Sunday, February 28, 2010

Spring Preview: New York Yankees

TAMPA - Rain washed out my visit to New York Yankees spring training practice Saturday, although that didn't stop a few hundred pinstriped fans from loitering around George Steinbrenner Field to perhaps get a glimpse of one of their heroes from under an umbrella.

There might be a little less tension around Tampa and back in the Bronx this year with the Yanks having claimed their 27th world title in 2009. But New York is primed to make a run at No. 28 this year, thanks to plenty of Yankee superstars worthy of your fantasy consideration in 2010.

BREAKOUT PLAYERS: The Yanks weren't afraid to do some major tweaking to their championship roster, most notably staying goodbye to left fielder and World Series Game 4 star Johnny Damon over the offseason. His departure creates an opportunity for two new faces to have big years in 2010: New left fielder Curtis Granderson and DH Nick Johnson, back for his second tour of duty with N.Y. There have been whispers of Granderson's diminished defensive abilities and loud sirens signalling his ineffectiveness against left-handed pitching (.183 vs. southpaws in 2009), but he did also jack a career-high 30 homers last year, and he could easily duplicate that thanks to a swing that's tailor-made for the new Yankee Stadium's friendly right-field porch.

Meanwhile, there's a chance Johnson could take Damon's No. 2 spot in the batting order, and you can't tell me he wouldn't be excited to bat behind Derek Jeter and in front of Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez after spending the past few years in the MLB wasteland of Washington, D.C. Johnson's plate discipline (career OBP: .402) make him a great fit for that spot in the Yanks' lineup, and the opportunity to DH after years in the NL should allow the injury-hampered Johnson to stay in the game.

BUYER BEWARE: Jorge Posada has to eventually break down, and though he's shown no warning signs yet, the man is 38 years old and will be behind the plate yet again for New York. In many ways he's the surest thing at the position this side of Joe Mauer if he performs up to his level of consistency, but one of these days Father Time will catch up with him (pun intended), and some fantasy owners are going to get burned. Is this the year?

ETC: A year removed from hip surgery, Rodriguez is still a fantasy beast and and a mid-first-rounder. ... Little reason to worry about Jeter, Teixeira, Robinson Cano or CC Sabathia. You know what kind of quality you're getting there. ... Javier Vazquez, another player making his second tour of duty in the Bronx, is intriguing. Coming off arguably his best season, his ERA is sure to take a hit with the move back to the AL East, where he once failed. But the lowered expectations of a No. 4 starter spot and the likely increase in run support he'll get in New York should help. So I don't really know what to expect. ... The battle for New York's No. 5 starter spot is one to watch, not just because of who wins but also who loses. If it's really a race between Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain, the loser will still have value as arguably one of the top setup men in baseball. ... Mariano Rivera is still a worry-free draft choice at closer. Pick him and pencil yourself in for an easy 35 saves and no headaches. ... Brett Gardner is the Yanks' top stolen base threat, swiping 26 in just 284 plate appearances last year. He stands to get regular playing time with Melky Cabrera and Damon out of the picture and could be a 40-steal source without killing you in batting average (.270 in 2009).

Thursday, February 25, 2010

New Face, New Place: Jason Bay, Mets

Jason Bay turned a career year at the plate with the Red Sox in 2009 into a four-year, $66 million contract with the Mets this offseason. So how will he fare in 2010?

Though this season's Amazin's lineup likely won't be quite as good as Boston's last year, it also shouldn't be as bad as some of the Pirates batting orders Bay was a part of earlier in his career, and he was still able to put up All-Star-caliber production in relative anonymity the Steel City. He should have a number of RBI opportunities if/when Carlos Beltran and Jose Reyes get healthy and David Wright returns to form.

Much has been made about the Mets' homer-sapping ballpark, Citi Field, but perhaps a little too much. New York did hit only 95 homers last year as a team - 27 fewer than the next-worst team - but in many cases they had guys suffer disastrous/injury plagued seasons and were forced to rely on little-talented replacements. And they were also the worst road homer team as well, so it wasn't merely a Citi Field phenomenon.

The Mets did lower Citi's center-field wall from 16 feet to 8 for the upcoming season in an attempt to make the park more homer friendly. That may help Wright out, but probably not Bay, who hit the vast majority of his 36 bombs to left field at Fenway last season, according to So while you can probably expect Bay's HR total to dip by a decent amount, he should remain consistent in other categories and perhaps even swipe a few more bags than last year (13) in his return to the NL. Bay deserves consideration as a top-10 outfielder in 2010.

Photo by The Associated Press

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

It's no prank: Westbrook's been cut

It's a sad time for fantasy football owners as running back Brian Westbrook was cut Tuesday by the Philadelphia Eagles. The onetime fantasy stud says he's not retiring, and though it's unclear where he might end up in 2010, I'm pretty sure his future doesn't include "worshipping the prostate of Howard Stern," as a Westbrook impersonator mentioned in a prank call to SportsCenter (above).

When fully healthy - which wasn't often - the versatile Westbrook was one of the most dangerous players in the game, capable of going off with 100 yards rushing, or 100 yards receiving, or 3 or 4 TDs at any time. His owners can attest to a lot of agonizing over Westbrook being a game-time decision on a Sunday morning, but nobody wanted to be the guy who benched him before another monster game. Lingering concussion and knee problems finally made the 30-year-old Westbrook expendable for Philadelphia, a franchise that's never been afraid to jettison its aging stars. Besides, they've already got a younger Westbrook model named LeSean McCoy waiting in the wings who know becomes a potential breakout star next season.

So what's next for Westbrook? Ideally, he'd land on a team looking for a starting running back - San Diego? Seattle? Houston? - and puts his injuries behind him. He'll be an incredibly risky, yet intriguing, fantasy pick wherever he ends up.

Spring preview: Baltimore Orioles

SARASOTA - Greetings from the new spring training home of the Baltimore Orioles! I was lucky enough to check out the O's first full-squad workout Tuesday at their new sunny locale, Sarasota's Ed Smith Stadium, which happens to be approximately 2 miles from my house. The laid-back atmosphere offered a good chance to get an up-close look at some of the new faces and promising young talent that will make up Baltimore's 2010 squad.

I'm hoping to visit several of the MLB squads that make Florida's west coast their home away from home, either for workouts or games, over the next month or so, and I'll bring you a quick fantasy synopsis for the upcoming season. So here we go, starting with the O's.

BREAKOUT PLAYER: Nick Markakis and Adam Jones are already pretty well-known among most fans (even though one older Orioles fan pointed out "Pacman Jones" on Monday). But it's Baltimore's third outfielder, 26-year-old Nolan Reimold, who made the biggest splash in the second half of 2009. He hit 15 homers - three fewer than Markakis, in nearly 300 fewer at-bats - and stole eight bases while hitting .279. I'm eager to see what he can do for a full season batting in the top half of a lineup that's better than you might think.

BUYER BEWARE: Brian Roberts' SB totals have dropped in each of the past two seasons, from 50 to 40 to 30, and although his offensive game is still good (16 homers in 2009, second-most of his career), the 32-year-old's decline in speed and a herniated disk in his lower back that's currently bothering him have me a tad concerned.

Catcher Matt Wieters didn't take fantasy by storm last year as predicted, but the kid's only 23 years old and is still likely to join Joe Mauer as the game's elite catchers. Be wary of overpaying (unless you're in a keeper league, where he's a must-have), but even a slight improvement on last year's numbers would make Wieters a top-5 fantasy catcher in 2010. ... Miguel Tejada (right), who hit 112 homers in four seasons with the O's from 2004-07, is back in a Baltimore uniform and ready to contribute after a solid bounce-back year with the Astros last season. He'll play third this year but retains SS eligibility. ... Garrett Atkins is slated to be Baltimore's starting first baseman, but must prove he can hit away from Coors Field and hold onto the job. ... Kevin Millwood, who pitched above his head for the first half of 2009 with the Rangers before fading, doesn't excite me much as the Orioles' new ace. But some of their other promising young starters, particularly lefty Brian Matusz and righty Chris Tillman, are very intriguing as late-round fliers. ... New closer Mike Gonzalez has a bunch of experience closing out games with the Pirates and Braves and could be a pleasant surprise with the job all to himself at the start of the season.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Tomlinson's last electric glide

The days of LaDainian Tomlinson as a fantasy stud and as a San Diego Charger are officially over.

The Bolts released LT2 (there can never be another LT) on Monday as widely expected. That's the unfortunately reality for a 30-year-old running back whose stats have been in decline. Tomlinson, for years a surefire No. 1 fantasy pick, averaged a pedestrian 3.3 yards a carry last year and didn't crack the 100-yard mark in a game, breaking the hearts of many fantasy players along the way. And just like that, the Chargers sent him packing.

I don't think LT2 is done just yet, as he's professed his wish to continue playing for a contender. Someone will give him a shot, and deservedly so, perhaps as part of a running back rotation or as a short-yardage back. He may even have some fantasy value next year, depending on where he lands and how they use him. But it will definitely be weird seeing him without a lightning bolt logo on his helmet - think Emmitt Smith in Cardinals red or Franco Harris in Seahawks silver. And it will certainly feel strange in fantasy circles when Tomlinson's name isn't called in the first round next year.

At least we'll always have the Electric Glide video.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Fantasy baseball advice? I'm your man

Need help deciding who to keep and who to drop for 2010?

Want to know how Cliff Lee will fare as a Mariner or if Johnny Damon is due for a decline in Detroit (if he lands there)?

Wondering if that Cole Hamels-for-Clayton Kershaw trade offer in your e-mail inbox can work to your advantage?

I'm the guy you want to talk to.

Feel free to pose your fantasy baseball question as a comment on this or any other of my blog posts. Or e-mail me directly at I'm always more than happy to help out my fellow fantasy geek who's looking for advice. If your question's good enough, I'd love to turn it into a blog post - that way I feel like I'm meeting the needs of my audience rather than just pontificating about random topics that may interest only me.

I'm here for you, readers.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Warning signs for young pitchers

Prepping for fantasy baseball season? It's never too early, you know, especially with that magical time of year unfolding here in sunny Florida and out in Arizona.

As you begin to consider who will make up your fantasy squad this year, Sports Illustrated's Tom Verducci offers a very helpful guide to young pitchers who may be at risk of injury or ineffectiveness. The venerable baseball scribe identifies those hurlers who could suffer from what he's coined the "Verducci Effect," a breakdown that occurs after pitching too many innings too soon.

It's just a guide, of course, but among those at most risk: the Yankees' Joba Chamberlain, the Reds' Homer Bailey and Rick Porcello of the Tigers. Just something to think about as you start setting your big board for the draft.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Kurt Warner: An appreciation

The football world said goodbye to Kurt Warner last week, with the Cardinals QB calling it a career. And what a fascinating career it's been.

Warner's success story is one of the unlikeliest the NFL's ever seen, as he's gone from small-college QB to grocery bagger to Arena Football League and NFL Europe standout to unknown third-stringer to Super Bowl and league MVP. He also put up some of the sickest numbers the fantasy football era has ever seen.

Warner's out-of-nowhere MVP season of 1999 was almost too good to be true: He passed for 4,353 yards and 41 TDs that year (only three other QBs - Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Dan Marino - have ever reached the 40-TD plateau). And he was just as remarkable in his 2001 MVP campaign, this time throwing for 4,830 yards (third best in NFL history) and completing 68 percent of his passes with 36 TDs.

Supposedly there are no second acts in American lives, but that's not true in Warner's case. We thought the magic was gone after two injury plagued/ineffective years in St. Louis in 2002-03, and the QB seemed destined to be just a mediocre fantasy afterthought with the Giants (2004) and then in Arizona (2005). But everything clicked in 2007 with the Cardinals, and Warner once again became a fantasy stud. For three more years, he gave us star-quality stats - and then he was gone.

It's too bad the fantasy season doesn't include the NFL playoffs, because Warner's Super Bowl performances - three of the greatest the big game has ever seen - would have single-handedly won you a fantasy championship.

We'll miss you, Kurt. And so will our fantasy teams.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

What the Mike Martz hiring means to you

The mad scientist is back in the NFL.

The Chicago Bears hired Mike Martz as their offensive coordinator on Monday in the hopes of reviving a stagnant offense that was a huge disappointment in 2009.

Martz, best known as the offensive guru behind the St. Louis Rams' "Greatest Show on Turf" of the early part of the last decade, had been out of football last year. The move is particularly significant for fantasy owners because Martz, unlike some other first-time coordinators we see get hired from time to time, brings a signature offensive style to the table. Thus, we should have a good idea what to expect out of Bears skill players in 2010.

We all know what Martz accomplished with the Rams - a pass-heavy offense based on precision and timing that set league record books ablaze and made stars out of Kurt Warner, Marshall Faulk, Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce.

It'd be hard to expect the same acrobatics out of the Bears offense in 2010, so let's take a closer look at Martz's accomplishments as an offensive coordinator after his fallout in St. Louis. Martz spent 2006-07 as an assistant in Detroit, a team with a serious talent deficit. Still, he helped QB Jon Kitna twice pass for 4,000 yards in a season. He coached WR Roy Williams to his best pro season (1,310 yards, 7 TDs in 2006). He squeezed a career-high 61 catches and 520 receiving yards out of RB Kevin Jones that year. He made unheralded WRs Shaun McDonald and Mike Furrey fantasy relevant (and they haven't been heard from since).

Sure, the Lions never became world-beaters under Martz's guidance, but he did get production out of players who've done little or nothing otherwise in their NFL careers. In Martz's next stop, in San Francisco in 2008, he helped seven players rack up more than 300 receiving yards. Again, there was no Super Bowl appearance for the 49ers and no records were set, but Martz's track record stayed intact.

So we know what to expect out of the Bears in 2010 under Martz: Jay Cutler will get back to being a 4,000-yard passer and throw more TDs. Matt Forte will continue to get a lot of pass-catching opportunities (although his rushing stats aren't likely to improve). And the Bears' young receivers - Devin Hester, Johnny Knox, Earl Bennett, Devin Aromashodu - should all see spikes in their stats. There's more raw talent in the Windy City than at Martz's last two stops, and the mad scientist may be able to do some real damage this time.