Free-agent finds to help win crucial categories in September

In need of a few more homers before the season ends? Tristan H. Cockcroft recommends players who can offer some much-needed help in multiple categories. Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Proper player valuation -- typically represented by rankings and projections -- is important at any stage of the fantasy baseball season.

In September, however, categorical needs are paramount. In Rotisserie leagues, all that matters is maximizing your categorical standings, and that often means swapping (adding/dropping) a player generally regarded as more valuable for one perceived to be less valuable, simply to address a specific team need.

Here are players currently owned in no more than 60 percent of ESPN leagues who offer Rotisserie upside in specific categories you may need to gain points in your league.

Home runs

Yasiel Puig, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers (40.7 percent owned): Home runs are hardly something easily found off the wire, but Puig has both the history and a situation in which he might quickly work his way into everyday at-bats, considering the Dodgers both could use his bat as they continue to fight for playoff positioning and stand to audition him for a possible offseason trade. This is the first time in his five professional U.S. seasons that he has posted sub-.185 isolated power (combining stats at all pro levels), but since June 21, the day he was activated off the DL by the big-league club following his recovery from a hamstring injury, his number in that category is .192. The "struggles of Yasiel Puig" have been greatly exaggerated.

Domingo Santana, OF, Milwaukee Brewers (2.4 percent owned): He has been largely forgotten after spending more than two months on the DL with an elbow injury, then making only eight of 18 starts following his Aug. 19 activation. Power, however, is the name of Santana's game, evidenced by his two home runs on Sunday, both of which traveled 410 feet. Should the Brewers, a rebuilding team, choose to take a longer look at Santana as they plan 2017 roles, they could squeeze another 5-7 homers out of him. Keep in mind that the Brewers have seven more games at Miller Park, and three apiece at Colorado's Coors Field, Texas' Globe Life Park, Cincinnati's Great American Ball Park and Chicago's Wrigley Field, all of which generally favor power.

Stephen Cardullo, 2B, Colorado Rockies (0.1 percent owned): If there's one team to which to look for power, it's the Rockies, with their Coors Field bump. In Cardullo's case, his role isn't sizable yet -- he's the right-handed, first base platoon partner for Gerardo Parra -- but in limited pro-ball time he seems to fit the profile of a fly ball-oriented hitter who might serve a perfect fit for his home environment. Cardullo did, after all, post .214 isolated power in the hitting-friendly Triple-A Pacific Coast League, and as a rookie baller in the Arizona Diamondbacks organization in 2011 he hit fly balls more than 40 percent of the time. The team might as well keep giving him chances while he's hitting, and hey, he's second base eligible.

Stolen bases

Jose Peraza, 2B/SS/OF, Cincinnati Reds (21.0 percent owned): The Reds have been creative in getting Peraza into their lineup, giving him starts at second base, shortstop, left field and center field and 13 total starts in 16 games since his recall, and in fact have slotted him first or second in the order in nine of those contests. Peraza has swiped at least 25 bases in every one of his five professional seasons entering this one -- he needs one more for a sixth straight year -- and he's adept enough making contact to hit for a high enough average to fuel the stolen-base category.

Jarrod Dyson, OF, Kansas City Royals (12.0 percent owned): With starts in 10 of the Royals' past 12 games, Dyson might give a perception of a burgeoning regular, but keep in mind that much of his additional playing time has been the result of a Lorenzo Cain injury. Still, even when Dyson returns to his fourth/fifth outfielder role, he's quick enough and skilled enough with the glove to receive more playing time than your typical reserve. In fact, he's the first player in the history of baseball to steal as many as 25 bases in five separate seasons during which he came to the plate fewer than 400 times, and his came in each of the past five years.

Mallex Smith, OF, Atlanta Braves (2.1 percent owned): He has started a rehabilitation assignment with Double-A Mississippi, a team that qualified for the Southern League playoffs (Sept. 7-11), and could be ready to rejoin the Braves' outfield by mid-September. Though the Braves' outfield lacks an everyday path to at-bats as currently aligned, Smith has 80-grade speed and could contribute a handful of steals even if limited to pinch-running duty. After all, he has swiped 26 bases in 62 career Double-A games, 35 in 72 Triple-A games and 14 in 58 big-league games.


Kyle Barraclough, RP, Miami Marlins (9.3 percent owned): He has the ninth-best WAR (Wins Above Replacement) among relief pitchers during the second half; that's how good he has been of late. Barraclough does have a problem with walks -- he has a 13.7 percent rate during that same time span, significantly higher than the league's 9.1 percent -- but he has otherwise outpitched every other member of the Marlins' bullpen, including by a wide margin over Fernando Rodney and A.J. Ramos, the two men who have served as the team's closer at times this season. With the postseason quickly slipping away from the Marlins, the team might soon want to give him a look.

Mauricio Cabrera, RP, Atlanta Braves (4.6 percent owned): Jim Johnson has been excellent as the Braves' closer -- he's 13-for-14 in save chances with a 1.66 ERA in 23 second-half appearances -- which is a lot of the reason why Cabrera has been relegated to setup duty despite good numbers of his own during that time span. Still, if you've followed Johnson's career closely, you know that as a pitch-to-contact ground baller, he's much more subject to streakiness than your average closer. If he loses the feel for his two-seam fastball, the Braves might give a brief, late-September audition to Cabrera to get a head start on 2017.

Michael Lorenzen, RP, Cincinnati Reds (1.2 percent owned): There have already been whispers that Lorenzen is the Reds' future in the ninth inning, and since the All-Star break he has certainly looked the part, with a 2.64 ERA, 1.10 WHIP and 22.5 percent strikeout rate in 20 appearances. More importantly, however, Lorenzen's two-seam fastball/slider combination has been excellent at generating swings and misses and ground balls, which is the kind of low-risk skill set you want from a pitcher in the role. Tony Cingrani hasn't necessarily done anything wrong, going 6-for-7 in save chances with a 3.94 ERA in 17 games during that same time frame, but Lorenzen's ceiling is higher of the two. We're talking categorical sleepers, anyway.


Carlos Rodon, SP, Chicago White Sox (51.8 percent owned): The conversation at season's start centered upon the White Sox's changing catchers during the 2015-16 offseason, and what that might mean for Rodon from a pitch-framing perspective. Well, since Rodon's return to the team's rotation on July 31, he has six quality starts in seven tries, a 2.66 ERA, 1.11 WHIP and 21.5 percent strikeout rate, all of those with Omar Narvaez as his catcher; they were also his first games working with Narvaez in 2016. Rodon's slider, his strikeout pitch, has recaptured its elite form during that time, as his .059 wOBA allowed with the pitch is tops in the major leagues.

Robbie Ray, SP, Arizona Diamondbacks (33.4 percent owned): Bargain strikeout sources tend to pitch for non-contending teams, where they fly more beneath the radar, their skills adjustments less typically noticed. Consider this: Since July 1, Ray has 83 strikeouts in 11 starts, eighth-most in the majors, and a 30.5 percent strikeout rate (calculated as a percentage of batters faced), second only to Chris Archer (30.6 percent). Ray has thrown his slider with two strikes a whopping 31 percent of the time, resulting in 29 of those K's, while his fastball has averaged 94.6 mph in all counts.

Luke Weaver, SP, St. Louis Cardinals (31.7 percent owned): Thus far, his largely low-90s-fastball/changeup combo has been successful at the big-league level, and he's in a good ballpark for his fly-ball tendencies. In Weaver's case, though, it's the schedule that stands out for strikeouts. Projecting forward, these would be his five probable matchups: MIL (Sept. 10), @SF (Sept. 15), @COL (Sept. 20), CIN (Sept. 26) and PIT (Oct. 1). The Coors matchup is obviously one to avoid -- and it'll come in a one-start week, for you weekly-league players -- but the rest are all solid.