Commentary

Fantasy Camp Notes: Harden teases with great start

Updated: March 26, 2008, 2:13 PM ET
By Eric Karabell | ESPN.com

• We start with Game 2 of the Red Sox-A's series from Japan, where Rich Harden looked dominant, Manny Ramirez looked strong, and no matter how hard we looked, we couldn't find J.D. Drew.

If you haven't drafted yet, chances are Harden's nine-strikeout performance over six innings is going to tease even the most pessimistic of owners into spending that extra dollar or two. There's never been a concern about Harden's ability, just his durability. This is one outing, and I would advise potential Harden owners to look up how many starts he's made the past few years before making him a top-100 pick.

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Ramirez has five RBIs already, and again, it proves nothing other than he enjoyed Japan, but let's not forget how productive he can be. Then there's Boston's starting right fielder, at least in theory. Drew was again out of the lineup with back spasms, and for the second straight day manager Terry Francona decided to go with Brandon Moss in right field. There was no game-tying home run on this day. Coco Crisp earned the start in center field over Jacoby Ellsbury. It's too early to tell if Francona will switch on and off with his center fielders, but each game Crisp starts surely drives down the price on Ellsbury in fantasy. Don't assume Crisp gets traded, or Ellsbury gets 500 at-bats. Also, Julio Lugo stole a base, tying him with Oakland catcher Kurt Suzuki for the major league lead. Expect one of these gentlemen to swipe about 35 more, and the other about five more.

• The Reed Johnson signing in Chicago would appear to be bad news if you're holding onto the Felix Pie dream in 2008, as the former Blue Jay inked a one-year deal on Tuesday. Good for the Cubs for making an inexpensive, no-risk signing. I actually like this move for Pie, though I'm not expecting a great season in the first place. Johnson missed more than half of last season with a herniated disk in his back, and is unlikely to ever replicate his surprising 2006 campaign, when he batted .317 and scored 86 runs. However, he does handle left-handed pitching well, which Pie does not. Johnson can also play all three outfield spots, and makes poor Matt Murton even more irrelevant than he already was.

This also means Rangers fans don't have to listen to those annoying Marlon Byrd trade rumors, Jay Payton isn't coming to the Windy City if this incessant Brian Roberts deal ever comes to fruition (it's not looking good), and Triple-A Iowa can have mascot Sam Fuld back. Pie has had a nice spring on the field, where he's hitting .340 with two home runs. I think adding Johnson eases the pressure on Pie and means the youngster can concentrate on hitting right-handed pitching. Do I think he'll emerge? Not really, but I'm just cautioning Pie owners that the addition of Reed Johnson isn't the reason why.

• While the Chicago team from the North Side was adding some depth, the South Siders were punting one of the potential home run leaders of the team to Triple-A Charlotte. Yes, if you already drafted Josh Fields, the sad news became official Tuesday, as Fields was sent to the minors. It's not the same circumstances as Evan Longoria going down, but like the Rays' wunderkind, it might not be a long trip for Fields. Last we checked, Joe Crede was hitting a robust .180 in the spring, but the White Sox can't demote him. They also can't trade him until another team is convinced of his health. Things have a way of working out, and Fields will force himself back to the bigs at some point, so if you already drafted the third baseman, try to keep him around and be patient. For all we know, the Dodgers could trade for Crede any day.

Juan Urbine
Jeff Gross/Getty ImagesJuan Uribe is making the move to the other side of the second base.
• The White Sox also named their starting second baseman, as Juan Uribe will officially switch middle infield spots this season. The team placed Uribe on waivers a week ago, but pulled him back when another team showed interest. The White Sox decided he was still a better option than either Alexei Ramirez or the now-DLed Danny Richar. Uribe is actually a consistent player. He consistently kills a fantasy team's batting average, but as long as you know this coming in, you can prepare. If you really need power, note that Uribe has averaged 21 home runs and 71 RBIs in his four seasons with the White Sox. In fairness, Uribe has hit .340 this spring, for what it's worth. Meanwhile, Cuban defector Ramirez has elicited batting comparisons to fellow free swinger Alfonso Soriano, but the rumor is he's not a very good second baseman. The White Sox plan to use him mainly in the outfield, especially with the news that &

• Speedster Jerry Owens is hitting the disabled list with a groin tear, which is pretty much one of the worst things a big-time basestealer can have. This leaves Carlos Quentin as the possible left fielder, but he's had a poor spring as he returns from shoulder surgery. Don't be surprised if Ramirez spends time in center field, and Nick Swisher slides over to left. There's no telling what kind of numbers Ramirez will produce, but he is second base eligible in ESPN leagues, meaning you could probably do worse than him as your middle infielder in deep leagues. Owens' season isn't ruined, but if you were looking for cheap steals in April, look elsewhere.

• Speaking of cheap steals, who better than Scott Podsednik to provide them? It's not like he provides much else for the fantasy owner, but there's little doubt this guy can run. He's in Colorado now, and his first goal was to beat out Cory Sullivan for the final outfield job. He's apparently done this, and will be the main backup to another injury-prone speedster in Willy Taveras, who missed 63 games a year ago. Taveras won't be platooned, and the three bases he stole on Monday will pique the interest of fantasy owners everywhere. Just know that Podsednik is one injury away from probably stealing a lot more bases than Taveras, whose career high is 34, ever has.

• Shocker in Milwaukee, as presumptive fifth starter Claudio Vargas was released Tuesday. Vargas wasn't much of a player in fantasy drafts to start with, but this surely means the Brewers feel comfortable entrusting rotation spots to Manny Parra and Carlos Villanueva, who both have that upside thing that fantasy owners are searching for. Vargas and his career 4.95 ERA kind of don't. Parra, the strikeout lefty, and Villanueva, the still-has-options right-hander are presumably getting two or three weeks of starts to see who gets to stick around, because pretty soon Yovani Gallardo will displace someone. If Parra and Villanueva pitch lights out, our ol' pal Dave Bush might not be safe. Then again, when Ben Sheets is the staff ace, it's wise to keep some extra depth around. If 20 is the projection for Parra and Villanueva starts this season, I'll take the over for both.

John Smoltz has joined Josh Beckett as potential top-10 starting pitchers to hit the disabled list, but fear not, Smoltz is likely to miss one or two starts, just like the Boston ace. In other words, it's not a big deal. Retroactive disabling in the bigs is all the rage, and Smoltz can actually pitch on April 6. Smoltz is scheduled to test his balky right shoulder in a simulated game later this week, then could start during the first full weekend of regular season baseball. If you have yet to draft, don't drop Smoltz down on your lists.

Jorge Cantu
AP Photo/Charles KrupaJorge Cantu has big shoes to fill replacing Miguel Cabrera at third.
• For those looking for cheap power, the Florida Marlins officially named former Tampa Bay Ray Jorge Cantu as their starting third baseman. If you really thought Dallas McPherson was going to stay healthy, we have some swampland in Florida for sale. Cantu isn't such a bad gamble, really. He knocked in 117 runs in 2005, with 28 home runs and a .286 batting average. While many will have doubts about his ability to play third base and hit for a capable batting average, the fact is he's getting an opportunity and might end up hitting in an RBI spot in the order as well.

Freddy Sanchez and his ailing right shoulder don't seem to be getting along any better than last week, and the Pirates are preparing for their second baseman and annual .300 hitter to be merely a pinch hitter the first week or two. Sanchez paid a visit to famed Dr. James Andrews, but the news wasn't so bad, as inflammation has been cited as the culprit. Sanchez remains a candidate for a DL stint, and since he has become more than just a hollow batting average guy -- hitting 11 home runs and knocking in more than 80 runs the past two seasons -- it might not be so easy to find a waiver-wire replacement. The Pirates appear to be going with former Twins basestealer Luis Rivas at second base. Nothing says contending team quite like Luis Rivas.

• Speaking of Pirates, the bullpen got a bit deeper after the team traded a minor leaguer to Atlanta for Tyler Yates. The right-hander isn't young and didn't have a very good season with the Braves (5.18 ERA), and the Pirates could sure use the help. What's interesting to me is that the Braves felt they had so much bullpen depth that they could give away a guy who appeared in 131 games the past two seasons.

C.J. Wilson was officially named closer in Texas, but like some of the other shaky bullpen situations around the league (Cubs, Diamondbacks, Orioles), there's really no telling if Wilson will get 30 saves, or five. Every closer is still worth a draft pick, even in shallow 10-team mixed leagues, and Wilson did pitch well in the role in 2007. Right-handers Joaquin Benoit and Japanese import Kazuo Fukumori combined for 11 scoreless innings this spring, so don't be surprised if they end up getting saves this season.

• And finally in Kansas City, everyone was waiting for word on who would replace Jose Guillen in right field while he served his 15-game suspension for allegedly purchasing steroids. Esteban German, who hits like a middle infielder and not a corner outfielder, is apparently going to get the most playing time. The Royals don't seem to have a lot of options, really. Joey Gathright would seem to be one of them. Billy Butler is already the designated hitter, and Ross Gload will start at first base. Ryan Shealy probably deserves a chance somewhere, but it's not like he hit last year. German is likely to see his most time this season backing up Mark Grudzielanek at second base, where his double-digit speed is most valuable. Getting extra playing time the first few weeks makes him a short-term pickup if you need batting average and steals, but that's about it.

Eric Karabell is a fantasy games senior writer for ESPN.com. He is a two-time Fantasy Sports Writers Association writer of the year, and his blog was recently honored as best series. Send him e-mail here.

Eric Karabell | email

ESPN.com Senior Writer