- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
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It's always a bit dangerous to speak in superlatives about baseball players. They are human beings, after all, and subject to good and bad days (or weeks, or months) like the rest of us, and whether they are struggling at the plate or seem like they own it, it's a long season, with an ebb and flow, and things will change.
I try to relay my thoughts on players, and yes, sometimes they might be boring, as in "Rick Ankiel will do exactly what we thought he'd do" or "Enjoy those 12 Jarrod Washburn wins." Boring but true, right?
Other times, performance demands a strong stand for or against. Emilio Bonifacio already, in a mere two weeks, has been the best -- and arguably the worst -- player in fantasy. I'll go boring here, because it's what I believe: 25 steals, .270 average, 80 runs scored. He has to either lay off the high fastballs or learn to hit them, or his second week is going to be the real deal, and we'll be seeing Gaby Sanchez back real soon. But I think Bonifacio will adjust at some point.
A week ago in this space, The Final Word dealt with the sad decline of a once-great offensive force, Todd Helton. I expected loads of angry feedback from the great state of Colorado about how Helton isn't done yet, how I'd dissed a potential Hall of Famer -- you know the drill. But I couldn't find anyone who disagreed. Not to be negative, but the Rockies first baseman -- who didn't show much over the past week to sway me -- is hardly the only player I've given up on already. On our Fantasy Focus videocast Thursday, I pronounced David Ortiz done, much to the dismay of Red Sox fans in the control booth who wanted to hang me right there live on the air. Hey, I mostly believe it. I wouldn't outright cut him, but there's no chance I would deal for him.
I'll be positive elsewhere in the column, but for now, I'll go around the diamond listing the players I'm ready to give up on, and not the obvious names.
Catcher: Ivan Rodriguez has nothing left, and the fact that his manager got a contract extension despite hitting Pudge second in the order should scare Astros fans. Also, Jarrod Saltalamacchia leads all backstops in strikeouts. Get Taylor Teagarden ready, and stash away Max Ramirez. I'm not close to bailing on Ramon Hernandez or Chris Iannetta.
First base: What do Helton and Ortiz have in common? Each entered Week 3 with one extra-base hit, a double. Pitchers Zach Duke and Micah Owings have two each. Helton and his sore back will fall short of 10 homers and 350 at-bats. Ortiz has lost more bat speed than Gary Sheffield. See Sheff's 2008 season, and that's Ortiz. Some pop, low average, so there is value in that, but not what you drafted. Also, so much for Travis Ishikawa being a sleeper (0 walks, 12 Ks). I see no reason to believe Kendry Morales will even resemble Casey Kotchman. I will wait for Chris Davis, though.
Second base: I don't think Emmanuel Burriss and Chris Getz will keep their starting roles for long. They are ownable, however, at such a weak position, and they can run. Alexei Ramirez -- now a shortstop, too! -- will be fine. Buy low.
Shortstop: Edgar Renteria or Julio Lugo? I'll take Lugo. I can't decide whom Renteria is hurting more -- fantasy owners or his own pitchers defensively. Don't underrate defense, by the way. And I'm running out of patience with Mike Aviles, sooner than I thought I would, not that I was expecting a ton. He's no Tony Pena, right? Right?!
Third base: No shortage of options here. Eric Chavez? Can't stay healthy. Andy LaRoche? Just can't hit at this level. David Freese? Clearly won't get a chance. Joe Crede? Won't hit his weight. Chone Figgins? Hey, where did that name come from? He doesn't belong! Be careful here. I feel like I'm watching Juan Pierre with him. If pitchers stop walking him, knowing he has no power at this point, it could get ugly. Also, I was wrong about Cody Ransom holding his own. He can't. But no chance I'm giving up on Pablo Sandoval.
Outfield: As down as I am on Helton, I am even more down on Hideki Matsui. This is it for him, folks. Watch for a DL stint any day now and the end of the line thanks to his balky knees. Also, watching Eric Byrnes try to hit is painful. Fifty steals? Not sure he will get five. And finally, Jordan Schafer has made no adjustments to his plate approach. I'm not giving up on him, but I'm thinking there's a minor league stint in his future. I see less reason to own Felix Pie, Gary Matthews Jr., David Murphy and Sheffield. I can't give up on Justin Upton and Cameron Maybin, but man, things do not look good at all because of how they approach their at-bats. I'm closer to thinking Carlos Gomez is a fourth outfielder. He's fast, but Denard Span is going to play more in center field.
By the way, if you have a bench spot for Chien-Ming Wang, that's where he belongs, not on the free-agent wire. OK, let's get on to more upbeat stuff.
Stat of the week: 34
It's been that many innings, including last season, since Royals ace -- that's right, ace -- Zack Greinke allowed a run. Kevin Appier held the old team mark, with 33 consecutive scoreless innings in 1993. The last American League pitcher before Greinke to win his first three starts in a season and not permit a run was Luis Tiant in 1966. Tiant opened that season with three consecutive shutouts but struggled in May and ended up in the bullpen. Many view Greinke as a sell-high option. It can't get better than this, they think. But why can't he win 18 games with 200-plus strikeouts and a 2.50 ERA? He has that ability, and he looks in total command on the mound this season. I'm glad he got his confidence back, and I'm still buying, actually.
Whatever happened to
Everyone giving up on Kosuke Fukudome? It took only two good weeks to get him up to 70 percent owned in ESPN standard leagues. I took a chance on him in a few deeper leagues, and I'm buying this good start. In fairness to those selling high, Fukudome was hitting .299 on June 1 last season, and obviously things went downhill after that. But watching him this season, his plate approach is strong. He knows which pitches to swing at and how to manipulate a count, and he'll take a walk. He has enough speed to reach 15 steals, enough power to hit 15 home runs. I don't think this is a fluke. The fellow hitting directly behind him, however, doesn't look good at all. Remember when Derrek Lee was a top-10 first baseman? Look, it's early, and he's a veteran, but watching him at the plate, I feel like I'm watching Jeff Francoeur. Lee doesn't get any lift when he makes contact. He just hits ground balls. Lee is going to knock in runs because the Cubs get men on base, but I'm wondering whether Lee will reach 15 home runs this season. The 46-homer season of 2005 always was the outlier, but fantasy owners still pay for that. In the following three seasons, Lee hit 50 home runs. He still can offer fantasy owners decent numbers, and he'll raise his average another 50 points eventually, but if he's Casey Kotchman with a handful of stolen bases, his value is seriously off base.
It sure would be nice if
Wandy Rodriguez could pitch well on the road, wouldn't it? Hopefully the strikeout lefty is turning a corner. In the past week, he dominated the Reds at home, fanning 10 over seven innings and allowing only two singles, but also lost at St. Louis. The Cardinals didn't pound him; he had one bad inning, and the singles he allowed were grounders that found an infield hole. For his career, Rodriguez has a sub-.500 record (38-41), a 4.70 ERA and a 1.40 WHIP. That's unimpressive. At home, in what normally plays out as one of the better hitting parks, he's 23-18 with a 3.98 ERA and a 1.31 WHIP. Last season, Rodriguez made some strides away from Houston. We saw Ervin Santana overcome this in 2008. I think Rodriguez can win 15 games with a 3.50 ERA this season and 175 strikeouts in overcoming his road woes as well. I'm going to keep him active each week no matter the matchups or game sites.
Bold is beautiful: Mike Carp hits 20 homers for the Mariners
Seattle is off to a fine start to the season, but Russell Branyan is not. Carp, however, is hammering Tacoma pitching for a .361 average and power. Only 22, he takes walks, has legit power to all fields and can field well enough at first base. As he was one of the keys to the J.J. Putz trade, I'd think the Mariners would want to see what he can do at the big league level. Don't we know at this point what Branyan can do? He has huge power, but I don't think it's enough to keep his job all season. Plus, the Mariners think they can stay in the race, so why not get the upside and better player on the field? (I'll save my Brandon Wood rant for another day. Why is he not up, especially with Maicer Izturis now hitting third? That's ridiculous!) Anyway, stash Carp away in AL-only formats because his time will arrive this summer. As for Jeff Clement, he could get the call first, but Carp is a natural first baseman, and he's the one hitting in the minors.
Quote of the week
I was asked on Monday's Fantasy Focus podcast whether I believe in Cleveland's Carl Pavano. I saw what Pavano did over the weekend, and he did have his moments. In a ballpark in which lefty hitters seem to have a big advantage, Pavano kept the ball in play. And after seeing what his ol' gal pal Alyssa Milano had to say to reporters Saturday, now I'm really buying! OK, that's a lie. But it's still a fun quote. "Nobody wants to be good more than Carl," Milano said. "He's a competitor. You think he wakes up every day and is just content sucking? No! The guy wants to play good baseball. With everything the media says about him, he probably says 100 times worse in his own head. He's a good guy, and he's a major competitor." Well, I don't know where to begin. I'll say this about Pavano: I was willing to believe in him last season with the Yankees in terms of ability, but not health. The jury is still out on him making more than 20 starts. Other than Cliff Lee, I'm not a fan of any Cleveland starting pitchers this season, but I could see Pavano keeping his ERA in the 4.50 range.
What we're doing
Colleague Jason Grey watches a lot of baseball, and with a scout's eye, he's able to spot how a player has adjusted his approach at the plate or on the mound and what it means to statistics. Last week, Grey's Minor Achievements column told us about a few young Blue Jays with potential rotation impact, and his Monday column will discuss his observations on a number of closers you might or might not think have issues. Don't worry, this will not affect my Wednesday Relief Efforts column -- unless I disagree, of course. Anyway, Grey is always a good read. Check out Monday's Clipboard.
The Final Word: The "new" Yankee Stadium
Yes, I saw the Indians score 22 runs in one game and how the new stadium is looking like the AL version of Coors Field. The thing is, it's way too small a sample size to assume anything about Yankee Stadium. Yes, the right field porch is not a mile away, but we have no idea whether baseballs will fly out at the same frequency at night or when it gets really warm or if there's some decent pitching. Certainly Chien-Ming Wang is sputtering, so read nothing into the ballpark from Saturday's game; he was throwing batting practice out there. I was asked if I bump up the value of any Yankees based on the potential for more runs being scored in home games. Nope. Not one bit. In fact, it makes me more determined to move Nick Swisher before his fancy batting average sees a 100-point drop. Derek Jeter has hit a few home runs so far. He does not, however, have good power. I think people do tend to overrate park effects, as they are very dependent on pitching (both good and bad), and the trends can be tweaked. Plus, even when we can assume a ballpark trend, how often do people believe it? Philly's so-called bandbox wasn't in 2008. Comerica Park is not a pitchers' park, as it once was believed to be. Anyway, this is a topic for another day. When it comes to Yankee Stadium, don't overrate one weekend.
Eric Karabell is a senior writer for ESPN.com who covers fantasy baseball, football and basketball. Check out his daily Baseball Today podcast at ESPN Podcenter. He has twice been honored as fantasy sports writer of the year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. His book, "The Best Philadelphia Sports Arguments," was published by Source Books and is available in bookstores. Contact Eric by e-mailing him here.
Eric Karabell breaks down his All-Give-Up-On team, highlighted by such guys as David Ortiz and Hideki Matsui, and offers other helpful tidbits.