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.
2/09/2007 05:27:00 PM
Around the transaction wire
Will Shannon Stewart bounce back in Oakland this season?
David Sherman/Getty Images
-- A's agree to one-year, $1 million deal with Shannon Stewart: Once again Oakland seems to come away with a potential bargain in free agency. Stewart played just 44 games for the Twins last season because of a foot injury, but he's a career .299 hitter, although he has only marginal power (he once hit 21 homers in 2000). He doesn't have the same speed he used to, either (just 20 steals the past four seasons); however, he can be a useful part of the A's outfield. While he'll be counted on to provide bench depth, it wouldn't be surprising if he becomes a regular in left field with Nick Swisher returning to first base. (The A's are considering bringing back Dan Johnson to play first.)
Mixed-leaguers don't need to worry about Stewart at this point, but he could be a nice bargain/late-round pick in AL-only leagues. Think of what Frank Thomas did for Oakland last year after missing most of 2005 with injuries. Stewart's ceiling isn't as high, but he could at least help your average and/or runs scored cheaply.
-- Bronson Arroyo signs two-year, $25 million extension with Reds: I was intrigued by Aaron Harang getting $36.5 million for four years by Cincinnati. Then that was outdone by Arroyo getting $12.5 million a year from the Reds after a 14-11, 3.29 ERA season in 2006. While Arroyo had been good but not necessarily great in Boston in 2005, he became very good in spurts for the Reds last season. He went 9-4 in the first three months of the season, then struggled badly in July and August before rebounding with a 4-2, 2.45 ERA September.
A couple of interesting notes about Arroyo's 2006 season: He made the same number of starts (35) and won the same number of games (14) as he did in 2005 for the Red Sox. However, he pitched 35-1/3 more innings and, most impressively, struck out 84 more batters while allowing just 19 more baserunners. I still think Harang has more upside and is possibly the better bet from a fantasy perspective, but Arroyo isn't too far behind. Just imagine if the Reds had a dependable closer, then Harang and Arroyo should have even more wins to go with other decent stats.
-- Corey Patterson agrees to $4.3 million contract with Orioles, avoids arbitration: He's one player I unfortunately overlooked in the list of potential free agents looking to play for a big contract in the offseason. After the Cubs gave up on him, Patterson responded by stealing a career-high 45 bases to go with 16 homers and a very respectable (for him) .276 average. He does have 20-20 potential, if not more. However, he's patience at the plate leaves a lot to be desired (21 walks/94 strikeouts in 463 at-bats last season) and his OBP was just .314. The fact that he has some power to go with the stolen bases still makes him an appealing fantasy prospect, as opposed to one-dimensional speedsters. Patterson does need to improve his on-base skills to get a big contract in the offseason, but for now, fantasy owners hope to get more steals and homers.
-- Mets agree to one-year, $600,000 deal with Chan Ho Park: The Mets' rotation is very unsettled heading into the season, so Park has just as good a chance as anyone to make the starting staff on Opening Day. Pedro Martinez is out until midseason, Tom Glavine is there but old, John Maine needs more seasoning, and there are others like Orlando Hernandez and Oliver Perez around as well. Park went 7-7 with a 4.81 ERA last season as he finished off that huge contract he originally signed with the Rangers after the 2001 season. There's no reason to pick him up just yet, but he could be a cheap way to fill out the roster if he actually makes the rotation.
Joseph Addai ran for 294 yards and had an NFL-best 22 receptions in the playoffs.
For those of you who rode players such as Thomas Jones or Joseph Addai to victory in your postseason fantasy leagues, congratulations. And for those of you who got smacked down by Larry Johnson's playoff shutdown, many apologies. While some fantasy owners got instant benefits from the recently concluded postseason, all owners can use the performances from the past few weeks to help your team next season.
Here are some storylines to watch and lessons to be learned from the playoffs:
Running back committees can be useful While tandem running backs frustrate fantasy owners trying to pin down who will get consistent touches each week, they do work for real NFL teams. All four conference championship participants shared the load with two running backs.
And as fantasy owners already discovered during the regular season, some of these setups can work. Just look at the Colts, who got big games from both Addai and Dominic Rhodes in the Super Bowl. The Saints' duo of Reggie Bush and Deuce McAllister each had impressive playoff numbers (although McAllister was shut down in the NFC title game). And Thomas Jones (4) and Cedric Benson (1) each scored TDs for the Bears in the playoffs.
However, in the case of the Colts and Bears, the offseason will have a major impact on their backfields for next season. Rhodes is a free agent and could ride his 113-yard Super Bowl into a nice contract elsewhere. Should Rhodes leave, Addai's value would take a big jump coming off his Super Bowl, where he ran for 77 yards and caught 10 passes for 66 more. He was already a decent fantasy pick this season even while sharing time with Rhodes.
In the case of the Bears, there are rumblings that Jones could be dealt in the offseason to open up a spot for Benson, who's been itching for playing time. Jones had a great postseason, rushing for 301 yards and a NFL-high four TDs, while Benson scored once but missed most of the Super Bowl after injuring his knee during the game. Jones is proving he can still do the job, although his value next summer depends on where he ends up.
The Patriots' situation is intriguing since Corey Dillon is getting older and might be released this offseason. He led the team with 119 rushing yards and two TDs, while rookie Laurence Maroney ran for 69 yards against the Jets before he was shut down (just 18 yards combined) in the last two games against the Chargers and Colts. However, Maroney is the future and can be a star in New England's offense if given the chance.
QB reputations take a beating It's easy to pile on Rex Grossman, especially since his wild swings of greatness and mediocrity really messed with his fantasy owners and came back to bite the Bears in the Super Bowl. He wasn't that great against the Saints in the NFC title game, either, but he had a decent game against the Seahawks, so he's not a complete lost cause. You definitely don't want him as a No. 1 fantasy quarterback, but if the Bears stick with him next season, he can be a No. 2 to use for a bye week. Just pray that you get one of his "on" weeks.
Tony Romo's draft value heading into 2007 will also be intriguing since his botched hold during the wild-card loss to the Seahawks will be the last thing many people remember of him heading into the offseason. (That could be one good thing about the Pro Bowl -- Romo can regain a shred of dignity.) After a great early stretch replacing Drew Bledsoe, Romo had six TDs and eight picks during Dallas' December fade. Romo won't have Bill Parcells on the sideline next season, but he likely will still have Terrell Owens as a target. That probably still keeps him as a lower-end No. 1 quarterback.
Peyton Manning redeemed himself in the AFC title game and the Super Bowl, but his first two postseason games showed that even he can put up bad games. While it's no surprise he led the NFL in passing yardage in the playoffs (1,034 in four games), he also threw a league-high seven picks after just nine in the regular season. Just something to note, since even a spotty postseason isn't going to hurt his value.
Potential free agents become more enticing Rhodes becomes an intriguing player on the market thanks to his postseason, but there's also a good chance the Colts keep him and maintain the two-headed running attack. Elsewhere, Jeff Garcia turned into a solid replacement for Donovan McNabb and may find his way into a starting job somewhere else next season. However, his value will depend on what the supporting cast is around him on his next team; Garcia's targets in Philly were good, especially compared to his recent stops in Detroit and Cleveland. There have been rumblings of him going to either Minnesota (a mess at wideout) or even Chicago (intriguing to say the least).
Don't rely too much on postseason stats Addai could see a major increase in value next season because of his postseason. But are you going to even consider drafting Jabar Gaffney despite his 21 catches for 244 yards and two TDs for the Patriots in the postseason? Will you drop down Larry Johnson because he ran for just 32 yards against the Colts? How about taking Chris Baker over Antonio Gates because the former had 68 receiving yards against the Patriots, compared to 61 for the Chargers' star? Probably not.
We're dealing with a small set of numbers in the playoffs, and there are obviously extenuating circumstances for why certain things fell the way they did. It's not a bad thing to keep the postseason in mind, but don't let it rule your fantasy strategy. Otherwise, Tom Brady would've been taken ahead of Peyton Manning just about every year.
One player who could go either way is Dallas Clark, who led the NFL in the postseason with 317 receiving yards. He has always been a useful fantasy tight end in that Colts offense, but he erupted for 157 yards in the AFC title game. However, he was often playing as the No. 3 receiver in the offense because Brandon Stokley was hurt most of the year. Clark will still get his share of looks next year with Manning at quarterback, but it could be a stretch to think he'll move up to the elite group of tight ends.
On the other hand, it's good to see players like LaDainian Tomlinson, Brian Westbrook and Shaun Alexander turn in big games even though their teams were eliminated. They're still very solid choices for next season.
With a .347 average, Joe Mauer became the first catcher to win an AL batting crown.
One of the more intriguing decisions when putting together my Top 250 fantasy list was where to put Joe Mauer. Just 23, he had a breakout 2006 campaign, winning the AL batting title with a .347 average, adding 13 homers, 84 RBIs, 86 runs and even eight steals. And the former No. 1 overall draft pick appears to have even more upside, especially in the power department (he did have 36 doubles in addition to his 13 homers).
Right now, I have Mauer at 26th, which would make him an early third-round pick in mixed league drafts and at least a second-rounder in AL-only ones. While the numbers are very good, the fact that he's a catcher definitely drives up his value. There doesn't appear to be that many catchers who can hit well above .300, plus add double-digit homers and steals, not to mention decent RBI and runs scored totals.
And the issue of position scarcity does play into draft strategy, especially after the top 10-12 picks. Do you go for someone who plays a position with relatively few studs, like shortstop (i.e. Derek Jeter, Miguel Tejada) or catcher (Mauer), or do you pick up a very productive outfielder (i.e. Manny Ramirez, Jason Bay) or first baseman (Derrek Lee, Mark Teixeira) where there are lots of acceptable options in later rounds?
My ranking sort of hedges those bets. I've seen Mauer in the top 15-20 in some lists, especially in auction leagues where owners will pay a premium to anchor the catching position. On the other hand, while Mauer still has plenty of upside, let's not forget that the Braves' Brian McCann, who's a year younger, hit .333 last season and had more homers (24) and RBIs (93) than the Twins backstop. Plus, there's the Indians' Victor Martinez, who's also good for a .300 average, 15-20 homers and 85-90 RBIs a season.
While it's not a bad thing to secure a catching spot (especially in leagues where you have to play two catchers) very early with Mauer, you could also be in good shape if you wait a couple of extra rounds to get McCann or Martinez, or even wait longer to snag solid but less sexy options like Michael Barrett, Ramon Hernandez, Kenji Johjima or old reliables like Ivan Rodriguez or Mike Piazza.
Aaron Harang actually had two-thirds of the NL pitching triple crown last season.
John W. McDonough/SI
While veteran like Jermaine Dye and Andruw Jones are on their way to chasing big free-agent contracts after this season, a number of young stars are getting locked up to healthy deals now, partly to reward them for their accomplishments and partly to keep them off the open market.
That was the case in the past couple of days with the Reds' Aaron Harang and the Brewers' Bill Hall each getting four-year deals. Harang will get $36.5 million over the length of his deal; Hall will get $24 million. Neither has appeared in an All-Star Game yet, but from a fantasy perspective, they're already entering this season with a lot of attention.
Harang, acquired from the A's in 2003 as part of the deal for Jose Guillen, had been decent but not spectacular in his first two-plus years in Cincinnati. But last year he emerged as a solid fantasy option after leading the NL with 216 strikeouts and six complete games, and tying for first with 16 wins, plus he had a respectable 3.76 ERA. His jump in strikeouts was impressive (he had 163 in 2005), especially considering his walk total increased by just five (56-51) despite pitching 22 2/3 more innings. The wins are very notable because the Reds' closer situation was in flux last season, and seems to be the same heading into 2007.
Harang has helped himself away from hitter-friendly Great American Ballpark, though, as he went 9-7 with a 2.98 ERA and eight homers allowed on the road, compared to 7-4, a 4.61 ERA and 20 homers allowed at home. Despite his home-field disadvantage, he's still emerged as a top-20 fantasy starting pitcher, although he could improve his hits allowed (the league batted .269 against him last season). While he might not have the same upside as youngsters like Cole Hamels and Jered Weaver, Harang is still a solid fantasy pick.
Hall got his new contract after hitting a career-high 35 homers for the Brewers last season, including a major-league best 27 as a shortstop after stepping in for the injured J.J. Hardy. Also notable is that while Hall hit an OK .270, 78 of his 145 hits were of the extra-base variety and that his .553 slugging percentage was 18th in the majors, ahead of Alex Rodriguez, Vladimir Guerrero, Andruw Jones and Carlos Lee.
Hall has some speed as well, although he stole just eight bases in 2006 compared to 18 in 2005. However, the strikeout numbers are a bit disconcerting as he whiffed 162 times in 537 at-bats to go with 65 walks. It's not as bad as his 20:119 BB:K ratio in just 390 at-bats in 2004, so at least there is some improvement.
He likely won't be playing much shortstop this year with Hardy back. Instead, he probably will be the starting center fielder. While fantasy owners likely will draft him in the shortstop slot (he's a potential top-10 guy at his position) and get great value, he actually doesn't have the same position flexibility he had entering the 2006 season, where he was eligible at second, third and short. Because of Hardy's injury, Hall finished with 127 games played at shortstop, but just 11 at third, seven in the outfield and four at second. (Many leagues stipulate playing at least 15 or 20 games at a position to be eligible there the next year.) Despite the lack of multiple positions on draft day, Hall is still a guy on the rise.