Heading into my second year in Tout Wars, I felt a lot more relaxed than in ’11. Coming off a somewhat earned and somewhat fortunate league title in my rookie season, I had more confidence at the auction table but also knew that my competitors would be paying greater attention to my bids, while possibly hoping to sap an extra dollar or two out of me at times.
If you’ve never done a fantasy auction, I’m not sure if I can recommend it. It’s a grueling process that requires you to be on guard consistently for about 5 hours. I enjoy it, and so do most people who really love this game. A draft is a better player selection approach for the casual fan, since it affords many breaks to regroup and plan out strategies (true story – I gave my son a bath between my 4th and 5th picks in this year’s LABR Mixed League draft)! But, if you’re truly passionate about who ends up on your roster, the auction is the way to go.
I never enter an auction with a specific plan. I don’t like to be boxed into an concept that takes away the chance to get good values when they arise. I bring one sheet of paper to an auction – a list of all potential picks and how much I’m willing to spend on each one. I’ll bid on anyone until they reach my breaking point and then I almost always back out. This year I had a few ideas of who I might end up with, based on drafts I had done in other leagues. As usual, I was mostly wrong when projecting my roster! The full league rosters can be found HERE, so I’ll spare the details of all my winning bids. Here are my thoughts of my favorite and least favorite spots on my team:
1. Nabbing Grant Balfour for $5 – Most closers went for double-digit prices. A few risky bets, such as Frank Francisco and Brett Myers, didn’t fetch such a high price. I don’t view Balfour in that light. He’s someone who has pitched well enough to close in recent years and now he’s finally getting the chance. I think he can hold the job. With closers such as Bailey, Marmol, Nathan and Marshall going for $5-7 more, I was happy to save a few bucks on my second closer.
2. Good deals in the outfield – Last year I spent a lot on my outfield but this year I didn’t like the prices as much. After adding Josh Hamilton and Adam Jones I looked for cheaper options, while still hoping to stay out of the $1 scrap heap. Melky Cabrera, Josh Willingham and Alejandro De Aza cost me a total of $11 and I expect them to capably fill my final three outfield spots. Together, they offer a nice balance of power and speed, and they allowed me to spend more money elsewhere.
3. Josh Beckett as a third starter – When Beckett’s name was thrown out, auctioneer Jeff Erickson from Rotowire accidentally thought the bidding was starting at $10 – which seemed sensible to me. Turns out it was starting at $2 and when it stopped I was left with Beckett for $9. After last season’s embarrassment, I expect Beckett to be focused on rejuvenating his reputation this season.
4. Josh Hamilton for $24 – According to my projections, Hamilton was my biggest steal. I expected to former AL MVP to go for close to $30 and I was prepared to go higher than $24. Two words, folks – contract year. Hamilton is out to prove he deserves a monster contract and knows that staying on the field all season is key. I’m quietly hoping for more than 500 at-bats.
5. The boys in the dugout – I have a bad habit of getting sloppy and coming away with very little for my bench at the end of drafts. This time, I felt like I did very well. Mike Carp and Seth Smith give me a pair of solid hitters who can jump in the lineup when injuries occur. And, one of my strongest gut instincts this season is that Joe Nathan won’t hold up as the Rangers closer. I just don’t think he has it anymore, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s out of that role by the middle of May. So, I added Mike Adams, who pitches so well that he can be helpful even in a middle relief role. I’ll use him in the opening week, then stash him on my bench and hope I’m right about Nathan. Quick tip – this is the year to pick an extra middle reliever at the end of your draft. Because the season starts on a Thursday, the first week is an abbreviated one in most leagues. Several starters won’t appear in games that week, so a pitcher like Adams can get you a scoreless inning or two, which is better than an empty active roster spot.
6. Raw power – No, I’m not talking about Shark Week! It’s always good to know your own tendencies and mine is to draft too many steals and not enough homers. Even though I won this league last season, I was aware of my failure (second-last) in the home run category. Picking Joey Votto and Josh Hamilton as my best players was a deliberate plan to spend a fair amount of cash on players who don’t steal a lot of bases. I expect steals to be my weakest offensive category in April, but I know my natural tendency will be to chase them on waivers and in trades all season. At least I’ve given myself room to do that.
1. The risky catchers – Last season I (over?) invested $40 in Buster Posey and Geovany Soto. You all know how that turned out. This season, I promised myself that I would only take one pricey catcher, and the other one would come from the bargain bin. Because of the physical demands of the position, the injury risk is very real. Well, that plan flew out the window when I paid a total of $35 for Matt Wieters and Miguel Montero. In a vacuum, I feel that the price I paid represents good value. My projections indicated that their total value was in the $38-40 range. I also like getting good catchers because they protect your batting average. Most fantasy teams end up with at least one catcher who hits under .250. By avoiding that fate, I allow myself to roster one of those players at a different position (hello, Mark Reynolds). I’ll be crossing my fingers on my two backstops all season.
2. Another risk: Matt Moore – I didn’t think I would end up with Moore in any 2012 leagues and I was surprised when the bidding stopped on the future AL ROY at my $14 bid. I believe that Moore is going to fare well in the Majors right away but I recognize the risk of my number two starter having so little Major League experience. I would have preferred a veteran such as Ian Kennedy or a young player with more experience such as Madison Bumgarner. But, I ended up with Moore and it should be an exciting ride!
3. Spending $39 on one player – I was undecided as to whether I would shell out big bucks for any one guy but I ended up taking the plunge with Votto. I really like Votto and I’m comfortable with owning him, but I know that spending so much on one guy prevented me from nabbing $10-20 players I liked later on. At least I managed to stay out of the $1 trash bin, which was an area that left me high and dry last season.
4. Mark Reynolds – After picking the two quality catchers, plus Votto and Hamilton, I felt like I had the batting average base to take the plunge on a few swinger like Reynolds. If the Orioles slugger can hit in the .225 range, his massive power can make him a big asset to any fantasy squad. There aren’t a lot of 35-homer players anymore, and this is one of them. But, a .198 season like he suffered through in ’10 will be hard to watch!
Overall, this is a horse I can ride! The league isn’t won or lost on draft day – that happens through the many roster decisions that are made during the next six months. This is a tough group of smart fantasy owners and I’m hoping to hang out in the top half of the standings so that I can enjoy another good chase for a championship down the stretch.
PS – It has been well-documented that I made a flurry of deals from Opening Day all the way to the deadline in this league last season. Well, I’m open for business once again! Consider this an invitation to my 14 competitors – if you don’t like some aspect of your brand new roster (or, if you regret passing on one of my players on Saturday), send me an email and let’s get the negotiations started!
Guess who’s back?!
Andy Pettitte just couldn’t stay away. One year away from throwing pitches at Yankee Stadium was long enough for the now formerly-retired lefty. The main dilemma for fantasy owners is whether or not Pettitte is worth a ’12 draft pick. I would lean to the “no” side of that issue. First of all, we don’t know how effective Pettitte will be when he returns. He’ll turn 40 during June and while his ’10 numbers were strong, his work in the two preceeding campaigns wasn’t impressive. If he can post a 4.30 ERA and 1.35 WHIP, he’ll have some value in deeper mixed leagues once he joins the rotation. But, those numbers may not happen and he won’t be in the Majors until May. It’s not worth holding him on the bench during April, which is the best month to scam sleepers off the waiver wire.
And if Pettitte does make it all the way back…..
The Yankees are going to be caught in a numbers game once Pettitte returns. They already had Phil Hughes and Freddy Garcia competing for the final rotation spot. In theory, there won’t be room for either hurler once Pettitte joins the starting five. With that said, I wouldn’t downgrade any Yankee starter because of the Pettitte signing. The odds are high that by the start of May, one member from their Opening Day rotation will be on the DL. I’d still consider Hughes as a late-round gamble in deeper mixed leagues. Garcia wasn’t in good shape to win a rotation spot in the first place and will likely head to the bullpen instead.
Howard will be delayed
Ryan Howard is expected to wear the protective boot on his left leg for another week. This is all the result of an early March infection in his surgically repaired ankle. When Howard showed up at Spring Training, the expectation is that he would be back at some point in May. But March has been a lost month for the recovering power hitter so expectations for his projected return have now moved to June. Having Howard for a little more than half the season is no great catch for mixed-league drafters. He’s only worth a late round pick in those formats. There are plenty of other first base options on draft day, and you’re better off with someone who will help out during the first half of the season. And don’t forget, while Howard is still a good home run hitter and RBI producer, he offers no speed, and produces a low batting average.
Baker’s elbow acts up
Twins starter Scott Baker dealt with elbow problems in ’11 but thought he had put those problems behind him when he arrived at Spring Training. He thought wrong. Last week, Baker had problems getting loose and the Twins have scaled back his spring routine. The 30-year-old is back to threw on the mound Sunday, at 70% effort. We’re into the second half of March, so an April DL stint seems quite likely. Even with the injury looming over him, Baker is still worth a late-round pick in mixed leagues. He maintains a solid strikeout rate and his WHIP is usually low. With Target Field behind him and several mediocre offenses in the AL Central, Baker can fare well this season is he can rehab his elbow.
Perez gets more bad news
When Salvador Perez injured his knee early last week, the Royals originally said that he would miss 3-4 weeks after surgery. When the surgery was done, the timeline changed greatly. Perez is now expected to miss 12-14 weeks, meaning that the team’s newest number one backstop will be out until the middle of June at the earliest. With the rigors of catching waiting for him, it’s possible that Perez will need a lengthy rehab stint and may not return until close to the All-Star break. This makes one of my favorite ’12 sleepers undraftable in mixed leagues. He’s someone to remember, for the second half of the season, though. There will be plenty of fantasy owners looking for catching help by that point.
Rays fifth starter battle continues
Does anyone want this rotation spot? Jeff Niemann and Wade Davis continue to battle it out for the final starting job in Tampa Bay, but neither starter fared well last time out. Overall, Niemann has been the better pitcher this spring, just as he was during the second half of ’11. I fully expect him to win the job. The Rays will stretch Davis out for the rest of Spring Training, in case they find a trade they like or suffer an injury in the rotation. If neither of those things happen, he’ll be bullpen-bound. Niemann is a fine late round pick in deeper mixed leagues while Davis should fall to waivers outside of AL-only formats.
Red Sox outfield falls apart
The injury woes of Carl Crawford have been well-documented and the Red Sox left fielder will almost certainly start the season on the DL. But, few have noticed that right fielder Ryan Sweeney is having injury woes of his own. Sweeney has dealt with a sore quad for the last few days and is hoping to get back into Grapefruit League games soon. With Crawford and Sweeney battling injuries, Cody Ross has emerged as a candidate for more early season playing time. Ross has respectable power and can play both corner spots. In deeper leagues, he’s a sneaky late round pick for owners who have previously drafted players like Crawford or Corey Hart, who are DL candidates early in the season.
Padres lose their new power hitter
The Padres were hoping for an infusion of power when they acquired Carlos Quentin during the offseason but they’ll have to wait a few weeks to reap the rewards of their deal. Quentin needs arthroscopic knee surgery and will miss 4-6 weeks. That means we won’t see the outfielder for most of all of April. It’ll be hard for Quentin to hit 25 homers over five months when he plays half his games in Petco Park. Something around 22 homers is a reasonable projection. Combine that total with a mediocre batting average and no speed, and Quentin’s just a fourth or fifth outfielder in mixed leagues.
Braun affected by boo birds?
Ryan Braun avoided suspension but he can’t avoid the tarnished image that has come from his offseason troubles. The Brewers superstar has been regularly booed during Spring Training road games and there’s a chance it’s getting to him. Entering Sunday’s action, Braun was 1-for-15 this month. It’s too early to worry about such a dominant hitter but if Braun struggles to deal with the pressure this season he won’t be the first round stud that most believe he is.
Morse deals with lat pain
The Nats are planning on holding Mike Morse out of Spring Training games for a week while he deals with a lat strain. The good news is that Morse is expected to continue baseball activities during the week. If all goes according to plan, the outfielder will plan more than a week of spring games, which is plenty of time to be ready for Opening Day. I wouldn’t change his value on draft lists.
Devine falls out of closer race
In what has become an annual tradition, Joey Devine is going to start the season on the DL. This time it’s due to right biceps tendonitis. Devine was a longshot to win the team’s closer job at the start of Spring Training and had already been eliminated due to his injury setbacks. There’s no reason to draft the oft-injured reliever in AL-only leagues. Meanwhile, veterans Brian Fuentes and Grant Balfour compete for ninth inning duties, and the winter deserves to be on mixed-league rosters at the start of April. If I ran the A’s I would choose Balfour – he’s proven to be the better pitcher in recent years and Fuentes has more value as a lefty setup man. But, in reading between the lines on some of management’s comments, I’d guess that Fuentes is going to get the job. He has more closing experience, but smart fantasy owners will remember that he failed in that role while filling in for Andrew Bailey early on last season.
Soria has sore elbow
Joakim Soria left Sunday’s appearance with a sore elbow. Anytime you hear “sore elbow” in relation to a pitcher at this time of the year, it’s a definite concern. Making matters worse, Soria hasn’t pitched well in Spring Training, after a bit of a down year in ’11. If you draft in the coming week, it’s a good idea to downgrade the Royals closer a few spots on your list, since a DL stint could be coming. If Soria misses time in the regular season, Jonathan Broxton or Greg Holland could pick up saves. Even through Broxton is the bigger name and has more closing experience, I think Holland could get the nod. He closed when Soria was unavailable late in ’11 and he pitched very well last season. He could be worth a final round pick in deep mixed leagues.
Salvador Perez suffers knee injury
A tough blow to Perez, who will miss 4-6 weeks after knee surgery to repair a meniscus tear. The young catcher was one of my top sleepers for the ’12 season. Now it’s likely that he’ll miss all of April by the time he gets back into action and completes a rehab assignment. I would still draft Perez in deep mixed and AL-only leagues and stash him on the bench. His bat should be worth it once he returns. Perez maintained an excellent contact rate in the Minors and should be able to hit for average with the Royals. That’s a rare skill for a young backstop, and if the 21-year-old can hit a few balls over the fence, Perez will be a top-15 catcher by the second half of the season.
Nats should send Harper to Minors
As most expected, Bryce Harper isn’t ready to win a starting job in the Majors. A calf injury hasn’t done him any favors, and reports this week indicate that the Nats are leaning towards sending the future star to the Minors at the end of Spring Training. It’s a move that makes a lot of sense. Harper will one day be the centerpiece of the team’s lineup but asking him to play a regular role at 19 isn’t fair. Keeper league owners can continue to stash Harper and NL-only owners can consider finding a spot on the bench and hoping for a midseason recall. But, mixed league owners can make better use of their bench, by looking for players who can offer more immediate help.
Turner shut down
The Tigers top pitching prospect has been shut down for a few days because of “dead arm”. It’s likely the last straw in a failed bid to win a rotation spot. Despite the hype that surrounds Turner, it was starting to look that he was going to start the season in the Minors anyways. This injury will set the lanky right-hander back a couple spring starts and should ensure a demotion at the end of March. Turner will still likely make some starts in the Majors this season but they won’t be coming in April. He should start the season on waivers in all mixed non-keeper leagues.
Could Wright miss Opening Day?
David Wright got a cortisone shot in his ailing rib cage on Monday but the Mets are saying that they aren’t worried about having their star slugger back for Opening Day. I think it’s time for fantasy owners to at least downgrade Wright a little bit. At best, he’ll be ready for the opener, after playing very little in Spring Training. That’s not a great recipe for a turnaround after a subpar ’11 season. At worst, Wright will suffer another setback and will start the season on the DL. Core injuries tend to linger and it’s certainly possible that Wright could tweak the injury while swinging the bat in the coming weeks. Based on ADP, Wright was considered a cut above third baseman such as Brett Lawrie and Pablo Sandoval in early ’12 drafts. This injury should move him back to the middle of that tier.
A pair of Rays collide
Well, we have to give them credit for trying during Spring Training! Rays outfielder Desmond Jennings and B.J. Upton had a nasty collision in the field on Wednesday that left both players shaken up. After the game, manager Joe Maddon tweeted that both players were fine, and suffered no serious injuries. It appeared that Upton got the worst of the contact, but I expect to see both players back on the field in a few days. Entering his walk year, Upton has a big reason to be more focused on a daily basis this season.
Hamilton’s heel hurt
Rangers star slugger Josh Hamilton suffered a jammed right heel when chasing down a fly ball on Wednesday. The injury isn’t considered serious and even if Hamilton misses a week of spring action, it won’t affect his availability for Opening Day. But, the injury is another in a really long line for this talented hitter. Few would dispute that if Hamilton can play 150 games, he would be one of the top 15 fantasy sluggers this season. Hitting third in a loaded Rangers lineup, it would be hard for Hamilton not to put up great numbers. But, the 30-year-old will likely spend more time on the DL this season. Like Upton, Hamilton is in the final year of his contract and will be angling for a massive payday next winter. If there was ever a year for the former top pick to tough it out and play through his minor aches and pains, this is it. I’m optimistic that he can outperform his current draft spot (roughly 30th overall), while acknowledging that he is one of the riskiest early round options.
Chris Perez may make it back
Vinnie Pestano immediately become a popular late round pick, when Perez suffered an oblique injury early in Spring Training. It was assumed by most that the Tribe’s closer wouldn’t make it back for the start of the regular season and Pestano would pick up some saves. But things are now looking better for Perez, who is scheduled to throw a bullpen session on Friday. If he doesn’t suffer any setbacks, he could be on the hill against the Blue Jays on Opening Day. He could be undervalued in upcoming drafts.
It’s very rare that I use this page for anything other than fantasy baseball analysis. But, my residency near Toronto and yesterday’s Alex Anthopolous sighting at the Phillies game got me thinking – is there a trade that would make sense for both teams? It’s widely acknowledged that AA was in the stands to watch Joe Blanton pitch, so I’ll be sure to include him in the deal. Here goes:
Philadelphia gets: Kyle Drabek and Travis Snider
Toronto gets: Domonic Brown and Joe Blanton
Time for the analysis:
Why it makes sense for the Phillies:
The first thing the Phillies do after completing the trade is use the $8 million in savings to lure Roy Oswalt back onto their roster. Oswalt is looking to pitch for a contender and reportedly would prefer to start his Major League season closer to the summer, when his kids are out of school. The Phillies could sign him now, have him start throwing at home and he could start a Minor League assignment at some point in May. I’m sure that for about $10 million, he’ll leave the family behind for a few extra weeks in the spring. Maybe Roy Halladay has a guest room he can use! With Oswalt replacing Blanton, the Phillies are back to having by far the best rotation in the Majors. And, it didn’t cost them any money to make it happen.
Adding Drabek makes sense for the Phillies. He was having a lot of success in their Minor League system before having some struggles with the Blue Jays. He was likely initially rushed by Toronto and then had difficulty pitching in Las Vegas, which is becoming a common problem for Toronto hurlers (anyone else notice that they skipped that step with Alvarez). The Phillies have an expensive, aging rotation that really needs young pitchers with upside. Drabek is perfect for them. At best, he can contribute some starts later in ’12. At worst, he’s ready for a ’13 spot when Oswalt is gone again.
Snider would also likely start the season in Triple-A. He’ll replace Brown on their organizational depth chart and even though he doesn’t offer as high of a ceiling, Snider could be a starting outfielder for them very soon. Saving money is going to be important for the Phillies in the coming seasons, as they attempt to keep together their core of Halladay, Lee, Howard, Rollins, Pence and Hamels. Adding two young, inexpensive players who are near the Majors is a good idea, even if they had to give up a good prospect to get them.
Brown’s star has faded a bit within the organization. Once considered their top prospect, it now seems unlikely that he’ll be a major part of this year’s team. With Pence, Victorino, Mayberry, Nix and Pierre, the Phillies have compiled a lot of veteran depth in the outfield.
In summary, the Phillies improve for ’12 by replacing Blanton with Oswalt and having Drabek waiting in the Minors if needed. They also add a possible top-three starter in the future who won’t cost them a lot of money.
Why is makes sense for the Blue Jays:
Toronto has a lot of hitting depth. All of their starting hitters other than Yunel Escobar could be reasonably projected to hit more than 20 homers this season. Make they lack is star quality in the batting order. Only Jose Bautista fits that profile and of their young players, it’s hard to imagine anyone other than Brett Lawrie being a true difference maker with the bat. Brown was the #4 rated prospect in all of baseball my MLB.com at the start of the ’11 season. He has the upside Toronto is looking for and could be a middle of the order bat in short order. AA could ship him off to Vegas to start the season, with the goal of bringing him up permanently once he gets into a groove.
Blanton will improve Toronto’s pitching depth, which will be necessary if they are going to make a run at the new wildcard spot. They’ll have to ship Brett Cecil or Henderson Alvarez down to the Minors to start the season, but given the collective injury histories of Brandon Morrow, Blanton and Dustin McGowan, they should be back up before long. If Toronto can stay in the race, adding Blanton will be a big help. If they are several games back in July, they can deal him for a prospect and a contender can use him as a rental.
The Blue Jays have a lot of young pitchers in the Minors and should have more pitching depth than most organizations in a year or two. That allows them to deal Drabek for a good young hitter and still have the young pitching they need.
Drabek and Snider have both been disappointments in recent seasons and are no longer regarded as highly as they used to. A fresh start could be good for both of them and the Blue Jays get to start fresh with Brown, who has more talent than either prospect.
In summary, the Blue Jays are better for the ’12 season by having another useful starter in Blanton and they don’t lose anything by using Eric Thames instead of Snider. For the long-term, Brown could be a difference maker in the organization.
Carpenter’s pain in the neck
Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter is dealing with a bulging disk in his neck, and there is concern that he won’t be ready for the start of the regular season. This is definitely a situation for fantasy owners to watch. The big right-hander will turn 37 during April and has a lengthy injury history. He threw over 270 meaningful innings in ’11 between the regular season and playoffs, so his workload entering this campaign would have been an issue even without the neck injury. On the bright side, the injury could be a good thing. It’ll slow Carpenter down in Spring Training and even if he starts the season a little late, he could still throw 200 innings and help fantasy owners plenty. But I’m not leaning towards the bright side this time –- downgrade Carp on your lists and expects additional problems to surface in the next six months.
Maybe this Billy Beane guy knows what he’s doing!
Yoenis Cespedes has done nothing but impress since arriving in A’s camp. The 26-year-old had two hits, including a homer, in his Cactus League debut. It looks like Beane’s expectation that Cespedes can walk right into a starting spot on the A’s isn’t so much of a stretch after all. The Cuban import offers power and speed, and if he can hit for average in his rookie season, he’ll be an asset in even the shallowest mixed leagues. A 20-20 season could be too much to expect, but 15-15 seems attainable.
Inge handles the switch
Brandon Inge wanted a shot at making the switch to second base, and so far he seems up to the task. Tigers manager Jim Leyland has raved about Inge’s defense and the diminutive infielder is now squarely in the battle for playing time with Ryan Raburn and Ramon Santiago. AL-only owners should move Inge up a few spots, but he doesn’t hit for enough average to register on the mixed league radar. Keep in mind that Raburn laced his third big fly of the spring on Sunday, so he’s not giving up his job without a fight.
Snider battles Thames
The Jays are letting Travis Snider and Eric Thames battle it out for their left field job. Manager John Farrell suggested that Thames’ success in ’11 gives him a slight leg up on Snider, but the underdog is making his presence felt early in Spring Training. Thames has held his own with the bat so far, but Snider has gone deep three times in a little more than a week. Owners in deep mixed leagues need to watch this competition closely — the winner will be a decent fifth outfielder.
Trout laid up
Angels phenom Mike Trout has reportedly lost ten pounds in the past week while dealing with a severe bout of the flu. The youngster was unlikely to make the big club out of Spring Training anyway, but this missed time should seal his fate. He’ll miss 1-2 weeks of spring games and will almost certainly be optioned to Triple-A in late March. Owners in shallow leagues will have to let him go undrafted, as it will take a serious injury to an Angels outfielder for Trout to earn significant fantasy value this season.
Braden targets May
Originally, the A’s hoped to add Dallas Braden in their rotation for the first time they need a fifth starter, which will come near the middle of April. But Braden’s recovery from shoulder surgery will now continue through the season’s first month. It’s likely that both Brad Peacock and Tom Milone will start 2012 in the A’s rotation, and young hurler Jarrod Parker could make some April starts too. Oakland has traditionally been a great place to find sleeper starters, so the back end of Bob Melvin’s rotation deserves some attention in deeper leagues.
Blue Jays target pitching
Jays GM Alex Anthopolous was spotted at the Phillies game on Saturday while his own starter, Dustin McGowan, was taking a major step forward in his bid for a rotation spot. Toronto’s GM watched Joe Blanton pitch and then headed for his car once the right-hander’s day was done. This obviously led to immediate internet rumors about the Blue Jays eyeing Blanton to bolster their rotation now that a second Wild Card is in place. Fantasy owners in deep leagues will have to think about who would be bumped from the team’s rotation if a starter is added. My guess: Anthopolous knows that McGowan’s health is hard to count on, so he’s doing his due diligence in researching other options in case his projected fifth starter can’t make it through Spring Training. McGowan is out of options, so he can’t go to the Minors and I doubt that the franchise would reward Brett Cecil for his improved dedication (32 lbs. weight loss) by shipping him to Las Vegas. That leaves Henderson Alvarez, who projects to be a better pitcher than Blanton or anyone else the team could pick up cheaply.
Shaun Marcum hurting
Marcum has been shut down for a couple days this week while he deals with a sore shoulder. The Brewers are saying that the injury isn’t considered serious at this point, but it’s definitely something for fantasy owners to keep an eye on. Marcum’s injury history isn’t good – he missed all of the 2009 season. I’m especially worried about the right-hander because of his massive struggles down the stretch last season. Combine a poor finish and a painful start to Spring Training and I’ve already made the decision to significantly downgrade Marcum on my draft board.
Madson not concerned
The Reds new closer is dealing with minor elbow soreness. Unlike Marcum, I’m not ready to downgrade Madson on my draft board just yet. As a reliever, he will need less time to build up less endurance during Spring Training than Marcum. It’s worth noting that Madson did spend some time on the DL last summer, so his recent injury history isn’t completely clean. Sean Marshall has the best chance of picking up ’12 saves if Madson misses any time. Marshall’s effectiveness as a setup man makes him worth a pick in deeper leagues even if he isn’t working the ninth inning.
Davis opens the competition
The Rays are expected to have a tough decision between Jeff Niemann and Wade Davis for the final rotation spot. It’s a great problem to have, and one of the reasons that they are a popular playoff pick this season. Niemann’s ’12 numbers give him an advantage over Davis, who has failed to dominate hitters over the past two seasons. Still, Davis fired a pair of scoreless innings in his first spring appearance, which will certainly keep him in the race. Both pitchers can only be considered end-game picks in mixed leagues until one emerges as the winner of this competition. Niemann offers more upside than Davis, unless the latter can start punching out batters at a higher rate.
Freddie Freeman is back
Freeman only missed a few days with a partially dislocated kneecap and was back in game action on Tuesday. The injury isn’t something for fantasy owners to worry about and he should return to his regular spot on ’12 draft lists.
Johan Santana is back!
Santana threw a pair of scoreless innings in his spring debut, which means that the left-hander will start shooting up draft boards. The Mets were happy with his velocity and Santana is slated to throw a regularly scheduled bullpen session on Thursday. While he remains one of the riskiest starting pitchers for your ’12 roster, his upside is tough to ignore when rounding out a staff. Keep in mind that Santana was not pitching like an ace in the months leading up to his elbow injury so it would be foolish to expect the 32-year-old to post elite totals this season. But, any starter with a 3.11 career ERA and 133 wins is worth a few bucks on draft day.
Ike Davis may have Valley Fever
Valley Fever is a serious illness and it couldn’t have come at a worse time for Davis, who looked primed to bounce back from his ’11 ankle injury. Conor Jackson dealt with Valley Fever in ’09 and was limited to 30 games. Jackson reported feeling extremely weak and tired. If Davis does have Valley Fever — and if the condition affects him similarly to how it affected Jackson — Davis goes from being a great mixed-league sleeper to nothing more than a late-round flier. Mets GM Sandy Alderson said Sunday that Davis will be “under no real restriction” during camp, but this is a big story to monitor in the coming days.
Yoenis Cespesdes arrives in A’s camp
Cespedes finalized a four-year deal with the A’s and arrived in Arizona over the weekend. The 26-year-old seems likely to win a spot on the Opening Day roster, if for no other reason than that Billy Beane wants him to. After arriving in camp late, it might benefit Cespedes to spend some time in the Minors, away from all the pressures of a Major League fan base. I’m expecting some growing pains in his first season in the U.S. While Cespedes will likely show flashes of talent, I wouldn’t trust him in a 12-team mixed league and I likely wouldn’t pay enough to earn his services in AL-only formats. Let someone else take this gamble.
A setback for Carl Crawford
Crawford experienced some inflammation in his surgically repaired left wrist after swinging the bat last week and isn’t sure when he’ll be ready to swing again. The outfielder referred to the situation as a setback and it’s another reasons to expect Crawford to stay on the DL for at least the majority of April. Simply put, the left fielder isn’t close to game action. As I said in an earlier edition of STN, you can’t predict more than 500 at-bats for Crawford and that makes him nothing more than an average mixed-league outfielder.
Stephen Drew may start season on DL
Drew acknowledged that his ankle may not be ready for Opening Day. The 28-year-old described his injury as one that takes a full year to completely heal, meaning that he may not be 100 percent until July. Fantasy owners shouldn’t expect more than 450 at-bats from Drew, who could need more days off even after he makes his season debut. He’s nothing more than a $1-2 gamble in mixed leagues.
A.J. Burnett to miss 8-12 weeks
Burnett can’t catch a break. Finally freed from the pressures of pitching in New York, he quickly suffered an eye injury that will keep him out for a couple months. Burnett won’t see Spring Training action, so he’ll need a lengthy rehab assignment once he’s ready for games. I don’t expect to see him in a Pirates uniform until June, which means he should start the season on waivers in mixed leagues. NL-only owners will need to weigh Burnett’s value based on their league rules and how easily they can stash him in a DL slot.
Cubs look to Soriano at the top
The Cubs are serious about the possibility of moving the 36-year-old Soriano to their leadoff spot. It’s a curious choice considering he posted a .289 OBP in ’11. The rebuilding Cubbies would like to figure out the best spots for youngsters like Starlin Castro and Darwin Barney so that their key players can fill optimal roles. The players who aren’t part of the club’s long-term future — like Soriano — can fill in around the youngsters. From the top spot, Soriano will score more runs and may even swipe a few more bags. But his best remaining skill is power and that will be wasted from a leadoff role. Without a decent RBI total, Soriano won’t offer much production to fantasy owners.
Julio Teheran gets whiplash
Teheran served up six dingers while getting six outs against the Tigers on Sunday. The conditions weren’t ideal, with a strong wind blowing out, but it’s still the kind of performance that will set back his quest for a rotation spot. To put the outing in perspective, the six taters were more than he allowed in the Minors during the entire ’11 season. The Braves rotation is banged up at the moment and there is room for Teheran to make the Opening Day roster, but he’ll need to show improvement in his coming appearances. Fellow phenom Randall Delgado didn’t pitch any better than Teheran, so both youngsters will have something to prove next time out. Mike Minor is looking better all the time for a rotation spot and even Kris Medlan could sneak back into the starting picture at some point this month.
Corey Hart needs surgery
Hart will undergo arthroscopic surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee and is expected to miss 3-4 weeks. There are 4 1/2 weeks until Opening Day, so Hart will have a tough time getting healthy in time make Milwaukee’s initial lineup card. Since the towering power hitter won’t get in a lot of spring work, he’ll likely need to start the season on the DL while he regains his timing in the Minors. Norichika Aoki and Carlos Gomez will likely fill in for Hart, with Aoki possibly garnering the bulk of the work in right field. That will make Aoki relevant in deeper leagues in April, meaning that he’s a sneaky late-round draft selection.
Interesting choices from Robin Ventura
Ventura’s first proposed batting order is certainly an interesting one. Chicago’s rookie skipper is planning on leading off with Alejandro De Aza and following him with A.J. Pierzynski, Alex Rios and Paul Konerko. Hitting out of the two-hole should allow Pierzynski to score at least 60 runs, even if he gets some routine days off. The catcher’s poor baserunning ability will likely prevent him from scoring 70 times. Rios is coming off a dismal season, but it’s hard not to drive in and score 75 runs from the third spot in the order. Assuming that he can get back on track to some degree, Rios is a great buy-low candidate for ’12 drafts. A lack of talent atop the order could hurt Konerko’s chances of driving in 100 runs, especially with Pierzynski clogging up the basepaths. The new lineup is also bad news for Alexei Ramirez, who will now hit in the bottom third of the order instead of second. A threat to exceed 80 runs in his old slot, Ramirez will now likely cross home plate fewer than 70 times. With Adam Dunn, Dayan Viciedo, Brent Morel and Gordon Beckham also in the equation, the White Sox may end up with as much hitting talent in the bottom third of the lineup as they have in the top three spots.
Houston: We have a closer!
Astros manager Brad Mills made a surprising decision on Tuesday when he moved Brett Myers to the back end of the bullpen. It was widely known that the Astros didn’t have a good closer candidate in their ‘pen but it wasn’t the biggest concern on a team that is expected to be one of the worst in the National League. Making Myers a reliever is a bad baseball decision in my opinion. On a young team, they’ll get fewer innings out of one of their only quality veteran arms. And, Myers would have had plenty of trade value in the summer, as a starter to ship out to a contender. For fantasy purposes, the move is big news. In 2007, Myers worked as a closer for the Phillies, saving 21 and posting a 4.33 ERA. The 31-year-old has had an ERA under 4.00 just once in the past five seasons, so he isn’t a lock for success in the ninth inning. Still, his healthy strikeout rate will give Myers mixed-league value as long as he’s finishing games in Houston. I’m not projecting more than 25 saves and a 3.50-4.00 ERA. Those numbers make Myers a weak closer option but he’s worth a shot once the top 25 closers are off the board.
Scott Sizemore out for season
Terrible news for the A’s, Sizemore suffered a torn ACL during his first week of Spring Training. He’ll miss the entire 2012 season and should be taken off all draft lists. The A’s now have a huge hole at the hot corner, with Josh Donaldson being Sizemore’s likely replacement. With no Major League experience and mediocre Minor League numbers, Donaldson isn’t worth a pick this spring, outside of AL-only leagues. I wouldn’t be surprised if the ever-creative Billy Beane looks outside the organization to find a new third baseman during March. Houston is one team has a glut of marginal talent at that position and Beane could pluck one of those players at little cost. Chris Johnson isn’t great, but he’s better than what they current have. The Angels are another team with an extra infielders to offer.
Royals extend Salvador Perez
I’ll rarely comment on contract extensions in this space, since they usually have little to do with fantasy baseball. But, the underlying impressions of Perez’s extension are worth our attention. The Royals handed a five-year deal to a 21-year-old catcher who has played 49 Major League games. Obviously, they love Perez and have a great deal of faith in him. He’s made a great impression on the franchise with his ability to hit for contact, defensive skills and leadership abilities. He’s going to play a lot this year and his body should be able to handle it. He’s a really underrated second catcher option in deeper mixed leagues.
Bobby Abreu to get 400 plate appearances
Angels management had sit-down with Abreu and told the 37-year-old that he should expect about 400 plate appearances in ’12. That should translate to about 350 at-bats, for those who use batting average instead of OBP in their leagues. Abreu isn’t worth a draft pick in any mixed leagues as long as his playing time expectation is so low. However, it would only take one injury to an Angels first baseman or outfielder to give small Abreu a boost in playing time. After hitting .253 with eight homers in over 500 at-bats last season, it’s doubtful that he could do much with the opportunity.
Braves lose Freddie Freeman for two weeks
Freeman’s knee gave out during fielding drills on Tuesday. He said that a he suffered a similar injury while in the Minors and it cost him a couple weeks. At this point, I wouldn’t downgrade his regular season projections. If the young slugger is back in action by the middle of March, he’ll have plenty of time to get ready for Opening Day. The injury might be enough for me to take a first baseman from the same tier before Freeman if I had the choice. Someone like Ike Davis or Adam Lind would be a good fit at that point in a draft.
Franklin Gutierrez heads back to Seattle
Gutierrez suffered an partially torn pectoral muscle while making a throw during drills and has flown to Seattle for further tests. He is going to miss at least four weeks and possibly more. That means that the team will almost certainly start the season with their center fielder on the DL. It’s a shame — Gutierrez gained significant weight in the off-season and was a bounceback candidate after being held back by stomach issues for the better part of two seasons. Fantasy owners can go ahead and strike him off sleeper lists.
Ryan Howard is no longer ahead of schedule
Howard started off Spring Training with a report that he was ahead of schedule in his rehab from Achilles tendon surgery. But, an infection in the area of the surgery is going to halt his progress for a few days, which will take away any optimism that the Phillies cleanup hitter will be back in April. A May return is still likely, but don’t count on it happening near the beginning of the month. Since fantasy owners who choose Howard need to have another first baseman available for the first six weeks of the season, he’s not an option for the first ten rounds of mixed-league drafts.
Despite his first-place finish in fantasy player rankings in 2011, Matt Kemp is not the first name called in a lot of ’12 drafts. That’s a big mistake. Kemp offers the most attractive package for fantasy owners who are lucky enough to get the top spot this season. Let’s look at the five standard categories and what we should expect from the Dodgers star slugger.
Homers – Kemp’s power has been on a steady rise, as his body matured towards its physical peak. From age 23-26, Kemp’s homer total went like this: 18-26-28-39. Now that he’s in his prime, Kemp should settle in as a 30-35 home run player who has the potential to flirt with 40, like he did last season.
Steals – This has been Kemp’s most consistent skill. In ’10 he sulked, fought with management and seemed to put less effort into his game. In the other three of the past four seasons, his stolen base totals were 34,35 and 40. At age 27, it’s unlikely that he base stealing abilities will start to decline so another season with roughly 35 steals should be expected.
Batting Average – Despite his subpar effort in ’10, Kemp still owns a .294 career batting average. That average was attained from age 21-26, while he was developing his power stoke. Now that he’s in his prime, Kemp should hit at least .290 and more likely will be around .300. With some good luck, he can be near the .324 mark he produced last season.
Runs – The Dodgers center fielder has topped 90 runs in three of the past four seasons. Last year he went off, to the tune of 115 runs, helped by his increased power hitting ability. 100 runs scored is a good prediction for Kemp, even in a weak Dodgers offense. He could score 115 times in a good offense but his lack of protection will keep him from being great in this area.
RBIs – Over the past three seasons, Kemp has averaged 105 RBIs. That includes last year’s breakout bust also ‘10’s letdown so it’s a pretty reasonable total to consider. It will be hard for him to drive in 126 runs against in such a weak offense but he should be good enough to maintain the 105 mark he’s established in recent years.
A stat line of 33-100-105-35-.300 puts Kemp near the top of draft boards. I’ll give you one more number that should vault him over Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera and Ryan Braun to the top of your ’12 draft list – 600. Kemp may be the most reliable player in baseball when it comes to showing up in the lineup every day. He’s exceeded 600 at-bats in each of the past four seasons. Over those four campaigns, he’s missed a total of 11 games. Even the ultra-consistent Pujols has missed 34 games over that span, Braun has missed 32 games and Cabrera has sat out 17 times. Kemp is one of the surest bets in baseball to stay healthy all season.
Kemp’s ability to help significantly in all five categories makes him the best way to start your ’12 draft. It allows you flexibility to take your highest ranked player in rounds two and three without feeling like you have to make up for a deficiency in a certain category. He doesn’t have the pressure of a massive new contract and moving to a new league, which is what Pujols has to deal with. He doesn’t have to adjust to a rapid weight loss and added defensive pressure from a move across the diamond, like Cabrera. And, he doesn’t have to deal with the pressure of proving he wasn’t enhanced by PED’s, which will likely affect Braun this season. He’s the safest, most complete player at the top of the draft board and he’s coming off being the most valuable player in fantasy baseball in ’11. Why would you start your draft with anyone else?
Ryan Braun, freed!
The conclusion of Braun’s suspension appeal has been well documented, so there’s no need to go into those details here. For fantasy owners, Braun’s early return to action means another option in the top five picks. In last weekend’s LABR Mixed League selection, Braun went sixth — a little low in my opinion. A case can be made for the Brewers outfielder as the No. 1 pick, and I can’t find a reason to push him lower than No. 3. I like him better than Miguel Cabrera, whose slimmer body and position change could affect his offensive production. Matt Kemp has a similar profile to Braun, with 30/30 expectations, and it’s hard to bet against Albert Pujols. But in my opinion, no other player can match the numbers that Braun will likely put up.
Grady Sizemore is already hurt again
The Tribe brought back Sizemore on a one-year deal in hopes that he could put his injury woes behind him. Less than a week into Spring Training, Sizemore is already on the injury report. This time it’s a back injury that will likely keep the outfielder out of action until sometime in April. Sizemore’s not worth a late-round pick in most mixed leagues, and those in AL-only formats will need to think long and hard before bidding even a few dollars for a player who’s unlikely to reach 400 at-bats.
Roy Oswalt plays the waiting game
Oswalt has indicated that he he’ll sit around the house for the first half of the season, evaluate his options and then sign with a contender this summer. While this ensures the right-hander of competing in a postseason push, it makes him virtually undraftable in most leagues. In mixed leagues, he should start the season on the waiver wire. In AL or NL-only formats with early drafts, I would use a final-round pick on Oswalt and hope that he ends up signing with a team during March. There’s always a chance that one club will suffer a significant pitching injury during Spring Training and make Oswalt an offer he can’t refuse. That gamble is worth more for a fantasy owner than picking Omar Vizquel or any similar low-upside last-rounder who will be available for free during the season’s first week if Oswalt is still unemployed.
Scott Sizemore suffers a left knee sprain
A bad week to be a Sizemore! The A’s infielder sprained his knee shortly after arriving in camp and it’s not yet known how much time he’ll miss. It’s too early to change Sizemore’s draft ranking, since there’s a good chance that he’ll be back in action within a few weeks. Slated to get the bulk of playing time at the hot corner for the A’s, Sizemore is a decent late round gamble in mixed leagues. He needs improve against right-handers but offers a little power and speed. If the 27-year-old ends up missing regular season games, Josh Donaldson, Eric Sogard and Adam Rosales would become late-round AL-only fliers.
Joel Zumaya faces another surgery
Zumaya is valiantly trying to get his career back on track, but the odds seem stacked against the hard-throwing reliever. After throwing just 13 Spring Training pitches, Zumaya left with elbow pain and was diagnosed with a torn ligament. While he’s currently evaluating his options, Tommy John surgery appears likely. Time to scratch this name off all AL-only draft lists.
Kris Medlen expects to head to the bullpen
Medlen acknowledged that while he would like to be in the mix for a rotation spot, he’s almost certainly destined for the ‘pen. The Braves have so much pitching depth that they have the luxury of using one of their best young arms in a relief role. Medlen is still draftable in NL-only leagues, as he should have success as a reliever, but Randall Delgado, Mike Minor and Julio Teheran are better selections. A couple of those young starters will be in the April rotation, and they all have the talent to make an impact in the Majors this season.
Cano ascends to the three-hole
An underrated story from the first week of Spring Training was the Yankees’ decision to make Cano the centerpiece of their mashing offense. It’s a smart move, as the second baseman has been the team’s best hitter in recent seasons. Moving up in the order means a small bump in Cano’s projected numbers. He should be among the league leaders in runs and RBIs, and could reach 30 homers for the first time this season. Cano doesn’t offer much speed, but his numbers in the other three counting stats, combined with a .310 batting average and 2B eligibility, make him a solid first-round pick. Once the top four picks are off the board, I don’t see any reason that Cano can’t be considered with Ellsbury, Tulowitzki, Votto and the Gonzalez’s (Adrian and Carlos). The most direct comparison would be to Tulowitzki, since both are middle infielders. I’d argue that Cano is more consistent, more durable and has better support around him. Tulowitzki is a trendy pick this year, but Cano may be the better guy to grab.
Chris Perez unlikely for Opening Day
Perez suffered an oblique strain and is expected to miss 4-6 weeks. If he can stay on the short end of that timetable, there’s a chance the Tribe’s closer will be available on Opening Day — but that seems likely. Split the difference and call it a five-week injury, which would have Perez begin throwing again on April 1. With a little extended Spring Training work, he’ll need a DL stint and rehab assignment to get ready for the regular season. Coming back in the middle of April seems possible, but late in the month is more realistic. Vinnie Pestano is the favorite for early-season saves in Cleveland and is now worth a late-round mixed-league pick. Take note, however, that the Indians have several skilled relievers and could opt for a closer committee in April.