Monday, April 28, 2008

NFL Draft's fantasy impact

I love it when everybody jumps in a day or two after the NFL Draft to issue their grades for each team. Sometimes it takes three or four years to really assess a draft class, but we all want to know immediately how our teams did, who's a future Hall of Famer and who's the next dud. Funny, but I don't remember too many draftniks praising the Giants' draft last year (seven draftees played significant roles in their Super Bowl run), and we've barely seen anything from 2007's big-name picks, QBs JaMarcus Russell and Brady Quinn.

That being said, from a fantasy perspective, we can't afford to wait. We need to know what kind of impact the Class of 2008 will have this season. Sometimes taking a chance on an untested rookie like Adrian Peterson last year can be a championship-securing move.

Here's a look at some notable first-round draftees. Obviously we'll focus our attention on offensive skill players and what roles they'll play in their first season:

g QB Matt Ryan to Falcons: The BC product might develop into a quality starter someday, and he should have a shot at immediate playing time. But as you probably know, rookie QBs rarely make for good fantasy starters. I'm not touching him unless he's my backup, and even then I'm being cautious.

g RB Darren McFadden to Raiders: Even though they re-signed Justin Fargas (more than 1,000 yards rushing in only seven starts), and also have LaMont Jordan and Michael Bush at running back, Run DMC (above) was too good to pass up for Oakland. And that applies to him as a fantasy player too ... Peterson set the bar pretty high for rookie runners last year, but McFadden is the most obvious comparison in this year's class. He's a high-risk, high-reward No. 2 RB, and there will be a lot of competition for his services on draft day.

g RB Jonathan Stewart to Panthers: We thought Carolina might be done with the two-back system after DeShaun Foster left for San Francisco. We were excited to see what DeAngelo Williams might do as a full-time starter, but now it looks like another two-headed monster, with Stewart serving as the tough inside runner and Williams as the outside-running playmaker. Both are worthy of being on your bench, but it could be a little frustrating until we really see how they'll share the carries.

g QB Joe Flacco to Ravens: Baltimore's needed a franchise QB in the worst way for years, and it seems they've finally addressed that here. Problem is, Flacco probably doesn't have enough experience to step right in and play coming from Delaware. That means Kyle Boller will probably be the starter as Flacco eases his way in. In other words, Flacco has little to no fantasy value for '08.

g RB Felix Jones to Cowboys: Dallas has essentially replaced one Jones in their backfield with another. With Julius Jones off to Seattle, Felix and Marion Barber will be sharing time this year. Seems like the 'Boys were concerned Barber couldn't handle the full load, and Jones, McFadden's former running mate at Arkansas, probably can't either. Looks like a situation where we'll see them each averaging about 12 carries a game, but both have the skills to be touchdown-makers. Treat Barber as a No. 2 and Jones as a No. 3 for now.

g RB Rashard Mendenhall to Steelers: Starting to see a trend here? Pittsburgh's got Willie Parker but they still took Mendenhall as his complement. He's more of a power runner than Parker, and he's built to take the goal-line carries, a role Najeh Davenport was supposed to fill. This means Mendenhall will be valuable, although probably as a No. 4 fantasy RB, and Parker might be downgraded a little bit to a No. 2.

g RB Chris Johnson to Titans: Johnson, from East Carolina, made it into the first round based on his speed (4.24 40 at the combine). He's probably going to replace Chris Henry as the lightning to LenDale White's thunder in Tennessee's backfield, although I have questions about how much production we'll see from all those guys. The Titans have been inconsistent in how they use their runners, so I can't count on White or Johnson as anything more than a No. 4 RB.

Photo by The Associated Press

Friday, April 25, 2008

Awful Andruw

Is Andruw Jones finished?

It's a weird question, and not one you're supposed to be asking about a healthy 31-year-old outfielder who up until last year was putting up Hall of Fame-caliber numbers. Seems like just yesterday I remember a spry 19-year-old kid putting on a show against the Yankees in the 1996 World Series. After that he became a man, churning out 30-homer, 100-RBI seasons like they were nothing.

What happened to that guy?

We saw how lost Jones looked at the plate last season, which was a little weird since it was a contract year. He finished 2007 with his fewest homers (26) since 1999, his lowest OPS (.724) in a full season and just a .222 average, yet the Dodgers still gave him $36 million over two years in a desperate bid for some offense. And Jones has rewarded them this year with a .162 average and one stinking home run. He sat out earlier this week with the flu/allergies, and he left Friday's game after fouling a pitch off his leg. Fun times!

This is a guy who, according to, compares most favorably as a hitter with Frank Robinson, Eddie Matthews, Johnny Bench and Al Kaline through age 30. Those men are enshrined in Cooperstown, but instead of continuing on his journey to join them, Jones is suddenly having trouble distinguishing balls and strikes.

Joe Torre batted Jones eighth the other day. Eighth. Where some pitchers bat. A guy in one of my 10-team mixed leagues dropped him today. Just straight-up dropped him and replaced him with Josh Willingham (who somehow wasn't owned). It seemed weird at first, but then I realized Willingham could easily hit 26 homers and won't hit .222, or worse. I can't say the same thing about Jones.

A superstar hitting .162 at this point in the season wouldn't bother me so much if it wasn't coming off the heels of such a bad season. Put the two together, and you have a player who seems to be in a rapid decline. And I'm jumping ship, or at the very least relegating Jones to the end of my bench.

It's been nice knowing you Andruw.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The rise and fall of Shaun Alexander

They say a running back's performance starts to fall off at age 30, and the Seattle Seahawks are really taking that as gospel.

Shaun Alexander, once a fantasy stalwart, was cut by the Seahawks on Tuesday. The 2005 MVP has seen a steep decline in performance the past two years, and now that Julius Jones and T.J. Duckett are in Seattle's backfield, the writing was on the wall for the 30-year-old Alexander.

He started showing cracks (literally) in the first game of the 2006 season when he bruised his foot and later broke it. Alexander ran for a career-low 716 yards last season and has incurred the wrath of Seahawks fans and fantasy players everywhere for his mediocre output (3.5 yards a carry) and what sometimes seemed like a lack of passion for playing.

Was it just a bad combination of injuries and the toll of 2,176 NFL carries that have made Alexander a shell of what he once was? Or perhaps the Madden Curse had something to do with it? Hard to say. But I'm not counting Alexander out yet. Let's see if the guy can land another job ... In the right situation, I think he can still be a productive player, although it would have to be in some kind of timeshare situation. The days of him being a No. 1 back (he was going in the top 10 of many drafts this past season) are over.

As for Seattle's situation, the bulk of the carries are now sure to go to Jones, signed in the offseason from the Cowboys. He's got much more tread on his tires than Alexander, and although he's taken a backseat to touchdown-maker Marion Barber in recent years, he's proven himself to be at least a capable starting RB. I suspect the Seahawks might try to mimic what the Cowboys did with Jones and Barber, using Duckett as the short-yardage/red-zone guy, but I'm not going there until I see some results. I've seen too many people get burned chasing Duckett the past few years. For now, consider Jones as a low-end No. 1 and Duckett simply as someone to take a flier on.

Monday, April 21, 2008

This week's column: Don't outsmart yourself

This week's column is about using common sense when it comes to stars such as Placido Polanco, Miguel Cabrera and Robinson Cano who've struggled in the early part of the season. As always, you can find my bi-weekly columns every other Sunday in print in the Herald's sports section or on the fantasy sports page of our Web site,

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Save situations, April 16: Bye-bye, Borowski

Looks like Joe Borowski's days as a fantasy producer could be numbered. The Indians closer has been put on the DL with a strained triceps, an injury the team's kept secret and partially explains his eye-popping 18.00 ERA and .412 batting average against this season.

Borwoski's been something of an enigma these past few years, a guy who piles up saves and escapes ninth-inning jam after ninth-inning jam, all while giving his manager and fans serious nausea. Yet he's somehow been able to hold onto his job. That may change with Rafael Betancourt, one of the league's best set-up men last year, taking over closing duties in Cleveland. Betancourt doesn't have a great history closing out games (12 of 29 in save opportunities), but he may very well take hold of the job and run with it.

The smart move here is to put Borowski on your DL slot and grab Betancourt if he's available. The Indians say Borowski will resume closing duties when (if) he returns, and although his ratios stink, you probably drafted him purely for saves, and he led the AL in those last year. The bottom line is you want whoever's pitching the ninth inning for the Indians, because there will be plenty of saves to be had.

Elsewhere in closer country:

g The Braves' closing carousel continues. First Rafael Soriano goes on the DL, now replacement Peter Moylan joins him. Just like Soriano, Moylan has an elbow strain, although this one's believed to be much worse, and he's scheduled to take a dreaded visit to Dr. James Andrews, often the baseball equivalent of your girlfriend telling you she just wants to be friends. The good news is Soriano should be back shortly, so Moylan's short-lived fantasy worthiness has probably expired with just one save to his credit this year. Looks like Manny Acosta gets the save chances in the interim by default until Soriano returns.

g The Mariners are taking their sweet old time in getting J.J. Putz (ribcage) back in their bullpen. Seattle's closer-by-committee approach with Putz out has been pretty maddening, so I'd probably look elsewhere in the meantime.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Why we love Longoria

Sorry to mislead you, but I couldn't resist the cheap joke. This post isn't about everyone's favorite Desperate Housewife. No, it's about our boy Evan Longoria, another hot young talent who was finally called up to the big leagues Friday night, the Bradenton Herald reports.

Longoria is considered by most observers to be a superstar-in-waiting and checks in at No. 2 on Baseball America's list of Top 100 Prospects. The third overall pick in the 2006 MLB First-Year Player Draft has been favorably compared to David Wright as a future impact player at third base.

Many assumed Longoria would make the Tampa Bay Rays' major league roster out of spring training, but it soon became clear the franchise planned to keep him in the minors at the start of 2008, partly to delay him from becoming arbitration eligible. Despite a pretty solid spring campaign (.262, three HRs, 10 RBIs), Longoria was assigned to Triple-A Durham, and the Rays handed third base duties to the illustrious Willy Aybar. But you know what they say about the best-laid plans ... Aybar is on the DL, and Longoria is on his way to Tropicana Field.

This isn't the blueprint the Rays drew up. They hoped to have Longoria dominating Triple-A pitching when he got called up, but instead he was barely hitting .200 at Durham. They hoped to permanently install him as their third baseman, but this move was made out of sheer necessity, and if he doesn't hit right away, I could see them sending him back down for more seasoning and using another stop-gap third baseman. That would tick off a lot of Rays fans who are starting to believe in the team's youth movement and its march toward respectability.

Luckily, we don't need to worry about that right now. We need to get Longoria on our teams and in our lineups.

You may recall what Wright did the first time he got called up (.293, 14 HRs, 40 RBIs in 263 at-bats in 2004). You may have seen what Ryan Braun did last year as a rookie with the Brewers (.324, 34 HRs, 97 RBIs in 451 at-bats). And if you missed out on either of those phenomenons or have been reduced to tears watching Ryan Zimmerman or Edwin Encarnacion struggle to reach the Mendoza Line for your team, it's time to plug Longoria in at 3B and see what he can do.

The slow start at Durham is a little unsettling, especially when you take into account Longoria hit .269 in a 31-game Triple-A stint at the end of 2007, a number that doesn't exactly scream "superstar!" He also doesn't have the same kind of wheels Wright or Braun have shown, so don't expect double-digit steals. But these are small concerns. It's only a matter of time before Longoria blossoms at the big league level. I believe he can be a top-12 first baseman as early as this season if he sticks around. You'll want to be there from the beginning.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Go, Johnny, go: A closer look at Cueto

If you didn't know who Johnny Cueto was before this season, you certainly do now.

I first alerted you to Cueto back in February when I checked him out at spring training, though I never thought he'd make this kind of impact this fast. In fact, I figured Homer Bailey, the Reds' much more heralded pitching prodigy, would be a better fantasy bet this year. Turns out Cueto had other plans, putting together an impressive spring and making the big league rotation while Bailey was sent down to the farm.

Cueto continued to turn heads with a 10-strikeout debut, and he followed that up with eight Ks on Tuesday night. And he hasn't walked a batter. The 22-year-old righty is now 1-0 with a 2.03 ERA and 0.45 WHIP. And chances are he's already been scooped up in all but the shallowest of leagues by now.

There's a lot to like about this kid. He's had a good amount of minor league seasoning so far and was the franchise's minor league pitcher of the year the past two seasons. In 2007, splitting time between Single-A, Double-A and Triple-A, Cueto fanned 170 batters in 161 innings while walking just 34. He's shown that same command in the majors while reaching 96 mph with his fastball.

There's also some cause for concern here. Cueto can't possibly keep up this pace. The strikeouts might keep coming, but I can assure you he's eventually going to walk someone. His manager, Dusty Baker, doesn't exactly have a great history of handling young pitchers' arms. He's not the biggest guy, either (5-10, 185) for such a hard thrower. And about half of Cueto's starts this year will come at Great American Ball Park, site of the second most home runs per game last season.

The concerns are legit, but they're not dealbreakers. In short, Cueto has to be owned in all leagues, and he's a guy you keep riding until there are some trouble signs. Right now, he's on track to be this year's Francisco Liriano, a real fantasy difference-maker.

And he could really use a nickname.

Photo by The Associated Press.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Save situations, April 6

I've always found closers to be fascinating. Of course you've got your old reliables, like Joe Nathan, Francisco Rodriguez and Mariano Rivera, who once again look like sure things this season. And then there's everybody else ... guys who've had bad luck, guys who could implode at any second, and teams whose closer situation is about as stable as being Spinal Tap's drummer.

This year I'll periodically check out some "save situations" around the league. Let's take our first look:

g We knew something was up when Chad Cordero wasn't ready to go in the Nationals' opener, and now he's been put on the DL with a sore shoulder. Enter Jon Rauch, the Nats' pretty solid set-up guy who will close in Cordero's absence. Cordero could be back soon, but you never really know with these kind of injuries. Washington has also been trying to deal Cordero for an eternity, so even if he comes back to pitch soon, Rauch might be worth holding onto if you can spare the roster spot.

g Will Todd Jones ever get a save this season? Randy Flores has one. Miguel Batista does too, and he's a starter. But Jones (above) still has a big, fat zero in the saves column ... of course, it doesn't help that the Tigers haven't won yet, either. I wouldn't panic though. Whenever Detroit breaks out of this funk, Jones is still capable of saving 40 games. Trust me.

g JJ Putz, arguably fantasy's best closer last year, is on the DL with a rib injury, and while it's supposed to be mild, there's no timetable for his return. Bummer, huh? Mark Lowe is supposed to fill in for Putz, and although the aforementioned Batista just happened to pick up a save for the Mariners earlier this week, Lowe should still be the go-to guy in the ninth until Putz returns. Definitely grab him if you're a Putz owner (or you want to see a Putz owner have a panic attack).

g Brandon Lyon's had a mixed debut as the Diamondbacks' closer. He's got one save, but he's blown another and has a 13.50 ERA in three appearances. The D-backs took a bit of a risk by dealing Jose Valverde in the offseason and giving Lyon the promotion, and while it's still early, I'm keeping serious tabs on set-up guy Tony Pena.

This week's column: Hot pickups

This week in print, I'm talking about Hank Blalock, Nick Johnson, Billy Butler and Corey Patterson - some valuable guys who might have slipped through the cracks on your league's draft day. You can read more in Sunday's Herald, or check it out online here.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Thoughts from Opening Day

One game doesn't make a season, so it's hard to learn a lot from Opening Day. But we've been without a full slate of real baseball games for so long, here are some random thoughts, notes and observations from yesterday's festivities ...

Rafael Furcal is back in the leadoff spot for the Dodgers now that Juan Pierre lost his starting LF job to Andre Either. Furcal looked pretty comfortable (3-for-4, walk, run, RBI) at the top. Expecting a big bounceback now that he's healthy.

Rookie Carlos Gomez drew rave reviews in his debut as the Twins' new CF (2-for-3, walk, two steals, two runs, double). Gomez doesn't have much power potential and probably could benefit from some more seasoning in the minors ... but he could swipe 30 bags this year if he can hit enough to stick around. The kid's scary fast.

I thought Matt Capps was supposed to be the one sure thing, fantasy-wise, on these Pittsburgh Pirates this year. Hard to explain his ninth-inning meltdown with a five-run lead, although he wasn't helped by some inexplicable shoddy defense. Let's just chalk it up as a bad day and move on.

As for the implosions by Eric Gagne and Kerry Wood in the Brewers-Cubs game ... those guys had a bunch of question marks surrounding them already, and it would've been good to see a nice, easy outing from them. The questions remain.

No surprise here: Johan Santana was awesome in his Mets debut. It should be a glorious year for him ... but you knew that already.