Injured Players to Stash (2019 Fantasy Baseball)
Fantasy baseball is a game of speculation. Nowhere is speculation more rampant and heightened than with injured players. When will they recover? Will they still be productive after they return? How likely are they to get hurt again? These questions fuel the speculation and can often drive fantasy owners crazy. Deciding who to stash, who to try and acquire, and even who to trade away could make a huge difference in how you win or lose.
It’s not even Opening Day yet if you don’t count the battle for Tokyo between the Oakland Athletics and Seattle Mariners last week, and there are already nearly a dozen draft-worthy players affected by injury. Depending on the severity of the injury, it might be worth stashing a few of these players or taking advantage of their depressed ADP for those of you who are drafting just before the season starts. Let’s take a look at some of the most notable injuries that affect the fantasy baseball landscape:
Catcher: Salvador Perez (KC)
Perez underwent Tommy John surgery and will miss the entirety of the 2019 season. He’s obviously not worth a stash in redraft leagues, but in dynasty startups, he makes for a worthy stash given how paltry most catcher counting stats have become. Perez hit 27 home runs with 80 RBI in both 2017 and 2018, though he did see his batting average dip from above league-average in 2017 (.268) to below it in 2018 (.235). Perez will turn 29 this year, so dynasty leaguers should take note and consider stashing a player who could far outpace the competition with power numbers at a position that has become a fantasy wasteland in recent years.
1B: Matt Olson (OAK)
Olson’s injury couldn’t have come at a worse time, less than 10 days before Opening Day, dashing the hopes of many who had already drafted him as their starting first baseman, hoping for a big year from the young slugger. As for the injury itself — it’s the dreaded hamate bone. This injury has traditionally sapped the power of hitters after they recover from the hand surgery, and it may be a full season before Olson’s power returns. The prognosis (generally six to eight weeks) means those counting on Olson will still be getting him back for four months of the fantasy baseball season. However, if Olson is unable to drive the ball with authority while his hand continues to heal, then how valuable is a power hitter who has lost his power? If you own Olson, he’s worth a stash if only to try and trade him to someone else in your league who believes the procedure won’t negatively impact his power stroke. For those in dynasty leagues, it’s worth noting that Olson is still just 25 and it may be worth trying to acquire him if his owner is in “win now” mode.
2B: Scooter Gennett (CIN)
Reds second baseman Scooter Gennett suffered a freak groin strain and is slated to miss the next eight to 12 weeks. Gennett emerged over the last two years as one of the best offensive threats at the keystone position, and this injury hurts his value in a walk year before he’s scheduled to hit free agency. There’s no telling how the Reds will choose to handle Gennett, but soft tissue injuries are notoriously tricky to overcome and easy to re-aggravate. It’s entirely possible 2019 becomes a lost season for Gennett. If you can move Gennett now for a viable alternative with corner infield eligibility, consider doing so. If not, then it might be worth sending Gennett to an owner with a weak option at second base with the pitch that he or she will have an All-Star waiting in the wings, allowing you net a valuable player and perhaps help address a weakness elsewhere on your roster. His value will never be higher than right before he returns, but if you end up keeping him that long, you’ll be less likely to want to move him. If he gets hurt again or needs frequent days off to manage the groin after his return, he’ll be a sunk cost entirely.
3B: Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (TOR)
As if the wait hasn’t been long enough, the Toronto Blue Jays have found yet another reason not to promote Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Service-time manipulation was always going to be a prime reason not to see Vlad Jr. on the Opening Day roster. Now, Guerrero has suffered a Grade 1 left oblique strain, and for a player whose conditioning was already suspect, the injury could have more than just a minimal impact. Guerrero was only hitting .211 in Spring Training before getting hurt, and considering an oblique strain makes hitting nearly impossible, the Blue Jays will want to ensure there are no setbacks. The injury and subsequent rehabilitation assignment should guarantee Guerrero isn’t starting on any fantasy rosters for at least the first few weeks of the season, especially if he starts slowly. If those drafting late have found his ADP falling a bit, then you might find yourself getting a premium player with huge upside at a small discount. Just note that there’s a chance the strain is a nagging one that lingers.
SS: Francisco Lindor (CLE)
Make no mistake, Francisco Lindor will be taken inside of the first two rounds, and in most cases, the first round, of every fantasy baseball draft. The only ones “stashing” him are the ones who took him with their first or second pick. Lindor strained his calf on February 8th, and he was initially expected to miss between seven and nine weeks. Re-injury of the calf muscle is common given its high rate of occurrence, and it’s possible that we don’t see Lindor run much at all this season. If you own Lindor, you’re not giving up on him before the season even starts, and it’s unlikely that you can pry him away from an owner who just drafted him. If he opens the season on the IL list, he remains the premier stash in all of baseball.
OF: Aaron Hicks (NYY)
Yankees outfielder Aaron Hicks has been kept out of games this spring due to a stiff back. This injury comes on the heels of signing a new seven-year, $70 million extension. Hicks is a very talented player with an extensive injury history, most notably to his core and legs. He hasn’t been cleared for games or swinging a bat yet. Optimists will point to the fact that the Yankees felt confident enough in Hicks’ health to award him such a lucrative, long-term deal. While that may be true, his value to your fantasy roster depends solely on how confident you are that Hicks’ back troubles won’t plague him all season. He has missed games due to injury every year since 2015. He’s obviously worth a stash for those who spent a mid-round pick on him this month, but I wouldn’t blame you if you tried to move him before games start.
SP: Andrew Heaney (LAA), Mike Foltynewicz (ATL), Luis Severino (NYY), Clayton Kershaw (LAD), Rich Hill (LAD)
All four of these starting pitchers have been or will be drafted, most likely. Clayton Kershaw has the biggest name of the group, but his shoulder injury is just the latest ailment for a pitcher that was already a high injury risk heading into the spring. I’ve already covered why Kershaw could very well be a bust this year. If you haven’t drafted yet, it’s probably best to let someone else deal with the frustration of owning a prolific pitcher that can’t seem to stay healthy. If you already drafted him and have begun to feel buyer’s remorse, it’s not the worst idea to consider selling now while you still can. There are a ton of healthy, upside starters who could very likely outperform Kershaw this season despite dramatically lower ADPs. Kershaw’s teammate, Rich Hill, also developed an injury late in the spring, but his was not arm-related. Instead, he’s coming back from a knee strain and is only projected to miss a few weeks at this point.
Luis Severino is the next big name on this list, and shoulder inflammation is not what you want to see in his player profile. Severino is due back sometime in May, but there is considerable risk that he re-injures himself after he returns. His ADP has fallen close to the 50th overall pick as the 15th starting pitcher taken. For those who like the value of getting an ace that late and think he’ll be fine once he’s back, the upside is certainly immense and worth the stash. He’s arguably the second most valuable stash in fantasy behind only Lindor. However, pitchers are volatile assets for a reason, and they’re more likely to get hurt than stay healthy it seems, which makes banking on Severino to stay on the mound once he returns a risky proposition. Coupled with his poor performance in the second half last year (6.83 ERA, 13 HRs in 11 starts), Severino might also be someone you consider moving if you already had some questions about his projections this year.
Mike Foltynewicz won’t rejoin the Braves’ rotation until late April. The good news is that there was no structural damage found despite his elbow soreness. There were already questions about his peripherals and whether or not Foltynewicz was a regression candidate who had a career year. He’s worth stashing for now, but don’t be surprised if poor performance follows his return.
Andrew Heaney should be back in the Angels’ rotation shortly after Opening Day, but the left elbow inflammation injury he suffered has a high rate of recurrence. Heaney dealt with elbow issues last season as well, and the Angels are seemingly cursed when it comes to rotation health. When on the mound, Heaney is arguably the most talented pitcher the Angels have this year, and he wasn’t a significant draft day cost to begin with for most people. He’s worth the stash, and if anyone in your league dropped him, then go ahead and pick him up and slide him into your IL spot. Heaney is fully capable of rewarding owners with top-40 SP upside for as long as he’s healthy.
RP: Corey Knebel (MIL), Dellin Betances (NYY)
Yankees relief ace Dellin Betances was a ratio and strikeout king last season, but his decreased velocity and right shoulder impingement means he will start 2019 on the injured list. For those in Holds leagues or who punted relief pitching in drafts and are in desperate need of ratios with K-upside, Betances is worth the stash. If his velocity is still down when he returns, you can always drop him.
Corey Knebel looked poised to enter the season as the Milwaukee Brewers’ closer, but now he’s dealing with a partial tear of his UCL and may need Tommy John surgery. Apparently, Knebel has pitched with this for a while now, but it’s clearly not trending in the right direction as the drop in velocity suggests. Whether we’re talking about months of rehab or season-ending surgery, it’s tough to recommend stashing Knebel, especially now that the Brewers are entertaining the idea of Craig Kimbrel.