Chase Headley began the season as a fringe waiver wire-type, a former prospect who had seen his fantasy value fall victim to Petco Park's offense-devouring ways. Before this season, Headley was a player who you might pick up either as injury insurance or as an end-draft consolation prize if you missed out on all the top talent at third base. He wouldn't kill your team, because he could hit for a good average and draw some walks, but he wouldn't really help that much, either, because he wasn't much of a power threat. You might have added him to your team with a "do I have to?" look on your face.
Headley was wandering the free agent wire in April this year when I snatched him up in a keeper league, as my third base situation was a mess of 40-year-old Chipper Jones and a bunch of sub-Headley ne'er-do'wells. Desperation can lead you to do crazy things, and in my hour of panic I turned to a player who I didn't fully understand. A player once seen as a future All-Star, but who had hit a whopping four home runs the year before and had sunk into the pit of third-tier fantasy status.
Luckily, in his age-28 season, Headley has become a legitimate fantasy producer. After clubbing his nineteenth home run last night, he's now tied for sixth among third baseman in the category. He's alsp brought his season line to a very solid .277/.370/.465. Since the All-Star Break, he's been a man possessed, OPSing .959 with ten homers. He should easily eclipse the 20-home run mark for the first time, which seems incredible given his middling power numbers in 2011. That OPS would also lap his career-high, and with his typical double-digit production in the stolen base category, he's suddenly turned into a fantastic fantasy option.
There is still one minor problem, and it's known as Petco Park, the bane of many a fantasy owner's existence. Headley's numbers are still unquestionably getting killed by his home ballpark. He's raking at a .284/.390/.521 clip on the road. That line, stretched out over a full season, would make him a fantasy stud. However, at Petco, he's hitting .265/.347/.393 with five homers. That's actually not bad for that park, but we all know that there are no park adjustments in fantasy baseball. It simply makes one wonder just how good Headley could be if he were to move to a friendlier environment.
Which brings me to his keeper league value. Headley was the subject of endless trade rumors at the deadline this year, and while he ended up staying put, he could have a different home come this time next season. The Padres are still in a rebuild mode, and Headley has two more arbitration years ahead of him before free agency. The Pads might elect to unload him instead of giving him the inevitable raise he's due, as they could probably get a decent prospect return for him.
If he does switch teams in the offseason, look out. Headley''s power surge might seem flukish, but his strikeout rate is up a bit, also. You might think that's bad, but it's probably risen because he's taking bigger swings at the ball and working deeper counts (his walk rates are up too). Bigger swings tend to equal long fly balls that leave the ballpark, and Headley appears to be a much more well-rounded hitter this year than ever before. If he can pack his bags to a ballpark that won't swallow every hard hit ball off his bat, you're looking at a potential star fantasy third baseman.
--Is this 2007 again? Ben Zobrist, at shortstop? Yep, everybody's favorite super-utility guy has moved back to his original position, where he's started four of the last five games for the Rays. He hasn't been shortstop-eligible since 2010, back when you could slot him in at like ten different positions. Some have speculated that Joe Maddon will stick with Zobrist as his everyday shortstop for the rest of the season, in an attempt to keep Ryan Roberts in the lineup every day. This is exciting news for Zobrist's fantasy owners, as not only will they soon be able to slot him in at one of the tougher fantasy positions, but they'll be able to do so for next season, as well.
Despite some early struggles (remember when he was hitting .199 as late as June 6? I try not to), he's caught fire recently and has pretty much been the Zorilla we know and love since mid-June. He draws walks, steals some bags, and hits about 15-20 balls over the wall. He's already one of the better second base options (his .817 OPS is sixth among 2B-eligibles), but how would he stack up against the field of fantasy shortstops?
As you may have guessed, pretty darn well. Zobes would easily led all shortstops in walks, and would be sixth in runs. His OPS would be third among shortstop eligibles. He'd slot in pretty much where he does as a second baseman: as a higher-end fantasy option but not a star at the position. If your shortstop situation is weak, and you own Zobrist, this is almost like adding another player. Don't you love in-season eligibility changes?
--Manny Machado is awesome, if you didn't know already. The Orioles called up their blue chip shortstop prospect last week, to the skepticism of more than a few. After all, Machado is just nineteen, and he hadn't played a game above AA. Some argued that the Orioles were rushing him, which stands in stark contrast to the team's treatment of top pitching prospect Dylan Bundy. Machado fared pretty well against older competition, but many wondered if he'd be ready to face major league pitching.
Well, he answered that, and then some, by smashing two home runs in just his second major league game. He's been a popular waiver wire pickup in the past few days, as he entered Monday with three home runs in just sixteen at-bats. Despite not playing any shortstop yet, most leagues have him eligible there, so he'll probably provide decent production at two positions (he'll be the Orioles' starting third baseman from here on out, apparently) for the rest of the season. Keeper league managers, pounce on him.