- Tristan H. Cockcroft, Fantasy
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• So much for those optimistic timetables that had B.J. Ryan back in action and closing for the Blue Jays on Opening Day. The team opted Thursday to hold the left-hander out of spring games indefinitely, after he complained of minor soreness in his forearm and biceps following a one-inning outing this past Monday. With 10 days to go until the regular season starts, though, that puts Ryan in the "highly unlikely to be ready category."
"We're not going to take him unless he can be B.J., where we use him three or four times a week," general manager J.P. Ricciardi told the team's official Web site. "If he can't do that, then we'll just let him stay down here, let him keep pitching and eventually he'll be ready at some point. When he's ready, we'll take him."
With Ryan coming off May 10, 2007, Tommy John surgery, having him back at full strength on Opening Day seemed an entirely unrealistic expectation. That's an operation that often requires a full 12-month (or more) recovery process, though the good news with Ryan is that if this setback is merely the normal fatigue the team speculates it is, he might miss only a month of 2008, perhaps less. He's still a decent bet for 20-plus saves, and if he indeed closes for five months, as seems the plan, 30 wouldn't be outrageous, either.
Expect Jeremy Accardo to kick off the season as the Blue Jays' closer, making him a useful short-term stopgap, a Ryan handcuff and intriguing mid-round AL-only pick.
• Well, I can't say I saw this one coming. On Thursday, the Nationals made headlines when they released John Patterson, the team's Opening Day starter a year ago and the owner of a 3.13 ERA, 1.19 WHIP and 185 strikeouts in his last healthy season, though that was all the way back in 2005. Not that he had pitched well enough to make the team; he had a 7.00 ERA in the spring, allowing 13 hits in nine innings. Patterson almost assuredly will catch on elsewhere, but probably with someone's Triple-A affiliate, working his way back to full health and past form. Considering he's currently nowhere close to that and how long that process can often take, he's barely even reserve-worthy in NL- (or AL-) only drafts now.
• So Adam Wainwright now has long-term security, eh? Not a bad deal for him or the Cardinals, who guaranteed him four years and $15 million, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and tack on options for 2012-13. I'm betting Wainwright is just a bit more productive over the life of the deal than Carlos Silva is during his four-year contract, and he's a third of the price. That's unsurprising considering Wainwright is more than two years younger and has 93 starts less experience. Perhaps Wainwright's agreeing "on the cheap" might lead some to question his skills, but I'll call him a solid third/fourth starter for fantasy. That's certainly a lot better than what Silva is these days.
• "Dusty Baker baseball" wins out, and really, isn't this what we all should have been expecting anyway? The Reds demoted top prospect Jay Bruce on Thursday, hardly shocking news considering he was slugging .286 -- not batting, slugging .286 -- while striking out 11 times in 42 spring at-bats. Meanwhile, Corey Patterson, who might as well have been handed the starting center field role the day he inked a minor-league deal on March 3, has batted .455 in 22 at-bats. Though this significantly hurts Bruce's 2008 draft appeal, his demotion now puts him atop the list as candidates for the "2008 Ryan Braun Award," or, what I call the best midseason call-up. Expect a hot start in Triple-A for the Paul O'Neill clone, and perhaps a promotion by June 1, if not sooner.
• More demotions: The Cubs cut Sean Gallagher on Thursday, though this is not a name you should soon forget. Granted, the Cubs' rotation runs six deep, and Sean Marshall might have made it a seventh in any other year, but rotation depth can be precious, both when injuries strike and midseason trade talk kicks in. You know those Brian Roberts rumors? You can count on Gallagher having been one of the Orioles' targets in such a deal. Compared to Jon Lieber and ranked the team's No. 5 prospect by Baseball America this spring, Gallagher could easily have 2008 value as a midseason pickup.
By the way, returning to the Bruce/Patterson "battle," how foolish is Kenny Lofton looking today, after reportedly declining a minor-league deal with the Reds himself earlier in the month? As a man better suited to be the leadoff candidate Dusty Baker had been seeking, Lofton might have been even more assured that everyday role ahead of Bruce, had he taken the chance. Instead, there are published reports that Lofton declined that deal, and, more recently, a better-than-$1 million big-league deal with the Rays, who need outfield depth with Rocco Baldelli hurt (again). Lofton apparently is attracting interest, and there's no shortage of teams in need of outfield/leadoff help, but it's going to be frustrating to fantasy owners gambling on his speed to see him nitpick offer after offer. His stock in our formats -- minimal at that -- keeps slipping by the day.
• Breathe easier, B.J. Upton owners (or prospective ones); he's apparently fine, so says the St. Petersburg Times. The team said he suffered a left triceps contusion when he was hit by a pitch from the Indians' Paul Byrd in the first inning of Thursday's game, and is day-to-day. Barring any re-examinations picking up something more severe, this should only cost him a few days, yet not threaten his status for Opening Day.
• Nice first outing for Joba Chamberlain since the formal announcement he'll kick off 2008 in the bullpen; he struck out the side on 11 pitches on Thursday. Of course, the three Blue Jays he faced were clear minor leaguers, but he'll probably rank among the leaders in perfect, three-K innings (among relievers) this season, regardless of opposing hitters. I'm drafting Chamberlain expecting this is his role all year, as his track record is too strong to expect this rumored midseason rotation shift. Still, since he'll be one of the best ERA/WHIP specialists among relievers, is a good bet for 100-plus Ks and could even steal saves on Rivera's off days, I'd call him late-round mixed-league worthy.
• Brad Lidge's first game action of the spring was comparably impressive; he threw 19 pitches, faced five batters, struck out three and walked one in an intrasquad game on Thursday. He's tentatively scheduled to make his Grapefruit League debut on Sunday, and told the Philadelphia Inquirer following his appearance that he believes he'll be ready for Opening Day. Even if that turns out to be a tad optimistic, it seems Lidge shouldn't miss more than a couple days of regular-season action. Draft him accordingly.
• Precisely one thing scared me about Jeremy Hermida, one of my favorite breakout candidates, entering 2008: his health. For that reason, I'm a bit troubled by news Thursday that his pulled left hamstring might threaten his Opening Day status. According to the Marlins' official Web site, Hermida is doing basic drills, but hasn't resumed running, after suffering the injury this past Saturday.
"We're hopeful he will be ready for the opener," manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "No guarantees."
Hermida may have been one of the game's most productive hitters the second half of 2007, batting .340 with a .956 OPS, but it's also worth mentioning he played in just 150 of 251 games from Opening Day 2006 to the 2007 All-Star break, making two trips to the DL during that span. He's certainly capable of approaching a .300 batting average and 20 homers, but let this serve as a note of caution not to grab him too early.
• The Twins and Joe Nathan's agent spent Thursday negotiating a new deal for the closer, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune. And, for the first time, it seems like the two sides might actually come to an agreement soon. "Things are headed in a good direction right now," Nathan said. "We feel very optimistic that something can get done." Nathan's contract talks shouldn't have an impact on his draft-day value, but if he does re-sign with the Twins, it'll assure he's not near the top of the list of midseason trade candidates. If traded, there would be a small risk that he would be dealt into a setup role.
• Both members of the Dodgers' third-base battle entering the spring are now on the shelf for an extended period. The team's official Web site reported Thursday that Nomar Garciaparra's broken hand is more serious than originally expected, and he said he won't be able to resume swinging a bat this weekend, as initially anticipated. He's a long shot to play on Opening Day, leaving the position to a battle of lesser options: Tony Abreu, Blake DeWitt and Chin-lung Hu. Abreu is the most logical stand-in, though he has been slow to recover from October hernia surgery, clearing the path for DeWitt, now an NL-only sleeper. Keep tabs on this battle for the next week, as any of these guys could be a decent NL-only stopgap if one emerges as the clear starter.
• Sticking with the theme of position battles thinned down by injury, the White Sox's second-base battle sure isn't panning out the way the team expected. A day after they reportedly placed Juan Uribe on waivers, the team told the Chicago Sun-Times on Thursday that Danny Richar has a stress fracture in one of his ribs, costing him to miss four to six weeks. They also reportedly pulled Uribe back off waivers, perhaps either in an effort to work out a trade with another interested team, or to keep him in the mix. Cuban import Alexei Ramirez, a .366 hitter this spring, is suddenly looking like the favorite to be the team's Opening Day starter. In deeper leagues, he's probably now your best bet of the three.
• Kerry Wood's back doesn't seem like such a problem after all, as he returned to action with an inning of work Thursday, allowing a solo home run and a double while striking out two White Sox. Barring a setback, the Chicago Sun-Times reports he'll pitch in back-to-back games for the first time this spring Sunday and Monday, the final hurdle he'll need before being named the Cubs' closer. Keep an eye on his progress -- more his health than actual results -- as successful outings in those days should earn him the role.
Tristan H. Cockcroft covers fantasy sports for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.