It might seem an unusual strategy considering the time of year, but it's the truth: Chances must be taken in September.
Well, let's amend that: Chances must be taken in September, within reason.
We've all heard the advice that a contending fantasy baseball team should never sit its stars. "Go with the guys who got you there" is often said. And that's true when talking about healthy, consistent, everyday players. For example, Felix Hernandez's owners should never bench him, despite his 5.09 ERA and average Game Score of 46 during his past three starts. That's being too risky.
But in this era of rest days, teams playing for next season and increasingly conservative approaches to injuries, it's the peripheral spots of your roster that warrant some risk-taking. One cannot afford to sit through a lesser player's slumps, or wait for a day-to-day player knowing that major league teams now have expanded rosters to give him as much time as he needs to heal. It's that latter group in particular that stands out; many owners might be seeking fill-ins for injured stars.
Here is merely a small list of active -- as in, on their real-life teams' active rosters -- players dealing with multiday ailments that threaten the remainder of their seasons. There's a realistic chance that not a single one will play another game in 2014.
Need a September replacement for any? Beyond merely the rankings below, which encompass projected player value from today through the Sept. 28 regular-season conclusion -- a mere 26-day span, or the epitome of a small sample size -- let's examine a few under-the-radar names who might surprise in the coming weeks. These are players with ceilings considerably higher than the rankings below, in case you need to take some major risks.
Mookie Betts, CF, Boston Red Sox: He soared more than 110 spots to enter the top 250 at No. 140, on the strength of .315/.413/.556 rates to go with three homers and three steals while playing every inning in center field during Boston's past 15 games. Let's say this: It's about time the Red Sox played Betts. He was, after all, a .346/.431/.529 hitter during his Double- and Triple-A career (99 games played, all in 2014), averaging 18 home runs and 54 stolen bases per 162 games, and he was Keith Law's No. 22 prospect during his May re-rank. Betts' leap in the rankings this week recognizes his stable rest-of-year role, as well as the power/speed combo that might have him still ranked 50-plus spots too low. The Player Rater illustrates that he's the No. 19 player overall on the "Last 15" split.
Jarrod Dyson, CF, Kansas City Royals: His is a play for stolen bases, as he's sixth in the majors in the category (33), despite having made fewer than half the trips to the plate of anyone in the top five. More importantly, though, Dyson has been as productive a base stealer as practically anyone lately: His 15 steals since the All-Star break rank third (and are two off Billy Hamilton's lead), and his nine steals in August rank fifth (and are three off Hamilton's lead). As cited several times in this space, the Royals have one of the most favorable remaining schedules for hitters, and Dyson's risk is low. Besides, he has a .289 batting average this season and a 79.2 percent career contact rate, so he's a smart pickup for those seeking to fill the steals category. I rarely rank literal one-category performers -- and Dyson's limited at-bats indeed label him that -- but there's a scenario by which he could be a top-150 player in September.
Kevin Quackenbush, RP, San Diego Padres: Considered a sleeper for saves following July's Huston Street trade -- mostly because Street's immediate replacement, Joaquin Benoit, was a trade candidate himself -- Quackenbush has earned a few looks in the role due to an injury to Benoit. As things stand, Benoit will miss at least the next eight to 10 days; there's an excellent chance that Quackenbush might find himself the Padres' closer the remainder of the year, in which case he's a top-25 rather than top-40 caliber fantasy closer. After all, he has enjoyed nothing but success as a pro, with a 1.16 ERA, 1.07 WHIP and 33.2 percent strikeout rate during his minor league career, and a 2.37 ERA, 1.26 WHIP and 25.0 percent strikeout rate for the Padres since the All-Star break, 20 of his 21 appearances beginning in the eighth inning or later and 19 of 21 in Padres wins (he's 8-for-9 in saves plus holds chances during that time).
Dilson Herrera, 2B, New York Mets: Second base isn't the easiest position to fill off the waiver wire this deep in the year, which is why a prospect like Herrera warrants a look. He's good at many things, yet not exceptional at any one; he was a .297/.365/.460 hitter who averaged 15 homers and 29 steals per 162 games played in the minors. The most legitimate concern about Herrera is his age and experience; he's a 20-year-old with just 61 games' experience at the Double-A level (plus his five for the Mets). Still, with Daniel Murphy's season potentially over (right calf injury), Herrera should receive a full slate of at-bats. He's well worth the dice roll if you're an owner of Murphy, or Dustin Pedroia, another player whose season appears to be in jeopardy.
Aaron Sanchez, SP/RP, Toronto Blue Jays: Those digging deeeeeeeep for saves might want to consider Sanchez, who carries additional value in pitching position-specific leagues, as he's a starter/relief dual eligible. Though long considered a future mid- to front-of-a-rotation pitching prospect, Sanchez's stuff has helped him thrive in relief as a rookie; he has a 65.5 percent ground-ball rate and a 7-to-1 K-to-walk ratio thanks to his combination of a two-seam fastball and curveball. He has quietly elevated himself to one of the top spots in the Jays' bullpen, scoring two holds and one save in his past seven appearances, and manager John Gibbons recently told the National Post that he plans to use Sanchez in multi-inning closer situations on occasion. Considering Casey Janssen's recent struggles -- 6-for-8 in save chances with a 7.47 ERA and five home runs allowed in 18 games since the All-Star break -- Sanchez might not be as far off earning the majority of the team's save chances as you think.
Carlos Carrasco, RP, Cleveland Indians: It is extremely difficult to give a pitcher like Carrasco even the ranking he received this week; based on recent performance, it's certainly tempting. Since joining the Indians' rotation on Aug. 10, he has three wins, three quality starts, a 0.90 ERA, 0.83 WHIP, 29.8 percent strikeout rate and 48.7 percent ground ball rate that make him look like quite the low-risk pitcher. He is the No. 8 pitcher overall on our Player Rater's "Last 30" split. Still, it's difficult to ignore that Carrasco has made just nine starts all season and has a 4.62 career ERA, his front-of-rotation potential from back in his prospect days having never been realized at this level. To declare him a potential top-30 starting pitcher from today forward isn't unreasonable. It's rather daring, yes, but it's hardly unreasonable if you can afford to take some risks.
Jarred Cosart, SP, Miami Marlins: He's 4-for-5 in quality starts with a 1.64 ERA and 1.03 WHIP since joining the Marlins, and he admits he's pitching with a chip on his shoulder as a result of his July 31 trade from the Houston Astros. "I didn't have a contract. I wasn't a high-paid guy, and it's kind of a slap in the face when you get traded from an organization that's one of the worst organizations in baseball over the last three years," he told the Miami Herald. Whether you believe in the added motivation or not, one thing that can't be overlooked is Cosart's more aggressive approach: On the first pitch to a hitter, he has thrown a pitch in the strike zone 5 percent more often; the result has been a 5.4 percent walk rate (compared to 10.1 while with the Astros). Cosart now has one of the most pitching-friendly environments in baseball to call home, and his Marlins play many games against their National League East rivals who rank 13th, 23rd, 27th and 28th in weighted on-base average. He's not a swing-and-miss type pitcher, but with a schedule like his, he could be a September surprise.
And now, here are the top 250, going-forward rankings:
Tristan H. Cockcroft's top 250 "going-forward" rankings
For a detailed rankings breakdown by position, click here.