Commentary

Big Hurt still useful in Oakland

Updated: April 24, 2008, 4:48 PM ET
By Eric Karabell | ESPN.com

Mike Sweeney ended the longest home run drought of his career with an eighth-inning poke off Matt Guerrier Wednesday night. His reward was seeing Frank Thomas signed to a one-year deal to become his teammate the next morning.

While Sweeney's power has been waning in recent years and barely exists at this point, Thomas smacked 65 home runs the past two seasons. It's simple math; both hit right-handed and neither of these fellas brings a glove with them to the ballpark, so only one can play regularly. Thomas, again a member of the Oakland Athletics, is going to be the everyday designated hitter, and Sweeney is not. This fact, in and of itself, is not a big deal in fantasy when evaluating Sweeney, since he's barely owned anyway.

[+] EnlargeFrank Thomas
Mark Cunningham/Getty ImagesOakland is hoping that there is still some Hurtin' left.
For the Big Hurt, however, this is meaningful. Thomas was off to his typical slow April start, but as I noted in greater detail in Monday's blog, this is a player who still can help a fantasy team. The fact that the Blue Jays released Thomas is not solely indicative of the future Hall of Famer's skills. It was also made for financial and clubhouse concerns, and to open up playing time for prospect Adam Lind. Thomas shouldn't have been out of work for long, and now he's not.

Thomas is owned in only a quarter of ESPN's standard mixed leagues, all of which are 10-team leagues, and while I can't say for certain a team in every league could use this upgrade at designated hitter, let's just say I'd take a look. I kept Thomas on a few teams when he was released over the weekend and opted not to drop him. Thomas hit 39 home runs the past go-round with Oakland in 2006, and last season after the All-Star break he batted .306 with power. Assuming Thomas gets regular at-bats moving forward, there's little reason to think he won't approach or pass last season's 26 home runs and 95 RBIs. The A's really needed a right-handed power bat.

While Sweeney becomes even more irrelevant for fantasy than before, other A's are affected. Jack Cust, who wasn't hitting close to his considerable weight to start with, won't be getting many at-bats at designated hitter anymore. Cust can play a somewhat serviceable corner outfield spot, much the same way Matt Stairs can. When these guys are hitting home runs, one doesn't pay attention to the extra fly balls that drop in, the gappers that turn doubles into troubles and the fact that third-base coaches wave all runners home when there might be a play at the plate. If Cust hits, he won't see a major reduction in playing time, but he has to raise that .161 batting average and hit more than just one homer, which came in the third game of the season.

With Travis Buck heading to the disabled list to make room for Thomas, the A's could play Cust and Emil Brown in the corner outfield spots, and rotate some combination of Ryan Sweeney, Chris Denorfia and newcomer Rajai Davis in center field. Davis has the most fantasy value for the potential stolen bases, but there's little guarantee he'll get to play. A month ago the A's pretty much said Cust would play over Brown if there was only one outfield spot, but Brown is leading the A's in RBIs, so it's unlikely he'll sit.

The A's could opt to get Sweeney playing time at first base against left-handed pitching, as impressionable rookie Daric Barton hits from the left side and has managed a .207 batting average against southpaw pitchers this season (and .296 against right-handers), but the best way for Barton to learn how to hit lefties would be by playing regularly. Barton shouldn't be sitting. The bottom line is, if you own Sweeney in a fantasy league, it's tough to call this Thomas signing a good thing.

Good for the A's, though. Chase Utley had entered Thursday's play with 10 home runs, one more than the entire Oakland team had hit, so it's clear that bringing in Thomas could pay dividends. Fantasy owners should be taking notice as well.

Eric Karabell is a senior writer for ESPN.com fantasy. You can e-mail him here.

Eric Karabell | email

ESPN.com Senior Writer