- Tristan H. Cockcroft, Fantasy
- 0 Shares
• It's the news you dread to hear this time of year: Your fourth-round pick, your 20/20-capable No. 1 outfielder, your young franchise keeper, suffered a broken finger and will miss at least the first two weeks of the regular season.
Curtis Granderson owners, doesn't that best sum up your feelings? Your category-filling outfielder hit the 15-day disabled list Sunday, the morning after suffering a nondisplaced fracture of the metacarpal at the base of his right middle finger. Certainly you don't have much love today for the Phillies' Travis Blackley, who threw the pitch that broke Granderson's finger, and chances are, you might be itching to press the panic button.
My advice: Don't.
Granderson's prognosis isn't a bad one. According to the Tigers' official Web site, he'll wear a splint on the finger for about two weeks, then have the digit X-rayed again to determine whether he's ready for baseball activity. From there, the team believes Granderson will need as much as a week to get into game shape, meaning a return early in Week 3 of the regular season is within his reach. If he's back on the field by Monday, April 14, that'd mean a total loss of only 12 Tigers games, surely not an amount you'd fret about nearly as much if it happened in, say, June or July. By all accounts, this isn't too severe.
Does this change Granderson's draft day stock, for those of you who haven't picked? Perhaps by a buck or two in auction or maybe by a round or a round and a half in a draft. Still, 140-150 games from Granderson beats even 155-160 from most of the guys ranked beneath him, so don't do anything drastic. Again, this isn't a severe injury.
An interesting twist to the Granderson injury: Brandon Inge, left without a position after the Miguel Cabrera trade, is the most likely candidate to start in center field on Opening Day. Assuming he's up to the task of playing there regularly in the final week of spring training, he should get the bulk of the at-bats in center for the first two weeks of the regular season. He's well worth a look in AL-only or deep mixed leagues, especially in daily formats where you can slot him in against left-handed pitchers, against whom he hit for a .333 batting average and .923 OPS in 2007. Ryan Raburn and Freddy Guzman would be the next-most logical candidates if it's not Inge. Jacque Jones also could shift to center to open up left field for Marcus Thames.
• A freak injury during infield drills Sunday could cost Scott Rolen an Opening Day start, as well, as the third baseman suffered a nondisplaced fracture of a bone in his right middle finger. It's not the fracture that's the problem, though; he lost his fingernail, which will keep him on the sideline for now.
"Early prognosis is it's not going to be six weeks or something like that, so I don't even want to throw a schedule out there," said Blue Jays manager J.P. Ricciardi, according to the National Post. "I can say this: He won't be lost for the year."
With Rolen on the shelf, presumably for at least all of April, Marco Scutaro becomes the favorite for at-bats at third base, making him a short-term option in deep AL-only leagues. John McDonald also might see increased at-bats, though neither should warrant much more fantasy attention than he received before Rolen's injury.
• Josh Beckett, left behind in the States while his Red Sox traveled to Japan for their season-opening series Tuesday and Wednesday, returned to game action Sunday for the first time since back spasms cost him a scheduled March 8 start. He tossed 35 pitches over two innings in an intrasquad game and, according to the team's official Web site, reported no problems. Beckett remains a candidate to begin the year on the DL, though a start in Week 1 of the regular season (March 30-April 6) isn't out of the question.
"There's just no sense in going out there and trying to kill yourself to get back to that April 1 start when really you've only thrown seven innings," Beckett said. "I probably need 14 more innings down here, and then I'll be prepared."
• Speaking of opening-week DL stints, John Smoltz remains a candidate, as the Braves might opt to backdate such a move to have him available the first time they need a fifth starter: April 6 against the Mets. According to the team's official Web site, Smoltz's shoulder has improved and he expects to return to game action later this week, but the Braves might place him on the DL backdated by nine days so as to carry an extra position player or pitcher. Smoltz hopes to pitch in a minor league game Wednesday or Thursday, so check back on his status later in the week -- and be prepared to find an alternative for your Week 1 fantasy lineup just in case.
• Scratch Chris Capuano off your list of bounce-back candidates for 2008, as it appears he's headed for a second Tommy John surgery. According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the left-hander was diagnosed Sunday with a torn ulnar collateral ligament and will seek a second opinion from Dr. James Andrews on Monday. Whether Capuano opts for surgery or rehabilitation, he's out for a significant chunk of the season, and odds are he'll undergo the operation and be lost for at least a year. Fortunately for fantasy owners, Capuano wasn't considered much more than a late-round NL-only pick, but with him out, there'll be better long-term opportunities for sleepers Manny Parra and Carlos Villanueva, who could spend the bulk of the year in the Brewers' rotation.
• Perhaps the motivation of a threatened demotion helped, but Francisco Liriano's four hitless innings Sunday go a long way toward his making a case as one of the year's biggest comeback candidates. According to the Twins' official Web site, manager Ron Gardenhire hinted early Sunday that he was considering sending Liriano to Triple-A Rochester to work back to full speed after Tommy John surgery. With Sunday's effort, though, Liriano bought himself another start to try to avoid a demotion; he'll pitch next on Friday against the Pirates. On Sunday, he topped out at 93-94 mph with his fastball, an increase in velocity from his earlier spring starts.
"[Sunday] was exciting, we saw a glimpse of what we hoped to see," Gardenhire said. "We started to see some balls snap, the fastball jumped a little and guys were making some ugly swings. That's what we are hoping we get to by the end here -- whether we keep him [on the big league roster] or not."
Don't fret if Liriano indeed heads to Rochester to begin the regular season, though. He might need a comparably strong outing Friday to crack the opening day rotation, having missed time early in spring training because of visa problems. Liriano actually might be better served with a turn or two in Rochester's rotation, working himself up to full speed, rather than pressing himself at the big league level initially. Despite that, he ranks among the top comeback candidates, but let this serve as a reason not to get overzealous with your expectations from him. After all, it often takes pitchers several months of game action before they recapture their peak, pre-Tommy John surgery form.
• A pretty troubling statement about the depth of the Nationals' rotation:
"He won more games [eight] than any one of our starters last year in the big leagues," manager Manny Acta said of his Opening Day starter, Odalis Perez, according to The Washington Post. "He's the only one of our staff who has won 15 games before [in 2002]. And he has pitched well in spring training, too."
Shawn Hill, a deep mixed and NL-only sleeper, might have been the natural choice if healthy, but with him sidelined, Perez got picked from a weak crop, perhaps weaker even than last year's. Don't forget about Hill simply because he might miss the first couple of weeks of the season, but Perez isn't an appealing fantasy choice, especially as the team no longer plays at RFK Stadium, with its spacious outfields.
• Meanwhile, last year's Nationals' Opening Day starter, John Patterson, reportedly is close to signing with Texas, according to the Rangers' official Web site. He wouldn't be an immediate threat to fifth starter Luis Mendoza's job security but instead would serve as depth in Triple-A initially. Patterson would be better served working back to full strength in the minors anyway, and if he gets off to a hot start, expect him to join the big club in the season's early weeks. He's no more than an AL-only bench candidate for now but is certainly a pitcher whose progress you should be tracking in April.
• Here's a shocker of a demotion: The Padres optioned Chase Headley to Triple-A Portland on Sunday. That's in spite of his .349 batting average and .744 slugging percentage in 43 spring at-bats. Apparently the team didn't feel his defense was up to par in left field; he had shifted from third base this spring. Headley will continue to adapt to his new position at Portland, but with his bat clearly big league ready, he remains a worthwhile bench player in NL-only or keeper formats. For now, though, Jody Gerut, who missed all of 2006 after knee surgery and 2007 from a lack of interest in his services, appears the favorite to start in left field. As a .279 hitter with 22 homers in 2003, Gerut warrants stashing on a deep NL-only roster, but it shouldn't be long before Jim Edmonds returns, bumping Scott Hairston back to left field and Gerut to the bench.
• Kerry Wood passed his big test Sunday, tossing a scoreless inning in his first attempt at pitching on back-to-back days this spring. Barring any health setbacks Monday, Wood should be declared the Cubs' closer, and you certainly should be drafting based on that assumption. That said -- accounting for Wood's track record in the health department -- I'm still picking Carlos Marmol to better him in the saves department for the full season even if he's not the guy closing on Opening Day.
Tristan H. Cockcroft covers fantasy sports for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.
11hMike Fish and David Purdum