By Sam McPherson
It’s happened before amid a fantasy baseball season: One of the best players out there gets suspended for performance-enhancing drug use, leaving fantasy owners with a huge hole in the roster and an even larger roster decision. Sometimes, the decision is easy: When 2012 All-Star Game MVP Melky Cabrera of the San Francisco Giants was suspended for PED use in early August that season, dropping him was a no brainer. His suspension basically ended Cabrera’s season, since it came down so late in the year.
This time around it’s Miami Marlins speedster Dee Gordon, who won the National League batting title in 2015. He was suspended for 80 games last week after testing positive for banned substances, and Gordon won’t be back until July 28 at the earliest. That’s a long time from now, and there’s also no guarantee Gordon will be as effective when he returns, thanks to the cloud of suspicion now hovering over his All-Star seasons in 2014 and 2015. Whether to keep him benched or drop him may just depend on how the rest of your roster is comprised.
If Gordon is on your roster, the more immediate concern is how to replace the stolen bases he would have provided for your team. Gordon averaged 61 steals the last two seasons, and now you need to find steals very quickly since you probably drafted Gordon with the idea he would win you that statistical category. You can’t replace him, but perhaps by swapping out a few different players on your roster already, you can try to make up for it by acquiring steals all across the board.
Think of it as the Oakland Athletics’ “Moneyball” approach to replacing Jason Giambi way back in the 2002 season: Perhaps you can find three or four different players with enough steals to get close to the 61 bases Gordon might have swiped for your team in 2016. This probably won’t work, but depending on the other owners in your league, it can’t hurt to give it a try. If you have some “average” players you can replace with these suggestions below, maybe it will help replace Gordon.
Players to Get On Your Roster Now
1. Rajai Davis, OF, Cleveland Indians: This guy always goes undrafted in too many leagues. Davis has stolen 49 bases for every 162 games played in the majors, and maybe because he doesn’t play 162 games a year, fantasy owners shy away. Grab him if you can in your league. He “only” stole 18 bases last year, but Davis already has seven SBs this year. At age 35, he’s not slowing down at all—a benefit of not playing 162 games a year. From 2007-14, Davis averaged 41 steals in only 117 games per season. He also has shown some decent pop with the bat as well, with 30 home runs in the last four seasons combined.
2. Gerardo Parra, OF, Colorado Rockies: First, he plays in Coors Field half the time now, and that will help in power categories. But Parra has five SBs already this season, even though his career-high mark in the category is just 15, which he posted in both 2011 and 2012 when playing for Arizona. Parra also stole 14 bases last season, so he can still run at age 29.
3. Odubel Herrera, OF, Philadelphia Phillies: He stole 16 bases in 2015, and Herrera has four already this season. Better yet, he should hit close to .300, and that can help you replace Gordon’s batting average, too. Throw in the 2 HRs and nine RBI already, and Herrera is probably better than the last few OFs on your roster already. Make the swap and don’t think twice about it.
4. Ian Desmond, SS/OF, Texas Rangers: Just two weeks ago, we suggested giving him up because he wasn’t hitting—and the Rangers have better options. But Desmond has stolen 21 bases every 162 games in the major leagues, and right now, if you need steals because of Gordon’s suspension, Desmond can help your team. His average is up above .200 now, and he has power as well. Picking up players you gave up on earlier is part of the fantasy baseball grind.
Players to Sit/Drop This Week
1. Dee Gordon, 2B, Miami Marlins: We laughed back in 2014 when some owners drafted him so high, and for two years, those owners got the last laugh on us. Now, we just chuckle, because when a player improves so much overnight, this kind of sad circumstance is often a reality. If you rode the Gordon steals train, now it’s time to get off of it and be thankful you got what you did out of him. Gordon still will run when he returns to the game, but he probably won’t be hitting for as high an average or getting on base as much. Those things tend to decline when you return from a drug suspension: Ask Melky or Ryan Braun.
2. Delino DeShields, UTL, Texas Rangers: Normally, this is the guy we would suggest picking up in Gordon’s absence, but DeShields is not hitting well this year at all—and he’s not running well, either. He has just two steals while being caught stealing three times. Toss in a .221 batting average and a .601 OPS, and DeShields is off to a bad start. If you can stash him on the bench for now, do it, but if you can’t, grab one of the players above instead and reap the benefits.
3. Brad Miller, SS/OF, Tampa Bay Rays: He was expected to make the leap this year, after being traded to Tampa, but Miller’s hitting has gotten even worse. After hitting .258 with 11 HRs and 13 SBs last year, he was a sleeper pick for many in fantasy drafts this year for his speed/power combo in the middle-infield slot. With a .185 average and one stolen base right now, Miller is not the answer for anyone’s team.
4. Kevin Pillar, OF, Toronto Blue Jays: Bench him for now, because after stealing 25 bases in 2015, he only has two swipes this season. His numbers across the board are about the same as last year, but the steals just haven’t been piling up yet. Be patient, because they will come. You don’t want to drop this guy and then watch him end up with 30-plus steals for the owner that ends up winning your league.
Sam McPherson is a freelance writer covering baseball, football, basketball, golf, hockey and fantasy sports for CBS, AXS and Examiner. He also is an Ironman triathlete and certified triathlon coach.