- Tristan H. Cockcroft, Fantasy
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Here's some of the latest news from around spring training, and what it means from a fantasy point of view:
• The Orioles might be calling it a precautionary move, but I can't look at their decision to skip Adam Loewen's Friday start nearly as casually. He'll sit with a sore shoulder, so says the team's official Web site, and for a guy coming off surgery to repair a stress fracture in his elbow, Loewen is suddenly looking riddled with health risks. Now it's elbow and shoulder problems? Not to mention his terrible performance so far this spring (9.53 ERA, 8 walks, 5 2/3 innings). I'm going to need to see something special from Loewen before month's end to treat him like any sort of AL-only sleeper.
• The Cardinals' Web site confirmed that Kyle Lohse will be brought in Friday for a physical; the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported earlier Thursday that he signed a one-year, $4.25-million deal. Though the Cardinals claim Lohse will make the Opening Day roster, enough of spring training has passed that Lohse might not be ready to threaten the fourth/fifth starter mix of Anthony Reyes, Brad Thompson and Todd Wellemeyer. He could kick off the year working up to full speed in the bullpen, but he'll surely press the team's worst-performing starter by mid-April. Lohse the Cardinal would be more of an NL-only option than mixed-worthy, but there'd be matchup potential in him regardless of format. He has a 2.95 ERA in three career starts at Busch Stadium, and while that's a small sample size, the ballpark is indeed pitching-friendly.
• A word to the wise: Roles do matter for fantasy, and I'm talking even some of the most insignificant ones. Take, for instance, the Red Sox's decision on Thursday to release Doug Mirabelli. That might seem like a completely meaningless transaction, since all Mirabelli has done the past three years combined is bat .206 while amassing 433 at-bats. But those in the know were aware Mirabelli served one very significant purpose for the Sox this decade: He was Tim Wakefield's personal catcher. Thanks to baseball-reference.com's nicely detailed splits, I can tell you that Wakefield held hitters to a .257 batting average and .739 on-base-plus-slugging percentage in 27 games working with Mirabelli in 2007. By comparison, those numbers were .307/.841 while he worked with Kevin Cash, who is presumably Boston's new backup catcher. Hey, at least Cash should work better with Wakefield than starter Jason Varitek might, but those numbers need be noted. To me, that's a clear $1-2/round-or-two difference in Wakefield's value in any format, and note that we didn't even have the knuckleballer as even a $1 mixed-league earner before this news.
In a bit of roster maneuvering, the Red Sox placed Curt Schilling on the 60-day disabled list on Thursday due to his biceps injury, clearing a 40-man roster spot for minor leaguer Lincoln Holdzkom. Not that the veteran's prognosis has changed -- he's still out half the season, probably -- but if your league only allows players to be shifted to a DL spot once actually "DL-ed", he's now officially eligible.
• So much for Dallas McPherson as an NL-only sleeper. The one-time top prospect is 1-for-15 (.067 average) for the spring, has battled oblique and groin issues, and is now out of the mix for the third-base role, according to the Miami Herald. It's amazing to think McPherson clubbed 40 homers with 126 RBIs in the minors four years ago, but today can't even make one of the majors' weakest teams. He's apparently going to need to report to Triple-A, get healthy and try to insert himself back into the mix midseason. He's not even draft-worthy in any format now. As for the remaining contenders, it's a clear Jose Castillo-versus-Jorge Cantu battle, and it'll probably come down to the Marlins' priorities, defense or hitting from the hot corner. NL-only owners would be better off if Cantu wins; he's the better hitter and 15-for-35 (.429) this spring. Castillo brings the better glove, but he's batting only .216 (8-for-37) thus far.
• So the Angels are seriously considering demoting Reggie Willits? That's what general manager Tony Reagins told the Los Angeles Times, and again, this goes back to my point about roles mattering for fantasy. Nathan Haynes, who could just as easily fill a reserve outfielder role, is out of options, while Willits is not. Of course, a trade of either Willits or Juan Rivera would solve things, but the deeper we go into March, the more the possibility of a Willits demotion looms large. It's a shame, really; he's a .304 hitter (7-for-23) with a .407 on-base percentage this spring, and is a decent on-base/speed type. As an AL-only sleeper for steals, he wouldn't be a bad pick.
• We've finally got a date for Scott Kazmir's spring debut! He'll pitch one inning on Sunday, after reporting no problems with his elbow following a 33-pitch batting-practice session on Thursday, according to the Rays' official website. From there, Kazmir will throw a three-inning session in his second start, which would probably come next Friday. Let's do the math for a moment: That'd put him in line to pitch again on March 26, his third and final spring-training turn, keeping him in line to start the March 31 opener. Sure, it's asking a lot for Kazmir to be up to a lengthy (read: more than six innings) Opening Day outing, and even the smallest setback would rule him out, but you couldn't have asked for a better prognosis for him thus far. I'm not moving him up on my draft sheets -- he's 13th among starting pitchers for me -- but I'm not dropping him a single spot, either.
• Comedian-turned-DH Billy Crystal struck out in his "birthday-present" at-bat on Thursday, and, um, yeah, I guess it's time to scratch him off your sleeper lists. Not a bad effort, though, grounding an 88-mph Paul Maholm offering only a few feet foul.
• A couple of more important developments from that Yankees-Pirates game: Hideki Matsui started and played five innings as the left fielder, his first time playing in the field this spring. His knee apparently isn't giving him any trouble, and this helps expand the Yankees' lineup options, though I'm still guessing he plays better than half his games as the DH. (Sorry, Billy, guess it's cutsville for you!) You still shouldn't whip out the Sharpie and ink in those .290-25-100 projections quite yet, but don't break out the eraser to those penciled-in numbers yet, either.
Perhaps more important: Mike Mussina tossed five perfect innings, striking out two batters and throwing 41 of 64 pitches for strikes. Though his velocity wasn't quite what it was back in the day (he's in the high 80s), his breaking pitches had a lot of bite and his command was on par with any Mussina has had the past couple years. He has it in him to run off the kind of couple-month hot streak that can really surprise you, and I think my colleague, Brendan Roberts, makes a good point about Mussina's bad luck in his Yankees' 30 questions column. Not that this makes Mussina an instant comeback-player-of-the-year candidate, but you'd be silly not to treat him at least as a matchups type. The Yankees are going to win him some games when he's throwing the ball this well.
• Clayton Kershaw tossed two scoreless innings on Thursday, and for every outing like that, he's only going to increase the buzz surrounding him for fantasy. Not that he shouldn't, as he's probably talented enough to be a big-league fifth starter today, but Esteban Loaiza still has a stronghold on that role and Hiroki Kuroda remains the favorite to be the Dodgers' No. 4 starter. Keep thinking of Kershaw as a "next-in-line" type for the Dodgers, making him an NL-only reserve pick, but don't get overzealous.
• Chuck James, recovering from a partial tear in his rotator cuff, made his spring debut on Thursday, tossing two scoreless innings. Considering it came against the Tigers' best seven hitters, it's all the more impressive. According to the Braves' official Web site, James hit 91 mph on the radar gun, and he'll make his next start, scheduled for three innings, on Monday. With Mike Hampton and Jair Jurrjens the favorites for the final two rotation spots, James will likely begin the year in Triple-A, working up to full strength, though he's looking healthy enough today to be a late-round NL-only pick.
• Both Adam Lind and Curtis Thigpen were demoted by the Blue Jays on Thursday, an awfully early cut date for two players who appeared in so many games for the team in 2007. Neither seemed likely to win even a share of the playing time at their respective positions; the signings of Shannon Stewart and Rod Barajas assured that. Still, take this as a sign the Blue Jays are committed to getting them regular at-bats in Triple-A, meaning they won't be due for call-ups unless either a few injures strike the big-league club or either goes on a massive tear in the minors.
• Cameron Maybin hit a game-winning, two-run home run in the ninth inning against the Nationals' Saul Rivera on Thursday, giving him three homers for the spring. He's now hitting .333 (8-for-24) with 19 total bases and eight RBIs, perhaps enough to assure he'll enter the regular season as the team's starting center fielder. I remain a bit skeptical he's ready for the big leagues at 20 years old (well, 21 as of April 4), and his five strikeouts compared to zero walks this spring could back that up, but at the very least Maybin should provide much-needed speed to NL-only owners.
Tristan H. Cockcroft covers fantasy sports for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.
Tristan H. Cockcroft has the latest fantasy news from spring training.