Commentary

Fantasy Camp Notes: The Pujols rules

Updated: February 22, 2008, 4:08 PM ET
By Tristan H. Cockcroft | ESPN.com

[+] EnlargeAlbert Pujols
AP Photo/Rob CarrAlbert Pujols' elbow is taking center stage at spring training.
• It's the grand question of the preseason: When to draft Albert Pujols? The slugger and former No. 1 overall pick is at considerable risk for season-ending elbow surgery, and according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, manager Tony La Russa is considering some "Pujols Rules" in order to diminish that risk this season. The skipper said Thursday that the slugger will only participate on a limited basis in throwing drills and will see fewer at-bats than usual this spring. In addition, Pujols might get more days off during the season, especially Sundays before an off day to give him back-to-back breathers. That's going to drop him a couple spots in the draft rankings if true, though to be fair, Barry Bonds had endured similar workloads in recent seasons and remained productive. Don't be shocked if Pujols gets that day-game-off-after-night-game treatment quite a bit in 2008, but that might be good for fantasy, as it could keep him fresher for longer stints.

Hunter Pence took several "dry" swings with a bat on Thursday and hopes to be ready to play fully in about a week, according to the Astros' official Web site. That's good news; he had suffered lacerations on his hands and knees after falling through a glass door on Tuesday. Pence shouldn't miss much, if any, spring training game action, so there's no reason to adjust his ranking on your cheat sheets.

• It's been three days since I ran with my White Sox preview, in which I noted the glaring lack of starting pitching depth on the roster. Folks, pop the champagne corks, because depth has arrived ... in the form of Tomo Ohka, signed to a minor league contract on Thursday. (Note: Previous sentence may contain more than trace levels of sarcasm). You might remember Ohka as "that guy who had a 5.79 ERA and walked more batters than he struck out last year," and, yes, you'd be right in your estimation. By the way, to pile on the negativity, the right-hander was also 0-5 with a 8.78 ERA in seven starts between the Cardinals' and Mariners' Triple-A affiliates, so in short, he wasn't particularly good last year. The White Sox's official Web site is already saying Ohka's addition will "give Triple-A Charlotte a veteran presence in its starting rotation," so it's pretty clear where he's destined for much of the season. Don't bother drafting him.

• A pitcher you might want to draft by comparison -- though that's like saying one scoop of dirt is a pretty good start to your pitcher's mound -- is Josh Fogg, who signed a one-year, $1-million deal with the Reds on Thursday. So much for middling-to-below average pitchers as a whole earning bloated, multi-year contracts this winter. As the Cincinnati Enquirer noted in its blog, Fogg turned down $5 million from the Rockies only to eventually settle for this deal by the Reds. Dubbed the "Dragon Slayer" for his ability to beat opponents' aces down the stretch last year for the Rockies, Fogg should be a better-than-50/50 bet to break camp in the Reds' rotation, with Jeremy Affeldt, Homer Bailey, Johnny Cueto, Matt Maloney and Edinson Volquez his primary competition for two open rotation spots.

"He's the most experienced of the guys competing," general manager Wayne Krivsky said. "We feel like it's a good addition." Since Matt Belisle wasn't mentioned in the mix for those No. 4 and 5 rotation spots suggests he's locked in as the No. 3, while Krivsky's comments appear to make Fogg the favorite to win the No. 4 spot. Fogg will eat innings for the Reds, a useful thing considering his price tag, but for fantasy, there's not a lot to like. He has a poor split against left-handed hitters (.309 average, .902 OPS from 2005-07), and Cincinnati's Great American Ball Park does favor players who hit from that side. At best, NL-only owners can hope for matchups value out of Fogg, but not better.

• Continuing with the signings theme, ESPN.com's Jerry Crasnick reports Trot Nixon signed a minor league contract with the Diamondbacks on Thursday. Get this, though: It appears Nixon is being brought on primarily as insurance against Chad Tracy being unable to play on Opening Day; he's recovering from microfracture surgery. Justin Upton owners have to be happy to hear that, as Nixon's natural position happens to be right field, but it's still a little troubling development for the 20-year-old. Left-handed platoon specialists -- a description Nixon absolutely fits -- often play more than you think they do, if only because of the plethora of right-handed pitching in the game. Keep tabs on Nixon's spring, as it could hurt Upton's numbers if the veteran makes the roster.

Incidentally, the East Valley Tribune reports that Chris Burke and Robby Hammock are alternate candidates to serve as the backup first baseman should both Tracy be unavailable and Nixon fail to make the team. Upton owners are probably rooting for Burke to be more than up to the challenge of handling those chores.

[+] EnlargeKosuke Fukudome
AP Photo/Morry GashKosuke Fukudome is already a mystery for the Cubs.
• Spring games haven't even started yet and already Cubs manager Lou Piniella is on his second batting order. According to the team's official Web site, he's now considering batting Kosuke Fukudome third, primarily because he's hoping to split up the four right-handers originally scheduled to occupy the top spots in the lineup. That's a better arrangement for Fukudome, an on-base specialist, than hitting behind now-No. 4 man Derrek Lee and now-No. 5 Aramis Ramirez, but it'd be nice to see Piniella realize before getting too deep into March that Fukudome, and not Ryan Theriot, belongs in the No. 2 hole. Fukudome might lose a handful of RBIs with the switch, while gaining a handful of runs scored, but this should help the RBI totals of Lee and Ramirez a bit. Of course, there's a trade-off: Each drop a player takes down the batting order tends to mean a decrease of about 15-20 plate appearances over the course of a season. Not that it's an amount to lose sleep over, but it's barely enough to at least take notice.

• New Yankees manager Joe Girardi is impressed with Jason Giambi's physical condition, and said Thursday that the slugger might see significant time at first base in 2008. From a pure lineup perspective, having Giambi at first base settles a lot of problems for the Yankees; Johnny Damon can remain in left field and Hideki Matsui at designated hitter on an everyday basis. Defensively speaking, though, Giambi isn't the answer at first base, not that any of his competition -- Wilson Betemit, Shelley Duncan or Morgan Ensberg -- is an elite defender. It's hard to imagine the lumbering Giambi managing anywhere close to a full 162 games in the field, even at first base, and with Matsui perhaps wedged in at DH, Giambi is the one guy on the roster at significant risk to have his playing time slashed. First base appears a perfect platoon picture, as well as one of those late-inning defensive sub scenarios, for whoever settles into the role.

• Newsday had some troubling news on Orlando Hernandez, who supposedly had bunion surgery during the offseason. Turns out that wasn't the case; he still has the bunion and had surgery to fix a dislocated toe instead. The bunion is causing him trouble, while the toe is affecting his balance. Not that the Mets are hurting for rotation candidates; Mike Pelfrey could easily grab the fifth-starter role if El Duque is unable to go. Hernandez is clearly behind the other pitchers at the onset of spring training, so if that lingers for many more days, bump Pelfrey up your draft sheets.

Craig Wilson is no longer in Reds camp; the Cincinnati Enquirer reported Friday that he apparently failed his physical. The team wouldn't disclose further details and were mum on a possible return. If Wilson is indeed done in Cincinnati -- what a brief stay that was -- Joey Votto owners can't help but be thrilled. It clears one veteran from Dusty Baker's deck, with Scott Hatteberg the next to bump. A Votto-versus-Hatterberg head-to-head battle is a lot easier challenge to tackle than having to also deal with the threat of Wilson eating up platoon-mate at-bats against left-handers. Not that Votto is any lock to win the starting role, but he's got a better shot today than he did Thursday.

Tristan H. Cockcroft covers fantasy sports for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.

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