Flame-throwing Nationals reliever Henry Rodriguez could pick up saves in Drew Storen's absence. (Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images)
Here I was, all ready to start the week with Opening Night on Sunday Night Baseball, and it turns out that the season doesn't even officially start until Wednesday. You mean I have to wait three more whole days? What is this? I have to slog through a whole work week just to get to a full day's worth of baseball? First the extra wild card, then the draft pick shenanigans in the new CBA, and now this!
At least we finally get real baseball. There's sort of a demoralizing feeling watching Spring exhibition games, like it's some sort of bland facsimile of a real game, a soulless clone. You'll sit and watch because, hey, it's baseball, and anything baseball after a long, cold winter of lesser sports is good enough. But once the starters head for the showers in the third inning and the extra outfielders with triple digits on their backs trot out to finish the games, you start to yearn for the real thing. Thank heavens, it's almost here!
As teams get ready to break camp and begin playing games that mean something, there has been the usual mixture of player injuries and ill-advised promotions based on comically small Spring sample size. If you're going into this week's opening contests with some holes on your team, whether due to injury or to draft oversight, here are some waiver wire pickups who could help you in the season's first couple of weeks.
Henry Rodriguez, Washington Nationals
When news broke that Drew Storen would start the season on the Disabled List, the first name mentioned to take his place in the interim was long-time closer Brad Lidge. However, given some of the language we heard from Davey Johnson last season and given Johnson's long history of trusting young players, I wouldn't be shocked at all to see Rodriguez get the nod in the ninth until Storen returns.
Davey Johnson has always been a manager willing to throw young players into pivotal roles in lieu of "safe" veterans, going back to his days with the Mets. Rodriguez throws harder than hell and would have future closer written all over him if only he could figure out where the ball is going. After some comical walk totals in the minor leagues, Rodriguez has improved his control in the bigs, but "improve" is a relative term. He still walked 6.2 batters per nine innings last season, and threw fourteen wild pitches.
When you throw 100 mph, though, you're going to get every opportunity to fall on your face. Rodriguez has had a dominant Spring, and his control improved in September last season and has been good in a limited sample this year. Pick him up and root for him to discover a modicum of control, because if he does, he'll be a good reliever, a future closer, and one of the most entertaining pitchers to watch in the entire league.
Here we go. Juan Francisco, starting third baseman. Baseball fans, get ready to engage in the Juan Francisco drinking game: take a shot every time he flails at a breaking ball that bounces three feet in the dirt in front of home plate. You should require hospitalization by his third at bat.
I actually liked the Francisco trade for the Reds, because they netted a potentially useful reliever prospect for a redundant (for them) spare infielder. Francisco has light-tower power, and is the kind of hitter who sends mistakes to Neptune if pitchers aren't careful enough. Don't rule out the potential for him to get hot in Chipper Jones's absence and cluster a few home runs together in the next couple of weeks. A decent option if your third base situation is lacking.
The Red Sox brought in the high-socked Phillie-Killer to serve as a lefty-mashing fourth outfielder, but the injury to Carl Crawford will push him into left field on Opening Day. Ross is what he is: a low-average, decent-power guy who can look like Joe Dimaggio for three week stretches (any Giants fan can tell you that) and then disappear for a month. He's a decent option for some cheap home runs as long as Crawford is hurt and perhaps even longer if the Sox get tired of Ryan Sweeney in right field.
I'm pretty sure Johnson is going to suffer a season-ending wrist injury by the time I finish typing this sentence, but if by some miracle he makes it to Opening Day without the aid of crutches, he's a nice sleeper for those in need of first base help. The good: Johnson is hitting the ball well this Spring and the only player blocking him in the battle for Orioles DH is the completely uninspiring Wilson Betemit. The bad: Johnson hasn't played a major league game since May of 2010 with the Yankees, when he put up one of the most ridiculous lines you'll ever see (.167/.388/.308) before going down for the umpteenth time with wrist problems.
I've always been a big fan, and I think he's worth a pickup in deeper leagues. His power might be gone because of all the wrist problems, but if he can stay out of the trainer's room, he can help you in the batting average and walks (and, by extension, OPS) categories.
Seattle outfielders Franklin Gutierrez and Mike Carp both have gone down with injuries this Spring, and that has started a chain reaction (mostly of crap) in the Mariner lineup. Michael Saunders will start in center field, Chone Figgins will shift from third base to left field, and Kyle Seager will play third and attempt to replicate his minor league success at the big league level. Seager has done nothing but hit in the minor leagues and he's having a torrid Spring. Seeing as how the Mariners need all the help they can get on offense, he's a worthy candidate to give extended playing time to. He could hit his way right to regular at-bats and push Figgins to the bench, so take a flyer on him.