Fantasy Waiver Wire: Week 18, Vol. I

Today is July 29, which means the non-waiver trade deadline is so close we can taste it. And it tastes like … ah, nevermind. It’s two days away, all right?

That deadline is at once as exciting and frustrating as it gets for fantasy owners. Jobs are created or lost in a moment with the flick of a few signatures. With that in mind, and the understanding that league affiliations for players today are very fluid, let’s peer into the crystal ball for two Chicago outfielders and one young Cincinnati catcher to see what they may provide the rest of the way.

Nate Schierholtz | Chicago Cubs | OF | ESPN: 26.8 percent ownership; Yahoo!: 19 percent; CBS: 42 percent
YTD: .281/.340/.536 in 307 plate appearances
ZiPS projection: .277/.336/.514 in 443 plate appearances

It is very clear by now that the Cubs are wide open for business. It started by trading Scott Feldman at the beginning of July then continued more recently with deals involving Matt Garza and Alfonso Soriano. Anyone who isn’t nailed down is ready to move at a moment’s notice. (Side note: the Cubs really should not be nailing guys down. That sounds painful and these are human beings after all. The perils of being a professional athlete, perhaps.)

Among those left to be traded who should see increased action as the deadline fast approaches is right fielder Nate Schierholtz. The former Giant has quietly put together a very strong season in Chicago and appears to be one of the best value signings from last offseason. (He signed for this year at $2.25 million, and will be eligible for arbitration next year.) Accordingly, he’s been connected to a number of teams in the run up to the deadline, most notably the Pirates.

The Cubs have used him mostly in a right field platoon, as he’s seen 266 plate appearances against righties this year and just 41 against lefties. Despite this, I’m not totally convinced it’s necessary. Over the course of his career, which includes six partial seasons with the Giants and one with the Phillies, Schierholtz has a career wOBA against left-handed pitching of .303, and a career wOBA against right-handed pitching of .331.

There’s probably a mechanical reason he’s seen four times as many appearances against righties as he has against lefties over the course of his career, but it isn’t borne out completely by his numbers (at least so far). It’s not inconceivable he could land in a situation where he sees something closer to everyday at-bats. And even if he does not land in such a situation, he has value to fantasy leaguers who can monitor his usage and slot him in the lineup when his team is facing a righty.

That’s all well and good, but what can we do for fantasy owners? His .876 OPS this season is .122 percentage points higher than his career average on the strength of a sizable increase in power. The 29-year-old’s ISO this season is .255 compared to his career average of .160. It would be easy to point to his HR/FB rate, which is twice his career average at 15.9 percent right now, and say his increase in power is due entirely to that, and he’s unlikely to continue this pace.

I’m not so sure, though. As a prospect in the Giants’ system, Baseball America touted his power in both its 2007 and 2008 Prospect Handbook, writing in 2008, “Schierholtz has a bodybuilder’s physique and tremendous power.” In its annual the following year, Baseball America tagged Schierholtz as having 30-home run power.

So pop isn’t foreign to him. It had yet to manifest itself in his major league game until now, but that’s not unheard of. Everything else in his profile is right at (or close to) his career averages. So I’m inclined to buy this production with a chance of a modest drop in power going forward.

Recommendation: Buying here, especially if he gets traded into a spot where he can play every day and rack up counting stats.

Devin Mesoraco | Cincinnati Reds | C | ESPN: 6 percent ownership; Yahoo!: 6 percent; CBS: 12 percent
YTD: .256/.320/.394 in 228 plate appearances
ZiPS projection: .253/.319/.403 in 365 plate appearances

It happens all the time. A prospect puts together a season in which he rockets through the minor leagues, breaks camp with his big league club, and everyone expects him to take over immediately and not look back. And yet for every Mike Trout, there’s a Devin Mesoraco. Progress is not always linear; rather, it comes in fits and spurts.

Mesoraco’s three-level 2010 season assured him a prominent place on the prospect map, and a strong follow-up at Triple-A the following season (in which he raised his average and cut his strikeouts while maintaining his walk rate) did nothing to quiet that hype. So it was last season, when Mesoraco broke camp with the Reds, that owners and pundits alike seemed to expect Mesoraco to take ownership of the catching duties in Cincinnati.

The problem was, Ryan Hanigan. The veteran backstop walked a bunch, provided strong defense, and failed to yield the lion’s share of the catching duties to the younger, much more hyped Mesoraco. That happens every so often with prospects and veterans. In the excitement of the former, we forget entirely about the strengths of the latter.

Entering this season, expectations were lowered. Mesoraco’s skills hadn’t quite translated to major league success yet, and Hanigan was still in the picture. A wrist injury has shelved Hanigan, however, and in his place the Reds have had Corky Miller join Mesoraco behind the dish. And for all of Miller’s good qualities (his name, physique, and facial hair) playing baseball is not among them. (I will not deny I am writing about Mesoraco mostly so I can mention Corky Miller’s name, physique, and facial hair.)

Anyway, Miller will not be much of an obstacle for Mesoraco in the short-term. It remains to be seen when Hanigan will return, as he’s still dealing with soreness in his wrist, and it’s worth noting he has been many shades of terrible this season in posting a sub-.600 OPS. So even when he comes back, Mesoraco seemingly will have an inside track at starting on a more regular basis.

It doesn’t hurt that he’s been better this year, mostly on the strength of a bounce up in BABIP, from an unlucky .234 last season to a reasonable .289 in 2013. His triple slash isn’t enough to move most people, and that probably explains his low ownership rates, but this is a player who was seen as a power hitter climbing the minor league ranks, and one who draws walks on a regular basis.

Given full-time at-bats, in that park, with that lineup, he could close the year quite a bit more valuable than he currently seems.

Recommendation: In deep mixed leagues and NL-only leagues, he’s worth a roll of the dice right now.

Dayan Viciedo | Chicago White Sox | OF | ESPN: 21.4 percent ownership; Yahoo!: 17 percent; CBS: 28 percent
YTD: .254/.299/.414 in 304 plate appearances
ZiPS projection: .257/.304/.420 518 plate appearances

Amid the uncertainty of the trade deadline, it’s always nice to have a place you can find value that you know (beyond the shadow of a doubt) will not change.

Two statements regarding Dayan Viciedo seem pretty safe to make:

1. We pretty much know who he is: an extremely free-swinging hitter who doesn’t walk much and hits for decent power, especially against left-handed pitching.
2. There is virtually no chance he sees a change in usage during the stretch run, as he’s been playing on a daily basis for the White Sox in left field, and there is a zero percent chance that horrible, awful team acquires someone to start in his place before next season.

There is value in this.

No, Viciedo isn’t going to help you much if average matters, and he’ll contribute even less if OBP matters. But he does have power (particularly against lefties), and he’s as much a lock to play every day as anyone in the league.

Recommendation: Look here if you’re searching for some counting stats and power help in AL-only leagues. Avoid if batting average or walks matter very much.

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