Winning a fantasy baseball league requires gaining an advantage at every possible opportunity. One area where managers can gain an edge is with the use of a league’s “disabled list.” These DL slots are intended to house injuries that occur on a fantasy team. However, picking up a player off free agency that is already injured and stashing him on the DL for his impending return is a viable strategy. It is particularly effective in head-to-head leagues, where having these players healthy during championship week is much more important than having them available during the spring. The following are the 10 best players that should be stashed for a 2016 impact.
10. Homer Bailey (SP, Cincinnati Reds)
Back in 2013, everything finally seemed to click for the former 7th overall pick during a massive post-hype breakout season. Bailey’s advanced metrics were always strong and trending toward greatness, but he got much stronger since entering the league and was throwing harder than ever. Bailey was finally able to live up to his pedigree with a 199 strikeout, 1.12 WHIP season. Unfortunately, injuries have held back the Cincinnati Red. Consecutive arm surgeries are difficult to overcome, but Bailey only recently turned 29 and has an opportunity to re-establish himself as a fantasy ace. It’s not long ago he was being drafted as a top-20 starting pitcher in fantasy leagues. Expected to return in June, Bailey could be a real secret weapon during the fantasy playoffs at the cost of a mere free agent addition. When Bailey returns there will be some buzz, so now is a good time to take advantage and stash him.
9. Alex Cobb (SP, Tampa Bay Rays)
There are many fantasy baseball mainstays who are injured at the moment, but very few possess the upside of Alex Cobb. Cobb was knocking on the door of fantasy superstardom after 2014, if he wasn’t there already. Consecutive sub-3.00 ERA seasons while averaging a 1.14 WHIP were about as promising as the eye test which showed the dazzling Cobb mowing down everyone in sight. However, Cobb had suffered nagging injuries throughout the 2013 and 2014 campaigns that depressed his season totals and hid how effective he could be. During 2015 fantasy drafts, he was viewed as a slam-dunk sleeper, but disaster struck in the form of a torn UCL. Now 11 months removed from Tommy John surgery, Cobb is knocking on the door of a return. The hope is that he’s ready to pitch in July, but August may be the more likely scenario. If Cobb was set to return sooner he would no doubt place higher on this list, as a healthy Cobb has unmatched potential. As is, he is still eligible to make a major impact during the fantasy playoffs and it’s safer to own him than be facing him when that time comes.
8. Brad Boxberger (RP, Tampa Bay Rays)
Relief pitchers generally aren’t the wisest stashes, as baseball managers tend to stick with what’s working. If the replacement closer is succeeding, he is likely to keep the job unless the incumbent is a highly-paid superstar. In the case of Brad Boxberger, he is very much unestablished; therefore, he’s very risky to regain a role he had a tenuous hold of. However, the lack of depth in the Tampa Bay bullpen makes Boxberger a must-own until the 9th inning is settled upon his return. Alex Colome was the likeliest pitcher to fill in for Boxberger and is an excellent pitcher who converted to the bullpen. That being said, Colome fills a role on their team to pitch multiple innings, and if he is pitching in the 9th inning, he is less useful to the team. While Boxberger is out, Colome can fill the closer role because Erasmo Ramirez has been moved to the bullpen to take Colome’s old role. But once Ramirez returns to the rotation, Colome will be needed to pitch earlier innings. Boxberger is likely a month away from a return and should not be on free agency in any league.
7. Zack Wheeler (SP, New York Mets)
One of the more exciting pitching prospects in the game, Zack Wheeler is a must-own based on upside. More highly-touted than the dazzling Steven Matz, Wheeler may end up the best New York starter on a staff that includes Jacob DeGrom, Matt Harvey and Noah Syndergaard. This is a case of the rich getting richer as the deep Mets rotation is set to add Wheeler to the mix in early July. During his first full season in the majors, Wheeler struck out 187 batters in 185 innings. With room for growth, fantasy owners may get to witness the development of something special. While he clearly has more value in dynasty leagues for future seasons, Wheeler’s 2016 prospects remain bright and he can certainly make an immediate impact during the final stretch of the season.
6. Eduardo Rodriguez (SP, Boston Red Sox)
Unlike the majority of other pitchers on this list who are recovering from major arm injuries, Eduardo Rodriguez is recuperating from a knee injury. While knees are no joke and are an essential component to a pitcher’s balance and control, this injury was minor by all accounts. In fact, had the injury occurred during the season it likely would have been a minimum stay on the disabled list, if that was even required. However, Rodriguez’s injury occurred immediately when Spring Training began, and as a player entering his first full season in the Major Leagues, he needed every rep he could receive. As a young player, the team also wasn’t going to push any injury, so Rodriguez sat until he was beyond 100 percent. That put him behind the other pitchers in camp, and the Red Sox placed him on the disabled list in order to control the rate he builds his stamina back up. Rodriguez is nearly ready to pitch and doesn’t present a major health risk moving forward. He carries enormous upside and needs to be scooped up in fantasy leagues immediately.
5. Jung Ho Kang (3B, Pittsburgh Pirates)
Kang was expected to be Pittsburgh’s everyday third baseman after a highly successful rookie year that saw him bounce around defensively between shortstop and third base. Kang will settle at third base and will no longer be playing shortstop, but in fantasy leagues he still carries that SS eligibility which makes him dual-eligible and mighty appealing to own. Unfortunately, Kang required knee surgery at the conclusion of the 2015 season and missed the playoffs, and his rehab dragged longer into the spring than the Pirates anticipated. The Pirates countered by signing the undervalued David Freese to a team-friendly deal to fill in for Kang while he recovers. This has fantasy owners jumping ship on Kang and sending him to free agency. This is a big mistake as Kang needs to be stashed. The Pirates will not be benching him for David Freese, despite what media outlets may try to swing. Even if Freese scorches the ball, first base always has an opening with John Jaso currently holding down the fort. Kang will be playing every day.
4. Jhonny Peralta (SS, St. Louis Cardinals)
Jhonny Peralta is a steady-producing shortstop that always seems to be undervalued in fantasy leagues. He is one of the better power sources at the position and bats in the middle of an excellent and very deep lineup. He has a lot going for him but doesn’t possess tantalizing upside, causing him to slip past unproven commodities. Peralta’s age-33 campaign got off to a horrible start, as a torn ligament in his thumb suffered early during Spring Training will keep him out of action until July. With the emergence Trevor Story and Corey Seager and the re-emergence of Jean Segura and Starlin Castro, SS is deeper than previous years. However, this is still a very shallow position and when injuries inevitably strike, having a player such as Peralta available as insurance is invaluable. A team can never have too many shortstops.
3. Devon Travis (2B, Toronto Blue Jays)
Not highly touted as a prospect, Travis was an unheralded minor leaguer until an offseason trade between Toronto and Detroit sent Travis to Toronto for outfielder Anthony Gose. Gose is a solid fourth outfielder (which are valued on a championship team) and a very speedy pinch runner, but at the end of the day will likely not be an everyday player. Travis meanwhile is a very special second baseman, as he has proven to be a five-tool threat and the Jays’ second baseman of the future. Toronto seems to have struck gold by unearthing Travis the hidden gem. Unfortunately, Toronto was not instantly rewarded for this trade as Travis suffered a serious shoulder injury early last season that still has him sidelined. When he finally returns, he will be batting atop a lethal Blue Jays lineup and will be a fantasy goldmine in the middle infield.
2. Michael Brantley (OF, Cleveland Indians)
Outfielders are the most plentiful resource in fantasy baseball and Michael Brantley’s statistics don’t immediately pop off the page, causing the Indian to be a slightly overrated fantasy asset in previous seasons. But in 2016, as Brantley owners already know, he is a massive bargain. Brantley has hit free agency in multiple leagues and earlier during drafts was slipping out of the top 100 players being drafted. This is ludicrous, as the dynamic 28-year-old is in his prime and is only slated to miss a very brief portion of the season. Brantley doesn’t carry a fantasy team but his well-rounded attributes can help anyone.
1. Yu Darvish (SP, Texas Rangers)
The best stash in fantasy baseball, Yu Darvish is a top-10 overall starting pitcher with legitimate upside for more. He has produced strikeouts at a historic pace, averaging 11.2 K/9 IP in his 83 Major League starts, which places him first all-time if he retired today. Darvish is a freak and a thrill to watch and offers the possibility of a perfect game with every start. Alas, the world was robbed of seeing Yu Darvish pitch during 2015 as he spent the entire year rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. That recovery is nearly complete as Darvish is currently throwing live batting practice and is poised for a rehab assignment. There’s a chance he won’t come back at 100 percent, but that’s why he arrives at a substantial discount. Darvish will never be this cheap in fantasy leagues again so take advantage.