MLB '09 preview: Best bargains
Troy Tulowitzki hit .327 with 30 RBIs after '08 All-Star break
Scott Kazmir struck out 166 batters in 152.1 innings last year
Chone Figgins has missed 40-plus games in last two years
Fantasy baseball is pretty easy to figure out. The goal is to draft a full roster of active MLB players and create a balanced enough team to accumulate more points than the other teams in your league. Sounds simple enough, right?
But the simplicity ends there as it's easier said than done to create the most balanced and powerful team in your league. Injuries get in the way of that, eight-run innings by your starting pitchers get in the way of that, and unforeseen demotions to the minors get in the way of that. There are roadblocks throughout this marathon they call the fantasy baseball season.
The best advice you can receive heading into draft day is to grab the best value in every single round. Lay the foundation of your team early with guaranteed stars who will put up solid numbers for six straight months, guys who rarely get injured and who you know will produce. Then add to that foundation as you go along, hopefully grabbing players with plenty of upside in each round.
But also keep your eyes open for bargains along the way. Those bargains can arrive early (hey, last year Albert Pujols was a bargain as he dropped into the second round because of his elbow injury), in the middle of the draft or late. If you get a player in the seventh round who has fifth-round value, that's a bargain. If you get a player in the 20th round who emerges as a top 100 player, that's a real bargain. Grab as many of those players as you can and you'll be headed to the Yoo-Hoo shower at season's end.
Here's a look at 20 potential bargains to keep an eye on as you head into draft day 2009:
Troy Tulowitzki, SS, Rockies
His sophomore slump was so bad last year that some owners who were burned by him have said they will never draft him again. His Average Draft Position (ADP) in the National Fantasy Baseball Championship last year was 33 ,and for that he returned a disappointing .263 season with only eight homers, 46 RBIs and one stolen base. Ouch. He landed on the DL with a torn quadriceps and landed on the DL again in July with a sliced hand when he slammed his bat into the ground. Still, the talent is there and he did hit .327-5-30 after the All-Star break. He's going around 80th in preseason drafts, which seems like a true bargain for a SS who plays half his games at Coors Field. Forget about last year and grab this star if you can.
Scott Kazmir, SP, Rays
Kazmir is another young player who burned folks in '08 and thus his value is extremely low in '09. His ADP last year was 78 and this year he's fallen out of the top 100. He led the AL in strikeouts in '07 with 239 in 206.2 IP, but he started last season on the DL with an elbow injury and finished just 12-8 with 166 Ks in 152.1 IP. He struggled in the postseason, but at just 25 and with one of the best fastballs in the game, I think he's a solid fantasy ace. He obviously needs to stay healthy, but as the 16th or 17th starting pitcher off the board I think he's a real bargain.
Raul Ibanez, OF, Phillies
One of the real bargains through the years has been Ibanez, who folks just seem to doubt each year. Yet all he's done is hit 20-plus HRs and drive in 100-plus runs each of the last three years ... in Seattle. Now he's moving to a real hitter's park in Citizen's Bank Park and he's in a much better lineup. He still is going outside of the top 100 and outside of the top 30 outfielders, which is a shame. He will hit .290-plus with 20-plus HRs and 100-plus RBIs, so grab this bargain if he sits out there too long.
Chone Figgins, 3B, Angels
Speed is going to be tougher to find this year, especially in AL-only auction leagues. Figgins used to be a high draft pick for his speed but two straight injury-riddled seasons and only one position eligibility in '09 has hurt his fantasy value. He's dropping out of the top 100 overall and is lucky to be a top 10 third baseman. Figgins is now 31 and has missed 40-plus games each of the last two years because of injuries, but he still hit .276 with 72 runs and 34 stolen bases in just 116 games last year and he's still the leadoff hitter in a very powerful lineup. Hope for better health and grab this bargain if he falls out of the top 100.
Jayson Werth, OF, Phillies
Werth started last season in a platoon with Geoff Jenkins, but quickly took the job for himself and became a solid No. 2 hitter as the Phillies became World Champions. He quietly put together a 20-20 season, hitting .273 with 24 homers, 67 RBIs, 73 runs and 20 stolen bases in 134 games. He was also successful on 20-of-21 stolen base attempts. He's a player on the rise who still falls outside of the top 40 outfielders, which is a shame.
Yovani Gallardo, SP, Brewers
Gallardo is now the staff ace in Milwaukee with the departures of CC Sabathia and Ben Sheets and he will step up and prove his value in '09. He missed most of last season with injuries to both knees, but came back at the end of the season to prove that his arm is still strong. In four starts last year, he struck out 20 in 24 innings and posted a solid 1.88 ERA. Just 23, Gallardo has great poise, solid control and a fastball that will post 170-plus strikeouts if his knees hold out. He will be fine and may only be the 25th starter taken on draft day.
Denard Span, OF, Twins
Span was a fantasy surprise for the Twins last year and a great waiver wire bargain for fantasy owners. He hit .340-3-14 with 15 stolen bases in just 40 games at Triple-A Rochester before getting the call to Minnesota in June. He then hit .294 with a .387 on-base percentage and scored 70 runs in 93 games while adding 18 stolen bases as the leadoff hitter. He will now start in right field and could blossom into a real solid leadoff hitter. As someone who rarely goes in the top 50 among all outfielders and top 150 overall, he's a real find.
Josh Johnson, SP, Marlins
Johnson missed most of the first half of last season recovering from Tommy John surgery, but he looked good after returning to the Marlins. He made 13 starts after the All-Star break and went 7-1 with a 3.50 ERA and 71 strikeouts in 82.1 IP. Now more than 18 months removed from the surgery, Johnson is primed for a breakout season and is a real bargain as a top 50 pitcher and top 160 draft pick.