Sunday, March 30, 2008

All we need is just a little patience

We live in a world of instant gratification.

We watch on-demand TV and fast-forward through commercials.

We don’t just have high-speed Internet … We have Internet 5,000 times faster than DSL.

A two-minute zapping in the microwave seems like an eternity.

And we want our rookies to produce NOW.

I’ve heard lots of people are bummed that super prospects Cameron Maybin, Evan Longoria and Jay Bruce are starting the season in the minor leagues.

Do they realize Maybin is just 21years old? Or that he’s had only 69 at-bats above the Class-A level?

Or that by keeping Longoria (above) in the minors, the cost-conscious Rays can keep him under contract for an extra season when he’s entering his prime?

Or that Reds manager Dusty Baker hates kids?

OK, maybe that last part isn’t true. But it is true that fantasy players are an impatient bunch. Everybody’s looking for the next David Wright or Jonathan Papelbon or Ryan Braun, a kid who can step into the league and dominate, and post big stats in the process.

We’ve been spoiled these past few years with some awesome rookie talent. Mining those first-year gems has helped a lot of folks win a lot of fantasy titles. But it’s foolish to think every touted rookie will magically morph into an All-Star as soon as he hits the majors. A lot of people laughed at Fausto Carmona when he bombed as the Indians’ rookie closer in 2006 – and you may have noticed what he did last year as a starter.

If you took a flier on Bruce or Maybin or Longoria, don’t do something rash and drop them just because they’re beginning the year as farmhands. There’s a good chance you’ll see all of them contributing in the majors at some point this year – in Maybin’s case perhaps sooner than anyone thought after Alejandro De Aza’s injury Saturday night.

Until then, treat your rookies as luxuries. You can’t really count on them as everyday starters or build your team around a bunch of them, but keep one or two stashed on your bench as an investment. I seriously doubt anybody drafted Braun or Hunter Pence last year with the intention of using them as a full-time starter, but when it became clear those two were ready to produce at the major league level, some prescient owners were ahead of the game and didn’t have to put in a waiver claim or get involved a bidding war.

So be patient for a change. Go get some fast food to pass the time. And give the kids some time to grow up.

Photo by The Associated Press.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

How bout those Tigers? (Except D-Train)

BRADENTON - So how many Detroit Tigers hitters will you have in your everyday lineup this year?

I count as many as eight Detroit position players who could be fantay starters in mixed leagues - Curtis Granderson, Carlos Guillen, Placido Polanco, Edgar Renteria, Miguel Cabrera, Magglio Ordonez, Ivan Rodriguez and Gary Sheffield. (Come on Jacque Jones, start pulling your weight!)

These Tigers are going to be a terror for opposing pitchers, as I witnessed on Wednesday in their 7-4 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates at McKechnie Field. The Tigers only brought a limited group of starters to the Friendly City, but seeing Cabrera batting behind Sheffield (above) was enough to scare me, and I was in the stands.

I don't have any major concerns about any of those guys - Cabrera, Ordonez and Granderson are studs, Renteria and Polanco will get their hits and runs, and any fears about Rodriguez and Sheffield getting up there in age are negated by Cabrera's insertion into the middle of the order.

I'll tell you who I am worried about when it comes to the Tigers - Dontrelle Willis. The D-Train really struggled against the Pirates - even opposing pitcher Zach Duke - allowing six earned runs on eight hits and walking four, two of them coming with the bases loaded. I know spring stats "don't mean much," but Willis' totals this year (1-3, 8.64 ERA in 16 2/3 innings) are ugly.

Couple that with his miserable numbers last year and the clear downward trend in his stats the past few years, and Willis is a guy I'm trying to avoid this year. He may win a bunch of games just by virtue of the run support he's going to get, but he's going to get whacked around a lot in the AL Central.

Photo by Paul Videla/

Monday, March 24, 2008

Tales from the draft

Some colleagues and I had our fantasy baseball draft over the weekend for our Newsroom Junkies league. I'd like to share with you a few thoughts.

This is our league's second year of existence, and we decided to make it a keeper league. We could protect five guys from last year's rosters. Here are mine: Travis Hafner, B.J. Upton, Vlad Guererro, Josh Beckett, and Mark Teixeira. I thought Vlad and Tex were pretty much no-brainers ... and after the potential Upton showed last year I couldn't pass up him and his 2B eligibility. I'm counting on a big rebound from Pronk. And I felt like I needed an ace for my rotation. I threw back Dan Uggla, Delmon Young, Michael Young, Roy Oswalt, Scott Kazmir, Mariano Rivera and J.J. Putz.

Here are the 2008 Springfield Atoms. I should mention it's a 10-team, 5x5 mixed league with two utility slots, seven pitcher slots and seven bench players.

C Kenji Johjima
1B Mark Teixeira
2B B.J. Upton
SS Rafael Furcal
3B Adrian Beltre
OF Vlad Guererro
OF Delmon Young
OF Jason Bay
UTL Travis Hafner
UTL Lance Berkman
P Josh Beckett
P Aaron Harang
P Daisuke Matsuzaka
P Tim Hudson
P Bobby Jenks
P Rafael Soriano
P Todd Jones
P Jonathan Broxton
BE Miguel Tejada
BE Jacoby Ellsbury
BE Akinori Iwamura
BE Tom Gorzelanny
BE Derek Lowe
BE Kelvim Escobar

I was thrilled to get Berkman with my first pick in our re-draft. I had him as the highest-rated available player and he fell all the way to me with the sixth overall pick.

And I think I may have gotten one of the steals of the draft: I took Tejada in what would be somewhere around the 16th round. He's a sixth- or seventh-round pick by most estimates, even with the Mitchell Report concerns and coming off a lackluster season. Plus, I've already got Furcal at short - not thrilled with him, but he's a capable player who steals a ton.

Speaking of steals, I think I'll be OK with Furcal, Upton and Ellsbury, who I think could swipe 40-45 bags.

I should be OK in Ks too between Beckett, Dice-K and Harang at the top and Gorzelanny helping out. I'll be alright in saves too - Jenks and Jones should each get 40, and I think Soriano is really underrated. Love Broxton too as a set-up guy and maybe Takashi Saito's replacement if I get lucky.

Not thrilled with Beltre at third so I took Iwamura as some insurance. A lot of the elite guys were protected. I really wanted Edwin Encarnacion, but he went a few picks before I could get him.

Escobar went a lot later than he should have because of the shoulder injury, but I look forward to a speedy recovery. And Lowe is a decent but unspectacular last guy in the rotation. I figure I can put Escobar on the DL or even drop Lowe at some point if I spot some promising pitchers out there.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

This week's column: Ranking the aces

My fantasy baseball column this week offers a little more in-depth breakdown of the top 15 starting pitchers, beginning with No. 1, Johan Santana. You can read it online here or in Sunday's Herald sports section.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Top 50 pitchers for 2008

Here's how we rank the top 50 fantasy pitchers for the 2008 season:

1. Johan Santana, Mets
2. Jake Peavy, Padres
3. Brandon Webb, Diamondbacks
4. Erik Bedard, Mariners
5. C.C. Sabathia, Indians
6. Dan Haren, Diamondbacks
7. Justin Verlander, Tigers
8. Cole Hamels, Phillies
9. Josh Beckett, Red Sox
10. Aaron Harang, Reds
11. Roy Oswalt, Astros
12. Roy Halladay, Blue Jays
13. John Smoltz, Braves
14. Daisuke Matsuzaka, Red Sox
15. Scott Kazmir, Rays
16. Carlos Zambrano, Cubs
17. Chris Young, Padres
18. Fausto Carmona, Indians
19. Javier Vazquez, White Sox
20. James Shields, Rays
21. Felix Hernandez, Mariners
22. Brett Myers, Phillies
23. Tim Lincecum, Giants
24. Rich Hill, Cubs
25. Matt Cain, Giants
26. Yovani Gallardo, Brewers
27. Francisco Liriano, Twins
28. A.J. Burnett, Blue Jays
29. Tim Hudson, Braves
30. Chad Billingsley, Dodgers
31. Ben Sheets, Brewers
32. Kelvim Escobar, Angels
33. Ian Snell, Pirates
34. John Lackey, Angels
35. Chien-Ming Wang, Yankees
36. Pedro Martinez, Mets
37. Adam Wainwright, Cardinals
38. John Maine, Mets
39. Brad Penny, Dodgers
40. Jeff Francis, Rockies
41. Jeremy Bonderman, Tigers
42. Dustin McGowan, Blue Jays
43. Ted Lilly, Cubs
44. Phil Hughes, Yankees
45. Tom Gorzelanny, Pirates
46. Jered Weaver, Angels
47. Derek Lowe, Dodgers
48. Joe Blanton, A’s
49. Zack Grienke, Royals
50. Clay Buchholz, Red Sox

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Worried about Beckett, Pujols, Baldelli

I know it's spring training, a sunny time full of hope and optimism and Billy Crystal shagging flies with the Yankees. But if you own Josh Beckett, Albert Pujols or Rocco Baldelli, you might not see it that way.

Start with Beckett, who's experiencing back stiffness and has barely pitched this spring, other than throwing against some kids from Boston College and the Twins' "B" team. The injury appears to be muscular, and the Boston Herald says the Red Sox ace likely won't accompany his team to Japan when it opens the season there against Oakland.

No word yet if there will be a DL stint in his immediate future, but keep in mind this is the same guy who's missed major time because of a blister on his finger. Sure, he was awesome last year, the majors' only 20-game winner, but before that he doesn't have a great track record of durability, and he's also had a few clunker seasons mixed in there. I tabbed Beckett as one of my five keepers in one of my mixed leagues, the only pitcher I kept (over Scott Kazmir and Roy Oswalt, to name two), but this is the danger in counting on pitchers from year to year.

Pujols is another guy who should have you worried. The slugger's had a balky elbow for some time now, but the Cardinals' team physician recently disclosed Pujols will probably need reconstructive surgery at some point. Now, I'm no House, but when I hear the words "high-grade" tear of the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow, as well as bone spurs, inflammation and arthritis in the joint," I get concerned.

Pujols seems confident, almost defiant, that he won't need surgery, not this year and maybe not before his career is over. But one awkward swing or throw, and that elbow could be in serious trouble. Phat Albert probably represents the single biggest risk/reward guy this year ... he has the potential to be fantasy's top contributor, but a season-ending injury could cripple a fantasy team. Keep this in mind when you draft him, and realize there's always a chance Pujols could change his mind and opt for surgery later in the season if the Cards fall out of contention or the elbow gets worse.

Finally, the most troubling news regards Baldelli, the Tampa Bay Rays' oft-injured outfielder. We now have some explanation for why Rocco's always hurt: he has an ailment that causes his muscles to get fatigued, the Bradenton Herald reports. This is serious news - it's not clear if this condition can be treated, or if this will be the end of Baldelli's career. But we do know he'll start the season on the DL, and it'd probably be best to avoid him in fantasy this year. And we can all stop with the jokes about Baldelli always being hurt and wish him a full recovery.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Check out this week's column

In addition to this blog, I'm also writing a bi-weekly fantasy baseball column that appears in print in the Herald. The first edition of 2008 appears in today's Herald, and you can read it online here. I write about how deep the third base position is this year, led by our friend Alex Rodriguez.

Friday, March 7, 2008

What will we do without Brett?

It's official, Brett Favre is retiring. The NFL loses an icon, Green Bay loses its hero, and fantasy loses a pretty useful quarterback.

I can't say I was the biggest Favre fan in the world, but that was due not so much to the man but to the way the media covered him. Anyway, Favre was once an elite fantasy QB, then his reputation took a bit of a hit in recent times. The fantasy community saw him as being in decline and not having as much upside as some of the other young guys out there, a fantasy backup at best. But a funny thing happened in 2008: Favre threw for his most yards (4,155) since 1998, his most TDs (28) since 2004 and had his highest QB rating since 1996. And just like that, he was gone.

We'll miss Favre on draft day next year, when there's no longer that familiar name available that we know we can count on to play every week and help our team out. In his place is a new name: Aaron Rodgers, the fourth-year QB and presumably Favre's heir apparent in Green Bay.

Rodgers, perhaps best known to NFL fans for his long, sad wait to be picked at the 2005 NFL Draft, obviously hasn't seen the field much playing behind the durable Favre - he's 35-for-39 with one TD and one INT in his three years in the league. But he's a big, strong QB who's had a three-year apprenticeship behind a living legend, and he's got some serious pedigree, having been coached at Cal be renowned QB guru Jeff Tedford. There's reason for hope here, but I can't endorse taking Rodgers as anything more than a No. 2 QB next season, and only if you've got a rock-solid No. 1. Is Rodgers ready? Is he the next Steve Young, replacing Joe Montana in San Francisco, or is he the next 50 guys or so who've tried to replace Dan Marino in Miami? Time will tell.

And what does this mean for the rest of the Packers' skill players? It certainly won't help receivers Donald Driver and Greg Jennings much, so downgrade them a bit. The Packers may lean on RB Ryan Grant a little more next year, but he was already zooming up next year's rankings after his breakout year.

Monday, March 3, 2008

The scoop on the NFL's free-agent frenzy

The NFL's annual free-agent blitz has been in full swing for the past few days, with lots of vets getting kicked to the curb and even more guys cashing in with new multi-million deals. It can get a little dizzying trying to keep track of all the moves, so we've sifted through the transactions so far and examined a few notable relocations (and one big re-signing) and their effects on fantasy football:

• RB Michael Turner to Falcons: Turner's been on everybody's radar the past few seasons as the unofficial "best backup in the league" and a popular handcuff to San Diego's LaDainian Tomlinson, but he's rarely made much of a fantasy impact becuase his carries were so sporadic. Now he gets his chance to show off in Atlanta, where he'll only have to compete with Jerious Norwood for playing time - a talented player, for sure, but no LT2.

It's unclear how this situation will unfold: Turner, though listed just an inch shorter than Norwood at 5-10, has a considerable weight advantage (more than 30 pounds) and seems to be more of a power runner to Norwood's speed game. He's always been productive in limited playing time (5.5 yards a carry in his career), but Atlanta obviously plans to give him a good chunk of the carries after committing $34.5 million to him over six years.

Norwood is explosive, though, in his own right (6.2 yards a carry in two seasons), as he showed while playing second fiddle to the since-released Warrick Dunn. Turner will likely be getting more touches and would thus be the more useful fantasy player, but it will be interesting to see how this shakes out. New Falcons coach Mike Smith comes over from Jacksonville, where the Jaguars wrote the book on the modern two-back system with Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew. Both of those guys have been consistent fantasy producers while sharing time, and Turner and Norwood might do the same.

• Patriots re-sign WR Randy Moss: Good news for Moss and Tom Brady owners, bad for the rest of the league. In fact, it's the best possible news for Moss' value, as he had his greatest season playing for the near-perfect Pats as part of a record-busting duo. The prospect of Wes Welker being New England's top WR wasn't appealing for anybody involved, but now you can sleep easily and consider Moss and Brady both top-notch options at their respective positions again next year. As he said Monday on his official Web site, Moss has "unfinished business to take care of" in 2008 - music to your ears if you've got him in a keeper league.

• WR Donte' Stallworth to Browns: This move probably doesn't change Stallworth's value too much: he's still an inconsistent deep threat who's usually good for two or three outstanding fantasy weeks, depending on the situation, and a lot of clunkers. But it certainly helps recently re-signed Derek Anderson (or that young backup they've got, what's his name again?) to have another target, and it might even create more openings for Braylon Edwards and Kevin Winslow.

• WR Bernard Berrian to Vikings: We know the kid's got speed, but he moves from one ugly QB situation to another with the shift from Chicago to Minnesota. He's clearly the Vikings' No. 1 receiver right now, but that doesn't mean a whole lot with Tarvaris Jackson "throwing" him the ball, at least the Jackson of 2007. I have a hard time seeing him surpassing his 951 yards/five TDs from last season unless the QB play in Minnesota improves drastically. That means he's still a fantasy No. 3 WR that you play when the matchup suits you.

• TE Alge Crumpler to Titans: It wasn't long ago our buddy Algernon was a top-five tight end option, but his reputation took a hit during last year's train wreck of a season in the ATL. He did manage 444 receiving yards and five TDs, but he also butted heads with Bobby Petrino and was bothered by bad knees before being released - never a good sign. If Crumpler can hold up, however, he'll be a definite upgrade over what Tennessee had as red-zone options. He should also be accustomed to QB Vince Young's playmaking style after enjoying his best seasons when paired with Michael Vick. He's no longer an upper-tier TE, but assuming his knees are OK, I'd still put him toward the bottom of a growing pool of second-tier TEs with contemporaries Jeremy Shockey, Todd Heap and others.

Is Pirates' Zach Duke worth a look?

SARASOTA - Recently I was talking myself into Zach Duke being a viable fantasy starter this season. After all, he's a 6-foot-2, 220-pound, 24-year-old lefty once heralded as the Pittsburgh Pirates' future ace. A lot to like there, right?

Duke helped a lot of fantasy teams when he got called up in 2005 (8-2, 1.81 ERA in 14 starts), but things have gone horribly wrong since then (10-15, 4.87 ERA in 2006; 3-8, 5.53 ERA in 2007), and he's had a bout of elbow tendinitis and been surpassed by the Pirates' other young arms - Tom Gorzelanny, Ian Snell and Paul Maholm.

Duke still has a lot of room to grow, and I've seen him tabbed in some corners as a 2008 sleeper. I was thinking about jumping on board too - until I witnessed Duke get roughed up in his first spring start on Saturday, a 12-11 loss to the Cincinnati Reds at Ed Smith Stadium (above). Duke gave up homers to Ken Griffey Jr. and Adam Dunn in the first inning and surrendered four earned runs and six hits in two innings.

Now, I know pitchers don't put a lot of stock into the results of spring games, so we shouldn't overreact here and figure Duke was a fluke back in his rookie season. But it was just a little subtle reminder for me that maybe there's too much risk involved with drafting him this year. If you're taking a Pirates pitcher, you'll be better off going with Gorzelanny or Snell, guys with big strikeout totals who won't hurt your ratios and have already proven their values over a full season. Or better yet, take Matt Capps, who's primed for a nice season as the Buccos' closer. Let someone else take a chance on Duke.