Tuesday, March 31, 2009

You need to know this

For those of you who haven't drafted yet (and even those who have):

Bradenton's Chris Perez has been sent to the minors, meaning Jason Motte is now the frontrunner to earn the bulk of the saves in St. Louis. Ryan Franklin is still lurking, and I think Perez will ultimately end up handling ninth-inning duties, but for now Motte's the man, and a must-add.

Lance Berkman has a sore shoulder and has been diagnosed with biceps tendinitis. Doesn't seem to be a huge deal though, as he hopes to return to the Astros' lineup this week. I wouldn't panic.

B.J. Ryan hasn't looked too hot this spring, Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston is concerned, and there's some discussion about Scott Downs and Ryan sharing closer duties. Handcuff alert! Drop Ryan down a peg in your closer rankings.

Brett Gardner has won the Yankees' starting CF job over Melky Cabrera. Why should you care? Because Gardner swiped 37 bags last year in 94 games in Triple-A and 13 more in 42 games in the bigs. Are you familiar with the term "cheap steals?"

The Cubs' closer (for now): Kevin Gregg. He's officially beaten out Carlos Marmol for the job entering the season. Gregg may not be the greatest, but he's coming off seasons of 29 and 32 saves - nothing to sniff at, and the Cubbies should win a bunch of ballgames. Marmol's got some value as a setup guy and might eventually win the job, but for now it's Gregg's to lose.

Photos by The Associated Press

Monday, March 30, 2009

Meet my fantasy team

Had my draft over the weekend ... it's a 10-team, 5x5, live-draft keeper league. We protected five players from last year's roster (as denoted by an asterisk). Here are the 2009 Fightin' Furloughs:

C Chris Iannetta
1B Ryan Howard*
2B Dan Uggla
3B Ryan Zimmerman
SS Stephen Drew
IF Lance Berkman*
OF Jason Bay*
OF Alex Rios
OF Jacoby Ellsbury*
OF Bobby Abreu
UTIL Howie Kendrick
UTIL Jim Thome

P Francisco Liriano*
P Brandon Webb
P Felix Hernandez
P Joba Chamberlain
P Bobby Jenks
P Matt Lindstrom
P Huston Street

BE Elvis Andrus
BE Mike Cameron
BE Alex Gordon
BE Brett Myers
BE Joey Devine
BE Max Scherzer
BE Chris Ray

I had the third overall pick and chose Webb over Jake Peavy to lead my pitching staff. That's the equivalent of getting a No. 1 fantasy starter in the sixth round after the keepers. I'll take it.

I'm counting on a good chunk of speed coming from Ellsbury, one of my keepers. Unfortunately my middle infielders aren't really speed guys, but I should have a good amount of steals from the rest of my outfielders - Rios, Abreu, Bay - plus Cameron and Andrus (assuming he develops as expected) on my bench. Maybe Kendrick and Berkman will cooperate too but I can't count on that, and I'm a little concerned about Berkman's recent tendinitis problem.

I waited a little bit for a catcher and got Iannetta since he was the last second-tier catcher available at that point other than Matt Wieters, and I didn't want to have to spend two roster spots on a fill-in catcher until Wieters gets called up.

I like my pitching, especially the strikeout potential of Joba, King Felix, Myers and Scherzer. I actually wanted James Shields over Felix but he went one pick before I could get him. I'm concerned about saves obviously - Jenks the only sure thing but he's probably not one of the top-tier closers. There is a lot of upside though and if all goes to plan, Street and Lindstrom will hold onto their jobs and Devine and Ray will rise to the top in their respective bullpens, where they're probably the most talented guys.

I got Thome really late and am banking on at least 30 homers from the big guy before he falls off. And I'm hoping one-time fantasy sleepers Kendrick and Gordon will finally reach their potential.

So that's my team.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Names you don't know - but should

OF Shin-Soo Choo, Cleveland Indians: Choo, the only major leaguer on South Korea's WBC runner-up team, was one of the hottest hitters in the majors in the final weeks of last season, hitting 10 homers after mid-August and finishing the year with a .309 average and a .946 OPS. He’s got a prime spot hitting third in a pretty good Cleveland batting order, and though he hasn’t shown it in the majors yet he’s also got some speed – he once stole 40 bases in a season in the minors.

1B/3B Chris Davis, Texas Rangers: He clocked 17 home runs in just 80 big-league games as a rookie, a feat that went largely unnoticed outside Arlington last summer. While his strikeout-to-walk ratio of more than 4-to-1 (88 Ks, 20 BBs) doesn’t bode well for consistent success, there’s no reason Davis can’t put up at least 30 homers and 100 RBIs this year with a decent enough batting average, which makes him a poor man’s Evan Longoria. He’ll play first for Texas but maintains third base eligibility in most leagues.

SP Ricky Nolasco, Florida Marlins: A 2008 breakout season (15-8, 3.52 ERA, 186 Ks and 42 walks in 212 innings) could be a harbinger of good things to come for the 26-year-old righty. He’s got the potential to be a fantasy No. 2 but isn’t getting treated that way on draft day, lasting well after the 10th round in many leagues.

C Matt Wieters, Baltimore Orioles: The O’s 2007 first-round draft pick is probably major league-ready, although he’ll begin the year in Triple-A. That doesn’t mean he won’t finish the year as a top-10 catcher – the scouts agree he’s a complete player and future fantasy fixture.

RP Matt Lindstrom, Florida Marlins: From the position that made fantasy studs out of Joe Borowski and Kevin Gregg, we bring you 2009 Marlins closer Lindstrom, who comes with as many negatives (recent inflammation in shoulder, not enough strikeouts) as positives (fastball that reaches 100 mph, success as a closer at the end of last year). But somebody’s got to collect the saves for Florida, and a healthy Lindstrom would be the prime candidate.

RP Jose Arredondo, Los Angeles Angels: The young right-hander has the makeup of a major league closer and enjoyed a great season last year as the Halos’ set-up man (10-2, 1.62 ERA, 55 Ks in 61 innings). The Francisco Rodriguez clone should have value as the bridge to new Angels closer Brian Fuentes, but that value will triple if Fuentes should falter.

3B Pablo Sandoval, San Francisco Giants: Maybe his .345 batting average in 41 games as a rookie catcher/first baseman/third baseman last season was a bit of a fluke. But the kid’s hitting better than .400 and is among the league leaders in hits this spring. He hasn’t displayed a ton of power, but he also rarely strikes out. He’s a worthy late-round pick as a corner infielder and even more so if he’s eligible at catcher in your league.
Photo by The Associated Press

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Hamels dodges a bullet

Sleep easy, Cole Hamels owners: The Phillies ace has no structural damage in his pitching elbow, only inflammation.

That's really the best news you could have hoped for after Hamels reported feeling stiffness and tightness. He's not out of the woods yet - the Phils will obviously take it slow with their 25-year-old World Series MVP, and there's some talk of him not being ready on Opening Day. But that's not going to scare me away at this point ... he's dealt with injuries before and is still clearly a top-10 fantasy starter. In fact, I currently have him ranked fifth, just a tick ahead of Roy Halladay. That might be a little controversial - Halladay's as steady as they come - but I believe the sky's the limit for a healthy Hamels, and he could finish the year as fantasy's No. 1 starter.
Photo by The Associated Press

Monday, March 16, 2009

Baseball top 50 for 2009

1. Hanley Ramriez
2. Albert Pujols
3. Jose Reyes
4. David Wright
5. Miguel Cabrera
6. Grady Sizemore
7. Ryan Braun
8. Tim Lincecum
9. Mark Teixeira
10. Josh Hamilton
11. Jimmy Rollins
12. Ian Kinsler
13. Ryan Howard
14. Chase Utley
15. Johan Santana
16. Carlos Beltran
17. Evan Longoria
18. CC Sabathia
19. Alfonso Soriano
20. Prince Fielder
21. Lance Berkman
22. BJ Upton
23. Carlos Lee
24. Dustin Pedroia
25. Brandon Phillips
26. Ichiro Suzuki
27. Manny Ramirez
28. Carl Crawford
29. Brandon Webb
30. Cole Hamels
31. Roy Halladay
32. Carlos Quentin
33. Justin Morneau
34. Alex Rodriguez
35. Brian Roberts
36. Jason Bay
37. Nick Markakis
38. Matt Holliday
39. Matt Kemp
40. Jake Peavy
41. Aramis Ramirez
42. Dan Haren
43. Curtis Granderson
44. Vladimir Guerrero
45. Russell Martin
46. Brian McCann
47. Roy Oswalt
48. Alex Rios
49. Jacoby Ellsbury
50. Francisco Liriano

Photo by The Associated Press

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Greetings from spring training

BRADENTON - We're lucky enough to live within a couple hours' drive of about 13 MLB spring training sites here on Florida's Gulf Coast. It's one of my favorite things about living in the Sunshine State ... other than the sunshine, of course. And all the old folks. Love my seniors!

I usually try to take in as much spring training action as I can, not just because I love baseball, but also because it gives me just a little extra insight as I prep for the fantasy season. Sure, the games don't matter that much in the grand scheme of things, but it's nice to get an up-close look at some of the players I may or may not be building my team around in a couple weeks.

I've been slacking in my spring travels so far in 2009, however. I did venture up to Tampa to take part in the madness that is Yankees camp shortly after pitchers and catchers reported ... but of course I picked the one day they decided to go on a team billiards outing. But today I got to soak in some 80-degree weather at the Yanks' 13-10 split-squad win against the Pirates at charming McKechnie Field. Here are a few fantasy-related tidbits I came away with:

g I got to see two of the majors' top outfield prospects in action: New York's Austin Jackson, who slugged a two-run homer, and Pittsburgh's Andrew McCutchen. The pair of 22-year-olds have lots of similarities, as the Bradenton Herald's John Lembo reports, and both figure to be fantasy contributors in the near future. McCutchen, who hit .284 and stole 34 bases last year at Triple-A Indianapolis, figures to get the first crack at the big leagues, if not on the Pirates' Opening Day roster then soon after. Jackson probably has a bigger hill to climb as he's blocked by a few high-priced Yankees outfielders, but we could see him in the bigs in 2009 if Johnny Damon runs into any more health problems or the Brett Gardner/Melky Cabrera experiment in center doesn't pan out. Both McCutchen and Jackson will probably go undrafted in most mixed leagues this year but they're two power/speed guys you should be keeping tabs on.

g The Yankees' Mark Teixeira made the trip down to Bradenton and went 0-for-3. As I've mentioned previously, it might be a rocky transition to life in pinstripes for Tex - no Alex Rodriguez in the lineup for a month and a half at least, plus he's a much better second-half hitter (.303 average, .966 OPS) than first-half (.277, .877). But ultimately I have few worries about the 28-year-old hitting machine, who willl enjoy the same fabled right-field porch dimensions at the new Yankee Stadium and perhaps the best offense he's been a part of to date. He's definitely worth a late first-round pick, and I've placed him in my preseason top 10.

g Matt Capps is a guy I'm penciling in for about 35 saves this year, and yet he'll likely be a bit undervalued because a) he missed a bunch of time with a shoulder injury last year and b) people tend to underestimate closers on teams that aren't expected to win a ton of games. But he's certainly got the guts to handle the role and did a fine job the past two years when healthy - 39 for 47 in save opportunities with ERAs of 2.28 and 3.06, plus 103 strikeouts to just 21 walks during that time. He didn't have a great outing Saturday - one hit, two walks, two Ks, one earned run in an inning of work - but he's still a very sold fantasy closer who shouldn't break your bank.

The great keeper debate

So I'm in a keeper league where I can protect up to five players entering this year's draft. I pretty much hate my team, mostly because it finished in the middle of the pack next last season and because I unfortunately don't really have a no-brainer, elite, can't-give-up-under-any-circumstance guy on my roster. It's not terrible though, and I do have some talent I'd like to hold onto.

Here's the roster I finished the season with last year:

C A.J. Pierzynski
1B Ryan Howard
2B Dan Uggla
SS Miguel Tejada
3B Jorge Cantu
OF Jacoby Ellsbury
OF Delmon Young
OF Lance Berkman
UTIL Jason Bay
UTIL Joey Votto
BENCH Jason Giambi
BENCH Pablo Sandoval
BENCH Cameron Maybin
DL Travis Hafner

P Josh Beckett
P Aaron Harang
P Daisuke Matsuzaka
P Francisco Liriano
P Bobby Jenks
P Mike Gonzalez
P J.P. Howell
P Fernando Rodney
P Javier Vazquez
P Chad Qualls
P Ben Sheets
DL Billy Wagner

So right off the bat: I want no part of Hafner or Wagner whatsoever. No thanks. You killed me last year. Get lost.

Pierzynski, Tejada, Cantu, Giambi, Harang, Gonzalez, Howell, Rodney, Vazquez, Qualls, Sheets ... no. Some worthwhile players there, but not keeper material.

I think Young will have the kind of year he should have had last year (which is why I drafted him in the first place) ... but not a keeper.

I don't belive in keeping a closer, so Jenks is out.

Votto's a nice player, but I've got at least two better first basemen already on the roster. Next.

Sandoval and Maybin are intriguing, up-and-coming players, which is why I picked them up at the end of last season when my team had already tanked ... but I can probably redraft them.

So that leaves me with eight legit choices: Howard, Uggla, Ellsbury, Berkman, Bay, Beckett, Matsuzaka, Liriano.

It's a 10-team league, and if everyone protects five guys, I should be keeping top-50-caliber players, which I believe all those guys are capable of being in 2009. It's just a matter of who I want to build a team around, and if I lean toward offense or pitching.

If I want to tackle it by positional scarcity, Uggla is the only guy who fits the bill as a second baseman. His power potential places him in the upper tier at 2B, but he doesn't run a lick, which hurts. He's probably somewhere around sixth in the 2B rankings - doesn't sound like keeper material to me.

Howard, on the other hand ... we know about his faults (no average, no speed), but he's a potential HR champ. He's in.

Berkman's probably the other safe bet. He's getting up there in age, last year seemed like a career year, and another 18 steals seems like a longshot ... but he's been a consistent producer across the board, and he's still got Carlos Lee batting behind him. Plug him into the utility spot.

So now I've got two big mashers, but what about speed? Ellsbury fits the bill. How many players are capable of 50 steals in 2009? Not that many. He won't give me a ton of power, but he won't embarrass himself at the plate like some other speed-only guys. Let's do it.

Now we come to Bay ... do I keep him too, which leaves me room for only one pitcher? The guy fills the stat sheet, seems to be built to play in Fenway, should be in his prime ... OK, I'm sold.

So now we come to the pitchers, Beckett, Dice-K, Liriano. Dice is nice, but the walks really drive me nuts sometimes. Becks, even with the injury concerns and coming off a "down" year, can strike out just as many without the drama. But the guy that really gets my blood pumping is Liriano, who who showed me that Tommy John surgery is a distant memory with his stellar post-All Star break performance (6-1, 2.47 ERA, 60 to 19 K:BB). Would he go in the top 50 in a regular start-from-scratch draft? Is he a bona fide No. 1 fantasy starter? Probably not. But he offers the most upside of any of the guys I've got, so why not take a chance?

There you have it: Howard, Berkman, Ellsbury, Bay, Liriano. My five keepers - unless I change my mind. Thoughts?

Thursday, March 12, 2009

A-Rod, the juice, and his fantasy future

Not since the early days of the Barry Bonds BALCO scandal have we had a mess like this in fantasy sports. What the heck do you do with Alex Rodriguez this year?

The dude was easily a top-three fantasy player a month ago, but his latest offseason drama - which includes his admitted use of something he calls "Boli" and now his hip surgery - have really thrown a monkeywrench into our preseason plans. A-Rod (or A-Roid, or A-Fraud, or A-Hole, the possibilities are endless) is expected to miss six to nine weeks at the start of the season after he underwent a procedure to repair a torn labrum - which you usually hear about in shoulders, not hips. The Yankees, who've committed more money to this guy in the next decade than the government has to AIG, are confident he'll be back and productive sometime in May, and ESPN injury expert Stephania Bell gives him an excellent chance to return to his old self by season's end.

So the prognosis seems good, and even A-Rod playing at 80 percent capability for 80 percent of the MLB season is an extremely valuable fantasy commodity. If you're in a keeper league it's obviously bad news - you've got to hold onto him even though he won't give you anything for at least the first month and a half of the season. That will be a painful pill to swallow (or inject, if you like) but I don't think I could toss him back in good conscience and let somebody else pick up his 30 homers and 90 RBIs and 15 steals, assuming he rounds back into form by the end of May.

Now, if you're redrafting and A-Rod is sitting out there for the taking, when do you pull the trigger? I'm seeing him ranked by several respectable fantasy publications somewhere around the low 20s to the low 30s, which would put him at the end of the second round or into the third round in a 10-team league. He's the very definition of a high-risk, high-reward pick at that point, and if you think your team can stay afloat until he returns, go for it. You'll want to grab a capable fill-in at third base, which is a scarce position to begin with, but holding onto A-Rod could really pay off by midseason.

As for what all this means for the rest of the Yankees' stars ... it's not great. As you may recall, A-Rod's offense has almost single-handedly kept New York afloat through some otherwise terrible starts to the past two seasons, and they're going to miss his bat immensely in the middle of the batting order. The pressure's on for offseason import Mark Teixeira, notorious for being a slow starter to begin with and now missing his protection in the lineup. Table-setters Johnny Damon, Derek Jeter and sleeper candidate Brett Gardner could see their run-scoring drop off significantly without Rodriguez batting behind them. And if you're thinking of scooping up A-Rod's replacement (for now), 33-year-old Cody Ransom, forget it: He's a career .242 hitter with a .322 on-base percentage in 11 (count 'em, 11) seasons in the minor leagues. I'm sure you can do better unless you're taking him at the very end of an AL-only draft.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

T.O. to .... Buffalo?

The people have spoken, and I'm back to the blog!

The news that brought me out of my winter hibernation: Terrell Owens is a Buffalo Bill.

OK, didn't see that coming. I was thinking the Raiders, maybe the Redskins ... but this is truly a fascinating move. T.O. goes from America's Team to the NFL's hinterlands, a team desperate for some offensive juice - if not the attention-grabbing, chemistry-ruining nonsense that comes with him.

We're all sick of the endless ESPN drama, but it's easy to forget Owens has actually been a very productive player on the field, topping 1,000 yards and scoring at least 10 TDs in each of the past three seasons in Big D. Can he replicate those numbers in cold and windy Buffalo, at age 35, with Trent Edwards throwing him the ball and fewer Pro Bowl-caliber players surrounding him? I'm not willing to bet my first-round pick on it ... but I do believe Owens will sbe a No. 1 fantasy receiver in 2009. The track record is there - he's produced everywhere he's played, at least until he inevitably wears out his welcome.

As for Edwards and the rest of the Bills' skill guys - Lee Evans, Marshawn Lynch, Fred Jackson, etc. - Owens' arrival should be reason to celebrate. What had been an anemic offense just got a whole lot more explosive, and all of their stats should see a boost next season as a result.