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.
2/02/2007 04:02:00 PM
The return of Favre
At least this time Brett Favre didn't keep us waiting for months about his playing status for 2007. Old No. 4 will be back with the Packers for a 17th season. While the announcement is great for Green Bay fans, the fantasy impact isn't as big as most might think.
Favre is destined for the Hall of Fame, and he should break Dan Marino's record for career TD passes. However, he's a marginal No. 1 fantasy quarterback at this point. Favre passed for 3,885 yards with 18 TDs and 18 interceptions, which isn't too bad -- he was the eight-ranked fantasy quarterback in the SI.com Experts League partly because he keeps playing every game.
With Favre back, Donald Driver should continue to put up nice stats as the Packers' No. 1 receiver. Greg Jennings, who had his moments as a rookie in 2006, will come into the season as the No. 2 guy and is bound to get better with a year of experience under his belt. However, he may not have Ahman Green, a solid pass-catching running back who is a free agent, to alleviate some of that pressure. But with the mystery over Favre's future settled, the Packers can find their quarterback more weapons, either in the draft or free agency.
Heading into the offseason, Favre sits on the edge of being a No. 1 or No. 2 fantasy quarterback and probably a marginal choice for keeper leagues.
Jermaine Dye hit a career-high 44 homers last season and is up for free agency after next season.
Need another wrinkle when it comes to figuring out draft values? Try looking at players who are potential free agents after this season. Guys in contract years could be extra motivated to produce big numbers in order to get the megadeals, just like Alfonso Soriano and Barry Zito did this winter.
In the case of Soriano, he picked the right time to put up a 40-40 campaign. But you don't even have to blow people away to get the big bucks, just look at Ted Lilly and Gil Meche, who are serviceable pitchers but likely aren't anchoring your fantasy rotation.
Of course, while there's an added motivation to put up big numbers, there is an increased possibility that these players could be traded in midseason, which could wreak havoc to those playing in AL- or NL-only leagues. See Carlos Lee last season, for example.
So here are some players eligible for free agency after this season whose values could take a bump upward with a big contract looming. (My colleague John Donovan has touched on some of these players as well.) A few of these players will work out extensions before spring training or Opening Day, but it could also be a distraction should things drag out during the season.
Jermaine Dye, OF, White Sox: He's making just $6.75 million this season, so he's in line for a big raise, although will it be from Chicago or someone else? Another big season like 2006 could dispel doubts about his age and health that might prevent a big payday.
Andruw Jones, OF, Braves: Vernon Wells got a seven-year, $126 million extension from the Blue Jays, and you know Jones will be looking for similar numbers, but it might not come from Atlanta. He'll look to match his 51-homer season from 2005 to get a megabucks deal. Also be aware that he's been the subject of trade rumors since midseason because he's close to free agency.
Torii Hunter, OF, Twins: He's trying to work out a deal to stay in Minnesota, which eventually will have to lock up Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau to big contracts as well. Hunter and Jones on the market at the same this offseason would be very interesting for teams looking for a top-flight center fielder.
Ichiro Suzuki, OF, Mariners: Could he actually leave Seattle? His four-year deal runs out this season, and while the Mariners are intent on working out an extension, you never know. Will the contract stuff distract him from his usual big numbers? Probably not.
Michael Barrett, C, Cubs: With all the money flying around Wrigley, Barrett deserves his share as a consistent part of the lineup. Top-flight catchers are hard to find, so a player such as Barrett will command a nice price if he keeps hitting like he has in Chicago.
Carlos Guillen, SS, Tigers: Fantasy owners know they can get 15-20 homers, 15-20 steals and a .320 average from him. So if he can command big fantasy bucks, he should get the real money from the Tigers as well. He wants to stay in Detroit, but negotiations could be interesting.
Mike Cameron, OF, Padres: He hit 22 homers and stole 25 bases in his first season in San Diego, not bad considering he was recovering from that horrific outfield collision while with the Mets. But his three-year deal is up after the season and he could be due for one more big contract with another solid campaign at Petco.
Carlos Zambrano, SP, Cubs: After seeing the funny money going to Zito, Lilly, Meche and others this winter, what in the world will Zambrano command on the open market? He's seeking $15.5 million in arbitration, with the Cubs offering $11.025 million, and then it's free agency after that if they can't reach a deal by Opening Day.
Jake Westbrook, SP, Indians: Westbrook has won 44 games the past three seasons and is probably a better fantasy bet than Lilly or Meche right now. Cleveland wants to sign him to an extension, while a number of teams have inquired about his availability in a trade. If no deal gets done, his name could come up in many trade talks.
Jason Jennings, SP, Astros: Houston gave up a lot to get Jennings for potentially just one season with free agency looming. His win-loss numbers could be better, but he's a solid pitcher like Westbrook nonetheless. Proving himself in his new digs in Houston will help his cause.
Freddy Garcia, SP, Phillies: Like Jennings, Garcia might last just one season with his new team, but he'll draw lots of attention while piling up lots of innings. The Phillies seem to have the pieces to contend this year, so don't expect Garcia to be dealt again at midseason, but he will be playing for a big deal after 2007.
John Smoltz, SP, Braves: The Braves picked up his option for 2007 after another solid campaign, but his future in Atlanta in unclear after that. He still has great stuff, but just like the deal with Andruw Jones, how much does the team want to invest in keeping him in town, especially since he'll turn 40 in May?
Curt Schilling, SP, Red Sox: Now that we know he intends to pitch in 2008, Schilling will be pitching well to get a good contract extension instead embarking on a farewell tour.
Eric Gagne, RP, Rangers: Texas gave him a one-year deal to see if he still can be a big-time closer after two years of dealing with arm injuries. It's a calculated risk, and the Rangers still have Akinori Otsuka if it doesn't work out. But a good season on a one-year deal can turn into much more -- just look at Nomar Garciaparra.
Mariano Rivera, RP, Yankees: His contract is up after this season, but expect an extension to be worked out. But how long will the Yankees want to commit to him beyond 2007?
Miguel Tejada had 24 homers last year, but also hit .330 with 100 RBIs.
As many will tell you, it's never too early to start preparing for your fantasy draft. In this case, it took me until the end of January to take part in my first mock fantasy baseball draft of the 2007 season. The folks at MockDraftCentral.com host a number of drafts every day to prepare people for their "real thing" later on this winter and early spring.
You can find the full draft results here. It was a 12-team, 23-round, 5x5 mixed-league mock draft with 23 roster spots, 14 hitters (2 C, 1 1B, 1 2B, 1 SS, 1 3B, 1 CI, 1 MM, 5 OF, 1 U/DH) and nine pitchers, but no bench. And this is a mock, so we're not playing this out, which is probably good for everyone's sake.
I drew the second pick overall and while the first-round pick was pretty simple, it obviously became a little trickier after that. Here is what my team ended up looking like:
Round 1: Alfonso Soriano, OF, Cubs Round 2: Manny Ramirez, OF, Red Sox Round 3: Miguel Tejada, SS, Orioles Round 4: Carlos Delgado, 1B, Mets Round 5: Brandon Webb, P, Diamondbacks Round 6: Ryan Zimmerman, 3B, Nationals Round 7: Huston Street, P, A's Round 8: Dan Uggla, 2B, Marlins Round 9: Scott Kazmir, P, Devil Rays Round 10: Dan Haren, P, A's Round 11: Francisco Cordero, P, Brewers Round 12: Mike Cameron, OF, Padres Round 13: Ramon Hernandez, C, Orioles Round 14: Josh Barfield, 2B, Indians Round 15: Barry Bonds, OF, Giants Round 16: Freddy Garcia, P, Phillies Round 17: Johnny Estrada, P, Brewers Round 18: Gary Matthews Jr., OF, Angels Round 19: Morgan Ensberg, 3B, Astros Round 20: Rafael Soriano, P, Braves Round 21: Armando Benitez, P, Giants Round 22: Melvin Mora, 3B, Orioles Round 23: Cliff Lee, P, Indians
There are definitely some reaches and bad picks in here. I'll be doing a few more of these mock draft exercises throughout the preseason to see how things will draft strategies and techniques can change.
Barry Bonds hit 26 homers with 77 RBIs last season despite dealing with arthritic knees.
John W. McDonough/SI
So all that talk about Todd Helton going to the Red Sox? Never mind. AL-only owners will only have to deal with one new talented slugger full of injury baggage trying to make his way at Fenway instead of two. However, it was fun to speculate about it for the moment, and now that the cat is out of the bag, there could be more Helton speculation during the spring.
The number that most people will be focused on is 22 -- the homers he needs to pass Hank Aaron on the all-time list. He's got a decent chance on reaching that number if he stays healthy, but that's a big if since he played just 130 games last year and only 14 in 2005. In those 130 games, he did hit 26 homers, and he did get stronger in the second half (.596 slugging percentage after the All-Star break).
Another interesting issue with Bonds is the batting average/on-base percentage question. Bonds is still a feared hitter, so he'll still take a ton of walks, which is great if you're playing in a league that counts OBP and/or OPS but not as much if you're counting batting average. Bonds hit an adequate .270, but his OBP was a solid .454, and that was well below his marks in the .500-.600 range earlier this decade (he was also getting his batting average in the .350 area).
The injury factor, which is very difficult to ignore, should keep Bonds' value down. Should he be healthy for a full season, which appears unlikely, he can still hit 30-35 homers. But it's more likely he'll take the Aaron chase into September and you don't have to pay a whole lot for 22 homers. If you draft Bonds, be sure to have plenty of help elsewhere on the roster. Obviously you can't build a team around him anymore.
And speaking of members of the 500-homer club with plenty of baggage, Sammy Sosa is back with the Rangers after sitting out the 2006 season. While he has 588 career homers, he struggled with the Orioles in an injury-plagued 2005, hitting .221 with just 14 long balls.
With the steroid suspicions now looming, does Sosa have anything left in the tank to contribute to a major-league team or your fantasy squad? The Rangers will give him every chance to do so in spring training, most likely as a DH and possibly in right field. The players who should be concerned most about the Sosa deal include Nelson Cruz, Frank Catalanotto and Jason Botts, who could lose at-bats. But it could be a moot point if Sosa can't find his stroke again. Wait until spring training before making a move on Sosa, and even then he shouldn't be taken until really late. He'll either be a cheap blast-from-the-past pick (like Frank Thomas last year) or the first guy you drop from your roster with no regrets.
Todd Helton was held to a career-low 15 homers with 81 RBIs last season.
The Red Sox are making things interesting again for fantasy owners, just as we had most of the big names locked into place heading into spring training. The buzz in Boston has the Red Sox acquiring Todd Helton from the Rockies, although who would head to Colorado is very much up in the air. The Red Sox would like to ship off Mike Lowell and Julian Tavarez, while the Rockies have their eye on young pitchers Craig Hansen and Manny Delcarmen.
It's an intriguing move for fantasy owners, considering that Helton's stock has dropped in recent years because of back and calf injuries in 2005 and a lingering intestinal infection in 2006. While he's still a .300 hitter, he hit just 35 homers and 160 RBIs combined the past two seasons. He's now in danger of falling out of the top 10 of fantasy first basemen, and a move to Boston probably wouldn't alter his value all that much, even if he's at full health.
Hitting at Coors definitely helps his batting average (.338 home vs. .266 road last season), but it's a push in terms of power (eight homers at home vs. seven on the road). The average could take a minor hit at Fenway, but there could be a couple of extra homers wrapped around the Pesky Pole. Plus, there's the potential for more RBI chances in that Boston lineup.
Adding Helton and J.D. Drew (who finally got his deal done with Boston last week) looks good, but there seems to be as many question marks about their health as their production. They'd both be nice additions to AL-only leagues but they're also guys you shouldn't get too crazy about just because they're new. There is some mileage on them that could impact their value this season.
As for the potential ripple effects of the deal: -- Kevin Youkilis likely moves back to third base to replace Lowell, although he wouldn't be eligible there until later in the season. He's probably a tad more valuable as a third baseman than at first. -- Rising star Garrett Atkins could move to first in Colorado, although he's a bit more valuable, fantasy-wise, at third, and Lowell taking over the hot corner. Lowell's value should improve at Coors. There is talk that prospect Joe Koshansky, who hit 31 homers with 109 RBIs at Double-A Tulsa last year, could compete for the first base job. And you have to wonder if there will be room this season for Colorado's top third base prospect Ian Stewart, who hit .268 with 10 homers and 71 RBIs as Koshansky's teammate last year. -- Brian Fuentes is in no danger of losing his closer's job in the short-term no matter who the Red Sox send to Colorado. However, Delcarmen and/or Hansen could be in the running sooner rather than later. It also means Boston is further committed to Joel Pineiro as the closer this season.
As for some other news around the league: -- The Mariners are close to adding Jeff Weaver to the rotation, which might not be a bad place for him to go. After struggling with the Angels, he had his moments, especially in the postseason, for the Cardinals. Going to a pitcher's park like Safeco should help Weaver, and he's at least a better bet in that rotation compared to newly acquired Miguel Batista and Horacio Ramirez. I wouldn't go overboard for him, but he'd be a nice value bet as a starting pitcher.
-- You may want to downgrade Josh Johnson right now as he's been shut down from his offseason training with arm soreness. He also missed the last couple of weeks of last season with a forearm injury. He was 12-7 with a 3.10 ERA last season. There's obviously lots of time before spring training for him to get things sorted out, but it is worth watching.
-- I didn't mention the Javy Lopez signing by the Rockies a couple of weeks ago, but that move is very interesting. Lopez had an awful season playing for the Orioles and Red Sox, but he can still be a decent hitter, especially at Coors. And it's a bit of an open race for the starting catcher's job with rookie Chris Iannetta also in the mix. Lopez could be an interesting sleeper if he pans out at spring training.
-- Darin Erstad's best days are well behind him, but he has a reasonable chance at regular playing time with the White Sox after Scott Podsednik underwent groin surgery this week and Brian Anderson still unproven. Definitely watch Erstad's work in spring training before thinking of putting him on your team. Podsednik's injury is notable since his stolen bases have gone down and he doesn't offer much else to help your team.
-- On the North Side of Chicago, Cliff Floyd found his way as the Cubs' fourth outfielder, although question marks surrounding their current starting crew may affect his share of at-bats beyond just pinch-hitting duties. He has a little pop left in the bat, but obviously don't pay a lot for him.