- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
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I'm not a psychiatrist and I don't intend to play one on TV, so I won't begin to try to explain what motivations Manny Ramirez may or may not might have when he returns from his embarrassing suspension to play for the Dodgers on or around July 3. This isn't the time or place for me to judge the guy and the big picture of performance-enhancing dysfunction. Sure, I'm a huge baseball fan, and I have opinions on what he did to earn the suspension, but they have nothing to do with his fantasy baseball value, which is what we're talking about in this forum.
Ramirez isn't being dropped in many leagues, but it is happening in some, up to 2 percent in ESPN standard formats. The reasons for this could be numerous, I suppose, but I wouldn't do it. Do you want good numbers or don't you? The Dodgers and their fans aren't the only ones angry at the guy for getting caught breaking baseball's drug policy. Fantasy owners are as well. But let's make one thing clear: those in fantasy baseball aren't angry he did it, just that he got caught. Everyone benefits from his production on the field, from fans to media to, yes, fantasy owners, and I maintain they will when he returns.
All this leads to the point on why I placed Ramirez as the No. 70 player in our mid-May rankings last week. Think that's not good enough? I agree with you. I wanted to place him better and really make a point, but ultimately when you're ranking players for four and a half months of production and someone is likely to miss a third of that it has to be accounted for. However, Ramirez's staff rank ended up outside the top 100. I see Ramirez being dropped in leagues -- not mine; I wish -- and I laugh. I see him being dealt for guys like Jorge Cantu, Marco Scutaro and Jered Weaver, and I laugh. Again, not my leagues, but hey, if I'm in a league with you and you want to peddle Ramirez, send me an e-mail. Let's put him on my team. This is ridiculous. I can wait until July, I really can. Do the math on how good Ramirez is and you'd wait, too. If Ramirez was hurt, he wouldn't be dropped or sold off in such a hasty fashion. People aren't angry at Vladimir Guerrero for getting hurt, but they are with Ramirez for getting caught. The numbers Ramirez will produce in the final three months are going to be well worth it, like top-25 worth it. You watch.
Just as I am unqualified to delve into the mind of a baseball player, I cannot presume to know how the majority of fantasy owners think about what Ramirez got caught doing. I do, however, see our staff rankings, our message boards and in general discussion with others I get the feeling Ramirez is being held to a higher standard because of who he is and how stunned everyone was at the news. Guerrero has a fraction of the upside and didn't get dropped in more leagues. Brandon Webb and Carlos Zambrano might be a mess for months, if not longer, but they didn't get cut in appreciably more leagues, either. Neither did Aramis Ramirez, who I have serious concerns about. But they're only hurt.
Here's what's going to happen the first week of July: Ramirez will return to play for the Dodgers, and he'll play great. He'll hit like he did earlier this season, if not better. I can't say "he'll be motivated to put up monster numbers" because the fact is nobody knows for sure, even his teammates and Joe Torre. I know I would be motivated, but I also assume baseball players are always trying no matter the circumstances. Call me naïve, I suppose. Why can't Ramirez hit .396 with 17 home runs in his first 53 games with the Dodgers like he did a season ago? He hasn't gotten that much older, or slower, or suffered an injury to anything but his psyche. I can't imagine his thought process as he watches soap operas instead of preparing for baseball games, but I don't think there's a better pure, right-handed power hitter in the game except Albert Pujols, and I know Ramirez carried many a team -- Dodgers and fantasy -- to championships in 2008. I'm buying, obviously, and will never be so cynical to assume someone doesn't try at their craft.
I'm a planner. I'm always thinking big picture. Of course I will draft Matt Wieters and wait as long as it takes because I know how good he will be. Kevin Youkilis remains in my weekly lineups this week because I know he'll play this week, and play well. A week of Willy Aybar instead doesn't match that for me, even maximizing each at-bat. We have to think ahead for what's to come. Your staff ERA is over 7? Well, who is on your staff? If it's any combination of Ricky Nolasco, Josh Beckett, Scott Kazmir and Jon Lester, you wait. I stashed away Tim Hudson in numerous places, as well. Planning ahead is a huge part of fantasy baseball as you watch others make short-sighted moves likely to only help their plight in May. Well, the standings mean nothing to me in May. Think long haul.
It's no different with Ramirez. When he returns in July, he's going to produce at such a high level the rest of the way in four of the five nominal hitting categories -- everything but stolen bases -- that I can't help but laugh at the notion of giving up on him now. Judge Ramirez however you like. Don't vote for him for the All-Star team or the Hall of Fame, rip up his rookie card, get rid of Mannywood, whatever. If you want good fantasy numbers and can wait until that first week of July, do so, because it's going to make a monster impact in fantasy baseball. We'll be celebrating with fireworks that week, anyway.
Whatever happened to
Jason Bartlett used to be known just for his glove, and he made a huge impact on Rays pitchers a season ago. But now he can really hit. Entering Monday, Bartlett was the top shortstop on ESPN's Player Rater, ahead of even the great Hanley Ramirez and Jose Reyes. Of the 14 players with 10 or more steals, Bartlett was the only one to have hit more than three home runs; in fact, those other 13 players had hit a total of 16 home runs. Bartlett has five. Sure, he's already tied his career best in the category, but there's little to reason to expect he's done hitting. The power shouldn't continue at this rate, but Bartlett hit .286 in 2008 and way back in 2006 he batted .309. His speed has always been there. Some players just emerge at odd times, and I think we're seeing a guy capable of hitting .300 doing exactly that. For the record, his five home runs have come off Brad Bergesen, Brian Bass, Andy Pettitte, Jonathan Albaladejo and Juan Morillo. OK, so only one of those guys has had a strong career, but truth be told, Bartlett is going to face plenty of bad pitching this season.
It sure would be nice if
The Nationals could get better pitching, because I feel bad for manager Manny Acta and am concerned about him suffering from fatigue from all the times he's had to walk to the mound to replace pitchers. I watched this weekend as Washington scored five or more runs in all four home games against the Phillies, but managed to lose each game anyway. Earlier in the week, the Nats scored eight, seven and seven runs in Arizona and San Francisco, against teams that don't score much, and lost those games, as well. This offense isn't bad at all, sixth in baseball for OPS, with Ryan Zimmerman a candidate to win a batting title, Nick Johnson looking like his old self and Adam Dunn not hurting anyone in batting average. The bullpen is just horrific, though, and the Phillies never seemed worried trailing late. The fantasy part of this discussion is I'd still hold on to Joel Hanrahan, as I think he ends up with more than 20 saves, and don't bail on Washington starting pitchers yet. Shairon Martis is 5-0, an undeserving record the way he's really pitched, but he seems like he can overcome his lack of strikeouts and win 12 games with an ERA around 4. Jordan Zimmermann didn't have his best stuff on Sunday, but he's not walking people, which is a great sign. He's no Daniel Cabrera (32 walks, 16 K's). John Lannan will probably win 12 or so games, so that's useful. I just hope the Nationals sign top pick Stephen Strasburg, because it's a real possibility well, let's think positively. I'd also like to see Strasburg pitch in the bigs this season. Overall, the Nationals have had a rough start, but I think it will get better.
Quote of the week
"[Max] Scherzer got the win. He can check that off the list. Now it's time for him to start rolling, and as a team, the same. It's a big win. We scored a lot of runs. That's what we need. We need some momentum. We need some confidence."
The Diamondbacks need a lot, according to those comments from catcher Chris Snyder after the 12-0 win in Atlanta Saturday night, and I think their fortunes are changing. For Scherzer, it was merely bad luck he had yet to win in seven decisions in two seasons. His ERA was 3.39 in 22 games, so he was doing his job. Arizona's problem is with the offense, and I think rookie Gerardo Parra and a new lineup might be the answer. Parra isn't going to be a fantasy star, but he has good plate discipline and can run. He's taking at-bats from Chris Young, which might be a trend. Like a fantasy team, when a real team simply removes one of its automatic outs (and a guy who doesn't walk) it really helps. The White Sox might have no choice but to do this with Alexei Ramirez soon. Young can't be this bad, but he's in danger of losing significant playing time.
The real key here is Justin Upton in the No. 3 lineup spot. He's hitting .385 with a 1.288 OPS there, showing power, speed, you name it. Fantasy owners can never tell if a player needs momentum or confidence or if he's just slumping, unless they tell us. It's nice to see Upton breaking out. If you're in a keeper league, you're just about out of time to get him before he becomes an annual 30-homer guy, one who really emerges.
Bold is beautiful
It's amazing how fast Yankees fans and fantasy owners gave up on Chien-Ming Wang, as if his consecutive 19-win seasons had never happened. Even in 2008, before a fluky foot injury wrecked his season, he was 8-2 and doing what everyone expected. Wang was awful in three April outings. Blame him for your poor fantasy start if it makes you feel better, but he's throwing well now and he's not going to come up to the majors and pull a Luke Hochevar. That's the new term I will use for any pitcher who looks great in the minors or on rehab, then is abominable in the bigs. Wang will rejoin the Yankees' rotation soon and go back to doing what he's supposed to do. Due to the extreme lack of strikeouts, I won't regard him as a must-buy, but I do expect him to perform well. He's available in half of ESPN's leagues. Want some bold numbers? Say he makes 24 starts and wins 13 of them, with an ERA of 3.75 from here on out. Ignore his April and enjoy. And here's another bold one: Phil Hughes isn't quite Hochevar, but he looks awful, and I take the under on him winning five games this season for the Yankees. Most would say he should be toiling for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, but why can't he join a bullpen lacking power arms? Hughes throws hard. It wouldn't wreck his future as a starting pitcher. It didn't for Joba Chamberlain, who by the way will remain a starter. Good, that's the way it should be.
Stat of the week
Not that the Blue Jays have a long history, but in their first 32 years of existence only four rookie pitchers had thrown at least seven innings without allowing an earned run within their first three career games (Mauro Gozzo, Juan Guzman, Dave Bush and Casey Janssen). Already this season, the feat has been accomplished three times, by Ricky Romero, Brett Cecil and this weekend Robert Ray. Folks, the Blue Jays aren't going away this season, they're contenders. Roy Halladay is on his way to 24 wins, the bullpen is deep, the Aaron Hill-led offense is totally legit and fantasy owners should be enjoying the new kids in the rotation. Cecil has the most upside, I believe, an impressive lefty who gets his strikeouts without a 95 mph fastball. Consider that Romero has a 1.71 ERA in three starts, and now that he's healthy there's no room in the rotation for him. I predicted on TV last Thursday that Brian Tallet would outduel CC Sabathia, and when he left after six innings, he was up 2-1. Remove one ugly 10-run outing Tallet had in Kansas City and he's got a 2.81 ERA and WHIP of 1.00. The Toronto pitching staff is third in ERA, and I don't think it's a fluke.
The final word
Fantasy owners should know by now that minor league numbers often mean nothing, yet I think everyone overrates them anyway. Most people won't get to see David Price pitch for Durham or Matt Wieters hit for Norfolk, so they rely on stats. So far, the stats of those gentlemen are just OK, nothing special. So what! In a way, what happens in the minors for major league-ready phenoms is a lot like spring training for the veteran stars. They're getting work in, and they're doing it against players you know little about. Check Price's low pitch counts -- of course he doesn't win. Spring stats are also very misleading. Price and Wieters are ready for the bigs, and looking at their current stats tell us very little. Consider what Hochevar did for Omaha this season, and then I hope you weren't one of those fantasy owners who had him active for the week when he got pummeled for a 16.88 ERA and 2.81 WHIP. The Blue Jays' Cecil and Romero were hardly coveted fantasy pickups because they had struggled in the minors recently. Cecil was 0-3 in four starts for Triple-A Las Vegas with a 8.31 ERA. He got promoted anyway, and looks pretty strong so far. Romero was terrible in Double-A a season ago, yet still got moved up in the organization. One could say Cecil and Romero are due to fail, but I don't believe it. I've been to enough minor league games to know the stats are easily manipulated by a bad outing or two, and scouts are looking for a lot of things. I mean, look at who some of the top pitchers are currently in the International League: Nelson Figueroa, Tomo Ohka and Kei Igawa. 'Nuff said.
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 writes that Manny Ramirez should not be dropped in leagues, and that he'll produce top-25 numbers upon his return.