After a season of bad luck in the injury department, the New York Mets can't be happy their new year is starting off like this: Carlos Beltran, who spent half the 2009 season on the disabled list because of a knee injury, likely will miss Opening Day 2010 following surgery Wednesday on the same knee.
Of course the team isn't happy about it. Beltran will be unable to resume baseball activities for approximately 12 weeks, which will almost assuredly send him to the disabled list -- only the fourth time on the DL in his career but third since 2007 -- to begin the regular season. In addition, the Mets preferred the star center fielder to wait on surgery until they had a chance to discuss medical options, and Beltran didn't, which might cause tension between team and player.
Not that Opening Day can officially be ruled out, of course. Beltran's doctor, Dr. Richard Steadman, is noted for his microfracture knee surgeries, but this was not a microfracture procedure, which Beltran's owners might have had reason to fear throughout 2009. According to Scott Boras, Beltran's agent, the outfielder had been experiencing discomfort in the knee since November, and upon examination was found to have cartilage fragments in the joint that needed to be removed. Beltran also had bone spurs shaved during the surgery.
Boras laid out what he understood to be the estimated timetable. "The doctor said eight weeks, possibly, and a window to 12 weeks to resume baseball activities," Boras said. "With elite athletes, the timetable is sometimes shorter than the original prognosis."
Beltran's keeper-league owners, or prospective ones in redraft leagues, should still operate under the assumption that he'll miss as much as one month of the season. He's now 33 years old and has battled this knee problem since last May, and might not even resume baseball activities until after many fantasy drafts have taken place. Then there's the question of how frequently Beltran will steal bases upon his return, and that's a key part of his fantasy value. To that end, he didn't attempt a single steal in 19 games after returning from the disabled list last September despite reaching base safely 29 times (25 via single or walk), and both he and the Mets might feel that attempting 25-plus steals, as he did in 2007 and 2008, puts him at greater risk.
I ranked Beltran 79th in my most recent top 200; that number now drops to the 110 range, in the ballpark of outfielders such as Jason Kubel, Johnny Damon and Denard Span. In fact, in many formats I'd prefer all three to Beltran.
Expect Angel Pagan, who batted .306 with 14 steals in 88 games for the Mets in 2009, to benefit most from Beltran's absence. Pagan started 59 games in center field, primarily when Beltran was on the DL, and could be an NL-only sleeper based upon his track record for speed in the minors. He averaged 49 steals per 150 games played in his minor league career, and even if he's dropped back to fourth-outfielder status come May 1, would be worth a late-round pick in that format.
Now let's take a look at some other happenings of the past week
Arizona Diamondbacks sign Adam LaRoche: So much for Brandon Allen being a sleeper. Allen, the prospect acquired in the Tony Pena trade last July and who largely served as the Diamondbacks' starting first baseman the final month of the season, now seems likely to begin the year at Triple-A. LaRoche signed a one-year deal with the Diamondbacks, according to the Associated Press, and should fill the first-base role on an everyday basis. That means Allen won't be serving as the team's first baseman versus right-handers, with Conor Jackson playing there against lefties; Jackson will slide to left field on a regular basis. LaRoche, now 30, gets a slight boost in the confines of Chase Field, the most hitter-friendly environment he has called home in his big-league career. Another .270-hitting, 25-homer season should be well within his reach, with perhaps 30-homer upside, but be aware that drafting him requires patience. LaRoche is a noted second-half performer, with a career batting average 48 points and a career OPS 136 points higher after the All-Star break than before it, meaning he might almost be a smarter player to skip in the draft, allow to get comfortable in the desert, then acquire midseason.
Detroit Tigers sign Jose Valverde: Call this one a win-win for the Tigers. Three weeks after losing 2009 closer Fernando Rodney to the Los Angeles Angels, the Tigers signed Valverde, a more productive option, to a two-year deal (the same length as Rodney's deal) worth $14 million (only $3 million more than Rodney's). Not that Valverde is the model of health, having made three trips to the DL in the past six years, including one in 2009. Talent-wise, though, he's a substantial upgrade, with a 2.84 ERA and 1.15 WHIP last season to Rodney's 4.48 and 1.45. The switch to the American League might push Valverde's ERA back over 3.00, but at least he's in the weaker Central division and shouldn't face much competition for saves from Joel Zumaya, Daniel Schlereth or Ryan Perry, each of whom would be better served in a lower-pressure setup role for now. With his health risk, Valverde shouldn't be treated as a top-10 closer but rather just outside of that group, and handcuffing him is a smart strategy. The catch: You'll have to monitor the performance of Zumaya, Schlereth and Perry during spring training to determine which one is the most valuable handcuff. My early pick: Perry, who has lightning stuff and had a 3.41 second-half ERA in 2009.
Brad Lidge has another surgery: As if there weren't enough questions about Lidge's 2010 fantasy production, now comes word that he underwent his second surgery in three months, this time to remove loose bodies in his right knee. He also had elbow surgery in November, but this most recent operation actually makes him a risk to begin the season on the DL. Lidge reportedly will resume throwing in 10 days, but it's unclear how quickly he'll be ready for game action. Suddenly the Philadelphia Phillies' signing of Danys Baez becomes more significant, as Baez seems likely to battle Ryan Madson for the honor of stand-in closer and Lidge handcuff. Considering Lidge had a 7.21 ERA, 1.81 WHIP and 11 blown saves in 2009, fantasy owners hardly need another reason to lower him on their draft sheets. NL-only owners, however, should keep close tabs on Baez and Madson come March.
San Francisco Giants sign Aubrey Huff: If there's one thing to like about this move, it's that it virtually ensures Pablo Sandoval will remain at third base, where he has a greater chance at a top-5 fantasy finish than at uber-deep first base. As for Huff, he takes over as the starting first baseman with a team that might suppress his fantasy value. Now 33, Huff is coming off a season in which his ground-ball rate spiked (48.1 percent, including 51.6 percent following his midseason trade to the Tigers) and his line-drive rate dipped to 15.5 percent. He'll also be playing at AT&T Park, which has spacious right-field and right-center alleys, diminishing his chances at a return to his former 20-homer levels. Huff should bat fourth behind Sandoval, who had a .387 on-base percentage in 2009, meaning a decent amount of RBI opportunities. Still, as a first base-only player in fantasy leagues, Huff might have a hard time cracking the top 15 at his position, if not the top 20. He should be considered a fringe late-round pick in mixed formats.
Houston Astros sign Brett Myers: Here's a great matchups play, as Myers, the ex-Phillie, has already declared his intentions to "stick it" to his former team whenever they play. A good question: Is he talented enough to back up his words? Myers' ERA has risen in each of the past four seasons, he missed more than three months because of a hip injury in 2009, and his strikeouts-per-nine innings dipped to 6.37, his worst number since 2004. He'll need a standout spring training to regain the trust of mixed-league owners, and NL-only owners might not be as excited about grabbing him late when they consider that the Astros, who finished fourth-worst in baseball in runs scored and sixth-worst in OPS, appear set to lose Miguel Tejada to free agency and have only added Pedro Feliz to their lineup. Getting out of Citizens Bank Park might help Myers, but don't expect any miracles.
Pittsburgh Pirates sign Ryan Church: Prospecting on Church in an NL-only league is, really, connected to your opinion of Garrett Jones. If you believe Jones' 2009 performance was legit, you can't expect much from Church. If you doubt Jones' ability, then Church might be worth a look in the late rounds. I'm no Jones fan, but his offensive potential is greater than Church's, as demonstrated by his .272 batting average, .326 on-base percentage and .482 slugging percentage in the minors from 2004 to 2009, and he's the player Church would most likely have to beat out to earn regular at-bats. Church more likely will serve as a fourth outfielder and insurance against the team's youngsters disappointing, most notably Lastings Milledge in left field and Jeff Clement at first base (with Jones being capable of shifting there).