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J.J. Hardy Solid On The Field, Not In Fantasy Leagues

It wasn’t that long ago when J.J. Hardy was one of the better fantasy shortstops available. In 2013 he had 25 HR and 76 RBI and provided even more consistency and productivity with his Gold Glove-caliber defense. His glove is expected to keep him in the Baltimore lineup heading into the 2016 slate, but his days as a full-time starter and a viable fantasy option are numbered. An ailing back hampered Hardy in 2014 before shoulder and groin injuries landed him on the disabled list on two occasions last season. As a result, he has failed to reach double digits in HR in each of the past two campaigns and is coming off a career-worst .219 BA with a career-high strikeout rate of 20.1 percent.

If Hardy can stay healthy at the age of 34 and maintain some semblance of consistency at the plate, he should remain a fixture in Buck Showalter’s lineup. But given his recent trends and possibility of Manny Machado making the move from third to short, Hardy looks to be little more than a fantasy backup in AL-only leagues.

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Brewers Release Pat Misch

After signing lefty Pat Misch this off-season to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training, the Milwaukee Brewers released the veteran on Thursday. Misch opted to take more guaranteed money with the Orix Buffaloes in Japan, and the Brewers granted him a release. Misch was considered a long shot to make the Brewers' opening day roster, as he has not pitched in the big leagues since 2011. Misch holds a career 4.80 ERA and 1.42 WHIP in 200.2 innings. Even if Misch resurfaces with another team, he won't carry any real Fantasy value.

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Chris Tillman Provides Decent Depth While Looking To Rebound

The Orioles’ return to contention coincided in part with the emergence of Chris Tillman, beginning in 2013, when he went 16-7, 3.79 and struck out a career-high 179 batters. The righthander pitched just as well a year later by lowering his ERA to 3.34 and limiting opponents to a .238 norm. The 2015 slate, conversely, was not good for either Tillman or the O’s. His 4.99 ERA tied for fourth-worst among pitchers with at least 150 IP, and opponents increased their success rate to .267. His K rate also dropped for the second straight season and his WHIP rose to 1.39, all of which made his mediocre 11-11 record look better than it was. Rumors floated that Tillman tried to pitch through an ailing back last season, and he reported to spring training in good health. Chances are he will bounce back in 2016 and pitch better than he did last year, but expecting Tillman to repeat his 2013-14 performance is a reach. Consider him a solid depth starter in AL-only fantasy leagues or a reserve in mixed leagues.

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Adam Jones Is Still Valuable But Is On The Decline

It would be easy to write off last season as a lost year for Adam Jones, who missed 25 games due to a multitude of nagging injuries despite avoiding the DL. After all, it marked the first time in four years that Jones had not played in nearly every contest, and he still managed to accumulate at least 25 2B, 25 HR and 80 RBI for the fifth consecutive campaign.

Yet as Jones enters his age 31 season, he is showing signs of gradual decline. His batting average has dropped in each of the last three seasons, to .269 in 2015, and he rarely steals bases nowadays. He also continues to strike out at a high rate (100+ in 7 of 8 seasons) and has never walked more than 36 times in a single year, resulting in a career OBP of .319. Fantasy owners can expect Jones to generate some power, such as 25 HR, 75 RBI and 75 R, but he is no longer an early-round consideration.

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Ryan Flaherty Good For Buck Showalter, Bad For Fantasy Owners

Every team needs a Ryan Flaherty--a versatile defender who can give guys a day off at multiple positions while making the occasional contribution on offense. Flaherty does his job well in Baltimore and will once again see activity at all four infield slots as well as a couple of games in the outfield.

Fantasy owners, however, should not be tempted. Flaherty has a career slash line of .215/.282/.365, has averaged 8 HR and 27 RBI in his big league tenure, and has a career-high of 281 AB, which came in 2014. Even if he should attain a temporary starting assignment due to an injury or the likes of Jonathan Schoop taking a step backwards, fantasy owners should look elsewhere for assistance, even in deep AL-only leagues.

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Expect Better Power Numbers From Mark Trumbo In 2016

The Orioles acquired Mark Trumbo over the winter to play first base when it appeared that Chris Davis would not return as a free agent. Even though Davis wound up re-signing with the Birds, Trumbo will still see some playing time, which bodes well for fantasy owners needing power.

He got off to a strong start at Arizona last year before struggling after being sent to Seattle and spacious Safeco Field. Trumbo has averaged nearly 30 HR and 87 RBI during campaigns with 500 AB, and shifting his home base to Camden Yards while hitting in the middle of a potent lineup will make those numbers a reality once again. Do not expect anything in stolen bases and nothing more than a .240 BA, but 30 HR, 90 RBI and 70 R are possible. Those who pick Trumbo in the middle rounds as a DH or at 1B or pay an extra dollar or two will be rewarded handsomely with premium power output.

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Corey Knebel the Closer of the Future for the Milwaukee Brewers

Corey Knebel had a spectacular rookie campaign in 2015, and he hopes to provide more of the same for fantasy owners in 2016. Seeing his potential, the Brewers acquired him in the trade that sent Yovani Gallardo to Texas before the start of the 2015 season. Knebel dominated his way through the minors after being drafted out of the University of Texas in 2013. It took him just 91.2 minor-league innings to rack up 126 strikeouts, while posting a 2.16 ERA and 0.98 WHIP.

Knebel was called up last May and never looked back. He posted a 3.22 ERA and 1.21 WHIP, while racking up 58 strikeouts in just 50.1 IP. With a fastball that sits in the mid-90’s, and strikeout “stuff”, Knebel fits the prototype of the new wave of MLB closers. He will likely face competition at the beginning of the season from Will Smith and Jeremy Jeffress, but expect Knebel to eventually emerge as the closer.

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Matt Garza a Very Deep Sleeper With Potential

It's safe to say that 2015 was the worst season in Matt Garza’s career. That being said, he shouldn’t be completely given up on just yet. Garza posted a 5.63 ERA and 1.57 WHIP in 148.2 IP in 2015. While those numbers scream “stay away” it’s important to note that the 5.63 ERA was the first time he had an ERA over 4.00 since his rookie season in 2006, and he had been rather consistent over the years.

Fantasy owners should take solace in the fact that 2015 just seemed to be more a case of bad luck, rather than a decrease in ability. His 92.7 MPH average fastball was actually a tick above his 2014 average. While he is no longer the mid-90’s flamethrower he once was, he still has good “stuff”. Last year, he threw the most curveballs in his career; a 14.2% clip. The 15.7% rate of sliders he threw was his lowest total since 2010. This slight alteration in his arsenal could have been a contributing factor towards his 33% hard-hit rate (highest since 2006) and .319 BABIP (highest since 2007). Garza needs to go back to throwing more sliders, and hopefully the good luck will follow. Garza will in all likelihood go undrafted in your league, but you should keep an eye on him early in the season and get the jump on him if he shows promise.

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Chase Anderson's Success Tied to Strikeout Totals

Pitcher Chase Anderson is just one of the many new faces that will be calling Milwaukee home in 2016. Anderson will enter camp as a favorite for the starting rotation, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he should be rostered in fantasy. Anderson had a respectable start to the 2015 campaign, posting a 3.91 ERA and 1.21 WHIP before the All-Star Break. He struggled mightily down the stretch, with a 5.08 ERA and 1.46 WHIP post-break. Overall, Anderson had a 4.30 ERA and 1.30 WHIP in 152.2 innings.

The most alarming stat for Anderson was his K-rate decrease, down from 21.6% in 2014 to 17.3% last season. While that figure improved in the second half, his overall production shockingly got worse. Anderson posted solid strikeout totals (8.95 K/9 IP) throughout his over-achieving minor league career. A return to his pre-2015 strikeout totals could warrant a roster spot, but until he can show he is capable of that, leave him on the waiver wire.

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Jeff Locke is an NL-Only League Option

In 2015, Pirates starting pitcher Jeff Locke posted a 4.49 ERA and 1.42 WHIP to go with 129 Ks in 168.1 innings. Locke’s 6.9 K/9 was a career best if we disregard the 2012 season in which he only pitched 34.1 innings. Despite setting a new benchmark for K/9, Locke saw a decrease in SwSt% from 9.4% in 2014 to 9.0% last season. Overall, the left-hander’s 2015 stats are similar to those he posted in 2014 and do not foreshadow a 2016 breakout.

Locke’s ability to consistently induce groundballs makes him a serviceable big league pitcher, but his career 6.65 K/9 and 3.57 BB/9 suggest he is nothing special. A candidate to be replaced by Tyler Glasnow at some point in 2016, the 28-year old Locke should only be owned in extremely deep mixed leagues and NL-only leagues.