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.

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