he began to use elastic bands and heavier bats in offseason workouts and BP to improve his swing. (The sticks aren’t 60 ounces, it turns out; I’ve read that they’re anywhere from 45 to 52.) I like players who try new things. He hits the ball hard.

My bid for Saunders in the Mixed Tout Wars Draft league, a 15-teamer, this past weekend came up a couple of bucks short. Disappointing. He can suffice in 12-team mixed leagues, but in them it won’t be long before he becomes tempting to cut.

SP Josh Tomlin, Cleveland Indians

Ownership: CBS 6% | Yahoo! 1% | ESPN 0.8%

Tomlin’s case is pretty simple. The arguments existed before his 6 2/3 innings of one-run ball against the Minnesota Twins on Tuesday night.

He has a rotation spot now that the Tribe has moved Carlos Carrasco to the bullpen. How long he holds it should depend solely on his performance; Trevor Bauer, for whom I’ve also expressed my affinity (and am still holding in Tout) is practically on standby. Tomlin doesn’t issue many walks. He won’t be a great source of strikeouts. But if someone like Mike Leake can have some run in deep mixed leagues, then so can Tomlin.

I understand that it’s difficult to trust a pitcher like this in a mixed league. The FAAB bid should be nominal. But I think that type of investment stands a good chance to pay off in the ERA and WHIP departments for a little while. Once corrections begin to set in, his owners can cast him aside without remorse. Kind of like they might have after his solid two-month stretch to open the 2011 campaign.

Then, Tomlin was just a guy, certainly an overachiever in that particular period. His fastballs regularly sat in the high 80s. Since his surgery to replace the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow, things have changed a bit. David Laurila interviewed him for a piece posted yesterday that details some positive effects that have materialized (or re-emerged) in the wake of Tomlin’s injury.

The right-hander has assets beyond his talents. He’s smart. He understands the purposes of his pitches. He’s unafraid. He’s willing to attack both sides of the plate and to make a mistake.

Tomlin isn’t going to win anybody a fantasy league. But he should make a solid contribution as a backend starter on a roto team. Since his return from TJS, he’s done nothing but retire hitters consistently. He outpitched Carrasco in spring training, when he posted a 19:4 K/BB, with whatever a 3.54 ERA is worth, in 20 1/3 frames. He logged a 2.06 ERA (3.70 FIP) with a 7.2 K/9 and a 2.3 BB/9 in five starts (35 stanzas) for Triple-A Columbus. He just might continue that trend for a while in the bigs, too.

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Nicholas Minnix oversaw baseball content for six years at KFFL, where he held the loose title of Managing Editor for seven and a half before he joined FanGraphs. He played in both Tout Wars and LABR from 2010 through 2014. Follow him on Twitter @NicholasMinnix.

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I like players who try new things.

Not only is he trying new things outside of the game, there is evidence that he is doing different things in the game. Not necessarily better, mind you (time will tell). But definitely different. His contact rate is up by about 8% vs. his career average, his O-swing is down by about 7%, and his batted ball profile (so far) has been aesthetically pleasing (high LD%, low IFFB%). As a result of his improved contact and pitch selection his strikeout rate is perfectly acceptable at around 20% so far. Unfortunately he has been lacking in power.

I’m most impressed by the improvement in pitch recognition, but the contact/power tradeoff may be neutral at best and probably negative. So we’ll see. I’m cautiously optimistic, but what do I know?