A quiz for you: What do Brandon Drury, Brad Miller, J.T. Realmuto, Tyler Flowers, Ian Kinsler, Justin Turner, and Delino DeShields have in common? Yes, that’s right—they are (or were until yesterday, when Kinsler showed up for work) all on the disabled list. And they are also all members of the Concupiscent Curds, a team we acquired in an auction in February, when the preseason was young. We purchased 18 hitters that day—14 starters and 4 (of a total of 7) reserves. And here we are, two weeks into the season, and one-third of them are hors de combat—a casualty rate that compares unfavorably to that of Commonwealth infantry on the first day of the Battle of the Somme.
We do not mention this as a plea for sympathy. The Lord sendeth oblique strains on the just and the unjust alike. Rather, we raise the issue in recognition of the fact that this kind of thing is happening all over. In the narrow universe that we, and probably you, usually inhabit, “oblique,” “groin,” and “hamstring” are terms as ominous as West Nile Virus or Botulism are in the one we’re occasionally obliged to return to. Our problem, and probably yours, is what to do about injuries when they befall you in deep leagues. Among the various bodies that remain, are there any that are even lukewarm? Or are they all ready for embalming?
It would be easy for us to give you the kind of answer you’ll get if you consult the waiver-wire advice offered by America’s Leading Fantasy Aggregator. Thus, for example, we could simply tell you that, since player X is injured, you might want to consider player Y, who will replace him in the lineup. Rougned Odor is going on the disabled list? Then grab Jurickson Profar. The problem, though, if you play in the kinds of leagues we do, is that somebody else has already grabbed him—or, more likely, has owned him since draft day. Similarly, we could advise you of players who obviously figure to benefit from newly-changed circumstances. Trayce Thompson was hopelessly blocked in the Dodgers’ outfield. The Dodgers clung to him for as long as they could, but finally had to designate him for assignment, and the A’s grabbed him. It looks to us as if Thompson has found his way into a left-field platoon with Matt Joyce, and—since Joyce is a weak defender who, at nearly 34, may be approaching his sell-by date—might find his way into something more.
But you already know about these developments, as does everyone else in the leagues you’re in. Now your team has sprung a fresh leak, and the Profars and Thompsons are gone. What do you do? That’s the question we’re here to answer. So here are some players who, we think, are on nobody’s radar screen, are on a major league roster, and should (well, could) be better than having a dead roster spot. At least they may help you stave off despair with the illusion that you’re doing something helpful.
Catcher: Carlos Perez, Atlanta. We don’t quite get why Perez has had so much trouble finding work. He’s got a good glove—sixth in MLB in defensive WAR for catchers in 2016, even though he started fewer than half the Angels’ games—and he can hit. He hasn’t shown it in the majors, it’s true; he’s got a lifetime .223/.266/.330 slash line in about 600 plate appearances. But he sure did at Salt Lake City, where, in about 400 plate appearances over three seasons, he hit .350. Apply whatever PCL discount you want to, and that still comes out to about .270 or.280. Plus Perez will hit the occasional home run and even steal a base or two. Indeed, you could argue that he’s better than—all right, as good as– either of Atlanta’s two incumbent catchers, Kurt Suzuki and Tyler Flowers. Flowers’s strained oblique has opened the door for Perez to play a little, and the complete absence of news since that injury makes us fear the worst. At some point, moreover, Suzuki’s Mike Piazza imitation has to end, though it’s lasted for more than a season now. It wouldn’t surprise us to see Perez wind up as a full-fledged platoon catcher, and even if he doesn’t, he won’t hurt you, whereas pretty much anyone else who’s available will.
First Base: Jesus Aguilar, Brewers. It certainly is agreeable having Eric Thames in your lineup during April. We drafted him by mistake in one league (long story), and he’s carrying our team. But you know what? First of all, there’s no reason to think he can do this once the darling buds of May appear. He was an April bloomer last year, and –this seems uncanny to us—did the same goddamn thing in 2012, before his Korean exile. Second of all, he still can’t hit lefthanded pitching. And here’s his teammate Jesus Aguilar, who can. We figure that the Brewers will somehow clear up their first base/outfield mess, even after Christian Yelich returns from his injury, and Aguilar will be at least the short side of a platoon with Thames, and possibly more once Thames cools off.
Third Base: Ryan Schimpf, Angels. This one’s cheating, because Kinsler just replaced Schimpf on the Angels’ roster. But we mention it partly because we want to give you one player at each position, partly because Schimpf figures to be back up pretty soon, and partly because something kind of interesting seems to be happening in Anaheim. The Angels have lowered the home run line on the right-field fence in Angel Stadium from 18 feet to 8 feet, and suddenly, more home runs (13 in the Angels’ six home games so far) are being hit to right field than were before (Angels Stadium typically suppresses left-handed home run power a little). Schimpf, meanwhile, specializes in hitting home runs to right field. (Indeed, some would say that’s all he does.) Keep him in mind.
Middle Infield: Charlie Culberson, Braves. All right—this one’s a stretch. You’re plainly better off with whoever the hell the Rangers use at second base if in fact Profar slides over to replace the newly-injured Elvis Andrus at shortstop. Even among the population of backup middle infielders who (at the moment) figure to remain backups, we prefer our old favorite Taylor Motter of the Mariners, but he’s not playing at all, unless you count his one-inning stint as a bullpen-saving pitcher in a blowout the other day. In 462 career plate appearances, Culberson’s career slash line is .227/.316/.587, and he’s 2 for 16 this season. Nonetheless, a few counterpoints: (1) Culberson, a former first-rounder, was thought to be a decent hitting prospect at the start of his career; (2) Kevin Seitzer, the Braves’ hitting coach, absolutely loves Culberson’s swing and thinks he (Culberson, not Seitzer, who in fact was a .300 hitter) could be a .300 hitter if he changes his approach against right-handed pitching; (3) Culberson can play all over the diamond; and (4) Johan Camargo, who will take over at third base after he rehabs his oblique, can’t (in our opinion) hit. So maybe Culberson gets some playing time and Seitzer’s right. Or not.
Outfield: Victor Reyes, Tigers. Now that Mikie Mahtook’s been demoted, this one may be a trifle too obvious, but honest, we were going to write about Reyes anyway. Reyes has no power, but he can hit (his .292 in the Southern League last year equates to about .270 or .280 in the majors), run (12 for 13 in SBs in the Arizona Fall League), and field, plus he’s a switch hitter who really hits righties. JaCoby Jones will apparently get the first crack at Mahtook’s vacant left field job. But our limited visual exposure and extensive statistical exposure to Jones suggests (to us, at least) that he’s one of those perfect athletes who looks so good that he keeps getting chances despite his failure to produce results. We see Reyes on the strong side of a platoon with Jones by the end of the month.
The Birchwood Brothers are two guys with the improbable surname of Smirlock. Michael, the younger brother, brings his skills as a former Professor of Economics to bear on baseball statistics. Dan, the older brother, brings his skills as a former college English professor and recently-retired lawyer to bear on his brother's delphic mutterings. They seek to delight and instruct. They tweet when the spirit moves them @birchwoodbroth2.