It's time to cook up strategy around baseball's hot stove

ON FANTASY SPORTS

Commentary

December 01, 2005

Things are what they are at this stage of the fantasy football season.

You know if you're a contender. You know which guys you're comfortable starting. The trade deadline is past and the playoffs aren't quite here (cringe all you Peyton Manning and Edgerrin James owners as you anticipate your guys barely playing while you're trying to win a fantasy title).

Which is all a long-winded way of saying I'm going to talk baseball this week. That's right, my first love, a game no one will play for real for 122 days.

But trades and signings are cooking on the hot stove, and as always, the happenings of the real world affect our consensual illusion.

Florida's clearance sale, version 2.0, has been the big news so far.

I don't see the Carlos Delgado trade having big fantasy implications. He's going from one pitcher's park to another, though Shea is a tad more homer-friendly. If you were keeping him before, you're keeping him now.

But the Josh Beckett trade will make fantasy waves. There are undoubtedly some poor souls who had Beckett penciled into their National League-only rotations for next year. For them, there is no solace.

But the 25-year-old fastballer will present an interesting case for American League owners. I think I'll steer clear and leave him to those with memories of that Game 6 gem against the Yankees in 2003. Beckett is very talented, but he's injury prone and moving from a pitcher-friendly park to a hitter's haven. Look for his ERA to hit 3.50 or higher. And search elsewhere for your ace.

Mike Lowell was the unpleasant part of that deal for the Red Sox because he carries a bad contract, but there's no obvious reason why he was so awful last year, so he could give fantasy owners a decent rebound season at bargain rates.

I'm amazed that general managers are throwing such big money at closers, even though B.J. Ryan and Billy Wagner rank near the top of the real and fantasy heaps. With both guys staying in the same league, I don't see a big change in value for either. Wagner is going to a better pitcher's park, but he's so overpowering and gives up so few homers that I doubt it'll make much difference. If healthy, he'll be as good as ever, though his ERA might tick up a bit because, well, it's hard to maintain a 1.51.

The Jim Thome trade adds a potentially big chit to American League draft pools (and makes Ryan Howard owners happy). I don't think we can count on Thome for 40 homers, but given several hundred at-bats at designated hitter, he might be up to it. Be careful though, because lumbering power hitters can fall off the table in their mid-30s and never return.

Aaron Rowand will be a nice, multitalented addition to National League pools. I don't trust his underlying skills (poor batting eye), but he can run and pop 15 homers, so he's one of those guys whose value sneaks up on you.

Early speculation says Seattle's new catcher, Kenji Johjima, might hit like Chicago second baseman Tadahito Iguchi, which would make him valuable at a thin position. But Safeco Field will limit his power, so beware.

Among other guys who will move this offseason, I like Brian Giles because he'll almost certainly end up in a better hitting environment (though don't overpay, because he will be 35 next season). But Kevin Millwood (who always seems to end up on my teams) was fortunate to keep his ERA so low.

You'd have to love Mike Piazza if he lands in the American League as a designated hitter, because he'll still be eligible to fill your catcher slot but won't be as vulnerable to catcher injuries. Rafael Furcal will probably retain his value because he offers speed at a position devoid of stars. And I'll have to see where Johnny Damon and A.J. Burnett land before offering assessments.

childs.walker@baltsun.com

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