By Ryan Carey
If you were one of the lucky owners out there who targeted Jose Abreu in drafts and passed on the top-ranked options at first base this year, you have to be feeling pretty good as April comes to a close. The hulking Cuban slugger has been better than advertised and should walk away with the Player of the Month award, thanks to his league-leading 10 home runs and 32 RBI, which are both new major league records.
We can see Jose doing well
Ironically, he should edge out a resurgent Albert Pujols, the previous owner of both records that Abreu just smashed. The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim first baseman shared the previous record of nine April dingers with Kent Hrbek and Carlos Delgado as well as having set the old standard for April RBI at 27. At this early stage, it is pretty safe to say that the $68 million dollar contract (a record for a non-Japanese international signing) is looking like the biggest bargain of the offseason.
We here at Mastersball were pretty bullish on Abreu this preseason, but even with one of the more optimistic projections that I saw out there, we were still factoring in considerable risk that left Abreu on the outside of the top 10 at his position. When I highlighted him as a breakout target way back in January, in my first baseball article of the year, I referenced the wide range of outcomes that were possible and the difficulty the fantasy community was having projecting him. My advice at the time was to pay for a .285/80/28/85 line and then hope he hit the ground running, since he could then absolutely blow past those power numbers. Now, he looks like he could hit 28 by the All-Star break.
I have a couple of shares in him this year, and certainly wish I owned him in more places than I do. The average "price" I paid for him in the leagues I own him was an ADP of 92, and on average he was the 12th first baseman drafted where I landed him, which clearly is much lower than it would have been if we all owned crystal balls. How many people would draft Anthony Rizzo, Allen Craig or even the now injured Mark Trumbo over him if they were drafting today? At the very least, he should have been selected in the second wave of first base options that also included Pujols, Eric Hosmer and Adrian Gonzalez.
The biggest questions remaining for Abreu owners is whether or not he can keep this up, and should you just sit back and enjoy the ride or try to cash in while his stock is sky high. First off, the power is real and it isn't going anywhere. He is going to hit home runs, and at times hit them in bunches. While he may not tally double digits in any month the rest of the way, he is one of a handful of players in either league that have a reasonable shot at finishing north of 40 home runs at season's end.
The only blemish in the early going is a strikeout rate that is higher than you would like to see at 22 percent. That is better than Chris Davis territory but lags behind every other player listed above, and it stands as the number to watch going forward. As opposing pitchers start to make adjustments, will the young slugger be able to do likewise? How will he handle his first prolonged slump, which will arrive at some point?
I got a chuckle today when I read a fellow writer's piece, where he uttered the name Chris Shelton while assessing Abreu's value, reminding us all of the former Tiger who dazzled everyone in 2006 with 10 early home runs, only to hit a meager six the rest of the way. While it is a fair enough point to make that April stats are still just that, I think the fantasy community feels much more comfortable that Abreu is here to stay for the rest of the season. The list of players I would trade him for straight up is pretty short, but if I could get a comparable first baseman along with another piece in return, I might be tempted to cash in at least one of my shares seeing as his value may never be higher.
Around the American League
Were it not for Abreu's April heroics, the resurgence of the aforementioned Prince Albert would have been the month's biggest headline. He is a player I wanted no part of this offseason, as I was firmly planted on the side that felt his best days were behind him and there always seemed to be at least one owner who believed in him in all of my drafts this year. With his nine home runs and 22 RBI to start the year, I will at the very least say I am glad to see him terrorizing opposing pitchers again. He is a proud man, and the motivation he showed this spring to put last year behind him has carried over into the season. I congratulate him for that as well as becoming the newest member of the 500 home run club.
Manny is back
Ivan Nova and A.J. Griffin joined the growing list of pitchers headed for Tommy John surgery this year. The New York Yankees will slot rookie Vidal Nuno into the back of their rotation for the time being, but I expect that Brian Cashman is already working the phones and waiver wire looking for other options. David Phelps could eventually bump Nuno, but he is filling in for the suspended and injured Michael Pineda for now.
As for the Oakland Athletics, Griffin joins Jarrod Parker on the sidelines for the rest of the year, but the A's are in less dire straights than the Yankees. Jesse Chavez has been a savior for the staff as a replacement for Parker, and Tommy Milone has held his own and given the team solid, if not spectacular, starts. The Griffin news solidifies his place in the rotation for now, as he was the most likely to get bumped had Griffin made it back healthy.
By the time you read this, Manny Machado should already have been recalled to the big leagues, a few days earlier than expected. His return is pleasant news to those who took the injury discount in drafts. Steve Lombardozzi was optioned to open up the spot, yet Jonathan Schoop probably remains on thin ice. Schoop has shown flashes, but he hasn't hit well enough to seize the job.
The honeymoon could be over for Seattle Mariners outfielder Abraham Almonte. After starting the first 23 games of the season, 22 of those as the leadoff hitter, he finally took a seat on the bench as Michael Saunders stepped in at both center field and as the leadoff hitter. Almonte is hitting just .204 to start the year. The team hasn't pulled the plug just yet, but they did call up Cole Gillespie for additional outfield depth. Almonte may only have until Logan Morrison returns from injury to get his game untracked. The only thing working in his favor right now is the fact that Saunders has been equally lackluster to start the year.
The closer carousel keeps on spinning, this time claiming the Angels' Ernesto Frieri as its latest victim. Veteran Joe Smith will assume closing duties for now and was likely scooped up in all leagues last week. Smith is a capable fill-in, and worth owning for as long as he has the gig, but I am sure the team would like to see Frieri reclaim the job and restore order to the bullpen as soon as he is able. You have to hold him for now and hope for the best.
Speaking of unsettled bullpens, it looks like Jim Johnson is on the verge of reclaiming the closer's job out in Oakland after stringing together six consecutive scoreless appearances since being removed from the role on April 10th. Manager Bob Melvin indicated as much last week, and it seems likely Johnson will get the next opportunity that arises.
Oswaldo Arcia is finally heading out on a rehab assignment and could be back by this weekend. With Chris Colabello continuing to play well, Jason Kubel figures to slide back into a platoon at DH with Josmil Pinto and others for the Minnesota Twins.
I mentioned rookie Marcus Stroman a couple weeks ago as the name at the top of the list for the Toronto Blue Jays if they decided to make a move in their rotation, and it seems like his time could come sooner than expected. The team has aligned his schedule to that of Dustin McGowan, and despite McGowan's OK start on Wednesday, Stroman could be up by the weekend. Time to speculate where you can.
Trevor Bauer is another young arm that could find himself in the rotation soon. Carlos Carrasco has struggled to start the year and has finally been banished to the bullpen. The Cleveland Indians opted to go with Zach McAllister on short rest against the Angels on Wednesday and will need a new fifth starter at some point during the next homestand. Bauer is the leading candidate to get the call, but veteran Josh Tomlin is also an option.