Turn Rodriguez's big start into your own monster finish

ON FANTASY SPORTS

The Kickoff

April 26, 2007|By CHILDS WALKER

It's becoming hard to ignore all the chatter about Alex Rodriguez's hot start.

After three years of holding him at arm's length, New York seems ready to adopt its third baseman. The cognoscenti on Baseball Tonight seem ready to hand him Barry Bonds' single-season record of 73 homers. And fantasy owners seem ready to reanoint him as our game's most valuable commodity.

As you'll probably guess if you've read me for a while, I'm skeptical.

By all means, be excited if you own A-Rod. He's a great player in the middle of a great streak, and that's fun. Joe Sheehan wrote a well-reasoned piece on BaseballProspectus.com earlier this week explaining why Rodriguez is a serious threat to Hack Wilson's single-season record of 191 RBIs. He's a historically great power hitter batting behind three guys who get on base at terrific rates. So his run-production possibilities are enormous.

But here's a suggestion, especially for you owners who aren't competing against experienced foes: Trade him. That's right. Trade the player who's making a mockery of the American League.

If you need to put Rodriguez's start into context, simply look back to Albert Pujols' performance last April. The Cardinals slugger hit .346 with 14 homers and 32 RBIs in the first month, and the talk was that pitchers would start giving him the Bonds treatment because he was too good for the game. Well, Pujols was great the rest of the year, but his final line of .331 with 49 homers and 137 RBIs wasn't out of line with the rest of his career.

That month didn't signal a sea change.

When Ken Griffey Jr. started with 13 homers and 30 RBIs in April 1997, he went on to have his best season, but again, his final totals didn't blow away those from the rest of his career. In fact, his 56 homers and 147 RBIs were nearly identical to the 56 and 146 he put up in 1998.

History's greatest home run seasons weren't necessarily heralded by great Aprils. Sammy Sosa hit only six first-month homers the year he finished with 66. Mark McGwire hit only five in 1999, when he finished with 65.

Rodriguez has had other spectacular months. In 2003, he blasted 15 homers in August. He finished with 47 - great, but only the fourth best total of his career.

Look, A-Rod probably will have a great season, maybe even his best power season ever. But he probably won't have a year that changes our entire conception of him as a player. And that's how some people are talking about his start. So take advantage.

I've seen some crazy offers bouncing around - owners willing to trade a Carl Crawford or Alfonso Soriano (players who ranked above Rodriguez on most preseason draft lists) plus a top starting pitcher in the Roy Halladay-Roy Oswalt class.

If such a deal comes your way, take it. There's a decent chance that Soriano and/or Crawford will deliver more value than A-Rod over the remainder of the season. And you'd get an excellent pitcher for free. Sometimes, you have to force yourself to do counterintuitive things in this game.

Even if such manna does not fall into your lap, float some offers. There are plenty of players who are probably undervalued right now.

Carlos Delgado, as proven a power hitter as they come, is hitting .193 with one homer. He's always been streaky. He hit .194 with four homers in May 2004. He hit only three homers in August 2003. He hit .240 with four homers in July 2002. But he finished with at least 32 homers in each of those seasons. Believe the track record.

Mark Teixeira is off to an even worse start. He also disappointed in the first half last year, but he was awesome down the stretch and there's no reason to believe he's a different hitter from the guy who averaged 38 homers over the past three seasons.

At this time of year, I love to target pitchers with high ERAs but excellent strikeout and walk numbers.

Look no further than Orioles ace Erik Bedard, who sports a 6.11 ERA after five starts but has struck out more than a batter an inning and maintained an excellent 2.8-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He's exactly the sort you want to acquire right now, because a few ill-timed pitches, not a loss of stuff or command, lie at the heart of his early struggles.

Scott Kazmir is another one. Ignore the 4.40 ERA and look to the 29 strikeouts in 30 2/3 innings. Or check out Kazmir's rotation mate, James Shields, whose power and control breakout is masked by a 4.50 ERA.

Try to get Milwaukee's Claudio Vargas as a throw-in in a bigger deal. He has a 4.76 ERA and zero reputation, but he's struck out 24 and walked three in 17 innings. And he always pitched well on the road for Arizona.

Brandon Webb and Dontrelle Willis fit the bill among more established talents.

As much as owners tell themselves not to sell low on these guys, frustration will drive some to do it anyway. And if you can flip A-Rod for a whole bundle of them, you might do your team a lot of good.

Or maybe I'm just a contrarian.

childs.walker@baltsun.com

Read a blog on fantasy sports at www.baltimoresun.com/fantasy.

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