Leading off: Determining value based on eligibility
The minute I saw the news on Alex Gordon, I knew the Royals were going to send Mark Teahen back to third base. It made perfect sense for them, since there wasn't really room for Teahen in the Kansas City outfield, and let's face it, he's not a second baseman. Of course, neither is St. Louis' Skip Schumaker or Colorado's Ian Stewart, but that hasn't stopped the former from qualifying at the new position, or the latter from being on the verge of doing so soon.
Teahen, however, isn't likely to qualify at second base for months, if at all, thanks to Gordon having the nerve to hurt his hip enough for it to require surgery. As an outfielder or corner infielder, Teahen just doesn't cut it in fantasy baseball and, honestly, in real life, but the Royals aren't exactly the Murderer's Row 1927 Yankees out there, so they take what they can get. Teahen did have a terrific spring, and he's hitting better than .300 so far, but I'll still take the under on him ever reaching 20 home runs. Your fantasy team, though, shouldn't follow the same rules as the Royals.
The point is, Teahen was well on his way to becoming second base eligible in a whole lotta fantasy leagues, but now the dream is gone, all thanks to Gordon. I wouldn't have felt at all guilty about using Teahen there, because his statistics are certainly more helpful to fantasy owners at relatively weak second base. It's certainly weak in proportion to third base.
There's no player whose current eligibility situation is discussed as much as Pablo Sandoval of the Giants. It happens in every chat session, in conversation on non-Pablo articles, I even had someone ask me while I was in the ESPN cafeteria: When will he qualify at catcher? In some leagues he qualified at catcher in 2008, and kept that eligibility into this season. In other leagues the fact he played there a few days ago for the first time this season qualified him. I'm not a big fan of leagues that allow one game of eligibility, but I'm certainly willing to use rules to my advantage. I once moved Kirby Puckett to shortstop because the Twins did. Roger Cedeno was once my second baseman. Nothing wrong with that, either. Albert Pujols played three-plus innings at second base last season. I can't even imagine a second baseman putting up those MVP numbers! What an advantage! In most leagues, however, Sandoval is a corner infielder.
I always pay attention to eligibility, because it can be a really big deal in fantasy. Any advantage you can get can be critical. In one of my leagues I don't have a second catcher, and in another my middle infielder is Brendan Ryan, so it would be nice if someone new -- and good -- qualified at those spots and I could move them there. Those are deep leagues, so those in 10-team standard mixed formats might scoff, but I know many of you play in leagues in which someone like Brendan Ryan matters. Anyway, the ESPN rule for standard leagues is 20 games from the prior season for eligibility, or 10 games in-season. With that, here are some random thoughts I have on eligibility so far, and moving forward.
• I don't think Sandoval is going to get his 10 games behind the plate. I don't mean to be a killjoy, but Bengie Molina rarely sits, and if he plans to do so the Giants have brought up Steve Holm from Triple-A Fresno to help him. Ironically, Sandoval started at catcher the day after Holm was called up, which makes little sense. Sandoval isn't a good catcher, by the way, so I don't know why the Giants are even tempted by this. Fantasy owners keep asking, but they might stop soon because
• None of this eligibility stuff matters if Sandoval doesn't hit. With one measly RBI the first three weeks until his eighth-inning home run Sunday, he's been on ESPN's most-dropped list for more than a week. I projected a decent season for him, close to 20 home runs and 90 RBIs due to where he would hit in the order. I'm not giving up yet, because even 10 homers and 50 RBIs from a second catcher would be worth it. How worth it? If Sandoval went 20-90 he'd be a top-5 catcher. That's how important this is. The wild-swinging, discipline-lacking Sandoval is going to be good, but I don't think it will be at catcher. Remember, if he plays his 10th game there in mid-September, it won't help you much.
• The Rockies know Clint Barmes isn't a great hitter, despite his fine week, and Ian Stewart still could be. Stewart looks out of place at second base, but to get his bat into the lineup the Rockies are willing to chance it anyway, except probably when extreme ground-ball thrower Aaron Cook is on the mound. My question isn't about Barmes, because we've seen his uninspiring ceiling, but is Stewart really that special? Yeah, I think he can be pretty helpful. He's not a big contact guy, but there's 20-home run potential in that bat. Plus, like Pat Burrell and Eric Bruntlett in 2008, Barmes can be his late-game defensive replacement. Stewart is owned in a mere 10 percent of leagues. When he starts to get regular playing time, via a Barmes slump, Todd Helton injury or Garrett Atkins trade, you'll be happy he has second base eligibility.
• Adam Dunn has played a few games at first base, and a year ago he played in 19 games there, one short of eligibility in most leagues. It's not a big deal to Dunn owners if he plays first base, since I'd argue outfield is far shallower. As long as Nick Johnson remains healthy it means Dunn has to play outfield, which obviously impacts others, like Josh Willingham and presumably Lastings Milledge (who, by the way, isn't hitting at all at Triple-A Syracuse). And while I realize most people don't play in leagues in which outfielders need to qualify for the actual outfield position, I look for that. Milledge is not playing center field at Triple-A Syracuse, which for some will matter, probably in 2010. Back to Dunn: anytime an outfielder adds first base eligibility it means something to someone. I have a deep league with five good outfielders, a DH-only DH and keep going through my corner infield spot with whatever I can find. Currently it's Kevin Millar, which saddens me, especially when I see the Blue Jays not facing a left-handed pitcher for days. You can see how Dunn adding first base eligibility would matter in that case.
• Speaking of 2010, I've been working on a trade in a keeper league in which I'd deal Hideki Matsui, pitching and a draft pick for Adam Lind. (By the way, when I share all these leagues and trade talk tidbits, it's always true. And no, I don't care if the people in my leagues know it. This stuff is supposed to be fun, after all!) The potential trade partner doesn't read my work, so he has no idea I have stuck the proverbial fork in Matsui and expect precious little from him this season. Anyway, Lind is obviously a good hitter and emerging, but he's played only one game in the field. Lind is 25, and isn't known as a major fielding liability, not on the level of Burrell for comparison's sake, but if he doesn't get 20 games in the outfield, it would absolutely affect his value. Some people just don't draft designated hitter-only players, like David Ortiz and Travis Hafner. I don't know if Lind will play 20 games in the field, to be honest, though I find it odd he's being pigeonholed a DH at such a young age. I really doubt Matsui plays the field at all, but I'm not sure it matters. It's always nice when a team says it won't let someone play the field until June. Does that ever happen? And what about Burrell? I'd view him differently in 2010 drafts if I couldn't make him my No. 3 outfielder, but why would the Rays ever give him a glove? If he's DH-only, he does drop in the rankings.
• It's a bit of a reach at this point, but Derrek Lee of the Cubs isn't hitting his own weight, and he's already been moved down in the batting order by Lou Piniella. Is Lee hurt? If he is, and misses time, I'd absolutely take a look at Micah Hoffpauir, who reminds me a bit of Chris Duncan. Neither guy will win a gold glove, but both can really rake right-handed pitching. Hoffpauir doesn't have first base eligibility, but in one of my deep leagues he'd move from my bench to corner infield in a hurry if he qualified there. Incidentally, I'm guessing his home run off Micah Owings was the first time a Micah homered off another Micah. I thought it might be the last, as Owings was pitching terribly so far, but his fine Saturday outing bought him another month. Remember, at some point we have to see Homer Bailey in the bigs again. I won't predict Owings ends up like Rick Ankiel, because we never root for someone to get hurt or become so wild they can't find the plate, but Owings might not be long for sticking in the Cincy rotation. Maybe he ends up a middle reliever who pinch hits a lot, a totally new thing in baseball like the Wildcat formation in football?
• While Angels manager Mike Scioscia clearly doesn't agree, I think Brandon Wood can hit for power in the majors right now. Remember Wood has shortstop eligibility from 2008, making him a more attractive fantasy option, assuming he, you know, gets to play. On Sunday he finally did! Ultimately I think Scioscia will realize Wood has to play, and if it's at third base, maybe that means Chone Figgins gets at-bats in the outfield or at second base, where Howie Kendrick looks awful at the plate. I am not a fan at all of Figgins holding down my third base position or corner infield; in fact, I dealt him in a league partially due to this. As I wrote somewhere recently, Figgins looks to be in steep decline at the plate, and if he stops walking, he'll stop running and scoring. But if he had second base eligibility, I'd find it more palatable.
Stat of the week: 90
This is the number of walks the Los Angeles Dodgers have drawn, 12 more than any other NL team, and a great sign that this offense doesn't need to rely on Manny Ramirez and should remain productive. Four offensive regulars have more walks than strikeouts -- Ramirez, Andre Ethier, Orlando Hudson and James Loney. Ramirez's presence was supposed to help No. 2 hitter Hudson see better pitches, and cleanup man Ethier bat with more men on base. Each is off to a terrific start at the plate, but walking quite a bit, which is odd, but possibly sustainable. Meanwhile, Loney has a near Pujols-like strikeout-to-walk rate of 11 free passes to four K's. No, it doesn't appear he'll ever hit for power, but he's always going to hit for average with a rate like this. If Rafael Furcal continues to not hit and get on base at a reasonable rate, the Dodgers should consider hitting Loney first or second. Loney hit "only" .289 a season ago, but .331 in 2007. I'll take the over on him hitting .320 if he keeps his strikeout-walk rate like this, and if he moves up in the order, he'll score enough runs to matter there as well. By the way, the AL leader in walks is the Blue Jays, led by Marco Scutaro and Lyle Overbay. A season ago the Dodgers finished 16th in walks, Toronto 23rd.
The Twins' rotation being so great? OK, so it's a bit early to truly panic, but not only was Francisco Liriano supposed to be a fantasy ace, but Kevin Slowey and Scott Baker showed up on many sleeper lists that I saw, as did lefty Glen Perkins. As for Nick Blackburn, I couldn't find anyone who thought he'd repeat his useful rookie season. Anyway, Liriano is definitely someone to worry about, and I think we need to reassess expectations on him. As colleague Christopher Harris noted in his Big Rotowski column, Liriano hasn't been the same pitcher since returning from Tommy John surgery, and hitters are really enjoying life when he throws a fastball. I wouldn't dump Liriano, or deal him for 50 cents on the dollar, though. Seems to me he's going to strike hitters out, but his ERA and WHIP are going to be higher than what many had hoped for, and with little resemblance to his 2006 season. Frankly, what Liriano did in 14 starts last season looks about right. For some of you, that would be really disappointing, but it's not that bad. As for the others, Baker missed a few starts with shoulder stiffness. His owners wish he'd stayed on the DL. I expect another DL stint soon, a Chien-Ming Wang-like month off to give him some rest. ESPN fantasy owners are already giving up, but I wouldn't. As soon as the home run rate drops, Baker will improve. Slowey and Perkins have really been fine. They're just hittable. Over all four of the five members of the Minnesota rotation picked up momentum this spring as draft-day darlings, and were probably a bit overrated, but there's still hope.
The Athletics would hit a little. Jason Giambi finally homered over the weekend, but Matt Holliday remains sans power, and he's taking this non-Coors thing to a new extreme. Let's go over this again: Holliday wasn't bad away from Coors Field. He was just really, really good in Coors, making his road numbers look bad. Holliday did hit .308 on the road in 2008, and stole 18 of his 28 bases away from Colorado. Of course his power was down, but whose power would be up away from Denver? Anyway, if there's anything about Holliday that scares me after three weeks it's the fact he hasn't attempted to steal a base. I think it's clear he's not interested in running, and if we knew that in March, he would have been out of everyone's top 30. I can still see him hitting .300 and providing 20 or more home runs, though, so consider that if you can get him on the cheap. As for other Athletics, this is a team that hit five home runs in its first 15 games. Things aren't going well. I'd buy low on Giambi and Orlando Cabrera as well. They're not young, but neither of them looked done in 2008, so expecting such a steep decline doesn't add up. Giambi can still hit 25 homers, Cabrera can still score 85 runs and steal 15 bases.
Had Carlos Quentin not broken his wrist with a month to go last season he would have won the AL MVP award. Sorry, Dustin Pedroia, but it's true. Now Quentin is back to his old tricks, with seven home runs, one off the league lead. I ended up with Quentin on quite a few teams, mainly because I valued him as a top-50 player, and couldn't find anyone else in my leagues who agreed. I wasn't overdrafting him based on how I viewed him, but to everyone else, I was. His power is legit, and his plate discipline is, too. I still worry a bit that his Biggio ways of getting hit by so many pitches will present injury complications, but at what point can we move past Quentin's 2008 breakout being a fluke? If I were voting for the AL MVP after three weeks, I'd have to give it to Ian Kinsler, as he's not only leading the ESPN Player Rater by quite a bit but is on pace for history's first 63-63 season, but I think Quentin has more power than Kinsler and I think Quentin and Miguel Cabrera are the only AL players who reach 40 home runs. Both of them should have done it a year ago. Get Quentin now, while he's hitting .246. He's not Carlos Pena.
I watched in person at Philly's Citizens Bank Park when a Prince Fielder line drive smacked Phillies ace Cole Hamels in the back of the pitching shoulder. And it never dawned on me that manager Charlie Manuel would leave him in the game, whether he was OK or not. It's Hamels, he gets treated differently, and of course he was removed. "I'm fine," the pitcher said the next day. "It's nothing in a dangerous-type area. There are a lot of fragile parts, because I don't have the most weight or muscle on me, so I was lucky enough that it did hit all muscle." Oddly enough, Hamels has always appeared to know he should be treated differently, because he has been a bit fragile in the past. Or has he? I'm buying Hamels as a great buy-low choice, but I'm not buying the notion he's injury prone anymore. He got hit with a line drive. It happens.
Hamels had pitched well in that game, striking out six hitters in the first three innings. He was back on track. He knows his wild offseason is over and whether he did or didn't prepare accordingly for the 2009 season, he's ready now. And by the way: He's not fragile. Hamels made 33 regular-season starts in 2008, and 28 the year before. He's not exactly Rich Harden. There's too much talent here to think the worst. Buy low, because after he controls the Nationals on Tuesday you might not be able to again.
We're nothing if not versatile at ESPN Fantasy. While we deliver daily and weekly columns, including this one, check out the Fantasy Focus podcast and Fantasy Focus Baseball show online. Matthew Berry and Nate Ravitz host the podcast and give great advice while entertaining the masses. Alyssa Milano was a guest on a recent show. You can also find Matthew on the online show on Mondays and Tuesdays, while I co-host Wednesday and Thursday. And check out the daily Baseball Today podcast I host with Peter Pascarelli. It's not fantasy baseball, but certainly some of the topics we discuss about the great game of baseball can be applied to the great game of fantasy baseball.
If I'm in a league with a DL slot I make sure I use it. There's no reason not to, really. You get a few bench spots, and those are important, but a DL slot is another place to stash someone away. Maybe your team has been healthy. That's awesome. So check out your league free agents and find someone who has that tidy, little asterisk next to their name. I can't prove the following, but I'm relatively convinced the Blue Jays' Ricky Romero became more popular after he was placed on the DL and added the asterisk; now he's owned in 15.6 percent of ESPN standard leagues. A week ago he didn't have many believers or owners, but now many of you can hold on to him without using a bench spot. I know, it's odd, but them's the rules. My take on Romero is he's never been able to overcome command issues in the minors, and the Blue Jays gave him his opportunity when pretty much all their other options were gone. Not that Romero can't continue his fine pitching when his oblique strain heals in a few weeks, but I wouldn't have been able to sell high fast enough. Stashing him on the DL for longer when he returns adds to his value.
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.
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