- Christopher Harris, Fantasy
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• Dusty Baker is set on using Brandon Phillips as his cleanup hitter, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer, with Ken Griffey Jr. hitting third and Adam Dunn hitting fifth. Phillips split most of his time in 2007 between second and fourth in the Reds' lineup, and was a more effective hitter in the cleanup spot; hitting second, he was .278/11/25/10 in 223 at-bats, and hitting fourth, he was .306/15/52/19 in 337 at-bats. Normally we might get worked up about a possible trade-off between power numbers and steals/runs, but in Phillips' case, it doesn't seem to matter. Of course, if Griffey tails off at age 38 (he was awful in July and September but awesome in August), Phillips would likely suffer a bit.
• Staying on the Cincy theme, the Enquirer also reports that when he was asked who would hit leadoff when Norris Hopper and Ryan Freel aren't in the Reds' lineup, Baker said, "I hope one or the other is in the game." That is definitely not great news for Jay Bruce, whose role as presumptive center fielder is now very much in question. The 20-year-old Bruce (he'll be 21 on April 3) was Baseball America's Minor League Player of the Year in 2007, but he only has 187 at-bats at Triple-A and doesn't make enough contact to be guaranteed anything on the big club this spring. Considering both corner outfield spots are very much spoken for by Griffey and Dunn, and since Edwin Encarnacion seems entrenched at third, it's hard to imagine what else Baker could've meant, other than he expects Hopper or Freel to be playing in center every day. Stay tuned.
• The San Diego Union-Tribune reports that Padres manager Bud Black thinks Scott Hairston "might have the inside track" on the team's starting left field slot, ahead of guys like Chase Headley, Jody Gerut, Paul McAnulty and others. Hairston was decent after coming over from Arizona in '07; while in San Diego, he hit .287 with a .981 OPS in 87 at-bats, but realize this is a serious high-strikeout guy (154 in 637 career at-bats) who's much better suited to being the right-handed side of a platoon. The best of all worlds for fantasy owners would see 23-year-old prospect Headley win the left field job outright, but that might be unrealistic, given that he's always been a third baseman (and of course Kevin Kouzmanoff is blocking him there). A Headley/Hairston combo to begin the season could be interesting, but Headley would certainly be the main draftable guy in that duo.
• It's time to worry about Adam Miller, the 23-year-old supplemental first-round pick from '03 who was supposed to make a serious run at the Indians' major league staff this summer. After suffering through blister and elbow problems through the second half of '07, then stinking up the Arizona Fall League before a reoccurrence of his finger blister, Miller had to cut short a bullpen session Sunday after more blister woes, according to the Indians' official Web site. He'll be shut down for five to seven days, whereupon the Tribe will revisit the problem. Miller was always expected to start the year at Triple-A, but the fewer times the team's major league coaches see him pitch in February and March, the worse his chances become for an early call-up.
• As Tristan Cockcroft noted yesterday, Lance Berkman strained an oblique while swinging a bat during the weekend, and the Astros' official Web site reports that Berkman says this oblique problem is the "worst [he's] ever had." Manager Cecil Cooper thinks he may hold Berkman out of drills even longer than the week Tristan originally reported yesterday. The Astros apparently still don't think this is a huge deal, and Berkman can continue to hit right-handed. But we've all seen way too many oblique problems linger and affect performance to totally write this off.
• Kevin Millwood hurt his right hamstring during conditioning work Sunday, according to the Dallas Morning News, and won't make his scheduled Cactus League start Friday. While the Rangers claim this isn't a big deal, remember that Millwood had to go to the DL in '07 because of a pulled left hammy.
• The Chicago Times reports that Jerry Owens "tweaked his groin" on Monday, but he should be all right to play in the White Sox' opener on Wednesday. Owens still might win Chicago's left field job over Carlos Quentin, but there's no question that as a steals-only player, if his legs aren't 100 percent, he'd have absolutely no fantasy value.
• The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports that Jarrod Washburn will be the Mariners' fourth starter this season, while Miguel Batista will be the fifth starter. The Mariners acknowledge that Batista (16 wins, 133 K's, 4.29 ERA, 1.52 WHIP) probably had a better 2007 than Washburn (10 wins, 114 K, 4.32 ERA, 1.38 WHIP), but they want to keep their two rotation lefties, Washburn and No. 1 starter Erik Bedard, from pitching on back-to-back days. Manager John McLaren did say that he didn't expect to skip Batista's turn at all during April.
• SI.com reports that Sammy Sosa is still looking for a full-time role, and that's why he's still sitting at home. Sosa's agent, Adam Katz, reportedly claims the outfielder has multiple offers of platoon jobs, which I suppose isn't that hard to believe, considering Sosa hit lefties so well in '07: .328 BA, 1.028 OPS. Unfortunately for Sosa, he was predictably terrible against righties (.222 BA, .676 OPS), which means that full-time gig probably isn't forthcoming.
• SI.com also reports that the Mets explored trading Orlando Hernandez this winter, with the idea of replacing him with Kyle Lohse, but found no takers. El Duque had surgery to fix the dislocated second toe on his right foot, the result of which is that the toe is now shorter, and Hernandez is reportedly having "balance issues." Why do El Duque's injury woes always sound like things that should be happening to 74-year-olds?
• It doesn't influence the fantasy value of either guy all that much, but Delmon Young will play left field this season while Michael Cuddyer stays in right, according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. Cuddyer led all outfielders in assists in 2007, so despite the fact that he might not quite have Young's rocket launcher of an arm, he's a fine choice to stay where he played last season. While the Twins should struggle some this season, it won't do Minny's pitchers any harm to have two right-field-caliber arms patrolling the outfield at the same time.
• Tony La Russa told the St. Louis Post Dispatch that he suggested to his front office that the Cardinals consider pursuing Barry Bonds this winter, but he was told, "No," in no uncertain terms. I've been asked a couple of times in chats whether Bonds has any fantasy value right now, and I would also have to say, "No," in no uncertain terms. Of course, that would change if he actually does sign somewhere; he has homers left in that bat, especially as a DH, even off the juice. But I'm going to be pretty surprised if an organization gives him a job, because of the negative publicity such a move would engender. The rumors that have had Bonds going to Tampa Bay have been, according to the St. Petersburg Times, just rumors, at least to this point. Manager Joe Maddon says the organization discussed it, but things never went any further than that. In fact, on Monday, The Associated Press reported that Bonds' agent said Japan might be an option for the pariah slugger.
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.
12hBy Jackie MacMullan