Fantasy Camp Notes: Votto, Harden and...Shannon Stewart?
• Who'll close for the Rangers? Heck, it might be you or me! (OK, it's probably not me.) Because he was relatively solid toward the end of '07, C.J. Wilson was (in the spirit of the presidential season) the presumptive nominee heading into '08, but manager Ron Washington says hold your horses. Washington, the ultimate super-delegate, plans on an open competition consisting of Wilson, Eddie Guardado, Joaquin Benoit and Kazuo Fukumori, according to the Rangers' official web site. Of that group, Benoit actually seems like the safest option to me, but Texas may not want to move him out of the eighth-inning role where he's dominated for a two-plus years.
• Blue Jays closer B.J. Ryan threw off a mound again on Friday, according to the team's official web site, and pitching coach Brad Arnsberg says Ryan might face live hitting as soon as next week. Ryan has already told reporters he's convinced he'll be ready for the regular season. This obviously puts a continued damper on Jeremy Accardo's fantasy value, but don't forget Accardo altogether. Early returnees from Tommy John surgery don't always stay healthy, and while velocity often isn't a problem that first year back, control is. Ryan is sounding more and more like the favorite in this situation, but if you're going to draft him, please take Accardo as well.
• Reds manager Dusty Baker is "open" to the possibility of using Joey Votto as his starting first baseman, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer. "I think (Scott Hatteberg) understands to be part of the club that Votto might have to be a major part of it," Baker told reporters. "It might be Votto's time." This is refreshing to hear, but I'll believe it when I see it. Baker is a notorious veterans' manager (as well as, off-topic here a little, a notorious murderer of pitching staffs), and unfortunately both Hatteberg and Votto are left-handed hitters. Maybe GM Wayne Krivsky is tying Baker's hands? Or maybe Baker simply believes his eyes? Regardless, this can't be seen as bad news.
• Yovani Gallardo continues to tell reporters, including the Brewers' official web site, that he'll be ready for opening day after arthroscopic surgery on his left knee, which took place last Tuesday. Pitching coach Mike Maddux hasn't ruled out Gallardo's scenario, but to me it sounds like he's preparing for life without Yovani for a week or two: "He'll be naturally behind the other starters, but we can accelerate his innings a little bit. We want 'Yo' for a career. We'll definitely do what's best for him. That's not even in the equation, that we would put him out there before he's ready." Even if he misses a couple of starts, Gallardo still remains a very strong fantasy option.
• Manny Acta told the Washington Post that he doesn't foresee a platoon or job-share between first basemen Nick Johnson and Dmitri Young. The Nationals had floated the possibility of trying Young in the outfield this winter, but haven't said anything about it in a long while, which makes sense because Da Meathook would be an unmitigated disaster patrolling open spaces. This still sounds like a competition. Maybe the Nats will give Johnson an out by claiming he's not quite healthy yet, or maybe one of these two players will get traded before April (one imagines it would have to be Young; Johnson is still seen as damaged goods around the league). My personal opinion is that if Young stays on the roster, he's the first baseman, at least to start 2008.
• Are you ready for some Rich Harden? The A's are sounding more and more convinced that their mercurial, hard-throwing righty will be fine to begin the year. "His arm, I think, is in great shape and now he's just fine-tuning what he's doing to the hitters," pitching coach Curt Young told the team's official web site. "He's feeling good about the way he's throwing the ball." Of course, yeah, what's Young supposed to say, but still, the fact that Harden is on a schedule with Oakland's other starters is a pretty good sign. At the moment, he looks like the A's No. 2 starter.
• The New York Daily News reports that the Yankees have plans to see Johnny Damon take grounders at first base this spring, but that they don't think he'll play there at all during the season. Jason Giambi is still the front-runner for the most starts at first in New York, which is a problem waiting to happen. The better solution, in my eyes, would be to have Hideki Matsui try his hand at first, and see if Giambi can't DH more. Stay tuned.
• Angels manager Mike Scioscia won't name a starting shortstop for a good long while, according to the Los Angeles Times. Erick Aybar and Maicer Izturis are the contenders (with Brandon Wood moving back to short at Triple-A, now that Orlando Cabrera is out of the organization). Aybar has definite fielding advantages over Izturis, who's better-suited to be a utility player, but when you post a .279 OBP in 194 big-league at-bats, as Aybar did in '07, it's hard to justify handing you a full-time gig. It's also worth noting that Aybar didn't do himself any favors by hitting poorly in the Dominican league this winter. He won't be worth using in fantasy leagues almost no matter what, but if Izturis and his better stick (mid-.700s OPS with some steals each of the last two years) win the job, AL-only owners will take notice.
Fernando Rodney was able to play catch without pain late this week, according to the Detroit Free Press, allowing Tigers officials to breathe a sigh of relief. Rodney had shoulder issues through much of 2007, and had to stop throwing at the beginning of camp early last week because of similar discomfort. But after taking a few days off, Rodney threw without feeling anything bad in his right arm. With Todd Jones a year older and Joel Zumaya out for at least the first half of '08, Rodney is a dark horse for saves on what should prove to be a very good Tigers squad.
• The Cleveland Plain-Dealer reports that Indians manager Eric Wedge hasn't committed to using Asdrubal Cabrera in the No. 2 spot in his batting order. Grady Sizemore will hit leadoff, Travis Hafner will hit third and Victor Martinez will hit fourth, but nothing else is resolved yet, according to Wedge. If Cabrera hits second, as he did at the end of '07 during his excellent rookie run, he's got the potential to be a very interesting sleeper or waiver-wire acquisition. If he hits eighth or ninth, he'll be less attractive. Meanwhile, one supposes that Ryan Garko is still the leading candidate for the fifth spot, and much of the fantasy value I've been assigning to him this winter has been based on him hitting No. 5. Jhonny Peralta would be the other likely candidate, and Peralta did accrue 81 more OPS points hitting fifth compared to sixth last season. Still, I've got my fingers crossed for Garko in that spot.
• Marlins starter and former no-hit wonder Anibal Sanchez resumed throwing Friday after taking more than a week off because of shoulder discomfort, according to the Marlins' official web site. Unfortunately, Sanchez only threw off flat ground from three-quarters distance, so this probably doesn't really count as a lot of progress. It's assumed that Sanchez won't throw to hitters for a couple more weeks at the earliest, and may not get into spring training games at all. That would put the young righty on schedule to miss the first month or two of the season, even if the discomfort doesn't return.
• The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that Phillies closer Brad Lidge had to cut his Saturday morning bullpen session short when he caught his spikes delivering a pitch, and felt a twinge in his surgically-repaired knee. The Inquirer took pains to emphasize this was a precautionary move, but Lidge has told reporters this spring that his knee hasn't felt completely right. Don't panic, but this is worth keeping an eye on.
• FoxSports.com reports that the Blue Jays are close to going back to the future as they contemplate signing Shannon Stewart to a minor-league deal, with an invite to spring training. Stewart was pretty good with the A's last year (.290 AVG, .345 OBP, 11 SB), but what's odd is Toronto seemed set in left field with a platoon of Matt Stairs against righties and Reed Johnson against lefties. Perhaps a trade is in the offing? Perhaps someone's hurt? Stewart is 34 and doesn't figure to be a regular any longer, nor does he figure to accept a minor-league assignment. He's also not fantasy-relevant, but given enough playing time, Stairs could be in AL-only leagues.
• Cubs second baseman Mark DeRosa was taken to the hospital after suffering an irregular heartbeat on Saturday, according to the Chicago Tribune. DeRosa was alert and sitting up in an ambulance, and the Cubs say the trip was purely precautionary.
Christopher Harris is a fantasy baseball, football and racing analyst for ESPN.com. He is a six-time Fantasy Sports Writing Association award winner across all three of those sports. You can e-mail him here.