AL Waiver Wire:  Week 4

Johnny Damon| Tampa Bay| OF| 33 percent Yahoo! ownership
YTD: .260/.288/.442
Oliver ROS: .280/.357/.446

After opening his Rays’ tenure 1-for-19, Johnny Damon has settled in quite nicely with 19 hits in his next 58 at bats. Damon’s walk rate is just about non-existent in the early going at just 3.7 percent, but I’d expect that to work its way closer to his career 9.3 percent mark. The exciting thing for his owners is the power and speed he has exhibited in the early going muscling out four home runs and swiping three bases. Batting second should help him yield healthy run and RBI totals in addition to his power-speed combination. Playing his home games at Tropicana Field is likely to cap his home run potential, but given his hot start, 15-18 home runs at season’s end don’t appear a total pipe dream, one year after he slugged just eight.

Rays manager Joe Maddon has never been shy about letting his players run, and with early season success, I’d be willing to guess that if he stays healthy Damon will steal over 20 bases for the first time since 2008. Likely owned in deeper leagues, it is still surprising to see a name brand player like Damon available in 67 percent of Yahoo! leagues.

Recommendation: Should be owned in leagues where 50 or more outfielders are rostered.

Matt Joyce| Tampa Bay| OF| 3 percent Yahoo! ownership
YTD: .286/.348/.397
Oliver ROS: .254/.344/.471

Matt Joyce actually one-upped teammate Damon in terms of cold starts, opening just 1-for-20, but has since settled into a groove. Joyce struggles with southpaws, and frequently sits against them, but those in deeper leagues with bench flexibility should take note of his success against righties (.260/.354/.508 with 25 home runs in 492 at-bats in his major league career). He’s a cheap source of power who should post solid RBI totals if the Rays continue to slot him somewhere in the heart of the order against righties upon Evan Longoria’s return.

Recommendation: Should be owned in some large mixed leagues as well as most AL-only leagues.

Hank Conger| Los Angeles Angels)| C| 3 percent Yahoo! ownership
YTD: .275/.341/.475
Oliver ROS: .254/.344/.471

Angels manager Mike Scioscia appears to finally realizing that Jeff Mathis simply isn’t a starting catcher, and has split the playing time essentially 50-50 at the position with Hank Conger.

Conger has outperformed Mathis, and unlike previous Angels backup catcher Mike Napoli, isn’t a liability behind the plate, making him a guy Scioscia, a former catcher, should feel comfortable using regularly. Baseball America rated Conger as the fourth best prospect in the organization, and John Sickels, as of January, rated him a “B,” prospect. He has hit for a high average in his minor league career, he doesn’t strike out often, and he’s shown the ability to take a walk, all things that should help him transition to big league pitching and post a respectable average at the highest level. At the moment, his power is mostly of the doubles variety, but he has ripped a couple of home runs in the early going and taken to the air a bit with a 43.8 percent flyball rate (small sample size caution).

A catcher with Conger’s upside should be owned in many more leagues than he currently is. Likely hurting his ownership total is the time share with Mathis; as his playing time nudges its way up, expect his ownership to follow suit. Those in two-catcher leagues should have gobbled him up already, but if he’s available, grab him. Conger has enough upside that he could find his way onto single catcher mixed league rosters if things break right, and should be on watch lists in all but the shallowest of leagues.

Recommendation: Should be owned in all two-catcher leagues. Should be owned in some large single-catcher mixed leagues and most AL-only leagues.

Joel Pineiro| Los Angeles Angels| SP| 4 percent Yahoo! ownership
YTD: Injured
Oliver ROS: 3.92 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 5.1 K/9, 1.8 BB/9

One of Dave Duncan’s reclamation projects, Joel Pineiro pitched effectively after leaving his tutelage for a healthy payday to don an Angels cap. He opened the season on the disabled list, but Pineiro is set to be activated to start against Tampa Bay on Saturday. Not a flashy player who’s going to post gaudy strikeout totals, but an effective one nonetheless. Pineiro attacks the strike zone, issuing few free passes and inducing tons of ground balls. Should he not be unlucky with his BABIP and home run-per-flyball (HR/FB) results, Pineiro has a chance to post helpful ERA and WHIP totals that closely mirror his 2009 and 2010 marks. Players in Pineiro’s mold have very little room for error, so should his walk rate rise and no longer be elite, or his ground balls begin turning into fly balls, he will quickly fade into fantasy irrelevance unless it coincides with a rise in strikeouts.

He’s not a perfect fit for all league types, as those in roto-leagues with a low innings cap will either be better suited looking for a starter with a higher K/9, or flanking him with a couple of high strikeout relievers to prop up team totals. Those in head-to-head leagues, and leagues with tough-to-reach innings caps shouldn’t be as concerned with his low strikeout rate. Regardless of league type or size, it’s probably best to sit him in his first start back against a hot Rays squad.

Recommendation: Should be owned in some large mixed leagues, and some AL-only leagues.

A Hardball Times Update
Goodbye for now.

Gavin Floyd| Chicago (American League)| SP| 55 percent Yahoo! ownership
YTD: 3.60 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 8.49, 2.06 BB/9, 50.5 GB
Oliver ROS: 3.82 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 7.1 K/9, 2.7 BB/9

Owned in more leagues than players I typically care to cover, Gavin Floyd is still unowned in entirely too many leagues, hence his inclusion this week. Floyd has seen his groundball rate increase each of the last two seasons, and he can now officially be labeled an extreme groundballer: His worm-burning ways have carried over to this season. In addition, he is striking out more batters this season while walking fewer. Floyd’s lights-out June and July last season show the type of brilliance he is capable of when things are clicking. At 28 years of age, his best full season may still be ahead of him. Jump on board for the ride this year.

Recommendation: Should be owned in all but the shallowest of mixed leagues.

J.P. Howell| Tampa Bay| SP/RP| 2 percent Yahoo! ownership
YTD: Injured
Oliver ROS: 3.91 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 8.8 K/9, 3.4 BB/9

Questions surround J.P. Howell, who missed all of the 2010 season after having surgery to repair a torn labrum in his shoulder, but reports of his work in extended spring training games are positive.

Howell has excelled since the Rays decided to shift him to the bullpen, racking up lots of strikeouts in spite of an underwhelming fastball that sits in the mid-80s. Kyle Farnsworth has pitched well in the closer role for the Rays thus far, so Howell’s opportunity to pick up saves may come exclusively in a vulture capacity when the team would be better off trotting out a southpaw in place of their regular ninth inning man. Those in leagues that count holds should consider stashing him on the disabled list now. Perhaps the greatest appeal behind Howell is Yahoo’s inexplicable decision to award him starting pitching eligibility.

He’s set to begin a rehab assignment soon, so keep an eye on his early results, as recovery from shoulder surgery can be a bit dicey. (Just ask Erik Bedard and Brandon Webb.

Recommendation: Should be monitored in large mixed leagues and AL-only formats.

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