Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Jeff Salazar

I received my copy of John Sickel's The Baseball Prospect Book 2006 yesterday. My first stops are the various prospects on my rosters and the ones I have been scouting for my minor league draft.

I may or may not address how congruent my opinions of various prospects are with Mr. Sickels, but one that immediately jumped out was Jeff Salazar.

What struck me was the assessment that he was a "EXCELLENT defensive outfielder." Isn't this exactly what the Rox need in their spacious OF?

I listened to XM Radio's Fantasy Focus during lunch. The team review was for the Rockies. The expert-of-the-day stated the OF in Colorado is non-descript and to watch the non-roster invitees. At no time did he mention Salazar.

Some may immediately conclude this as rebutting my assessment or Mr. Sickel's. I do not. What it does do is cement the sleeper status of Jeff Salazar. Keep his name in mind and grab him as soon as you can.

Why do I blog?

ESPN.com - MLB - Schwarz: Ugly season likely awaits in South Florida:

In ESPN's Hot Stove Heaters, Alan Schwarz writes about the Marlins - one of the top Spring Training stories of the season.

"....veteran second baseman Pokey Reese, who hit .215 and .221 in 2003 and 2004, then became far more valuable by spending all of last season on the Mariners' disabled list. (Second could otherwise be manned by Rule 5 draft pick Dan Uggla. Insert joke here.) ...Third base is cloudier.... Cabrera could finally return to his natural and preferred position, but Bto speak of, he could be grudgingly sent out there again....If Cabrera does not play third, look out for Wes Helms...."

For readers of this site, you already knew about the playing time prospects for Uggla and Helms.

For me, this blog provides me the satisfaction of providing proof of being ahead of the pack of baseball writers.

Interestly, there have been hits on this site for Dan Uggla. Maybe those were just his family Googling him, but if any of them were, in fact, Mr. Schwarz, welcome! (Also a hearty welcome to the Ugglas, too!)

How about a blog shoutout, the link?

Los Angeles Dodgers

The hype surrounding this team is all about their farm system. Chad Billingsley, Andy LaRoche, Joel Guzman and Russ Martin are the top 4 according to Baseball America.

Combine this hype with some the big name free agent signings of Rafael Furcal and Nomar Garciaparra and the perfect environment exists for a sleeper.

One of my top sleepers for 2006 is Hee Seop Choi. I wrote this near last season's end:

Choi is perfect as a sleeper. He has disappointed teams since 2001 after appearing in Baseball America's Top Ten for the Cubs. With that kind of disappointment history, there will be very few teams in anyone's league who have not suffered at Choi's hands - the team that originally drafted him in the minor league draft, the team he was dealt to in a bail trade, the team that obtained him in another bail trade in 2003, the team that traded him again after the head injury, the team that protected him in 2004 and then traded him after his trade to LA, the team that dealt him in the off-season after his Septemebr 2005 benching, the team that protected him in 2005, the team that traded him in 2005.....Oh wait, it finally stopped with me.

Add to this the fact he has an injury-prone player in front of him on the depth charts, and one who is brand new to the position to boot. He is also getting a clean slate with a new manager. For whatever reason, his 6 HR weekend last year was not enough to get him additional ABs for Jim Tracy. The perfect storm exists for a breakout $1 sleeper!

One more point. He will be 27-years-old this year, too! As Jim Cramer says, "Buy! Buy! Buy! House of pleasure!"

The OF is a hodge podge of platoon players and injury-prone ones. This should likely keep all of them under $15 or so at the draft. The one who could obviously earn much more is JD Drew. He has great sabremetrics and that is the tease that he is. If only he stayed healthy, he would put up MVP numbers. Even in his careeer season of 2004, he only played in 145 games.

What I expect soon is for Drew's injury history to be fully reflected in his draft day price. This is around $17. When this occurs, I expect him to stay healthy for an entire season, put up $30 numbers and be a part of a successful Roto team in the same way Cliff Floyd did last season.

I consider him a good "veteran sleeper" as defined here (5th paragraph).

One point I want to make about the farm system. With the signing of Rafael Furcal for three seasons, Joel Guzman's chances of playing SS in the majors are gone. Where he plays is in the air right now, but I'd guess the OF offers the fastest route given the hodge podge of one-year/platoon players they have there right now. The earliest I can see him being recalled in late this summer.

In the bullpen, I love Danys Baez - not because I think he will close with Gagne there but because he offers a great play on a cheap closer for 2007. Growing the love are the recent reports that Gagne is throwing already and looks like he will be ready for Opening Day. That keeps Baez under $10, and I am all over that!

Monday, January 30, 2006

San Francisco Giants

With a 39-year-old and 41-year-old starting outfielder, there seems to be a great opportunity to grab a back-up OF for a $1 and wait for an injury. Jason Ellison looks like the best to grab for Roto purposes.

Felipe Alou gave him 352 ABs last year and that level of comfort makes Ellison the top back-up OF to draft. When in doubt, always pick the player whom the manager has already demonstrated a willingness to play. Fortunately, Ellison's speed makes him valuable regardless.

The more intirguing youth play is Dan Ortmeier. He hit 20 HR and stole 35 bases for AA Norwich last season. Whether he can surpass 40-year-old Steve Finley and 28-year-old youngster, Jason Ellison, in Alou's pecking order remains to be seen, but if he makes the Opening Day squad, draft him for a $1 and wait.

If he does not play, he will likely be the player sent down, as a 6th OF would be somewhat superfluous. Recognizing this likelihood of playing or being sent down early in the season allows a Roto team to also open a roster spot early in the year when contributing players can still be had in the pool.

I'd like to recommend the back-up infielder because Vizquel is old and Durham is brittle, but Jose Vizcaino is not worth anything. Ignoring him is of no detriment to a Roto team. However, the Giants have a top prospect, Marcus Sanders, who would be a must-grab the moment he is recalled. Unfortunately, he just finished his first full season in Low A. However, a successful 2006 split between High A and AA makes him a favorite going into 2007 when the Giants will be in a major rebuilding phase. (I first mentioned him here.) His speed and on-base skills should allow him to be a quality middle infielder right away.

On the mound there should not be any surprises, but I would like to recommend Armando Benitez in the bullpen. I know he is well-known but his reputation is worse than his performance. As such, he should be valued less than the other top NL closer like Billy Wagner, Trevor Hoffman, Eric Gagen and Jason Isringhausen.

His 2005 season stats should reinforce that perception, but I want to point out that he was excellent in his late August return from the hamstring tear. Use those numbers to determine his value. (My initial reactions to his late August return are here and here.)

Mike Piazza

After 600+ words on the Padres 2006 catchers, Piazza signs with them.

He is clearly their best offensive option. The question is whether his defense and health allow him to get 110 games played.

If they do, then he will be one of the top hitting NL catchers.

PETCO is notoriously pro-pitcher, but the RCF fence in being moved in from 411 to 400. It is too early to tell how that will affect its reputation but a spike in Padre power will go a ways towards changing it. And given Piazza's power to RCF, the move may not hinder him at all.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

San Diego Padres

Thank you to Baseball Musings for linking to my Coco Crisp post yesterday. It made a beautiful 55+ degree late January day even better. Thank you again to Dave and to all the readers who came over. Keep coming back. Or better said, I hope to keep you coming back.

If the season were to begin today, the Padres would be starting 35-year-old career back-up Doug Mirabelli at catcher. I have liked him over the past few seasons as he filled a #2 catcher slot with a handful of HR in very minimal ABs.

When a back-up I like for Roto purposes gets dealt to a club where he will get the opportunity to play regularly, it usually gets me excited. I quickly pro-rate his numbers to get a back-of-the-envelope idea of how he will do. In this case, I could only wonder why SD "threw away" Mark Loretta.

After examining Doug Mirabelli's professional careeer, I wish he had stayed in Boston. The good feelings I had towards him would have remained unexamined. Unfortunately, that can no longer be the case.

My first reaction was how long he has been in the majors - seven full seasons and parts of three others. The next was the minimal amount of ABs he has received - the next time he gets 400 ABs will be the first time! The third was who is going to split the catching duties with him.

And things got uglier! Rototimes lists Dave Ross as his back-up with Todd Greene behind him and Pete LaForest behind him. Ross excited Roto teams looking for that minimal AB catcher who could contribute since his 10 HR 124 AB performance in 2003. Since then, he hasn't combined to hit 10 HR in 330 ABs.

Todd Greene is that minimal AB catcher though. He hit 7 HR in 125 ABs last year and 10 in each the prior seasons before that. Unfortunately, his defense is not good. This means he is not a viable back-up to an even older starting catcher who will likely need to sit half the time.

Pete LaForest is younger than any of the others and is closest to any succesful season - last year's AAA one with the Durham Bulls where he hit 21 HRs in 270 ABs. He has consistently hit 15 or so HRs each season. He looks to be the best of the 2006 options - as long as expectations are kept low.

More strategically, one should attempt to discern why Padres management would put this group of players behind the plate. (A Mike Piazza signing does nothing to change this analysis.)

With this group of mediocrity, one must interpret this as a signal there is something better on the way. At AA, one of the Padres top propects is catcher George Kottaras, a 22-year-old OBP machine. His 2004 .415 OBP in Low A was followed by a .393 one in 2005 between High A and AA. His power is somewhat low (11 HR last year), but he is young enough to still develop more, especially given the physical and mental rigors of his position.

For a guess as to how he may develop, I cannot help seeing the statistical similarity between Kottaras and Ramon Hernandez. Both are at the same level at the same age and with simialr SLG. Kottaras's walk totals are slightly better. More inportantly, though, is Hernandez wasn't a Roto asset until his 3rd full season. (I recognize 15/60 for a catcher is good but a .254 AVG in 450 ABs is not. 2001 was also a year with no steroid testing whatsoever.)

With the slew of old guys the Padres have brought in, I have little doubt Kottaras is going to get another full-season to develop before getting a clear shot at the starting role in 2007. If Mike Piazza is signed, then this timetable is a lock. But he may not be a valuable Roto catcher until a season or two later.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Coco Crisp trade

The Red Sox needed a CF and the Indians had one playing out of position with no 3B propsects ready to step-in after 2006. Coco Crisp for Andy Marte is a perfect match.

The teams swapped right-handed relievers with the Sawx getting the younger one (Dave Riske) and back-up catchers with the Indians getting the better one (Kelly Shoppach.)

With Victor Martinez cemented as one of the best offensive catchers, why did the Indians get a catching prospect who looks ready for his major-league chance? Shoppach will be 26 shortly after the season starts while VMart is going to play all of the 2006 season as a 27-year-old. There is no room for Shoppach.

If you recall where Shoppach was going last July, then it begins to make sense. A three-team trade was set to occur where Larry Bigbie would go to Boston, Eric Byrnes to Baltimore and.... Kelly Shoppach to Colorado!

Given the wisdom Indians GM Mark Shapiro has shown the past two off-seasons in refusing to overpay for targeted free agents, I believe he obtained Shoppach to flip him to a team for an outfielder or 1B. And what better place than the team that already tried to get him - the Colorado Rockies!

Do the Rockies have any spare corner outfielders or 1B? Of course they do! I mentioned OF Jeff Salazar and 1B Ryan Shealy just yesterday. One could also include Cory Sullivan and Brad Hawpe, too, but I suspect Sharpiro would prefer OFers Salazar or Hawpe to Sullivan as one has better OBP skills and the other has more power and hits from the left side of the plate!

But for a catcher with no chance of playing, any inexpensive OF would make this an incredibly astute move.

If you run your Roto team the same way, you're clearly at the top of the game. Adding bit pieces to trades in order to flip them for better ones down the road is the mark of champion players!.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Colorado Rockies

Here is a team in which every hitter and their back-up is drafted every season, and every pitcher with the exception of the closer goes undrafted.

As a result, most people would say there is almost never a sleeper anywhere on the roster. And if one emerges, every Roto site and Rotopundit immediately covers him to the extent that he is known by everyone.

(My take on the Colorado closer is contained here. My take on any Colorado reliever who does well is contained in this post about Tim Harikkala last June.)

I disagree. A couple/three slee....players to note are Ryan Shealy, Jeff Salazar (covered previously here and here respectively) and Josh Wilson.

Shealy may make the roster this spring. He is a good end-of-draft player. He has the chance to be this year's Ryan Howard - a blocked 1B prospect who gets a chance to play due to an unforseen injury to a stud 1B. Amongst all the bench players on the Rockies, he is far and away the most attractive one. However, this is well-known.

Jeff Salazar is a very deep sleeper. At the time I blogged him last July, he was the next CF. His AAA experience was not great. However, he did draw 76 walks on the season, which is consistent with his previous two seasons, and that is clearly better than anything current CF Cory Sullivan will do. He also hit 12 HR and stole 17 bases between AA/AAA. With a demonstrated willingness to take pitches, he could be in Colorado before the summer begins if Sullivan does not improve.

Another player of note is Josh Wilson. He was tossed away by the Marlins despite the complete lack of middle infield depth. That is a caveat that must be remembered. That aside, he put up intriguing numbers the past two season in the minors - 15 HR 14 SB in 2004 and 17 and 17 in 2005. With the Colorado air, these are the types of numbers that make a team take notice.

He is currently behind Luis Gonzalez who has spent the past two seasons with the Rockies serving as a good utilty player. As a result, Wilson does not have much chance of displacing him this Spring. However, Wilson was a more powerful minor leaguer with better SB and walks than Gonzalez. I can see him grabbing 250+ ABs with the Rockies and matching Gonzalez's HR/SB numbers.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Arizona Diamondbacks

With a minor league system stacked with postion propsects ready to play in 2006 - Carlos Quentin, Chris Young and Stephen Drew along with Conor Jackson, the Diamondbacks look ready to build a dynasty over the next 5 years. With such players, the onerous contract of Russ Ortiz is subsumed by the under-market value contracts of the postion players.

Usually, a player with a starting job is worth $10 or so at any draft. In the Diamondback's case, two starters, Craig Counsell and Eric Byrnes, may not be worth much more than a few bucks due to the the impending ascension of the the team's top prospects.

Craig Counsell has put together back-to-back good Roto seasons (17 and 26 SBs). I am not a fan of scrappy, non-Roto-contributing 300+ ABs players, but I am almost ready to concede Counsell has made it past that characterization. Almost. With the presence of Stephen Drew in the minors and 2005 Gold Glove 2B Orlando Hudson, I see Counsell's value dropping from a mid-teens range on Opening Day to nothing the moment Drew is recalled. There will be nowhere for him to play. As such, I'd get rid of him if I had him while he still has apparent value.

Eric Byrnes was a huge disappointment last season following his 20/73/17/.283 2004 campaign. Why he dropped off is hard to determine. Was is the new performance-enhancement/recovery policy? Was it the elimination of Vioxx? Did the years of hard-nosed play finally catch-up to the 29-year-old? It will not matter if he bounces back because he will lose his job the moment either Carlos Quentin or Chris Young is recalled.

On the mound, the D'backs are hurting. Does Brandon Webb thrive as the #1 or does he pitch like he did in 2004 when he last held the role? I know his ERA was good but that WHIP was God awful for 200+ innings, and he only won 7 games to boot. He was an anchor through the bottom of the boat for Roto staffs. My guess is he does not regress back to that level. The season sticks out like a sore thumb. As he is still young and his other two seasons are similar, I feel comfortable projecting him to match last season.

Russ Ortiz? He shouldn't have been pitching in the majors last year but for the $33 million contract he signed. He should be out of baseball based on last season. Crickets won't be present when his name is called at the draft.

Miguel Batista is intriguing. After successfully closing for the Jays last season, he has to be considered the back-up closer behind Jose Velverde. He could slip under the radar on Draft Day because he will be in the rotation, and I am sure there will be sufficient quotes from him and his manager saying that is where he wants to stay. But he is getting older (35 on Opening Day) and his arm may not withstand starting every 5th day. Grab him but recognize he may be a detriment as a starter if his arm cannot hold-up. As soon as he moves to the bullpen, his value should improve.

The Mets

Minaya Hits the Talk-Radio Circuit, and Rolls With Most of the Punches - New York Times

I do believe he is focused on adding Hispanic players to the Mets team and using non-Hispanic players to get them.

To quote the article:

Since becoming general manager in September 2004, Minaya has been straightforward in proclaiming his desire to see the Mets become a popular brand name in Hispanic communities inside and outside of New York and for the Mets to be seen as a desirable destination for Hispanic stars.

Dealing proven starting pitchers for journeymen middle relievers is not wise. Then trying to acquire another Hispanic starting pitcher, Jose Contreras, only feeds the beast.

I try to separate my political/societal views from my Roto ones. And if the market is selling Hispanic players cheap, then the Mets are very wise to take advantage. Just as any Roto owner is wise to do the same.

Personally, I don't think Minaya is obtaining Hispanic players at a discount. Heck, I don't think he has any business running a team. How are Grady Sizemore and Cliff Lee doing?

What I don't do is jump to the accusation that Minaya's actions are racist. He has a plan that is politically incorrect, but it is a wise one as the Mets home market is increasing Hispanic and catering to them makes good sense.

What I am willing to say that others seems to dance around is, in fact, he is doing it. I just don't mind. Yet.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Jim Cramer

I know he isn't a baseball player. I listen to a recording of his show every afternoon on the train ride home. (Yes, it is a day late but you can't benefit from his advice unless you can buy before the market opens as each rec seems to pop 10% immediately upon the open.)

Anyhow, yesterday he sold Dannon based on a report in USA Today that said twice as many Americans ate yogurt once a week compared to ten years prior. (No pop but 10X normal daily volume.)

What struck me about this was the spur-of-the-moment quality of the recommendation. It was as if he had run out of good stocks and needed something. Voila! A yogurt story that can plausibly be tied to demographic trends. (A problem with yogurt is there is not a big gap between premium brands like Dannon and off-brand names. Best-of-breed means little with easy substitution.)

The same thing happens with Roto posts. There are times when nothing is bubbling to the top of my Roto mind. Normally, this is more a function of distraction than writer's block. I am always thinking of baseball and Roto implications. When I need to focus, a quick perusal of a roster usually brings me back to what is important - Rotisserie baseball. And to whatever trade proposal I am thinking of offering or accepting.

And the point of this is.......

Pitching Prospects

John Sickels followed up his hitting prospect question with a pitching one.

While I usually disregard very low level pitchers, I take notice of great strikeouts. If those numbers do not drop off the following season, then I watch the pitcher more closely.

However, I do not trust young pitchers to maintian their dominance and health as they climb the organizational ladder. When one does, he becomes a contender. Unfortunately, this method means it takes a pitcher a few years to reach that level.

Because I scout minor league players for Roto purposes, I also tend to shy away from minor league pitchers because they rarely help a Roto team while gaining major league experience. Because 3 of the 4 hitting categories are counting ones, anything a young hitter does in HRs, RBIs and SBs contributes and the negative effects on AVG is not as large due to a Roto team having more players and thus more team ABs.

For pitchers, ERA and WHIP are the major concern. If a rookie starter throws 150 innings with 4.50 ERA and 1.40 WHIP, those innings will represent 12-15% of the teams innings whereas 400 ABs from a young hitter may only represent half that.

As a result, I am likely to take a hitter after a good low A season but will take a pitcher only after a very good AA season.

Milwaukee Brewers

The Brewers are this year's Cleveland Indians. With strength across the board and a slew of young players, the Brew Crew are the new black.

Brady Clark is an interesting player. My gut tells me he is primed to get hurt. He will be 33 and playing a demanding position (CF). Last season, his ability to steal bases disappeared, too (10 for 23. I'm not an anti-SB sabremetrician, but even I can see he had no business running.) I can't help being lead to conclude that the legs are going fast.

His OBP was good last season and that will keep some critical eyes off his performance, but even there, I am concerned. He walked 53 times in 353 ABs in 2004. In 599 2005 ABs, he walked 48 times. One would have expected more walks. Interestingly, his strikeouts were equally odd. In 2004, he struck out 48 times and only 55 times in 2005.

Given these conflicting indicators, I expect Clark to disappoint.

The Brewers acquired David Bush in the Lyle Overbay trade. If Mike Maddux is as good a pitching coach as I am led to believe, then Bush is ready to breakout this season. He had great AL WHIPs the past two seasons, 1.23 and 1.25, respectively, and he did this with an increased 2005 workload (136 innings vs 97 innings). A move to the NL will only help him as he no longer has to face the Dave Ortizs and Jason Giambis at DH. I expect his strikeouts to increase accordingly. (Not that it matters in 4X4.)

Along with Chuck James and Sidney Ponson, I have David Bush in my top pitching sleepers.

Previously, I had covered JJ Hardy and Nelson Cruz. My thoughts on both have remained unchanged.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Minor League Ball :: Offensive Skills: Hitting for Average, Hitting for Power, Controlling the Strike Zone

Minor League Ball :: Offensive Skills: Hitting for Average, Hitting for Power, Controlling the Strike Zone

An interesting question is being posed over at John Sickels's site. He asks what stat one looks at when trying to evaluate those players at the very lowest levels of competition.

When I look at a rookie-level propsect, I look first for AVG. If it is good, then I put him on the radar. My reasoning is a player comes from an environment where hitting the ball is most important and it should be a skill already present. If he can't catch up with a fastball at the lowest levels, then he won't go very far as a hitter.

If the AVG is high I will look at bases-on-balls and note whether it is decent. However, high AVG players often have fewer walks than their AVG indicates because they are hitting the balls they swing at versus swinging and missing.

Mike Piazza

New York Daily News - Baseball - MLB Roundup: Yanks pass on Piazza; Bonds out of Classic

The Yanks passed on Piazza because Bernie Williams could be a better DH? Or maybe Kelly Stinnett is a better back-up catcher?

My guess is the Yanks passed because Piazza wants too much money. It is the only reason to pass on him.

Oh, wait. I forgot about Joe Torre's man crush on Bernie Williams.

Pittsburgh Pirates

The Pirates are going as far as their starting pitching will take them, and it seems management is expecting that to be far. After all, it did nothing to address the starting rotation but pluck discarded Victor Santos from the Brewers in the Rule 5 Draft. The worry is he wasn't helped by up-and-coming pitching coach stud Mike Maddux while everyone else on that staff was.

Zach Duke seems to be a very hot property entering this season. I heard a commentator on XM Radio's Fantasy Focus show say he would bid up to $20 on him at a draft. I hope he is correct, but I am more inclined towards labelling that irrational exurberance.

Duke had a tremendous ERA (1.81) and a decent WHIP (1.20) with mediocre strikeouts (6 per 9 innings) and mediocre walks (2.44 per 9 innings). These are not the kind of peripherals I'd expect from a 1.81 ERA. Nor is that type of ERA I'd expect from a 1.20 WHIP. That WHIP puts him in the high 3s for ERA.

And no pitcher with a high 3s ERA is worth $20. (If this were a 5X5, 130 ks in 200 innings isn't either!) Temper your expectations if you have Duke or plan to draft him. Better yet, take advantage of the exuberance and deal him as if he could be a $20 pitcher on the Pirates.

The bullpen looks like it will be headed by Mike Gonzalez. Salomon Torres and Roberto Hernandez could be in the mix, too, and this bears watching. While Billy Wagner is a stud, I always have reservations with lefty closers, and given Gonzalez is no Billy Wagner, my reservations are greater than usual.

One reservation is specific to MGonz and the other is a generality. Specifically, MGonz walked a lot of hitters last season, and this is completely out of line with his professional numbers. I have concerns about his knee injury. Another consideration is the new managers past decisions. After Jim Tracy's experience with Yhancy Brazoban blowing up last season , I would not expect him to stick with MGonz if he walks batters at the same rate.

The generality concerning lefty closers is the unfavorable match-ups presented by predominantly right-handed hitters. A corollary of that is the availabilty of quality right-handed pinch hitters. This always leads me towards betting on the righty reliever to close. If Hernandez maintians his form from last season, I consider him the favorite to back-up MGonz. After all, Pittsburgh fans are accustomed to old righty relievers closing.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Jason Michaels

Philadelphia Inquirer 01/23/2006 Phillies' Michaels may go to Indians for relief pitcher

The Phils ask for Wang from the Yankees and accept a 36-year-old Arthur Rhodes for Michaels?

While I don't think a powerless back-up CF is worth much more than middle reliever, I do think the Phils were asking the moon from the Yankees.

In Cleveland, Michaels may not get many more ABs than he did with the Phils so I am not willing to say there will be any improvement over his 2005 stats. Adn even if there were, his power production was so low, it wouldn't make much difference. So his HR improve by 75%? BFD. 4 HR or 7 HR is worth the same.

Cincinnatti Reds

My first reaction to writing anything about the Reds is to yawn. Has there been a less exciting team this off-season? Have you looked at their pitching?

Even if Adam Dunn, Wily Mo Pena and Austin Kearns have career years, this team will be luycky to reach .500. Rototimes lists Aaron Harang at the top of the rotation. He was Roto good last year posting a 3.83 ERa and 1.27 WHIP, but Roto and real life sometimes diverge and this could be one of those times. I notice his strikeout rate remained the same and his walk rate went way down. More balls were put in play and his ERA and WHIP improved? I am sure there is a massaged number out there explaining this in a positive way. My intuition says this was luck.

At least one of the Dunn/Kearns/Pena trio will have a career year, and given full-time ABs and levels already established by Dunn, Pena and Kearns seem most likely, but the two may combine for 400 strikeouts on the season.

The bullpen is manned by David Weathers and other equally non-descript pitchers. Weathers will close until something better comes along or he is traded. I know the Rotocommentariat will be drooling over Clevelands Fernando Cabrera and opining Wickman should be traded, but the closer who will be dealt first is David Weathers. He is more a workhorse middle reliever than one inning type, and this is always in demand.

The question is who closes when he leaves? Rotoworld's Todd Coffey? He doesn't strikeout anyone and gives up a lot of hits, too. Is a lead safe at Cynergy Field with that profile?

Ryan Wagner? He strikes out more batters than Coffey but appears just as hittable. However, he did begin last season as if he were going to actually live up to the hype, but he was then inujured and came back ineffective.

I don't know who the back-up closer is, but I advise watching closely. At the very least, you should take a flyer on a Reds reliever and hope to get lucky.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Houston Astros

Currently, the Astros are hoping Jeff Bagwell faces the fact that he is done. This will lead to insurance picking up $15+ million of the $17 million owed to him in 2006. The question is why Bagwell would want to put himself above the team. I always thought he was such a team-first guy.

Regardless, I do not think he has any value this year. He is done and will not seriously impede the ABs of any of the OF or Lance Berkman.

The bullpen is the area of most importance right now. With Lidge in trade rumors, do not be surprised to see him dealt. The Astors did it with Octavio Dotel in 2004 when the were confident Lidge was ready, and I expect them to do it to Lidge when they are convinced either Chad Qualls or Dan Wheeler is ready.

After all, the curtain of untradability has been raised on Lidge. This will make it easier to deal him as management has now dealt hypothetically with such an previously inconceivable idea.

Think about it as if you had an untouchable member of your Roto team. You do not think there is any way you could see yourself dealing him. Then you get an offer that makes you reconsider. Once that has been done, you can see other possibilities with other teams. Before you know it, you have dealt that player.

While I do not like taking mutliple relievers from the same bullpen (I feel there is a reduction in gaining Ws), grabbing Wheeler and Qualls is a good risk. Both should be cheap, and neither will hurt your team. And one of them will close if Lidge is dealt. My guess is Wheeler because his numbers are slightly better - more strikeouts, fewer walks.

On the farm, Josh Anderson looks like the same player Wily Taveras is - speed and no power with minimal OBP skills. If he makes the team, he will be a good $1 source of double digit steals. Just remember he will not provide anything in HR/RBI. If Taveras is dealt or mentioned in trade rumors, it is for this reason - Anderson can step right in and do the same thing.

Kris Benson Trade

Given the market for #3-#4 quality starting pitchers, this is a good trade for the Orioles. (Yes, I believe getting Anna Benson is a positive, too!) Kris Benson should match the ratios of Esteban Loaiza, signed by the A's for $22MM. This does not mean I think Benson will be worth much more than a few dollars. The wildcard is how well Leo Mazzone works with his pitchers facing DHs and not other pitchers.

The Mets get Jorge Julio and John Maine. I like Maine's potential more than I like Julio as a middle reliever. Following the 2003 season, Maine was considered a top pitching prospect for the O's. He struck out 185 in 147 innings. He followed that performance with 139 Ks in 138 innings mostly at AAA. That led to a brief, and bitter, cup of coffee with the O's.

In 2005, he struggled at AAA (4.56 ERA but still struck out 111 in 128) and in a quarter season's worth of starts with Baltimore (8 starts 6.30 ERA 24 K/24 walks in 40 innings.) Given this was only his first shot at extended exposure, I will not right him off as "failed."

As a matter of fact, the move the Shea could lead to him replacing Heilman in middle relief. With managed exposure in the bullpen, I can see an explosion in performance like Heilman demonstrated last season. I have not added him to my list of major sleeper pitchers (currently consisting of Chuck James and Sidney Ponson), but he is definitely on my watch-carefully list.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

David Wright vs Chase Utley

Another player who is similar to David Wright is Chase Utley. Last season, Utley went 28/105/16/.291 with a .375 OBP and a .540 SLG.. Both players had similar 2004 seasons, too! I am going to say they are the same player.

Given a choice in 2006, whom would you choose? The 23-year-old 3B or the 27 year-old 2B?

Tough call. A look at the available players at their respective positions may help. The one who plays at a position with less depth would be the one to choose. However, even this does not mean one will be better than the other in 2006. It does mean that a team could have one of them with a better player at the other position.

The top NL 3B are Scott Rolen, Chipper Jones, Aramis Ramirez, Morgan Ensberg, Miguel Cabrera (if he actually stays at 3B this year), and Chad Tracy. At the next tier exist Ryan Zimmerman, Joe Randa, Cory Koskie, Bill Hall, Bill Mueller, and Garret Atkins

The top NL 2B are Alphonso Soriano and Jeff Kent. The next tier at this position consists of Craig Biggio, Jose Vidro, Richie Weeks, Ryan Freel, Jose Castillo, Orlando Hudson and Ray Durham. (Weeks go very well be top tier.)

Using position depth the choice is Utley. This may be counter to popular opinion, but that does not make it incorrect. If you have Wright and could get Utley+ for him, do it.

Also, recall Utley split time with Placido Polanco for the first couple months. He will get more plate appearances this season.

Friday, January 20, 2006

David Wright vs Jeremy Hermida

Over at Rotoauthority, there is quite a debate going on about Tim's projection for Jeremy Hermida that has gotten into a scrap about how much better David Wright is than, reading the hyperbole correctly, every player in the whole frickin' world!

My hyperbole aside, a comparison of two based on their professional career is useful.

David Wright is one year older so a fair compariosn would be Hermida's 2006 vs Wright's 2005 season. If JH comes close to Wright's 2005 performance (27/102/17 .388/.523), then JH will be better. That, however, is quite a bar to reach.

Wright has also been the better player from day one of their repsective careers. His HR totals progressed from 4 to 11 ot 15 to 32 to 27. Hermida's are lower starting at 0 to 6 to 10 to 22 to ??? in his year 22 season.

Hermida does appear to have more patience at the plate as demonstrated by the 117 walks he took last season. Wright's walk totals are not bad but come nowhere close to 100. He could increase though as pitcher's begin to respect his ability more and more.

Hermida's walk total is eye-popping considering he accumulated that with only 427 official ABs. Wright has accomplished his offensive feats with 575 ABs last season and 600 the year before. Based on this, I can see Hermida approaching Wright's power levels if he progresses at the same rate he has in the minors. Hermida also appears to be a much smarter base runner than Wright being caught just 10 times in 77 attempts compared to Wright's 25 times in 112 attempts.

While Wright is certainly the better player right now, I would not be surprised to see Hermida match him and be relatively better value in Rotisserie baseball.

St Louis Cardinals

The Cardinals signed Juan Encarnacion and Larry Bigbie to replace Larry Walker and Reggie Sanders. I don’t think there will be too much of a downgrade there given the injury history of Sanders and Walker. Both replacements should be good for 15 HR/70 RBI with averages in the .280 area. Either could also swipe 10 or so bases.

Braden Looper moved from the closing role with the Mets to the set-up man with the Cards. He won’t close barring injury to Isringhausen, but he should definitely be drafted, as he is the clear-cut back-up. A bid of $4 or $5 is not unreasonable, but I expect $1 or $2 to be more likely. Just keep in mind that he did close for the past three seasons.

I like Sidney Ponson. He has said he is controlling his alcohol issues. That is the single most important factor in determining whether he is worth owning. As long as no news breaks that he has fallen off the wagon, I would be very comfortable adding him to my team for a $1 or $2. The move from the floundering Orioles to the winning Cardinals should also positively contribute to a good season.

Anthony Reyes is the top prospect and should be considered at $1 or $2 if he makes the team out of Spring Training. His strikeout/walk ratio is about 4:1. While that will likely decrease at the major league level, LaRussa and Duncan will use him judiciously. I do not expect superstar performance, but would not be surprised to see a Jason Marquis-esque performance (4.25/1.35/10W).

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Bruce Chen

He had a breakout season last year for the Orioles.

I wonder if the addition of Leo Mazzone will improve on that?

Or was there something wrong with Mazzone's coaching back when Chen was a Braves prospect that caused Chen to falter?

NL Catchers

A quick perusal of the starting catchers in the NL:

ATL: Brian McCann
NYM: Paul LoDuca
WAS: Brian Schneider
FLA: Miguel Olivo
PHI: Mike Lieberthal

STL: Yadier Molina
HOU: Brad Ausmus
CHC: Michael Barrett
PIT: Humberto Cota
CIN: Jason Larue
MLW: Damian Miller

ARZ: Johnny Estrada
SND: Doug Mirabelli
LAD: Dioner Navarro
COL: Yorvit Torrealbla
SFR: Mike Matheny

The most striking thing in that list is the fact I do not see a single one that would go more than $10 or $11. Heck, the best NL catcher this season may be Florida's Josh Willingham. Pittsburgh's Ryan Doumit may be right near the top, too.

The most powerful one on the list is Jason LaRue and what should he go for? $9? $10? $15? $15 for Jason LaRue would be nuts!

The difference in performance from the top to the bottom is not so great that any team should be compelled to bid up any one of them in order to ensure production from catcher.

Whether you talk up this dearth in order to get other teams to overpay for catchers via trade or bid is another issue.

Chicago Cubs

The Cubs signed veteran OFers John Mabry and Marquis Grissom. This is not a good sign for Matt Murton. I have no faith in Dusty Baker to reign in his proclivity towards playing “veterans” over younger players.

At 2B, Todd Walker is the most accomplished, by far, hitter available and he bats from the left side. There are two ways he doesn’t get 400+ ABs with the Cubs this season – a trade or Dusty can’t stop himself from playing Neifi Perez at 2B because Ronny Cedeno is at SS.

Well, couldn’t Dusty play Perez at SS over Ronny Cedeno? Yes and that is the scenario most likely to occur if the Cubs roster does not change. (I examined Cedeno last season here.)

So if GM Jim Hendry wants Cedeno playing, he had better trade Todd Walker or fire Dusty Baker.

Rich Hill stormed through the minors last season striking out 194 in 132 innings and bombed in a brief appearance with the Cubs, but his dominating strikeout numbers are too hard to write-off - 9.00+ ERA in 23 major league innings be damned! It is that horrendous showing that should keep Hill in the $1 range on draft day. If he bombs, the Cubs will send him back to AAA, and you will have a $1 prospect on reserves.

Washington Nationals

Alphonso Soriano. If he refuses to play the OF, what will Washington do? Try to trade him for pennies on the dollar, and Bowden is not going to get a Brad Wilkerson back. Say hello to Victor Zambrano!

Force him into the OF and watch him struggle to hit homeruns in RFK? That will get very ugly. Say hello to whomever is the 5th starter in San Diego!

Playing him at 2B seems to be the only way Alphonso stays a happy Nat. That is complicated by the presence of Jose Vidro and his $20+ million contract. This is an ugliness that was entirely avoidable because Soriano said from the get go he wasn't moving to the OF. Why did Bowden get him? And how is that not a firable offense?

With Soriano in the infield, the OF is Jose Guillen, Marlon Byrd and Ryan Church with Michael Tucker serving as the across-the-field 4th OF. I liked Byrd a long time ago, and for a handful of dollars, I would gamble on a return to his rookie performance levels.

Ryan Church looks to be the most likely to get the most OF ABs outside of Guillen. He had a very promising rookie campaign cut short by injury, and this year he will only get better.

In the infield, I can see Bernie Castro and Damian Jackson contributing enough speed to make them useful 14th or 15th hitters. Keep on eye on Castro as he demonstrated very good stealing skills last season between AAA and the Orioles (47 of 55).

RFK will serve to have all the Washington starting pitchers drafted. Patterson's numbers cannot be ignored, but that aside, I am not sold on any of the other pitchers.

The bullpen is Chad Cordero, but the ballpark should keep the others members attractive as roster filler. What I would not expect is a similar number of wins. The team was involved in too many close games. This season the tables may turn, and the Nats could lose those close ones instead of Ayala winning them and Cordero saving them. Yes, the means I do not see Cordero saving 40+.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Washington Nationals

Alphonso Soriano. If he refuses to play the OF, what will Washington do? Try to trade him for pennies on the dollar, and Bowden is not going to get a Brad Wilkerson back. Say hello to Victor Zambrano!

Force him into the OF and watch him struggle to hit homeruns in RFK? That will get very ugly. Say hello to whomever is the 5th starter in San Diego!

Playing him at 2B seems to be the only way Alphonso stays a happy Nat. That is complicated by the presence of Jose Vidro and his $20+ million contract. This is an ugliness that was enitrely avaoidable because Soriano said from the get go he wasn't moving to the OF. Why did Bowden get him? And how is that not a firable offense?

With Soriano in the infield, the OF is Jose Guillen, Marlon Byrd and Ryan Church with Michael Tucker serving as the across-the-field 4th OF. I liked Byrd a long time ago, and for a handful of dollars, I would gamble on a return to his rookie performance levels.

Ryan Church looks to be the most likely to get the most OF ABs outside of Guillen. He had a very promising rookie campaign cut short by injury, and this year he will only get better.

In the infield, I can see Bernie Castro and Damian Jackson contributing enough speed to make them useful 14th or 15th hitters. Keep on eye on Castro as he demonstrated very good stealing skills last season between AAA and the Orioles (47 of 55).

RFK will serve to have all the Washington starting pitchers drafted. Patterson's numbers cannot be ignored, but that aside, I am not sold on any of the other pitchers.

The bullpen is Chad Cordero, but the ballpark should keep the others members attractive as roster filler. What I would not expect is a similar number of wins. The team was involved in too many close games. This season the tables may turn, and the Nats could lose those close ones instead of Ayala winning them and Cordero saving them. Yes, the means I do not see Cordero saving 40+.

More on Baez

This weekend Baez said he will sign next year as a closer. This recalls my advice on Ueggy Urbina this past season - a premium can be paid on Baez for his 2007 season.

How high should one go on him at draft time? A typical middle reliever/back-up closer should go for $1-$7 depending on how solid the solid closer is. Eric Gagne is questionable coming off elbow surgery.

A closer will go for $20-$35 depending, again, on how solidly he holds the job. A Joe Borowski may only aspire to the low end of $20. Brad Lidge would be at the high end. I would place Baez in the middle at $27.

Simply giving equal weight to his back-up closer value in 2006 and his 2007 closer value, you arrive at a 2006 draft price of $17.

I can't see many teams, myself included, going that high if Gagne is looking good by Spring's end, but I can see myself spending $11 or so.

Philadelphia Phillies

The Phillies are set at every position except 3B and C, and the 2nd stringers are no good, Abraham Nunez and Sal Fasano, respectively.

The Phils still need to add a top of the rotation starter. In order to do this, they are going to have to deal Abreu or Burrell. Otherwise, no one will dislodge Myers or Lieber from the top.

Cole Hamels has been ranked by Baseball America as the organization’s top prospect. Normally, this would keep him off my sleeper lists, but I hear John Sickels comment last week on XM Radio’s Fantasy Focus (channel 175) on the number of HRs he has allowed in his injury-shortened professional career – two in 117 career innings! Both totals are staggering.

Do not be surprised to see Hamels rushed this season. I can see him filling in the back of the rotation or being a major contributor in the bullpen. (Who closes if Gordon’s arm falls off? Hmmmm)

Monday, January 16, 2006

Florida Marlins

The open tryouts for the Marlins begin soon. I have touched on Mike Jacobs, 2B, Wes Helms, and Jeremy Hermida (many times but the latest here).

Joe Borowski looks like the closer entering the Spring. Travis Bowyer has the peripheral stat (strikeouts) but experience will likely win out. Why? Because their closer can be flipped at the trading deadline. This means if Borowski falters, Bowyers won’t be the immediate successor. The Marlins will likely try another veteran like Kerry Ligtenberg.

The Marlins landed Hanley Ramirez from the Red Sox in the Beckett. I had soured on him prior to his relocation, but I have to keep an open mind now that he will be forced into full-time duty. If he can hit 5-10 HR and steal 10+ bases, then he is a helpful Roto player. Given 500 Abs and he will.

The outfield is in flux. Hermida has locked down one spot. Miguel Cabrera was slated to move to 3B at last season’s end, but I went over the reasons why he shouldn’t when I blogged Wes Helms. If Cabrera does move to 3B, then the Marlins will still have one wide-open starting spot in the OF. Right now, it is too early to determine who is the frontrunner.

NY Mets

The Mets made more waves this off-season in acquiring slugging 1B Carlos Delgado and fireballing lefty closer Billy Wagner. Both moves are improvements over their last season counterparts. The team also traded for Paul LoDuca and traded away Mike Cameron.

Given those moves, only the RF job offers questions going into 2006. 2B is questionably manned but that is no different than the situation last season. Right now, Victor Diaz and Xavier Nady are at the top of the depth chart. Normally, one could discern and easy favorite by identifying the lefty-hitting side of the platoon. Unfortunately, both players bat from the right side.

The next level down would be defensive prowess. Neither really dazzles with the glove so the determination is still unknown.

With those easy determinants indeterminate, I will go with Victor Diaz because he is the better hitter. Also in his favor is Nady will get some starts at 1B against very tough left-handers. Given Nady’s “greater” defensive flexibility, he will more easily fall into the role of right-handed pinch-hitter/double switcher.

On the mound, the Mets do not have any questions, and with Wagner in the bullpen, there aren’t any unanswered questions either. The only issue is who would close if Wagner were to get hurt.

Aaron Heilman successfully closed at the end of last season and would have to be the favorite to do so as long as he is a member of the bullpen. Duaner Sanchez finished-up in the closer role with the Dodgers and would be the fallback option if Heilman is unavailable (hurt or in the rotation.)

If the Mets free up a rotation spot for Heilman, I like him to surprise on the upside. He will fill the role of the single digits $$ draftee who goes 3.80/1.30 with 12W – a kind of Brad Penny, Doug Davis, Chris Capuano, etc.

Lastings Milledge is their top prospect but currently resides in CF and will have to get off to a fast start in AAA to be recalled. He will also need the RF situation to be disastrous in order to force the Mets to have him open his major league career with a position change.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Atlanta Braves

The Braves look to be resigned entering the season with Chris Reitsma as the leading candidate to close. I have my doubts about any commitment to him in that role. After all, the Braves did trade for Kyle Farnsworth last season and immediately made him the closer. I am also concerned because the Reds did the same thing – took the job from him.

What also worries me is his workload over the past two seasons. He has appeared in 80 per season for the past two and his strikeouts dropped by 30% from the 2004 to 2005 season. As a Yankees' fan, I have watched Joe Torre burn through his relievers (Ramiro Mendoza, Jeff Nelson, Mike Stanton, Steve Karsay and last season, Tanyon Sturtze.) I see a giant red flag.

Who would close then? I have covered Jorge Sosa already (Most recently here.). However, GM John Schulerholz said he is not in the bullpen. Joey Devine looks to be the obvious closer-in-waiting. The Braves drafted him 27h overall last draft and recalled him after a brief stint in the minors. He didn’t look great but one can’t dismiss the Braves actions. However, he is not ready as evidenced by his high minor league WHIP in AA and AAA (1.67).

The player I like is Chuck James. While everyone talks about Framcisco Liriano leading the minors in strikeouts, lefty James was right behind him - striking out 193 in 151.1 innings with a greater than 5:1 strikeout to walk ratio. And James had more success in his as-brief September tryout (1.59 ERA vs 5.70!) I have James right at the top of my NL pitching sleepers with minimum expectations set at a quality middle reliever a la Ryan Madsen.

On offense, the OF is set in center and right field. Left field is a competition between Ryan Langerhans, Kelly Johnson and Matt Diaz. Two of these three will be fantasy contributors. Right now, I would bet Langerhans and Johnson are those two because Bobby Cox is most familiar with them. Matt Diaz had two very good seasons at AAA and may be able to help, but he will have to await his opportunity, if he gets one at all.

IF Diaz does well (and I hope so if only to pile on the incompetence of the Royals organization), I can see some ABs coming at the expense of……Jeff Francoeur! This is clearly not a popular prediction, but I am not sold on Francoeur as much as his torrid 2005 start has led others to be. His minor league plate discipline was abysmal and his power was pedestrian. He is still young, though, so a developmental leap cannot be ruled out. Let’s see how he does after the league has had an entire off-season to watch tape and see where his weaknesses reside.

I covered Brian McCann and top prospect, Jerrod Saltalamacchia here. I like both and will be interested to see how the Braves resolve it. (A trade of McCann is my gut instinct but not until 2007 or 2008 after an even split of PT.)

TB/LA Trade

A few thoughts:

TB did well to land two previously well-thought-of pitching prospects for a 31-year-old journeyman and 2007 free-agent-to-be. Conversley, why did LA trade for two middle relievers.

The closing role in TB in now an open competition. Orvella would be the favorite, but I would watch to see what the new manager does this spring. Who does he pitch in the third and fourth inning at the begining and who is finishing at the end of Spring training.

Does LA's acquistion of Baez signal that Gagne is not going to be ready?

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Texas Rangers

What defines the Rangers is their tremendous infield – Texeria, Young and Blalock (in that order.) The definition had previously included Rot stud/real-life dud, Alphonso Soriano but he was dealt to the Expos, I mean, Nationals.

And it is this trade that offers the two most intriguing players for the team, Ian Kinsler and Brad Wilkerson. (Disclaimer: Both players were high minor league draft picks of mine – Kinsler #2 overall last season and Wilkerson #3 overall 5 years ago.)

Yesterday, I listened to the Fantasy Focus show on XM Radio while strolling The Avenue of the Americas in NYC. The guest was a gentleman form the website, newbergreport.com. He lauded Kinsler as a potential 25 HR/80 RBI/.280 AVG/20 SB player. That seems excessive because it makes him a $40 Roto player in keeper leagues. I like him. I really do, but that type of performance is going to make him one of the best in Roto and that I do not see. His walk rate has not changed (one every ten ABs) and his slugging was under .500 in the AA texas League and the AAA Pacific Coats League - both considered hitter's leagues. I do see him being mentioned in ROY talks assuming he wins the job from the more experienced D'Angelo Jimenez.

Jimenez fell apart last season after posting two very promising seasons (63 BB in 2003 and 82 in 2004). He maintained his plate discipline during his AAA banishment. Do not be surprised to see him surprise. Recall the amount of PT Dave Dellucci received with his batting eye. Also keep in mind that he just turned 28.

Brad Wilkerson had a terrible year that coincided with a sterner steroid test. I do not think that is the case, but that conclusion can be sold to cast doubt upon his value. Personally, I attribute the drop to the cavernous RFK Stadium and injury. He did maintain his batting eye so I expect a rebound in Texas to the 2004 levels, and if Buck bats him in the heart of the order, I see a career year.

The Rangers spent a lot of money/players on pitching. I don’t expect Millwood to "Chan Ho Park" the Rangers and Tom Hicks, but I also do not expect him to match last season’s performance. A high 3s ERA seems reasonable to expect. I didn’t like Adam Eaton as a NL pitcher in a pitcher’s park so I can’t see myself liking him in the AL and a hitter’s park.

In the minors, the Rangers have DVD – Diamond, Volquez and Danks. In the same Fantasy Focus, the newbergreport.com gentleman said Volquez is the best amongst the three. Until Texas actually produces a good SP, I am going to pass on all of them while remembering that opinion.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Oakland A's

Given all the gushing press Oakland GM Billy Beane receives, I am not sure any player can be considered a sleeper. The first place Roto players go is Oakland to see what scrap heap player he has taken on as his latest reclamation project. The fact everyone knows to looks here makes it less likely anyone slips under the radar though.

The two players that will receive the most scrutiny are Antonio Perez and Esteban Loaiza.

One because he seemed like a typical throw-in player in a Roto trade and the other because of the enormity of the contract he signed.

Beginning with the throw-in, Antonio Perez. I have liked him since his prospect days with the Mariners through his days as part of the Piniella trade to his 2004 season in Las Vegas. I have always thought he would produce if given the chance. Last year, he hit .297 with 11 SB in 250 Abs. My confidence remains unshaken.

With that background, one would think I’d expect big things from him going to an organization that appreciates his ability, and I would if I thought there was anywhere for him to play!

The OF is clogged with Kielty, Payton, Bradley and Kotsay. The infielder is clogged with Chavez and Crosby, and Swisher and Dan Johnson have 1B/DH ABs spoken for. Never mind a torrid start in AAA by Daric Barton that could force the A’s to recall him.

The one place there could be some time is at 2B, but this is the one area I see delivering some value. Mark Ellis had a very good year last year under the guise of a scrappy middle infielder. He hit .316 with 13 HR in 400 or so Abs after missing all of 2004 with injury.

It is that lost season that will serve to keep him under priced. His 2002 and 2003 seasons led to the conclusion that he was nothing more than mediocre-hitting defender. He then missed all of 2004. When he returned, his initial impressions stuck.

That impression will be hard to kick despite last season, and the with AP acquisition, many will guess Ellis will lose time. I don’t believe he will. He has a decent glove and hit well. AP won’t be able to crack through just as Keith Ginter couldn’t last year. (Hey! Wasn’t Ginter in the same situation as AP?)

Loaiza is a strange signing. A tight-fisted organization doling out $21 million over three years for a back-of-the-rotation starter? Did someone notice something in Loaiza’s mechanics that will return him to his performance in his best season, 2003, or even to maintain his RFK-dependent numbers from last season? If so, he will be a good player.

With that possibility, he could be a decent sleeper.

Seattle Mariners

The focus of the Mariners is the players up the middle – Jeremy Reed, Yuni Betancourt and Jose Lopez. All three are good-to-great defenders, but their bats have not played well yet.

Yuni Betancourt will not hit enough in 2006, but his glove will play very well and keep him in the line-up every day. Did you like the pre-2004 Cesar Izturis? If so, go and get him, but do not wonder why your AVG won’t move up. 500+ ABs of .240 hitting is hard to overcome.

Jose Lopez is an interesting player. He was hyped as a top prospect after a great season in single A, which he followed with an equally impressive AA season in 2003 at the age of 19. But he has not lived-up to expectations in a 200 AB “audition” in 2004 or in 2005. However, he cannot be written off too quickly because he just turned 22 in November. That mean his first 200 AB audition was as a 200year-old, and his second (last season) was done as a 21-year-old.

I can see him putting up a mid-single digits HR total and a low double digits SB total. Not an anchor in the middle but a very nice complimentary player, and if you end up shut out of quality middle infielders near draft’s end, then he will be a very nice end game pick-up.

Jeremy Reed is another hyped prospect that did not live-up to his billing last season, his inaugural one. He hit .397 in a 58 AB trial at 2004 season-end. This, after tearing through the minors as a high AVG player with double digit HR and great SB totals, set expectations very high for 2005.

And he failed based on those expectations (3/45/.254/12 with 11 caught-stealing). He played Gold Glove caliber defense, though, and this will keep him in CF for 2006. As defense in not a Roto category, his 2005 numbers will determine his draft price. In no way do I believe he will be the .300/15/30 player envisioned a year ago, but I do believe he will improve, and that slight improvement will make him a viable 4th OF in a 5-man Roto OF.

The Seattle rotation will benefit from this up-the-middle quality defense and the pitcher-friendly confines of the home ballpark.

The bullpen has 2007 free-agent-to-be, Eddie Guardado, closing until he gets hurt. Right behind him are 2004 season-ending closer JJ Putz and in vogue closer-in-waiting Rafael Soriano. Right now, I’d say Putz gets first shot, but he could easily give way to Soriano. The question is how long Putz holds the role until doing so.

On the farm, I like Adam Jones to be a sleeper prospect. He is being moved from SS to CF and has made AA as a 19-year-old. Combined, he hit .297 with 15 HR and 13 SB. If he improves again, he will move into Chris Young territory, and as such, will become one of the most watched prospects in 2006.

Ronny Cedeno beware!

ChicagoSports.com - Baker fundamental about improvement

A telling quote:

"Q Speaking of trades, who's your starting second baseman, Neifi Perez or Todd Walker?

A Right now Todd Walker is our second baseman. He's here. I've heard a lot of speculation [about a trade], but right now we have about 10 weeks before we start. Let us do our thing and we'll be ready by Opening Day."

Since I have no faith that Dusty won't play Neifi Perez, it looks like Cedeno's nominal role as the starting SS is in jeopardy.

Given the Cubs lack of left-handed hitting, starting Todd Walker makes sense.

Given Neifi Perez's lack of hitting ability, starting Ronny Cedeno makes sense. Or at the very least a 2/3 playing time split in his favor for the first month or so.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

The Angels Angels of Anaheim

The Angels recently decided to move Darin Erstad back to CF and allow Casey Kotchman to start at 1B. This will give Erstad additional position flexibility on draft day (assuming you draft after the season begins). This is always a plus.

As a 1B, Erstad was no better than a $5-$11 player. His AVG was good and his SB total is excellent for the position. He also gets 60 or so RBI as a full-time player. However, the added SB does not make-up for the utter lack of power from a power position. Now that he can be moved to the OF where he slots amongst 4 other players, he is more attractive.

Casey Kotchman took a step forward in HR last season. If he can maintain that additional power (given the sample size, it could be a fluke), then I can see him being a $20+ player. What I do not see is him going for that in a draft. Mid-teens is more likely. If you can deal for him as if he is a $15 player, then go for him.

Chone Figgins is the new 3B now that Erstad has taken his position. He also has 2B and OF eligibility. However, he is no sleeper. My concerns about him always center on where he will get his ABs. This year is no different with the exception that I do not have the same degree of intensity for these concerns. (That should worry people!)

The only 25-man concern is Dallas McPherson, but he is coming off a hip injury. Given the Angels decisions so far, my guess is he will not be 100% to start the season and as such offers Figgins no immediate competition for 3B ABs. He can also share in the DH role with Juan Rivera, who had a very good season last year in 350 ABs (15 HR/59 RBI but what is with the 9 CS and 1 SB?) Here is a place of note, McPherson bats from the left side and rivers from the right. That is the wrong side of a platoon for any Juan Rivera enthusiasts.

Even if Brandon Wood takes over at 3B in 2006, I do not see Figgins getting bumped out of ABs. Adam Kennedy will, as Figgins moves over to 2B. If there is an injury in the OF, Figgins will move there, McPherson to 3B and Riveria’s ABs will be preserved at DH. However, an OF injury may be the impetus to recall Wood. If so, then the cascade of Figgins to 2B will occur and a trade of Kennedy will soon follow.

On the mound, I do not see too much change from last season with a caveat to John Lackey who may see his ERA rise to match his WHIP. Even that could be mitigated by maintenance of a 200-strikeout season.

On the farm, everyone knows about Brandon Wood and Howie Kendrick. Both should be grabbed very high in a minor league draft or as quickly as possible once recalled. Jered Weaver looks to be the first starter recalled this year. He could be good and will get a lot of attention, but he may only match Ervin Santana, who received similar attention and hype but did not do much for a Roto team in innings-weighted ERA/WHIP. His wins were great but anyone expecting him to win more than 50% of his starts again is a sucker. Only a handful of major league pitchers win 50% of their starts in a season.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Full-Valued Keepers

As a rule, I will keep full-valued players who are All-Star caliber. $36 for Ichiro or Tejada doesn't bother me. $35 for Derek Lee doesn't either.

When the salary of these players becomes prohibitive is during trades. If I am offered a $35 Derek Lee for a $2 Ryan Church, I say no. Not because I believe, in any way, that Church will match Lee, but because I immediately see the $33 difference and consider that sum enough to land another All-Star caliber hitter and have Church.

The risk question is whether I can find a player as good as Church for $2 or if I can find a player close to Lee for $33. As long as one is willing to spend money, any player can be had. (Take note voters for general manager of the year.)

Right now, Church is a nominal starter in Washington. He hit .287 with 9 HR last season in 268 ABs as a rookie. With more playing time, their is 15 HR upside with a good AVG. That is a mid-teens $$ player.

How do you get that in a draft for minimal money? Remember every team can complete for the cheapest players. Can you identify who this season's Ryan Church's will be? Can you identify who the $30+ players will be?

While that question is rhetorical, I'll answer it "no" and "yes" respectively.

Detroit Tigers

The Tigers are tough to figure. As I look over the roster, I am struck by the fact that I see lots of playing time complications for those players who broke through last season – Chris Shelton, Placido Polanco, Curtis Granderson, Nook Logan, and maybe (again) Carlos Pena. All of those players had seasons that left Roto teams wanting more.

I can’t say with conviction that is going to be satisfied. Shelton and Pena are competing for the same position. One of them could DH but Dmitri Young takes that spot. If the 1B and DH spots in the line-up were split that would leave each player with about 400 or so plate appearances – around what they had last season. I cannot confidently say any of those players will do considerably better in the same number of ABs.

In the OF, Magglio Ordonez, Craig Monroe, Curtis Granderson and Nook Logan will have to divide the ABs. At season’s end, I figured there was no way Logan would grab any ABs in 2006, but new manager Jim Leyland has made comments that lead to speculation that Nook will start in CF. This pushes Curtis Granderson, and his 8 HR in 166 AB debut, towards a corner OF spot. Both of which are occupied by more accomplished OFers, Magglio Ordonez and Craig Monroe.

At 2B, Placido Polanco hit a rather empty .331. - 9 HR, 54 RBI and 4 SB. I’d have expected a few more RBI than that. Given he does not walk often, I expect the AVG to drop 30+ points, but I expect him to be drafted on the .331 AVG; thus he will be overpriced by $5-$10 on draft. (Should go for $9-$17. Will go for $18-$24.)

A much better play for the same production will be his DP partner, Carlos Guillen. A miasma of injury clouds the perception of the former Mariner, but he has hit .320 in his first two seasons in Detroit. I do not expect that to change. I do not expect him to match his stellar 2004 season, but getting halfway there will better Polanco’s production and should come for less on draft day.

On the mound, I have already addressed Jeremy Bonderman here.

Todd Jones was signed to close, and I do not see anyone taking the job from him. If he fails, Fernando Rodney would be the favorite as he got shots the in the previous few seasons. The wildcard is Jim Leyland. No one knows which middle reliever(s) he will think has the guts to do it. Watch this aspect closely in spring training. Does he seem to say positive things about one of the relievers? Does he keep putting the same pitcher in tough spots – at the end of the game towards the end of the month, in the 3rd and 4th inning in the beginning of the month? Matt Mantei just signed there and becomes the most accomplished closer of the bunch.

On the farm, everyone knows about Justin Verlander and Joel Zumaya. Watch both, but I do not have the confidence either will be immediate contributors in Detroit.

Kansas City

The most distinguishing mark the Royals made this off-season is the plethora of end of the 25-man-roster additions they signed – Doug Mientkiewicz, Mark Grudzielanek, Paul Bako, Elmer Dessens, Joe Mays, Scott Elarton.

I’ve covered various players that I like in previous posts (Here for Emil Brown. Here for Esteban German.)

A player I do like that shouldn’t get too much, if any, hype is catcher John Buck. He hit 12 HRs last season and that total is very good for a catcher nowadays. He will enter his third season, and an expectation of improvement due to experience is not irrational. What would be is if I expected that improvement to take him north of .280 with 25 HR, but an improvement to .250-.260 with 15 HR is not. For a $1 or $2, that is nice from a position that is punted more often than a Jets football.

One comment about the RBI totals for the Royals this season. Given a very weak line-up (current definition: Emil Brown as the uncontested as a #5 hitter.), I do not expect the leaders, Sweeney and Brown, to drive in more than 90. There just won’t be enough men on base. This isn’t a Moneyball analysis based on OBP. This is a plain ol’ the hitters stink one. There is really nothing to fear from the bottom four hitters in the line-up. I know Buck is one of them, but hitting .260 with 15 HR is not fearful when the players in front and in back of him will not match that power.

On the mound, I can state with confidence that I do not like the risk/reward equation of any starter. As none, will rack-up in-the-teens Ws, the innings-weighted ERA/WHIP contribution is too high. Zach Greinke would have been an exception, but he was so bad last year, that I would rather have another team draft him. If he reverts back to his rookie form, then I will whole-heartedly pay full-price in a trade for him.

In the bullpen, MacDougal will open as the closer, and Abriorix Burgos is so well known that there shouldn’t be any surprises.

On the farm, 2006 begins and ends with Alex Gordon. He will not be unknown but should be grabbed at the same time Brandon Wood is in a minor league draft or bid to $20 if he makes the team out of Spring Training. His plate discipline and power in college are good, but college doesn't count. In the AFL, he hit .260 in 50 ABs and drew 12 walks! Mark Teahan watch out!

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

FOXSports.com - MLB- O's should still listen to offers for Tejada

FOXSports.com - MLB- O's should still listen to offers for Tejada

Ken Rosenthal reports the Astros offered Brad Lidge, Adam Everett and either Jason lane or Wily Tavares for Miguel Tejeda.

I am stunned that Tejada is still an Oriole. I'd be more stunned if 28 other teams have been getting busy signals all morning on the Atros telephone line.

That offer is absolutely the best one the Os could ever hope for. A top flight closer, a good defensive shortstop and a quality OF who can play all three spots. All the players are reltively inexpensive to boot.

With the Red Sox needing a SS, CF and a closer, do you think they flew Manny and $20 million in cash to Houston already?

Jeez, the offer is so good that I think it is, in fact, not true, and foxspsports.com is being played.

Minnesota Twins

The Twins seem to be hoping for there first 30+ HR season since 1987 to come from Jusitn Morneau. It very well may, but Morneau is so well-known that I cannot envision him being a sleeper. After all, he did hit 22 HR last season. That is not an amount that anyone would be shocked to see rise to 30.

Jason Bartlett, on the other hand, was highly touted entering last season but did not live up to that touting. This season I expect him to do so. I see a 10 HR/15+ SB campaign with a non-harmful AVG (.270 or so). Given his poor 2005, he should come fairly cheaply - no more than $9 or $10 if he is available when multiple team finds themsleves with some draft cash and a need in the middle.

Jason Kubel will be given every chance to win a starting job. He was highly-touted following the 2004 season. Despite missing all of 2005, he has not been forgotten. I would not hesitate to go into the high teens for him if he is healthy, but I also do not consider that sleeper value either. My general full-value for ROY candidates available in the draft is $18. To me, that is the happy medium between future potential and current season capability.

In the rotation, everyone talks about Francisco Liriano. I have nothing to add except to say I was queried by a writer friend prior to last season about the potential for a book that followed him through his 2005 season. I thought it would have been interesting, but I never expected Liriano's breakthrough 2005 season either.

Scott Baker is the player I would watch. With Liriano sucking all the air from the room, Baker could go for a fraction of the cost and do as well. His ratios are just as good as Liriano's are, but he won't cost double digits as I expect FL will.

In the bullpen, no one is taking Nathan's job. Jesse Crain will get some hype, but I am leary of a pitcher who dominates in the bullpen while striking out only 25 in 79 2/3 innings. Yikes! he walked more than he struck out. Sell high if you have him! (Think Dan Kolb.)

In the minors, keep an eye on Denard Span. Torii Hunter is expensive, and Span could provide a nice alternative. I wrote about him earlier this off-season right here.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Cleveland Indians

The Red Sox and Devil Rays were tough to call. The Indians are not so. Every role is defined, and there should be no surprises for playing time.

But, and you knew there had to be a "but", the Indians did sign a minor league free agent from the Dodgers organization, Todd Donovan. The big number is 62. Those are the stolen bases he racked up at AA Jacksonville. To boot, he also hit 8 HR, 16 2B and 10 triples. Grab him for a $1 at the end of the draft or grab him from the pool if he is recalled.

Bob Wickman accepted salary arbitration and will open the season as the Indians closer, but he will be mentioned as a shaky closer by every Roto sight - exactly as he was last season while putting up a career best season. As long as he is reliable, the Indians will not risk putting an inexperienced pitcher in the role as they contend for a play-off spot.

If he is hurt, the Rotopunditariat favorite, Fernando Cabrera, will get all the ink. And deservedly so after combining for 97 Ks in 82 innings between AAA and Cleveland. Normally I tend towards the contrarian opinion of the Roto commentators, on this one, I would join the herd and go to the low double digits to get him on draft day.

Jeremy Sowers is a minor leaguer to watch. A lefty with strikeout ability and good control, the only question is he is not overpowering. I can't help but draw comparisons to Yusi Petit of the Marlins as a minor league pitcher who knows how to strikeout batters without a power pitch. As such, I suspect he knows how to pitch better than the average rookie and, combined with the Indians good defense, should be considered a surprise $1 pitcher or a decent pool pick-up.

Chicago White Sox

The World champions return a squad that will no longer be unknown.

I see a couple players having good upside surprise in 2006. The first is Tadahito Iguchi. He did well in his inaugural US season with double digit HR and SB with an unharmful AVG (15/15/.278). Now with World Series experience, I expect 2006 to be his best. 20/20 is right there to be taken. Anything less than $20 will be a steal.

Brian Nikola Anderson is the other player I expect to do surprisingly well. In finance, there is a way of determining how well a company is doing by signaling. It says"that insiders have information not available to the market. Moves made by insiders can signal information to outsiders and change the stock price."

Place GM Kenny Williams in the role of an insider, and the one of insider moves as the trade of CFers Aaron Rowand and Chris Young, a propsect that had a better AA season than any Anderson has yet to have, and he (CY) is younger!

What you conclude is B. Nikola Anderson is going to do well. I see him matching Rowand's 2005 HR production (13) with slightly fewer RBI and the same AVG.

Bobby Jenks broke through his past to end the season as the closer. I would not be surprised to see a relapse into his previous control and off-field problems. If this occurs, I expect Ozzie Guillen to mess around with the closer role - just as he did last season when Dustan Hermanson was successfully closing and lost the job - just as Mr. Zero successfully closed in 2004 only to be yanked out the role for Hermanson - just as Damaso Marte was messed around with all season.

On the farm, keep an eye on Jerry Owens. He was old for AA (24) but his Moneyball stats (.393 OBP) shame Scott Podsednick and his speed will not make Podsednick take on any airs (38 in AA and, most importantly, 4 in n 18 AB call-up in September.) I would not be surpised to see Podsednick lose quite a few ABs to Owens. If he makes the team, grab him. A poor man's Joey Gaithwright on draft day!

NY Yankees Top 10 Prospects

Baseball America has posted their top 10 Yankee prospects entering the 2006 season, and I am very, very excited.

Amongst the top 8, Eric Duncan is the youngest, and he will spend his first AAA season as a 21-year-old. With only one Dominican, there should not be too many age surprises that would seriously deteriorate the quality of the list.

Given the Yankees do not need any immediate help on the big league club, I can see the orgnaization boasting one of the best systems in 2007/2008.

This will be the first season that I may spend minor league picks on multiple Yankee propsects (Hughes, Duncan, Tabata and Jackson look very good.)

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Tampa Bay Devil Rays

If you think the gaping holes at SS and CF in Boston make Roto-evaluation tricky, the stay away from Tampa Bay. With RF Aubrey Huff, SS Julio Lugo and CL Danys Baez in trade rumors of one kind or another every single day, important Roto decisons are delayed.

Lugo stole 34 bases last season. That would make him a solid $20+ player. If he is dealt, then BJ Upton gets a shot and will be amongst the most hyped players in Spring Training. This would lead his draft price into the $20s - way over-priced in my book.

Aubrey Huff is a "veteran sleeper". If he is traded, a spot opens for Joey Gathwright to hit everyday, and, if that ever happens, he will be a 50+ SB player which makes him a $30+ Roto player. If Huff isn't traded, Gaithwright will still command a lot of draft day attention and likely go in the mid-teens - too high for 2006 but a decent play on 2007.

Danys Baez is the closer, and a good one in 2005. If he isn't dealt prior to draft day, then he will be in trade rumors the minute a play-off contending team's closer blows his first save, This will damp down his draft day price, but also his in-season Roto trade value. Who is going to pay the price to get a closer via trade when he could be dealt to the NL?

Picking through the TB bullpen is vital and will result in a great bargain for the team that gets lucky enough to land the successor to Baez. The top contenders are Chad Orvella, Lance Carter and Jesus Colome. Of them, the only one not to either have previously closed (Carter) or been hyped as the future closer for this entire century (Colome) is Orvella, who took on the future closer tag last year. I do not like any of them, but would think Carter would get the first shot because he has done it before.

That is an admittedly weak reason, but I do not know what is going on in Tampa. I had thought prior GM Chuck Lamar was the problem, but apparently, he was not. The current management appears to be just as idiotic - assuming you believe they should trade any of their impending 2006 free agents.

Maybe they should just keep them? Hmmmmmmm, that is an intersting shift in thinking.

Saturday, January 07, 2006


On his eponymous website, John Sickels posted a question about the 2006 NL Rookie-of-the-Year.

The choices are Jeremy Heremida, Prince Fielder, Ryan Zimmerman, Matt Cain and Somebody Else. The leader amongst his readers is Hermida at 32% followed by Prince Fielder at 21%. Cain and Zimmerman garner 13% each and Somebody Else gets 19%.

My rationale was based on a combination of which ones I think will have the best seasons and how the their teams will do. I expect Cain's Giants to be the best and Hermida's Marlins to be the worst. Fielder's Brewers will finish second and Zimmerman's Nationals third.

I also believe Fielder will have the worst AVG (.250ish). This will seriously handicap his chances of winning, and I belive Zimmerman's numbers were be hampered by RFK Stadium (HR and AVG).

Jeremy Hermida will have the best 4X4 numbers and garner a lot of attention.

Matt Cain will have very good stats for a rookie pitcher (High 3s ERa with 150+ strikeouts) and be on a play-off contending team.

As such, I chose Matt Cain despite preferring Hermida for my Roto team.

Baltimore Orioles

An off-season in which the team gives all apearances of disarray could be a good thing come draft day. Many of their productive players will go for less than they should - Miguel Tejada excepted.

Jay Gibbons pops out. He was surprisingly good last season - 26/79/.277. Yes, he hit .277 which is a positive for AVG. A three category hitter could be expected to go for $25+ in a typical league. I do not see that happening as long as he is an Oriole (and possibiliy ever!)

The first impressions Gibbons made was a player with power and a poor AVG as demonstraed in his first two seasons (15/36/.236 in his rookie year and 28/69/.247.) He broke out in 2003 but regressed in an injury-plagued 2004, cementing the initial impressions.

But he returned to his 2003 AVG in 2005 leading me to believe he has established a new level of performance. (Recall he was a Rule 5 player and learned on the job his first couple seasons.)

I expect him to be a "veteran sleeper" and a solid #2 OF or co-#1 with a similar player. (Def of veteran sleeper: an everyday player who produces consistently but never makes an All-Star team. Value $17-$24. Or previously defined here for Preston Wilson - a player who goes for $15-$24 because he is no longer surrounded by hype but still produces.)

If the O's obtain Cory Patterson, I do not expect him to be a sleeper as his SB totals will cause any AL league to respond Pavlovianally - immediately bid him to the high $20s and that is no bargain for 4X4 favorite CPat. That said, I personally like him and wish the Yanks had tried him in CF. One thing his detractors (everyone but me) fail to note is this year will be his 27 one and that means highest likelihood of a career year!

On the pitching side, I hold out hope that Erik Bedard's poor return from injury knocks him far enough down draft lists that he can be had for $7-$13. If so, then I can see him having a very good risk/reward profile. This will be wholely dependent on the maintenance of his improved walk rate. Even if he does not, he will maintain his trade value based solely upon the gushing of scouts.

In the bullpen, Chris Ray is already everyone's "sleeper" to close, but the one to watch is 2005 nightmare, Jorge Julio. His numbers were horrific, but the O's did bring in Leo Mazzone and he could help Julio return to his previous level of production. If that is the case, I expect Julio to open the season as the closer and to hold it until he is either traded or the 2006 season ends.

Nick Markakis is the prospect to watch and grab either in your minor league draft or immediately after he is recalled. His walk rates are excellent and his combo of power and speed make me believe he will have a HR/SB season like Alexis Rios' 2005 campaign. He may not be a sleeper come Opening Day, but his future is bright enough to merit mention right now.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Toronto Blue Jays

The most remarkable thing about the Jays as currently constituted is the excess of corner/DH types. Glaus, Overbay and Hillenbrand are the three that I expect will get most of the ABs. Fortunately for both Hinske and Koskie, they bat from the left side of the plate and could see ABs against right-handers.

With the trade of Orlando Hudson, Aaron Hill is the regular 2B entering the season. I expect him to match OHud's 4X4 production (10/60/5/.270). As a starting middle infielder, that puts his draft day salary in the $9-$17 range. Obviously, he slots at the lower end, but my experience has demonstrated that any available starter up the middle could go in the higher teens.

A player who could be poised to breakout this season is Alexis Rios. The past two seasons, he has stolen 15 and 14 bases. There is no reason to expect that to change in 2006. He could steal 20 with very slight improvement. (A success rate somewhere between his 2004 (86%) and his 2005 (61%) in the same number of 2005 attempts (23) would put him at 17.)

His 10 HR last season nearly matched his minor league high of 11. If he improves on 2005, he could see 15, and 15 HR and 20 SB is a very good Roto player ($17-25).

The closer role is set for the next few seasons with the signing of BJ Ryan. If he gets hurt, I'd expect a return the JP's hodgepodge closing mix with Speier and Frasor the leading candidates.

Josh Towers was surprisingly good last season. After several seasons of disappointing Roto results, he kept everything together to post an ERA of 3.71 and a WHIP of 1.27 in 200+ innings. His minor league K/BB ratio always kept him on the radar and, in 2003, his 1.15 WHIP with the O's teased Roto players into listing him as a sleeper for 2004. Unfortunately, he was Roto death then (5.11/1.50).

This bad taste colored his 2005 season. Some of that will linger into 2006 and will make Towers an undervalued pitcher on draft day.