- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
There’s little positive in the news that St. Louis Cardinals ace right-hander Adam Wainwright is likely to miss the rest of the season with an Achilles injury, but fantasy owners should at least be on the lookout for his eventual replacement in lefty Marco Gonzales. Currently on the disabled list himself at Triple-A Memphis with what was initially called minor shoulder tightness, Gonzales, 23, has an enticing track record of success through the minors and certainly didn’t appear overwhelmed as a Cardinal last season, striking out nearly a batter per inning. For now, the Cardinals will likely turn to one of several other Memphis lefties to replace Wainwright in Tim Cooney or Tyler Lyons, neither of whom excites for fantasy purposes. Meanwhile, right-hander Carlos Martinez, originally battling with Gonzales and off to an excellent start in the majors, gains security.
Wainwright, 33, a sixth-round selection in ESPN live drafts and 15th among starting pitchers, finished 2014 as fantasy’s No. 5 pitcher, and he’s one of the better options of this era. The key is this era isn’t over. There was concern about his pitching elbow, both for workload purposes and because it needed surgical repair after last season; plus, Wainwright was slowed in March by an abdominal strain. But the statistics after four outings didn’t show a struggling hurler, though fastball velocity continued to drop. Wainwright probably deserved a better ranking in drafts, but the narrative of his age and injury potential pushed him down. While those in keeper and dynasty formats lose him for 2015, at least he won’t be throwing another 200 innings. His right arm will be relatively preserved for 2016, a glimmer if you will, and there’s little concern about the Achilles injury lingering. Wainwright will be a coveted starting pitcher again, perhaps a borderline top-10 choice.
While it might seem unfair to replace a longtime ace like Wainwright with someone relatively new to the scene like Milwaukee Brewers right-hander Jimmy Nelson, he is among the top pitchers over the past 15 days still available in half of ESPN’s standard leagues. Nelson boasts a 1.35 ERA and 0.70 WHIP, and while he cannot continue at that rate, there is season-long upside and the potential for 200 innings. Or perhaps he’s this season’s Jacob deGrom. After all, when deGrom starred early on upon his 2014 recall, few fantasy owners seemed interested. Others among the top pitchers so far this season who remain readily available, in order of their Player Rater ranking, include Los Angeles Angels lefty Hector Santiago, Philadelphia Phillies right-hander Aaron Harang, Baltimore Orioles right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez, Arizona Diamondbacks right-hander Rubby De La Rosa and Texas Rangers right-hander Yovani Gallardo. I wouldn’t recommend any of them, to be honest and blunt.
Instead, don’t look at the small sample size numbers after three weeks of the young season and consider investing in Toronto Blue Jays right-hander Drew Hutchison, who is on the verge of blossoming. Last season’s strikeout rate told us much. Take a chance on Oakland Athletics lefty Drew Pomeranz, still trying to figure things out but with pinpoint command so far. New York Yankees right-hander Nathan Eovaldi brings strikeout potential, though he struggled Sunday night against the New York Mets. Orioles right-hander Miguel Gonzalez is better than most realize, among the AL ERA leaders since last July. His teammate Kevin Gausman will be excellent once Jimenez or another rotation mate melts down or gets hurt, creating opportunity. And Seattle Mariners youngsters Taijuan Walker and James Paxton are each better than they’ve looked so far, and not because of any irrelevant spring numbers.
For those in deeper leagues, we’ll use 10 percent owned in standard formats as our guideline: Chicago Cubs right-hander Jason Hammel has been a bit unlucky so far and is scheduled for two starts this week. San Francisco Giants right-hander Tim Hudson is older and brings scant upside but is generally safe for ERA and WHIP. Brewers right-hander Kyle Lohse looked considerably better in his last outing than in his first three and boasts four consecutive seasons with a 1.17 WHIP or better. Miami Marlins right-hander Jarred Cosart, Diamondbacks right-hander Chase Anderson, Pittsburgh Pirates right-hander Vance Worley and Minnesota Twins right-hander Kyle Gibson are also mainly forgotten based on ownership figures, but they are certainly capable of being top-75 starting pitchers for standard leagues. Perhaps one of these guys even turns in a valuable 200-inning season, similar to what was expected from the fallen Wainwright.
Eric Karabell discusses potential options to replace Adam Wainwright, including one of his teammates