Fantasy Baseball Waiver Wire Pickups (2021)
We couldn’t say this last year, so here’s an important refresher before going too crazy on the waiver wire: It’s a long season.
If he’s truly Toronto’s full-time closer, Julian Merryweather may make managers merry for adding him. He’s flashed difference-making ability in two dominant saves for the Blue Jays. Keep in mind, however, that the first save occurred in extra innings. In a more traditional second outing, Jordan Romano faced the heart of the Yankees’ lineup (DJ LeMahieu, Aaron Judge, and Aaron Hicks) in the eighth inning. Merryweather’s 60% rostered rate should keep rising closer to universal territory, but don’t feel bad if you couldn’t grab him because a leaguemate burned through their entire FAAB budget.
A strong start is occasionally a harbinger of greatness to come. Otherwise, it’s just a small hot streak. Don’t drop any healthy early picks just because of a brief slump, and don’t expect one multi-hit game on Opening Day to foreshadow a batting title. Take the long view while also appreciating some noteworthy current trends and short-term producers.
Note: Rostered rates are from Yahoo leagues as of Monday night.
FAABulous Four: Top Waiver Targets
Tanner Houck (SP – BOS): 31%
Most gamers didn’t know what to make of Houck, who allowed one earned run in three excellent starts last September. It was also unclear how the Red Sox would deploy him out of the gate. He brought that momentum into the new year, ceding three runs (two earned) with eight strikeouts over five frames.
Five innings, eight strikeouts.
Tanner Houck was dealing. pic.twitter.com/yHz6VAtTtE
— Red Sox (@RedSox) April 3, 2021
Even if you’re not sold on his wipeout slider, he’s poised to make his second start against Baltimore again. That makes the 24-year-old righty a strong matchup play as he vies for a long-term spot on your squad.
Nate Lowe hit one to the second deck of the fountain ???? pic.twitter.com/5zvpVKwLkO
— MLB (@MLB) April 4, 2021
We know better than to overrate his 10 RBIs deposited over four games. Yet the first baseman should continue to drive in runs if Texas keeps batting him fourth or fifth. Lowe has a career 109 wRC+ in 75 games, but the Rays never unleashed him. With playing time no longer an issue, he’s a strong candidate to produce 25 homers as a viable fantasy corner infielder.
Luis Arraez (2B/3B/OF – MIN): 27%
It didn’t take long to find the first case for drafting skills over role. Arraez entered the season boxed out of Minnesota’s starting lineup. However, that quickly changed when a hamstring strain sent Josh Donaldson to the injured list. Arraez, a career .335 hitter, has started all four games as the Twins’ leadoff hitter. He already notched his seventh hit before exiting Monday’s game with gastrointestinal discomfort.
The 5’10” infielder won’t offer any power or speed, but he’s an elite source of batting average who can score runs in bunches if maintaining such prominent real estate in the batting order.
Cesar Valdez (RP – BAL): 37% Rostered
What’s that about closers not getting save opportunities on bad teams? Most onlookers — including this writer in last week’s column — expected Tanner Scott to get the first chance in Baltimore, but Valdez instead recorded two saves in the Orioles’ first two games. Since he’s a 36-year-old with a career 6.04 ERA, this is no more than a cheap play for instant saves.
Priority Pickups – <35% Rostered
Michael Taylor (OF – KC): 30%
Taylor stands out as a primary candidate for the “Remember when he had two great games to begin the season and everyone wasted their FAAB on him?” Player of the Year honors. He’s teased power and speed upside for years, but the 30-year-old is a career .239 hitter with a 31.2% strikeout rate. It’s hardly an injustice that he hasn’t logged over 450 plate appearances in a season since 2015.
Could that change in Kansas City? Maybe, and he’s a 15/15 candidate with adequate playing time. But going yard in back-to-back games doesn’t make Taylor a new man just because it happened in the first two games. Then again, he’s already rocketed eight batted balls at an exit velocity above 102.5 mph. See how long you can ride the hot hand in five-outfielder formats.
Jake Arrieta (SP – CHC): 29%
One impressive start (6 IP, 6 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 5 K) against the Pirates doesn’t mean Arrieta is back to 2015 form. However, he’s scheduled to face the feeble NL Central foe again this Thursday. He at least proved himself as a worthy streamer in this favorable matchup, which wasn’t a given after allowing a 5.08 ERA and 1.51 WHIP last season.
Jazz Chisholm Jr. (2B/SS – MIA): 22%
Chisholm has mostly made headlines for his blue hair, but the 23-year-old neophyte has also stolen two bases in three games. Although he’s likely to hurt your batting average, the middle infielder’s power and speed ceiling is immense. Not a good fit for every squad, Chisholm could offer some a needed spark.
Josh Rojas (2B/OF – ARI): 22%
Don’t get too discouraged by the early returns from Rosas, who is hitting 1-for-16 through four games. More importantly, he’s playing every day and leading off regularly against righties. While he has floundered in small major-league doses, the 26-year-old infielder regained some traction with a standout spring. Having tallied 25 homers and 37 steals across all levels — for the Astros and Diamondbacks — in 2019, he’s capable of contributing in all fantasy categories.
Yimi Garcia (RP – MIA): 20%
We might have to think twice about Anthony Bass as a boring source of saves. His Marlins debut couldn’t have gone any worse, as he squandered a save opportunity by allowing four runs. The 33-year-old bounced back with a scoreless inning in a non-save situation the following day, but it’s still worth keeping tabs on him.
If Bass falters again, Garcia could quickly poach Miami’s closer role. Following a solid 2019 in the Dodgers’ bullpen, the righty allowed just one run in 15 innings last year. He should be next in line.
Justin Upton (OF – LAA): 12%
Upton has looked far more like the 30-homer slugger of 2018 than the washed-up hitter of the past two seasons. Along with crushing a go-ahead homer Saturday, he’s already hit five balls into play at an exit velocity above 101.0 mph. Upton could resurface as a legitimate power source — who also benefits from batting behind Mike Trout and Anthony Rendon — if he stays healthy.
Steven Matz (SP – TOR): 11%
Nothing beats attending a fully packed stadium during an ongoing global pandemic to see the home team get dominated by Steven Matz. Yes, the same Matz who got rocked to a 9.68 ERA last season.
To be fair, this is also the same Matz who looked like one of the Mets’ many future aces upon his arrival. More recently, he registered a 3.97 ERA in 2018 and a 4.21 ERA in 2019. A good matchup in MLB’s newest pitching park aided his Blue Jays debut, but the 29-year-old southpaw submitted nine strikeouts with his sinker living in the 94-96 mph vicinity. Although there’s a decent chance you’ll drop him because he gives up seven runs against the Angels this weekend, there might be something to this change-of-scenery rejuvenation.
Deep League Targets – <10% Rostered
Colin Moran (1B/2B/3B – PIT): 9%
Moran made major gains in the shortened 2020, slugging a career-high .472 with elevated barrel (13.4%) and hard-hit (47.2%) rates. Looking to legitimize that small sample size, he’s homered in each of Pittsburgh’s last two games.
The Pirates jettisoned potential platoon partner Todd Frazier before Opening Day, leaving a full-time role for Moran in the cleanup spot. He might not be too far off from Lowe, especially when accounting for eligibility at second and third base in Yahoo leagues. We could soon be talking about him as a viable corner infielder in 12-team mixed leagues.
Cedric Mullins (OF – BAL): 9%
Sunday’s five-hit bonanza will earn Mullins enough attention to quickly out-grow this Deep League Targets section. Leading off in all four games thus far, the 26-year-old outfielder has gone 10-for-17 with three doubles and a walk. Because of a dreadful 2019, his three homers and seven steals in just 25 games last season got lost in the shuffle during draft season. This hot start should give Mullins an extended trial atop Baltimore’s lineup, where he can swipe some bags and score some runs as a quality fifth outfielder in larger formats.
Matt Shoemaker (SP – MIN): 8%
Nobody should expect long-term results from Shoemaker, who pitched just 88.1 innings over the past three seasons combined. When healthy, however, the veteran is a more-than-capable matchup play. He verified that point Monday by holding the Tigers to three hits and a run in six innings. Among his 92 pitchers, he netted 12 called strikes and 11 swinging strikes without issuing a single walk.
Another beautiful K from Shoemaker pic.twitter.com/0dR2eblX2n
— Alex Fast (@AlexFast8) April 5, 2021
He’ll get another favorable opponent in the Mariners this Sunday, so take the 34-year-old out for a spin. Maybe he can contribute into May.
Emmanuel Clase (RP – CLE): 8%
A save opportunity has yet to arise in Cleveland, leaving everyone waiting for clarity on a potential closer-by-committee situation. Recommended last week, Nick Wittgren gave up three hits, two walks, and three runs in his season debut. Clase, on the other hand, threw a perfect frame with a 101-mph cutter. Acquired from Texas in the Corey Kluber deal, the young righty was suspended for all of 2020 after testing positive for a performance-enhancing substance. He has a bright future regardless of the role, so it’s worth seeing if he can wrestle save chances away from Wittgren and James Karinchak.
Kyle Isbel (OF – KC): 7%
Although Isbel never played above High-A before making Kansas City’s major-league club out of camp, he didn’t look overmatched in their opening set. The 24-year-old has gone 5-for-14 with a triple and stolen base in four games. While there’s some untapped power, Isbel is mostly interesting for speed. Currently a deep-league buy, he has the tools to infiltrate mixed leagues down the road.
Akil Baddoo (OF – DET): 4%
Baddoo sent the first pitch of his big-league career into the bleachers. He homered again and stole a base the next day. Consider him more of a deep-league dart throw, as the 22-year-old batted .214/.290/.393 in 20 High-A games — the highest minor-league level he reached — in 2019 before suffering a season-ending elbow injury. Baddoo also batted ninth in both games, but it’s tougher than ever to gauge prospects without any 2020 data. It could be worth stashing him just in case there’s a lot more power and speed in the tank.
Chris Flexen (SP/RP – SEA): 5%
Returning from a successful season in the KBO, Flexen scattered six strikeouts over five shutout innings Saturday. He also earned his first MLB win since 2017. A lively cutter could lead the 26-year-old reclamation project to fantasy relevance. For now, he’s a worthwhile speculative add in 15-team mixed leagues.
Trevor Williams (SP – CHC): 2%
After authoring a 3.11 ERA in 2018, Williams posted a 5.89 in 2019 and 2020. In his Cubs debut, the righty took a perfect game into the sixth inning. Not sold yet? Fair enough, but he’s scheduled to make his next start against the Pirates. Beyond the Revenge Game narrative, he’ll get a light-hitting lineup that ranked last in wOBA in 2020 and since lost Josh Bell.
Taylor Widener (RP – ARI): 2%
Widener had quite a bit of prospect shine when posting a 2.75 ERA and 176 strikeouts in 137.1 Double-A innings in 2018. That excitement, however, vanished when he surrendered an 8.10 ERA in Triple-A the following year. After a humdrum debut in Arizona’s bullpen last year, Widener blanked the Padres over six scoreless innings in his first career start Sunday. The 26-year-old registered a sterling 35.3% CSW rate (call strikes + whiffs) against an elite offense. He’ll need to limit his walks to last as a starter, but Widener should at least be back on fantasy managers’ radar as a matchup play.
Kevin Ginkel (RP – ARI): 1%
Joakim Soria may have suffered a calf strain Sunday, potentially taking Arizona’s leading closing candidate out of commission. Chris Devenski unexpectedly picked up the save, but not before allowing a home run to Fernando Tatis Jr. When Soria exited the game in the eighth, Ginkel replaced him to record the final out. Boasting 49 strikeouts in 42.2 innings, Ginkel is Arizona’s most interesting option. Stefan Crichton might be the most likely, but unexciting choice.
If you want to dive deeper into fantasy baseball, be sure to check out our award-winning slate of Fantasy Baseball Tools as you navigate your season. From our Lineup Assistant – which provides your optimal lineup, based on accurate consensus projections – to our Waiver Wire Assistant – that allows you to quickly see which available players will improve your team, and by how much – we’ve got you covered this fantasy baseball season.