Monday, March 31, 2008

Live Blog 14: Is it 5 p.m. already?


Yes, it's 5 o'clock somewhere.

And that place is here, at my computer, where I must log off now, because (and I'm sure all you fantasy owners can appreciate this), I have a draft to go to. Gotta do those last-minute preparations (i.e. carb up) for the Observer league's auction draft. This is my first baseball auction draft, but I've done plenty in football. Should be a nice, tidy, 4-hour ordeal. If we're lucky.

But one last spin through the box scores:

  • Albert Pujols homered. Sore elbow or not, this guy is the goods. Only thing I worry about is St. Louis shutting him down on Aug. 15 after the Cards are eliminated.
  • Juan Pierre benched. Word out of L.A. is Andre Ethier won the leftfield job, quite a shocker considering the Dodgers are paying Pierre $36 million over the next 4 years and new coach Joe Torre loves his veterans. Don't bail on Pierre if you have bench spots, but otherwise it's not looking good.
  • Troy Tulowizki stole a base. His speed may just tick up a little from 7 last year. If that happens, Tulo is a major player in 5x5 leagues (he hit 6 HR this spring).
  • Johan Santana has thrown 3 scoreless innings, striking out 2. This guy is the Mets meal ticket, but he could turn in a fantasy pitching season for the ages. Fantasy studs Reyes and Wright are both 0-for-2, but Castillo is 1-for-2 with a SB.
  • Carlos Gomez, the biggest chip the Twins received for Santana, is leading off and playing CF (the 7 p.m. lineup has been posted). Reyes says Gomez is the only guy faster than him. That's 50 SB, if Gomez can just hit .250 and stay in the bigs all year.
  • Zambrano (5 Ks) and Sheets (7 Ks) are still dueling in their 0-0 game. It's now in the 7th and Bill Hall just missed the basket, but got a standup double. Big Z just picked him off 2nd. Threat averted.
  • Jimmy Rollins homered to tie the Nats 6-6. 
  • The Rockies-Cardinals are now in a rain delay.
Perfect. I think we'll end there, right where we began the day.

Hope you enjoyed Opening Day as much as I did. 

And just remember, 161 left to go.

Live Blog 13: All systems go...K.C. wins


We currently have 9 games being played right now. 

Someone get me an IV.

Just a few updates that may have some fantasy significance:

Royals: Joakim Soria nailed down a shaky 9th for a save as K.C. stuns the Detroit crowd, 5-4 in the 11th. Make that 8 games right now.

Cubs: The tarps are back off and both Sheets and Zambrano came back out. Sheets has 6 K's; Zambrano 4. Fukudome, who was brought over from Japan for his high obp., just walked after leading off with a double. I'd say a 1.000 obp is a decent start.

Dodgers: Jeff Kent, yeah, the 40-year-old Jeff Kent, just took Barry Zito yard, which either makes Kent look like the best 40-year-old 2nd base fantasy option ever or Zito the worst $17 million pitcher ever. You can decide. As a sidenote, Ray Durham started at 2B for the Giants, for all of you out there looking for cheap speed in Eugenio Velez, who stole 16 in spring training. Keep an eye on that.

Phillies: Chase Utley homered to cut the Nats' lead to 6-3. It's safe to say Utley is the best 2B option, Ray Durham included.

Cardinals: St. Louis, who hasn't made one significant move since winning the 2006 World Series, is off to a 4-1 lead with Rick Ankiel's 2-run double the biggest blow. Ankiel's incredible story was marred by his link to HGH, but he's out to show he's no one-hit wonder. Vanilla Ice just took offense to that comment.

Rays: Up 6-2 after an RBI-single by C Dioneer Navarro, who also has been caught stealing. Navarro, trying to do his best Russell Martin impersonation, had just 3 SB last year. James Shields has pitched 6 strong innings, but only has 2 K's.


Live Blog 12: Thome HRs again; V-Mart injured

The news keeps flowing from Cleveland.


First, Victor Martinez comes up lame with a hammy injury sliding into second, then Thome hits his 2nd 2-run HR off Sabathia. 

Before you blame the weather in Cleveland (remember those snowed-out games last April?), it's 64 degrees in Cleveland right now. Don't ask me how. It's 50 in Charlotte.

V-Mart seems to come up with leg injuries every year at this time. He left a game on April 6 last year with a leg injury. 

Still, that's not good news for a catcher.

Fantasy Spin: Thome's always been a streaky hitter and hits 'em in bunches. But historically, April has been his least powerful month, with just 65 HR, compared to 109 in June. Translation, don't be afraid to trade for Thome, thinking you'll be buying high. 

Live Blog 11: Who's this flame-thrower?

Denny Bautista may be the Tigers savior.


For all you Detroit fans, all those Verlander and Bonderman owners, this guy may be huge for your team.

Mainly used as a spot starter the past four years (21 starts in 35 appearances since 2004), Bautista came into a tie game in the 11th, gave up a single and SB, but also threw some major heat by Alex Gordon and Jose Guillen, getting Guillen on a 99-mph fastball. Billy Butler flew out to left.

We're now in the 11th inning in Detroit. Still 4-4.

The Tigers well-documented depleted bullpen is desperate for a guy like Bautista. And more. 

Jim Leyland usually has something up his sleeve.

Live Blog 10: Scanning the globe...

Lots of action happening right now.


About time. Let's get you updated:

  • Carlos Guillen ties the game at 4 with a long blast off Brett Tomko. Remember when Tomko was fantasy relevant?
  • The tarps are out at Wrigley in the 3rd. Not before Kosuke Fukudome doubled to center to start his MLB career. If this delay goes longer than about 45 minutes, starters Carlos Zambrano and Ben Sheets may not return.
  • Chris Young and Eric Byrnes have each hit a solo shot off Aaron Harang, a notorious slow starter. Reds up 3-0 in the 3rd.
  • Sleeper Mark Buehrle has already hit the showers after 1 2/3 innings. HR by Gutierrez and Sizemore, along with a Hafner double contributed to the early hook. Tribe up 7-2.
  • Steals already for Crawford, Roberts and Markakis in the Rays-O's game. Upton has a single for 2 of what will probably be 115 RBI this year.
  • Phillies up 1-0 on an Utley sac-fly. That's hardly worth a post, but I'm sure there's a couple Philly fans looking for some love.
  • Unorthodox K.C. reliever Leo Nunez handled the top of Detroit's lineup with relative ease and we're headed to extras.

Live Blog 9: Tiger pen blows Verlander win


All you Justin Verlander owners banking on that Opening Day victory.

Sorry.

But get used to it. 

Verlander pitched 6 solid innings and left the game with 2 runners on.

Let me introduce you to the Tigers bullpen. Enough said.

In what sounds like a dish at a Cuban restaurant, Grilli-Seay-Lopez, gave up the tying and go-ahead runs and suddenly a somewhat-struggling Meche can get the win. 

As a quick sidebar: What do you do, when you have a starting pitcher (Meche) on one team facing a closer (Todd Jones) on the other team in a tight game? 

This is the fantasy equivalent to the question, what's the sound of one hand clapping?

There is no answer. Just hope you get one or the other and not neither because if a fantasy win from your team falls in the middle of the woods, believe me, only you will hear it.

Fantasy Spin: This may become a broken record for Verlander/Bonderman/Willis/Rogers owners. The Tigers bullpen is shaky .. on a good day. Until flame-thrower Zumaya and setup specialist Rodney can get healthy. And still, there's Todd Jones in the bullpen, waiting patiently to give away another half dozen games. This almost offsets the number of 12-7 wins the Tigers pitchers will get because of the potent lineup.

Live Blog 8: Thome tags Sabathia

Now, we're cooking.


In the top of the first at the Jake, Jim Thome takes last year's Cy Young winner C.C. Sabathia out of the park.

Much is made about the Yankees, Red Sox and Tigers lineups being potent, but the heart of the White Sox can hang with anyone with the addition of Cabrera and Swisher to Thome-Konerko-Dye. 

There's little chance Chicago's South Siders can ride its pitching staff to the World Series like in 2005, but this lineup could make them a surprise team in the AL Central.

Fantasy Spin: Sure, Thome is aging (he'll be 38 in Aug.), but the DH smacked 35 and drove in 96 last year despite missing 32 games. He'll be knicked up. That back will flare up from time to time. He'll probably land on the DL at least once. Lots of whirlpool time, for sure. But Thome can still provide you with top 20 power numbers so don't sleep on this likely HOFer. He's the epitome of pop in the bargain bin, but I'm OK with that.
Sabathia will be fine, but be wary of those 241 IP last season. Pitching on a contract year, it'll take a serious injury to shut Sabathia down, but you may see a tired arm after the All-Star break.

Live Blog 7: Brewers-Cubs underway

After a 40-minute delay at Wrigley...let's play ball.


And who better to throw out the first pitch but Ernie Banks, Mr. Cub, famous for his line "Let's Play Two!"

As I squint to see Carlos Zambrano through the fog, most Cubs fans will settle for one today. 

Yes, the Cubs unveiled the Ernie Banks statue and had a pre-game celebration with both Banks and Billy Williams. It's only about 2 decades too late for the Banks statue, but let's not split hairs. 

Zambrano's been explosive on Opening Days in the past, and not in a good way. No one will argue the guy is passionate. 

The potent Brewers lineup will be a big test today and Big Z pitched a solid first inning, giving up just one cheap infield single that Aramis Ramirez slightly muffed.

If the Cubs are going to try to break that 100-year curse, Zambrano will have to keep those emotions in check.

At least Michael Barrett isn't around to stir up the pot.

Live Blog 6: Gordon takes Verlander yard


I was halfway through my post about Justin Verlander, how he's mowing through the Royals lineup. Yeah, it's just the Royals, cheap shot joke here, yada, yada.

Then Alex Gordon comes to the plate.

Gone.

A 2-run shot, not a cheapie either, for Gordon, who struggled mightily in his rookie season, hitting .173 in April and .197 in May. 

Verlander is still pitching a fine, 3-hit game through 6 innings, without a walk and 6 strikeouts. He's still a top 10 pitcher in both leagues and he'll probably get the first of 18-20 wins today.

Gordon was just a little better.

Fantasy Spin: You've probably already had your draft, but if not, target Gordon early. He's hitting 3rd, could steal 15-20 and deliver 20/100 numbers this year. No telling what his avg. might look at, but it'll be better than .247. If you get a chance to get him in a trade, do it in the first month, because Gordon may heat up soon (.327 in June last year) and you won't be able to get him in the discount bin.


Live Blog 5: The unveling of the lineups


For all fantasy baseball owners, it's almost an annual tradition.

It's opening day and you clamor to that first box score to see where your players are hitting in their respective lineups.

With box scores sometimes coming up hours before the first pitch, let's break down some notable lineup names and where they're hitting.

Yankees
Biggest surprise is Matsui hitting 8th; Cano 6th. It's the usual cast of All-Stars.

Blue Jays
Rios dropped to 3rd with Stewart hitting 2nd. Wells-Thomas-Overbay-Hill in the 4-7 spots. 

Diamondbacks
Eric Byrnes is hitting 3rd, Conor Jackson cleanup and Chris Snyder 5th. Justin Upton 8th.

Reds
Corey Patterson (CF) leadoff; Griffey Jr. 3rd; Phillips cleanup; Dunn 5th. Freel not starting.

Brewers
Gwynn Jr. 2nd; Fielder 3rd; Braun cleanup; Hall 5th; Hart 6th. Kendall hitting 9th behind Sheets (8th). Ouch.

Nationals
Milledge 2nd; Zimmerman 3rd; Johnson cleanup; Kearns 5th. Not many ownable mixed-league guys here.

Phillies
Same as last year, mostly: Rollins-Victorino-Utley-Howard-Burrell-Feliz. Stock up early and often on your Phillies.

White Sox
Swisher leading off with CF Owens injured; Cabrera 2nd; Thome 3rd; Konerko 4th; Dye 5th; rookie Alexei Ramirez 6th, playing CF. Crede hitting 8th.

Indians
Lots of the same: Sizemore-Michaels-Hafner-VMart-Peralta-Garko. Gutierrez 8th. Blake moved from 2nd to 9th.

Devil Rays
Just like we saw this spring: Iwamura-Crawford-Pena-Upton-Floyd and then it really drops off. But the top of the Rays lineup is impressive.

Orioles
Predictably, Roberts-Mora-Markakis-Millar-Huff. Scott dropped to 7th behind Hernandez and rookie phenom Adam Jones in the no-pressure 8th slot. Could be a couple waiver-wire pearls here. Don't sleep on all the O's

We've got weather delays in Chicago and Cincinnati. Breaking news: Blue Jays-Yankees postponed to tomorrow night. Ugh. Still, lots of good info in these early lineups.

For fantasy owners, it's Christmas morning.

Live Blog 4: K.C.'s Meche hanging tough


What's the deal with Gil Meche?

OK, you say, are we really going to talk about every player from Kansas City or Detroit?

Well, with a rain delay in New York and rain threatening both 2 p.m. starts, Arizona-Cincinnati and Milwaukee-Chicago, it may be a steady diet of Royals and Tigers for a bit, so let's get the magnifying glass out on Mr. Meche.

When K.C. signed Meche to that 5-year, $55 million deal two offseasons ago, most of baseball thought to themselves: "Bad signing."

But Meche rewarded the Royals with borderline No. 1 starter stuff last year: 3.67 ERA, a 1.30 WHIP and 156 strikeouts.

Meche hasn't been terrible today (he's struck out 4), but he's allowed 5 hits and 2 walks with just 1 ER, thanks to Jose Guillen gunning down Maggs at the plate in the bottom of the third.

btw, Guillen has an absolute cannon in right. 

Fantasy Spin: Meche is playing on an improved Royals team that ranked 29th in runs scored last year. With the addition of Guillen and Billy Butler and another year of seasoning of Alex Gordon, look for Meche's win total to improve from 9 to about 13. ERA will probably be a shade below 4 and average WHIP/K numbers. He's worth filling a roster spotl in mixed leagues and is a no. 4 or 5 starter in AL-only formats.

Live Blog 3: Tigers lineup unfair


Death. Taxes.

Add to that list, the Tigers lineup scoring runs. 

All are unfair, and all are inevitable. 

Yeah, we've been hearing about their "All-Star" lineup ever since the Tigers added Miguel Cabrera from the Marlins at the Winter Meetings. But once you see that lineup play out, you see there's no easy out.

And the scary thing is, Curtis Granderson is out for another week or two with a broken finger.

After Gil Meche retired Edgar Renteria and Placido Polanco, Gary Sheffield walked and Magglio Ordonez singled to left before Cabrera hit a sky rocket that CF David Dejesus easily caught.

You could have fooled the Tigers fans. The ooohs and aaahs on Cabrera's routine flyout are indicative of the sky-high expectations of their new $152 million third baseman.

Carlos Guillen led off the bottom of the 2nd with a 400-foot double to center. And he broke his bat. Future Hall-of-famer Ivan Rodriguez is now up.

This is really unfair.

Fantasy spin: Beg, borrow or steal every Tiger that you can get your hands on. In every format, even in the shallowest of leagues, every Tiger starter, with the exception of Jacque Jones should be owned. And Jones should be considered in deeper leagues.


Live Blog 2: Blue Jays-Yanks delayed


Surprise, surprise.

Not even five minutes into the conventional Opening Day and we've got our first rain delay:

Blue Jays at Yankees. It's 45 degrees and raining. According to weather.com, rain doesn't turn to drizzle until 4 p.m.

The good news is ESPN is showing bonus coverage of the Royals at the Tigers. Already in the first inning, we've got Mark Grudzielanek reach on a Carlos Guillen error at first (new position, we'll cut him some slack). Grudz steals second, which matches last year's total and Alex Gordon is caught looking by a Justin Verlander pitch that, if it painted the corner, was on the edge of the painter's tape.

Fantasy spin: Grudz won't steal more than 5 bags this year, so don't factor that in (dude turns 38 this summer and he's never hit double digits). He's basically a two-category guy in 5x5's (avg. and runs).  It's noteworthy that Gordon is hitting third, which the Royals have hinted at all spring. Also interesting is Billy Butler is hitting fifth, a prime RBI spot. Look for Butler to go 20/100, at minimum.


Live Blog 1: Nothing like Opening Day

The best part about Opening Day?


It's gotta be the hope.

Every team today fills out their lineup card with what could be the start to a championship season.

But unfortunately, in places like Pittsburgh and Tampa, Miami and Kansas City, that hope may just be, finishing with a .500 season. 

Not so in places like Chicago and New York, where expectations are at an all-time high. The Mets and Yankees are on almost everyone's postseason list and the Cubs have become a preseason darling in a watered-down NL Central. 

Johnny Damon says this year's Yankees can score 1,000 runs. But the Yankees won't win this year on the strength of their lineup. It'll be the young guys, Phillip Hughes, Ian Kennedy and Joba Chamberlain, who you'll probably see in the rotation when Mike Mussina and/or Andy Pettitte hit the shelf.

The Cubs also have pitching depth, with Jon Lieber in the bullpen and Sean Marshall waiting in AAA Iowa.

Both teams have strong bullpens, which leads me to my first official World Series prediction: Yankees over the Cubs in 7 games to close out Yankee Stadium.

The bigger question is how much would a ticket to that on eBay cost?



Sunday, March 30, 2008

Cubs' Fukudome hard to figure

First things first.


It's Kosuke, pronounced KOH-skay.

And Fukudome, as in foo-koo-DOUGH-may.

There will be a test. And it involves being able to pronounce the newest Japanese import for the Chicago Cubs at your fantasy draft.

There's probably a draft somewhere, happening today even, where an owner looks down at his list of available outfielders and thinks, to himself, I'd like to take this Japanese guy but don't have a clue on how to say either name .... um, yeah, I'll take Aaron Rowand.

But besides questions about what emphasis to put on which syllable, there are plenty of other questions surrounding the Cubs' 4-year, $48 million import, charged with roaming the craziness that is right field at Wrigley Field.

For starters, Fukudome is not a big guy. At all. He's listed at 6 feet tall, 187 pounds. But in person, his build is so slight, he looks like a guy who needs to move around in the shower to get wet.

There's been plenty of buzz this offseason, and you know that only half of what you hear is probably true.
  • You've heard him compared to the Yankees' Hideki Matsui.

  • You've heard people say he's an Ichiro-type, with better power, but less speed.

  • You've heard about the two batting titles and the four Gold Gloves with the Chunichi Dragons.

  • You've heard he's an on-base machine, with a .397 lifetime OBP and over .430 the past three seasons.

  • You've heard about his 31 HR and 11 SB in 2006 and elbow surgery that cut his 2007 short.

  • And by now, you've heard of Fukudome's struggles this spring. It took him awhile to get comfortable, but he raised his .224 average to .270 by hitting safely in every game this past week (6-for-14, .429) and finished with 8 RBI.
Not great, but not horrible.

Basically, you can either buy into the hype, how the Cubs think he'll steal 30 this year and hit over .300, per his career average (.305). Or you can concentrate on that elbow surgery and the fact that most Japanese players struggle to repeat their power numbers.

Like anything, Fukudome-mania will take hold in Chicago's north side this summer, but not always because of a game-winning HR.

It might be a diving catch. Or throwing a guy out at the plate.

He'll likely win Rookie of the Year but fall short of finishing in the top 20 OF rankings, so don't take him too high unless you're in a league that counts OBP.

But in the meantime, keep practicing that pronunciation, because when Round 14 comes around and he's still available, you'll wanna be able to say in confidence, "I'll take KOH-skay, foo-koo-DOUGH-may," while looking around the room, nodding with a smile.

Someone will be impressed.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Another 50 SB for Byrnes?

Eric Byrnes has one speed.

The Arizona OF goes all out, all the time. He's a fan favorite. And he's one of the nicest guy in any clubhouse.

Oh yeah, and he also put up ridiculous numbers last year: 21 HR, 50 SB, 103 runs, 83 RBI and a .283 average.

So why is Byrnes selected on average late fourth/early fifth round in drafts this year? Could it be that prior to last year, he never stole more than 25 bases?

I caught up to Byrnes (or Bern-zee, as he's known to his fans), before a Cubs-Dbacks game in 'Zona earlier this month, where he signed autographs for a solid 45 minutes, posed with any fan who wanted to get a snapshot and joked around with just about anyone who would engage him.

So, Eric, how many steals you thinking this year? I asked, trying to dig up a scoop to deliver to you fantasy faithful out there.

"Well," he said, pausing as he chose his words carefully. "Fifty again sounds good to me."

Now, before you go penciling in Byrnes for a half-century bags, there's a good chance manager Bob Melvin will be hitting Byrnes cleanup most of the year, which could cut into those numbers. With Melvin, you never know. He penciled 146 different lineups out of 162 games in 2007.

But Melvin said just over a week ago that he's looking at Byrnes as his cleanup this year, and he's been hitting either third or fourth most of the spring.

The thing with Byrnes is, he's so versatile with speed and power - no matter where he hits -that he'll be a valuable addition to any roster. Almost as much as Brandon Phillips, who's usually drafted 2 full rounds higher. You just don't know if it'll be 50 steals and 100 runs from the No. 2 hole or 30 steals and 100 RBI at cleanup.

Either way, if Byrnes is available in the fourth round, grab him.

You not only will get across-the-board numbers, you get a guy who's fun to cheer for, a guy who was so popular in Oakland that the contingent in the leftfield bleachers started the Eric Byrnes Fan Club.

Byrnes, as you may remember, also worked the All-Star game as a guest commentator with his dog from a kayak in McCovey's Cove. And he also has a weekly show on XM radio, which is pretty entertaining.

"People listen to that show?" Byrnes joked.

Good things happen when you steal 50 bases.

Friday, March 28, 2008

The 'Desperate' Longoria ordeal


The jokes must be endless with this guy.

Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay's third baseman of the future, has the same name, minus one tiny letter "n" from "Desperate Housewives" star Eva Longoria (pictured, right).

"I have fun with it," Longoria said during his first stint of minor league ball with the Hudson Valley Renegades. "There's already a picture of Eva Longoria in my locker so the jokes continue."

Only, the joke, this week, turns out to be the Tampa Bay Rays, who decided that saving a few bucks is more important than putting their best product on the field and demoted Longoria, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2006 draft, to AAA Durham.

"It's a tough thing to swallow," Longoria said. "There's a lot of reasons for it, but it's not really my say on that. It's what the front office has to say and they made the decision."

It's the exact situation why the Brewers demoted Ryan Braun, after hitting .350 in spring training last year and it's the same reason the St. Louis Cardinals sent back CF Colby Rasmus this year: Money.

By waiting at least 7 weeks to bring up a player, it extends that player's arbitration clock a year, so instead of control through 2013, the Rays will have until after the 2014 season before Longoria can bolt in free agency.

How'd it work out for the Brewers last year?

They finished 2 games behind the Cubs in the NL Central and lost 10 games by 3 runs or less during the first 7 weeks while Braun was in AAA. And his fill-in? A combination of Tony Graffanino and Craig Counsell combined to hit .200 with 1 HR in those 7 weeks. Braun hit .324 with 34 HR in 113 games after being called up and won the Rookie of the Year award.

According to Rays executive VP Andrew Friedman, the business aspect had "very little" impact on Longoria's demotion.

And when athletes hold out for a bigger contract, or jump around in free agency, it's never about the money. Yeah, right.

For those of you fantasy owners who drafted Longoria, please, do not drop him if you are in a league with bench spots. He'll be back up within the first two months. It's almost a guarantee.

Check out his smooth, David Wright-like swing during batting practice below:



Everywhere he's been, he's impressed. In that first stint of low-A ball, Longoria smacked 4 HR in 8 games and was promptly sent to high-A ball and hit .327 and finished the year in AA.

Last year, at AA Montgomery, he hit .307 with 21 HR in 105 games and was promoted to AAA Durham.

Whether it's his name or his swing or his high draft status, Longoria's been under the microscope for two years now and has performed everywhere he's been - and he's had to listen to all the inevitable "Desperate Housewives" jokes along the way.

Only this time, it's the Rays organization that's the punch line.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Crede/Fields; other draft updates

White Sox 3B Josh Fields must be thinking, what do you have to do to make the Opening Day roster?

All Fields did was hit 23 HR in 100 games last year, but when it was time for the White Sox to make their 25-man roster cuts, Fields was sent packing, back here to play for the AAA Charlotte.

Good for Knights fans. Bad for Fields.

The reason: 2006 Silver Slugger award-winner Joe Crede ahead of him on the depth chart.

“I mean to a certain extent, there isn’t much I could do because Joe is established,” Fields said over the weekend.

But the real reason Fields will be playing at Knights Castle this April instead of U.S. Cellular is two-fold.
  • Crede is making $5 million this year.
  • The White Sox have been unable to find a suitable trade partner for Crede.
Two teams have reportedly made offers for Crede, but neither GM Ken Williams deemed fair.

So until that happens, Fields, who's hitting .270 this spring, will get regular at-bats in the International League. Crede, meanwhile, has a .185 spring average, and needs to prove he's all the way back after back surgery to increase his trade value.

For those of you who have either Crede or Fields on your team already, ouch. This is quite the sticky situation. Even if he's traded, Crede's value is safe, unless you play in an AL-only league. The Dodgers and Giants are the teams most often mentioned in his trade rumors.

Now, if you drafted Fields and can't decide what to do, the simple answer is store him, if you're in a league with bench spots, and drop him if you don't. We could be looking at a month or longer before Fields is riding planes, instead of buses, between parks.

But for those of you whose draft is this weekend, I'd stay away from this hot corner, if possible. Third base is a deep position and there's always a Pedro Feliz or Casey Blake that you can snag late.

And for all you baseball fans in Charlotte, Fields is just another reason to visit the Castle this spring.

Other last-minute updates, to make you look smart at your draft:
  • Kelvim Escobar: Don't be the guy who says his name in the first half of the draft, only to hear under-the-breath comments or worse, have someone ask you if you've actually done any homework for the draft. The news has gone from bad to worse this week, as Escobar told reporters his shoulder injury is a tear and he may need surgery of either the season-ending or career-ending variety. Draft advice: Stay away. Nothing about this sounds good.
  • Curtis Granderson: The Tigers 20-20-20-20 phenom broke his right middle finger when he was hit by a pitch Saturday. Granderson says it's a 3-week deal. He'll start the season the DL. Draft advice: Even if Grandy's timetable is accurate, he misses the first two weeks, or roughly 12 games, but these finger injuries can really mess up a swing (remember Chone Figgins) and it may take weeks after he comes back, before he hits a groove. This could mean a 10-20 percent hit on Granderson's output, so I'd move him down a full round or round and a half.
  • Kerry Wood: Surprise, surprise. After the kiss of death, an endorsement to make him a top closer by yours truly, Wood came down with back spasms hours later. But that appears to be just a blip as Lou Piniella named Wood his closer, after he struck out 10 and walked none in 10 innings. "He's thrown the ball exceedingly well," Piniella said. Draft advice: Nobody's got better seats on the Wood bandwagon than I, but his injury history, be it shoulder or back, means you should proceed with caution. Sticking to my guns, still rank him in the top 15, but not quite top 10. And to help you sleep easier, stash Carlos Marmol away late, if you can.
  • Brian Roberts: No deal. Still. All you Cubs fans out there, salivating over adding Baltimore's 2B to the top of the lineup since December, it just not looking good. Not now, anyway. Said Orioles GM Andy McPhail on Wednesday: "We worked at it this long and hard and we don't have a deal." Draft advice: Particularly dicey in AL-only drafts, it's looking safer that Roberts will at least give you half a season before a mid-season trade could develop, but still plan on losing him at some point. His mixed-league value goes unchanged.
  • Scott Kazmir: The ace of the Rays (remember they dropped the Devil this year) is starting the season on the DL, but the good news is he's throwing on flat ground. Not really sure if this constitutes good news. Looks like the earliest he'll be back is April 15. Draft advice: There's just something about elbow injuries that hits my funny bone wrong. Kazmir has battled arm problems in his past, so use extra caution. I wouldn't think about him in double digits of a mixed draft, but if he's still around in the 12th round, it might just be business time.
  • Jarod Saltalamacchia: The Rangers catcher, who was a key piece in the Mark Teixeira deal in July and mispronounced more than T.J. Houshmandzadeh was at your football draft, was sent to AAA Oklahoma Wednesday. Draft advice: Salty landed high on many breakout lists and it still may happen, but unless your league has a bench spot, it's time to look elsewhere. Plenty of depth at backstop, with guys like Chris Snyder, Mike Napoli, Kurt Suzuki and Dioner Navarro, who all should be around in the twilight hours of your draft.
  • Evan Longoria: Tampa Bay's hot 3B prospect has been sent down to Durham. See Salty for advice. More about this troubling move tomorrow.
  • The Cardinals rotation: St. Louis starters Chris Carpenter, Mark Mulder Matt Clement and Joel Pineiero are all starting the season on the DL, recovering from various shoulder and arm injuries, causing the Cardinals to sign free agent Kyle Lohse. And the rest of the NL Central chuckles sinisterly under its breath. Anthony Reyes is now a long reliever. Draft advice: Only Adam Wainwright and Braden Looper are ownable Cardinal starters right now and be weary of Looper, the converted reliever who was pitching on fumes the last two months of the season.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Harden, A's shut down Red Sox

It's the old girlfriend calling you up in the middle of the night.

She misses you. She's sorry. What was she thinking ... she was so young and immature.

Blah, blah, blah ...

Rich Harden, please don't break our hearts again.

Wednesday morning was that magical first date, all over again. Dinner at that Italian restaurant. Holding hands in the park. A walk through the fountain.

Early this morning, Harden pitched six masterful innings in Tokyo, striking out 9, giving up just 3 hits and one run, a solo shot to Manny Ramirez.

The knee-jerk reaction is to move him way up on your draft board, but for your own sanity, I beg of you, please do not take Harden too high.

Only you can be the judge, but whether it's the 15th round in mixed leagues, or the 9th round in an AL-only draft, make sure to examine all the other available pitching options, before taking Mr. Harden out for a spin. There's a good chance it could all end in tears.

  • In 2007's opener, Harden dazzled us with a 7-inning shutout performance at Seattle, striking out 7. He made just 7 starts last year, shut down with a shoulder injury.
  • In 2006, Harden opened by throwing a strong 5 2/3 innings against the Yankees, giving up 3 runs, then followed with 3 consecutive wins against the Mariners, Rangers and Angels. But he started just 9 games that season, with strained ligaments in his right elbow.
  • In 2005, Harden started the season, looking like Cy Young, allowing just 1 ER in his first 3 games (Devil Rays, Angels, Seattle) but made his last start Aug. 19 after a strained muscle in his right shoulder, and tried later to make a comeback out of the bullpen.
So will 2008 be any different? As a Harden owner in an AL-only league, I can only hope. But whatever you do, do not get attached emotionally.

This relationship's likely not to end well.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Live Blog 11: Papelbon shaky for Boston


And that's a wrap.

Baseball's Opening Day - Japanese style - is in the books with a 6-5, extra-inning Red Sox victory over the A's.

Jonathan Papelbon, a consensus top 1 or 2 closer in almost every fantasy draft, did his best to make things exciting in the 10th.

After walking Daric Barton to start the inning and fanning all-or-nothing Jack Cust, Papelbon gave up an Emil Brown double that scored Barton to make it 6-5 Boston, but Brown was gunned down, trying to stretch it to a triple.

Brown's mental mistake was doubly painful as Bobby Crosby and Jack Hannahan followed with singles before Suzuki grounded out to first to end the rally.

For Papelbon owners, it's hard to get uptight with this one subpar inning. Sure, a 4.00 WHIP is not ideal for starters, but Pap may have been suffering sleep deprivation for all we know, with the extreme time change and jet lag. And he still recorded the save and was hit with just 1 earned run.

Manny Ramirez finished with 4 RBI, and is now on pace for 600+, just as Oakland C Suzuki is on pace for 120 SB. Basically, take what you want away from this opener, which despite the Matsuzaka and Okajima appearances, was still far bigger in the United States than in Japan.

When the game went to extra innings, the local Tokyo television station reportedly cut away to the regularly-scheduled game show.

Sayonara.

And let the season begin.

Live Blog 10: Wrong-way Street


Huston Street, meet Brandon Moss.

The 11th-hour substitute for J.D. Drew, who came up with a stiff back during pre-game warmups, touched Street for a 1-out, game-tying HR in the top of the 9th. Of course, Japan baseball fans don't mind one bit as they now get to see their boy Hideki Okajima pitch a scoreless bottom of the 9th and we now head into extra innings.

Street, who has not endeared himself to the fantasy community with DL cameos, probably pushed himself a notch or two down on the closer lists for this weekend's drafts.

Right behind Bobby Jenks and Manny Corpas, Street has been considered one of the last sure-thing closers, but today's blown save aside, you might wanna think twice before taking the oft-injured Street. I'd rather take the Royals' Joakim Soria or Matt Capps, who both have nasty stuff on teams who may win a few more games than Oakland.

As for Moss, this shows he's got some promise, but unless Drew misses significant time, he shouldn't be owned in any format, unless there's some obscure Red Sox-only fantasy league ... and even then, I'd probably take Coco Crisp first.

Live Blog 9: Random thoughts


Odds and ends as we enter the bottom of the 8th:
  • For those of you who tuned in before the game, you caught the tail end of ESPN's fantasy draft show. Two thoughts came to mind: 1). Fantasy baseball has grown to the point where ESPN has a draft show. 2). Fantasy baseball is still getting that lucrative 5 a.m. slot.
  • Did anyone catch Steve Phillips' reference to fantasy baseball in the early innings? Good to hear a former GM talk to us fantasy GMs
  • Remember when Keith Foulke was a saves machine?
  • The Bud Selig interview. What was that? ESPN did its best not to ask the tough questions about all the offseason steroid stuff. And Selig kept stroking how great baseball is doing, with all the attendance records, going global, etc. Didn't hear Selig say anything about how baseball's ratings were down last year.
  • Do you think the concession stands carry California rolls?
  • Daric Barton has been everyone's sleeper after he hit 4 HR and .347 in 18 games last year, but Jack Hannahan, filling in for Eric Chavez, hit the go-ahead HR. File away Hannahan's name for those in AL-only and deep mixed leagues. Chavez is so brittle, he makes Scott Rolen look like Cal Ripken Jr. 

Live Blog 8: Dice-K too dicey


Daisuke Matsuzaka may never live up to the hype.

But is he really overrated?

The Red Sox spent $52 million on a posting fee last offseason and over $100 million total, including a 6-year contract and what have they got for their investment?

And subsequently, what did fantasy owners get for their 6th or 7th round investment last season?

A 4.40 ERA, a 1.32 WHIP, 15 wins and 201 Ks.

Take away the 7.62 ERA in five September starts and most fantasy owners would have been relatively happy with the Dice-K experiment in 2007.

But this morning, we've seen why Matsuzaka is just too dicey to count on as a top 15 fantasy pitcher. He nibbles too much on the corners and teams have learned to take the walk. Dice-K walked 80 guys last year - almost 3 an outing - and 5 Athletics today.

Not only does that translate into WHIP-lash for fantasy owners, but it usually adds up to an ERA not even worthy of a $9 or 9th round investment, which has been Matsuzaka's going rate this draft season.

Even with one of the best lineups and bullpens in baseball, don't roll the Dice in 2008.

Live Blog 7: Manny just being Manny?


Do you believe Manny Ramirez?

In the past few days, he's told the media he wants to play 6 more years until age 42 and thinks 600 HR are well within reach. "Sky's the limit," he said.

Manny, who hit 20 HR and missed 29 games in 2007, is reportedly in great shape this spring and the Red Sox are expecting huge things. And Manny has already delivered.

With one out in the sixth, Manny doubled down the leftfield line to tie the game 2-2, then came home on a Brandon Moss single.

Of course, Manny is in a contract year and has 20 million reasons to have a good year. Boston holds a $20 million option for Manny's 2009 season.

With that in mind, don't be afraid to spend at least $25 - or even $30 - on Manny in an auction draft. You could even justify taking him early third round in a mixed league format.

There's not a whole lot of Mannys I want on my fantasy roster.

But I'll take a motivated Manny every year.

Live Blog 6: Can you trust Blanton?


Will the real Joe Blanton please stand up?

If ever there was an enigma when it comes to a fantasy pitcher, Blanton fits the bill.

Do you like him? Do you hate him?

More important, can you trust him?

Blanton has thrown five shutout innings so far this morning, is one of the reasons why the Athletics felt they could get rid of their Big 3 of Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito.

But consistency has not been his middle name. (It happens to be Matthew, if you're wondering)

  • In 2005, he showed major promise: a 3.53 ERA and 1.22 WHIP.
  • In 2006, he was a popular sleeper pick, only to reward owners with a 4.82 ERA and 1.54 WHIP. Many owners, present company included, sweared to never own Blanton again.
  • In 2007, Blanton did another turnabout, and turned in solid numbers of 3.95 ERA, a 1.22 WHIP and a career-high 140 K's.

So, what can you plan on if you draft Mr. Blanton?

Solid numbers, but nothing more. Pitching for Oakland, he probably won't win more than 12 games. His strikeout numbers will be below average at best.

And with Blanton in constant trade rumors this offseason, if he's dealt to a team with a smaller park, which is almost every other team in the majors, his ERA and WHIP numbers will surely take a hit. There's a reason Oakland pitchers have such sterling stats and it has a lot to do with the huge outfield and a plethora of space in foul territory.

I'm staying away from Blanton on all my teams, but if he's there late, you could do worse.

Live Blog 5: Papi and The Shift


Ted Williams. Barry Bonds.

Big Papi.

When it comes to batters who have caused teams to employ "The Shift," where the infield organizes in a bizarre way to try to take away a basehit, Boston's David Ortiz is in pretty good company: The last guy to hit .400 and the current HR king.

Known as "The Ted Williams Shift," different variations move the second baseman to short right field, shifting the short stop to behind second base, while the third baseman covers all of the left side.

In a way, it's the ultimate respect to a hitter and Oakland had The Shift on in the 3rd inning in Tokyo and it worked perfectly as Ortiz grounded out to right field, er, second baseman Mark Ellis.

So, does this affect Papi's value, when teams are scheming against him with slowpitch softball-like fielding patterns?

Hardly. 

While, it may take a dozen base hits away throughout the season, it also encourages a hitter to forget about the base hit and concentrate on the long ball. In a full season of facing "Shift" defenses, Papi hit a career-high .335 with 35 HR, 116 runs and 117 RBI. 

And yet, he's still being picked on average 18th in ESPN drafts. 

This is nonsense. Ortiz had several leg issues last year, which almost always leads to a dip in power numbers and he's reportedly completely healthy, so expect a return to the mid or maybe even the upper 40s this year.

Basically, it's time to make a "Shift" in your draft plans and make Ortiz a late first-round pick.

Live Blog 4: The other Suzuki steals


Move over Ichiro.

There's a new Suzuki in town.

OK, he's quite a ways south of Seattle in the Bay area, but Oakland's rookie catcher Kurt Suzuki, a darkhorse catcher type for those in AL-only and insane, 18-team leagues, just singled sharply off of Dice-K and stole second base.

I'm not sure what's more startling, a catcher stealing second, or my wife's coffee grinder that just went off (she gets up early often, to go to culinary school). Yowsers. I think that thing just woke up our adjacent neighbors, too. 

Back to Suzuki, who has been targeted because of his 7 HR in 68 at-bats last year. A quick look at his college and minor league stats, shows he did swipe 9 bases in 252 at-bats in 2004 at Cal State Fullerton.

In 2005 and 2006, he attempted 8 steals each year, successful 5 times. So, as you can see, Ichiro doesn't actually have to worry about being passed on the basepaths by another Suzuki and as a fantasy owner, you probably don't want to factor more than 8-10 steals max from this 24-year-old kid.

Suzuki does have pop and Oakland is real high on him, but for my money, I think I'd rather take a late-round flier on a catcher in a better lineup like the Angels' Mike Napoli or hitting in better spot like Arizona's Chris Snyder, who will likely be hitting fifth for the D-Backs after belting 5 HR this spring.

Live Blog 3: A's Ellis goes Yard


Predictably, Dice-K is struggling in the first.

Playing in front of the home crowd, Matzusaka's nerves seem to be getting the best of him.

After inducing Travis Buck to a groundout on the first pitch of the game, Mark Ellis takes Matzusaka out of the park with a HR to make it 1-0. 

This is particularly painful. Not because I have Dice-K on my AL-only team, but because I begged my co-owner to draft him several times, only to let him slip through our fingers. OK, I didn't exactly beg, but I definitely wanted Ellis. What's not to like? 

Ellis belted 19 HR in his first season with 150 at-bats and added 9 steals. Nineteen HR from a guy who's drafted on average as the 21st second baseman out there is hard to believe. Guess most folks think it was a fluke but I think you can pencil in another 20 HR, 10 bags and you just might get a .285 average.

Back to the game, where Dice-K is painfully losing control. A walk to hyped rookie Daric Barton (we'll talk more about him later), a Jack Cust hit-by-pitch and a wild pitch and the A's are in business.

But Bobby Crosby, who I think we can finally cross off our sleeper list - the guy just can't stay healthy and sports a nifty .240 career batting average - grounds out to Dice-K, who makes a Maddux-like play to first. Jack Hannahan strikes out swinging to snuff the rally.

Jack Hannahan? Isn't that the animal guy that's always on Letterman?

Live Blog 2: J.D. Drew scratched


Red Sox fans can't be happy about this.

Just before the lineups were handed in, J.D. Drew was scratched with a bad back. 

Drew had been having a great spring and was a sleeper pick by many, as the 5th hitter in the Red Sox lineup. He hit two home runs in exhibition games over in Tokyo the past few days.

Playing for Drew today is 24-year-old Brandon Moss of Monroe, Ga., who is so new, Yahoo! doesn't even has his mug.

Dustin Pedroia, an average 168th draft pick, starts the season out with a sharp single. A .317 hitter with 8 HR and 7 SB, Pedroia is leading off, as last year's World Series phenom Jacoby Elsbury and popular sleeper pick has struggled this spring and has been moved down to the 8th spot.

Blanton gets out of the first, without any damage and it's now Dice-K time.

Live Blog 1: Red Sox vs. A's


Good Morning, out there.

Is it early, or what?

The clock on the microwave says 5:50. I don't know when I've ever seen this.

But it's all for a good cause. After all, it's Opening Day, although not of the traditional kind, but still it's Major League Baseball's first game: Boston vs. Oakland from Tokyo.

Daisuke Matzusaka vs. Joe Blanton.

The moon is full and it's still pitch dark, yet we're about to embark on the first pitch at 6:05 a.m.

I'm trying to remember other times in the past 10 years I've set my alarm to get up before 6 a.m.

Once or twice, to catch an early flight. 

Once to run a marathon, twice for a half.

A few times to catch a bible study.

Once to catch the Aurora Borealis in Okeechobee, Fla., which was a complete waste of time.

Hopefully, I won't be saying that today.

It's 5:59 a.m. Let's play ball.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Is March Madness better than fantasy?

It's the morning after and your bracket is busted.

March Madness has never been better, especially if you're a Davidson fan. Or Western Kentucky alumni. You've gotta be out there somewhere.

But as we watched a stretch on Sunday afternoon, where Davidson came back from the dead to stun Georgetown and Tennessee edge Butler in a pulse-pounding overtime affair, just moments after Texas nearly suffered a monumental collapse against Miami, two thoughts came to mind.

1). Why doesn't CBS use split screen?

2). Is March Madness better than fantasy baseball?

The games are completely different. You fill out that bracket and for 3 weekends in March (or April), you find yourself cheering for teams that make no sense. One minute, Villanova is your sugar daddy. The next, you hate the Drake.

But as exhilarating as the NCAA Tourney can be, does it match 6 months of high's and low's that the fantasy baseball season provides?

  • We all held our breath as Western Kentucky's Ty Rogers nailed a 26-foot 3-pointer as time expired. But that reminds you of that 2006 season, when everyone at the draft groaned when you picked The Gambler, Kenny Rogers, who led you to the championship with 17 wins and a 3.84 ERA.
  • You were an emotional wreck at the end of the Stanford-Marquette game, as Brook Lopez got that amazing roll on the baseline leaner with 1.3 seconds left in overtime. This brings back memories of your 2003 team that rode Javy Lopez's 43 home run season to your first fantasy title.
  • You couldn't help but jump off your couch as Stephen Curry drained 3-pointer after 3-pointer, then sliced through traffic with the underhanded scoop layup to lead Davidson to a stunning Sweet 16 berth. But that takes you back to June 10 last year, when, on a hunch, you put Stephen Drew in at SS in your daily head-to-head league, and with two-out in the ninth, he hammers a Trevor Hoffman pitch for the game-winner HR.

Maybe there is no right answer. The highs are higher in March Madness, sure, but the lows are lower.

In fantasy baseball, you learn to temper the agony, but when things go your way, you usually stay seated on your couch.

So, which is better in your opinion?

Sunday, March 23, 2008

The Lackey, Kazmir quagmire


The nachos are cold.

Your beverage of choice is lukewarm.

It's that time of the draft. Somewhere between rounds 8 and 14, where the obvious guys have been crossed off your list.

You're flipping to page 2, maybe even page 3 of your personal Big Board and you notice guys like John Lackey and Scott Kazmir are suspiciously hanging around, like the last kid on the playground waiting to get picked.

What do you do?

You're not 100 percent sure of their status. Lackey has a strained triceps muscle and will be out 'til late April or mid-May, depending on who you believe. Kazmir is on the shelf with a strained left elbow and is expected to start the season out on the DL. The cloud of uncertainty hovers around both like smoke in a room of old-time sportswriters.

A healthy Lackey is ranked 59th overall by Yahoo. Kazmir 78th.

It's now the 9th round in your mixed-league draft and you're on the clock with the 89th pick and you need a starting pitcher.

You shuffle through a few lists and you see names like Tim Lincecum, Javier Vazquez and Brett Myers. Nobody jumps out at you. And like sheet metal to a giant magnet in a tornado, your eyes keep snapping back to two names: Lackey and Kazmir.

On one side of your brain, you drool at the upside, especially this late in the draft. On the other, you envision week after week of constantly clicking on the tiny red and yellow Yahoo update box, only to find that the guy is throwing on flat ground or maybe had a setback in his latest rehab.

My advice to you is simple: Wait two rounds after you start thinking about taking him, and if he's still there, pull the trigger.

Sure, you have to factor in injury history. For instance, with Rich Harden, you might wanna make this a 3-round rule. For Mark Prior, 3 rounds and a stiff drink. 

But whether it's the 9th or 10th or 18th round, most injury-risk pitchers can be a bargain, so long as you can protect yourself with some SP depth along the way.

All pitchers, to some degree, are a tweak or a twinge away from hitting the DL, so there are risks with anyone.

It's what makes this game so agonizing.

And yet we keep coming back.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

No Silva lining here

Oh, to be an innings-eater.

Exibit A: Carlos Silva.

The 28-year-old former Twins pitcher signed a 4-year, $48 million offseason deal with the Mariners with a lifetime ERA of 4.31 and career 1.37 WHIP.

Holy Safeco.

In theory, going from the hitter-friendly Metrodome to spaceous Safeco Park, not to mention moving from the AL Central to the AL West should make Silva a perfect late-round draft choice, as the 6th or 7th pitcher on your staff.

But, I'm telling you, he doesn't pass the eye test. Listed generously at 246-pounds, the burly righty nearly suffered whiplash in a preseason game against the Cubs two weeks ago. Second-stringers Mike Fontenot, Matt Murton and Henry Blanco were teeing off so many times on Silva's offerings, they may have canceled their afternoon tee times at the local desert course.

But what if he can improve on last year's 4.19 ERA and 1.31 WHIP?

If so, he's got a funny way of showing it.

So far, he's sporting a 9.20 ERA this spring after giving up 9 ER and 13 hits in 4 1/3 innings in his last outing earlier this week.

And even if he can somehow get that ERA and WHIP under control, he only struck out 89 last year in 202 innings, which was 13 more than his previous career-high of 76 (2004). That strikeout rate makes Mark Buerhle look like Nolan Ryan.

Do yourself a favor and practice not saying Silva's name. Regardless of the format or round. There's plenty of Carlos' to go around: Beltran. Pena. Delgado. And if by chance, you start saying Silva's name, do a quick change to Marmol.

Innings-eater? Sure.

But ERA- and WHIP-eater is more like it.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Draft Guide: Top 150, sleepers, busts

The sleeper.

Does this term even make any sense? If someone is sleeping, why would you want a snooze-fest on your fantasy team? And won't the eye-crispies impair his vision? Announcer: "The guy may be drowsy and sleepwalking down to first, but when he's awake can he mash the ball 500 feet."

I've always laughed at that overused term. Maybe, because I enjoy my sleep more than anyone. Give me 10 hours, and I'll have no problem filling it up with ZZZZZZZZ's.

So instead of giving you my 2008 sleepers, I've decided instead to present you with T-Bone's Choice Cuts. T-Bone's? Yeah, some yahoos around the office call me T-Bone, a nickname made famous by the legend of George Castanza. And nothing's better than a choice cut, right? Put these 5 guys on your radar and ride their upside all the way to a fantasy title.



T-BONE'S TOP 5 CHOICE CUTS

1). Billy Butler, 1B/OF, Royals
Guy can flat out rake. Over 1,400 minor league at-bats, Butler hit .336 with a .416 OBP and 25-HR power. There's a joke among his Royals' teammates that you can't let anything get close to him in the clubhouse, because he'll hit it. His average draft spot in ESPN drafts is 225. With regular playing time, Butler could crack the Top 100 this year.

2). Johnny Cueto, SP, Reds
Hiding in the shadow of Homer Bailey, Cueto's minor league resume would land him an interview with any big league club. The 22-year-old righty sports a 3.28 ERA in three seasons, but more impressively is his 1.10 whip and 358 Ks in 348 innings. Not hurting his cause is a 2.08 ERA this spring. Manager Dusty Baker said last weekend if the camp broke then, Cueto will be in the rotation. "Who's better than him?" Baker said.

3). Ryan Theriot, 2B/SS, Cubs
Flying under the radar, picked on average 216th, the Cubs' new leadoff man may be in the best stolen base/run scoring spot in baseball, setting the table for Alfonso Soriano, Derek Lee and Aramis Ramirez. A combination of 35 steals and 110 runs is very possible, which even if he hits .265 again makes him every bit as valuable as the Dodgers' Rafael Furcal, going 73rd in drafts.

4). Ian Kennedy, SP, Yankees
We've heard about Joba-mania and after his near no-hitter, Phil Hughes may never have to pay for a meal in the Big Apple again, but Kennedy may end up with the most fantasy value of the trio in 2008, especially after Chamberlain was sent to the bullpen this week. Kennedy's ERA of 1.89 last year in three starts is no fluke. Over 149 innings in the minors, he boasted a 1.87 ERA, not to mention a 0.97 WHIP. Sure, he's got Boston and Toronto to face a zillion times, but Kennedy may be able to win 15 in his sleep.

5). Josh Hamilton, OF, Rangers
Particularly hard to write, as a Cubs fan - whose team is still searching for a center fielder - is the name Hamilton. The Cubs drafted the former No. 1 pick in the Rule 5 draft last year, only to give him away to the Reds, where he became a bit of a cult hero in certain fantasy pockets, who root hard for the underdog to make it. It is a good story, as Hamilton has battled back from drug problems, but a sprained right wrist cost him over a month last year, then he was shipped to Texas despite 19 HR in 300 at-bats. What could he do in a full season in the heart of a lineup, in a park as small as the one in Arlington? How does 40 HR, 100 RBI and 15 SB sound for a guy drafted typically at 122? You could justify him in the 7th round of a mixed league.


TOP 5 OVERCOOKED

1. Francisco Liriano, SP, Twins
I know what you're thinking. Liriano was so good in 2006, even if he only comes back 80 percent, he'll be a steal. Sure. But positive reports are just hard to come by. Forget that he has to shoulder expectations as the Twins ace with Johan Santana gone. A year removed from "Tommy John" surgery and the guy's slider isn't sliding and his velocity is down to the low-90s. There's been whispers Liriano might start at AAA and he's quoted as saying he's going to throw a lot of fastballs this year, which is like trying to pick up girl at a bar, by holding her elbow and saying "what's a joint like this doing in a girl like you." You're just asking for trouble. Save yourself the headache and instead take Gallardo, Lincecum, Shields or Hill, all guys usually taken behind Liriano.

2). Rafael Furcal, SS, Dodgers
There was a time when Furcal was an elite SS, bringing home 12-15 dingers and 40 SB. Those days may be gone for the 30-year-old after last year's 6 HR, 25 SB and .270 season. More troubling was his walks (55) hit a 6-year low. An average ESPN pick of 73rd overall is way too high; 173 is more like it.

3. Aramis Ramirez, 3B, Cubs
Who's partisan now? After watching Ramirez lumber to first in Arizona (and if there was a slower term than lumber, I'd use it), I can only surmise that he is woefully out of shape or is just not trying that hard. Or worse, both. Maybe the Cubs have told him to half-speed it to save him from further leg injuries (he missed 30 games last year). Fine. But after missing significant time two of the past three years, you have to wonder if the 29-year-old will ever play more than 140 games in a season again. Reasonable to expect 120 games, 25 jacks, 95 ribbies and a .295 average, but that doesn't make him an average 34th overall pick.

4. Ichiro Suzuki, OF, Mariners
I know, it's only spring training, but an 0-for-21 funk to start the spring for a 34-year-old who makes a living with his legs would make me a little squimish to say the name Ichiro before the 4th round of any draft. Currently, he's been picked on average 19th in mixed-league formats, but when you get a magnifying glass out, you can start to see the wrinkles in Ichiro's game. Homers the last three years have whittled from 15 to 9 to 6 in 2007. Remember 2006 when Ichiro stole 45 bases in 47 attempts. That's smok-and-mirror numbers. Last year, he stole 37, but was gunned down 8 times. The thing that separates Ichiro apart from the Figgins and Roberts of the world is his constant high average. But will you get the 2004 Ichiro (.372) or the 2005 (.303)? Hard to say, but it might be best to let someone else sweat out that answer.

5. Joe Mauer, C, Twins
Two years ago, Mauer carried me to a rousing 5th-place finish in the Observer league, hitting .347. Last year, he was injured again, missed 30-35 games, and hit a disappointing .293. OK, so I'm a little bitter. But how do you fully trust a catcher with quad injury history? Especially when his speed is part of his game. Similar to Carl Crawford, we wait around like devout monks for the power to develop, but a drop from 13 to 7 HR last year is not what the fantasy doctor ordered. Mauer is still young (24) with upside, but he may be hitting 2nd this year and without a true leadoff hitter in front of him, we may be looking at a 10 /60 season. Hard to make him a top 3 catcher with an average that is, well, average.


Top 150 Overall
(10-team, 5x5, mixed league)

1. Alex Rodriguez, 3B, NYY
2. Jose Reyes, SS, NYM
3. David Wright, 3B, NYM
4. Matt Holliday, OF, Col
5. Johan Santana, SP, NYM
6. Miguel Cabrera, OF, Det
7. Chase Utley, 2B, Phi
8. Hanley Ramirez, SS, Fla
9. Ryan Howard, 1B, Phi
10. David Ortiz, 1B, Bos
11. Carl Crawford, OF, TB
12. Jimmy Rollins, SS, Phi
13. Ryan Braun, 3B, Mil
14. Prince Fielder, 1B, Mil
15. Albert Pujols, 1B, STL
16. Jake Peavy, SP, SD
17. Grady Sizemore, OF, Cle
18. B.J. Upton, OF, TB
19. Alfonso Soriano, OF, CHC
20. Mark Teixeira, 1B, Atl
21. Carlos Beltran, OF, NYM
22. Magglio Ordonez, OF, Det
23. Brandon Phillips, 2B, Cin
24. Erik Bedard, SP, Sea
25. Carlos Lee, OF, Hou
26. Vladimir Guerrero, OF, LAA
27. Eric Byrnes, OF, Ari
28 Curtis Granderson, OF, Det
29. Lance Berkman, OF, Hou
30. Travis Hafner, 1B, Cle
31. Justin Morneau, 1B, Min
32. Victor Martinez, C/1B, Cle
33. Nick Markakis, OF, Bal
34. Alex Rios, OF, Tor
35. Ichiro Suzuki, OF, Sea
36. Robinson Cano, NYY, 2B
37. Manny Ramirez, OF, Bos
38. Chone Figgins, 2B/3B/OF, LAA
39. Brian Roberts, 2B, Bal
40. C.C. Sabathia, SP, Cle
41. Russell Martin, C, LAD
42. Troy Tulowitzki, Col, SS
43. Derek Jeter, SS, NYY
45. Garrett Atkins, 3B, Col
46. Adam Dunn, OF, Cin
47. Carlos Pena, 1B, TB
48. Aramis Ramirez, 3B, CHC
49. Derek Lee, 1B, ChC
51. Brandon Webb, SP, Ari
52. Cole Hamels, SP, Phi
53. Gary Sheffield, OF, Det
54. Bobby Abreu, OF, NYY
55. Dan Haren, SP, Ari
56. Josh Beckett, SP, Bos
57. Justin Verlander, SP, Det
58. Jonathan Papelbon, RP, Bos
59. J.J. Putz, RP, Sea
60. Joe Nathan, RP, Min
61. Tori Hunter, OF, LAA
62. Chris Young, OF, Ari
63. Corey Hart, OF, Mil
64. Hunter Pence, OF, Hou
65. Ian Kinsler, 2B, Tex
66. Michael Young, 2B, Tex
67. Chipper Jones, OF, Atl
68. Carlos Zambrano, SP, CHC
69. Vernon Wells, OF, Tor
70. Roy Halladay, SP, Tor
71. Miguel Tejada, SS, Hou
72. Ricky Weeks, 2B, Mil
73. Felix Hernandez, SP, Sea
74. Tim Lincecum, SP, SF
75. Adrian Gonzalez, 1B, SD
76. Francisco Rodriguez, RP, LAA
77. Mariano Rivera, RP, NYY
78. Billy Wagner, RP, Phi
79. Brian McCann, C, Atl
80. Chipper Jones, C, Atl
81 Paul Konerko, 1B, ChW
82. Scott Kazmir, SP, TB
83. Roy Oswalt, SP, Hou
84. Fauston Carmona, SP, Cle
85. Josh Hamilton, OF, Tex
86. Delmon Young, OF, TB
87. Aaron Harang, SP, Cin
88. Nick Swisher, OF, ChW
89. Jim Thome, DH, ChW
90. Jeff Francoeur, OF, Atl
91. Jorge Posada, C, NYY
92. Jermaine Dye, OF, CHW
93. John Smotz, SP, Atl
94. Billy Butler, OF/1B, KC
95. Jason Bay, OF, Pit
96. Dan Uggla, 2B, Fla
97. Bobby Jenks, RP, CHW
98. Daisuke Matsuzaka, SP, Bos
99. Ryan Zimmerman, 3B, Was
100. Edgar Renteria, SS, Det
101. Howie Kendrick, 2B, LAA
102. Manny Corpas, RP, Col
103. Brad Hawpe, OF, Col
104. Shane Victorino, OF, Phi
105. Hideki Matsui, OF, NYY
106. Alex Gordon, 1B/OF, KC
107. Jose Valverde, RP, Hou
108. Rafael Soriano, RP, Atl
109. Joe Mauer, C, Minn
110. Todd Helton, 1B, Col
111. James Shields, SP, TB
112. Trevor Hoffman, RP, SD
113. Orlando Cabrera, SS, CHW
114. Jose Valverde, RP, Hou
115. Javier Vazquez, SP, CHW
116. Rich Hill, SP, CHC
117. Kelly Johnson, 2B, Atl
118. Yovani Gallardo, SP, Mil
119. Mike Lowell, 3B, Bos
120. Dustin McGowan, SP, Tor
121. John Lackey, RP, LAA
122 Brett Myers, RP/SP, Phi
123. Huston Street, RP, Oak
124. Francisco Liriano, SP, Min
125. Adrian Beltre, 3B, Sea
126. Joba Chamberlain, RP, NYY
127. Juan Pierre, OF, LAD
128. John Maine, SP, NYM
129. Chien-Ming Wang, NYY
130. Aaron Rowand, SP, SF
131. Tim Hudson, SP, Atl
132. Placido Polanco, 2B, Det
133. Chad Cordero, RP, Was
134. Ryan Garko, 1B, Cle
135. Jacoby Ellsbury, OF, Bos
136. Aaron Rowan, OF, SF
137. Pedro Martinez, SP, NYM
138. Brett Myers, SP, Phi
139. Pat Burrell, OF, Phi
140. Kelvim Escobar, SP, LAA
141. Kosuke Fukudome, OF, CHC
142. A.J. Burnett, SP, Tor
143. Francisco Cordero, RP, Cin
144. Matt Capps, RP, Pit
145. Joakim Soria, RP, KC
146. Johnny Damon, OF, NYY
147. Chad Billingsley, RP/SP, LAD
148. Ken Griffey Jr., OF, Cin
149. Ryan Theriot, 2B/SS, CHC
150. Clay Bucholtz, SP, Bos


Have a beef with these rankings? Lemme hear it.


Thursday, March 20, 2008

Orioles' Jones not quite a steal


Where to pick Adam Jones?

For anyone out there looking for a late-round steal, the biggest question surrounding Baltimore's newest CF may be how much will he steal.

"As much as I can," Jones told me as he walked off the field at Fort Lauderdale Stadium earlier this month.

Upon further questioning, he declined to put a numeral value on his comment, further leaving us fantasy freaks in the draft-room dark. He did, however look up long enough to flash a knowing smile about what fans might be in store this summer. "As much as I can."

Here's what we know about Jones, a centerpiece in the trade that sent Erik Bedard to Seattle: Jones hit 25 HR last year with Tacoma in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League. But the 5-tool prospect only stole 8 times in 420 at-bats. Eight bags is almost a non-factor, unless you're in an AL-only league.

But he did swipe 16 bases on 21 attempts in two levels in 2006 and has noticeably above-average speed roaming center. He stole twice in 65 at-bats in last year's cup of coffee with Seattle and he took off for second on two different occasions the day I saw him play, both times foiled by an Orioles hit.

So why is Jones' speed potential so important?

Come the 19th round in your league, when the Chris Duncans and Josh Willinghams of the world are flying off the board, trust me, you'll want to have an idea of what you might be getting in Jones. The difference in 5 or 15 SB potential can be a deal-breaker when you're fishing for a fifth outfielder.

I say his ceiling is 15 bags, with 18-20 HR power and a .280 average. But unless the Orioles move him up from the eighth spot, where he's hit all spring, his RBI and run production won't make him worth more than a last-round pick in a mixed league. Think Gary Matthews Jr. numbers, but in a worse spot in a worse lineup.

Unless you're in a keeper league, you can probably do better.