Melky Cabrera may have cost himself millions in free agency and the Giants the inside track to a playoff spot following his PED suspension, but Bruce Bochy isn't the only one scrambling to find a replacement for the man who ranked second in batting (.346), 13th in on-base percentage (.390) and 24th in slugging (.516) this season while also stealing double-digit bases. Fantasy baseball owners who benefitted from Melky's meteoric season must now find a fill-in. Here are ten outfielders who could offer some help, ranked by their respective ownership rates in ESPN leagues.
Craig Gentry, Rangers (0.4% ownership in ESPN leagues)
Gentry doesn't have a set spot in Texas' lineup, but he gets a fair amount of plate appearances with one of either Josh Hamilton Nelson Cruz usually aching and David Murphy not performing well against lefthanded pitching (.263/.309/.357 career line). And while Gentry probably won't continue get his on balls in play nearly 38% of the time, he's ultra-quick (30-for-35 career in swiping bases) and he's put that speed to use by putting more balls in play. Gentry has cut his miss rate from 18.4% to 16.8% (20.7% MLB average), and his K rate has declined from 17.6% to 13.3% (19.6% average).
Jonny Gomes, Athletics (0.9%)
Gomes continues to scuffle against right-handers (.213/.343/.382 this season, .223/.308/.425 career), but he's murderizing left-handers like usual, both high and low in the zone:
Gomes' slugging percentage by pitch location vs. lefties, 2012
Jonny is slugging .556 versus left-handers, sandwiched between Mark Teixeira and the now-DL'd Will Middlebrooks. If you have the luxury of platooning, Gomes could team with a righty killer lower on this list to give you All-Star production at a small cost.
Domonic Brown, Phillies (0.9%)
Brown is getting regular ABs for the Phillies following the Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence trades, though he admittedly hasn't done much with them to this point (a 79 OPS+ and zero homers in 58 PAs) and last really raked in Triple-A back in 2010. But maybe the 6-foot-5, 200 pound former top-five prospect can re-discover his power stroke in his second extended trial in the majors. So far, he's been a little too Juan Pierre-esque out there: Brown has made a lot of contact (12.9% miss rate in 2012), but he's pulling the ball just 23% of the time. Pierre pulls 28% of the time. Don't be like Juan, Dom.
Justin Maxwell, Astros (3%)
The 28-year-old's contact and injury woes led him to drift from Washington to the Bronx to Houston, but the man who could be mistaken for Giancarlo Stanton's stunt double has opportunity -- and a short left field porch -- with the Astros. He's slugging .469 with 12 HR in a little under 250 PAs. Contact remains his biggest nemesis, as Maxwell has punched out about 33% of the time. He's basically the anti-Pedro Cerrano, driving breaking and off-speed pitches (.543 slugging percentage against "soft stuff", compared to the .367 average) but struggling versus the heat (.373 slugging, .454 average). The Astros, farther away from the pennant race than the Curiosity rover is from Earth, have the luxury of letting Maxwell figure it out.
Nori Aoki, Brewers (10%)
While Aoki doesn't drive the ball much, he'll add some steals (16 in 21 attempts so far) and he controls the zone well. Aoki has chased just 23% of pitches off the plate (28% average) and has swung and missed 14.2% of the time. A league-average hitter (103 OPS+) with good wheels beats settling for someone like Delmon Young and hoping against hope he discovers that strike zone is slightly smaller than the Great Lakes.
David Murphy, Rangers (12.2%)
Murphy is slugging a career-best .470 this season, thanks mostly to his taking a more "grip it and rip it" approach against breaking and off-speed pitches. Murphy missed soft stuff only 15% of the time in 2011 (29.2% average), but he also slugged just .337 against curves, sliders and changeups. This year, he's missing 26.5% of the time he swings but is slugging .542 versus soft stuff. It's a good trade-off.
Starling Marte, Pirates (37.1%)
The Pirates' top position prospect has already displayed his power-speed combo since a late-July call-up (four HR, four SB and two triples). He certainly has more upside than the Aokis and Murphys of the world. But his plate discipline remains a big concern. Check out Marte' swing rate by pitch location, and then the league average:
Marte's jumpiness (35% chase rate) has led to a 3/23 BB/K ratio in 89 PAs so far. But if you can put up with some ugly swings, the payoff could be big.
Jon Jay, Cardinals (43.4%)
Jay, like Aoki, rarely whiffs (11.8% miss rate) and has a dash of speed (12 SB). He has also been more selective this season, particularly on stuff thrown low or on the outside corner:
Jay's swing rate, 2011
Jay's swing rate, 2012
Jay's chase rate is 26.1% in 2012, compared to 31.2% last year. That has allowed him to boost his walk rate (from 5.6% to 8.8%) and get on base at a career-best .390 clip.
Garrett Jones, Pirates (53.1%)
Jones doesn't walk much and he's positively platoon-worthy (.199/.234/.363 career vs. lefties). But if you use him as a righty-masher like the Pirates do, he has some value:
Jones' slugging percentage by pitch location vs. right-handers, 2012
Jones ranks between Prince Fielder and David Wright in slugging against righties (.547), and he has taken them deep 15 times this season. If you've got enough roster spots to mix and match, Jones is a good outfield option. Maybe you can pair him with Gomes. A Jones/Gomes platoon might not be sexy, but it would be plenty powerful.
Carlos Gomez, Brewers (64.8%)
Standing 6-4, 215 pounds, Gomez never fit the fleet-footed center fielder archetype but nonetheless played the little man's game at the plate early in his MLB career. But he has gradually decreased his ground ball rate in recent years (52.7% in 2010, 46.9% in 2011, 39.8% in 2012) and has increased his power output (he slugged .357 in '10, .403 in '11 and .466 this season). Gomez has hit 11 HR so far this year, and his 407 foot average distance on those shots is the same as teammate Aramis Ramirez. Dude has power. That power surge, in addition to his still-excellent speed (21-for-26 in SB), is why Gomez's ownership rate is spiking.