August 2011

Flowers & Iantetta As Pierzynski Replacements

By Tommy Rancel //

After a July-injury to backup catcher, Ramon Castro,the Chicago White Sox called up former prospect Tyler Flowers to play behind A.J Pierzynski. Just a few weeks later, Flowers is now the team’s primary backstop following news of Pierzynski’s broken wrist on Tuesday. The White Sox will likely add a veteran catcher to the mix, but Flowers could – and should – get the lion’s share of playing time down the stretch.

After hitting .270 last season, Pierzynski was hitting .296 with 30 extra-base hits at the time of his injury. With his bat out of the lineup, the ChiSox will rely on their 25-year-old catcher to pick up the lost production. Flowers may not hit for the same high average; however, he does have solid pop (15 minor-league home runs this season and one major league) and will take a walk, something Pierzynski did not do much of (5% walk rate). Flowers walked in more than 14% of his plate appearances at Triple-A this season. He already has three walks in major-league eight games. Because of this, his on-base percentage should not suffer due to the expected struggles in average.

As mentioned, the addition of a veteran is likely; however, the White Sox are better off to give Flowers a six-week audition heading into 2012. Because of the position scarcity and the likelihood for playing time, he could be a nice addition for AL-Only owners down the stretch. On top of the solid OBP, his right-handed power is likely to play up in U.S. Cellular Field, a ballpark that favors right-handed power hitters. Depending on how he handles his latest tour of major-league duty, Flowers could be a catching sleeper for next season as well.

In mixed-leagues, Flowers is an option, but more so in deeper 14-plus team formats. In shallower leagues, Chris Ianetta may be a more attractive option. Ianetta in many ways is a mirror image of Flowers. Both right-handers post above-average walk rates, solid power, and a hole in the bat in terms to contact. The one thing that puts Ianetta ahead is he has produced at the major-league level. Although he is hitting just .237 this season, his OBP is a robust .382 – fueled by an 18% walk rate. He has also popped 12 home runs in 90 games. Ianetta is available in more than half of standard leagues, so if you’re looking to fill Pierzynski’s void or looking to upgrade, check for Ianetta.

For more catcher options, check out Bloomberg Sports.com

Fantasy Baseball Waiver Wire Pickups: Nova, Constanza, Carp, Betancourt, and Encarnacion

 

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Ivan Nova, SP, Yankees

If you’re wondering how a 24-year-old hurler on the Yankees can have an 11-4 record and 3.85 ERA and still find himself on the waiver wire, I have your answer.  Just check out the 1.5 strikeout-to-walk ratio.  Nova has had some things go his way this season such as solid run support and an uncanny ability to escape jams.  Regardless, Nova has won seven straight decisions and has allowed as many as four runs just twice in his last eight starts.  As long as you can deal without the K’s and a pretty high WHIP, Nova is not a bad pickup. 

Jose Constanza, OF, Braves

If you’re curious why the Braves are suddenly sitting mega prospect and their everyday right-fielder Jason Heyward, there are two reasons.  The first is that Heyward is struggling with just a .219 average and 30 RBI.  The other reason is that the little-known and late-blooming Jose Constanza is hitting .382 with 13 runs scored.  The 27-year-old is a speedster with little to no power.  He swiped 23 bags with a .312 average before the call to the Majors this season.  Constanza is nothing more than a hot bat who is stealing at bats away from the future of the franchise.  Then again, we may have said the same thing about Jeff Francouer back in the day.

Mike Carp, 1B, Mariners

While top prospect Justin Smoak has dealt with his ups and downs and most recently a broken nose, Mike Carp has shined bright with a .320 average, four home runs, and 24 RBI in 38 games.  Carp was acquired by the Mariners for closer JJ Putz a few years back from the Mets.  He blasted 29 home runs at Triple-A last season, but hit just .257.  This year, he blasted 21 home runs in 66 games while hitting .343.  In other words, Carp has earned a serious look in the Big Leagues, and at 25-years old, he will get his chance for the remainder of the season.  Feel free to take a look in fantasy leagues, though as is the case for any hitter that plays half of his games in Safeco, the odds are against him. 

Edwin Encarnacion, 3B, Blue Jays

Try explaining this, in his first 70 games, Edwin Encarnacion reached base at a rate of 28%.  Since the All-Star break, Encarnacion has reached base 47% of the time.  What gives? Well, we always knew that the Blue Jays slugger was one of the streakiest hitters in baseball.  He also has a knack for big second halves.  The 28-year-old corner infielder is also playing for his career now that mega prospect Brett Lawrie has been called up.  The good news is that he remains young enough for the Blue Jays to provide him with regular at bats.  So Encarnacion will have his opportunity to win over a spot for next season’s club.  As far as potential, Encarnacion has plenty of it.  He blasted 26 home runs back in 2008 and 21 last season in just 332 at bats. 

Rafael Betancourt, RP, Rockies

Finally some noise from the closer report, the 36-year-old Rafael Betancourt will take over for the recently injury Huston Street.  The last time that Betancourt allowed an earned run was July 6th, just before the All-Star break.  Betancourt has nailed down one save over the last week and his 58:8 strikeout-to-walk ratio on the season ranks amongst the best in baseball.  Street will likely return at the end of the month, but if he’s out longer than that and the Rockies continue to struggle, you have to think to Rex Brothers, who at 24-years old is supposed to be the closer of the future, will get some save opportunities.

Mets Hang In There Thanks to Duda and Hope

 

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It seems like the baseball world is just waiting for the Mets to finally fly its white flag.  It is clear that at 19 games behind the Phillies in the NL East and more than 10 games behind the Braves for the Wild Card, there is no real shot at making the postseason.  Nonetheless, the Mets have played extremely well on the road, keeping them within .500 through 117 games into the season. 

 

The tide may have finally turned in recent days.  The Mets fell twice to the last-place Padres at home and will now have to take on the first place Diamondbacks on the road this weekend. 

 

It’s also the way that the Mets have fallen that hurts the most.  On Wednesday, a well-pitched game by Jon Niese was wasted thanks in large part to shoddy defensive by 21-year-old shortstop Ruben Tejada.  The only reason Tejada was even in the field was the most recent hamstring injury to star shortstop Jose Reyes. 

 

One positive that Mets fans can focus on is the continued success of rookie Lucas Duda.  The 6’4, 254 lbs. slugger drove in four RBI in the four-game series with seven hits.  Though his season statistics are solid with three home runs, three triples, 12 doubles, and a .279 average through 62 games, his teammate Justin Turner tells us that we have not seen anything yet.  “When he gets into a hot streak, the ball just sails over the fence in bunches,” said Turner, who played with Duda in the Minor Leagues. 

 

Despite the fun name and slugger’s role, Duda is soft-spoken and modest, though his confidence shines through, “It will come.” he says.  “The more comfortable I get the better I’ll perform.”  Duda has good reason to be confident.  He is hitting .348 since the All-Star break with three home runs and a .427 OBP. 

 

While Duda is playing first base in place of the injured Ike Davis, his future home for the Mets will likely be in the outfield.  After all, the Mets have no shortage of first basemen with both Davis and Daniel Murphy both posting big numbers before each landed on the DL with season-ending injuries.

 

As usual, it is anything but easy to be a Mets fan.  However, there is some good news as the season crawls to an end.  Both Daniel Murphy and Lucas Duda look like keepers, though finding a position for each will be a challenge.  Jose Reyes seems happy to be with the Mets and could end up extending this off-season in a long-term deal.  Jason Bay has progressed a bit from his early struggles, and even Justin Turner may be a short-term fix at second base. 

 

The Mets still have plenty of issues to sort out.  They could use another big arm in the rotation even while assuming Johan Santana returns as a front of the rotation hurler.  Bobby Parnell does not look like a closer.  Then there is the gaping hole in centerfield that Angel Pagan has not been able to fill this season. 

 

For those who prefer the glass half full, consider that the Mets have lost their first baseman and their backup first baseman to injuries.  David Wright and Jose Reyes have both spent weeks on the disabled list.  Johan Santana has not thrown a single pitch for the Mets this season.  Jason Bay and Angel Pagan are having down seasons.  The team traded away its best all-around hitter and its ace closer, and yet they sit just one game under .500.  In other words, for Mets fans there is just enough positive to still believe.

Philadelphia Phillies Report with Jimmy Rollins and Dominic Brown

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Phillies Report:

Phillies Pitching

The Phillies are running away with the best record in baseball with a comfortable 8.5 game lead, and the lone reason for their success has been pitching.  This certainly isn’t a surprising story for a team that offered four aces to open the season with Chase Utley on the disabled list. 

However, things have not sailed as smoothly for the rotation as we originally expected.  For starters, Roy Oswalt is enduring a tough season, recently spending nearly two months on the disabled list.  His record stands at just 4-7 with a 3.84 ERA and horrendous 1.41 WHIP.  The team has also had Brad Lidge, Ryan Madson, and Jose Contreras spend time on the disabled list.  To put that in perspective, those were the top three expected closers coming into the season. 

Considering the Phillies lack of offense and injury issues, this is by no means the team’s full potential.  The fact that they still have put together an 8.5 game lead in the division says that the post-season could be a walk in the park for the Phillies.

Jimmy Rollins

The 32-year-old veteran Jimmy Rollins is neither as good as he was in 2007, when he earned the MVP with a career-high 30 home runs, nor as bad as he was last season when he batted .243.  Rollins is somewhere in between with a .266 average, 71 runs, 13 home runs, and 26 steals. 

Rollins has managed to stay away from the injury-bug this season, and he is significantly better at reaching base with a .340 OBP.  In the field, Rollins is making a case for the Gold Glove award with just five errors, resulting in a stellar .989 fielding percentage. 

If the Phillies are able to win the World Series and Rollins performs at a high level, considering he will likely enter next season just 100 hits shy of 2000 hits for his career, the conversation can begin about whether the Phillies shortstop will one day find himself in the Hall of Fame. 

Dominic Brown (replaced by Hunter Pence)

It was certainly a difficult season for Phillies top prospect Dominic Brown.  First sidelined with a broken hand, Brown hit just .246 with five home runs and three steals before returning to the Minor Leagues after the Phillies acquired Hunter Pence. 

The good news for Brown is that the franchise has by no means lost hope in the 23-year-old phenom.  The Phillies went to great lengths to keep him on the roster after the trade deadline, likely passing on Carlos Beltran in order to do so. 

Some good news with Brown’s statistics is that even though he is struggling when it comes to his batting average, he is not getting outmatched at the plate.  This is suggested by his healthy ratio of 25 walks to 34 strikeouts, as well as his 16 extra base hits in 183 at bats.  Brown will certainly return to the Phillies in September, and when he does he will likely steal at bats from John Mayberry and Ben Francisco.   

Top 3 in the Rotation for Playoffs

The Phillies have a problem on their hands, but it isn’t a bad one.  The playoffs are quickly approaching for the first place franchise and the big question is who will start in a seven game series. 

The obvious answers are Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay.  The problem is that Cole Hamels is another fairly obvious starter.  That means the veteran Roy Oswalt will have to pitch from the ‘pen, if at all.  The same holds true for Kyle Kendrick and Vance Worley, two of the more impressive young pitchers in the league this season.

The Phillies do also have the option of going four-deep in the rotation for the post-season, but my guess is that with the season on the line they will want Halladay and Lee with the ball in their hands as much as possible. 

Again, this problem is far off and injuries can end up answering the question, but for now the Phillies have a delightful problem on their hands.

Are Henderson Alvarez or Garrett Richards Worth Your Time?

By R.J. Anderson //

Pitchers with good stuff and iffy results can frustrate fantasy owners and scouts alike—just ask the fans of Ivan Nova. On Wednesday, two pitchers with a similar report were promoted from the minor leagues: Henderson Alvarez of the Blue Jays and Garrett Ricahrds of the Angels. Is either worth a roster spot? Let’s take a look.

Alvarez is a 21-year-old righty with groundball tendencies. His fastball can and will get into the mid-to-upper 90s and he complements the pitch with a good changeup. For some reason or another, though, Alvarez has never held a strikeout per nine innings ratio over seven throughout the minor leagues. The American League East is no friend to pitchers, young or old, but rookie pitchers in particular can find the transition from the minors to the toughest division in baseball rude. Just ask Kyle Drabek.

Still, there are some encouraging aspects of Alvarez’s game. His 3.88 strikeout-to-walk ratio in Double-A and 2.86 earned run average are a positive sign, as it’s commonly accepted that the jump from A-ball to Double-A is the toughest a player will face. Even so, Alvarez seems to profile as a back of the rotation starter now unless something clicks. That doesn’t tend to carry a high fantasy value, so abstain from adding him for now.

Richards, on the other hand, is a big righty with a big fastball and good slider. He posted good numbers in the lower minors—not unexpected for a pitcher drafted out of college—but his performance in Double-A has been just okay. His 3.06 ERA and 12-2 record look nice, but a reduction in strikeouts (from 9.4 per nine last season to 6.4) is undesirable.

Unlike Alvarez, Richards is moving into a division that holds two pitching-friendly parks. He still has to face the Rangers, sure, but he will get a crack at the Athletics and Mariners too. Richards feels more likely to have immediate value than Alvarez, if only because of his pedigree, but even then his upside might be a middle of the rotation starter. That does not mean to add him right away, but if you need a spot starter and it’s Richards’ turn to face the Mariners, well, may as well.

For the best fantasy baseball analysis and insight please visit BloombergSports.com.

Has Hideki Matsui Gone Godzilla Again?

by Eno Sarris // 

Since the All-Star game, the 37-year-old Hideki Matsui has gone Godzilla on the American League. His .430/.474/.686 line since the break has been as awesome as his .209/.290/.327 work before the break was poor. He has five home runs in 22 games since the break, and had six home runs in 76 games to start the year. Has he found the fountain of youth?

Arbitrary end points are rough. They emphasize a player’s production in a small sample over a random period of time. But obviously Matsui is playing better recently. How could we separate a luck-baced swing from a true resurgence that showed a real change in approach? Mostly, we’ll have to diagnose what was going wrong in the first half compared to the larger sample of his entire career, and then we can see if he’s corrected those things since the break.

We know that power is highly correlated with fly balls. You have to get them up to get them out, as the saying goes. In Matsuis’ three most powerful seasons, his ground ball to fly ball ratio was .997. In his three least powerful seasons, that ratio zoomed up to 1.64. This year, in one of his worst power seasons, he has hit 1.25 ground balls per fly ball. So we’ll want to look at that ratio to see if he’s hitting more fly balls this second half.

Matsui also has a .283 BABIP right now, compared to a career .302 BABIP. So we might have been seeing a BABIP regression since the break. We’ll check for that, but that sort of swing would be less exciting, as it would just mean that most of his recent work was more dinks and dunks falling in.

In the first three months of the season, Matsui averaged a .237 BABIP. Since then, he’s had about a .360 BABIP. In the first three months, he was hitting about 1.26 ground balls per fly ball. In the last month-plus, that ratio has been 1.33. So basically his last month-plus of torrid play has been majorly luck-aided, because he hasn’t changed his approach when it comes to hitting fly balls.

Godzilla is a year older and hitting more ground balls than he did last year. He’s also in a tougher home park. Look at his full-year stats right now and decide if they are interesting. Matsui is much more likely to give you numbers on that scale than the numbers he’s put up for the last month-plus. He’s no longer a city-slayer.

For the best fantasy baseball analysis and insight please visit BloombergSports.com.

Fantasy Baseball Waiver Wire Alert: Lawrie, Lowrie, Young, and Giaviotella

 

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Brett Lawrie, 2B, Blue Jays

Exciting times in Toronto right now as the top prospect, Brett Lawrie, a Canadian himself, has finally made his Major League debut.  In three games, Lawrie has racked up five hits including his first home run on Sunday in a 7-2 win over the Orioles.  Just 21-years old, Lawrie is the real deal.  He had 18 home runs with a .353 average at Triple-A after racking up 16 triples and 30 steals at Double-A last season.  Acquired for Shaun Marcum in the off-season, Lawrie is a definite pick up, and likely a keeper in all fantasy leagues. 

Jed Lowrie, SS, Red Sox

A personal favorite of mine early in the season, Jed Lowrie’s production slipped a great deal before missing a few months because of a shoulder injury.  Now when he returns things won’t be any easier, as the Red Sox have acquired Mike Aviles and Marco Scutaro has played very well recently.  Nonetheless, Lowrie does deliver a great deal of position eligibility and he does have some pop to his bat.  I would only pick him up if you’re looking for depth as Lowrie will be relegated to part-time duties for the remainder of the season. 

Eric Young, 2B, Rockies

We talk about him every few months because of the crazy potential he offers, and while he has yet to stick as an everyday player, the 26-year-old Eric Young is getting another shot and so far so good.  Riding a seven game hit streak, Young has raised his batting average from .212 to .245.  He has five steals over his last nine games and has been scoring runs as well.  The Rockies are committed to Dexter Fowler and Eric Young at the top of the lineup, kind of like the Marlins old championship team that had Edgar Renteria and Luis Castillo.  We’ll see if this works out for them, as there is little power in this combo with Young delivering just two extra base hits the entire season.

Johnny Giaviotella, 2B, Royals

This is the reason the Royal did away with Mike Aviles.  Giaviotella is a former second round pick out of New Orleans who is off to a fine start in the Big Leagues with five hits including a home run through his first three games of his career.  Giaviotella is the type of player who can offer a little bit of everything.  He compares well to Angels second baseman Howie Kendrick.  Giaviotella had nine home runs with nine steals at Triple-A this season, and most impressive was his .338 average and a .390 on base percentage.  The future is now for the Royals, and Giaviotella is certainly a player worth picking up if in need of some middle infield help.

Robinson Chirinos Catching On

By Tommy Rancel //

In 2009, Robinson Chirinos was a 25-year-old playing A-ball in the Chicago Cubs organization. A converted infielder, he was still new to the catcher position. After years of toiling in the minors, things have progressed quickly since then. Just two years later, Chirinos appears to be the Tampa Bay Rays new primary catcher with a chance to take hold of the position in 2012. Last week, the social media landscape was buzzing about “Honey Nut Chirinos” after the rookie tied a game against the Toronto Blue Jays with a pinch-hit, RBI single in the 11th inning before getting the walk-off hit just an inning later. This came one day after notching four RBI and his first major-league home run.

Despite his age and his inexperience behind the plate, Tampa Bay saw enough potential in Chirinos to make him part of the package of players they received for Matt Garza this offseason. Following a monster campaign at the Double-A level last season (.985 OPS), he quickly captured the attention of a new fanbase with a solid showing in Spring Training. Initially, he struggled this season in Triple-A, but posted good numbers in recent months, showing growth and progress. After a pair of injuries to primary catcher John Jaso – and his replacement Jose Lobaton – Chirinos, 27, finally received a callup following nearly a decade in the minor leagues.

Although they already have a major-league veteran in Kelly Shoppach on the roster, Joe Maddon and the Rays have given Chirinos the bulk of the playing time in Jaso’s absence. Where both Shoppach and Jaso have struggled at the plate this season, Chirinos has provided the Rays with a spark, hitting .286/.362/.405 in his first 16 games. The sample size is small, but production from catcher is difficult to come by.

With Jaso just beginning a rehab assignment and Shoppach unlikely to be retained at the end of the season, the Rays are giving Chirinos every chance to prove he is ready for a larger role heading into 2012. This means playing against both right and left-handed starters. He remains a work in progress on defense; however, his offense thus far looks as advertised.

While his batting average may settle in the .260 area, he shows a disciplined approach at the plate. Because of his refined eye, he should be a safe bet to post above-average walk rates. In doing so, his on-base percentage should be above the norm for a player at his position. With gap power, good on-base skills, and decent wheels for a catcher, Chirinos is a decent mid-tier option in AL-only formats for the rest of 2011 and heading in to next season as well.

For more on Chirinos and information on other impact rookies, check out the Front Office Tool from Bloomberg Sports.

Is Neftali Feliz’ Job In Danger?

By Eriq Gardner //

Texas Rangers pitcher Neftali Feliz loses his job. No, let’s try this again: Texas Rangers closer Neftali Feliz placed on the 15-day DL. OK, one more time: In stunner, Texas Rangers demote Neftali Feliz to the minor leagues.

None of these events have yet happened, of course, but after the Rangers flame-thrower imploded in the ninth inning on Saturday night, allowing three runs and blowing his sixth save of the season, all of these scenarios are indeed imaginable. Especially, now that the Rangers’ bullpen have fresh new ninth-inning options in Mike Adams and Koji Uehara.

Frankly, it’s hard to make a case that Feliz doesn’t belong in the minor leagues right now.

Forget the ERA and the save conversion rate.

Instead, check out the dwindling strikeout rate — 9.22 K/9 in 2010, 6.21 K/9 in 2011.  And take head of the increasing walk rate — 2.34 BB/9 in 2010, 4.29 BB in 2011.

Worse yet, is Feliz’ dismal (yet, lucky) performance against  right-handed batters this season. On the surface, he’s holding right-handed batters to a .222 batting average, which seems pretty good, until one considers his strikeout rate versus righties (3.03) and walk rate versus righties (7.13) amounts to a “luck neutralized” ERA against righties somewhere between 5.3 and 6.7.  Somewhere out there, Barry Zito is blushing.

So what’s the problem?

There’s been a lot of theories bandied about, including over-usage dating back to the Rangers’ “starter” experiment this spring, hidden injuries, mental problems, or simple bad luck.

Here’s our interpretation of the data:

The problem doesn’t seem to be velocity-related as his fastball still averages around 96 MPH, about where he was at last season. Nor bad luck, as he’s actually be on the fortunate end of things, considering his .242 batting-average-on-balls-in-play this season.

Instead, Feliz looks to have lost command (or confidence) of pitch location. The batters he faces swing less at Feliz pitches. As a result, Feliz is getting behind in counts, leading the pitcher to groove his heater down the middle of the plate instead of at the corners. His top fastball remains a tough pitch for batters to make great contact, but even weak contact — enough of it — will eventually get the ball into defensive gaps.

In short, he’s still a good pitcher whose immense talent is helping him overperform his peripherals, but he can’t be a great pitcher again until he regains that confidence and command. And right now, the ninth inning seems like a poor forum for that to happen.

The Rangers organization is a pretty smart one. They’ll see this soon enough. Adjust course accordingly.

For the best fantasy baseball analysis and insight please visit BloombergSports.com.

Meet The New Astros

By R.J. Anderson //

The Astros were one of the league’s busiest teams over the deadline weekend, as they dealt Hunter Pence and Michael Bourn, then demoted Brett Wallace and Chris Johnson to the minors. That leaves the Astros with four players starting at new positions.  Tommy looked at Jason Bourgeois on Tuesday, and Carlos Lee is a known quality. Let’s focus on J.D. Martinez and Jimmy Paredes instead.

Martinez is the Astros new left fielder, as Jason Michael has taken over for Pence in right. The soon-to-be 24-year-old is a former 20th-round pick from Nova Southeastern University (that’s in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, for those unaware). Houston felt comfortable promoting Martinez to the majors despite never touching Triple-A because he hit everywhere he went in the minors, including a .324/.393/.494 line for Double-A Corpus Christi in 577 plate appearances.

Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus ranked Martinez as the eighth-best prospect in the Astros system, noting that scouts believe he has a good approach at the plate and “outstanding hands” that produce a “quick, quiet swing”. The expectations Goldstein outlines are that Martinez will hit for average, but not much power or speed from a corner outfield spot. Combined with this being Martinez’s first exposure to the major leagues, there is no guarantee he will perform well. Still, if you have an itching for a potential sleeper in batting average, keep an on eye out on Martinez.

Paredes, meanwhile, came to Houston in the Lance Berkman trade last July. He is a switch-hitter who won’t turn 23 until late November and a former second baseman. In Goldstein’s aforementioned rankings, he had Paredes at number six, noting that he could become an everyday second baseman in a perfect world. Paredes is a speedster with a stolen base for every 3.5 games played in the minors (or roughly a 46-steal pace over 162 games), although he could stand to improve on his efficiency, as his career success rate is just 67 percent.

While speed is appealing, the other phases in his game could use some work. Even this season, he was hitting just .270/.300/.426 in Double-A before being called up, and his minor league career slash line is .279/.312/.406. Don’t expect much fantasy value from Paredes outside of steals, and even then, it’s possible he doesn’t reach base or succeed enough to make it worth the effort.

Seeing some young players should be more exciting for Astros fans than watching washed up retreads on a nightly basis, but don’t get too enamored with either in a fantasy setting. Martinez could provide some batting average, however his position limits his value. The same with Paredes, as both lack the power you conventionally see with players positioned at corner spots.

For more on potential post-deadline pickups, check out bloombergsports.com

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