The Hail Mary Team (Infield)

We’re nearing mid-June and you’re languishing in eighth place. Your sleepers  have not panned out as a group and you were dealt some tough injuries in April. What? Now Andrew Miller is headed to the DL, too? That’s OK, he was your backup plan to Dellin Betances in the first place so you still have an elite closer in Betances since you drafted both guys. But that offense… whattya gonna do about that offense?

Sitting near the bottom of the standings around this time of the year can feel hopeless. I mean, being 38 points out of first place feels insurmountable. After all, we’re definitely no longer at the “start” of the season and we are no longer seeing 20-point shifts by teams in the standings on a daily basis. And yet there is still a ton of time left in the season. Even enough to overcome a 38-point deficit. Of course, if you find yourself behind this 8-ball (or 38-ball, amirite?), standing pat probably isn’t the move.

There is a lot of time left, but there are likely some flaws in your team that need to be addressed more drastically than with a strong FAAB bid on Trevor May and Jung-ho Kang. Unless you just got Anthony Rendon, Yasiel Puig, and Matt Wieters back with Corey Dickerson on the way, you’ve almost certainly got some big holes to be plugged. It’s time to chuck some Hail Maries.

Every year (2012, 2013… can’t find 2014 for some reason), I like to come up with a Hail Mary team of guys who are struggling badly but have the track record (and expectations that come with it) that suggests a major rebound is very much in play and acquiring a couple of these guys (honestly, a couple might already be on your eighth-place team) could spur a big surge in your standings. In the past, I’ve done this in July, but I think the extra time is necessary to really pull it off so I bumped it up a month.

Let’s look at the Hail Mary Team infield hitters today:

Catcher

Yadier Molina, STL – Is the thumb still an issue here? He missed about two months last summer with a thumb injury and returned to post a .267/.309/.317 in his final 110 PA (and then a .524 OPS in 22 postseason PA). So far this year he is toting a .279/.327/.330 line in 215 PA without a homer and just 20 RBIs and 12 runs scored. He’s never been a power threat, but this is crazy. He has .051 ISO. If it is the thumb and it’s going to sap his power all year, then we’re in trouble, but we’ve seen Ryan Braun battle a thumb issue and he looks a lot like himself on the heels of treatment for the injury.

Perhaps all Molina needs is a two-week DL stint with some thumb treatment to get on track. He should be available for a steep discount right now. There is some name value and the .279 AVG isn’t killing anyone, but there’s no way someone could ask full price on him right now. We’re not far removed from Molina putting up a huge .319 AVG/12 HR season in 2013.

Also consider: Yan Gomes, CLE – If you are just convinced the thumb will hamper Molina all year and don’t see a rebound to his All-Star level, then you can try for Gomes. This would’ve been a lot easier about a week ago as he is in the midst of his first hot streak of the season (he’s only played 17 gms) with hits in six straight including four multi-hits games, one of which was a two-homer game. That run has only brought him up to .239/.257/.358 though, which is why I think he is still acquirable at a discount.

First Base/DH

Edwin Encarnacion, TOR – First base is disgustingly deep this year, so deep that Jose Abreu’s perfectly solid .839 OPS and 11 homers land him 13th at the position on ESPN’s Player Rater. Our Hail Mary guy has even more homers (13) and yet sits 17th. Of course, is the because of his .228 AVG. A shoulder injury has nagged him at times this season and even resulted in a cortisone shot after he aggravated it earlier this month.

The fact is that even with the shoulder, he has still clubbed plenty of homers, but improving the condition of the shoulder could lead to more as well as a big jump in that batting average. He isn’t hitting the ball nearly as hard as recent years and the shoulder no doubt to blame. Remember Ryan Zimmerman back in 2012 when he was carrying a .590 OPS into late-June?

He got a cortisone shot paired with the good fortune of a trip to Coors where he exploded and then subsequently took off for the rest of the year. From the shot (June 24th) through the rest of the year, he unloaded on the league for a .321/.383/.584 line with 22 HRs, 73 RBIs, and 64 runs scored in 399 PA. If Encarnacion finds similar relief, there is no reason he can’t catch fire in a similar manner. He might not hit for that kind of average, but he could pop also another 25+ HRs the rest of the way.

Also consider: Chris Carter, HOU – We’re hoping he follows last year’s script. Through 59 games he has a .199/.310/.388 line with 10 HRs and 30 RBIs. Last year through 59 games he had a .199/.291/.464 line with 13 HRs and 30 RBIs. From that point on he hit .244/.318/.508 with 24 HRs and 58 RBIs in 349 PA. If you’re desperate for power, he’s a must in your go-for-it plan.

Second Base

Robinson Cano, SEA – You knew his name was going to be on here. It has to be, there probably isn’t a bigger Hail Mary play than trading for Cano in exchange for relative peanuts in hopes that he at least recaptures his 2014 level, if not something from his Yankee Days. First, the bad: he’s hitting .238/.279/.325 with just two homers, 19 RBIs, and 24 runs scored. He’s also 1-for-4 on the bases just for good measure. His strikeout rate is a career-worst 17% and his walk rate has dipped to 5%, an eight-year low.

Now the good: His batted ball profile is exactly like last year’s. Unfortunately, that’s still a ways off from when he was a Yankee, but again, even getting to 2014 levels would be a huge boon for a fantasy team. Not only is his GB/LD/FB profile virtually identical to last year’s, but he’s also pulling the ball more and hitting the ball much harder, both obviously conducive to a power spike. His 4% HR/FB is a career-worst by leaps and bounds (8% in ’08 was the previous low). It just seems crazy that he’s now this player.

Also consider: No, it’s just Cano. If you already have him, sit tight, but if you don’t and you’re trying to make a huge comeback, go get him.

Shortstop

Ian Desmond, WAS – It’s been a tough year for Desmond. His defense has failed him from the jump (-5.2 FRAA, 14 E… most of them ugly) and his bat hasn’t been able to get him out of it. After three straight 20-20 seasons, he’ll need a helluva surge to log a fourth, but it’s not out of the question, especially since the speed is what lags most right now.

His five homers have him pacing for about 14, but he’s a couple friendly wind gusts away from being on track for 20. His single stolen base in three attempts puts a fifth straight season of 21+ in serious jeopardy, but SBs come in bunches. Consider that last year he had a pair of 1 SB months (Apr, Jul) and needed back-to-back 7s in August and September to 24. If he can get 4-5 the rest of this month, he’ll be fine (though he hasn’t attempted one since May 17th).

Also consider: Shortstop has been so lame this year that if you’re trying to fill a hole there and you can’t get Desmond as a Hail Mary, then you’re better off gambling on one of the youngsters who could bust out big time (Xander Bogaerts, Carlos Correa, Addison Russell, etc…) or even buying high on someone like Brandon Crawford since the cost still won’t be much as most don’t believe he will maintain. And he might not end with 22 HRs (which would leave 14 coming), but I think he can definitely hit another 10 with solid R/RBI/AVG which is enough to be a plus SS this year.

Third Base

Pablo Sandoval, BOS – It’s been rough for Kung Fu Panda in his debut season with Boston. He’s hitting a cool .241/.304/.348 with 5 HRs, 17 RBIs, and 18 runs scored. In fairness, his home run pace is in line with expectations as he is headed toward a mid-teens output. But the rest of it leaves a lot to be desired. In fact, the team as a whole has left plenty to be desired.

That’s part of the reason I like him as a gamble, though. I just don’t think this offense can stay down with as much talent as they have in the lineup. Their 91 wRC+ is in the bottom 10 of the league, but it’s not like the lineup is loaded with a bunch of 50-60 wRC+ totals. It’s not hard to envision a big summer for the Red Sox offense with Sandoval both contributing and benefitting from a surge. It will take some work on his end, too.

It’s not like he’s just doing his thing and the other eight are holding him back. His batted ball profile is a mess. Thankfully for him a four-year high in HR/FB rate (11%) has his power output on track. He also hasn’t been bad all year making a rebound easier to envision. He looked great in April with an .839 OPS, a pair of homers, 11 RBIs, and 12 runs scored. It’s just been brutal since (.515 OPS).

Also consider: Aramis Ramirez, MIL – Ramirez has been known for slow starts throughout his career. In fact, his OPS total by month goes up April (.769) through August (.915) before a little dip in September (.827). He looked like he was heating in May, but has cooled again. His .648 OPS is only a little worse than where he was at this time last year (.694).

We hoped you liked reading The Hail Mary Team (Infield) by Paul Sporer!

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Paul is the Editor of Rotographs and contributes to ESPN's Daily Notes. Follow Paul on Twitter @sporer and on Twitch at sporer.

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fothead
Guest
fothead

Hope you’re right about Edwin. I really do as an owner whos within striking distance. But everytime I see him it seems like he’s really favoring the shoulder and he left yesterday’s game. Not quite sure why the Jays wont just DL him and let him try to get well. From what Ive read its more Edwin not wanting to go on the DL.

But it is a hail mary, so I guess thats the point, slim chance for a huge payoff, big chance for utter failure.

What are oyur thoughts on Chris Davis as that Hail Mary 1st or 3B? Simliar numbers to Edwin. And I have both. Dammit.

Justin
Guest
Justin

In my opinion, Davis may be more an issue of your expectations than any real change in his production. He’s already better than last year!