Posted: Monday June 11, 2012 10:10AM ; Updated: Monday June 11, 2012 10:10AM
Eric Mack
Eric Mack>INSIDE FANTASY BASEBALL

Slow starters offer valuable return for relatively small investment

Story Highlights

Despite going winless in 10 starts, Cliff Lee has stuff of Top-10 starting pitcher

Adrian Gonzalez should benefit from returns of Jacoby Ellsbury, Carl Crawford

Ryan Dempster's recent solid run may have increased his trade value for Cubs

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Despite crafting an 0-3 record through 10 starts this year, the Phillies' Cliff Lee has a 3.18 ERA and 74 strikeouts in 70.2 innings.
Despite crafting an 0-3 record through 10 starts this year, the Phillies' Cliff Lee has a 3.18 ERA and 74 strikeouts in 70.2 innings.
AP

Key players are starting to get healthier, even if your team seems to be falling apart at the seams like the Red Sox, Phillies or a pitcher coming off a no-hitter. (One of these days, someone is going to challenge to post back-to-back no-nos and pick up where Johan Santana most recently failed.)

Shortstop Stephen Drew (ankle) homered in his rehab outing Sunday. Brian Roberts (post-concussion syndrome) looks like he might be activated Tuesday. Jered Weaver (shoulder) is tentatively slated to return next weekend. Even Troy Tulowitzki, Evan Longoria, Jacoby Ellsbury, Carl Crawford, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard are making progress on their DL stints.

Waiting for those guys to return has been like watching paint dry, so let's give you some ideas on where to buy on players who are healthy but underperforming:

1. SP Cliff Lee, Phillies

Owners selling because he is winless through 10 starts are making a grave mistake. One of the most traded players in fantasy right now, according to CBSSports.com, Lee is not pitching as poorly as his record indicates.

As much as fantasy owners should not overrate the wins category in the preseason, don't overrate the win-loss column during the season either. Lee is still one of the Top-10 starting pitchers in fantasy.

The Phillies are going to get Utley (knees) and Ryan Howard (Achilles') back before the All-Star break. And even if Roy Halladay (shoulder) will never be the same, Lee is going to win a lot of games for the Phillies and fantasy owners here on out. Buy now, big time.

2. 1B/OF Adrian Gonzalez, Red Sox

He showed some life with a pair of good games last week before a quiet finish to the weekend. This is time to take advantage and buy low.

Gonzalez is healthy and just too good to be this marginal for much longer. Then, throw in the fact the Red Sox are going to get table-setters Ellsbury and Crawford back in July, and you are talking a ton of RBI opportunities to come for A-Gone.

Heck, Gonzalez just might be the best slugger in baseball in the second half. His numbers right now -- .266-5-32-30-0 (.314-.419) -- make him more affordable than ever. Pretty soon it is going to be too late to get in on the ground floor here.

3. SP Jon Lester, Red Sox

Speaking of the Red Sox getting healthy and taking off, when A-Gone gets hot, Crawford (knee), Ellsbury (shoulder) and Andrew Bailey (thumb) return, you're going to regret not having Lester on your roster. It is a great time to buy on Lester.

Or Josh Beckett.

Or Clay Buchholz.

Or Kevin Youkilis.

Or Crawford, Ellsbury and Bailey.

The Red Sox and Phillies are two of the biggest disappointments in baseball to date, mostly due to injuries. It is a good time to take advantage of their misfortune and buy low on some of their busts that have had good track records of success.

And, now, for the rest of the fantasy trends of the week ...

Player of the Week

SP Ryan Dempster, Cubs -- So much for him being a two-start pitcher to avoid. Dempster worked wonders for his trade value to the Cubs, going 2-0 with 15 shutout innings last week. The Cubs are in rebuilding mode and Dempster is enjoying a renaissance that will make him attractive to a contender needing a back-end starter. In the right situation, Dempster can be a must-start in all fantasy leagues. Heck, minus that outing three starts ago, he might be anyway.

Player of the Weak

SP Carlos Zambrano, Marlins -- Daniel Murphy, Phil Humber and Ervin Santana were bad last week, but none of those three looked more promising than Big Z going in. If you throw out his two seven-run outings -- which came in his past four starts -- you would have arguably the best pitcher in fantasy since the start of May. Big Z left his disaster with a back injury but looks like he will make his start this week. Facing the Rays again, this time on the road, you might want to sit him a week.

Roster trends

Most added

1. SP Garrett Richards, Angels -- He debuted with a victory and seven strikeouts, then goes into a two-start week. He is worth a shot, but he is probably fool's gold.

2. SS Trevor Plouffe, Twins -- The erstwhile prospect earned regular at-bats finally at age 25 and took advantage with a huge weekend against the Cubs. There is pop here and the versatility at shortstop, third and outfield comes in handy. Heck, in some leagues he is eligible at every position but pitcher and catcher.

3. SP Alexi Ogando, Rangers -- Just when you think you're finally going to get value out of him, he makes a start and might head to the DL. And when Roy Oswalt and Derek Holland return, Ogando would go to the bullpen anyway. You can cut Ogando now, unless you have ample DL spots available and need a middle reliever in the second half.

4. OF Michael Saunders, Mariners -- He is hitting around .300 for close to a month now. Maybe the 25-year-old has finally arrived as a steady big-leaguer.

5. RP Tom Whilhelmsen, Mariners -- He picked up save chances and finished off a no-hitter, but Brandon League might not be far from regaining the closer's role. Wilhelmsen's value in mixed leagues will end in that event.

Most dropped

1. SP Homer Bailey, Reds -- So much for last week's breakthrough waiver-wire gem. Bailey was hammered in his first start and was marginal in his second. He is still worth owning here on out, though, so pick him up if you have a spot available.

2. SP Jaime Garcia, Cardinals -- Shoulder strain, ew, yucky. That could cost Garcia his season, or at least his fantasy value in mixed leagues. You are justified cutting him if you don't have DL spots in mixed formats.

3. RP Brian Fuentes, A's -- He couldn't hold down the closer's role and will now have to share with Grant Balfour and perhaps Ryan Cook. Fuentes isn't trustworthy enough outside of deeper leagues even if he was the full-time closer.

4. RP Daniel Bard, Red Sox -- The starting experiment blew up in the Red Sox faces. They could have had a solid closer. Instead, they have a Triple-A reclamation project.

5. SP Drew Smyly, Tigers -- Despite decent full-season numbers for a rookie starter, he hasn't been good for a month. Now, he has a blister. Feel free to cut him for someone else, say, Bailey.

Most viewed

1. SP Tim Lincecum, Giants -- It just isn't his year. Trade him to the team in last place in pitching in your league. They might pay for the hope Lincecum finds it eventually. SELL

2. SP Dan Haren, Angels -- He hasn't quite been the Haren we had come to know. But this actually looks like the true Haren. Take a deal for him if it's good, but it might not be right now. HOLD

3. 3B Ryan Zimmerman, Nationals -- He might be one of the most overrated "stars" in fantasy, but at least the 27-year-old is heating up of late. BUY

4. OF Justin Upton, Diamondbacks -- A benching seems to have woken him up. The bet here is he is going to be a monster here on out. Of course, everyone else is betting on that, too, making him tough to acquire still. HOLD

5. SP Felix Hernandez, Mariners -- He is not as good has he is hyped to be, partially because his supporting cast is so mediocre. But you shouldn't sell, or be able to buy low. HOLD

Eric Mack writes fantasy for SI.com. If you miss his Monday baseball trends, Wednesday prospect report or Friday pitching review, you can also find him on Twitter, where you can mock him, rip him and (doubtful) praise him before asking him for fantasy advice @EricMackFantasy. He reads all the messages there (guaranteed) and takes them very, very personally (not really).

 
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