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Fantasy World: Reporting on Pitchers Reporting

2/4/2009
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With four simple words, all the pain goes away. Pitchers and catchers report.

But in the Fantasy World, all this means is that the offseason is over. Work has begun. In seven days, when pitchers and catchers arrive in Florida and Arizona, the junkies among us will be analyzing the box scores, reading the manager interview, listening intently to the rumor mill, all to give them the smallest advantage when it comes to the draft. And with pitchers and catchers reporting first, it gives those two positions the most room for maneuvering before the actual season starts. While catchers are pretty much set—there's not many spots in contention there—there sure are a lot of pitchers whose season hangs in the balance with their spring training performance. Here's are some:

Joba Chamberlain, Yankees
Like Manhattan, things are a bit crowded in the Yankees rotation. Out of C.C. Sabathia, Chien-Ming Wang, A.J. Burnett and Andy Pettitte, how many are not going to be in the rotation? Here's a hint: None. Which means there's only one spot left between Joba, once top-prospect Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy. Chamberlain obviously has the inside track, but if something clicks for Hughes during spring training, wouldn't it make sense to place Joba back in his role as dominant set-up man? And if that's the case, he's basically worthless in the Fantasy World.

Clay Buchholz/Brad Penny, Red Sox
At this point, the Yankees and Red Sox are just mirror images of one other (aside from spending habits), so it makes sense that Boston would also be dealing with a similar "problem" of having too much pitching. In this case however, there are two able candidates who could find themselves spending the season trying to out-crazy Jonathan Papelbon in the bullpen. With the front four starters set in Beckett, Dice-K, Lester and Wakefield, Buchholz and Penny are competing for the final spot. Even worse, the loser could find themselves with the third place prize from Glengarry Glen Ross once newly-signed John Smoltz returns from injury in May or June.

Rich Hill, Orioles
The Orioles recently snagging Rich Hill is one of those great low-risk/high-reward propositions. When Hill was "on" over the past few years, his stuff was electric, averaging nearly a strikeout an inning. In fact, before coming down with a case of Ankiel Arm last year—18 walks in 19 innings—Hill was considered "untouchable" by the Cubs brass. Now with the Orioles, we'll be able to see pretty quickly if he's recovered from his wildness troubles to be a top-of-the-rotation star—albeit, one pitching in the toughest divisions in baseball—or if the Cubs were right to sell him while he still holds an ounce of intrigue.

Max Scherzer, Diamondbacks
Let's see here. On January 23rd, Scherzer told reporters that his arm didn't feel right and he's going to shut it down for a few days. Six days later, the team signs Uber-Mediocrity All Star Jon Garland to a one-year deal, essentially giving them six starters in the process. Back-up plans are nice, but usually they don't come with a $6.25 million price tag. Something tells me the team isn't planning on Scherzer pitching a full season, which means you should probably pay extra attention to how he's handled this spring before drafting him.

Trevor Hoffman, Brewers
Officially, the all-time saves leader has been brought to Milwaukee to close. But if last year's 3.77 ERA—the highest since his rookie year—is any indication, the only place Brewers fans will be hearing "Hell's Bells" this year is at their local karaoke saloon. It doesn't help Hoffman that former closer Jorge Julio is waiting in the wings.

Jonathan Sanchez, Giants
Suddenly, the Giants are somehow contenders. Any rotation with Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Randy Johnson and Barry Zito would have to at least be given token consideration, but playing in the worst division in baseball they might even be the favorites (as long as they add one more impact bat, say, Manny Ramirez?). But with the talent in the rotation, where does once-prized possession Sanchez fit in? Right now, he's competing with the soft-tossing Noah Lowry for the final spot, but since I used the phrase "soft-tossing" you have to imagine the Giants will give Sanchez and his strikeout-an-inning arm a good look.

Chris Carpenter, Cardinals
According to a recent report, the Cardinals are being "cautiously optimistic" that Carpenter will be ready to go by Opening Day. But even if he shows progress during spring training, is there really any way you can trust him?

Carlos Silva, Mariners
Is there a way Silva could find himself out of the rotation with a poor spring? The top two spots are spoken for with King Felix and Erik Bedard, Jarrod Washburn is as consistent as they come for a middle-of-the-rotation guy, and the team has three high-upside pitchers in Ryan Rowland-Smith, Brandon Morrow and Garrett Olson. Say all three throw lights out during spring training—something good has to happen in Seattle eventually, right?—and Silva continues to post his 6.46 ERA? Wouldn't you have to eat the contract and stick him in a long relief role? I guess what I'm saying is, if you needed an extra reason not to draft Silva, here it is.

Aaron Laffey, Indians
A nice find for the Indians last year, Laffey heads into camp in competition for the final rotation spot with three other pitchers: Zach Jackson, Jeremy Sowers and Scott Lewis. I say Laffey gets it and holds onto his spot longer than either new-Indians Carl Pavano or Anthony Reyes.

Homer Bailey, Reds
Once the greatest prospects in the history of the Reds organization—at least, it seemed that way—Bailey is now in a battle with Micah Owings, Daryl Thompson, Ramon Ramirez and Matt Maloney for the final rotation spot. He's also being mentioned every other day in trade rumors that will ship him off to Chicago for Jermaine Dye. Keep an eye on him, especially if he lands with the White Sox who, after Gavin Floyd and John Danks, now have a good recent history of taking other teams' discarded top pitching prospects and developing them.

Daniel Cabrera, Nationals
Can we have a preview column and not mention Wild-Cab, especially now that he's found a new home in our nation's capitol? As always, who knows what to expect?

Dontrelle Willis, Tigers
Hey, remember him? After the Tigers brought Edwin Jackson over from the Rays, Funky Hat will be fighting with Nate Robertson and Zach Miner to maintain a rotation spot. Like the above entry, who really knows what to expect from Dontrelle anymore?

Ben Sheets, Man Without a Team
The best free agent pitcher available, your best bet is to take Richard Marx's advice and make sure that Sheets knows that, wherever he goes, whatever he does, you will be right here, waiting for him.

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Player on My Team of the Week: Matt Cassel, who most likely bought himself a ticket off my keeper list after getting urinated on at the Super Bowl. If he can't even avoid a drunk fan, how can I expect him to elude a pass rush?

How to Heckle One of My Players of the Week: "Hey Matt Cassel, at least it wasn't number two!"

The Great Zombie Movie Hope Award of the Week: World War Z, an adaptation of the fantastic Max Brooks faux-cumentary novel about the world dealing with the repercussions of a zombie outbreak, after this amazing concept art was released to drooling fans, myself among them. BRAAAAAINS!!!

Buy High: An ironic God, after Vadim Pustovit and his family returned to their Florida home to find the entire place burned down. They had just come back from church.

Sell Low: The need for hallucinatory drugs in Seattle, after this intense photograph of an odd lenticular cloud formation that was captured near Mt. Rainier. Now I know how this kid feels.