Join SI.com's James Quintong in a discussion of some of the latest news in football, baseball and other sports and how it relates to fantasy teams and leagues.
1/19/2007 12:31:00 PM
The DH dilemma
Travis Hafner is one of the best hitters in the game today, although he played just four games at first base last season.
In AL-only and mixed leagues, the DH/utility position is both a blessing and a curse. Depending on your league's rules, you often can slot in any hitter/position player in that spot (much like you would in the utility spot in NL-only), giving yourself some flexibility. However, there's a rise in top-flight players only qualifying just as a DH or utility player, thus robbing your team of that same flexibility.
While putting together lists of projected starting lineups, I came across a number of big bats that likely will get the bulk of their plate appearances at the DH spot. Many have eligibility elsewhere, and in the case of Mike Piazza and Jose Vidro, can be slotted at positions of relative scarcity (catcher and second base, respectively), giving them extra value and flexibility. Others, such as Jason Giambi and Gary Sheffield, will still be useful if you slot them at first base and outfield, respectively.
But look at this list of players only eligible at DH in many leagues heading into this season because they didn't play 20 games at any other position last year: David Ortiz, Travis Hafner, Frank Thomas, Jim Thome, Jonny Gomes and Mike Sweeney. OK, so Gomes had a major falloff last year and Sweeney is on the downside of his career. But the other four had huge seasons in 2006 and are in good shape to repeat their numbers. However, in many leagues, you must hope those guys play a few games in the field, thus allowing you to use them somewhere else in your lineup. That usually happens, especially during interleague play, but you can't guarantee it.
Of course, the position issue shouldn't dissuade you from taking someone like Ortiz or Hafner over a slightly lesser fantasy player like Joe Mauer, but it could be the reason they're not slam-dunk first-round picks, especially in mixed leagues. In fact, it can sometimes be hard to find those guys in some online draft rooms since they'd be classified only under the utility position (especially in Yahoo! leagues), although you shouldn't let that stop you from adding a Thome or Thomas.
A few other notes: -- It looks like Trot Nixon will have a home in Cleveland, taking over as the primary right fielder over youngsters Shin-Soo Choo and Ryan Garko. Injuries have cut into his game the past three seasons, so he's a health risk but worth a look in the back half of fantasy drafts. And for what it's worth, J.D. Drew still is not officially a member of the Red Sox.
-- I thought the Braves might pick up one of the assorted first basemen on the waiver wire after dealing away Adam LaRoche. So on Thursday they picked up Craig Wilson, who could share time or compete with rookie Scott Thorman at first base. He could also get a spot in left field where Matt Diaz and Ryan Langerhans are also battling for a spot. Wilson has a little pop in his bat (17 homers in 2006), although he didn't show much of it after joining the Yankees at the end of last season. He could be a nice cheap corner option in NL-only leagues.
-- Many of the Nationals' moves this offseason look like a desperate fantasy owner trying to patch up a variety of roster holes with sort-of recognizable names. Just look at the pickups of Travis Lee, Tony Womack and DeAngelo Jimenez on Thursday. A couple of them could end up on the Opening Day roster, especially Lee, if Nick Johnson isn't fully recovered from a broken leg. And that pitching staff is a major question mark beyond No. 1 starter John Patterson and closer Chad Cordero. Among the arms brought in with a chance for a rotation spot include Tim Redding, Brandon Claussen and Jerome Williams. Just think, you may have to spend a buck on one of these guys in your NL-only leagues.
Adam LaRoche took off in the second half and finished with 32 homers.
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
It's taken more than a month, but the long-rumored Adam LaRoche-for-Mike Gonzalez trade is just about finalized. It's definitely an intriguing one from a fantasy perspective, given how both players blossomed in 2006.
LaRoche had a breakout campaign, setting career highs with 32 homers, 90 RBIs and a .285 average. He was particularly strong after the All-Star break, hitting .323 with 19 homers in 229 at-bats (compared to .251 with 13 homers before the break). LaRoche still struggles against lefties, but his .241 mark last season was a big improvement.
Now LaRoche will look to build on that campaign as a focal point of the Pirates' offense along with Jason Bay. He didn't have that same pressure in Atlanta last year with Andruw and Chipper Jones, as well as Jeff Francoeur, carrying the offense. With a short porch at PNC Park, he'll at least be a threat to hit 30 homers again -- but you should also stay realistic and not overbid for him.
With LaRoche out of the way, the Braves appear ready to hand the starting first base job to Scott Thorman, who hit five homers for Atlanta last year and 15 at Triple-A Richmond. He does have 20-homer potential but obviously won't have the same value as LaRoche.
Meanwhile, Gonzalez is coming off a 24-save campaign in his first season as the Pirates' everyday closer. However, he missed the final month with an elbow injury, which would've made him a huge question mark if you were drafting him as a primary source of saves. Now, he's part of a potentially potent Braves bullpen with useful closer Bob Wickman and recently acquired Rafael Soriano, who has great stuff but also has his share of arm injuries.
You shouldn't expect 24 saves from Gonzalez in 2007, but with Wickman signed through just this year, the lefty Gonzalez or the righty Soriano could be in line for the closer's job sooner rather than later. At the very least, he's a cheap option if you like filling up your pitching staff with middle relievers/setup men who can pile up vulture wins or are on the brink of taking a closer's job. And if you have Gonzalez for a cheap price in a keeper league, hold on to him since there's still potential for saves down the line.
Meanwhile, Salomon Torres' value gets a boost as he'll resume his job as Pittsburgh's closer that he assumed when Gonzalez went down. Torres picked up 12 saves for the Pirates in September. Potentially in the mix for the closer's job is rookie Matt Capps.
As for the prospects included in each side of the trade, the Braves reportedly pick up infield prospect Brent Lillibridge, who hit .305 with 53 steals in the minors last season, while the Pirates will get Jamie Romak, who hit .247 with 16 homers for Single-A Rome.
Albert Pujols comes close to being a sure thing in fantasy baseball.
Spring training camps open in about a month, so it's time to start plotting draft strategy. And where better to start than at the top. Who would you spend the most money on at the auction or take with the first overall pick?
Here are some potential candidates for that coveted No. 1 spot, plus a players who deserve consideration later in the first round:
Albert Pujols: He's the most popular choice for the No. 1 pick. You pretty much know what you'll get from him: a .330 average, about 45 homers, 120 RBIs and 125 runs. If he hadn't suffered an oblique injury in June, he would've hit 50-plus homers last season. He's a sure bet and he just turned that magic age of 27.
Alfonso Soriano: If Pujols doesn't go No. 1, Soriano will be a very tempting choice up top. He's coming off a 46-homer, 41-steal season with 24 of the long balls coming at spacious RFK Stadium. So imagine what he can do at Wrigley Field, especially when the wind blows out. His average could use some work, although he did walk a career-high 67 times last year.
Jose Reyes: Steals are always at a premium, so when a guy has had 124 the past two seasons while also hitting .300 with 19 homers, 81 RBIs and 100 runs scored (as Reyes did last year), he's going to be highly coveted. His patience at the plate improved greatly, making Reyes one of most coveted fantasy players.
Johan Santana: It's always a risk to take any pitcher at No. 1, but Santana has proven to be the top fantasy starter the past two years. You just have to be a bit patient before he hits his stride (he was just 1-3 with a 4.45 ERA in April last season).
Ryan Howard: His first full season in the bigs was mighty impressive: 58 homers, 149 RBIs and a .313 average. Can he come anywhere close to matching that? That remains to be seen (especially since he doesn't run), although he's already proven enough in his first 1-1/2 seasons to be a very high pick.
Alex Rodriguez: He caught plenty of grief for his "struggles" last year, and he did have a very bad midseason slump. But the final stats were still solid for fantasy owners: .290-35-121-113-15. If he returns to "normal," A-Rod could be a steal in the middle of the first round.
Vladimir Guerrero: Remember when it seemed like only fantasy owners knew who he was as he piled up big stats in Montreal? Now that he's with the Angels, his fantasy value has moved down a couple of notches. He's still going to hit about .320 every year, although he may no longer be a 40-40 threat. But he'll still hit about 30-35 homers with 115 RBIs and 15 steals, which means a solid first- or second-round pick.
Miguel Cabrera: The homers fell of last year, but otherwise he's still improving as a hitter and will have better protection as the youngsters in the lineup get one year older. He won't steal as much as Vlad but is still a solid late first-round pick.
Chase Utley: A second baseman with the potential for a .300 average, 30 homers, 100 RBIs and double-digit steals is at least a candidate for the first round.
Justin Morneau: You can debate his merits as AL MVP, but any fantasy team would kill for his 2006 numbers. Keeper league owners who got him cheap last year are reaping the benefits.
David Wright: Before Wright's power numbers faded after the All-Star Game, there was a sentiment that he was the most valuable third baseman in New York.
Others to watch: Chris Carpenter, Carlos Beltran, Grady Sizemore, Travis Hafner, Carl Crawford, Derek Jeter, Jake Peavy.