Roto Riteup: April 1, 2016

We are so close. SO close. Like, two days away. Giddy up.

On the agenda:
1. Billy Hamilton to hit at bottom of the order
2. Pablo Sandoval headed to the bench
3. Masahiro Tanaka ready for opening day
4. Cory Luebke makes the Pirates
5. Hyun Soo Kim refuses minor-league assignment

Billy Hamilton to hit at bottom of the order
The Cincinnati Reds will go with the odd but justifiable strategy of batting a position player ninth this season, opening the year with speedster Billy Hamilton in the nine-hole. This is an obvious hit to Hamilton’s fantasy value, as he relies on counting stats – runs and stolen bases – to provide value. Reds’ nine-hitters accrued 139 fewer plate appearances than their leadoff counterparts last season, and Hamilton already suppresses his own one-category dominance by rarely reaching first, a base you can’t steal, I’m told. Zack Cozart will lead off until Hamilton figures out how to get on base more than 30 percent of the time, and that represents a minor bump for his value. Keep an eye on Jose Peraza, too – if the Reds are down on Hamilton enough to bat him ninth, it’s not inconceivable he could be sent to the minors to figure things out, and Peraza has nice┬áspeed and some positional flexibility.

Pablo Sandoval headed to the bench
Anyone betting on a bounce-back from Pablo Sandoval probably relied more on heart than brain, anyway, but they got a major shot to that heart Thursday with the news that Sandoval will be a bench player to start 2016. The bigger news here is that Travis Shaw will be the team’s opening day third baseman. Sandoval was outside of the top 20 at third and Shaw was outside of the top 30 at first, bit a shift in playing time would not only open up Shaw’s eligibility but serve to raise his projections. Steamer liked Shaw for nine home runs in 271 plate appearances, ZiPS for 16 in 552. That’s not enough to warrant an add in standard formats, even with a larger workload, but he’s moved into an AL-only role and is on the CI radar in mixed leagues.

Masahiro Tanaka ready for opening day
The New York Yankees will trot out Masahiro Tanaka for opening day. Those who rolled the dice on Tanaka with any fantasy provider would have noticed the injury emoji/symbol next to his name, which surely caused some anxiety among those who paid the price necessary to take a risk on the Japanese import. The 25th-ranked starter by Rotographs composite was sliding to No. 32 by NFBC ADP, a moderate discount if the risk of a partially-torn UCL could be stomached. After an up-and-down spring – a 7.36 ERA and nine strikeouts in 11 innings – Tanaka is being tabbed as ready for the start of the season. Some may feel like this is big news for the gamble they took, but the reality is that the spectre of injury will hang over Tanaka for some time, even if he delivers on his substantial promise while healthy.

Cory Luebke makes the Pirates
I’m not sure I’ve ever been as happy for an injury-return candidate as Cory Luebke, who has made the Pittsburgh Pirates roster following a pair of Tommy John surgeries. Luebke came out of nowhere in 2011 to provide cheap fantasy value as a member of the San Diego Padres and was a trendy breakout pick entering 2012. He succumbed to injury and has thrown just 31 major league innings since 2011 (all in 2012), missing all of 2013 and 2014 and then throwing just seven minor league innings in 2015. Now 31 years old and working out of the bullpen in Pittsburgh, Luebke’s a long way from fantasy relevance, but his return to an MLB roster is a story worth smiling about. I’m raising a glass to my favorite 2012 sleeper.

Hyun Soo Kim refuses minor league assignment
We hit this one each of the last two days. To recap, Hyun Soo Kim didn’t make the Baltimore Orioles roster. It was anticipated that he might accept a minor league assignment, something his permission was required for. He has instead declined the assignment, putting him and his two-year, $7-million contact in an odd position. The Orioles are still hoping that Kim will ultimately accept the assignment, but his refusal to do so throws a minor wrench into the potential AL-only value of Joey Rickard, the Rule 5 pick who earned the bulk of playing time in left field if Kim’s sent down. If the Orioles can’t convince Kim to go down or find a trade partner willing to house him, Rickard or Nolan Reimold would likely have to be removed from the roster.

Blake Murphy is a freelance sportswriter based out of Toronto. Formerly of the Score, he's the managing editor at Raptors Republic and frequently pops up at Sportsnet, Vice, and around here. Follow him on Twitter @BlakeMurphyODC.

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As a Hamilton owner, it’s a kick in the teeth to see Zack “Lifetime OBP .284” Cozart starting over the potential of Hamilton (lifetime OBP .287). I could see if you had a decent OBP guy but to put in at that position, but in OBP terms their roster is a dumpster fire.


This bugs me both for fantasy and as a Reds fan. Can only hope they’re hoping Cozart repeats his hot start from last year so they can try to move him.