Commentary

Fantasy Camp Notes: The steroid effect

Updated: February 20, 2008, 10:30 AM ET
By AJ Mass | ESPN.com

• According to ESPN.com's Jayson Stark, Andy Pettitte has yet to report to Yankees camp. When he eventually does show up, there are bound to be a lot of questions -- from the media, from his teammates, even from fans. Regardless whether he's embraced or taunted by catcalls, the fact remains that there is no way his focus could possibly be entirely on baseball. Forget what he said in his deposition about Roger Clemens. He admitted that the Mitchell report was right about his use of HGH, and the possibility of penalty from the commissioner's office will hang over his head until it decides what, if anything, the punishment will be. Hopefully, the verdict will come sooner rather than later, because as long as players such as Pettitte hang in limbo, fantasy owners must consider whether the risk of suspension, or even just the chance of the distraction's causing subpar performance, is worth it.

• Pettitte isn't the only player in this boat. According to the Indians' official Web site, Paul Byrd told reporters he met with Major League Baseball officials in mid-December about his own admitted HGH use, and he is still waiting to find out whether he will incur a penalty. Byrd is looking to build on a 15-8 season, but with the stress of not knowing his fate, there's a strong chance his pitching will suffer. The same can be said of Colorado reliever Matt Herges. The Rockies' official Web site reported that Herges apologized this week for using performance-enhancing drugs and that he was welcomed warmly by his teammates. Still, the fact that Herges is spending energy "praying there's no suspension" certainly isn't going to help him in his quest to make the roster. The same goes for all the other names mentioned in the Mitchell report. Making those rosters, winning those starting jobs, having standout seasons, it's hard enough under normal circumstances. Perhaps it would be best for a fantasy owner to look elsewhere.

[+] EnlargeCoco Crisp
Elsa/Getty ImagesIs Coco Crisp's demotion not a foregone conclusion?

• A report in the Boston Herald seems to suggest that Terry Francona might be leaning toward Coco Crisp in the center-field battle between him and Jacoby Ellsbury. "When (Crisp) comes into camp we're not going to forget as an organization that he's the incumbent," the Sox manager said. "We also understand Ellsbury, what he can do. We're probably going to remind people from time to time what Coco has done for us. I won't lose sight of that." A lot of people have anointed Ellsbury as the winner of this battle, especially after his strong .360 batting average in the postseason, but apparently Francona is not one of the converted. Given that ultimately his opinion is the only one that counts, you might want to wait before you bid too much too soon on Jacoby. And even in the event he does get traded down the line, taking a shot at Crisp might prove to be beneficial to your fantasy team as well as chocolately delicious.

• ESPN.com's Stark also reports that Mike Hampton threw a live batting-practice session Friday and that, according to the Braves GM Frank Wren, "There's clearly nothing wrong with his arm that would keep him from being a real quality major league starting pitcher." "That was obvious from watching him today," Wren said. "All that movement is still there." That's a huge first step for Hampton, currently penciled in as Atlanta's No. 4 starter, especially as he hasn't actually stepped on a major league mound since 2005. Hampton success could be to the detriment of young Jair Jurrjens. The young right-hander who came to the Braves in the Edgar Renteria deal might not have a spot in the rotation if Hampton makes a complete comeback.

• Who's going to be the ace of the Giants' pitching staff? If you answered Matt Cain or Tim Lincecum, you're wrong. At least that appears to be the case as the San Francisco Chronicle reports that Bruce Bochy has named Barry Zito as his Opening Day starter. "Matt is still young. He'll be an Opening Day pitcher," Bochy said. "This year, we just felt Zito should have that start. I think as much as anything this is something he earned with the way he pitched at the end of last season. Barry, he's accustomed to it. It makes sense to send him out there Opening Day." Cain will pitch the second game of the season, and there's a great possibility that Lincecum will fall all the way to fourth in the rotation. This certainly doesn't change our opinion that for a fantasy team, Zito is the least valuable of the three, but with his being named as the team's No. 1 starter, it certainly could mean that, over the course of the season, he'll earn a few extra starts that otherwise might have gone to the other two.

• ESPN.com's Jerry Crasnick reports that Brad Wilkerson is the front-runner to get most of the at-bats in right field for Seattle this season. Wilkerson, who hit 20 home runs in only 338 at-bats for Texas last season could be a nice late-round pickup if he does indeed end up playing every day instead of having his value limited by a platoon with Wladimir Balentien, who may yet make the team if the Mariners think he can get enough at-bats. Another youngster might find the road to Seattle a little harder to find. Jeff Clement, the young catcher who became the team's undisputed top prospect in the aftermath of the Erik Bedard deal, is someone the Mariners would prefer to play every day, and with Kenji Johjima ahead of him behind the plate, and Jose Vidro making $8.5 million as the DH, that sleeper tag so many are poised to place on his head might need to be removed.

[+] EnlargeKosuke Fukudome
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhFukudome had a busy first day at spring training.

• Welcome to the Fukudome! Kosuke Fukudome arrived at Cubs camp and took two turns in the batting cage, according to the Cubs' official Web site. Through a translator, Fukudome said, "I have been batting third in Japan for a long time and that's where I have my rhythm, but the manager makes the lineup and wherever Lou puts me in the lineup, I will try to do the job I'm supposed to do." But, according to the report, Lou Piniella is considering using left-handed Fukudome in the second or fifth slot in the order. "Fukudome's got a nice, short, quick swing," Piniella said. "He uses his hands really well. He's got really good balance at home plate. It was very impressive. The ball jumped off his bat. You can see why he's been such a good hitter." Both those positions in the Chicago batting order could use some improvement. Cubs hitters went only .276 from the two-hole and managed a paltry .256 from the fifth spot in the lineup.

• The Arizona Republic is reporting that second baseman Orlando Hudson and pitcher Randy Johnson are fully recovered from their respective surgeries and should both be able to put in full spring trainings. Hudson still isn't worthy of being your first choice at second base, even in a 12-team league, but with him recovered fully, there's no reason he can't be your backup, or fill a middle infield position and give you double-digit home runs and steals in the process. Johnson, on the other hand, never really was able to get going last season without a full spring of work. The Big Unit is a living, breathing injury risk. But in his career, he always has had strong stretches from April to June. If you can get what you can out of him for those three months, then you should get what you can for him before the beginning of July, when -- even assuming he doesn't break down again -- he's barely above .500 lifetime.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia is the hot name coming out of Texas, but don't be too quick to jump on the bandwagon just yet. The Dallas Morning News reports that Saltalamacchia might not be anything more than a backup -- if he makes the team out of spring training at all. "It's open," said new manager Ron Washington. "It's going to be a healthy competition." And that means if Gerald Laird emerges as the winner of said competition, it could be a trip to Oklahoma City for Saltalamacchia. Catcher is such a thin position as it is, don't make it thinner by using too high a pick on a player who might not even be in the majors come April.

A.J. Mass is a fantasy football, baseball and college basketball analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.

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