Fantasy Baseball News 2007

Hache Man

"Seven Days Without Gambling Makes One Weak"
Re: Fantasy Baseball News 2007

Stick a Fork in the Kid

Sure enough, the groin strain that Ken Griffey Jr. suffered Wednesday night will spell an early end to his 2007 campaign.

Although he managed to stay moderately healthy this season, it's yet another disappointment in the injury-plagued career of the All-Star outfielder.

A day after coming out the game in the eighth inning with what was described at the time as an abdominal strain, Griffey was examined Thursday, and it was determined he had suffered a high left groin strain. The team will take another look at Junior in four weeks, but this will not be a long-term issue.

On Wednesday, Griffey was hurt trying to field a ball in right field against the Cubs. He was about to throw the ball back to the infield, but had to stop because he was in pain, underhanding the ball back and then collapsing to the ground.

"It could have been worse," Reds manager Pete Mackanin said. "We're happy that it wasn't."

Sure, it could have been worse. It could have happened on May 19 instead of September 19, with the Reds playing out the string on a disappointing season. Or, it could have been a torn groin that would have required surgery and a lengthy rehab period.

Griffey said his groin had been sore for a while, and it had showed in his recent performance. Over his final five games, Junior had fanned 11 times, and he had hit just .170 without an extra-base hit in his last 11 games.

For the season, he winds up with a line of .277/.372/.496 and 30 homers and 93 RBI in 144 games, the most amount of games he's played in a season since 2000. In fact, he's never had this many at-bats (528) since coming to the Reds after the 1999 season.

The 37-year-old was named an All-Star for the 13th time ? and the first since 2004 ? during a season where he ascended to sixth place on the all-time home run list, just seven shy of the coveted 600 plateau. Just imagine where Griffey would be had he not endured eight trips to the DL since 2000.

Ironically, Griffey was scheduled to have a day off on Thursday.

With Griffey toast, the Reds will turn to Jason Ellison and Buck Coats to handle right field ? neither of whom are even mildly enticing as fantasy options. Jeff Keppinger could also see some action out there, and he's someone who is worth exploring, given the fine numbers he's accumulated in a utility role.

While we deal with yet another injury woe for Griffey, let's check in on a somewhat quiet Thursday night around the bigs?

  • The Jays have mercifully decided to shut down Vernon Wells and let him have his shoulder operated on next week. On Tuesday, he'll undergo a procedure to deal with a cyst and a torn labrum in his left shoulder. Wells was supposed to have surgery in the offseason, but the Jays say they've moved it up to accommodate Dr. Andrews' schedule. Uh, okay. Of course, after the B.J. Ryan "back" injury this spring, we believe everything Toronto's management tells us. Despite his continued stellar defense, Wells has scuffled badly and looked absolutely lost at the plate recently, so this has been a long time coming. Reed Johnson will likely take over in center, unless the Jays decide to shift Alex Rios over from right. Adam Lind, meanwhile, will continue to butcher balls in left field.
  • Jeff Kent's $9 million option for next year kicked in automatically on Thursday when he reached 550 plate appearances. There's been talk of shifting Kent away from the keystone corner for some time, but he's still an acceptable option there defensively. He bounced back in the power department this season with 35 doubles and 20 homers, but generally, Kent has been remarkably consistency in recent years, recording an OPS of between 862 and 933 every season since 2001. He'll be 40 years old by the time next season begins, so it's reasonable to expect a dropoff, but it didn't happen this year.
  • Tim Lincecum has been shut down for the remainder of the season, despite the fact the Giants kept maintaining they wouldn't do this. The kid was nearing 180 innings on the season, including his time in the minors, and the Giants have long since been out of the race, so this makes sense. In 146 1/3 innings for San Francisco, Lincecum went 7-5 with a 4.00 ERA while striking out an impressive 150 batters against 65 walks. Pat Misch will take Lincecum's start on Friday.

AL Quick Hits: Jon Garland came into Thursday with an 8-1 mark and 2.43 ERA over his last 11 starts against the Royals and he pitched another solid game (8 IP, 6 H, 3 R), but was handed the loss as he was outpitched by Zack Greinke. Greinke was phenomenal, tossing eight innings of two-hit shutout while fanning a career high 10. Owners have every reason to be stoked about Greinke's chances heading into 2008?Gary Matthews Jr. (ankle) is running at 95 percent, making him a pretty good bet to return to the Angels' lineup some time this weekend?Detroit reportedly will pick up Ivan Rodriguez's $13 million option next season. In fact, according to the Detroit News, the Tigers may have already done so, although nothing's been said?The White Sox say they will only use John Danks again this season if there's an emergency. So if the entire pitching staff eats some bad sushi or hurt their wrists in a video game incident a la Joel Zumaya, get ready to activate Danks.

NL Quick Hits: Just over a month ago, I was
musing about the Astros' catching situation
and how unexciting Brad Ausmus was. I assumed that J.R. Towles was still a year away, but Thursday's performance suggested that this timeframe may need adjusting. The kid went bananas, going 4-for-4 with a homer, two doubles, a walk and an Astros-record eight RBI as Houston added to the Cardinals' woes with an 18-1 pasting. If Towles can show more of this, he'll garner serious consideration for a starting job in Houston next spring?Trevor Hoffman extended his own record by reaching 40 saves for the ninth time in his career, including each of the last four seasons. No one else has more than six 40-save seasons?After being diagnosed with a slightly strained left hamstring, Ben Sheets looks doubtful to be able to take the hill for his scheduled Sunday start. Expect Claudio Vargas or Chris Capuano to get the assignment against Atlanta?According to a report, former Phillies' GM Ed Wade has been tabbed as the replacement for Astros' GM Tim Purpura, fired last month.

Hache Man

"Seven Days Without Gambling Makes One Weak"
Re: Fantasy Baseball News 2007

Down To The Wire
Down to the wire, get it? Me neither. Anyway there's a week and change left for you to make your move. If you come up a half-point short you'll be beating yourself up until next March. That's no fun. Now is a time when many fantasy owners throw in the towel. Don't be that guy. It's time for a full court press - go nuts looking at matchups, dig in to see which teams are running out super-weak September lineups and spot-start against them.

American League

Jamie Walker, RP, BAL ? Fernando Cabrera picked up a save this week against the Blue Jays, but he's been battered around since. Walker or maybe Chad Bradford are your best choices for saves in Baltimore depending on the match-ups in the ninth inning. And of course the O's will need to create some save situations first. AL: $5, Mixed: $1.

Jose Contreras, SP, CHA ? Though it's a game no one will be watching, Tuesday's Contreras-Greinke matchup is kind of interesting for fantasy owners. That's one reason fantasy baseball is good ? it makes some people care about games like this or the Gavin Floyd/Kevin Slowey deathmatch on Sunday.. Anyway Contreras is coming off a shutout against these same Royals and I'd run him out there in most leagues. I wonder how he and Greinke will fare the second time around. AL: $8, Mixed: $1.

Danny Richar, 2B, CHA ? Small sample, but Richar's bat has come alive this month (.292/.324/.554 with 3 HR in 65 at-bats). Richar is probably owned in most AL-only leagues but could be helpful in deep mixed. AL: $10, Mixed: $1.

Zack Greinke, SP, KCA ? Greinke dominated the listless White Sox on Thursday, and gets them again on Tuesday. He should be owned in all leagues. He might get one more start after that against the Tribe in the Royals' last game. That one would be a tad more risky. AL: $12, Mixed: $3.

Juan Rivera, OF, LAA ? Rivera is 4 for his last 11 with two home runs, so he might be shaking off the rust just in time for the playoffs. He's a fine pickup for power in any league. AL: $13, Mixed: $3.

Kevin Slowey, SP, MIN ? Slowey against the White Sox on Sunday? Yes. Any rookie starter is risky but the White Sox are running a lot of awful hitters out there right now. You'll want to drop Slowey before he faces the Red Sox though. AL: $2, Mixed: No.

Carl Crawford, OF, TBA ? At the time of this writing Crawford's status is still unknown. If your league is going down to the wire and you need the roster space, you should cut him. How much is he really going to run if he does come back for a few meaningless games? AL: No, Mixed: No.

Adam Lind, OF, TOR ? The Vernon Wells shut-down should result in more playing time for Lind. He hasn't done much this month but hasn't played regularly. Consider him in deep AL-only for the final week of the season. AL: $2, Mixed: No.

National League

Jeff Bennett, SP, ATL ? Great big league season debut for the 27-year-old journeyman, but it seems that he'd draw the Phillies next. I would not chance it. NL: No, Mixed: No.

Peter Moylan, RP, ATL ? Desperate for saves? Consider Moylan. He's not getting much buzz right now but if Rafael Soriano sits out his four games for his suspension he's probably the bets candidate for saves. NL: $8, Mixed: $1.

Geovany Soto, C, CHN ? The whole "play Kendall over Soto because of veteran experience" idea is looking kind of dumb right now. Soto is raking and has been fine behind the plate. If Lou has any sense we'll see a lot of Soto down the stretch. He's a nice addition in any league given his minor league breakout. NL: $14, Mixed: $3.

Homer Bailey, SP, CIN ? The hype on Bailey was huge, but he hasn't helped fantasy teams much this year. He's healthy now and shut down the Triple A-like Giants offense on Thursday. Next up is an Astro offense that isn't much better, so I'd spot-start him. NL: $5, Mixed: No.

Jeff Keppinger, SS/3B, CIN ? I'm skeptical of the 27-year-old Keppinger, but he does have a history of batting .300 going many years back. The guy almost never strikes out and that allows for some sweet batting average streaks when the hits drop in. If it's not too late you might as well pick him up as your shortstop in deep mixed. He's been batting second so he can help in runs also. NL: $12, Mixed: $2.

J.R. Towles, C, HOU ? His franchise-record eight RBI game might get him some fantasy attention. It also might cause the Astros to wake up and play him every day through season's end. His .976 OPS at Double A is promising. NL: $7, Mixed: $1.

Josh Anderson, OF, HOU ? Anderson is a speedy centerfielder without much of a bat. The kid can run but he hasn't attempted a steal in 13 games. I'd try him in NL-only for steals anyway. He might pick up a few and play semi-regularly. NL: $5, Mixed: No.

Andy LaRoche, 3B, LAN ? It makes sense to start LaRoche regularly to finish out the season, not that Grady Little will do that. The young third baseman might be worth a look in NL-only. NL: $3, Mixed: No.

Jayson Werth, OF, PHI ? Werth is a hot pickup right now. He's playing regularly and driving in tons of runs, plus he has seven steals in 232 at-bats. Granted he's faced a disproportionate amount of lefties and mashed them, plus Shane Victorino is back. But Werth is werth a pickup in deep mixed leagues. NL: $10, Mixed: $1.

Ian Snell, SP, PIT ? If you're in a shallow mixed league, it's possible no one has noticed Snell's dominance this month. He gets Arizona Tuesday and then St. Louis. He's a must-start in all leagues. NL: $24, Mixed: $12.

Brett Tomko, SP, SDN ? Tomko is gaining popularity after blazing through a couple of weak lineups in his first two Padres starts. He gets the Giants next on Tuesday, so he should be owned if you're pushing for wins. Tomko has said he's a lot more comfortable in San Diego, so maybe he's on to something. NL: $10, Mixed: $1.

Pat Misch, SP, SFN ? Should you try Misch in place of the shut-down Tim Lincecum Friday night? Misch has shown decent command this year but hasn't started much. This is really a borderline call as the Reds' offense is worse than the numbers say given the losses of Griffey and Hamilton. Shut-down players will be important to keep in mind when evaluating spot-starts. NL: $1, Mixed: No.

Hache Man

"Seven Days Without Gambling Makes One Weak"
Re: Fantasy Baseball News 2007

Breakout performers of '07
At this point, most fantasy teams are running on cruise control ? if they're still running at all.

Rotisserie and points league owners have emptied their strategic arsenals and have been reduced to mere spectators as the final few days of the season unfold. Meanwhile, head-to-head leagues are in the process of crowning their champions.

Even those in keeper leagues don't have to make any major decisions until spring training starts. But that doesn't mean it's time to forget about what's going on around the diamond.

With practically a full season in our rear-view mirror, it's time to reflect on the top 10 breakout fantasy performances of 2007:

10. J.J. Hardy, SS, Milwaukee Brewers: Hardy turned heads almost immediately, hitting six homers in April and nine more in May. There was even a groundswell of support for him as a National League MVP candidate until he hit a midseason lull.

Though Hardy's star may have dimmed, he's shown some signs of life lately and his season totals are better than those of Rafael Furcal and Khalil @@@@@@. The biggest question is whether or not he'll be able to duplicate his stats next season.

9. John Maine, SP, New York Mets: There were several talented pitching call-ups in the NL last season, including Rich Hill, Chad Billingsley, Tom Gorzelanny, Chuck James, Anthony Reyes and Anibal Sanchez. But those who chose Maine have been rewarded by the best overall 2007 season of the group. With the Mets' powerful offense behind him, Maine figures to continue his success into 2008 and beyond.

8. Jack Cust, DH, Oakland Athletics: It seems all he needed was a chance ? and what better place for his skill set than Oakland? He walks, he strikes out but most important, he hits homers. A great waiver-wire pickup this season, Cust is only a so-so keeper option because of his low batting average and his DH-only eligibility. But remember, he wasn't even on the A's roster until early May so the potential for a 30-homer, 100-RBI season in 2008 can't be discounted.

7. Shane Victorino, OF, Philadelphia Phillies: As a super-sub last season, Victorino offered fantasy owners little more than a decent batting average. But offseason work with Phillies coach Davey Lopes turned him into one of the NL's top basestealing threats (37 through Thursday, compared to only four a year ago). Plus, he has maintained a solid batting average and added double-digit homers to his portfolio, all while playing in fewer games than he did last year. He still has some upside if he can stay healthy for a full season.

6. Chris Young, SP, San Diego Padres: In the perfect convergence of a pitcher and his home park, Young has the highest ratio of fly balls to ground balls of any starting pitcher in the majors. But he uses the spacious alleyways of Petco Park to full advantage ? as his microscopic 1.69 ERA and .170 opponents' batting average at home indicate.

Although Young's win-loss record (9-7) isn't particularly impressive, he's second in the majors to teammate Jake Peavy in ERA and is dueling with Peavy and Johan Santana for the majors' lowest WHIP.

5. B.J. Upton, OF, Tampa Bay Devil Rays: His talent has been there all along, but fantasy owners aren't noted for their patience. As a result, Upton may have been bypassed this season in the search for the "next big thing." The biggest concerns about Upton were his lack of power ? he hit only one homer last season in 175 big-league at-bats ? and the lack of a permanent place to play in the field.

Credit manager Joe Maddon for just putting Upton in the lineup and letting everything else take care of itself. A quadriceps injury cost him a month's worth of games before the All-Star break and likely a shot at a 30-homer, 30-steal season. Such a high ceiling, along with eligibility at both second base and the outfield in 2008, just might put Upton in the "next big thing" category after all.

4. Curtis Granderson, OF, Detroit Tigers: Granderson has gone from a strikeout-prone leadoff man who didn't steal bases to one of the AL's top all-around offensive threats. He had raised his batting average 40 points over last season, already surpassed his homer and RBI totals and made a quantum leap in stolen-base success. He was only 8-for-13 stealing bases a year ago, but through Thursday he had swiped 23 and only been caught once.

Strikeouts are still a problem and a .157 average against left-handers keeps him from being a truly elite hitter. But because there's still room for improvement, fantasy owners fortunate enough to be able to keep him for next season should be encouraged.

3. Brandon Phillips, 2B, Cincinnati Reds: There were still plenty of skeptics following what looked like his breakout 17-homer, 75-RBI, 25-steal performance a year ago. But Phillips has transformed from a complimentary player to a dominant one after improving his numbers across the board. Thanks to Chase Utley's injury, Phillips will likely wind up as the NL's most valuable second baseman this season. A 30-30 guy at a relatively thin second-base position is definitely something to celebrate.

2. Fausto Carmona, SP, Cleveland Indians: After watching Carmona's nightly meltdowns last season when he was terribly miscast as a closer, there was no reason to expect he'd have any more success as a member of the starting rotation. So how could a 23-year-old with a 1-10 record and a 5.42 ERA a year ago turn things around so quickly? Even in his disastrous 2006 season, Carmona had an outstanding ground ball/fly ball ratio of 2.39. This year, he's been even better ? leading the AL at 3.33. That's translated into 17 wins and a league-leading 3.07 ERA. More ground balls mean fewer home runs, fewer big innings and ultimately more success. There isn't a better example of that in all of baseball than Carmona.

1. Carlos Pe?a, 1B, Tampa Bay Devil Rays: Pena's power potential was always there (he hit 82 homers from 2002-05 with Oakland and Detroit), but it was never enough to overcome a low batting average and a ton of strikeouts. The Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees both gave up on him before an injury opened up a spot on the Rays' roster. From there, he proceeded to win a starting job and obliterate all his career highs in the process.

Outside of Alex Rodriguez, no one in the AL has more homers or a higher slugging percentage. Not too bad for a free agent pickup ? in both fantasy and reality.

One key to fantasy success is catching these rising stars before your opponents do. Whether it's retaining players such as Phillips, Young or Granderson before they have their breakout seasons or grabbing players like Pena, Carmona or Cust off the scrap heap, these smart decisions can help put you on the road to a championship.

Hache Man

"Seven Days Without Gambling Makes One Weak"
Re: Fantasy Baseball News 2007

Week That Was
Young hurlers shut down, Barry on the move and another gem from Cy Beckett all in this week's Week That Was.

Jamie Shields: The DRays shut down Jamie Shields (same story for Giants hurler Tim Lincecum). If you are like me and you own one of these young guns, your chances of winning a fantasy title just went south a bit. Is there a lesson to learn from this? Yes. There is a reason that the T in SMART stands for team. If the Rays or Giants were in the pennant race, would they be shutting down their top starters? Uh, no. Joba and Hughes are still pitching in the Bronx. Pedro was rushed back on the other side of town, etc. Players playing for winning teams are simply more valuable than their counterparts on weak teams. The loss of Shields and Lincecum for their last few starts just proves that point. Add or subtract value accordingly at next year's draft table.

Barry Bonds: In news that really should surprise no one, the Giants announced that Barry Bonds will not return next year. This makes perfect sense for both Barry and the Giants. The Giants need to rebuild and Bonds needs to play in the AL. Lets be clear about this however ? Bonds is not done. Barry has belted 28 homers while having to play the field and hit with limited protection in the lineup. He will do serious damage as an AL designated hitter next year and could very well hit the magical 800 total. That would be something to see. If you have Bonds in a keeper league and it does not matter whether he goes to the AL, keep him.

Kevin Frandsen: Kevin Frandsen had one of those nights fantasy players love. Frandsen went 5-for-5 Friday night even though the Giants lost. If you need a little spark late, Frandsen could be your man. I do not advocate making him the centerpiece of your team next year, however, he has been playing everyday and getting multiple hits quite frequently. Plus, he did hit over .400 in his short minor league stint this year as well. Buy and hope.

Franklin Morales: The nice run for Franklin Morales continued Friday night as the Colorado hurler pitched six innings of one-hit ball against the Padres. With this performance, Morales now has not given up a run in his last three starts. Yes, this is a nice story. However, Morales did issue 4.5 walks per nine innings in AA this year. Given the inconsistent indicators, I just am not sure this can hold up. Proceed with caution.

Kelvim Escobar: According to reports, Kelvim Escobar will not make his scheduled start today because of shoulder troubles. Oh boy. From a fantasy perspective, these situations are tough. You have to figure that Escobar will get one more start in order to tune up for the playoffs. Typically, you would want him in there for your fantasy pennant drive. However, given the shoulder issue and the fact that he is not likely to pitch deep into that start, a win or nice strikeout numbers are unlikely. If you have other choices, strongly consider them.

Josh Beckett: Josh Beckett won his 20th game Friday night and, in my opinion, all but sewed up the Cy Young award. I have little doubt that Beckett is on many a fantasy team that will win titles. He is the classic example of how people focus way too much on the prior year's numbers. If you looked at his 5.00 ERA from 2006 and did not get behind the numbers, you would have avoided Beckett. However, a 26 year old with World Series experience, no history of arm problems, a very live fastball, and who pitches for a very good team should have been a prime target. Congrats to those who grabbed Beckett.

Fausto Carmona: Fausto Carmona won again Friday night, beating Oakland for his 18th win of the season. But for Beckett, Carmona would have a real shot at Cy Young. This is pretty impressive for a guy who went undrafted in many leagues. What is the lesson here? Answer ? watch for pitchers whose roles change. Pay even more attention to pitchers returning to their proper roles after a brief, forced experiment. Carmona failed miserably last year as the Indians tried to force a square peg (starting pitcher) into a round hole (closer role). His success in his return to the starting rotations was quite foreseeable. However, to be honest, few expected him to be this good so quickly.

Milton Bradley: Milton Bradley returned to the lineup Friday for the first time in two weeks. Yeah! Bradley did not look that good, but he is a very streaky hitter. For those who own Bradley, your chances of winning a fantasy title just went way up. Loyal readers know that Rick Wolf and I own the gamester in both LABR AL and NL, so another disclaimer about why I am rooting for Milton is not necessary. That said, reports are the Milton and his odd ways have not been a problem in San Diego. Thus, he is a good bet to settle down and produce next year. Keep him and play him if you have him.

Manny Ramirez: Reports out of Boston camp say that Manny is being Manny ? sitting on the bench. Apparently a light workout was quickly aborted. Given that the Sox are 2 games up in the loss column on the Yanks and are a virtual lock for the playoffs, Manny is not likely to see much time the rest of the way. If you own him in fantasy, give serious consideration to benching him.

Lastings Milledge: Mets outfielder Lastings Milledge earned himself a three game suspension ? one he promptly appealed. Given that the Mets are in a dogfight and that Carlos Beltran is hurting, the only way Milledge drops the appeal is if the Mets clinch in time. Stick with Lastings if you own him.
Last but not least, this week's Schultz Says: "Welcome to the desperate days of roto-baseball. It seems the last week of the roto-season will take place without such notable names as Albert Pujols, Carl Crawford, Vernon Wells and Tim Lincecum. These decisions are smart baseball moves but potentially crippling to your roto-team, well unless you had Wells.

If you are still scanning your league's free agent wire looking for a useful pickup for the last week of the season, you either have a competitive disorder or are in one seriously close race. If you fall into one of those categories, your best option is to look for players on teams that are still competing. In simpler terms, look at the Red Sox, Yankees, Mets, Phillies, Cubs, Brewers, Diamondbacks and Padres. The Tribe and the Anaheim Los Angeles California Angels have all but sewn up their division but are competing for the best record in the AL.

As Colton says eighteen times a column, if you are looking for lightning in a bottle, you might opt for Jayson Werth. Over the past couple weeks, he's received significant playing time. His numbers are yeoman like, but you aren't getting A-Rod type talent right about know.

Some other players to take a peek: Endy Chavez - Carlos Beltran tweaked his knee last night and Lastings Milledge owes the NL three days for his Thursday night outburst; Jacoby Ellsbury - with Coco Crisp wonky and Manny Ramirez unreliable, Ellsbury will see lots of time in some very meaningful games; Matt Murton -finally getting a starting job that should have been his from Opening Day.

Oh and if Prince Fielder or Jose Reyes are out there, pick them up.

Next week, the highly anticipated, over aggrandized 2007 All Schultz Awards."

Response: I know I will not be able to sleep all week in anticipation of the All Schultz Awards. Not. Ok, seriously, Schultz makes some good points here ? this is one time it is worth listening. Plus, he is still giddy over the Browns win, so let him enjoy his moment in the sun.

Final observation: To state the obvious ? I love baseball. It is a wonderful game enjoyed by fans of all ages. Of course, players, owners and business people should all be able to profit from the popularity of the sport. That is the capitalist way. However, the situation simply has gotten out of hand. Last week, a major league outfielder of little accomplishment (i.e., fewer lifetime homers than I have fingers and toes) was signing autographs at a local shopping mall. Just the fact that players charge little kids for signing autographs makes one yearn for a simpler era. I can bite my tongue and get over that. However, the fact that a fifth outfielder charges kids 50 dollars (or approximately 5 bucks per mangled letter one can hardly read) to sign his name causes me clutch my stomach and reach for the maalox. Ahh, but the indigestion got worse. The final indignity and stomach acid rush came when the "merchant" announced that it cost extra to get a "certificate of authenticity." Can you imagine ? charging a kid a 10 percent premium? I love the game and do not resent ARod's 25 Million or the fact that the run of the mill First Basemen makes over $5 Million per year. However, when no-name players charge kids a premium to prove that their very expensive signature really is their signature, we have really lost our way.

Enough preaching ? there are some great races in both fantasy and reality. Enjoy them this weekend.

Hache Man

"Seven Days Without Gambling Makes One Weak"
Re: Fantasy Baseball News 2007

Fountain of Youth

As injury-prone as he's been over the years, it's pretty clear with his play of late, that 41-year-old Moises Alou is hardly on his last legs.

With an RBI single in the eighth inning Sunday, Alou extended his career-best hitting streak to 27 games, setting a new Met franchise record in the process.

It's also the longest hitting streak in the bigs this year, besting the 26-gamer Casey Blake put up in May and June.

Alou's hit and subsequent defensive gem in the bottom of the inning (when he threw out Todd Linden at the plate) helped the Mets hang on to win a back and forth affair, 7-6 in 11 innings. Combined with Philly's loss in Washington, the Mets' NL East lead is back to a more comfortable 2.5 games.

David Wright owned the previous longest hitting streak in Mets' history, hitting safely in 26 straight starting last season and ending April 20 of this season.

"Moises had had a great second half," Mets manager Willie Randolph said. "He's basically carried us in a lot of ways?still one of the best hitters in the game."

It's been a frustrating season for Alou, who missed 66 games between May and July with a left quad strain. But when he's been in the lineup, he's delivered in a big way. For the season, he's batting .340 ? the second highest average of his 18-year career ? through 80 games and 300 at-bats. But as the season has progressed, Alou has really picked his game up. He's hitting .353 with 10 homers since the break, and he's swinging a .418 stick in September.

Makes you wonder if the Mets plan on picking up his 2008 option. Clearly, the old guy can still help out.

In fact, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, Alou is the oldest player in baseball history to enjoy a hitting streak of more than 21 games.

His fantasy owners have come to understand that Alou's next health crisis is always just around the corner, but for now, they're enjoying the ride. And so are the Mets.

While we wonder how long Moises Alou's taste from the Fountain of Youth will last, let's check in on other developing stories from this weekend's activity?

  • Where does this stuff come from? A report on the website of New York Magazine suggested that Scott Boras, the agent of Alex Rodriguez, contacted the party expected to buy the Cubs and talked to them about a deal for his client that would include A-Rod getting an eventual part ownership stake in the club. Boras shot the report down as a complete fabrication, and A-Rod called it "nonsense." Never mind the fact that, according to major league rules, a player is prohibited from owning a club or being offered potential equity of a club, which negates the report to an extent; even beyond that, it seems like a pie-in-the-sky idea that Boras would have already approached these people. Still, whatever works to sell papers is fair game, I suppose.
  • In an even wackier story, Milton Bradley had another meltdown Sunday and wound up being injured, when he was hurled to the ground ? by his own manager. It all started when Bradley struck out looking to end the fifth. Before his next at-bat, home plate umpire Brian Runge asked him if he had thrown his bat at him after the strikeout. Runge told him that another umpire had suggested that Bradley had done so. Bradley told Runge that the other umpire was wrong, and that he had done no such thing, and the episode appeared over. Bradley then singled, however, and when he got to first base, things got really out of control. He asked first base umpire Mike Winters if he was the one who had told Runge about the supposed bat throwing, and Winters confirmed that he did talk to Runge. That set off a lengthy and heated discussion between the two. Winters then tossed Bradley and Bradley went at him, immediately restrained by first base coach Bobby Meacham. Manager Bud Black quickly arrived on the scene and grabbed Bradley, desperately trying to get him away from Winters. But Bradley kept trying to get back in Winters' face until Black finally forced his outfielder to the ground ? causing an injury to Bradley's knee in the process. Worse yet, the injury appears serious enough to cost Bradley the rest of his season and possibly the playoffs. Bradley was livid in his post-game comments, suggesting that Winters should be reprimanded in the same way NBA referee Joey Crawford was in the wake of the Tim Duncan episode.

AL Quick Hits: C.J. Wilson tossed a shutout ninth inning Sunday to bag another save for the Rangers. Joaquin Benoit's recent struggles have manager Ron Washington pining for a veteran closer to be acquired this offseason, but Wilson is adamant that he can be the man earning saves in Texas?Julio Lugo's two-run homer in the top of the ninth Saturday against his ex-mates helped Boston down the Rays and clinch a playoff spot ? its fourth trip the to the post-season dance in five years?After Rich Harden experienced discomfort during his simulated game on Friday, the A's decided to shut him down the year?.Kelvim Escobar was able to throw in the bullpen yesterday, and looks on track to start Tuesday after missing his last outing with shoulder inflammation. This puts Escobar on schedule to start Game 2 of the ALDS?David DeJesus scored his 100th run Saturday, a career first and the first time a Royal has done so since Carlos Beltran in 2003.

NL Quick Hits: Matt Holliday has missed the past two games with a strained oblique muscle, but he will likely return against the Dodgers Tuesday night. Fortunately, the Rox won both games without Holliday to pull within a game and a half of the Padres?Ben Sheets still couldn't throw without discomfort on Saturday, so the Brewers pulled the plug on his Sunday start. Chris Capuano handled the assignment and gave Milwaukee five solid innings, but was denied a win when the bullpen suffered a late-game breakdown. There's no timetable for when Sheets will pitch again?Carlos Zambrano set a new career high with his 17th win Sunday as the Cubs wrapped up a sweep of the Pirates. The Big Z has won three times in his last four starts, but he had to come out after six innings yesterday with cramping in his forearm and legs. He says he's not concerned about this, and plans to make his next start Friday.

Hache Man

"Seven Days Without Gambling Makes One Weak"
Re: Fantasy Baseball News 2007

Out of Left Field

Talk about a bad day.

Suddenly, the Padres find themselves missing two-thirds of their outfield, and their Wild Card lead gone.

Sunday's bizarre episode that involved left fielder Milton Bradley suffering a season-ending injury when he was tossed to the ground by his manager after a heated argument with an umpire, was compounded by an injury to centerfielder Mike Cameron, hurt ironically, when he tried to avoid a collision with Bradley and had his hand stepped on.

There's nothing like having a team literally beat each other up.

Things went from bad to worse Monday night, as a depleted Padres' squad was manhandled by the Giants, 9-4, causing their slim half-game lead atop the Wild Card standings to evaporate.

The episode involving Bradley, which we discussed in Monday's Dose, resulted in a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. This is no day-to-day woe ? Bradley faces surgery within the next week and will have six-to-eight months of rehab to look forward to after that.

But the fallout from this incident goes beyond Bradley's injury. Major League Baseball will investigate whether Bradley was baited by first base umpire Mike Winters, who, according to Padres' officials, hurled plenty of profanities at Bradley before the situation exploded.

The players union may even get involved here. MLBPA general counsel Michael Weiner said the association will observe how MLB's investigation goes before assessing whether it plans to take action.

Then there is the issue of Bradley's contract situation. He's a pending free agent, but could he argue that the team should be held responsible for his injury? That's a can of worms that could very well be opened at some point.

Bradley is certainly no stranger to controversy. His career is littered with episodes often attributed to his temper. Obviously that's going to be factored in, but let's hope he gets a fair trial here. For his part, Bradley called the incident "the most unprofessional and most ridiculous thing I've ever seen." And that's saying something, considering his history.

Cameron, meanwhile, suffered a partially torn ligament in his thumb and a strained volar plate in the palm of his right hand. He won't be able to provide his Gold Glove defense or hit for the remainder of the regular season, but there's a possibility he can pinch run. There's no guarantee Cameron will be ready for the postseason, even if the Padres can hang on and make it.

That leaves the Padres employing Scott Hairston in left field and Brady Clark in center.

On Monday, San Diego went out and acquired Jason Lane from the Astros for a PTBNL or cash. He'll add some depth for the coming week, but will be ineligible for the postseason. The Padres will further bolster their ranks by recalling infielder Chase Headley, shifting Bradley to the 60-day DL to open up a roster spot, and using that spot to purchase the contract of outfielder Drew Macias.

For the Padres, however, what they seem to need more than anything now is some divine intervention.

While we try to make sense of one of the wackiest episodes you'll see on a diamond, let's check in on a quiet Monday night of action around the majors?

  • Albert Pujols was a late addition to the Cardinals' starting lineup Monday night. Phat Albert, nursing a sore calf, had been limited to a pair of pinch-hitting appearances this weekend. He's clearly not yet at full strength, going 0-for-3 with a walk, but he'll keep trying to gut it out. Pujols needs to drive in just one more run to record his seventh straight 100-RBI season.
  • It's been a disappointing season for the A's, guaranteed of their first losing season since 1998, but that didn't stop them from adding another year to their commitment of manager Bob Geren, picking up his 2009 option on Monday. Oakland also exercised its $5 million option on Mark Ellis for next season, rewarding its second baseman who ? finally healthy ? came through with a career year. In addition to providing excellent glovework at the keystone corner, Ellis set personal bests this season in at-bats, runs, hits, doubles, homers, RBI and SB.
  • A.J. Burnett was scratched from his Monday start against the Yankees for "personal reasons." Were the Jays hiding another injury? Given Toronto's recent history of less-than-forthcoming updates, we had reason to be skeptical, but this appears on the level as Burnett is scheduled to start Tuesday. In the meantime, Jesse Litsch got the assignment last night, and did the BoSox a massive favor by hurling a gem, helping Toronto steal a 4-1 win a rain makeup affair.

AL Quick Hits: It's hard to believe that in his entire 13-year career, Mark Grudzielanek had never hit a pinch-hit home run before Monday night. But I was shocked to learn he had only made 26 career appearances as a pinch-hitter. I guess when he hasn't been starting, he's simply been hurt, something Grudz has plenty of experience with?It hasn't exactly been a banner year for Jake Westbrook, just 6-9 after totaling 44 victories over the previous three seasons, but he came up big Sunday, whiffing a career-best nine to help the Tribe clinch its first AL Central title since 2001. Speaking of 2001, Westbrook's rookie season, that year was the last time he had a K/9 rate higher than this year (5.44). Never a big K man, Westbrook is suddenly fanning opposing hitters with regularly, chalking up 18 in his last 18 innings, and 26 in 30 2/3 innings this month. It's probably just an aberration, but noteworthy, nonetheless.

NL Quick Hits: Aaron Harang was rolling again Sunday, hurling five innings of shutout ball with seven Ks against the Giants. But the wheels came off in the sixth when he was torched for six hits and five runs in being handed his fifth loss of the season against 16 wins. Harang recovered with a shutout seventh before being removed, and while he matched a season high with 10 hits allowed, it's been a wonderful year for the 29-year-old righty. He ranks in the top five in the NL in strikeouts, winning percentage, innings pitched, complete games, wins and WHIP?How about some love for Canadian southpaw Jeff Francis? He tied the Colorado franchise record Sunday with win No. 17 on the season, helping the Rox, with an eighth straight win, keep alive hopes for a second playoff appearance in their 15-year history. Francis ranks second in the NL in wins and is in the top seven in inning pitched and winning percentage. I'm most impressed by the step forward he's taken in his strikeout rate, up over 1.5 Ks/9 from last season.

Hache Man

"Seven Days Without Gambling Makes One Weak"
Re: Fantasy Baseball News 2007

2008 AL Projected Rosters
Sorry about the absence of a column last week. Some family health issues have made things difficult around here for a little while.

Rather than the usual notes this week, I have two columns looking at projected lineups and rotations for 2008. There's some fun stuff here as far as trades and free agents, but I'm also trying to be realistic about what youngsters will enter next season with major roles. The AL rosters are below, and I expect to have the NL teams done in a couple of days.

With the season ending Sunday, the column will revert to being a once-weekly affair. The annual MVPs/LVPs column will be posted next Monday morning.

2008 American League Rosters


2B Brian Roberts
LF Andre Ethier/Jay Payton
RF Nick Markakis
1B Kevin Millar
DH Aubrey Huff
3B Melvin Mora
C Yorvit Torrealba
CF Felix Pie
SS Ronny Cedeno

Erik Bedard
Jeremy Guthrie
Vicente Padilla
Aaron Heilman
Adam Loewen/Garrett Olson

Scott Linebrink
Carlos Marmol
Jim Hoey

Yes, it's a little extreme, but the Orioles need to be about as busy as any team in baseball this winter. First, it's time to move Miguel Tejada, who has two years left on his deal. He's simply not a very good shortstop these days, and he's not ready to move to third base, at least not for a non-contender. His $13 million-per-year salary is hardly obscene and could be absorbed by several teams, including both Chicago squads. If he's willing to move to third, that opens up possibilities in Anaheim, Boston and maybe the Bronx, depending on what happens with Alex Rodriguez. The Cubs look like a fit if the outgoing ownership wants to add one more asset.

In all, I have four trades for the Orioles:

Tejada and Hayden Penn for Felix Pie, Carlos Marmol and Ronny Cedeno
Daniel Cabrera and Chad Bradford for Andre Ethier
Ramon Hernandez for Aaron Heilman
Jay Gibbons for Vicente Padilla

There's speculation that Luis Hernandez would take over at shortstop if Tejada is traded or switches positions, but the Orioles need to make getting a young shortstop a priority if they deal Tejada. Cedeno wouldn't be ideal, but he is more than a Tony Pena Jr. clone. If they don't get a shortstop, signing Juan Uribe would be a good idea.

Upgrading the pen is going to be a priority, even though the Orioles just spent $40 million on Danys Baez, Jamie Walker and Bradford last year. Expect them to land a veteran to fill in for Chris Ray in the closer's role. Eric Gagne, Scott Linebrink and Octavio Dotel are possibilities.

In the rotation, the Orioles have just two certainties in Erik Bedard and Jeremy Guthrie. Cabrera still has quite a bit of trade value and could go. The Orioles can take on one or two substantial contracts, especially if they deal Tejada. The Rangers seem to want Padilla gone, so Gibbons gets moved in an exchange of bad deals. If all goes according to plan, the Orioles will probably have just one rotation spot open for Adam Loewen, Garrett Olson and Brian Burres.

The Orioles aren't going to contend next year, but with Tejada and Hernandez to sell and an improved farm system, they can set themselves up for 2009. There's certainly more reason for optimism than there has been in at least five years. They just need to tread carefully in this year's free-agent market. The time to splurge is a year away.


RF J.D. Drew
2B Dustin Pedroia
DH David Ortiz
LF Manny Ramirez
3B Eric Chavez
1B Kevin Youkilis
C Jason Varitek
SS Julio Lugo
CF Jacoby Ellsbury

Josh Beckett
Daisuke Matsuzaka
Curt Schilling
Tim Wakefield
Jon Lester

Jonathan Papelbon
Hideki Okajima
Hitoki Iwase

There's increasing speculation that Curt Schilling won't be back in Boston, but the club has money and there just aren't any better options out there to spend it on. Besides perhaps Andy Pettitte, who almost certainly will stay with the Yankees, there's no free-agent starting pitcher that's a better bet for 2008. Maybe they'll move on anyway and pursue Koji Uehara. However, it makes more sense to give Schilling the $13 million he wants and keep that money freed up for next winter, when Johan Santana, C.C. Sabathia, Ben Sheets, Kazumi Saitoh and A.J. Burnett could all be available. Another possibility is that they'll forgo signing a starter and put both Lester and Clay Buchholz into the rotation to begin the year. However, unless they spend all of their money on Alex Rodriguez, they're going to want a safety net and will likely have Buchholz in that role.

Besides Schilling and Mike Lowell, the other big decision for Boston will be whether to free up a spot for Jacoby Ellsbury or give him the same role Melky Cabrera had at the start of this year and assume he'll get 400 at-bats anyway. I don't think a J.D. Drew trade is happening and there's been no talk of Manny Ramirez wanting out, so it will probably come down to how much demand there is for Coco Crisp. While Crisp has been a disappointment offensively again, he deserves a Gold Glove for the way he's played center field this year. He's also not very expensive at $11 million for two years or $18.5 million for three. There should be significant interest in him at that price. The A's need an upgrade in center and could look to dump Eric Chavez's contract. Since Boston isn't covered by Chavez's no-trade protection, there is a fit. The Red Sox would probably have to include either Jed Lowrie or Craig Hansen along with Crisp.

If the Red Sox instead re-sign Lowell, then they'll likely enter 2008 with largely the same team. They could look to Japan for some more bullpen help and sign a Ben Broussard or Ryan Klesko to aid the bench. With the farm system producting, there isn't a lot they need to do.


SS Felipe Lopez
LF Josh Fields
DH Jim Thome
1B Paul Konerko
CF Torii Hunter
RF Jermaine Dye
C A.J. Pierzynski
3B Joe Crede
2B Danny Richar

Mark Buehrle
Javier Vazquez
Jose Contreras
John Danks
Kris Benson/Gavin Floyd/Dustin Nippert

Bobby Jenks
Tony Pena
Matt Thornton

The White Sox need to get a whole lot better in center field and figure to target Torii Hunter and Aaron Rowand. It'd be a surprise if they didn't sign one of the two, though they don't have as much financial flexibility as some teams after inking both Mark Buehrle and Jermaine Dye to extensions. That's why Jon Garland is expected to go. The haul won't be quite as strong as it would have been a year ago, as he has just one season left on his contract, but he will be in demand, with the Diamondbacks, Rangers and Phillies among those likely to come calling. I have him going to Arizona for a setup man with closer stuff in Tony Pena and a rotation candidate in Dustin Nippert.

The acquisition of Pena or a similar reliever would help address the team's second priority. Bobby Jenks is the only member of the bullpen to meet expectations this year, so GM Ken Williams will try to land a couple of setup men. Mike MacDougal, David Aardsma and Andrew Sisco all figured to be shopped as part of the makeover.

Also in the cards is a change at shortstop. The White Sox will probably decline Juan Uribe's option and give Omar Vizquel a look. David Eckstein is one more option, though he could be too costly if the club spends big in center. I have Felipe Lopez coming over from the Nationals for MacDougal, but the White Sox might prefer a superior defender.

That's pretty much it. Josh Fields has OBP troubles, but he's done enough to justify the starting job in left field. The White Sox aren't going to do better than Joe Crede at third without parting with young talent. Jose Contreras has had a strong enough finish that the White Sox may no longer feel it's worth eating a portion of his contract to move him. Gio Gonzalez should have a rotation spot eventually, but he'll probably have to wait a while as the White Sox add a veteran or two to compete with Gavin Floyd.

Cleveland -

CF Grady Sizemore
2B Asdrubal Cabrera/Marcus Giles
DH Travis Hafner
C Victor Martinez
1B Ryan Garko
3B Mark Teahen
SS Jhonny Peralta
LF Brad Wilkerson/David Dellucci
RF Franklin Gutierrez/Brad Wilkerson

C.C. Sabathia
Fausto Carmona
Jake Westbrook
Kenshin Kawakami
Cliff Lee/Jeremy Sowers

Joe Borowski
Rafael Betancourt
Brian Fuentes

Might a first-place finish and the sale of the Jacobs Field naming rights cause the Indians to loosen the purse strings a bit? They should have enough flexibility to go after a quality starting pitcher or corner outfielder, and if they want to do it through a trade, they have Paul Byrd, Cliff Lee, Josh Barfield, Franklin Gutierrez, Andy Marte and more to offer up. As tough as C.C. Sabathia is going to be to retain after next year, a starting pitcher should be the priority.

Byrd figures to be more attractive to teams than Lee. I have him and Ben Francisco going to Kansas City for Mark Teahen, who can be put back at third base. He should be cheaper and better than Casey Blake. Barfield is also on the move. He's had a terrible year in the AL, but he still figures to be a long-term regular, and with four years left until free agency, he's quite an asset. The Rockies should be willing to trade one year of Brian Fuentes for him. Fuentes would be a luxury for an Indians team that has had Rafael Perez excel this year. Still, he'd be another fallback for Joe Borowski, whose option will be picked up, and he'd give the team one of the best pens in the AL.

Replacing Byrd is Kenshin Kawakami, one of the top two starters likely to make the jump from Japan to MLB this year. A trade for Joe Blanton is another possibility.

If the Indians keep Gutierrez, they should be planning on using him regularly. Trot Nixon will go and be replaced by someone to battle David Dellucci and Jason Michaels for playing time. Brad Wilkerson is a fine choice. Asdrubal Cabrera should be locked in as the Indians' second baseman, but some veteran insurance in the form of Marcus Giles or Jose Valentin would be nice. Odds are that the Indians will have just one rotation spot for Cliff Lee and Jeremy Sowers. Lee is deserving of another chance.

The Indians should enter 2008 as the heavy favorites in the AL Central. Still, their future might not be as bright as Detroit's unless they're willing to go to a $100 million payroll by 2009. Sabathia, who could top Barry Zito's deal, would be awfully tough to replace.


CF Curtis Granderson
2B Placido Polanco
DH Gary Sheffield
RF Magglio Ordonez
1B Carlos Guillen
C Ivan Rodriguez
LF Ryan Church/Marcus Thames
3B Brandon Inge
SS Tomohiro Nioka

Justin Verlander
Kenny Rogers
Jeremy Bonderman
Chris Capuano
Esteban Loaiza

Todd Jones
Joel Zumaya
Jeremy Affeldt

Despite an offense that exceeded expectations, the Tigers weren't quite good enough this year. Now they have to try to decide whether to try it again with essentially the same crew or jettison free agents Ivan Rodriguez, Kenny Rogers and Todd Jones. Much could depend on whether Mike Illitch ramps up the payroll one more time. Odds are that they won't add another Gary Sheffield to help them overtake Cleveland in the AL Central.

I have the Tigers keeping all three free agents. Pudge has been a major disappointment offensively, but none of the free agent catchers will be better investments. $10 million for one year (subtracting the $3 million buyout) isn't too much to pay. Rogers says he'll pitch for Detroit or go home, and it doesn't seem like he's quite done. I thought Jones was a goner, but Joel Zumaya has essentially had a lost year because of the finger injury. With Jones only set to require a one-year investment and the top setup man likely to demand three or four years, it makes sense to maintain the status quo for a while longer.

The Tigers also have to decide whether to pursue a shortstop or a first baseman. It appears that they'd prefer Carlos Guillen at first. Trades for Edgar Renteria, Jack Wilson or Adam Everett are possibilities to fill the hole at short. Another would be to sign Tomohiro Nioka, a very solid defender with modest offensive upside. He'd make plenty of sense here.

Also to be addressed is the rotation. The Tigers have soured a bit on Nate Robertson and could deal him for another starter or a reliever. Esteban Loaiza has made a poor first impression in Los Angeles, and the Dodgers will be looking to add a lefty starter. A one-for-one deal could work. Chris Capuano arrives in exchange for Fernando Rodney. It'd be quite a blow to the pen, but Capuano was looking like one of the NL's top lefties only a few months ago.

The final need then would be in left field. It's possible for the club to get by with Marcus Thames while Cameron Maybin continues his development in the minors, but adding another left-handed hitter as insurance would make sense. Ryan Church, Shawn Green and Trot Nixon could be among the possibilities.

Kansas City

CF David DeJesus
2B Mark Grudzielanek
3B Alex Gordon
DH Billy Butler
RF Geoff Jenkins/Ben Francisco
LF Shannon Stewart/Joey Gathright
1B Ross Gload/Ryan Shealy
C John Buck
SS Tony Pena Jr.

Gil Meche
Paul Byrd
Brian Bannister
Zack Greinke
Kyle Davies/Jorge De La Rosa

Joakim Soria
David Riske
Jimmy Gobble

With Buddy Bell resigning, the Royals' first priority this winter will be deciding on a new manager. Terry Pendleton is looked at as a favorite, though he may pass and wait for the opportunity to take over for Bobby Cox in Atlanta. Then again, the Kansas City job is quite a bit more attractive now than it's been in some time. Alex Gordon and Billy Butler are the biggest reasons why, but the Royals also have the makings of a solid pitching staff and an owner finally willing to spend some money.

The Royals will want to add at least one more starter this winter. It looked like it'd have to be two, but Zack Greinke has served notice that he belongs in the rotation and he should enter spring training with a spot to lose. With few quality starters available in free agency, the Royals should turn to the trade market. Paul Byrd would be ideal since he's pitched in Kansas City before and likely would be open to sticking around after 2008. Loaiza, Capuano and Dave Bush could also be possibilities. If the Royals do explore the free agent options, it figures that they'll be in on Carlos Silva, Jon Lieber and Kyle Lohse.

Joakim Soria's emergence means the Royals won't have to chase a closer. Still, if one falls into their laps, much like Octavio Dotel did last year, they could use Soria as a setup man.

The offense could be fairly well set except for the outfield. The Royals could pick up someone to play first base like Sean Casey or Dan Johnson, but they like Ross Gload and wouldn't be afraid to platoon him there with Shealy. The outfield could be completely jumbled with Emil Brown and Reggie Sanders expected to depart and both David DeJesus and Mark Teahen candidates to be traded. I have Teahen going for Byrd, opening up right field for a free agent. Geoff Jenkins would be a nice middle-of-the-order option, and he probably won't be very expensive. Signing a veteran to battle Joey Gathright for playing time in left field makes sense. With the lineup getting a little lefty heavy, Shannon Stewart, Craig Monroe or Scott Podsednik would work. I like the idea of trading for Jonny Gomes, but I'm guessing Dayton Moore doesn't.

The Royals could be a .500 team in 2009 with luck. In the National League, they'd have a realistic chance of getting there next year.

Los Angeles -

3B Chone Figgins
SS Orlando Cabrera
DH/LF Barry Bonds
RF Vladimir Guerrero
LF/DH Garret Anderson
CF Gary Matthews Jr.
1B Casey Kotchman/Kendry Morales
2B Howie Kendrick
C Mike Napoli/Jeff Mathis

John Lackey
Kelvim Escobar
Jered Weaver
Joe Saunders
Ervin Santana

Francisco Rodriguez
Scot Shields
Justin Speier

With Chone Figgins bouncing back, Casey Kotchman solidifying his status and Joe Saunders establishing himself, the Angels won't have a lot of needs this winter. They could pursue a left fielder or DH, but that might depend on how the offense performs in the postseason. If a big bat is needed, well, there are few bigger than that of Barry Bonds. They'd also be fools not to make a run at A-Rod if he becomes available, and they've displayed plenty of interest in Tejada in the past. Still, they could stick with what they have and let Juan Rivera and Kendry Morales battle it out, with Brandon Wood a possibility to enter the mix later. A full year removed from a broken leg, Rivera should be a more-than-adequate regular next year. I have Bonds landing in Anaheim, but I'm not sure there's anything more than a 10 percent chance it happens.

On the pitching side, the Angels should have a fine rotation even with Bartolo Colon likely to depart. They can add some veteran insurance, but they don't need anyone to start over Santana. Someone like Freddy Garcia or Randy Wolf would be nice, as the Angels aren't likely to need any help during the first couple of months.

It's possible the Angels' biggest move this winter will be to sign Francisco Rodriguez to an extension before he can become a free agent after next year. Especially if they go to the World Series, they're not going to make many changes to a formula that's working pretty well.


CF Kenny Lofton
SS Jason Bartlett
C Joe Mauer
RF Michael Cuddyer
1B Justin Morneau
DH Mike Piazza
LF Jason Kubel
3B Pedro Feliz/Brian Buscher
2B Nick Punto

Johan Santana
Francisco Liriano
Scott Baker
Matt Garza
Kevin Slowey/ Boof Bonser

Joe Nathan
Pat Neshek
Matt Guerrier

With a new GM after Terry Ryan surprisingly stepped down last week, it'd be nice to see the Twins be a little more aggressive this winter. Ryan's reputation was mostly deserved, but he had a spectacularly awful final year in Minnesota, even after factoring in what kind of budget he was working with. This time around, the Twins need to do something about big holes at second base, third base and DH, plus the one that's likely to open up in center field with Hunter set to do far better elsewhere.

The problem is that what money the Twins have just won't go as far as it used to. They're fortunate in that they need only make minimal additions to the pitching staff. However, they're still not going to be able to build a great offense around Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau. Odds are that they'll go with Nick Punto at second base, where his bat won't play quite as terribly. Brian Buscher doesn't have the glove to play third base regularly. Pedro Feliz does and would likely come rather cheap. Corey Patterson and Kenny Lofton would be adequate choices in center. Lofton makes more sense here since the Twins will want someone who can bat leadoff. That leaves the DH spot. The Twins didn't want Mike Piazza last year, but he still looks like a solid choice. They might instead go for Luis Gonzalez or Shawn Green. Scott Podsednik as a left fielder, with Jason Kubel DHing, is one possibility.

The rotation should be fine with Francisco Liriano expected to be ready for Opening Day. Carlos Silva is leaving, but the Twins can count on Scott Baker and Matt Garza and they'll have more candidates coming up behind Boof Bonser and Kevin Slowey as the season progresses.

The Twins have four players among the best in the game at what they do, so rebuilding just isn't an option yet. Unfortunately, with Johan Santana and Joe Nathan both free agents after next season, time might be running out. The one move the Twins could make to get back into contention next year would be to sign Bonds. However, that's an extreme long shot. If they do nothing more than add a few $3 million-$5 million players, odds are that they'll finish in third or fourth place.

New York -

1B Johnny Damon/CF Melky Cabrera
SS Derek Jeter
RF Bobby Abreu
3B Alex Rodriguez
LF Hideki Matsui
C Jorge Posada
DH Jason Giambi
2B Robinson Cano
CF Melky Cabrera/1B Andy Phillips

Chien-Ming Wang
Andy Pettitte
Mike Mussina
Phil Hughes
Joba Chamberlain/Ian Kennedy

Mariano Rivera
Luis Vizcaino
Cla Meredith

It's hard to imagine the Yankees going a winter without picking up a key free agent, but all they really need to do right now is keep their own. That means giving Alex Rodriguez an extension worth close to $30 million per year, picking up Bobby Abreu's $16 million option and re-signing Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte ($16 million player option). If they do all that, they're probably not going to have a great deal of room in the budget anyway.

So, I have the Yankees retaining all five players, as well as setup man Luis Vizcaino, who is likely to command a three- or four-year deal worth about $5 million per year. The player most likely to depart might be Abreu. If that happens, Johnny Damon should move back to the outfield, opening up a spot for someone like Dan Johnson, Ben Broussard or Shea Hillenbrand at first base. Damon, though, needs to get a long look at first base anyway. He has too much physical ability to be wasted as a DH. A Damon trade is a possibility, but he's bounced back enough in the second half that the Yankees shouldn't pay someone to take him.

If the Yankees dump Abreu or Damon, then it's more likely that they'd add another starter. It sounds like they're still committed to putting Joba Chamberlain in the rotation, but he's been so dominant in the pen that some will push for him to stay there. I have him opening the season as the fifth starter, though that would leave Ian Kennedy out of the mix.

Any trades made would likely involve Kei Igawa, Wilson Betemit or Kyle Farnsworth. I have two going down. The Padres remain interested in Igawa and might give up Cla Meredith for him if the Yankees don't insist on getting a portion of the posting fee back in a deal. With A-Rod back, Betemit would be seen as expendable. Betemit and Carl Pavano to Oakland for Mark Kotsay and Kiko Calero, with the Yankees paying the difference between the salaries, could help both teams.

Even if the Red Sox hold on and win their first outright division title since 1995, the Yankees need only retain their current group to head into 2008 as the slight favorites in the AL East. After the run they've had in the second half, they'd deserve it.

Oakland -

CF Coco Crisp
1B Daric Barton
RF Nick Swisher
DH Jack Cust
3B Wilson Betemit
2B Mark Ellis
LF Travis Buck/Chris Denorfia
SS Bobby Crosby
C Kurt Suzuki

Dan Haren
Koji Uehara
Rich Harden
Joe Blanton
Chad Gaudin/Carl Pavano

Huston Street
Justin Duchscherer
Alan Embree

Devastated by injuries, the A's have gotten to take long looks at players they didn't expect to this year. Some will likely be a part of next year's team (Jack Cust, Daric Barton and Kurt Suzuki), while others probably shouldn't be (Dallas Braden, Donnie Murphy and Colby Lewis). With Eric Chavez, Rich Harden, Bobby Crosby and Mark Kotsay all getting hurt, it's clear that changes are needed. Durability might not be the new market inefficiency, but the A's need to take it heavily into consideration as they build next year's team.

First, a fresh start in center field and at either shortstop or third base would be nice. Kotsay's toughness isn't in question, but his back problems aren't going away and he's a massive liability when he tries to play at less than 100 percent. A reduced role seems necessary, so even if the A's keep him, they should make him a fourth outfielder. Chavez is owed $35 million for three years, so there are probably only a few teams out there that would be willing to gamble on him. The Red Sox could be one, and they have Coco Crisp to offer in return. A trade would give the A's the top defensive center fielder they covet and a lot more financial flexibility. With Esteban Loaiza's salary also off the books, the A's could potentially land Koji Uehara, Kenshin Kawakami or perhaps Bartolo Colon.

The A's will get offers for Dan Haren, Joe Blanton and maybe Harden, but they need to add pitching. They'd almost have to get a quality young starter in return. A deal with the Mets involving Mike Pelfrey and/or Lastings Milledge seems even less likely than it did last winter.

Daric Barton's impressive September should mean that he'll be the first baseman. Dan Johnson can go in a deal for relief help or stay as insurance, something the A's need to make sure they have more of going forward. Travis Buck, who was rarely healthy as a rookie, should be a starter, but he needs a quality backup. Chris Denorfia can start over him against lefties. The A's could also have Chris Snelling around if he makes the team.

It's safe to assume that the Barry Bonds rumors will start as soon as the World Series ends. The A's could sign him as their primary DH and use Jack Cust in left field, but if that means Nick Swisher in center and Buck in right, they'd be leaving themselves with perhaps the game's worth outfield defense. I'm guessing they let him go elsewhere. They really shouldn't need him to contend. What they will need is a lot more luck on the injury front. 180 innings from Harden would go a long way.


CF Ichiro Suzuki
DH Jose Vidro/Mike Lamb
LF Raul Ibanez
1B Richie Sexson
3B Adrian Beltre
C Kenji Johjima
2B Ray Durham
RF Adam Jones
SS Yuniesky Betancourt

Felix Hernandez
Jarrod Washburn
Miguel Batista
Noah Lowry
Brandon Morrow/Cha Seung Baek

J.J. Putz
George Sherrill
Sean Green

That they were especially fortunate when it comes to injuries helped fuel the Mariners' bid for a postseason spot this year. They came up a ways short, but the team's progress should be enough to buy GM Bill Bavasi at least one more year at the helm. Whether new manager John McLaren will get to stick around is another matter.

The Mariners received next to nothing from Jeff Weaver and Horacio Ramirez this year, so they'll be trying two new starters in 2008. One might be Brandon Morrow, though if he's going to move back into the rotation as planned, he might need at least a month or two in the minors before he's ready to be an asset. The other figures to be a veteran. A trade for Jon Garland or Chris Capuano could be considered. Ideally, they'd be able to get someone rather young, as both Jarrod Washburn and Miguel Batista can only be counted on for so much longer. Noah Lowry seems ideal, and the Giants could be willing to part with him for two from the group of Jose Lopez, Jeff Clement and Wladimir Balentien. I have Lopez and Clement going to San Francisco, with Ray Durham's salary getting thrown back to make things a little more favorable for the Giants.

If the Mariners choose to give Lopez one more year, the offense could look essentially the same. Bavasi passed on a chance to dump Richie Sexson's salary at the trade deadline, so it remains to be seen whether he'll have any more interest in making the move this winter. There figures to be limited interest in the big first baseman after his disastrous season. The Mariners may make one more attempt to re-sign Jose Guillen, but they'd be better off going to Adam Jones in right field. If the Mariners do keep Guillen, they should put Jones in left, Raul Ibanez at first and jettison Sexson.

I still don't have a great deal of faith in Bavasi, but the Mariners have a makings of a 90-win team if Felix Hernandez takes a step forward and Sexson bounces back. Dumping McLaren might help.

Tampa Bay

3B Akinori Iwamura
CF B.J. Upton
1B Carlos Pena
RF Delmon Young
LF/DH Luis Gonzalez
DH/LF Rocco Baldelli
2B Brendan Harris
C Dioner Navarro
SS Tony Abreu

Scott Kazmir
James Shields
Chad Billingsley
Andy Sonnanstine/Edwin Jackson
Jason Hammel/Jeff Niemann

Dan Wheeler
Jorge Julio
Salomon Torres

The Rays have had some encouraging developments this year, with James Shields' development and B.J. Upton's successful transition to center field topping the list, but they still appear poised to finish with the game's worst record and their pitching staff has an ERA half a run higher than the next worst in baseball. There are some quality pitching prospects on the way, but it still might be time to cash in Carl Crawford and give the staff the boost it clearly needed.

Not that parting with Crawford would be an easy decision, as he's just 26 and he's one of the game's best defensive outfielders and basestealers. Still, he just hasn't made much progress offensively since 2005. In fact, he's striking out more than ever this year, hardly a good sign. If Crawford becomes available, the Angels, White Sox and Dodgers figure to top the list of interested teams. The Angels could no longer build a deal around Ervin Santana, but they could make Jered Weaver and Erick Aybar available. The Dodgers would have the best package to offer up if they were willing to move Chad Billinglsey. It'd be a high price to pay, but Crawford is GM Ned Colletti's kind of player and he's under control for three years at an affordable rate. Crawford and Al Reyes for Billingley, Jonathan Meloan and Tony Abreu would be fair.

If the Rays keep Crawford, Rocco Baldelli would likely enter 2008 as a regular DH. The Rays would have to give him a chance to rebuild his value before they considered moving him. Jonny Gomes would become expendable and might be anyway. He goes to Texas for Frank Francisco. The Rays also figure to move forgotten man Elijah Dukes. If Dukes can sort through his legal problems, he should be starting in some team's outfield next year. He'd be a smart pickup for a Pirates team in need of upside hitters. Let's send him there in return for Salomon Torres.

It's safe to assume that the Rays will continue to break in youngsters next year. Akinori Iwamura should be given time at second base in spring training. I'm guessing Evan Longoria won't break camp with the team, but he could claim a job at some point during May. The Rays also have Jeff Niemann and Mitch Talbot as spring rotation candidates, with Wade Davis and Jake McGee possibilities to arrive in the second half. Niemann will be a quite a sleeper if he's at full strength next March. At shortstop, the Rays will be on the lookout for a stopgap until Reid Brignac is ready. If they don't trade for a shortstop, then a one-year deal for someone like Cesar Izturis or Juan Uribe would be a possibility.

If the Orioles opt to rebuild, as they should, the Rays could finish out of last place in the AL East for just the second time in franchise history next season. .500 will probably be out of reach for another year, but at least the team will be fun to watch.


LF Frank Calalanotto/Jason Botts
2B Ian Kinsler
SS Michael Young
3B Hank Blalock
RF Jonny Gomes
DH Jay Gibbons/Sammy Sosa
1B Shea Hillenbrand
CF David Murphy/Marlon Byrd
C Jarrod Saltalamacchia

Kevin Millwood
Jon Lieber
Brandon McCarthy
Scott Olsen
Kason Gabbard/Edinson Volquez

Akinori Otsuka
C.J. Wilson
Joaquin Benoit

If Vernon Wells were available, I don't doubt that the Rangers would target him. However, now they have to decide whether it's worth pursuing Torii Hunter or Andruw Jones this winter when it's highly unlikely that they'll be in a position to contend in 2008. Hunter is the one they'd likely target, and he's believed to favor Texas as a possible destination. Still, since his price tag may reach $90 million-$100 million, it could make more sense to stay away.

I have the Rangers sticking with what they have in center field. While I've ripped Tom Hicks a time or two for being cheap, this just isn't the winter for the team to be spending big money. It'd be better to work around the edges and maybe make Kevin Millwood available, if his partial no-trade clause isn't too tough to deal with. The Rangers will try to move Vicente Padilla and could shop Gerald Laird to open up catching duties for Jarrod Saltalamacchia.

I have Padilla going to Baltimore for Jay Gibbons. To the White Sox for Jose Contreras probably won't work because Ozzie Guillen is less than fond of him. The Pirates should offer up Matt Morris, but Morris would probably be a Horacio Ramirez-type disaster in the AL.

Getting the troubled Scott Olsen from Florida would be a great gamble for GM Jon Daniels. Offering Florida a catcher for now (Laird) and the future (Taylor Teagarden) could get a deal done. With Salty around, both are expendable. The Rangers could also part with Frank Francisco or Wes Littleton to get Jonny Gomes from Tampa Bay, giving them a 25- or 30-homer guy in right field or at DH.

It's likely the Rangers will try to add one reliable starter. Jon Lieber or Carlos Silva would fit. Ideally, they'd leave just one spot for Kason Gabbard, Edinson Volquez or Kameron Loe. Gabbard would be the favorite. In the bullpen, the Rangers will look for a veteran closer if they don't think Akinori Otsuka will be back. It's possible Otsuka will be non-tendered in December if the Rangers are worried that he'll need Tommy John surgery. They could then go after Todd Jones or maybe even Eric Gagne.

Should the Rangers end up with Hunter, then they might as well go for it in 2008. Signing Uehara or Kawakami would be a good start. If they make those two moves and bring in Bonds, they could really mount a threat in the AL West. Still, it might be for the best if they avoid the big-ticket items this winter and save the extra cash to make a huge bid for Johan Santana or C.C. Sabathia next winter.


LF Matt Stairs/Reed Johnson
RF Alex Rios
CF Vernon Wells
DH Frank Thomas
3B Troy Glaus
1B Lyle Overbay
2B Aaron Hill
C Gregg Zaun
SS John McDonald/Juan Uribe

Roy Halladay
A.J. Burnett
Shaun Marcum
Dustin McGowan
Matt Clement/Jesse Litsch

B.J. Ryan
Jeremy Accardo
Casey Janssen

The Jays have made it pretty clear that they want to bring back essentially the same team in 2008. A couple of months ago, it looked like they'd jettison A.J. Burnett, who has the option of becoming a free agent after next season, but his strong finish makes that far less likely. Troy Glaus, another candidate to go, shouldn't have any trade value left after steroid allegations and surgery for plantar fasciitis. He has a no-trade clause anyway.

GM J.P. Ricciardi seems to think better fortune in the health department will make the Jays contenders next year. Still, injuries are a part of the game and the Jays could use more depth, especially in the infield. Unfortunately, they seem content with John McDonald at shortstop, but bringing in Juan Uribe to compete with him would work. They also desperately need a legitimate backup at third base. Morgan Ensberg or Mike Lamb would be nice.

The pitching should be pretty well set. B.J. Ryan isn't a lock to be ready for Opening Day after missing a year following Tommy John surgery, but the Jays have Accardo as protection. Casey Janssen figures to remain in the pen after his impressive performance this year. He has the ability to start, but there's less of a need in the rotation now with the way Marcum and Dustin McGowan have stepped up. Jesse Litsch will probably have to battle a veteran for the final spot in the rotation. Matt Clement, Shawn Chacon and Tony Armas Jr. are possibilities.

If the top two starters stay healthy and McGowan continues to blossom, the Jays have the potential to top 90 wins next year. Of course, they're still in the wrong division. Another third place finish is likely.

Hache Man

"Seven Days Without Gambling Makes One Weak"
Re: Fantasy Baseball News 2007

Divine Intervention

In Tuesday's Daily Dose, I discussed the Padres' shrinking outfield and NL Wild Card lead, summing up by writing "For the Padres, however, what they seem to need more than anything now is some divine intervention."

Well, what a difference a day makes.

Trailing 4-0 to the Giants at the end of five innings Tuesday night, San Diego pecked away at the lead until Brian Giles ? the lone regular Padre outfielder still standing ? delivered a three-run homer with two outs in the top of the ninth to propel the Friars to a dramatic 6-4 win.

With his 12th home run of the season, Giles not only snapped a horrible 4-for-52 slump, but he rescued the Padres from falling into a three-way tie with the Phillies and Rockies for the NL Wild Card lead.

Instead, San Diego takes a one-game lead into action tonight, and it has its ace ? Jake Peavy ? on the mound for the finale of the Giants' series. Heck, with Arizona stumbling Tuesday night, the Pads are even back within two games of the NL West lead, although obviously that's a long shot with just five games remaining.

Still, when divine intervention is on your side ? for those of you who believe in that sort of thing ? anything is possible.

With things looking far less bleak in San Diego this morning, let's turn our attention to the rest of the action on Tuesday night?

  • Prince Fielder put on a show Tuesday, slugging a pair of two-run homers and walking twice. At the age of 23, he is the youngest player in MLB history to reach 50 home runs in a season. He has joined his estranged dad Cecil to become the only father-son 50-homer duo in the history of the game. Don't blame Fielder for the Brewers' swoon; he is hardly crawling to the finish line with 11 homers, 22 RBI, 22 runs and 17 walks in just 81 September at-bats. Milwaukee is back within two games of the Cubs, but it's going to take a miracle for the Brew Crew to pull this one out of the fire.</I>
  • Roger Clemens (hamstring) was again scratched from his scheduled start last night, and the Yankees have announced that the Rocket won't throw again during the regular season. He is expected to start Game 3 of the ALDS, however. It's pretty clear Clemens isn't 100 percent, so how much he'll be able to offer during the playoffs is very much in doubt. If there's any chance at all he can crawl out to the mound and throw five innings, the Yanks will send him out there.
  • Adam Dunn will go under the knife today in a minor procedure to clean out his sore right knee. He finishes what is likely his second best season with a .264 BA, .386 OBP and .554 SLG, while reaching 40 homers for the fourth straight season. The Reds hold a $13.5 million option on Dunn for next season and it will be quite surprising if they don't exercise it.
  • The Rays have finally shut down Carl Crawford and his strained groin. He's been out since September 16. While his growing strikeout total was of concern, Crawford still hit a robust .315 this season, the highest average of his career, while swiping 50 bases in 60 tries.
  • We had a Manny sighting on Tuesday. Out since August 28 with an oblique strain, Ramirez returned to the Sox lineup and was inserted into the two-hole. The two-hole? Okay. Obviously, Boston just wanted him to get an extra at-bat. Manny was 1-for-2 with a walk, and was lifted for a pinch-runner after his fifth-inning free pass. He seemed fine, so it's reasonable to assume Ramirez will be back in action tonight.

AL Quick Hits: Don't blame the Tigers' offense for them being virtually guaranteed of not having the chance to defend their AL Championship. Magglio Ordonez's sixth-inning double Tuesday gave Detroit 2,550 total bases for the year ? breaking the franchise record set by the 1987 incarnation?Maggs, by the way, now has 136 RBI, the most by any Tiger since 1961, when Rocky Colavito drove in 140?Ian Kennedy won't be available in the first round of the playoffs because of his back. If Clemens' hamstring (discussed above) doesn't respond, the Yanks will have some tough decisions to make?Vladimir Guerrero was able to play catch Tuesday for the first time since September 14, but it appears he won't be ready to man right field at the start of the playoffs. It's a situation that's going to limit the Halos' flexibility?Tony Pena matched a career high Tuesday with four hits, scoring three runs in the process. He fell a triple shy of the cycle?Erick Aybar picked a good way to snap an 0-for-18 drought. He went yard for the first homer of his 223-at-bat major league career?The Twins have been shut out a major league high 14 times this year, the second straight season they've endured that many shutouts, which is a franchise record.

NL Quick Hits: Apparently, the Pirates weren't waffling as they've gone ahead and hired Indians' assistant GM Neal Huntington as their new general manager. The 37-year-old's first big decision will be whether to retain manager Jim Tracy, who hasn't exactly turned the Buccos' fortunes around?Dontrelle Willis salvaged something from his disappointing season Tuesday, limiting the Cubs to two hits over eight innings to improve to 10-15. It was just his third win in 15 decisions since May 29. The D-Train fanned seven, becoming the Marlins' career strikeout leader in the process?Craig Biggio drove in the go-ahead run last night in what will likely be the final road start of his career. Career hit No. 3,056 vaulted Biggio past Rickey Henderson into sole possession of 20th place on the all-time list. Cap Anson is 19th, but is beyond Biggio's reach, 25 hits ahead?Brad Penny tossed five innings Tuesday to set a new personal high with 208 innings pitched. Unfortunately, he was not effective last night, and the Dodgers lost for the eighth time in nine games, officially eliminating them from post-season contention?Jeff Suppan hurled eight innings Tuesday to beat the Cardinals and improve to 11-12 on the year. Three of those wins have come at the expense of his ex-team.

Hache Man

"Seven Days Without Gambling Makes One Weak"
Re: Fantasy Baseball News 2007

Guys to Remember in '08

This week I'll discuss some guys who are on my radar for next year's draft. Then I'll debate with some emailers on the topic of drafting hitters early.
Thanks to all of you for tuning into OTBS this season. I had a lot of fun, as always. See you in April!
[SIZE=+1]Topic of the Week: Guys to Remember in '08[/SIZE]
I don't know about you, but at the end of every season I make a mental list of guys to remember for the following year's draft. Of course, by the time the season rolls around, some of those names have escaped me?that is until someone else shouts them out on draft day. So, with that in mind, I'm writing my list down this time. That way, we can both refer back to it later.
Wily Mo Pena ? David Ortiz is on record as saying Wily Mo is going to be just like Big Papi once he gets enough at bats to figure out the curveball. How's that for an endorsement? Based on his performance since the trade to Washington, it seems Wily is determined to prove him right. In 118 at bats with the Nationals, he is hitting .295 with eight long balls. Expect Pena to start next year, and expect him to provide value. If 2008 turns out to be his "breakout" season, he'll be the steal of the draft.
Jacoby Ellsbury ? The first Native American of Navajo descent to make the major leagues, Ellsbury is a fantasy goldmine waiting to happen?mainly because of his Randy Moss type speed. I've watched him beat out seemingly routine grounders and take second base off a pickoff attempt at first. He has the potential to swipe 50 bases under the right circumstances. But what sets him apart from the Scott Podsedniks is that Ellsbury can also hit for average?he posted a .313 AVG in three seasons in the minors?and provide some pop as well. The only question is, when will he have a full-time gig?
Rick Ankiel ? We all know this amazing roller coaster of a story. Who knows what major development lies around the corner with this guy. What's important from a fantasy standpoint is that the former pitching phenom can truly mash. If we didn't know about the crazy control issues that led him to step down from the mound, you'd think he was inspired by that classic "Chicks dig the longball" commercial with Greg Maddux and Tommy Glavine. Between the majors and minors this year, Ankiel has 42 round trippers. The question is, how much of those can be attributed to HGH? If he comes back next year with an IRod-type shrinkage, steer clear. If, on the other hand, he can still be mistaken for Mark McGwire from a distance, draft away.
Jason Kubel ? After some injury plagued seasons, Kubel has come on strong in the second half of this season, hitting .298 with six HR in 168 AB. He could finally fulfill his potential next season.
Nate McLouth ? He doesn't hit for much of an average, but he can steal you bases and provide a little pop to boot. Who ever knows what's going to happen in Pittsburgh, but McLouth will have nice fantasy value if given the playing time.
James Loney ? The Dodgers' first baseman finished extremely strong with eight dingers and 33 RBI over the last month. On the season, he's hit .335 with 15 HR in 325 AB. The power is somewhat surprising, as he didn't show much pop before being called up. Then again, despite playing in the minors since 2002, the kid is just 23 years old. One thing we know for sure is that he can hit for average. Last year he batted .380 for Triple-A Las Vegas en route to winning the Dodgers' Minor League Player of the Year honors.
Kevin Kouzmanoff ? Due to a terrible April, Kouzmanoff's totals aren't all that impressive. Consider, however, that he hit .330 with 10 HR after the break. He'll likely be undervalued going into next season.
Yovani Gallardo ? After a great start to his major-league career, Gallardo stumbled for a couple of outings in August?amazingly left in to allow 18 earned runs over two starts. Over the last month, though, he has been dominant to the tune of a 1.03 ERA. This kid destroyed minor-league hitting and could be an elite fantasy starter as soon as next year.
Clay Buchholz ? So far, Buchholz has lived up to they hype, posting a 1.59 ERA and 1.06 WHIP with 22 strikeouts in 22.1 IP for the Red Sox. His no-hitter proved that he can certainly handle the pressure of the Bigs. Over three seasons in the minors, Buchholz posted a 2.46 ERA and 11.23 Ks per nine innings. If he can crack the Sox rotation next season, he'll be a draft-day deal.
Dustin McGowan ? Another young arm who seems to be hitting stride, McGowan showed flashes of brilliance down the stretch?like when he whiffed 12 batters against the Devil Rays and nine against the Red Sox. Over the last month, he managed a 3.67 ERA and a fantastic 1.02 WHIP to go along with 35 Ks in 34 IP.
[SIZE=+1]The Trash Dump[/SIZE]
To submit a question or comment to the Trash Dump, email [email protected].
Gangi, what kind of league do you play in where Orlando Hudson was among the top 50 hitters at the start of the season? Was Freddy Sanchez in your top 10? Was Jack Wilson the league's MVP?
- Dennis

Totally. What makes no sense is that Hudson's numbers this season are pretty comparable to last year's, yet he's ranked 208 overall now versus 63 in the preseason. You know how it goes with these rankings, though?they often make less sense than Premonition.
I agree 100% about drafting hitters. I am leading my league because I have almost a perfect score in the hitting categories, while I am in the middle of the pack in the pitching categories. Starting pitching is a crap shoot. Who could have predicted that Tom Gorzelanny would outperform Scott Olsen or Anibal Sanchez? As for the guy with all the transactions, instead of limiting the number of transactions, how about making people pay extra for each transaction over a designated amount? We put in that rule two years ago, after one particular owner went nuts, basically turning over about half of his pitching staff every few days.
- Tom H

Good idea, so long as you can get all of the owners to agree to it.
I totally agree with you about taking hitters early. I was in an auction last year, and while big name pitchers were going for $25 - $30 or more, I waited until everyone had spent their pitching budget and got Peavy and Haren for less than $15 each.
- Rob

Peavy for less than $15? I know he was coming off a down year, but still!
Love the column, but I think there's a converse to your argument about batters holding their value better. I had the top pick in a 16-team snake-style draft this year. I took Pujols first, who to me did not hold his value even if he's top 50, and took Jake Peavy and Brandon Webb on the turn in the 2nd and 3rd rounds. Fast-forward to Sunday night and I won my championship. I felt like those two pitchers were sure things for high K, low ERA/WHIP, and high innings-pitched seasons. They were, and with a solid supporting cast of waiver wire guys in the rest of the rotation, I pretty much won those three categories every week. If sure things are hard to find at pitcher than the few who are up there are all the more valuable. Hence the reason for drafting them early comes from the old business refrain about supply and demand. With such a small supply of sure things at the position, and equal demand, snagging one early can grant a sizable advantage down the road.
- Adi

Yes, but picking the pitchers who will "hold their value" is a lot more difficult than picking the hitters who will. Your guys Peavy and Webb lived up to expectations, as did Johan Santana, Josh Beckett, and C.C. Sabathia. However, Roy Oswalt, Roy Halladay, Carlos Zambrano, Felix Hernandez, Rich Hill, Ben Sheets, John Maine, Matt Cain, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Jered Weaver, Jeremy Bonderman, and of course Rich Harden and Chris Carpenter all fell short to varying degrees. By contrast, the only top hitters whose numbers were significantly sub par were Manny Ramirez and Travis Hafner.
In a roto league, yes you probably have a point {about drafting hitters early}. However, in a head-to-head league, I think there is definitely a benefit to drafting pitching early. The benefit of top pitchers is that their starts for the most part are pretty consistent, they don't have too many blow ups. In a head to head league where your match-up lasts one week, one or two blow ups can kill you. I grabbed Peavy, Webb, Hamels, and Hill early in my draft and then traded for Beckett early in the season and my pitching has carried me into the championship match-up in my league.
- Glenn
If it works for you?but again, you were fortunate enough to get the starters that did pan out. Personally, I plan to stock up on hitting next year to dominate those categories then just pick up two-start pitchers each week to secure Ks and Ws.

Hache Man

"Seven Days Without Gambling Makes One Weak"
Re: Fantasy Baseball News 2007

A Baker's Dozen

Who could blame you for assuming the Yankees' streak of playoff appearances would come to end in 2007? You certainly wouldn't have been alone in surmising that a team as far back in the Wild Card standings as nine and a half games on July 7 wouldn't have a hope of making it to the postseason.

Yet, after Wednesday night's 12-4 thrashing of the Devil Rays, New York made it a baker's dozen by clinching its 13th straight post-season appearance, a feat that brought manager Joe Torre ? the skipper for the last 12 years of this streak ? to tears.

Backed by Robinson Cano's career-high tying five RBI, including a three-run homer as part of a seven-run fifth inning, the Yankees completed an improbable comeback after getting out of the gates with a 21-29 start to the season.

The hole the Pinstripers had to climb out of this season made this all the more special, and even prompted a rare appearance by club owner George Steinbrenner at last night's game.

Chien-Ming Wang, even though he surrendered the first homer allowed by a Yankee starter since September 5 (a streak of 110 innings), earned the win with six solid innings of work. Wang has won six of his past seven decisions to become the first Yankee starter with back-to-back seasons of at least 19 wins since Tommy John won 21 in 1979 and 22 in 1980.

One of the most symbolic aspects of the Yankees' post-game celebration occurred when Melky Cabrera, Cano, Wilson Betemit and Jose Veras encircled A-Rod, and doused him with champagne, while chanting "MVP! MVP!"

Rodriguez's ability to opt out of his deal after this season has been an interesting subplot in the Yankees' season, but yesterday's comments by the MVP favorite suggested that he's where he wants to be.

"This feels like home. It's hard to believe that I played for another two organizations. So much has happened to me here - adversity, some success - that I feel like anything but New York feels weird for me now."

Of course, he may feel differently once his champagne-induced buzz wears off or if he endures another playoff nightmare, but for now, Rodriguez appears pleased in his Pinstripes.

With the Yankees' playoff ticket punched, the American League's post-season participants are now all accounted for, with the Red Sox, Indians and Angels having already clinched. Over in the Senior Circuit, nothing has been decided yet.

The Yanks' win last night clinches at least a Wild Card berth, and officially eliminates defending AL Champion Detroit from returning to the dance. New York can still win the East, but with just four games left and three games to make up, I think I prefer Nick Punto's chances of winning the batting title.

New York has taken 15 of its past 20 games and, more impressively, has gone 70-38 since May 30 to return from the abyss. So what if its streak of nine straight AL East titles is likely about to end? By making the playoffs every season since 1995, the Yanks are now just one behind Atlanta's record of 14 consecutive years in the playoffs.

There are plenty of questions ahead for this club in terms of how far it can go in the playoffs, something we'll know more when it opens against its likely first-round opponent, Cleveland.

But for now, the Yanks can just savor a moment that few would have predicted would happen just a few months ago.

With the American League playoff participants all sewn up, let's take a tour around the rest of the majors on the Wednesday that was?

  • Jake Peavy tossed seven strong innings to become the NL's first 19-game winner and help the Padres maintain their Wild Card lead and pull within a game of the D-Backs in the NL West. The Padres enjoyed a big 8-2 lead after five, yet they allowed Peavy to throw another two innings, a surprising move considering he may be needed to start on short rest in the season finale. Assuming his regular season is done, Peavy winds up with a 19-6 mark to go along with a 2.36 ERA and a career-best and NL-leading 234 Ks.
  • Apparently, Milton Bradley had a good reason for losing his cool ? this time. After investigating Sunday's festivities, Major League Baseball has suspended umpire Mike Winters for the remainder of the season. Apparently, Bradley, and others who came to his defense, were correct in their assertions that Winters had baited the Padre outfielder.

AL Quick Hits: Johan Santana had lasted at least five innings in 123 straight starts before rain shortened his outing Wednesday to three innings. With his name being bandied about in trade rumors, what a shame it would be if this were the final start of a great career he's had with the Twins?Derek Jeter had three hits Wednesday, including a home run, extending his current hitting streak to 13 games. This is his fourth hitting streak at least that long this year, preceded by runs of 14, 19 and 17 games?Mike Piazza went yard yesterday, and while he remains two dingers shy of a 15th straight double-digit home run season, he did pass Billy Williams to move into 39th place on the all-time list with 427 career blasts?Roger Clemens (hamstring) is working out at the Yankees' complex down in Tampa and there's talk of him throwing a simulated game this weekend. The Yankees continue to operate under the assumption that the Rocket will be ready to take the mound for Game 3 of the ALDS.

NL Quick Hits: Barry Bonds is not expected to play against the Dodgers this weekend, so Wednesday night's 0-for-3 performance will likely be his final game as a San Francisco Giant. If this is truly the end, he winds up with 586 homers as a Giant?If the Braves are still hanging around in the playoff picture, they'll send Tim Hudson to the mound Sunday on three days' rest?Despite a pair of Carlos Beltran homers and a Moises Alou blast that extended his hitting streak to 30 games, the Mets dropped their third straight game. Their NL East lead is down to a single game?Kyle Lohse gave the Phillies' bullpen a much-needed rest Wednesday, tossing seven innings of six-hit, two-run ball and striking out five to back a huge win. He's the first Phil starter to last seven innings since Jamie Moyer did it September 14.

Hache Man

"Seven Days Without Gambling Makes One Weak"
Re: Fantasy Baseball News 2007

Down to the Wire

The Phillies, known for their near misses in recent years, are again in position heading into the final weekend to make it to the playoffs for the first time since 1993.

A 6-4 win over Atlanta Thursday night, combined with the Mets' 3-0 loss to St. Louis, has the two teams tied above the NL East leaderboard with three games remaining for each club.

Since beginning the season an MLB-worst 4-11, Philadelphia has posted the NL's best record at 83-61. Even so, as recently as 16 days ago, the Phils were still seven games behind the Mets. Since then, however, Philly is 11-3, while the Mets have stumbled to a 4-10 mark. Hence, we have arrived at the critical moment, with everything riding on this weekend's action.

Philadelphia wasted no time getting to John Smoltz last night. Just two pitches into the game, the Phils grabbed a 1-0 lead and, thanks to some shoddy defense, had stretched it to 4-0 before Smoltz recorded an out.

Smoltz has certainly had issues with the Phillies in recent years, failing to record a win against them since July 1, 2005. But considering he had given up three or more earned runs just three times in 31 starts heading in to Thursday's action, his sub par outing (four innings, seven hits, six runs ? five of them earned) made for some rare footage.

Ryan Howard led the way for the Phils, smacking a two-run homer ? his 44th long ball of the year ? as part of the first-inning onslaught. The defending NL MVP also struck out twice, becoming baseball's new single-season record holder with 197 whiffs. It's pretty amazing that while Howard is well on his way to becoming the sport's first 200 K man, he's managed to drive in 130 runs this season.

Even Pat Burrell ? a 2-for-26 hitter with 14 strikeouts in his career vs. Smoltz before Thursday ? got in on the act, crushing his 30th home run of the season, a two-run blast that increased the margin to an insurmountable 6-0 in the third. That dinger not only allowed Pat the Bat to take over fifth place on the all-time Phillies' home run list, but it pretty well stuck a fork in the Braves' chances, and last night's loss officially ended their playoff hopes for 2007.

Both the Mets and Phillies wrap up their schedules at home, with New York hosting Florida and Philly taking on the Nats. Although both those matchups seem favorable, recall that Florida is coming off a three-game sweep of the Cubs and Washington just swept New York at Shea earlier this week, so neither team is ready to roll over for a playoff contender.

For the Phillies, who remain a game back of the Padres in the Wild Card race, today marks the first time all season long they have enjoyed a taste of life atop the division.

While we wait to see if the Mets will become the first team in history to blow a seven-game lead with 17 games to play, or if Philly will break its fans' hearts yet again, let's review the rest of Thursday's diamond developments?

  • Adam Dunn should send Howard a nice bottle of scotch or something. He no longer owns the title of the single-season strikeout king. In fact, prior to Howard swinging and missing his way past the Reds' star, Dunn owned the two highest strikeout totals in MLB history ? 195 in 2004 and 194 in 2006.
  • After watching him struggle badly since his recall, the Pirates will need to make a decision this offseason about John Van Benschoten, the eighth overall pick in 2001 whose career has spun off track with arm injuries. Last night, JVB (0-7) was again rancid, getting ripped for six hits and four runs in just two innings, shooting his already inflated ERA up to 10.15. He's simply been far too hittable (.335 BAA) to have any success in the majors, and as a result, his spot on the 40-man roster is very much in jeopardy. If Van Benschoten is set free, the 27-year-old is sure to garner interest. You've got to believe that a pitcher capable of going 10-7 with a 2.56 ERA in Triple-A, as he did this season, has the potential to deliver better major league results.

AL Quick Hits: When the Yankees open the playoffs next week, all indications are that Doug Mientkiewicz will be their starting first baseman. You know he's got the glove, but a .455 mark since September 1 doesn't hurt either?The top record in the AL seems to have slipped out of their grasp, but that doesn't mean the Angels don't have plenty at stake this weekend. Kelvim Escobar's start Saturday, for instance, will go a long way towards determining if he's over his shoulder inflammation and capable of handling a rotation spot in the playoffs or if the Halos will have to turn to underwhelming Bartolo Colon?Despite the Mariners' late-season swoon that cost them a shot at the playoffs, it's been a successful year in Seattle. The team acknowledged that Thursday by announcing that manager John McLaren and general manager Bill Bavasi will each return in 2008?Scott Kazmir fanned 10 Yankees in six innings Thursday to pass Johan Santana and take over the MLB lead with 239 strikeouts. Only Jake Peavy, who may pitch on short rest Sunday if needed, can touch Kazmir now.

NL Quick Hits: Scott Hairston is picking a great time to make an impression on the Padres. Thrust into a starting role with Milton Bradley out for the year, Hairston was 2-for-5 with two runs on Thursday, delivering a tie-breaking, three-run double to help the Padres keep pace in the NL West and maintain their Wild Card lead. I've always been a Hairston fan and would love to see what he can do with a full-time gig. A late flourish might help him land one in 2008?If Pat Misch is harboring any hopes of getting a shot at the Giants' rotation next year, he didn't do himself much of a favor Wednesday, getting ripped for eight hits and nine runs over 4 1/3 innings. In four starts, his ERA is 6.41, compared to a 2.18 mark in 14 relief appearances?Joel Pinerio has been inconsistent after his tremendous start in St. Louis, but Thursday's performance sure will help him in his quest for a rotation spot next year. In his first career appearance against the Mets, Pineiro hurled eight shutout innings, limiting New York to three hits while fanning six and walking just one.

Hache Man

"Seven Days Without Gambling Makes One Weak"
Re: Fantasy Baseball News 2007

Just say no to the status quo
Just like an Alex Rodriguez blast into the center-field black seats at Yankee Stadium, another fantasy baseball season is going ? going ? gone.

Each year, smart owners take time to review their teams' strengths and weaknesses from the past season. But relatively few do the same thing with their leagues as a whole.

For instance:

Do you have a competitive league that doesn't always end up with the same champion?

Do all of the owners remain active with moves all the way to the end?

Were the in-season disputes minimal, and were they resolved quickly and fairly?

Are all of the owners looking forward to returning next season?

For the most part, a collective love of fantasy baseball usually trumps any of the bumps in the way leagues are run. Most owners will be fine with keeping everything the same from year to year.

But what about those leagues that still have room for improvement? It might be worth injecting new ideas into the mix:

New categories

The way Major League Baseball is played and analyzed has changed considerably in recent years. But outside of the use of online standings and statistics, many fantasy baseball leagues still use the same categories the founding fathers did way back in the 20th century.

Perhaps the only radical change your league has considered is a switch from the standard four hitting (batting average, home runs, RBI, steals) and four pitching (wins, ERA, saves, WHIP) categories to the added runs and strikeouts found in 5x5 scoring.

Some leagues have gone even further to 6x6 or more; one reader even e-mailed me this season about his 11x11 league.

That may be taking things a bit too far, but adding a new category or two might be a way to spice up your league.

If major league teams are emphasizing on-base percentage over batting average, why not have your fantasy teams follow suit?

If stolen-base efficiency is more important than running at every opportunity, how about using "net steals" by subtracting one stolen base for every time a player is caught?

As long as you're rewarding players for success and punishing them for failure, "net wins" (wins minus losses) might better reflect a starting pitcher's value to his team.

"Net saves" (saves minus blown saves) would do the same thing for relievers.

If you're not a fan of WHIP, perhaps a "command ratio" (strikeouts/walks) would be a more palatable option.

And although holds are not an official major league stat, many leagues already count them as a way to better measure the value of middle relievers.

Top this

Straight draft or auction? Rotisserie, points or head-to-head? Those decisions are usually set in stone by the time the season starts.

But that shouldn't close the door to a few minor adjustments. One of the most common complaints I've heard is that one dominant owner always wins the league. What can be done?

One of the more interesting ideas I heard this season came from reader Jeff Ganeles of Herkhimer, N.Y., whose Greater Utica Rotisserie League has been around for about 20 years. (He says he remembers league members "gathering on Tuesday nights and taking turns reading USA TODAY stats to our league statistician as he inputted them into his Commodore 64 and printed out our standings.")

The American League-only keeper league has a standard auction ($260 budget) but bases each team's number of keepers on its finish the previous season. The defending champion can protect nine players, the second-place team can protect 11, third-place 13 and everyone else 15. While I'd recommend fewer protects to strike a better balance between keeper and auction strategies, the concept is definitely one worth considering.

Another aspect of this league that's worth noting is its "topper" rule, which allows an owner to keep a player for two years at the same salary and then gives him an option to match the winning auction bid the following season.

For example, if Carl Crawford was protected at a bargain-basement $11 for the last two years but went for a high bid of $37 in the draft, the previous Crawford owner (who obviously sat out the bidding) can choose to retain him for $37 or allow him to go to the winning bidder.

Maximum involvement

Keeping everyone interested until the season ends is a huge challenge, especially if dump trades late in the season have drawn a distinct line between the haves and have-nots in your league.

Outside of booting the bottom teams out of the league, there usually isn't much incentive you can provide for the cellar-dwellers so they pay attention down the stretch. You could make the last-place finisher serve as commissioner next season. Or instead of punishment, a better idea might be to reward the highest-finishing team outside of the money spots with the top draft pick or the highest waiver priority next season.

Remember the two-year plan?

If your league won't change its thinking, maybe it's time to change yours. That is what one reader did at the beginning of the season. I mentioned the plight of Dan Turkewitz in a column in April. He was so unhappy with his keeper list that he decided to write off this year and focus on building a strong team for 2008.

He drafted Francisco Liriano knowing the pitching phenom would miss the entire season after having Tommy John surgery. He parted with Derek Jeter in a midseason trade that netted him a low-salaried Howie Kendrick and Jack Cust. But other deals were tougher to make.

"When we offered up (C.C.) Sabathia, (Curt) Schilling, Jeter and our other top trading chips in mid-April, we were offering up 95% of their stats for the year. That's worth a lot more than getting them in June and only receiving, say, 60% or 50% of their stats," Turkewitz says. "Getting the other teams to see this and agree with it was hard. They were used to dump deals going down a certain way and were reluctant to change."

Then there was another problem. Last year's stellar rookie class (Justin Verlander, Jonathan Papelbon, Jered Weaver, etc.) raised expectations for unproven players to an unrealistically high level, so the likes of Billy Butler, Phil Hughes and Delmon Young were treated like proven stars.

Still, Turkewitz says the experiment was worth trying, and he's looking forward to next season. After going 18 years without winning the league title, he says the words of Benjamin Franklin rang true: "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results."

You may not need ideas quite as revolutionary to put a jolt into your fantasy league next season, but at least be open to the possibility. Advice from an 18th-century founding father could be just the inspiration you need

Hache Man

"Seven Days Without Gambling Makes One Weak"
Re: Fantasy Baseball News 2007

Week That Was
With just two days left in the regular season, there are no more transactions to be made. Thus, all most of us can do is keep our fingers crossed, root, hope and if you are so inclined, pray. That, and begin to assess what we did right and what we did wrong in 2007. As of this writing, Rick Wolf and I were in contention for titles in both the AL and NL version of the LABR expert's league. Rather than write a "here is how we won" or a "why we did not win" column, I figured I would get out in front of things and list our biggest bargains and biggest busts in the hope that we (and you) can learn lessons for next year's draft table.
AL- Bargains

Josh Beckett:: At $12, the presumptive Cy Young winner is a bargain's bargain. At 26 with substantial playoff experience and no history of arm problems, this power pitcher on a winning team had a lot going for him. Why was his value depressed? Answer ? an inexplicable ERA over 5.00 in 2006. Moral of the story ? focusing on only one statistic or only on the previous year's numbers is dangerous. Second moral of the story ? look for outlying statistics that will drive down prices and create opportunity to capture value. If you do, you may find next year's Josh Beckett.

Fausto Carmona: As a LABR taxi pick, Fausto could be an even bigger bargain than Beckett. Ok, truth ? nobody knew he would be this good this fast. However, his value was artificially depressed by the Indians attempt to make him a closer. Moral of the story ? players with talent who either change positions or roles (or even better, return to the role in which they should always have been) are strong value plays.

Jerry Owens: At just a couple of dollars, Owens was a big lift to a team not so strong in outfield play. Why was Owens a good gamble? First, you cannot teach speed. Second, a look at the Chisox outfield showed three things ? age, injury prone players, and journeymen. Opportunity was going to come Jerry's way and it did. Next year, make sure to study not only the starters on major league teams, but the health and talent of those starters so as to identify the young up and comers who will replace them before we celebrate the birth of our nation.

Footnote ? Jorge Posada at 14 was a huge bargain but there was just no basis to infer or even guess he would raise his average 50-60 points after 35 years of age. The only lesson here is that it is sometimes better to be lucky than good.

AL - Busts

Boof Bonser:. At the season's start, optimism abounded for this oddly named Twin hurler. He was coming off a solid campaign with all signs pointing upward. However, anticipated gains were not realized. Why? Pitching is inherently unpredictable. Sometimes you win (Carmona) and sometimes you do not. The only lesson to be learned here is to avoid betting double digits on pitchers without a proven track record. Fortunately, we did not also make the same mistake with Daniel Cabrera. Oh wait, we did.

Milton Bradley: Ah, the oft-written about, much maligned gamester. Well, here Rick and I violated one of the critical rules of fantasy baseball ? avoid expensive risk. We were intoxicated with the great talent and chance to look brilliant when Milton finally broke out and posted that monster year. Stupid. The gamester continues to be nothing more than a talented and injury prone player who cannot stay on the field. Add in the temper and behavioral problems and you have a risk we should not have taken. Lesson for next year ? avoid players who may get tackled by their manager. Ok, seriously, assess not only the talent of players, but their health history and whether there is credible evidence that they really are problems in the clubhouse.

Footnote ? it is hard to argue that Lyle Overbay was not a major bust. He was. However, there is no lesson to be learned here. There is no way to defend against a bone breaking inside pitch when bidding on or drafting players. Again, sometimes it is just better to be lucky.

Footnote 2 ? Since we did not draft them, Kei Igawa and Sean Henn do not count.

NL ? Bargains

Oliver Perez: At 4 bucks, this could be the bargain of the NL draft. No, we had no idea he would be this successful. However, we did know that this hard-throwing lefty already had a 230+ strikeout season under his belt, looked strong in the NLCS and plays for a very good team in a pitcher's park. As with Beckett (though not as startling), Perez is an example of how owners who focus solely on last year's stats (which overall were pretty bad) can miss bargains. Study the whole picture.

Francisco Cordero: While he was not cheap, his 40+ saves for a mid-20 dollar price is major value. What depressed his value as opposed to other closers with no competition? Owners were scared away by his losing the job in Texas. They should not have been. Careful study would have revealed that there was no arm injury, the Brewers embraced Cordero last year after the trade from Texas and he responded. History of success and reestablishment in the role showed great likelihood for continued success. Moral of the story ? be wary of bad news, but study the whole picture before reaching a conclusion.

David Weathers: At 20+ dollars less than most NL closers, David "Stormy" Weathers was a major bargain. 30 saves and counting from a second reliever is huge. What were the indicators? First, Weathers succeeded in saving 10+ games the previous year before roles were shuffled. Second, the main fact that reduced his price should not have. All the talk of Eddie Guardado coming back and closing this summer was silly. It takes more than a year to come back from serious arm surgery. Guardado should not have been viewed as an exception to that rule. Moral of the story ? look for players who will provide value even if the hoped-for jump does not occur. At worst, Weathers would have provided 10 saves and good ratios. In other words, look for risk-free propositions at next year's draft table.

NL ? Busts

Chris Capuano: Capuano has not won a game since May. So, it is hard to argue that his 17 dollar salary was, well, anything other than a huge overpay. What did we miss? We missed warning signs inherent in last year's second half. Moral of the story ? second half numbers and trends are not the be all and end all. However, they need to be studied and reviewed so that you can identify a risk factor and adjust value accordingly. We did not do that. If we lose the LABR-NL, buying Capuano will be a big reason.

Rafael Furcal: The speed and power were just not there this year. Thus, the 30 bucks we spent was just too much. Now, those who know Furcal injured his ankle AFTER the LABR draft will ask "how could you have known?" Of course, we could not know he would get hurt in spring training. However, there is a lesson to be learned here ? we should not have paid Jimmy Rollins money (Jose Reyes being in a different roto-league altogether). Rollins plays for a better hitting club in a better hitter's park. Thus, even if both were healthy, one is clearly worth more than the other. Lesson: do not invest number one ranked dollars in a non-number one player.

Footnote: One could argue that Kerry Wood was a bust, which he was. However, at only $4, it was worth taking a shot at lightning in a bottle (that one was for you Schultz).

And last, but not least, this week's Schultz Says: Another season in the books means another edition of the All-Schultz Awards.


Before Flavor Flav completed his transformation into a cartoon character with a penchant for Mark Gastineau's exes, he and Chuck D once offered some sage advice: "Don't Believe The Hype." This team, which unfortunately has significant overlap with the 2006 "All 2007 All-Schultz Team," consists of players who just didn't live up to their advance billing.

C Chris Iannetta - COL. Continuing in the footsteps of Charles Johnson, Ben Petrick and JD Closser, Ianetta never turned into the roto-stud we all keep anticipating a Rockie backstop to become.

1B Ryan Shealy - KC. Out from Todd Helton's shadow, big things were expected of Shealy. After a disappointing start, KC started teaching Billy Butler how to play first base.

2B Rickie Weeks - MIL. Every other top prospect in the Brewers system emerged this year, except the one that beat them all to the majors. 24 steals hardly makes up for 31 RBIs and a .233 average.

SS Stephen Drew - ARZ. Little average, little power. He hasn't killed the D'Backs this year, though he may have been rushed to the majors to quickly.

3B Andy Marte - CLE. Tough battle here with Alex Gordon and Edwin Encarnacion making strong cases for this spot. The Tribe's hot corner spot was his until he played his way back to AAA. Maybe Boston knew what they were doing with the Coco Crisp deal.

OF Jonny Gomes - TB. Never blossomed into that power-hitting outfielder or showed the same progress as BJ Upton and Delmon Young.

OF JD Drew - BOS. One of the dangers of having too much money is that you convince yourself that a passionless outfielder will find inspiration after you guarantee him five years at $70 million. If you ever pay more than $1 roto-buck for Drew, you deserve to be in last place.

OF Adam Lind - TOR. The excitement over Lind's call-up when Reed Johnson went down quickly faded as did his power numbers and batting average. Getting eclipsed by Matt Stairs is never a good sign.

SP Daisuke Matsuzaka - BOS. The most hyped debut of 2007. Dice-K ends up with a very run-of-the-mill 14 wins, 4.48 ERA, 1.34 WHIP. Tim Wakefield posted similar numbers and it didn't cost anyone $50 million dollars to talk to him.

RP Eric Gagne - BOS. Supposedly back from the host of injuries that sidelined him for two years, his days as a fearsome closer are long behind him.


Despite all the time spent analyzing pre-season rosters and projected lineups, there always are a handful of players that come from completely off the radar to make a significant fantasy impact. The All-Joba team started the season in the minors, likely went undrafted and finished the season as valuable contibutors.

C Ryan Doumit - PIT. A tough category with no real standouts. Doumit came from the minors to provide the rarest of commodities, a catcher who plays everyday cause he doesn't catch. When he was healthy, he had value.

1B Carlos Pena - TB. Who could have foreseen this? A Greg Norton injury opened the door for the near-Sosa like resurrection of the former A's, Tigers, Yankees prospect. 43 HR and 118 RBIs!!!

2B Brendan Harris - TB. Another Devil Ray. The yeomanlike infielder gave the Rays a steady bat (.286) and decent power (12 HR, 59 RBI) and kept us from having to watch BJ Upton field a ground ball.

SS Ryan Theriot - CHI. Good speed (28 steals) and average average (.270). He wasn't anywhere near the elite shortstops, but add in his 80 runs and he ends up with the same numbers as Rafael Furcal - who you would have paid big bucks for.

3B Ryan Braun - MIL. What possessed them to start the season with Craig Counsell at 3B? Braun was the minor-league callup of the year and if you got him, you benefited to an astounding degree.

OF Josh Fields - CHI. After a slow start, started to show tremendous power, slugging 22 HR in pretty much half a season. A bright spot on an otherwise miserable season for the ChiSox.

OF Jack Cust - OAK. In what was likely his last chance in The Big Show, Cust finally showed the stroke that made him a coveted prospect. 26 HRs and 82 RBIs from someone on the cusp of being out of the game.

OF Hunter Pence - HOU. Called up just prior to mid-season, Pence became a five category stud right out of the box. His numbers would be even greater had he not missed six weeks with a broken wrist.

SP Fausto Carmona - CLE. In the minors to start the season because they couldn't find a spot, Carmona became a huge factor in the Indians' success and his 3.06 ERA will likely lead the AL.

RP Joba Chamberlain - NYY. Duh!! The list is named after him. Even without accruing saves, his miniscule WHIP wouldn't hurt your overall team.


There's nothing more frustrating than spending a high draft pick or large percentage of your salary cap towards a supposed "stud" only to watch him pull up lame on the first turn. (Barbaro joke optional). Without question, these guys killed your team this year.

C Jason Varitek - BOS. His .255, 15 HR ,66 RBI aren't horrible. Expectations for him are always higher though and he never produces. Jason Kendall would have taken this space if anyone expected anything from him.

1B Richie Sexson - SEA. A strong 2006 second half caused high hopes for the lanky slugger. Didn't happen. Flirting with the Mendoza line on a surging Mariners club, Sexson's 21 HR, 63 RBI are a huge disappointment.

2B Tadahito Iguchi - PHI. Talk about a free fall. Iguchi's power numbers dropped precipitously and by mid-season he went from struggling starting second baseman to backup Philly third baseman.

SS Miguel Tejada - BAL. A broken wrist contributed to Tejada's worst power numbers in years. He's also in danger of hitting below .300 for the first time since 2003. Not good for one-time "best fantasy shortstop."

3B Nomar Garciaparra - LA. Scott Rolen and Joe Crede could contend for this spot but Nomar played more games. A fantasy bonanza in 2006, No-Mah had a sub-par average and decrepit power numbers. Hopefully, you foresaw his lack of value as a corner man.

OF Vernon Wells - TOR. Duh again! The list is named after him. Wells celebrated his seven year deal by taking the first one off and then bowing out early for shoulder surgery. A huge step backwards.

OF Andruw Jones - ATL. Arguably the worst "contract: season ever. Following up a 51 HR and 41 HR season with only 26, while hitting .222 might not get Jones the big-time, long-term deal he's hoping for. Apparently no one told him you take the first, not the last, year of your contract off.

OF Alfonso Soriano - CHC. Coming off a phenomenal 40-40 season with a moribund Nationals team, who didn't expect big things in Soriano's first year within the cozy confines of Wrigley Field. He's turned it on lately, but 20 steals and 30 HRs weren't on the menu when you went big on Sori.

SP Dontrelle Willis - FLA. Maybe he needs a change of scenery? Maybe the league has figured out the leg kick? Maybe Dontrelle watched Rick Ankiel and doesn't care about pitching anymore. Whatever the reason, a 5.20 ERA and a nearly 1.60 ERA is pathetic for the high price tag.

RP Brad Lidge - HOU. Next to Eric Gagne (who had big question marks), Lidge was the biggest closer to flame out this year. The signs were there last year, but written off cause of his WBL participation. For most of the season, Lidge was outpitched by a guy who ended up setting up in Tampa Bay.

One last thought. Just to prepare Yankee fans, sometime in the ALDS series, Joba will give up a monumental home run in the 8th inning to cost the Yankees a game -- just like Mariano Rivera did to Sandy Alomar in Game 4 in 1997. Yankee fans aren't prepared for this as they have anointed Chamberlain in the robes of the exalted and forgotten he's just a kid. When you sit around and wonder, "who could have seen this coming?" The answer shall be Schultz did.

This wraps up Schultz Says for the 2007 season. Uncharacteristically, I'll thank Glenn and all the people that read The Week That Was and keep perusing to my little section of the column. For those of you who feel the need to write Glenn and critique the All-Schultz lists and request my job (which one moron did last year), save your energy. If you want to praise Schultz though, we welcome your cards and letters.

Until next year: Go Tribe! Cleveland Rocks!

Hache Man

"Seven Days Without Gambling Makes One Weak"
Re: Fantasy Baseball News 2007

Fantasy MVPs & LVPs
Another slight change of plans. The NL projected rosters column is still coming, probably on Tuesday or Wednesday. In the meantime, here's the traditional season-ending column, a look at the 2007 fantasy MVPs and LVPs. Awards are given to players that most over- or underperformed according to my preseason projections. I tend to give injured players a break when it comes to LVPs

I also have my real MVP/Cy Young/ROY choices below.

The Fantasy Most Valuable Players


MVP - Russell Martin
Projected stats - .287/.364/.427, 12 HR, 65 R, 66 RBI, 9 SB in 464 AB
Actual stats - .293/.374/.469, 19 HR, 87 R, 87 RBI, 21 SB in 538 AB

That the AVG/OBP/SLG projection doesn't look so bad is mostly the result of Grady Little running him into the ground. Martin started 141 games behind the plate, easily the most in the majors (Brian McCann was second at 130). At the midway point of the season, he and Chase Utley looked like the NL's top two MVP candidates. Martin couldn't keep it up, though, losing 30 points off his average after the break. He needs to be handled with a little more care next year.

Honorable Mention - Jorge Posada, Bengie Molina, Chris Snyder
2006 Winner - Brian McCann
2005 Winner - Brandon Inge
2004 Winner - Craig Wilson
2003 Winner - Javy Lopez
2002 Winner - Eli Marrero
2001 Winner - Paul Lo Duca
2000 Winner - Charles Johnson
1999 Winner - Mike Sweeney

LVP - Ramon Hernandez
Projected stats - .277/.339/.460, 20 HR, 63 R, 82 RBI, 1 SB in 483 AB
Actual stats - .258/.333/.382, 9 HR, 40 R, 62 RBI, 1 SB in 364 AB

An Orioles catcher for a second straight year. Hernandez had to collect six hits and six RBI in his final three games just to make his numbers look as good as they did. The 31-year-old showed up heavy to camp in the second year of his four-year, $24 million contract and then suffered a strained oblique at the very end of spring training. He actually got off to a fast start after returning in late April, driving in 14 runs in his first nine games, but it was all downhill from there. Now it looks like the Orioles could attempt to get rid of his contract. He's a good bet to bounce back if he's motivated.

Dishonorable Mention - Michael Barrett, Mike Piazza, Joe Mauer
2006 Loser - Javy Lopez
2005 Loser - Jason Kendall
2004 Loser - Mike Piazza
2003 Loser - Paul Lo Duca
2002 Loser - Charles Johnson
2001 Loser - Jason Kendall
2000 Loser - Michael Barrett
1999 Loser - Todd Hundley

First Basemen/Designated Hitters

MVP - Carlos Pena
Projected stats - .257/.339/.481, 12 HR, 31 R, 38 RBI, 2 SB in 237 AB
Actual stats - .282/.411/.627, 46 HR, 99 R, 121 RBI, 1 SB in 486 AB

Pena had always been able to hit, so I'm not going to join in the PED speculation. All of the teams that passed on him knew he had 30-homer power. The problem with Pena is that when he goes into a slump, it's tended to be measured in months rather than days or even weeks. This year, he was basically hot for five months. I don't think it will happen next year, but .260-.270 with 35 homers would be realistic.

Honorable Mention - Prince Fielder, Dmitri Young, James Loney
2006 Winner - Ryan Howard
2005 Winner - Derrek Lee
2004 Winner - Travis Hafner
2003 Winner - Carlos Delgado
2002 Winner - Derrek Lee
2001 Winner - Ryan Klesko
2000 Winner - Frank Thomas
1999 Winner - John Jaha

LVP - Richie Sexson
Projected stats - .264/.346/.522, 37 HR, 92 R, 114 RBI, 1 SB in 575 AB
Actual stats - .205/.295/.399, 21 HR, 58 R, 63 RBI, 1 SB in 434 AB

And to think the Mariners had the opportunity to get rid of Sexson's contract in August when the Tigers claimed him off waivers. It was somewhat understandable then, as they were in the thick of the race. Still, getting Sexson off the team not only would have freed up $14 million in 2008 but it would have immediately improved the product on the field. I imagine that Sexson will bounce back and hit 30 homers next year, but it might come with a .240 average and a .320 OBP.

Dishonorable Mention - Travis Hafner, Lyle Overbay, Ryan Shealy
2006 Loser - Todd Helton
2005 Loser - Todd Helton
2004 Loser - Jason Giambi
2003 Loser - Paul Konerko
2002 Loser - Tony Clark
2001 Loser - Mark McGwire
2000 Loser - Sean Casey
1999 Loser - Darin Erstad

Second Basemen

MVP - Brandon Phillips
Projected stats - .271/.323/.444, 17 HR, 88 R, 70 RBI, 22 SB in 594 AB
Actual stats - .288/.331/.485, 30 HR, 107 R, 94 RBI, 32 SB in 650 AB

I had Phillips only slightly outperforming his 2006 numbers in his second year in Cincinnati. Instead, he took another large step forward, hitting 13 more homers and raising his OPS 65 points. My projection would have looked a little better had he continued to hit second all year. Instead, half of his at-bats came as a cleanup hitter and he drove in 52 runs in those 81 games.

Honorable Mention - Placido Polanco, Kelly Johnson, Dustin Pedroia
2006 Winner - Dan Uggla
2005 Winner - Chone Figgins
2004 Winner - Mark Loretta
2003 Winner - Marcus Giles
2002 Winner - Alfonso Soriano
2001 Winner - Bret Boone
2000 Winner - Jose Vidro
1999 Winner - Roberto Alomar

LVP - Josh Barfield
Projected stats - .283/.327/.444, 17 HR, 75 R, 73 RBI, 18 SB in 552 AB
Actual stats - .243/.270/.324, 3 HR, 53 R, 50 RBI, 14 SB in 418 AB

Getting out of Petco Park figured to allow Barfield to improve on his .280/.318/.423 line from his rookie season. However, he never could adapt to American League pitching. Barfield hit .321 in 53 AB versus National League teams. Against the AL, he was at .230. The Indians figure to go forward with Asdrubal Cabrera at second base, making Barfield a candidate to be dealt. A return to the NL would likely do him a lot of good.

Dishonorable Mention - Marcus Giles, Rickie Weeks, Chris Burke
2006 Loser - Jorge Cantu
2005 Loser - Bret Boone
2004 Loser - Alfonso Soriano
2003 Loser - Roberto Alomar
2002 Loser - Roberto Alomar
2001 Loser - Edgardo Alfonzo
2000 Loser - Jose Offerman
1999 Loser - Delino DeShields

Third Basemen

MVP - Ryan Braun
Projected stats - .276/.330/.448, 7 HR, 26 R, 27 RBI, 5 SB in 192 AB
Actual stats - .324/.370/.634, 34 HR, 90 R, 97 RBI, 15 SB in 446 AB

A 1000 OPS and quality totals in all five fantasy categories from a guy who didn't debut until May 25. Braun's defense at third base leaves much to be desired, and I think it'd be for the best if the Brewers put him in left field, with Bill Hall going to third base, but he's here to stay as a fantasy force. With David Wright and Miguel Cabrera also very much in the mix, the NL's No. 1 third baseman on draft day with be a tough call.

Honorable Mention - B.J. Upton, Mike Lowell, Alex Rodriguez
2006 Winner - Michael Cuddyer
2005 Winner - Morgan Ensberg
2004 Winner - Adrian Beltre
2003 Winner - Bill Mueller
2002 Winner - Aaron Boone
2001 Winner - Albert Pujols
2000 Winner - Troy Glaus
1999 Winner - Fernando Tatis

LVP - Eric Chavez
Projected stats - .274/.361/.491, 29 HR, 91 R, 102 RBI, 4 SB in 576 AB
Actual stats - .240/.306/.446, 15 HR, 43 R, 46 RBI, 4 SB in 341 AB

Chavez could have been the AL MVP in 2004 if not for a broken hand. Since then, his OPS has slipped from 898 to 794 to 786 and to 752 this year. A variety of shoulder and arm problems appear to be to blame, and now that Chavez has finally had surgery to take care of a torn labrum and a damaged biceps tendon, it's possible that he'll reemerge as an All-Star in 2008. Still, it'd be hard to gamble on him again in fantasy leagues.

Dishonorable Mention - Shea Hillenbrand, Morgan Ensberg, Scott Rolen
2006 Loser - Hank Blalock
2005 Loser - Adrian Beltre
2004 Loser - Eric Hinske
2003 Loser - Edgardo Alfonzo
2002 Loser - Jeff Cirillo
2001 Loser - Tony Batista
2000 Loser - Vinny Castilla
1999 Loser - Ken Caminiti


MVP - Hanley Ramirez
Projected stats - .278/.342/.445, 15 HR, 106 R, 61 RBI, 43 SB in 604 AB
Actual stats - .332/.386/.562, 29 HR, 125 R, 81 RBI, 51 SB in 639 AB

Back-to-back honors. So, it's safe to say I didn't learn my lesson the first time. I had Ramirez's OPS dropping from 833 to 787 as a sophomore, and though I still gave him strong fantasy numbers, it wasn't nearly enough. Ramirez was probably the NL's top overall offensive performer in 2007. His defense is a problem, and the Marlins should seriously consider moving him to center field. That's not going to happen this winter, though. I won't have Ramirez hitting .330 next year, but I don't want to underestimate him again. It's realistic to think that he could add another three to five homers.

Honorable Mention - Troy Tulowitzki, J.J. Hardy, Brendan Harris
2006 Winner - Hanley Ramirez
2005 Winner - Felipe Lopez
2004 Winner - Carlos Guillen
2003 Winner - Edgar Renteria
2002 Winner - David Eckstein
2001 Winner - Rich Aurilia
2000 Winner - Jose Valentin
1999 Winner - Jay Bell

LVP - Bill Hall
Projected stats - .276/.339/.473, 23 HR, 79 R, 93 RBI, 14 SB in 560 AB
Actual stats - .254/.315/.425, 14 HR, 59 R, 63 RBI, 4 SB in 452 AB

Hall did this to himself. If not for his stated goal of 20-30 steals this year, I would have given him a weaker projection in that category and Felipe Lopez would have overtaken him for the LVP. I had Hall dropping from 35 homers to 23, but he ended up hitting only 14, and the Brewers decided they were better off with him on the bench against right-handers in September. They might deal him this winter.

Dishonorable Mention - Felipe Lopez, Rafael Furcal, Miguel Tejada
2006 Loser - Clint Barmes
2005 Loser - Kaz Matsui
2004 Loser - Angel Berroa
2003 Loser - Jose Hernandez
2002 Loser - Rich Aurilia
2001 Loser - Tony Womack
2000 Loser - Royce Clayton
1999 Loser - Royce Clayton


MVPs - Magglio Ordonez, Curtis Granderson, Eric Byrnes
Ordonez's projected stats - .295/.356/.487, 23 HR, 85 R, 102 RBI, 2 SB in 546 AB
Ordonez's actual stats - .363/.434/.595, 28 HR, 117 R, 139 RBI, 4 SB in 595 AB

Granderson's projected stats - .270/.343/.460, 21 HR, 87 R, 76 RBI, 14 SB in 567 AB
Granderson's actual stats - .302/.361/.552, 23 HR, 122 R, 74 RBI, 26 SB in 612 AB

Byrnes' projected stats - .270/.329/.459, 22 HR, 88 R, 84 RBI, 23 SB in 566 AB
Byrnes' actual stats - .286/.353/.460, 21 HR, 103 R, 83 RBI, 50 SB in 626 AB

Two Tigers top the list. In his age 33 season, Ordonez set career highs in nearly everything except homers and steals. I don't think there was really any way to tell that was coming after he posted a 795 OPS in an injury-filled 2005 and an 827 OPS in 2006. Granderson looked like a breakthrough candidate, but I got a little more cautious with him after manager Jim Leyland indicated he wanted to look at other options in the leadoff spot. Fortunately, that idea went nowhere. ? Byrnes gets the other place here after doubling his career high for steals. He could have been even more valuable had some more of his teammates stepped up. 186 runs+RBI is hardly a huge amount for a guy who got 626 at-bats, the majority of them from the third and fourth spots in the order.

Honorable Mention - Aaron Rowand, Matt Holliday, Hunter Pence, Corey Hart, Jack Cust
2006 Winners - Jermaine Dye, Gary Matthews Jr., Matt Holliday
2005 Winners - Grady Sizemore, Jason Bay, Andruw Jones
2004 Winners - Jim Edmonds, J.D. Drew, Aaron Rowand, Jeromy Burnitz
2003 Winners - Gary Sheffield, Scott Podsednik, Vernon Wells
2002 Winners - Torii Hunter, Vladimir Guerrero, Garret Anderson
2001 Winners - Ichiro Suzuki, Barry Bonds, Cliff Floyd
2000 Winners - Darin Erstad, Richard Hidalgo, John Vander Wal
1999 Winners - Brian Giles, Luis Gonzalez, Roger Cedeno

LVPs - Jason Bay, Andruw Jones, Jermaine Dye
Bay's projected stats - .292/.400/.532, 31 HR, 102 R, 107 RBI, 13 SB in 566 AB
Bay's actual stats - .247/.327/.418, 21 HR, 78 R, 84 RBI, 4 SB in 538 AB

Jones' projected stats - .260/.349/.514, 38 HR, 98 R, 112 RBI, 4 SB in 580 AB
Jones' actual stats - .222/.311/.413, 26 HR, 83 R, 94 RBI, 5 SB in 572 AB

Dye's projected stats - .278/.352/.521, 32 HR, 91 R, 113 RBI, 7 SB in 543 AB
Dye's actual stats - .254/.317/.486, 28 HR, 68 R, 78 RBI, 2 SB in 508 AB

I suppose it's pretty clear now that Bay's knee was troubling him the whole way. I think he'll be a very good pick next year, especially if the Pirates make the mistake of trading him. ? Andruw had 92 homers and 257 RBI over the previous two years, so I thought my projection was quite pessimistic. He cost himself a lot of money with the poor showing, and it's quite likely he was putting too much pressure on himself. ? Dye goes from MVP to LVP after losing 61 points of average, 16 homers, 35 runs scored and 42 RBI and five steals from 2006 to 2007. Again, I was projecting a substantial decline, so I'm not too upset about this one. In fact, I probably would have given this spot to Vernon Wells if not for the revelation that he was playing with a torn labrum.

Dishonorable Mention - Vernon Wells, Chris Duffy, Johnny Damon, J.D. Drew, Jacque Jones
2006 Losers - Jason Lane, Randy Winn, Scott Podsednik
2005 Losers - Carlos Beltran, Sammy Sosa, Corey Patterson
2004 Losers - Sammy Sosa, Marlon Byrd, Brian Giles
2003 Losers - Pat Burrell, Shawn Green, Larry Walker
2002 Losers - Ken Griffey Jr., Juan Pierre, Richard Hidalgo
2001 Losers - Richard Hidalgo, Darin Erstad, Carl Everett
2000 Losers - Ken Griffey Jr., Juan Gonzalez, Carlos Beltran
1999 Losers - Jose Cruz Jr., Kenny Lofton, Ray Lankford

Starting Pitchers

MVPs - Fausto Carmona, Josh Beckett, Aaron Harang, James Shields, Erik Bedard
Carmona's projected stats - 5 wins, 4.32 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 64 Ks in 100 IP
Carmona's actual stats - 19 wins, 3.06 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 137 Ks in 215 IP

Beckett's projected stats - 15 wins, 3.93 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 160 Ks in 190 IP
Beckett's actual stats - 20 wins, 3.27 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 194 Ks in 200 2/3 IP

Harang's projected stats - 15 wins, 3.94 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 185 Ks in 224 IP
Harang's actual stats - 16 wins, 3.73 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 218 Ks in 231 2/3 IP

Shields' projected stats - 11 wins, 4.40 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, 140 Ks in 188 IP
Shields' actual stats - 12 wins, 3.85 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 184 Ks in 215 IP

Bedard's projected stats - 16 wins, 3.61 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 176 Ks in 207 IP
Bedard's actual stats - 13 wins, 3.16 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 221 Ks in 182 IP

Carmona certainly won't be closing again anytime soon. Originally expected to get two starts in place of an injured Cliff Lee and then return to the minors, he ended up being as effective as any AL pitcher. I doubt he'll be quite so good next year, but he's a legitimate No. 2. ? Beckett finished with a 5.01 ERA in his first year in the AL, but that wasn't likely to happen again. By staying relatively healthy, keeping the ball in the park and avoiding free passes, he emerged as a true ace. Still, with his price tag way up, he might not be a very good investment next year. ? Harang makes the list for a second straight year because he maintained his 2006 strikeout rate when I didn't think he could and he dramatically improved his WHIP, going from 1.27 to 1.14. ? Shields kept his spot in the top five by bouncing back strong after a rough middle two months. He had a 3.13 ERA in April and May, a 6.12 ERA in May and June and a 2.39 mark in his final nine starts.

Honorable Mention - Tim Hudson, C.C. Sabathia, Brad Penny, Javier Vazquez, Ted Lilly
2006 Winners - Bronson Arroyo, Brandon Webb, Francisco Liriano, Aaron Harang, Justin Verlander
2005 Winners - Chris Carpenter, Dontrelle Willis, Andy Pettitte, Cliff Lee, John Patterson
2004 Winners - Johan Santana, Ben Sheets, Carl Pavano, Oliver Perez, Chris Carpenter
2003 Winners - Esteban Loaiza, Jason Schmidt, Livan Hernandez, Brandon Webb, Roy Halladay
2002 Winners - Odalis Perez, Derek Lowe, Matt Clement, Tim Wakefield, Roy Halladay
2001 Winners - Mark Mulder, Joe Mays, John Burkett, Mark Buehrle, Roy Oswalt
2000 Winners - Ryan Dempster, Jeff D'Amico, Glendon Rusch, Darryl Kile, Chan Ho Park
1999 Winners - Mike Hampton, Todd Ritchie, Tim Hudson, Kevin Millwood, Jose Lima

LVPs - Jeremy Bonderman, Mike Mussina, Dontrelle Willis, Jose Contreras, Scott Olsen
Bonderman's projected stats - 16 wins, 3.79 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 185 Ks in 202 IP
Bonderman's actual stats - 11 wins, 5.01 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 145 Ks in 174 1/3 IP

Mussina's projected stats - 15 wins, 3.80 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 158 Ks in 192 IP
Mussina's actual stats - 11 wins, 5.15 ERA, 1.47 WHIP, 91 Ks in 152 IP

Willis' projected stats - 16 wins, 3.62 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 158 Ks in 219 IP
Willis' actual stats - 10 wins, 5.17 ERA, 1.60 WHIP, 146 Ks in 205 1/3 IP

Contreras' projected stats - 15 wins, 3.74 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 155 Ks in 202 IP
Contreras' actual stats - 10 wins, 5.57 ERA, 1.56 WHIP, 113 Ks in 189 IP

Olsen's projected stats - 13 wins, 3.90 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 162 Ks in 187 IP
Olsen's actual stats - 10 wins, 5.81 ERA, 1.76 WHIP, 133 Ks in 176 2/3 IP

It's put up or shut up time for Bonderman. He now has five years in with a career ERA of 4.78 ERA and a 56-62 record. It looked like he was taking another step forward this season, but a cut on his middle finger put him on the DL in mid-May and he was never quite as good again, eventually battling elbow problems. I have very little idea what I'm going to do with him next year. ? Once arguably the game's most consistent pitcher, Mussina has posted ERAs of 3.40, 4.59, 4.41, 3.51 and now 5.15. the last five years. A decent September means he can't be counted out for 2008, but I think I'll have him in the $8-$9 range. ? Willis gets his spot for a second straight year and is joined by teammate Scott Olsen. Not to excuse either for some pretty brutal pitching at times, but as bad as they were, the defense behind them was worse. Improving there needs to be a priority for the Marlins this winter.

Dishonorable Mention - Barry Zito, Felix Hernandez, Daniel Cabrera, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Anthony Reyes
2006 Losers - Mark Buehrle, Tim Hudson, Felix Hernandez, Dontrelle Willis, Odalis Perez
2005 Losers - Oliver Perez, Curt Schilling, Tim Hudson, Zack Greinke, Eric Milton
2004 Losers - Esteban Loaiza, Barry Zito, Jose Contreras, Jamie Moyer, Javier Vazquez
2003 Losers - Tom Glavine, Randy Johnson, Ramon Ortiz, Freddy Garcia, Derek Lowe
2002 Losers - Chan Ho Park, Freddy Garcia, Bud Smith, Brad Penny, Javier Vazquez
2001 Losers - Scott Elarton, Livan Hernandez, Kevin Millwood, Bartolo Colon, Dave Burba
2000 Losers - Jose Lima, Ramon Martinez, David Cone, Omar Daal, Kevin Millwood
1999 Losers - Roger Clemens, Jeff Fassero, Chan Ho Park, Tom Glavine, Brett Tomko

Relief Pitchers

MVPs - Jeremy Accardo, Takashi Saito, Kevin Gregg, Manny Corpas
Accardo's projected stats - 3 wins, 0 Sv, 4.24 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 49 Ks in 68 IP
Accardo's actual stats - 4 wins, 30 Sv, 2.14 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 57 Ks in 67 1/3 IP

Saito's projected stats - 4 wins, 29 Sv, 3.58 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 75 Ks in 73 IP
Saito's actual stats - 2 winw, 39 Sv, 1.40 ERA, 0.72 WHIP, 78 Ks in 64 1/3 IP

Gregg's projected stats - 4 wins, 1 Sv, 4.04 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 68 Ks in 78 IP
Gregg's actual stats - 0 wins, 31 Sv, 3.56 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 87 Ks in 83 IP

Corpas' projected stats - 4 wins, 0 Sv, 4.16 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 53 Ks in 67 IP
Corpas' actual stats - 4 wins, 19 Sv, 2.10 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 58 Ks in 77 IP

Accardo wore down late, but he still did a great job filling in after B.J. Ryan's back? ah, elbow injury. The Jays would continue to let him close if Ryan isn't ready for the start of 2008. ? I thought there was a pretty good chance the 37-year-old Saito would falter in his second year in MLB and eventually get replaced by Jonathan Broxton. Instead, he was the NL's best reliever. The league is hitting just .166 off him since he joined the Dodgers. ? Gregg was projected for more saves than that before the Marlins acquired Jorge Julio and insisted that he'd be the closer. That didn't last, of course. Gregg is too wild to be an elite reliever, but the closer's role helps him there, since he's never entering with men on base. ? Corpas looked like only an average setup man to me after several viewings last year. I never figured his fastball-slider combination would allow him to hold lefties to a .226 average.

Honorable Mention - J.J. Putz, Matt Capps, Rafael Betancourt, Joakim Soria
2006 Winnters - J.J. Putz, Jonathan Papelbon, Takashi Saito, Akinori Otsuka
2005 Winners - Chad Cordero, Derrick Turnbow, Huston Street, Todd Jones, Bob Wickman
2004 Winners - Brad Lidge, Joe Nathan, Jose Mesa, Shingo Takatsu
2003 Winners - Eric Gagne, Tim Worrell, Joe Borowski, Guillermo Mota
2002 Winners - Eric Gagne, Juan Acevedo, Byung-Hyun Kim, Octavio Dotel
2001 Winners - Byung-Hyun Kim, Jeff Zimmerman, Octavio Dotel, Jose Mesa
2000 Winners - Keith Foulke, Robb Nen, Gabe White
1999 Winners - Scott Williamson, Billy Koch, John Rocker

LVPs - Tom Gordon, Salomon Torres, Jorge Julio, Bob Wickman
Gordon's projected stats - 3 wins, 33 Sv, 2.95 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 66 Ks in 64 IP
Gordon's actual stats - 3 wins, 6 Sv, 4.72 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 32 Ks in 40 IP

Torres' projected stats - 4 wins, 26 Sv, 3.78 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 54 Ks in 81 IP
Torres' actual stats - 2 wins, 12 Sv, 5.47 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 45 Ks in 52 2/3 IP

Julio's projected stats - 3 wins, 25 Sv, 3.84 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 71 Ks in 68 IP
Julio's actual stats - 0 wins, 0 Sv, 4.94 ERA, 1.55 WHIP, 56 Ks in 62 IP

Wickman's projected stats - 2 wins, 35 Sv, 3.63 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 46 Ks in 57 IP
Wickman's actual stats - 3 wins, 20 Sv, 3.60 ERA, 1.49 WHIP, 37 Ks in 50 1/3 IP

Gordon lost the closer's role to injury and never got it back after missing 2 ? months. It looked like he'd be a season-long bust after he struggled upon returning from his shoulder woes, but he came up big by making 21 appearances over the final 34 days of the season and giving up runs in just three of them. ? I thought it was pretty obvious that the Pirates would be better off with Matt Capps closing and Torres remaining in his setup role following the Mike Gonzalez trade. It took a third of the season, but the Pirates finally agreed. ? In a case of too little, too late, Julio had a 3.59 ERA in 52 2/3 innings after joining the Rockies. It doesn't figure to get him another shot at a closer's role as a free agent this winter.

Dishonorable Mention - Brian Fuentes, Armando Benitez, Chris Ray, Octavio Dotel
2006 Losers - Derrick Turnbow, Brad Lidge, Ryan Dempster, Armando Benitez
2005 Losers - Danny Kolb, Danny Graves, Guillermo Mota, Keith Foulke
2004 Losers - Arthur Rhodes, Joe Borowski, Shawn Chacon, David Riske
2003 Losers - Billy Koch, Kazuhiro Sasaki, Armando Benitez, Jose Mesa
2002 Losers - Keith Foulke, Scott Strickland, Armando Benitez, Antonio Alfonseca
2001 Losers - Todd Jones, John Rocker, Billy Koch, Dave Veres
2000 Losers - Bob Howry, Scott Williamson, John Rocker, Billy Wagner
1999 Losers - Rod Beck, Jeff Montgomery, Rick Aguilera, Gregg Olson

Award Ballots

- Here are my MVP, Cy Young and ROY ballots for 2007:

1. Alex Rodriguez
2. Magglio Ordonez
3. David Ortiz
4. Jorge Posada
5. Carlos Pena
6. Ichiro Suzuki
7. Vladimir Guerrero
8. Curtis Granderson
9. C.C. Sabathia
10. Mike Lowell

No. 1 is a no-brainer. It gets interesting after that. One could argue that both Ortiz and Posada caught Ordonez, though he built a large enough lead early that he'll probably finish second and it won't be undeserved. ? What I don't get is that Lowell is likely to finish ahead of Ortiz in the balloting when Ortiz actually ended up having the best season of his career.

AL Cy Young
1. C.C. Sabathia
2. Josh Beckett
3. Fausto Carmona
4. John Lackey
5. Johan Santana

Sabathia didn't lead the league in ERA. He didn't even lead his team in ERA. Still. he's the clear choice here after finishing fifth in ERA and throwing 241 innings. The next four are all pretty even, and Erik Bedard is right there with them even after missing the final motnh of the season.

AL Rookie of the Year
1. Dustin Pedroia
2. Jeremy Guthrie
3. Brian Bannister
4. Daisuke Matsuzaka
5. Hideki Okajima

Yeah, Delmon Young drove in 93 runs, but he did so while leading the league in outs with 492. I like my Rookie of the Year candidates to be above average players, and there are more than a few Triple-A veterans that could have given the Rays the same kind of season Young did if provided with 645 at-bats.

1. Jake Peavy
2. Jimmy Rollins
3. Matt Holliday
4. David Wright
5. Prince Fielder
6. Chipper Jones
7. Hanley Ramirez
8. Albert Pujols
9. Chase Utley
10. Russell Martin

The award will go to Rollins or Holliday and neither will be particularly bad choices, though both have faults. Rollins' .344 OBP isn't what one wants to see from a leadoff man, though he led the league in runs scored anyway. Holliday had an OPS a full 300 points higher at Coors Field. It may not be quite the offensive paradise it once was, but it's still making a real difference. As a result, I'm going Peavy for now. However, I reserve the right to change my mind if he struggles Monday. It's definitely that close.

NL Cy Young
1. Jake Peavy
2. Brandon Webb
3. Brad Penny
4. Roy Oswalt
5. Tim Hudson

Peavy won the pitching triple crown, so there was no debate at the top here. There's an argument for Takashi Saito on the ballot, but I'd go with Webb, Penny, Oswalt, Hudson and John Smoltz over him.

NL Rookie of the Year
1. Troy Tulowitzki
2. Ryan Braun
3. Manny Corpas
4. Hunter Pence
5. Chris Young

This one is almost as tough as the MVP debate. The balloting likely still would have favored Braun in a landslide a few weeks ago, but Tulo's big finish, the Rockies' simultaneous success and the sudden media recognition of his Gold Glove-caliber defense could turn the tide. Braun's offensive advantage is still pretty huge, but the defensive gap is probably at least as significant and Tulo did it for the full season, while Braun never had the chance. ? What shouldn't be overlooked is Corpas' performance. With a 2.10 ERA in 77 innings, he was one of the league's very best relievers.

2006 Selections
AL MVP - Derek Jeter
AL Cy Young - Johan Santana
AL ROY - Justin Verlander
NL MVP - Albert Pujols
NL Cy Young - Brandon Webb
NL ROY - Hanley Ramirez

2005 Selections
AL MVP - Alex Rodriguez
AL Cy Young - Johan Santana
AL ROY - Huston Street
NL MVP - Derrek Lee
NL Cy Young - Roger Clemens
NL ROY - Ryan Howard

2004 Selections
AL MVP - Vladimir Guerrero
AL Cy Young - Johan Santana
AL ROY - Bobby Crosby
NL MVP - Barry Bonds
NL Cy Young - Randy Johnson
NL ROY - Khalil @@@@@@

2003 Selections
AL MVP - Alex Rodriguez
AL Cy Young - Pedro Martinez
AL ROY - Angel Berroa
NL MVP - Barry Bonds
NL Cy Young - Mark Prior
NL ROY - Brandon Webb

2002 Selections
AL MVP - Alex Rodriguez
AL Cy Young - Pedro Martinez
AL ROY - Eric Hinske
NL MVP - Barry Bonds
NL Cy Young - Randy Johnson
NL ROY - Austin Kearns

2001 Selections
AL MVP - Jason Giambi
AL Cy Young - Mark Mulder
AL ROY - Ichiro Suzuki
NL MVP - Barry Bonds
NL Cy Young - Randy Johnson
NL ROY - Albert Pujols

2000 Selections
AL MVP - Pedro Martinez
AL Cy Young - Pedro Martinez
AL ROY - Terrence Long
NL MVP - Barry Bonds
NL Cy Young - Randy Johnson
NL ROY - Rick Ankiel

Hache Man

"Seven Days Without Gambling Makes One Weak"
Re: Fantasy Baseball News 2007

A-Rod made it an easy choice
One of the great things about every new season is the journey that takes us into the unknown.

Who will make the quantum leaps to become elite players? (Prince Fielder and Curtis Granderson did it this year.) Which rookies will shine? (Ryan Braun, Troy Tulowitzki and Dustin Pedroia, among others.) And who will seemingly come out of nowhere to become fantasy stars? (Thank you, Fausto Carmona and Shane Victorino.)

However, the suspense surrounding who would be this season's fantasy MVP didn't last very long. Alex Rodriguez started hot and never let up. That's why he's the overwhelming choice as Sports Weekly's 2007 Fantasy Player of the Year.

Taking into account Rodriguez's ability to opt-out of his contract with the New York Yankees and become a free agent at the end of 2007, I was only half-joking when I wrote back in February, "Just imagine what a contract push could do for A-Rod's numbers."

Now we know. Rodriguez led the majors in home runs, RBI and runs scored. His $55 Roto value topped everyone in AL- and NL-only leagues. And if that weren't enough, third base was a relatively weak position in the American League with only three players (Mike Lowell, Chone Figgins and Adrian Beltre) worth more than $15.

Even if you overpaid for Rodriguez this season, the decision likely paid off. In one AL head-to-head league I traded A-Rod before the draft because I thought his $69 price tag was too expensive for one of my seven keeper spots. I dealt him for a $4 Jason Kubel and minor leaguers Elijah Dukes and Jeff Clement.

You can imagine how that turned out.

Other awards

Fantasy pitcher of the year: Jake Peavy. With 19 wins, a 2.36 ERA and 234 strikeouts, Peavy won the National League's pitching triple crown. His $44 Roto value was $12 better than second-place Brandon Webb's.

Pitching line of the year: Erik Bedard. With apologies to Mark Buehrle, Justin Verlander and Clay Buchholz, all of whom threw no-hitters, Bedard's outing July 7 at Texas was even better. The Orioles lefty shutout the Rangers on two hits, struck out a career-high 15 and didn't issue a walk.

Worst pitching line: Jason Jennings. On July 29 against San Diego, the Houston righty torched fantasy owners' ratios: ⅔IP, 11 ER, 8 H, 3 BB, 0 K, 148.50 ERA, 16.50 WHIP. It wouldn't be a surprise for the outcome of entire fantasy leagues to have turned on that one outing.

Hitting line of the year: Garret Anderson. The Los Angeles Angels outfielder-DH announced his return to fantasy viability with an Aug. 21 outburst against the Yankees with four hits, including a pair of homers, and 10 RBI.

Worst hitting line: Paul Lo Duca. On the same day Bedard tossed his gem, the New York Mets catcher went 0-for-8 with three strikeouts in a 17-inning game at Houston.

Biggest rebounders: San Diego's Kevin Kouzmanoff and Colorado's Jeff Francis. Patience paid off for Kouzmanoff and Francis owners, who suffered through dismal Aprils but then began reaping the benefits.

With the Rockies' late-season surge, Francis may have shed his under-the-radar status for next season. But Kouzmanoff, along with fellow post-April rebounders Adam LaRoche, Alex Gordon and Jeremy Hermida, should be a solid value next season.

Biggest bust (NL): Andruw Jones. Coming into the final year of his contract, Jones seemed to be a good bet to challenge his career highs of 51 homers and 129 RBI. But while players like Kouzmanoff and LaRoche shook off their poor starts, Jones offered only occasional spurts of productivity in between long stretches of futility. He finished with respectable totals of 26 homers and 94 RBI, but a .222 batting average was by far his worst ever.

Dishonorable mention: Rafael Furcal, Jason Bay, Bill Hall, Chris Carpenter.

Biggest bust (AL): Richie Sexson. Fantasy owners who drafted Sexson as a top-five AL first baseman weren't expecting a high batting average, but 30-40 homers and 100-120 RBI were certainly reasonable. Instead, he needed a mid-August push to get his average above .200 for the season. When a hamstring injury shut him down in early September, the damage had already been done: 21 homers, 63 RBI, and ? even more telling ? a .399 slugging percentage that was 100 points worse than his previous career low.

Dishonorable mention: J.D. Drew, Vernon Wells, Travis Hafner, B.J. Ryan.

Top 10 players of 2008

One of the most interesting statistical trends this season was an overall decline in home runs (2.04 homers per game compared to 2.22 last season). Stolen bases, meanwhile, were up by about 3% (1.20 steals per game vs. 1.14 in 2006).

For that reason, there may be a few surprises in my early rankings for next season (based on a 5x5 mixed league).

1. Hanley Ramirez: His stats as a 23-year-old (.332, 29 HRs, 81 RBI, 125 R, 51 SB) are simply phenomenal. Coming from a shortstop, they're even more impressive. Watch out ? he hasn't yet reached his peak.

2. Alex Rodriguez: Will he remain a Yankee? Will it matter? He can hit 50 homers in any park, as the old joke goes, including Yellowstone. Don't forget he also stole 24 bases.

3. Albert Pujols: Injuries slowed Pujols this season, but consistency is his middle name. Seven consecutive seasons of at least a .314 average, 30 homers and 100 RBI. Don't look for the streak to end in 2008.

4. Alfonso Soriano: Injuries cost him about a month's worth of games this season and he still hit 33 homers and stole 19 bases. Expect him to make another run at 40-40 next year.

5. David Wright: He jumps into the top five after setting career highs in homers, runs scored and, most important to fantasy owners, stolen bases. His 34 steals ranked seventh in the NL and were 20 more than the next-closest corner infielder.

6. Matt Holliday: The Rockies score a lot of runs and Holliday is the main reason why. Well, Coors Field helps some, but Holliday is what makes the offense click.

7. Chase Utley: No other second baseman can do what Utley does at the plate. If not for a broken hand that limited him to 132 games, he would have been among the most valuable fantasy performers this season.

8. Jose Reyes: His power numbers declined this season, but his basestealing ability can carry a fantasy team all by itself.

9. Carl Crawford: The AL's equivalent of Reyes has enough power that he might move into a better run-producing position in the order next season.

10. Jimmy Rollins: There's a huge difference between shortstops who produce offensively and those who don't. After his first 30-homer, 30-steal season, Rollins definitely fits into the producer category. His 94 RBI vault him into the top 10.

Just missing the cut:

Miguel Cabrera ? The depth at the position keeps him from cracking the top 10. It would be hard to justify taking him in the first round if guys like Ryan Braun, Aramis Ramirez, Chipper Jones, Garrett Atkins and Ryan Zimmerman are going to be available in rounds 2, 3 or beyond. And that's just in NL-only leagues.

Ryan Howard, Prince Fielder and David Ortiz? It's hard to keep three of the game's best home-run hitters out of the top 10, but these hulking sluggers all carry some sort of risk ? from high strikeout totals to lineup protection to nagging injuries. Plus, there's an awful lot of depth among 1B/DH types.

Pitchers ? At the start of this season, I put Johan Santana in my top 10 overall because he has been so much better and more consistent than any other starter in the majors over the past several years. But even the great Santana can't control everything. His overall numbers weren't much different this season, but he finished 15-13. If Santana isn't worth a top-10 pick, no pitcher is.

Hache Man

"Seven Days Without Gambling Makes One Weak"
Re: Fantasy Baseball News 2007

2008 NL Projected Rosters (2)

CF Dave Roberts
2B Rickie Weeks
LF Ryan Braun
1B Prince Fielder
RF Corey Hart
3B Bill Hall
SS J.J. Hardy
C Johnny Estrada

Ben Sheets
Jeff Suppan
Yovani Gallardo
Dave Bush
Claudio Vargas/Carlos Villanueva

Eric Gagne
Derrick Turnbow
Fernando Rodney

That the Brewers came up a little short in their breakthrough season had much to do with the bullpen and the defense. The club is in the great position of not needing any starting pitching help. In fact, with Carlos Villanueva and Manny Parra waiting in the wings, GM Bob Melvin can afford to deal both Chris Capuano and Claudio Vargas if he so chooses. He'll probably have to offer either Capuano or Dave Bush up for bullpen help, as Francisco Cordero and Scott Linebrink are both free agents and are long shots to return.

Replacing Cordero will be a priority. Derrick Turnbow just isn't looking like a reliable option, so the Brewers will have to consider Eric Gagne or a trade for Chad Cordero or Brad Lidge. Gagne, who was targeted by the club at the trade deadline, seems like the most realistic option. Capuano could then go for a quality setup man. To Detroit for Fernando Rodney makes sense.

Fixing the defense could be more complicated. Ryan Braun has the range to play third base, but he was flat-out awful and he actually seemed to get worse as the year went on. Moving him to left field and Bill Hall to third would make a lot of sense. They could then sign Mike Cameron or trade for Dave Roberts, a player they targeted as a free agent last winter. Unfortunately, it looks like they will leave Braun at third, mostly because they think 2007 first-rounder Matt LaPorta is their long-term left fielder. If Braun remains third and Hall stays in center, the Brewers are going to need a left fielder to replace Geoff Jenkins. They may settle for a Gabe Gross-Kevin Mench platoon, but they could also consider Shannon Stewart, Brad Wilkerson or Kenny Lofton.

Whatever they decide, the Brewers will enter 2008 with a strong offensive core and a deep rotation with two potential elite starters in Ben Sheets and Yovani Gallardo. They should challenge for the division title once again.

New York

SS Jose Reyes
2B Luis Castillo
3B David Wright
CF Carlos Beltran
1B Carlos Delgado
LF Moises Alou
RF Kosuke Fukudome
C Ramon Hernandez

Pedro Martinez
Bartolo Colon
Oliver Perez
John Maine
Orlando Hernandez

Billy Wagner
Kevin Gregg
Pedro Feliciano

It might have been a rather quiet winter for the Mets with an extended playoff run. After one of the worst September collapses of all-time, changes have to be made. It looks like Tom Glavine will initiate the first one by declining his $13 million player option. Decisions also have to be made regarding the outfield corners, second base and the catcher spot.

Fortunately, the rotation shouldn't need much of a fix. They will want to add a veteran. Mike Pelfrey would likely be a capable fifth starter, but he's going to be needed as insurance for Pedro Martinez and Orlando Hernandez. The Mets are in better position than most to gamble on Bartolo Colon. The Japanese starters, Koji Uehara and Kenshin Kawakami, could also be possibilities. In the bullpen, the Mets might want to bring in another established setup man or two. Aaron Heilman still wants to start and could be used to fill one of the holes on offense. Trading Philip Humber for Kevin Gregg would give the Mets a durable eighth-inning guy and free up Heilman to be dealt.

Moises Alou is likely set to return as the left fielder. Shawn Green won't be back to share time in right field. Lastings Milledge is ready to start, but the Mets may decide to sign another veteran, as they know they'll be lucky to get 110-120 games from Alou, Kosuke Fukudome is the best right-field option out there, and if the Mets have a chance to land him on a three-year deal, they shouldn't hesitate. Otherwise, they can play Milledge in right and bring in someone to aid Endy Chavez in a reserve role. Jeff DaVanon would work.

Paul Lo Duca is unlikely to be re-signed, and Ramon Castro's balky back will prevent the Mets from looking at him as a regular. An Ivan Rodriguez signing or a trade for Ramon Hernandez could provide a boost. The Orioles would probably give Hernandez for Heilman straight up. Luis Castillo is the best free-agent second baseman out there, yet the Mets may be able to keep him for something like $12 million over two years. If they opt to spend elsewhere, then there is a chance they'll let him go and try Ruben Gotay, with someone like Jose Castillo getting brought in to compete for the job.

The Mets are an old team, but getting both younger and better this winter would be a tall order. They have the money to keep plugging holes with veterans and that's probably what they'll do. Health will determine whether they post the NL's best record or fall a little short once again. They'll almost certainly be the NL East favorites unless the Phillies take significant steps to improve their pitching.


SS Jimmy Rollins
CF Shane Victorino
2B Chase Utley
1B Ryan Howard
3B Mike Lowell
LF Pat Burrell
RF Jayson Werth/Milton Bradley
C Carlos Ruiz/Chris Coste

Cole Hamels
Kyle Lohse
Jamie Moyer
Kyle Kendrick
Adam Eaton

Brett Myers
Jon Rauch
Ryan Madson

Winning the NL East with just one starter who would have cracked the Mets' rotation was quite an accomplishment. Just as notable is that they had to overcome probably the NL's worst managing to do it, though Ned Yost occasionally gave Charlie Manuel a run for his money. It helped that they had four of the NL's top 15 or so regulars in their lineup. Jimmy Rollins and Aaron Rowand both turned in career years to complement Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, and Pat Burrell's July and August resurgence was instrumental in keeping them in the race.

Now the Phillies have to decide whether it's worth going to $50 million-$60 million to keep Rowand when they already have Shane Victorino and Michael Bourn on the roster. It probably isn't. The money would be better spent on a top third baseman or a No. 2 starter. There isn't much out there for pitching, so the Phillies should target Mike Lowell to play third base. If they're willing to spend after that, retaining Kyle Lohse is a possibility, though it'd likely cost them at least $32 million for four years. Carlos Silva would be another possibility. It'd be fun to see Curt Schilling back in Philadelphia, but his flyball tendencies wouldn't make him the best option in that ballpark.

Of course, the Phillies already have a No. 2 starter on the roster. Brett Myers, though, actually prefers closing and likely will remain in the bullpen. The Phillies will be on the lookout for relief help. The Nats should be willing to give up Jon Rauch for a young center fielder like Bourn. Tom Gordon's contract needs to be dumped, and the Phillies could use a player like Mark DeRosa to protect them at several positions. It'd be an even swap.

The outfield would be shallow with Rowand gone. Jayson Werth was terrific in the second half of this season and could be a candidate to play regularly in 2008. Still, the Phillies would want to add more. Bringing in a rehabbing Milton Bradley could give the lineup quite a boost come June. He'll likely have to take an incentive-laden deal after blowing out his knee.

Even if they upgrade from Lohse, the Phillies will be depending an awful lot on the ancient Jamie Moyer and 2007 surprise Kyle Kendrick next season. The rotation would look a whole lot better if Adam Eaton could just be a reliable fourth starter. They'll need solid seasons from two members of that group if they hope to repeat.


CF Elijah Dukes
3B Jose Bautista
2B Freddy Sanchez
1B Adam LaRoche
LF Jason Bay
RF Xavier Nady
C Ronny Paulino
SS Jack Wilson

Ian Snell
Tom Gorzelanny
Matt Morris
Paul Maholm
Zach Duke

Matt Capps
Armando Benitez
Damaso Marte

I was going to have this column done a few days ago, but I got down to the Pirates here and was just too depressed to do continue working. Imagine what it must be like for their fans.

On the bright side, Dave Littlefield's reign is over. Jim Tracy's might be, though we don't know for sure yet. A complete house-cleaning in management would be for the best. For the on-field product, there's probably not a whole lot that can be done right now. There have been some Jason Bay rumors, but trading him when his value is at its low point would be foolish. They need a couple of more players just like him.

The offense figures to remain fairly intact. If the Tigers or another team is willing to take Wilson's contract, then the Pirates should happily dump him and sign a Juan Uribe to serve as a stopgap while Brian Bixler continues to develop. Ronny Paulino is another possibility to go if the Mets or someone else makes a quality offer. Still, the Pirates will probably retain him for one more year. A center fielder better than Chris Duffy and Nyjer Morgan would be nice. Nate McLouth qualifies, but he really is more of a tweener. The Pirates need to roll the dice and Elijah Dukes should come fairly cheap. Perhaps the Rays would take Salomon Torres for him.

The rotation should be set after the ridiculous decision to take on Matt Morris' contract. Paul Maholm and Zach Duke could be available in the right trades, but no one is going to give up a lot for Maholm and the Pirates would be selling low if they parted with Duke now. Capps is the clear closer. A setup man better than Torres will be a priority. The Pirates should be OK at the end of games unless they trade Marte for a young center fielder or catcher.

The Pirates do have young talent to work with, and if they can take something of a step forward next year, perhaps they'll be able to start luring quality free agents rather than overpaying for mediocrities. That's all they'd get this winter if they try to prove their commitment to the fanbase by spending money. They're going to be a fifth- or sixth-place team anyway, so they should save their cash for next winter.

St. Louis

SS Edgar Renteria
LF Chris Duncan/Kevin Mench
1B Albert Pujols
CF Jim Edmonds
3B Scott Rolen
RF Rick Ankiel/Juan Encarnacion
C Yadier Molina
2B Adam Kennedy/Aaron Miles

Adam Wainwright
Mark Mulder
Braden Looper
Jason Jennings
Joel Pineiro

Jason Isringhausen
Ryan Franklin
Russ Springer

The Cardinals won the World Series in 2006, but they did it in a year in which they won 83 games. They may not have the NL's biggest budget, but they're still spending a lot of money on what has been a .500 team the last two years. GM Walt Jocketty hardly deserves all of the blame, but it wasn't terribly surprising that the Cardinals wanted to change things up a bit. Unfortunately, their flexibility is really limited due to such huge commitments to Albert Pujols, Chris Carpenter and Scott Rolen, as well as lesser ones to Jim Edmonds, Mark Mulder and Juan Encarnacion. Of those six, only Pujols seems very likely to live up to his salary next year.

The Cardinals are sure to want to add pitching this winter, but the offense will also need assistance if David Eckstein leaves. Bringing Edgar Renteria back would provide quite a boost at the top of the lineup and do his own part to aid the pitching by providing a defensive upgrade. If the Cards could get him for Tyler Johnson and an out-of-favor Anthony Reyes, they should go for it.

The rest of the lineup would be set, assuming that the team is willing to use Chris Duncan and Rick Ankiel in the corners. Encarnacion's eye injury makes him a long shot to contribute. The Cards would need another right-handed bat to battle Ryan Ludwick for a job. Kevin Mench and Craig Monroe would make a lot of sense. Skip Schumaker can be retained as Edmonds insurance. Colby Rasmus may take over in center field before the end of the year.

The starting pitching situation looks less dire with Joel Pineiro's resurgence and Todd Wellemeyer's development. Still, the Cards will want to add at least one established arm. Curt Schilling or Tom Glavine would be perfect. Taking a chance on Bartolo Colon or Jason Jennings might also work out.

The bullpen should be OK with Jason Isringhausen's $8.8 million option expected to be picked up. Russ Springer wants to stay and should be easy to re-sign as a free agent.

Odds are that the Cardinals will struggle again next year. There's a lot of dead money on the roster, and it remains to be seen whether ownership will allow the club's next GM to bring in the necessary pieces. As is, they'll need strong a strong comeback from Rolen and a surprise starter or two to have a shot at 85 wins. Fortunately, they're in the right division if they're going to contend.

San Diego

RF Brian Giles
2B Tadahito Iguchi
1B Adrian Gonzalez
CF Aaron Rowand
SS Khalil @@@@@@
LF Kevin Kouzmanoff/Scott Hairston
C Josh Bard
3B Jeff Keppinger/Chase Headley

Jake Peavy
Chris Young
Greg Maddux
Kei Igawa
Steve Trachsel/Casey Fossum

Trevor Hoffman
Heath Bell
Kevin Cameron

The Padres just finished with their best record since 1998, but they failed to make the postseason after winning the division the previous two years. All signs point to the club being one big bat short of becoming a realistic World Series contender. Still, it's going to be hard to acquire a difference maker this winter unless they're willing to take a chance on Barry Bonds or spend huge on Andruw Jones. Kosuke Fukudome and Aaron Rowand look like more realistic options. Given the need for a top-notch center fielder at Petco Park, Rowand is probably the perfect choice for them.

So, let's assume that the Padres are willing to spend to upgrade in center. They'll probably have to go cheaper elsewhere. Kevin Kouzmanoff proved he could hit in the majors as a rookie, but defense at third base is a real problem for him and the Padres have a better glove on the way in Chase Headley. Kouz should move to left. Scott Hairston is the fallback option there if the Padres don't sign a veteran, but he might be needed to man right field initially after Brian Giles underwent microfracture surgery.

Brian's younger brother, Marcus, won't be brought back to play second. Tadahito Iguchi would make a lot of sense here. He doesn't have great range at second, but if there's a team in baseball that can do without a lot of range in the middle infield, it's San Diego (singles lead to runs scored at Petco with less frequency than they do in any other park). Headley should be ready to start at third base by midseason, but a stopgap could be needed in the meantime. Kouzmanoff will probably just end up staying there, but picking up Jeff Keppinger from Cincinnati would provide the club with insurance. The Reds might trade him for Justin Germano.

The Padres do have rotation question marks. They can exercise Greg Maddux's club option or hope that he exercises his player option. They definitely need him back, so just paying him the $11 million would be smart. Since Clay Hensley is coming back from a torn labrum, the Padres will probably need two more starters. Germano could fill one spot. Expect the team to again discuss a Kei Igawa trade with the Yankees. Cla Meredith for Igawa would be fair, as long as San Diego didn't have to pick up any portion of the $26 million posting fee. They can bring in a couple of auditions to contend for the fifth spot. Brett Tomko, Kip Wells, Kris Benson, Odalis Perez, Steve Trachsel and Casey Fossum are some options.

Assuming good health from the top three starters and a rock-solid pen, San Diego can win another 85-90 games with another strong season from Adrian Gonzalez and average production from the other seven hitters. Still, this isn't the time for the team to be content. The Diamondbacks, Dodgers and Rockies all have far stronger farm systems, and the Padres might have to think about rebuilding by the time Jake Peavy is a free agent after 2009. The future isn't exactly bleak, but the Padres may have already missed out on what were probably their best chances to play deep into October.

San Francisco

LF Scott Podsednik
SS David Eckstein
RF Randy Winn
CF Andruw Jones
3B Casey Blake
C Bengie Molina
1B Jeff Clement/Rich Aurilia
2B Jose Lopez

Barry Zito
Matt Cain
Tim Lincecum
Odalis Perez
Kevin Correia/Jonathan Sanchez

Brian Wilson
Brad Hennessey
Randy Messenger

Where to start? The Giants will shed about $50 million in salary this winter with Barry Bonds, Matt Morris, Armando Benitez, Pedro Feliz, Omar Vizquel, Mike Matheny and Ryan Klesko off the books. That should make them major players this winter, but GM Brian Sabean has to decide where to fill in with veterans and where to try to go young. Unfortunately, the Giants just don't have many prospects to plug in and entering the season with a 100-loss team could cause the fans to stay away. My guess is that the Giants will end up spending a good portion of their savings and work to bring in one superstar.

The star would have to be a hitter, and there just aren't that many available unless the Giants want to use Matt Cain to trade for Miguel Cabrera or Carl Crawford. Andruw Jones won't cost as much as it looked like he would a year ago -- he'll probably get less annually than Torii Hunter -- and might prove to be the best option. Should the Giants add him, they'd look to trade Dave Roberts. They wouldn't get a lot in return, but the Brewers might be willing to offer up left-hander Zach Jackson and one of their shortstop prospects. They could always play Roberts in left, but his bat wouldn't make him an asset there. Assuming that Kosuke Fukudome is too expensive, they could try Geoff Jenkins or Luis Gonzalez. With Sabean doing the shopping, I imagine that Scott Podsednik would also be high on the list.

A new shortstop to replace Vizquel is likely, and David Eckstein is the top option out there. He could cost $21 million for three years. The Giants may try to do a little better offensively at third. Casey Blake could be available. There's Sean Casey and trade possibilities Dan Johnson and Mike Jacobs as first base options. Also, this is one team with the room to absorb Richie Sexson's contract. I wouldn't be surprised at all to see that happen.

The starting pitching is fine. In fact, the Giants have the flexibility to move Noah Lowry and should do so while his value is high. I have the Mariners giving up Jose Lopez and Jeff Clement for him and Ray Durham's contract, though that would be a steep price. Maybe Sexson could be involved there. I could also see Lowry to Atlanta for Edgar Renteria or to Texas for Hank Blalock.

The Giants might as well be in the mix for Francisco Cordero, but unless they can bring in someone with at least a few years left, they'll probably go with Brian Wilson in the closer's role, with Brad Hennessey and Randy Messenger setting him up.

I just don't see the Giants being content to do a complete rebuild, and they really don't have the offensive prospects to make it worth it anyway. Making a run at 75-80 wins never seems like a good idea, but it's what the Giants may have to do to maintain a decent crowd and keep the money coming in.


CF Michael Bourn
2B Kaz Matsui/Ronnie Belliard
3B Ryan Zimmerman
1B Dmitri Young/Nick Johnson
RF Austin Kearns
LF Wily Mo Pena/Dmitri Young
C Brian Schneider/Jesus Flores
SS Cristian Guzman

Shawn Hill
John Patterson
Jeff Weaver
Jason Bergmann
Matt Chico/Tim Redding

Chad Cordero
Mike MacDougal
Luis Ayala

Put me into the crowd that believed the Nationals would lose at least 100 games this year. That they actually finished with 73 wins without getting anything from Nick Johnson or John Patterson is amazing. Setup man Jon Rauch led the team in victories with eight, and the club's best hitter was a guy who didn't even get an invitation to major league spring training after inking a minor league deal in mid-February.

As encouraging of a 2007 as they had, the Nationals are still quite a ways from contending. Both of their above average starting pitchers are very injury-prone, and two of their best players are first basemen. If Nick Johnson can play next season, the Nats are going to have to try Dmitri Young in left, which would put either Wily Mo Pena or Austin Kearns in center. For that reason, the Nats probably won't want to invest a lot in a center fielder this winter. A trade for Elijah Dukes or Michael Bourn would work. Interrnal option Justin Maxwell is intriguing, but he's had a lot of injury troubles and he could use a year in the high minors. The Nats still have relief depth to part with, and Rauch is a strong enough setup man to bring in a quality youngster like Bourn.

The remaining question marks also reside up the middle. It's only a matter of time before Jesus Flores takes over as the starting catcher. Another year to learn under Brian Schneider would be good for him, but if the Nats get offered young pitching for Schneider they'd likely have to take it. At shortstop, the Nats are probably going to try Cristian Guzman one more time. They can move Felipe Lopez back to second, but it's clear they're frustrated with him. They could trade or non-tender him and sign a veteran to pair with Ronnie Belliard. I no longer think Kaz Matsui is a very realistic option, but Marcus Giles or Jose Valentin might be.

The Nationals' biggest need is for a starter or two. More than anything, they could use a true workhorse to take some pressure off the pen. The return of Livan Hernandez would be interesting, but Jeff Weaver could be a better option. There's also been some talk about Tom Glavine because of CEO Stan Kasten's relationship with the future Hall of Famer. However, I don't see why Glavine would leave home to finish his career with a long shot to contend.

Closer Chad Cordero's name likely will come up in rumors again, but Rauch would likely come cheaper and might actually be the preferred choice of some AL clubs. Odds are that Cordero will hang around until July anyway. In Luis Ayala, Jesus Colome and Jonathan Albaladejo, the Nats will have some sleeper save candidates next year. Also, Lopez could go for more bullpen help. I have the White Sox sending over Mike MacDougal for him.

It's entirely possible that the Nationals will take a step backwards next year after so greatly exceeding expectations this season. Still, the rebuilding effort is going very well. I don't think they'll get to .500 next year, but with the club's budget likely to get a whole lot bigger come 2009 and 2010, it might not be long before Manny Acta's team can do more than play the role of spoiler.

Hache Man

"Seven Days Without Gambling Makes One Weak"
Re: Fantasy Baseball News 2007

2008 NL Projected Rosters
An announcement before we begin. I've started up a blog that I plan to update daily. I'll probably be promoting it a bit over here until developing a steady stream of readers. You can find the new Strike Zone blog here.

Here's part of two of the projected rosters column, this one looking at NL teams.

Again, the trades are mostly for fun. I'm trying to be realistic in placing the free agents and in trying to guess which youngsters will enter next year with major roles. If even one or two of the trades happen, well, that'd be pretty neat.

You can argue that some of the trades are lopsided, but I think that all of them make more sense than Jason Hirsh, Willy Taveras and Taylor Buchholz for one year of Jason Jennings or Rafael Soriano for Horacio Ramirez. It's clear that Cubs fans don't like the idea of trading Felix Pie, Carlos Marmol and Ronny Cedeno for Miguel Tejada and Hayden Penn. I feel the same way, but I can see the club overpaying for another big bat if the offense falters this month.

National League Projected Rosters


CF Chris Young
SS Stephen Drew
2B Orlando Hudson
LF Eric Byrnes
1B Conor Jackson
3B Chad Tracy/Mark Reynolds
RF Justin Upton
C Chris Snyder/Miguel Montero

Brandon Webb
Randy Johnson
Jon Garland
Doug Davis
Micah Owings

Jose Valverde
Brandon Lyon
Doug Slaten

The Diamondbacks opened the season as a candidate to be the NL's surprise team, but for it to happen, it figured that Randy Johnson would have to turn in a quality year in his return to the NL and a few of the young hitters would have to step up and establish themselves among the league's best at their positions. Well, the Diamondbacks finished with the NL's best record, yet they got next to nothing from Johnson, as well as a combined 4.60 ERA from Doug Davis and Livan Hernandez. Plus, there wasn't one hitter on the team with an 850 OPS, unless Micah Owings counts. In all, they scored 712 runs and allowed 732. Yet, there they were at 90-72.

Arizona won't be able to count on faring so well in close games next year. However, they might not need to if the young hitters continue to develop. With Eric Byrnes locked up, the Diamondbacks' lineup should look the same next year. There was a chance Chad Tracy would be shopped, but no one is likely to offer much for him after he underwent microfracture surgery. Justin Upton will have to battle Carlos Quentin, if he's not traded, and Jeff Salazar for a starting job in right. Tony Clark could be re-signed as a backup to Conor Jackson.

Since Johnson can't be counted on and Livan Hernandez is expected to depart as a free agent, the Diamondbacks will need to add at least one and maybe two starters this winter. Bringing Curt Schilling back to Arizona could be considered, and Bartolo Colon, Koji Uehara and Kenshin Kawakami are worthy options. The Diamondbacks could sign a free agent and then add a starter in a trade, using Quentin or Tony Pena as bait. I have them sending Pena and Dustin Nippert to the White Sox for Jon Garland.

With a strong minor league system and spending likely to increase as the Diamondbacks finally get out from under the deferred payments committed to by the old regime, there's every reason to believe Arizona will have one of the NL's top teams for the next several years. Manager Bob Melvin's crew might not win quite as many games in 2008, but the future is bright.


2B Kelly Johnson
SS Yunel Escobar
3B Chipper Jones
1B Mark Teixeira
RF Jeff Francoeur
C Brian McCann
CF Mike Cameron
LF Brandon Jones/Matt Diaz

John Smoltz
Tim Hudson
Tom Glavine
Chuck James
Mike Hampton/Anthony Reyes

Francisco Cordero
Rafael Soriano
Mike Gonzalez

Barring a stunning reversal, Andruw Jones won't be back as the Braves' center fielder. Jones stepped away from agent Scott Boras' guidance when he agreed to a below-market deal with Atlanta five years ago. Perhaps there's a slight chance it could happen again, but it's doubtful Boras would still be his agent if he thought it was a possibility. Instead, the Braves will use Andruw's money and perhaps Edgar Renteria's salary to upgrade the pitching staff. The Tigers, Cubs, Cardinals, White Sox and Giants could be interested in Renteria, who is owed $9 million in 2008 (with the Red Sox paying $3 million) and has a reasonable option for 2009. Detroit wouldn't part with Andrew Miller, and the White Sox probably wouldn't give up John Danks. Renteria back to the Cardinals for Anthony Reyes and Tyler Johnson could work, though St. Louis may need to spend most of its available money on pitching.

Renteria is expendable because the Braves want to play Yunel Escobar regularly. Kelly Johnson is productive and inexpensive, so keeping him at second base is the right move. There's a slight chance that the Braves would try him in center field as a replacement for Jones, but it's more likely that they'll go outside the organization. Mike Cameron would be a rather cost-effective solution for two or three years. Another option would be to bring in a right fielder and move Jeff Francoeur to center. A starting left fielder isn't needed. Matt Diaz would be capable as a regular, and if the left-handed-hitting Brandon Jones proves ready, the Braves could get a lot of production from a $1.5 million-$2 million platoon.

If Renteria is dealt, it's more likely that the Braves will sign a closer, perhaps even Francisco Cordero. Eric Gagne and Todd Jones are also possibilities. A move to re-sign Octavio Dotel seems less likely. If Renteria stays and they just don't have the money, Rafael Soriano could do the job in the ninth, and the Braves might be willing to go with him if they think Mike Gonzalez will be ready to work the eighth.

The Braves could lose Andruw and Renteria and still have one of the NL's best offenses. The pitching will determine whether the club can return to the postseason next year. Tom Glavine seemingly would prefer to return to Atlanta if the Braves can come up with the money. Mike Hampton should be ready to pitch in spring training, but he's not someone who can be counted on. Jo-Jo Reyes could be a quality option at by the All-Star break, but it'd be for the best if he opens the year in the minors. If the Braves get another healthy year from John Smoltz and effective work from the bottom two-fifths of the rotation, they should be as good as any team in the NL next year.


LF Alfonso Soriano
2B Ryan Theriot
1B Derrek Lee
3B Aramis Ramirez
SS Miguel Tejada
CF Jacque Jones/Brady Clark
RF Cliff Floyd/Matt Murton
C Geovany Soto/Jason Kendall

Carlos Zambrano
Ted Lilly
Rich Hill
Jason Marquis
Sean Marshall/Horacio Ramirez

Ryan Dempster
Bob Howry
Tom Gordon

Eight games over .500 qualifies as a somewhat disappointing result for this Cubs team, especially given the competition in the NL Central, but having the game's 12th best record was good enough to get them into the playoffs. The Cubs ranked second in the NL in ERA and eighth in runs, so they should have been better than this. However, it looks like one more bat might be required to get them over the hump.

Ideally, it'd be a left-handed hitter. However, except for Barry Bonds and Kosuke Fukudome, there isn't going to be much available in free agency. If the Cubs do add, they'll probably get a center fielder or shortstop. The dream scenario would be Alex Rodriguez, but that's what it's likely to remain: a dream. Andruw Jones would fit in the middle of the order, but he might require too much of an investment with the ownership transition unlikely to be complete until 2008. The Cubs have pursued Miguel Tejada before and should do so again. Felix Pie, Carlos Marmol and Ronny Cedeno for Tejada and Hayden Penn would be a very high price to pay, but GM Jim Hendry might need to gamble in order to keep his job.

With Tejada's arrival in my scenario, I have Mark DeRosa going to Philadelphia for Tom Gordon, giving the Cubs an adequate setup man to help replace Marmol.

If the Cubs decline to make any big moves, Pie will battle Jacque Jones for the center field job. He should be ready to contribute by midseason. Ryan Theriot and Cedeno would compete at shortstop. Cedeno would probably prove to be the superior option because of his defense. Free agent Cliff Floyd can stay and platoon with Matt Murton one more time. Geovany Soto has made a positive impression this month and could enter 2008 getting the majority of the starts. The Cubs, however, shouldn't settle for pairing him with Henry Blanco. Jason Kendall could stay as a part-timer.

The top four spots in the rotation are set, and the Cubs can sign a veteran or two to compete with Sean Marshall and Sean Gallagher. Ryan Dempster is signed for one more year, so he could enter the season as the closer. However, Marmol would be a huge threat to overtake him and those two would almost certainly have to be paired in fantasy leagues next year. Kerry Wood could be re-signed to help in a setup role. He's talked about going back to the rotation, but at this point, it looks like the pen is the right place for him.

Milwaukee only figures to get better, but the Cubs can outspend them again this winter and stay in front in the NL Central. Of course, it'd the only division in baseball they'd be favored in next year.


CF Josh Hamilton/Ryan Freel
3B Edwin Encarnacion
RF Ken Griffey Jr.
2B Brandon Phillips
LF Adam Dunn
SS Alex Gonzalez
1B Joey Votto/Jorge Cantu
C David Ross/Javier Valentin

Aaron Harang
Bronson Arroyo
Carlos Silva
Justin Germano
Homer Bailey

David Weathers
Jared Burton
Bill Bray

As usual, the Reds need pitching, preferably two starters and a closer candidate. Unfortunately, there just isn't a lot available in free agency this winter and Cincinnati doesn't have a deep minor league system to deal from. While it's true the Reds have four of the game's top prospects in Jay Bruce, Homey Bailey, Joey Votto and Johnny Cueto, they have to keep those players and they don't have a lot of second-tier guys to use to entice other teams.

So, the Reds could look to free agency first. They need to be in on both Koji Uehara and Kenshin Kawakami, but they're more likely to end up with Carlos Silva. While he'd be overpriced at $8 million per year, he has youth, durability and his ability to get a somewhat above average number grounders on his side. They could also trade for a veteran. Daniel Cabrera would be worth gambling on, or they could go after a veteran like Esteban Loaiza or Julian Tavarez. I have them trading Jeff Keppinger for Justin Germano, adding one more rotation option.

The bullpen isn't quite so desperate of a need with Jared Burton establishing himself as a reliable setup man. David Weathers is less than ideal as a closer, but it'd be very expensive to replace him. The Reds figure to talk to Francisco Cordero, but they'll probably settle for a couple of lesser guys.

The offense should be pretty well set if Adam Dunn's option is picked up. Ryan Freel is expendable, as the Reds can go with a Josh Hamilton/Norris Hopper platoon in center. However, his value is at rock bottom because of injuries. The Reds might as well keep him as protection for Hamilton and Ken Griffey Jr. Scott Hatteberg's option can be picked up, but he needs to be a bench player behind Votto. Jorge Cantu can start at first base against left-handers and serve as a backup elsewhere. The catching situation probably won't be upgraded since both David Ross and Javier Valentin are under contract for next year.

If the Reds foolishly decline Dunn's option, they could go with Votto in left field and Hatteberg at first. They'd have a lot more money to throw at pitchers and they could become the favorites to land Cordero. However, they wouldn't be any better for it. My guess is that they'll exercise the option and then deal Dunn after he loses his no-trade protection on June 15. Either way, third place would seem to be the best-case scenario.


CF Willy Taveras
SS Troy Tulowitzki
LF Matt Holliday
1B Todd Helton
3B Garrett Atkins
RF Brad Hawpe/Ryan Spilborghs
2B Josh Barfield
C Michael Barrett/Chris Iannetta

Jeff Francis
Aaron Cook
Jason Hirsh
Randy Wolf
Ubaldo Jimenez/Franklin Morales

Manny Corpas
Octavio Dotel
Taylor Buchholz

The tight-fisted approach worked well enough this year, as the Rockies overcame some key injuries late to become the surprise NL wild card. Looking to next year, the core of the lineup, the top two starters and new closer Manny Corpas are all under control. What changes the Rockies make figure to be relatively small ones.

The two players most likely to depart are Brian Fuentes and free agent Kaz Matsui. Fuentes is due about $5 million in his final year of arbitration. The Rockies should be able to afford to keep him with the help of some newfound playoff money, but they might prefer to invest in someone who would stick around for one more season. Trading Fuentes while he still has plenty of value and replacing him with Octavio Dotel or Luis Vizcaino would work. If Fuentes goes, it could be for a second baseman to replace Matsui or a third or fourth starter. I like the idea of sending him to Cleveland for Josh Barfield. To Detroit for Nate Robertson would also make sense.

Catcher Yorvit Torrealba could also go, as the Rockies may not want to match the multiyear deals he's likely to be offered. The Rockies could try to pair Jason Kendall or Michael Barrett with Chris Iannetta for a year.

The Rockies will want to add one established starter, even though both Ubaldo Jimenez and Franklin Morales have made strong cases for themselves to enter next year as starters. Morales will probably be the one to head to Triple-A for a little while. It'd be a bad idea for them to commit multiple years to Josh Fogg, though that's what they'd have to do to keep him. They should go out and get someone with a little more upside.

Before the Rockies' run, it appeared as though Aaron Cook might get the Jason Jennings treatment and be traded before his final year prior to free agency. However, the Rockies should make every attempt to get him locked up, even though it figures to take at least a four-year deal. Worse pitchers will get $30 million contracts this winter. If the Rockies are willing to spend to keep their top players, they should be contenders for a while. They have as much talent under control for 2008 as any other NL West club.


SS Hanley Ramirez
2B Dan Uggla
RF Jeremy Hermida
3B Miguel Cabrera
LF Josh Willingham
1B Mike Jacobs
C Gerald Laird
CF Corey Patterson

Dontrelle Willis
Sergio Mitre
Rick VandenHurk
Philip Humber
Ricky Nolasco/Anibal Sanchez

Matt Lindstrom
Taylor Tankersley
Eddie Guardado

The Marlins are making pitching and defense the priority after a year in which they had the worst ERA in the NL. My way of cleaning up the mess would be to put Hanley Ramirez in center, Dan Uggla at third and Miguel Cabrera at first. That would open up two big holes in the middle of the infield, but there are usually cheap solutions at second base available and Juan Uribe and Adam Everett could be options at short. The Marlins could also trade Dontrelle Willis for help there. However, odds are again them doing anything so radical.

Instead, expect the Marlins to keep their stars at their current positions. They could then go get a speedy center fielder to start over Cody Ross and company. Ross did some interesting work as a stopgap at the end of the season, but he's just not a quality option in center. Mike Jacobs could be made available in trade talks. If the Marlins dealt him, they could put Josh Willingham at first and get a left fielder with more range, such as Scott Podsednik or Craig Monroe. Brad Wilkerson would also be a possibility.

A Willis trade could still bring in a top young position player -- Felix Pie could be one option -- but with his value down and an unexpected lack of pitching depth, the Marlins should keep him for at least another half-season. Scott Olsen is probably on the way out after a disastrous season that included a DUI arrest. Sergio Mitre should take one more rotation spot, and hopefully either Ricky Nolasco or Anibal Sanchez will make a strong comeback and begin the year in the rotation. That'd still leave two spots. A veteran to fill one and a trade to take the other, with Rick VandenHurk also in the mix, would be suitable.

To get another young starter, the Marlins should make Kevin Gregg available. He's cheap and he's sort of proven he can close, so there would be a fair amount of demand. I have the Mets giving up Philip Humber and Anderson Hernandez for him. Matt Lindstrom would be the heavy favorite to replace him in the closer's role. Olsen goers to Texas for Gerald Laird and a catcher of the future in Taylor Teagarden. Miguel Olivo gets non-tendered to make room. That's likely to happen anyway.

If the Marlins don't see themselves contending next year, maybe blowing the whole thing up would be the right strategy. Cabrera and Willis will both be free agents after 2009, and unless there's a stadium solution, it's unlikely that either will be re-signed. Cabrera alone could potentially bring in Jacoby Ellsbury, Jon Lester and Jed Lowrie from Boston or Matt Cain and more pitching from the Giants. Especially with Josh Johnson out for 2008 and Sanchez and Nolasco both question marks, the temptation has to be there to start over with Hanley, Jeremy Hermida and Uggla, all of whom are still four years away from free agency.


2B Chris Burke/Mark Loretta
CF Hunter Pence
1B Lance Berkman
LF Carlos Lee
3B Ty Wigginton
RF Luke Scott/Craig Monroe
C Paul Lo Duca
SS Omar Vizquel

Roy Oswalt
Wandy Rodriguez
Woody Williams
Josh Fogg
Brandon Backe

Brad Lidge
Chad Qualls
LaTroy Hawkins

The future just doesn't look very promising for the Astros, who have a large amount of money tied up in three players likely to decline over the next few years and one of the game's weakest farm systems because of their unwillingness to spend on the draft. There's still enough front-line talent that the Astros could add some additional veterans and make a run in the game's worst division next year. That probably is the way to go. With Hunter Pence established, there just aren't any additional youngsters that the Astros can ill-afford to block for a year.

The lineup decisions appear to be at second base, shortstop and catcher. Bringing in a veteran to battle Chris Burke for a starting job is a good idea. Free agent Mark Loretta, who no longer seems poised to land a multiyear deal after his poor second half, could stay. The Astros have told Brad Ausmus that they only have interest in retaining him as a backup. J.R. Towles had an impressive September offensively, but he could use one more year in the minors. The Astros could add Paul Lo Duca, Michael Barrett or Jason Kendall to start. If they do go to Towles, it'd free up money for a run at David Eckstein to play short. Otherwise, the club could sign Omar Vizquel or simply keep Adam Everett. Everett's glove makes up for his bat, and the Astros should be able to live with him in the eighth spot now that they don't have the Ausmus and Craig Biggio holes to make up for.

The Astros' rotation could be a little better with Brandon Backe likely to be all the way back from Tommy John surgery. They need to add a No. 2 behind Roy Oswalt, but that's going to be very tough to pull off. Gambling on Bartolo Colon might work out. Otherwise, they could settle for someone like Josh Fogg.

I'm assuming Brad Lidge will be kept as the Astros' closer and then perhaps get traded next summer if the team falls out of contention. If Lidge is instead dealt now, Chad Qualls would be a candidate to close. However, it's more likely that Houston would bring in a veteran, possibly Todd Jones or Scott Linebrink.

Houston has a new GM and manager, but there really isn't any hope of pressing the reset button with Carlos Lee, Lance Berkman and Oswalt owed a combined $194.5 million. The Astros didn't even try to go young when they had commodities to move at the deadline. The potential is there for Houston to win the NL Central next year if they get lucky with some veterans and don't have to deal with many injuries. Still, it's more likely that they're going to be also-rans for at least a couple of years.

Los Angeles

SS Rafael Furcal
LF Carl Crawford
C Russell Martin
2B Jeff Kent
1B James Loney
RF Matt Kemp
3B Nomar Garciaparra
CF Juan Pierre

Brad Penny
Derek Lowe
Jason Schmidt
Nate Robertson
Daniel Cabrera

Takashi Saito
Jonathan Broxton
Al Reyes

The Dodgers needed a star hitter last winter, but instead of getting one true difference maker, they instead acquired three veteran bats and blocked younger players. Fortunately, James Loney and Matt Kemp broke through anyway. As is, the Dodgers could fill their lineup with those two, Andre Ethier in left, Andy LaRoche to share time with Nomar Garciaparra at third and either Tony Abreu or Chin-Lung Hu at second if Jeff Kent exits. Still, they really need another star and they have plenty of artillery to get one.

Barry Bonds is out and the Dodgers aren't going to get a top center fielder and bench Pierre. Acquiring Miguel Tejada to play third base would make some sense if he's willing to switch positions, but it's still hardly the best option. Miguel Cabrera for third base and then eventually left field would be ideal, and the Marlins would have to be interested if the Dodgers offered up Chad Billingsley or Clayton Kershaw and a couple of young bats for him. Still, he might not be available. How about a deal for Carl Crawford? The Rays would have to strongly consider it if offered Billingsley, Jonathan Meloan and Abreu for Crawford and Al Reyes. That's the scenario I have here, though it's a highly unlikely one. With Crawford's arrival, Andre Ethier is expendable. He goes to Baltimore for Daniel Cabrera's high-upside arm.

Odds are that Billinglsey will stay and be the third starter. If Jason Schmidt can pull off a successful comeback, the Dodgers should have one of the NL's top rotations next year. Still, they'll likely want to dump Esteban Loaiza and try another fifth starter. The Tigers might give up Nate Robertson for him if the money was evened out. The one-two bullpen punch is set. The Dodgers will want to bring in some middle-relief help, but they should also have youngsters to break in as the year goes on. Meloan, for one, should contribute, though his command was a major problem during his September audition.

Even if the Dodgers can't land a big bat, they should be involved in another four-team battle for first place in the NL West. Kershaw could be ready as soon as June or July and make a major impact when it happens. LaRoche will prove to be a better player than Garciaparra if he can avoid further back troubles. Since that's hardly a given, it's a good thing the Dodgers have both. Kent has talked about departing, but that's sort of based on the premise that a younger Dodgers team won't contend, which is simply foolish. I don't have much faith in GM Ned Colletti getting them over the top, but this is a talented team that should be playing meaningful games in September for at least the next few years.

Hache Man

"Seven Days Without Gambling Makes One Weak"
Re: Fantasy Baseball News 2007

Projection Review - Pitchers
This week's feature is a review of some of my preseason pitching projections and writeups. A look at the hitters will come next week.

Starting Pitching Review

Josh Beckett - Red Sox - $16 - SP #31
Projection: 15 wins, 3.93 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 160 Ks in 190 IP
2007 stats: 20 wins, 3.27 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 194 Ks in 200 2/3 IP

Then: The Red Sox were gambling when they gave up two of their best prospects in Hanley Ramirez and Anibal Sanchez and took on Mike Lowell's salary to bring in Beckett, but it was his durability that was the main concern. They couldn't have guessed that he'd throw 200 innings and post an ERA over 5.00. It didn't appear that the shoulder issue that troubled him at the end of 2005 gave him any further problems, and he never had a recurrence of his old finger blisters. He actually had great velocity all year long. Still, his ERA against AL teams was 5.37, and he surrendered 21 earned runs in 20 innings against the Yankees. It wasn't all bad, given that hitters batted just .245 against him. Also, he put together a strong final six weeks until allowing six earned runs in his very last inning of the year. He got himself into trouble when he overrelied on his fastball at the expense of his curve and change. Beckett should be better after making some adjustments, and even if he doesn't pull his ERA under 4.00, he'll still be a plus in three categories. He isn't a great bet to make 33 starts again, so he isn't necessarily someone to target. However, he would be worth grabbing if he slips into the $14-$15 range.

Now: A second straight 200-inning season and a Cy Young-quality performance from Beckett. He had a .245 average against both in 2006, when he finished with a 5.01 ERA, and this year, but he gave up 19 fewer homers and 34 fewer walks in just four fewer innings. He also had 36 additional strikeouts. Much better use of his curveball was largely responsible for his turnaround. He's also getting more movement on his fastball. There's every reason to believe he'll remain one of the AL's best next year, and the likelihood of arm problems seems smaller than every before.

Erik Bedard - Orioles - $19 - SP #17
Projection: 16 wins, 3.61 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 176 Ks in 207 IP
2007 stats: 13 wins, 3.16 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 221 Ks in 182 IP

Then: Bedard seemed a likely breakthrough candidate even before the Orioles brought in pitching coach extraordinaire Leo Mazzone. He backed it up by winning each of his first four starts. However, two months of terribly unexceptional pitching followed. Just when it started to look like it wasn't going to happen for him in 2006, he ran off a streak of seven wins in seven starts beginning with interleague play in mid-June. He allowed more than three earned runs in just three of his final 21 outings, and he narrowly missed becoming the first Orioles pitcher since Mike Mussina in 1999 to win 16 games. There's a real chance he'll get there this year. Bedard has four major league pitches and is becoming more of a groundball pitcher as he ages. The strikeouts will continue to come, so he's a top-12 pitcher in AL-only leagues. Even in such a difficult division for pitchers, he's worth $18.

Now: Bedard was incredibly consistent when it came to his strikeout rate in his first three years, posting 7.84 to 7.94 Ks per nine innings each season. This year, he was all the way up to 10.93. His curve has turned into perhaps the AL's top breaking pitch. In fact, it was so good that he hardly ever went to his slider or change this season. Before a strained oblique got him shut down, Bedard looked like a lock to lead the majors in strikeouts and he might have ended up as a Cy Young contender. That injury will serve to keep his price tag within reason next year. Unfortunately, he'll likely be right there with Beckett, Roy Halladay and C.C. Sabathia behind Santana. He'd still be a decent investment.

Matt Cain - Giants - $17 - SP #20
Projection: 14 wins, 3.49 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 172 Ks in 188 IP
2007 stats: 7 wins, 3.65 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 163 Ks in 200 IP

Then: Cain's impressive showing after joining the rotation for the final five weeks of 2005 meant he didn't even have to compete for a spot last spring. He got off to a rocky start and was skipped a turn after his ERA peaked at 7.04 on May 10, but the Giants never sent him down and he turned out to be their best pitcher after the break, going 7-6 with a 3.26 ERA and a 1.18 WHIP. Beginning in mid-August, he had a six-start run in which he allowed one earned run in 42 innings. That he's still just 22 makes Cain a somewhat risky pick. He's rather inefficient with his pitches, and it appeared that he did wear down following a string of 115-120 pitch outings toward the end of the season. If he remains healthy, he could finish with an ERA in the low-3.00s and 200 strikeouts this season. That there are no huge warning signs means he's recommended at up to $17.

Now: He pitched just as well as expected. His strikeout rate was down a bit, but that was mostly an early-season issue. He fanned 81 in 90 1/3 innings during the second half. Cain's problem was strictly one of run support. The Giants scored more than four runs in just four of his 32 starts.

Fausto Carmona - Indians - $0 - SP #167
Projection: 5 wins, 4.32 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 64 Ks in 100 IP
2007 stats: 19 wins, 3.06 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 137 Ks in 215 IP

Then: Maybe, just maybe, he wasn't ready after all. Carmona, who made three starts in April while C.C. Sabathia was recovering from a strained oblique, had a 1.03 ERA in 26 2/3 innings as a reliever when the Indians traded Bob Wickman on July 20. The Indians wasted no time in naming him their new closer, but disaster struck as soon as he was asked to work the ninth. In a span of seven days, he took four losses and three blown saves while giving up 11 runs in 2 2/3 innings. That got him bumped into middle relief, and when he continued to struggle there, he was sent back to Triple-A to start games. He returned to the majors in September and pitched well in three of his four starts, though he went 0-2 in that span to finish 1-10. As a result, the Indians have just as many questions about his long-term role now as they did a year ago. Carmona is a groundball pitcher with a strong sinker-slider combination that gives him a fair amount of potential as a starter or a reliever. Since he has an option year remaining and others don't, it could be that he'll begin the year in the rotation at Triple-A Buffalo. That would make him a top reserve pick in AL-only leagues.

Now: Carmona got his rotation spot because of Cliff Lee's injury. It was expected that he'd make two or three starts and then return to the minors. Of course, that never happened. Carmona ended up finishing second in the AL in ERA, and he simply dominated the Yankees last week in Game 2 of the ALDS. A year and a half after completely crumbling in the closer's role, he showed the poise of a 10-year veteran in his postseason debut. He probably won't have a 3.06 ERA again next year, but he's here to stay as a force. I'll have him at $20-$22.

Roy Halladay - Blue Jays - $28 - SP #6
Projection: 18 wins, 3.36 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 141 Ks in 214 IP
2007 stats: 16 wins, 3.71 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 139 Ks in 225 1/3 IP

Then: Even though he had to overcome being backed by perhaps the worst defensive middle infield in the game, Halladay was clearly the AL's second best pitcher last season. Well, clearly to everyone but the Cy Young voters, who placed Chien-Ming Wang ahead of him even though Halladay had the superior ERA 3.19 to 3.63 and struck out 56 more batters while throwing two more innings than Wang. Halladay should have better defensive support this year with Aaron Hill entrenched at second and Royce Clayton patrolling shortstop. It might not help him in the win column -- Clayton's presence does nothing for the lineup -- but the improvement could show up in his ERA. Of some concern is the strained forearm that bothered him at times last season and got him shut down 10 days early. He also had shoulder troubles in 2004, so he's not a lock to throw 200 innings. Still, he's clearly the No. 2 pitcher in AL-only leagues.

Now: Halladay was something of a fantasy disappointment overall, but he was his usual self after the break, amassing a 3.02 ERA and a 1.22 WHIP in his final 15 starts. The appendectomy that caused him to miss three starts in May might have been a blessing in disguise, as it gave his arm a break when he was struggling. Halladay pitched 74 1/3 innings over his final nine starts, and it's hard to imagine that he would have managed that had he not entered the break having thrown just 109 innings.

Aaron Harang - Reds - $15 - SP #33
Projection: 15 wins, 3.94 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 185 Ks in 224 IP
2007 stats: 16 wins, 3.73 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 218 Ks in 231 2/3 IP

Then: Harang looked like a workhorse fourth or fifth starter when he came up with the A's in 2002, but he's turned out to a be a lot more than that, leading the NL in strikeouts by one over Jake Peavy last season. He finished third in the NL in innings and tied with C.C. Sabathia for the major league lead with six complete games. As a flyball pitcher in a home run park, it's going to be hard for him to drag his ERA down further -- especially with the Reds possessing one of the game's worst outfield defenses -- but he is a good bet to stay healthy and win about 15 games again. The strikeouts make him a $15 pitcher in 5x5 leagues.

Now: The only thing different about Harang's 2007, compared to 2006, was that he gave up 29 fewer hits in 2 2/3 fewer innings. It didn't change his ERA, which went from 3.76 to 3.73. He did allow nine fewer runs, but it was just two fewer earned runs. I figured Harang's strikeout rate would drop, but it actually increased slightly. A true workhorse now, he's one of the NL's most valuable pitchers. I still expect something of a drop-off from a fantasy perspective.

Felix Hernandez - Mariners - $20 - SP #11
Projection: 14 wins, 3.55 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 193 Ks in 190 IP
2007 stats: 14 wins, 3.92 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 165 Ks in 190 1/3 IP

Then: After such a brilliant debut in 2005, Hernandez fell well short of expectations in his first full season, especially early on. His ERA stood at 5.78 at the beginning of June. From then on, he improved to 8-8 with a 3.92 ERA and a 1.24 WHIP. In his final six starts, he had a 36/4 K/BB ratio. His stuff was consistently good all season long, but he relied too much on his fastball initially. As he and Kenji Johjima became more comfortable with each other, Hernandez did a better job of mixing up his pitches. He occasionally showed the slider that the Mariners didn't want him throwing in previous years, yet his curveball remained his primary strikeout pitch. Despite the setback, King Felix is well on his way to being one of the game's great pitchers. The Mariners will again limit his innings, probably to 200 or so, and he remains a candidate to get hurt anyway. Still, it's entirely possible that he'll rank among the AL's ERA and strikeout leaders. He'll be worth up to $20 on draft day.

Now: King Felix got his ERA under 4.00 by allowing one earned run in 8 2/3 innings against the Rangers on the final day of the season. Each of his final three months was very solid, as he pitched 40 innings, struck out 30 and posted a 1.28-1.30 WHIP in July, August and September. It's still incredible that someone with his stuff can allow a .281 average against. I think Kenji Johjima deserves as much blame as anyone else.

Tim Hudson - Braves - $10 - SP #53
Projection: 14 wins, 3.85 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 137 Ks in 213 IP
2007 stats: 16 wins, 3.33 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 132 Ks in 224 1/3 IP

Then: Healthy yet hugely disappointing. In his five full seasons with the A's, Hudson's worst WHIP was a 1.26 mark. He managed a fine ERA in his first year with the Braves, but his WHIP climbed to 1.35, something that probably should have been taken as a signal that harder times were on the way. His ERA and WHIP ballooned simultaneously last year, leading to some trade talk over the winter. Part of the problem is that Hudson hasn't been able to do his old offseason workout program because of the fear of aggravating the oblique problems that put him on the DL in 2004 and '05. He decided to go all out last winter, which may help him recover some velocity. What he really needs is for his old splitter to come back, but he lost his feel for the pitch three years ago and has only occasionally gone back to it since. Hudson will never again be the ace he was in Oakland. A moderate rebound is likely, but there are better gambles out there.

Now: It turned out that getting in a full offseason program made a huge difference for Hudson, who showed his best velocity as a member of the Braves. He ended up with the highest GB:FB ratio of his career and his second-best home run and walk rates. His .261 average against was nothing special, but just 48 of the 221 hits he allowed went for extra bases. That gave him the lowest isolated slugging percentage of any ERA qualifier. I thought Hudson was probably done as an elite starter, but it looks like he's still got it, even if he's not the strikeout guy he used to be.

Scott Kazmir - Devil Rays - $17 - SP #25
Projection: 13 wins, 3.54 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 191 Ks in 183 IP
2007 stats: 13 wins, 3.48 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 239 Ks in 206 2/3 IP

Then: Possessing an outstanding fastball-slider combination, Kazmir was successful as a rookie despite walking 100 in 186 innings. Much improved command turned him into one of the AL's best pitchers last year, at least until the long anticipated shoulder injury struck in July. Although no serious problem was discovered, Kazmir was limited to five starts after the All-Star break, as the Rays decided to be very careful with him. There's little chance that last year's injury will linger into this year. Still, he's always been viewed as being at high risk for arm troubles and counting on him to throw 200 innings would be foolish. Expect Kazmir to be one of the AL's most effective pitchers when he's on the mound, but don't go past $17 to get him. If you do draft him, start shopping him once the 110+-pitch outings begin to pile up.

Now: Kazmir ended up throwing 110 pitches 13 times this year, but he never had any arm problems at all. I was concerned after he threw 113-117 pitches in five straight outings beginning in mid-June. However, the Rays began to back off him after that, and at the end of the year, rather than shutting him down like they did James Shields, they instructed manager Joe Maddon not to keep him in for more than 100 pitches. Kazmir's WHIP was quite high for someone with such a strong ERA. In some cases, that kind of thing can be taken as a sign that the pitcher won't be as effective next year. Kazmir, though, should only get better if healthy. I'll recommend caution again next year, as his price tag will be quite a bit higher than it was the last two springs.

John Lackey - Angels - $18 - SP #22
Projection: 16 wins, 3.87 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 190 Ks in 221 IP
2007 stats: 19 wins, 3.01 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 179 Ks in 224 IP

Then: Lackey was finally able to deliver a good April last year, going 3-1 with a 3.09 ERA after finishing the month with ERAs of 7.76, 6.85 and 5.61 in his first three full seasons. He kept it up throughout the first half, entering the All-Star break with a 2.08 ERA and a 1.04 WHIP. At one point, he struck out 10 in three straight starts, two of which were shutouts. A rough August took him out of Cy Young contention, but he did bounce back with a 3.18 ERA in September. Lackey is about as likely to throw 200 innings as any AL starter, and while a modest increase in ERA could be in store, he's a fine choice at up to $18. Expect a couple of more wins despite the Angels' failure to substantially upgrade their offense, and he should remain among the league's strikeout leaders.

Now: Lackey eclipsed his previous career high for wins by five and lowered his ERA from 3.56 to 3.01 by cutting back on the walks and pitching better than usual from the stretch. I think it also helped quite a bit that the Angels' defense was improved, though he did give up 12 unearned runs for the second straight season (only Dan Haren had more among those in the top 20 in the AL in ERA). That makes Lackey a little overrated, but he still took another step forward in his age-28 season. His WHIP has declined four straight years.

Daisuke Matsuzaka - Red Sox - $20 - SP #12
Projection: 16 wins, 3.61 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 165 Ks in 197 IP
2007 stats: 15 wins, 4.40 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 201 Ks in 204 2/3 IP

Then: $51.1 million for the rights alone and then a six-year, $52 million contract, all for a guy who had never thrown a pitch in a major league game. Believe it or not, it could end up being a bargain for the Red Sox. Matsuzaka has the numbers: a career 2.95 ERA in Japan that he's bettered each of the last four years, bottoming out at 2.13 last season; four 200-strikeout seasons and 38 complete games the last three years. He also has plenty of stuff, as anyone who watched the World Baseball Classic can attest. Maybe it will take him some time to adjust, but it'd be an upset if he wasn't one of the game's 15 best starters right away. Concerns about all the mileage on his arm are legitimate, especially now that he'll typically be working on shorter rest than he did in Japan. However, the Red Sox won't ask him to throw as many pitches per start as he did previously and his diminishing walk rate will also serve to conserve his strength. While Boston isn't the best place for him for a fantasy perspective, he should be a $20 pitcher in year one.

Now: Too many bizarre one-inning control meltdowns doomed Matsuzaka to a mediocre ERA. His WHIP was solid, and he had a very good strikeout rate. In June, he looked like the AL's best pitcher, posting a 1.59 ERA and a 1.09 WHIP in five starts. In all, he had seven outings in which he pitched seven innings and allowed one or no runs. However, he also had 10 in which he gave up at least five runs, three coming in September. I imagine he'll be better next year, but I won't have him as high as I did this year. Then again, with a 4.00 ERA, he could win 16-18 games for the Red Sox.

Roy Oswalt - Astros - $26 - SP #5
Projection: 17 wins, 3.14 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 168 Ks in 218 IP
2007 stats: 14 wins, 3.18 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 154 Ks in 212 IP

Then: The results remains superb -- Oswalt had a legitimate case for NL Cy Young honors last season -- but the trends aren't so encouraging. Except for minor blips in 2004, his strikeout rate has declined and his OPS against has increased every year he's been in the majors. What's encouraging is that his walk rate is down, and he still has an excellent home run rate despite working at Minute Maid Park. Oswalt did serve a brief stint on the DL last year because of a strained back, but he managed to throw 220 innings for the fourth time in five years. The Astros were confident enough to give him a five-year, $73 million contract in August, and there isn't really any reason to shy away in fantasy leagues this year. There will probably come a time at which Oswalt's peripherals will be of major concern, but it's not here yet.

Now: We're starting to get there. Oswalt had the highest OPS against of his career this year. For the fifth time in six seasons, he recorded a new career low strikeout rate. He also had the worst K/BB ratio of his career as his walk total jumped from 38 to 60. Next year will be the first that I recommend shying away. I don't necessarily think he's done as an ace just yet, but even if he rebound sa bit, he'll only be truly outstanding in ERA.

Jake Peavy - Padres - $28 - SP #3
Projection: 15 wins, 3.05 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 201 Ks in 195 IP
2007 stats: 19 wins, 2.54 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 240 Ks in 223 1/3 IP

Then: It's still hard to see how he ended up with a 4.09 ERA. Peavy finished second in the NL in strikeouts, seventh in batting-average against and eighth in WHIP. His home run rate wasn't up to his usual standards, but 23 in 202 1/3 innings isn't bad at all. The league hit just .228 with RISP against him, so it wasn't like he had big problems from the stretch. A lot of it has to be chalked up to plain old bad luck. After his ERA peaked at 5.15 ERA late July, he went 7-4 with a 2.64 ERA in his final 13 starts. Odds are Peavy will bounce back and be one of the game's best pitchers this year. The only real concern is the injury possibility. Peavy missed time in 2004 with a sore elbow and has dealt with a sore shoulder at times the last two years. He probably is the biggest health risk among the NL's top five starters. However, he has managed to throw 200 innings the last two years and few can match his upside.

Now: 2007's No. 1 fantasy starter, Peavy led the NL in wins and the majors in ERA, WHIP and strikeouts. He also set a new high for innings, and he had the best home run rate of his career, giving up just 13 all season. In other words, he was pretty good.

Brad Penny - Dodgers - $10 - SP #47
Projection: 13 wins, 3.89 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 139 Ks in 183 IP
2007 stats: 16 wins, 3.03 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 135 Ks in 208 IP

Then: There were few who would have predicted that Penny would be the NL's starting pitcher in last year's All-Star Game, but he certainly looked the part when he took the mound at PNC Park and started firing high-90s fastballs past the American League's best. It definitely makes one wonder just how many saves he'd have right now had he been turned into a closer by the Marlins. As a starter, Penny has struggled to last both deep into games and late into seasons. He went 6-7 with a 6.25 ERA after the break last year, and it definitely appeared as though more than just his back was bothering him down the stretch. The Dodgers will consider trading him now that they have Jason Schmidt to head their rotation. As a fantasy starter, Penny is more valuable in L.A. than he would be just about anywhere else. Go ahead and grab him if he seems healthy this spring, but look to trade him in June or July.

Now: He still just can't put it together for six months. Penny finished the first three months 10-1 with a 2.00 ERA and a 1.12 WHIP. He was 6-3 with a 4.75 ERA and a 1.53 WHIP the rest of the way. The stamina just isn't there, and it's not like the Dodgers are burning him out (he had just two outings in which he threw more than seven innings). Maybe if he decided to pay more attention to conditioning, he could stay strong into August or September. As is, a team can't feel very confident with him as its ace entering the stretch run.

C.C. Sabathia - Indians - $19 - SP #14
Projection: 15 wins, 3.55 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 157 Ks in 190 IP
2007 stats: 19 wins, 3.21 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 209 Ks in 241 IP

Then: Because an abdominal strain limited him to one start in April and he got poor run support after returning, it largely went unnoticed that Sabathia took a big step forward last season. He featured his best ever walk rate and his best strikeout rate since his rookie season, enabling him to finish third in the AL in ERA. Of some concern was that he fell short of reaching 200 innings for the fourth straight year. However, after dealing with minor arm problems in 2003 and 2004, his injuries the last two years have been abdominal strains. That's not to say he can't continue to have problems there, but since he'll cost less than several of the AL's other top starters, he comes highly recommended this year. The potential is there for him to be a $25 pitcher if this is the year he throws 210 innings and wins 17 games.

Now: It always figured that Sabathia had this kind of upside. When he was first coming up, the question was whether he'd stay healthy enough to reach it. Well, he's made 28 starts in seven straight seasons and he managed to pick up his 100th career victory just three months after his 27th birthday. What's surprising is that his breakthrough season came despite the highest average against of his career (.259). Blame that on a mediocre Cleveland defense. Sabathia thrived anyway because he walked just 37 in 241 innings. He walked 95 in 180 innings as a rookie in 2001 and 72 in 188 innings as recently as 2004.

Johan Santana - Twins - $43 - SP #1
Projection: 19 wins, 2.95 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 231 Ks in 223 IP
2007 stats: 15 wins, 3.33 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 235 Ks in 219 IP

Then: It should have been his third straight Cy Young Award. Santana was denied the hardware in 2005 because he had five fewer wins than Bartolo Colon, but by any reasonable measure, he was the superior pitcher. The Twins even had a better record in his starts than the Angels did in Colon's. Last year's award was unanimous, as he tied Chien-Ming Wang for the league lead in wins. He led the majors in ERA, WHIP and strikeouts by a fair margin. Because of his dominance over every other pitcher, there's an argument for making Santana the No. 1 pick in a mixed league draft and he should definitely go first in an AL-only league. If he just keeps doing what he's done three years running, it's doubtful that Albert Pujols or any other hitter will touch him.

Now: But he fell short. Santana had 10 wins by the All-Star break for the first time in his career and a 2.75 ERA that was his lowest ever mark at that stage of the season. However, he failed to dominate in July or August, and when he went 1-3 with a 4.94 ERA in September, it was his worst month since May 2004. I think part of it had to do with the Twins not being in contention. There really aren't any lingering concerns entering 2008, and I'll have him as my No. 1 pitcher over Peavy next year.

James Shields - Devil Rays - $3 - SP #105
Projection: 11 wins, 4.40 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, 140 Ks in 188 IP
2007 stats: 12 wins, 3.85 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 184 Ks in 215 IP

Then: While finishing with a 1.74 ERA and a 29/2 K/BB ratio in 31 IP in the Arizona Fall League in 2005 did get Shields noticed, he still failed to receive a chance to make the Rays out of spring training. He arrived in late May after posting a 2.64 ERA in 10 starts for Triple-A Durham and spent the rest of the year in the rotation. Judging by his strikeout rate, he should be there for a while. Thanks to his plus changeup, Shields was better against left-handed hitters than righties. His fastball is average at best, so he does need to improve his curve to give himself another weapon against righties. As is, he's basically a No. 4 starter. Since the Rays' schedule is so tough, he's just going to be a $1-$2 pick in AL-only leagues.

Now: Shields remained more effective against lefties, but his average against versus righties dropped from .309 as a rookie to .250 last year. His curve was more effective than in 2006, and he mixed in a slider with greater frequency. Shields' fastball can still only be considered average, but his changeup is such a big weapon and his command has gone from above average to terrific. I'm not sure he'll keep his ERA under 4.00 next year, but his WHIP and strikeout rate should remain quite strong.

John Smoltz - Braves - $22 - SP #8
Projection: 15 wins, 3.24 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 156 Ks in 200 IP
2007 stats: 14 wins, 3.11 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 197 Ks in 203 2/3 IP

Then: Smoltz wore down late while being asked to throw 230 innings in 2005. The Braves, though, kept him on the same kind of pace last season, and it worked out just fine, as Smoltz went 4-0 with a 0.93 ERA in his final four starts. He also fanned 42 more batters than he did the previous season, giving him his high total since 1997. His 3.49 ERA was actually his worst mark since 1994, but there wasn't much else to be discouraged about. Even at age 39, he featured some of the best stuff in the NL, with both his slider and splitter remaining strong strikeout pitches. It's more likely that Smoltz will miss time this year than it is that he'll lose much of his effectiveness. In part because his ability to work deep into games means he could miss a few starts and still throw 200 innings, he needs to be regarded as a top-10 pitcher.

Now: Smoltz was about as good as ever in his age 40 season. I figured his strikeout rate would tumble a bit. Instead, with 197 Ks in 205 2/3 innings, he was better there than he had been in any of his seasons as a starter since 1998. Roger Clemens has had some outstanding years in his 40s, but he lost his best stuff many years ago and had to adapt. Smoltz's fastball is about as good now as it was when he was 25. I imagine that he'll be placed in top 10 among starters again next year.

Justin Verlander - Tigers - $15 - SP #35
Projection: 14 wins, 3.47 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 140 Ks in 179 IP
2007 stats: 18 wins, 3.66 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 183 Ks in 201 2 2/3 IP

Then: In just his second pro season, Verlander was threatening to lead the AL in both wins and ERA until battling arm fatigue in August. He ended up posting a 5.82 ERA over the final two months, but just the fact that he, unlike Francisco Liriano and Jonatahan Papelbon, managed to stay on the field for the most part secured him the Rookie of the Year award. Surprising was that Verlander was so effective despite a disappointing strikeout rate. Verlander fanned 136 batters in 118 2/3 IP while spending most of 2005 in the minors. As good as his stuff is, he could probably strike out 180-200 batters per year in the majors. However, he seemed to prioritize working quickly and efficiently. As a result, he threw more than 110 pitches in just three of his 30 starts. If it helps him stay healthy, it's definitely worth living with the modest strikeout rate. He has a pretty good chance of finishing in the top 10 in the AL in ERA again this year.

Now: The WHIP projection would look better if HBPs counted. Verlander drilled 19 batters this year, tripling his total from 2006. What bodes well for his future is that his K rate went from 6.0 per 9 IP to 8.17. Despite that, he still didn't have a lot of high pitch count outings. He was over 110 pitches nine times and 115 pitches just four times. Letting him throw 129 pitches on Sept. 1 against the A's was a mistake, but manager Jim Leyland babied him for a while after that, removing him from his next four starts after 92, 105, 95 and 104 pitches.

Jered Weaver - Angels - $18 - SP #24
Projection: 14 wins, 3.81 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 157 Ks in 189 IP
2007 stats: 13 wins, 3.91 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, 115 Ks in 161 IP

Then: Weaver's extreme flyball tendencies didn't prove to be a major handicap during his first go-round in the majors. The 2004 first-round pick started 9-0 with a 1.95 ERA. He had to settle for a tie of the AL record for consecutive wins to begin a career when he took a loss to the Red Sox on Aug. 24 despite giving up just one run in six innings. He lost again next time out, but he finished strong, going 2-0 with a 3.18 ERA in September. Weaver flat-out dominated right-handers, limiting them a .174 average and a .244 slugging percentage. Left-handed hitters hit 13 of the 15 homers he gave up and slugged .495 against him, so he does yet have some room to improve. In part because he'll be facing more and more lefties, Weaver's ERA should jump a full run this year. However, he'll be outstanding enough in WHIP and strikeouts to be a top fantasy starter anyway. There are few better bets in the AL.

Now: The ERA projection was fine, but I thought Weaver would be a significant asset in WHIP and strikeouts. He's going to need to be in order to remain a quality starter going forward. An extreme flyball pitcher, Weaver can't afford to have the league bat .280 against him. It looks like he did make an effort to aim for more grounders with runners on base, but he's only going to have so much success going away from his strengths. That he's one of the easiest pitchers in the league to run against only further reduces his ability to get double plays. I like the 2006 version of Weaver better, so I won't give him such a nice projection next year.

Brandon Webb - Diamondbacks - $24 - SP #7
Projection: 17 wins, 3.31 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 171 Ks in 223 IP
2007 stats: 18 wins, 3.01 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 194 Ks in 236 1/3 IP

Then: While Webb cost himself the ERA title by getting pounded for seven runs on the season's final day, he still won the NL Cy Young Award, claiming 15 of the 32 first-place votes to beat out Trevor Hoffman. Considering that he pitched more innings than the other top contenders and did his work in one of the league's top hitter's parks, he was a deserving choice. Webb has taken his game to the next level by cutting well back on the walks. He again had a 4:1 GB/FB ratio last season, and he got 29 groundball double plays. The defensive downgrade from Craig Counsell to Stephen Drew at shortstop will hurt a bit, but it's likely that little in the way of a drop off is in store for 2007. In fact, the improved Arizona offense could get him an extra win or two.

Now: Webb actually had a lower ERA than in his Cy Young season, going from 3.11 to 3.01. However, his WHIP went in the other direction, as he walked an additional 22 batters. Many of those came in the first three months. In his second half, which included a remarkable 42-inning scoreless streak, he went 10-4 with a 2.56 ERA and a 1.08 WHIP.

Dontrelle Willis - Marlins - $16 - SP #29
Projection: 16 wins, 3.62 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 158 Ks in 219 IP
2007 stats: 10 wins, 5.17 ERA, 1.60 WHIP, 146 Ks in 205 1/3 IP

Then: With the Marlins sporting an unproven lineup and a shaky pen, Willis owners entered 2006 wondering where the wins would come from. The team as a whole turned out to be better than predicted, but Willis still had worse run support than any pitcher besides Mark Hendrickson. The club scored two or fewer runs in 11 of his 34 starts. Willis also took a clear step backwards on the mound, setting a new career high in walks and allowing the highest batting-average against of his career. With a DUI arrest in December spoiling what had been a sterling rep off the field, the Marlins could get away with trading Willis this summer. However, they showed no interest in making a deal in the offseason, and since he's under control through 2009, they have no reason to part with him unless overwhelmed. Willis will probably stay in Florida for at least one more full season. Better numbers are likely, but given that he hasn't been a big asset in ERA or WHIP two of the last three years, he shouldn't be regarded as a top fantasy pitcher.

Now: Pitching in front of what was arguably the game's worst defense hurt, but Willis just wasn't any good this year. He had the worst average against, OPS against, home run rate and walk rate of his career. His K/9 IP didn't change, but that's misleading, because he was facing more batters per inning than ever before. In 2005, he faced 960 batters in 236 1/3 innings. Last year, he faced 942 batters in 205 1/3 innings. So, while his K rate was right around 6.4 again, he struck out 17.7 percent of the batters he faced in 2005 and 15.5 percent this year. I'm not sure that he'll be a whole lot better next year. His stuff isn't quite what it was a couple of years ago, and he misses his target about as often as any NL starter. Maybe Miguel Olivo's departure and improved play behind him will make a large difference. Right now, I'd put him at $10-$11 for 2008.

Carlos Zambrano - Cubs - $27 - SP #4
Projection: 17 wins, 3.03 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 196 Ks in 217 IP
2007 stats: 18 wins, 3.95 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 177 Ks in 216 1/3 IP

Then: It said a lot that Zambrano was still mentioned as a possibility in the Cy Young race despite turning in what was actually his worst season in his four years as a starter. The big disappointment was that he led the majors in walks by 11. In addition, he had the best strikeout rate of his career, which, as one can imagine, led to him also setting a new high in pitches thrown in a season. Most pitchers get more efficient as they age. Zambrano has done the opposite, at least to this point. It only enhances his reputation that he's getting by on talent, rather than smarts. It's his head that's keeping Zambrano from having seasons like his 2004 annually. That he's succeeding every year anyway makes him worth $27-$28 on draft day. He could win one or two more games this year with the Cubs upgrading their offense, and assuming that he doesn't get a fat extension in spring training, he'll be especially motivated with this being his walk year.

Now: Zambrano walked 100 batters for a second straight season and finished with the highest ERA of his career. There just wasn't any consistency. In no two of his months did his ERA begin with the same number. From April to September, his ERAs were 5.77, 4.72, 2.53, 1.39, 7.06 and 3.44. It certainly wasn't a matter of stuff. He simply only occasionally makes the most from his talent.

Barry Zito - Giants - $17 - SP #26
Projection: 16 wins, 3.67 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 170 Ks in 228 IP
2007 stats: 11 wins, 4.53 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 131 Ks in 196 2/3 IP

Then: That Zito has declined to the point at which he's just a middle-of-the-rotation starter is silly talk -- he was pretty clearly one of the AL's five most valuable starters last season. Still, expecting him to be an $18 million per year for the next seven years is at least as much as a reach. Working in Zito's favor is his incredible durability. However, his fastball has gone from a tick above average to a tick below. Also, he had the worst walk rate and second worst strikeout rate of his career last season. Zito landed in the right situation for his fantasy value to remain high. He won't have the same amount of foul territory he took great advantage of in Oakland, but AT&T Park will help keep him homer total down and he'll get to face weaker lineups in the NL West. He should be a very good fantasy starter for at least a couple of more years.

Now: His fastball is more than a tick below average now, and he really did look like a middle-of-the-rotation starter. Still, his WHIP doesn't really justify the poor ERA and he did have a 3.33 ERA during the final two months. Right now, my guess is that he'll cut a half run off his ERA next year. However, that's pending the Giants' defensive changes this winter.

Some other good projections:

Kelvim Escobar - Angels - $15 - SP #36
Projection: 13 wins, 3.66 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 150 Ks in 182 IP
2007 stats: 18 wins, 3.40 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 160 Ks in 195 2/3 IP

Jon Garland - White Sox - $6 - SP #81
Projection: 14 wins, 4.27 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 117 Ks in 219 IP
2007 stats: 10 wins, 4.23 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 98 Ks in 208 1/3 IP

Greg Maddux - Padres - $11 - SP #42
Projection: 14 wins. 4.02 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 113 Ks in 208 IP
2007 stats: 14 wins, 4.14 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 104 Ks in 198 IP

Jason Marquis - Cubs - $0 - SP #136
Projection: 12 wins, 4.48 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, 104 Ks in 203 IP
2007 stats: 12 wins, 4.60 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, 109 Ks in 191 2/3 IP

Andy Pettitte - Yankees - $13 - SP #39
Projection: 16 wins, 4.08 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 159 Ks in 205 IP
2007 stats: 15 wins, 4.05 ERA, 1.43 WHIP, 141 Ks in 215 1/3 IP

Jeff Suppan - Brewers - $2 - SP #117
Projection: 12 wins, 4.41 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 107 Ks in 192 IP
2007 stats: 12 wins, 4.62 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, 114 Ks in 206 2/3 IP

Carlos Villanueva - Brewers - $1 - SP #118
Projection: 8 wins, 4.15 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 80 Ks in 115 IP
2007 stats: 8 wins, 3.99 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 97 Ks in 112 2/3 IP

And some not so good:

Brian Bannister - Royals - $0 - SP #163
Projection: 8 wins, 4.68 ERA, 1.43 WHIP, 95 Ks in 148 IP
2007 stats: 12 wins, 3.87 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 77 Ks in 165 IP

Jeremy Bonderman - Tigers - $19 - SP #16
Projection: 16 wins, 3.79 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 185 Ks in 202 IP
2007 stats: 11 wins, 5.01 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 145 Ks in 174 1/3 IP

Jose Contreras - White Sox - $16 - SP #32
Projection: 15 wins, 3.74 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 155 Ks in 202 IP
2007 stats: 10 wins, 5.57 ERA, 1.56 WHIP, 113 Ks in 189 IP

Kei Igawa - Yankees - $11 - SP #54
Projection: 13 wins, 3.91 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 151 Ks in 182 IP
2007 stats: 2 wins, 6.25 ERA, 1.67 WHIP, 53 Ks in 67 2/3 IP

Kevin Millwood - Rangers - $12 - SP #41
Projection: 15 wins, 4.18 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 160 Ks in 209 IP
2007 stats: 10 wins, 5.16 ERA, 1.62 WHIP, 123 Ks in 172 2/3 IP

Mike Mussina - Yankees - $18 - SP #21
Projection: 15 wins, 3.80 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 158 Ks in 192 IP
2007 stats: 11 wins, 5.15 ERA, 1.47 WHIP, 91 Ks in 152 IP

Scott Olsen - Marlins - $11 - SP #43
Projection: 13 wins. 3.90 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 162 Ks in 187 IP
2007 stats: 10 wins, 5.81 ERA, 1.76 WHIP, 133 Ks in 176 2/3 IP

Anthony Reyes - Cardinals - $11 - SP #46
Projection: 14 wins, 4.05 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 154 Ks in 191 IP
2007 stats: 2 wins, 6.04 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 74 Ks in 107 1/3 IP

Hache Man

"Seven Days Without Gambling Makes One Weak"
Re: Fantasy Baseball News 2007

Projection Review - Hitters(2)
OPS Projections

Below is a chart looking at my OPS projections and the end results. Included are the 223 players that were projected to receive at least 300 at-bats and went on to finish with at least 300 at-bats.

Name - Projected OPS - Actual OPS - Difference
Chris Duncan - 835 - 834 - 1
Howie Kendrick - 797 - 796 - 1
Jason Varitek - 788 - 787 - 1
Barry Bonds - 1043 - 1045 - 2
Derrek Lee - 915 - 913 - 2
Andre Ethier - 804 - 802 - 2
Ian Kinsler - 798 - 796 - 2
Jose Vidro - 777 - 775 - 2
Todd Helton - 931 - 928 - 3
Derek Jeter - 837 - 840 - 3
Casey Blake - 779 - 776 - 3
Nook Logan - 652 - 649 - 3
Sammy Sosa - 783 - 779 - 4
Jose Bautista - 757 - 753 - 4
Mark Teixeira - 958 - 963 - 5
Ryan Church - 808 - 813 - 5
Adrian Beltre - 807 - 802 - 5
Kevin Kouzmanoff - 791 - 786 - 5
Jim Thome - 967 - 973 - 6
Josh Willingham - 833 - 827 - 6
Gary Matthews Jr. - 748 - 742 - 6
Vladimir Guerrero - 943 - 950 - 7
Robinson Cano - 834 - 841 - 7
Shane Victorino - 763 - 770 - 7
Adam Dunn - 948 - 940 - 8
Rickie Weeks - 815 - 807 - 8
Ty Wigginton - 784 - 792 - 8
Yuniesky Betancourt - 717 - 725 - 8
Nick Swisher - 845 - 836 - 9
Luis Gonzalez - 784 - 793 - 9
Jason Kubel - 794 - 785 - 9
Kevin Millar - 776 - 785 - 9
Mark Ellis - 768 - 777 - 9
Yadier Molina - 698 - 708 - 10
Kaz Matsui - 757 - 746 - 11
Carlos Lee - 870 - 882 - 12
Bengie Molina - 743 - 731 - 12
Aramis Ramirez - 902 - 915 - 13
Shawn Green - 769 - 782 - 13
Luis Castillo - 734 - 721 - 13
Brad Ausmus - 629 - 642 - 13
Nick Markakis - 834 - 848 - 14
Jose Guillen - 799 - 813 - 14
Gregg Zaun - 738 - 752 - 14
Conor Jackson - 851 - 836 - 15
Mike Cameron - 774 - 759 - 15
Kenji Johjima - 770 - 755 - 15
Dan Uggla - 789 - 805 - 16
Miguel Cabrera - 982 - 965 - 17
Freddy Sanchez - 801 - 784 - 17
Khalil @@@@@@ - 776 - 759 - 17
Ronnie Belliard - 742 - 759 - 17
Mark Loretta - 741 - 724 - 17
Alfredo Amezaga - 665 - 682 - 17
Ken Griffey Jr. - 851 - 869 - 18
Kenny Lofton - 762 - 781 - 19
Alex Rios - 832 - 852 - 20
Victor Martinez - 858 - 879 - 21
Hideki Matsui - 876 - 855 - 21
Ichiro Suzuki - 806 - 827 - 21
Xavier Nady - 784 - 805 - 21
Maicer Izturis - 732 - 753 - 21
Juan Pierre - 707 - 685 - 22
Jeff Kent - 852 - 875 - 23
Carlos Guillen - 835 - 859 - 24
Carl Crawford - 844 - 820 - 24
Akinori Iwamura - 794 - 770 - 24
Carlos Beltran - 903 - 878 - 25
Eric Byrnes - 788 - 813 - 25
Mike Jacobs - 800 - 775 - 25
Jhonny Peralta - 796 - 771 - 25
David Eckstein - 714 - 739 - 25
Shannon Stewart - 764 - 739 - 25
Brad Hawpe - 900 - 926 - 26
Orlando Hudson - 790 - 817 - 27
Jeff Francoeur - 809 - 782 - 27
Willy Taveras - 720 - 748 - 28
Luke Scott - 826 - 855 - 29
Grady Sizemore - 883 - 852 - 29
Raul Ibanez - 802 - 831 - 29
Tony Pena Jr. - 611 - 640 - 29
Melvin Mora - 789 - 759 - 30
Dave Roberts - 725 - 695 - 30
Pat Burrell - 871 - 902 - 31
Orlando Cabrera - 711 - 742 - 31
Aaron Hill - 760 - 792 - 32
J.J. Hardy - 754 - 786 - 32
Paul Lo Duca - 721 - 689 - 32
David Wright - 929 - 963 - 34
Torii Hunter - 805 - 839 - 34
Ryan Garko - 807 - 842 - 35
Paul Konerko - 876 - 841 - 35
Chris Young - 798 - 763 - 35
Sean Casey - 781 - 746 - 35
Esteban German - 762 - 727 - 35
Cesar Izturis - 653 - 618 - 35
Adrian Gonzalez - 813 - 849 - 36
Ryan Howard - 1013 - 976 - 37
Alfonso Soriano - 860 - 897 - 37
Brian Roberts - 771 - 808 - 37
Gary Sheffield - 877 - 839 - 38
Kevin Youkilis - 804 - 843 - 39
Troy Glaus - 878 - 839 - 39
Kelly Johnson - 792 - 831 - 39
Randy Winn - 759 - 798 - 39
Geoff Jenkins - 829 - 790 - 39
Pedro Feliz - 747 - 708 - 39
Casey Kotchman - 800 - 840 - 40
Edwin Encarnacion - 834 - 794 - 40
Mark Grudzielanek - 732 - 772 - 40
Garrett Atkins - 894 - 853 - 41
Aubrey Huff - 819 - 778 - 41
Ryan Zimmerman - 830 - 788 - 42
Michael Young - 825 - 783 - 42
A.J. Pierzynski - 754 - 712 - 42
Jonny Gomes - 825 - 782 - 43
Josh Bard - 725 - 768 - 43
Tadahito Iguchi - 790 - 747 - 43
Melky Cabrera - 762 - 718 - 44
Ronny Paulino - 747 - 703 - 44
Michael Cuddyer - 836 - 790 - 46
Miguel Olivo - 715 - 667 - 48
Mark Teahen - 812 - 763 - 49
Frank Thomas - 907 - 857 - 50
Brian Schneider - 711 - 661 - 50
Jason Bartlett - 750 - 699 - 51
Russell Martin - 791 - 843 - 52
Jose Reyes - 827 - 775 - 52
Troy Tulowitzki - 785 - 838 - 53
Delmon Young - 776 - 723 - 53
Johnny Estrada - 753 - 699 - 54
Nate McLouth - 754 - 810 - 56
Miguel Tejada - 855 - 799 - 56
Adam LaRoche - 860 - 803 - 57
Frank Catalanotto - 840 - 781 - 59
Ivan Rodriguez - 775 - 714 - 61
David Ortiz - 1003 - 1066 - 63
Jacque Jones - 798 - 735 - 63
Dioner Navarro - 704 - 641 - 63
Jeremy Hermida - 806 - 870 - 64
Mark DeRosa - 728 - 792 - 64
Garret Anderson - 762 - 827 - 65
Johnny Damon - 814 - 747 - 67
Craig Biggio - 733 - 666 - 67
Alex Gonzalez - 725 - 793 - 68
Brandon Inge - 756 - 688 - 68
Darin Erstad - 713 - 645 - 68
Brandon Phillips - 747 - 816 - 69
Jermaine Dye - 873 - 804 - 69
Brad Wilkerson - 855 - 786 - 69
Austin Kearns - 835 - 765 - 70
Justin Morneau - 905 - 834 - 71
Corey Patterson - 761 - 690 - 71
Moises Alou - 856 - 928 - 72
Bill Hall - 812 - 740 - 72
Omar Vizquel - 694 - 621 - 73
Coco Crisp - 786 - 712 - 74
Corey Hart - 817 - 892 - 75
Brian Giles - 852 - 777 - 75
Jay Payton - 744 - 668 - 76
Juan Uribe - 756 - 678 - 78
Dustin Pedroia - 743 - 823 - 80
Rafael Furcal - 767 - 687 - 80
Chase Utley - 895 - 976 - 81
Albert Pujols - 1080 - 997 - 83
David DeJesus - 805 - 722 - 83
Chipper Jones - 945 - 1029 - 84
Rich Aurilia - 756 - 672 - 84
Matt Diaz - 780 - 865 - 85
Ramon Hernandez - 799 - 714 - 85
Matt Holliday - 926 - 1012 - 86
Bobby Abreu - 901 - 814 - 87
Lance Berkman - 985 - 896 - 89
Edgar Renteria - 771 - 860 - 89
Mike Lowell - 785 - 879 - 94
Chone Figgins - 731 - 825 - 94
David Ross - 764 - 670 - 94
Brian McCann - 867 - 772 - 95
Jose Lopez - 734 - 639 - 95
Joe Mauer - 904 - 808 - 96
Alex Gordon - 822 - 725 - 97
Felipe Lopez - 758 - 659 - 99
Alex Rodriguez - 967 - 1067 - 100
Jack Wilson - 691 - 791 - 100
Eric Chavez - 852 - 752 - 100
Jimmy Rollins - 774 - 875 - 101
Jason Kendall - 713 - 610 - 103
Placido Polanco - 740 - 846 - 106
Julio Lugo - 750 - 643 - 107
Nelson Cruz - 779 - 671 - 108
Curtis Granderson - 803 - 913 - 110
Aaron Rowand - 779 - 889 - 110
Trot Nixon - 789 - 677 - 112
Stephen Drew - 798 - 683 - 115
Scott Hatteberg - 750 - 868 - 118
Mike Piazza - 846 - 727 - 119
Nick Punto - 682 - 562 - 120
Chris Burke - 783 - 662 - 121
Manny Ramirez - 1007 - 881 - 126
Craig Monroe - 767 - 638 - 129
Carlos Delgado - 912 - 781 - 131
Emil Brown - 780 - 647 - 133
Scott Rolen - 864 - 729 - 135
B.J. Upton - 755 - 894 - 139
Andruw Jones - 863 - 724 - 139
Jorge Posada - 828 - 970 - 142
Prince Fielder - 869 - 1013 - 144
J.D. Drew - 941 - 796 - 145
Lyle Overbay - 854 - 706 - 148
Gerald Laird - 782 - 627 - 155
Nomar Garciaparra - 857 - 700 - 157
Hanley Ramirez - 787 - 948 - 161
Jim Edmonds - 889 - 728 - 161
Ray Durham - 809 - 638 - 171
Marcus Giles - 792 - 621 - 171
Travis Hafner - 1011 - 837 - 174
Vernon Wells - 880 - 706 - 174
Richie Sexson - 868 - 694 - 174
Josh Barfield - 771 - 594 - 177
Bobby Crosby - 802 - 619 - 183
Magglio Ordonez - 843 - 1029 - 186
Jason Bay - 932 - 746 - 186
Michael Barrett - 842 - 653 - 189

Projected group average OPS/Projected group actual OPS
2004 - 812.6/802.5
2005 - 807.6/781.3
2006 - 801.1/799.6
2007 - 808.5/788.6

Average error
2003 - 60 points
2004 - 57 points
2005 - 60 points
2006 - 60 points
2007 - 57 points

Median error
2003 - 53 points
2004 - 47 points
2005 - 50 points
2006 - 50 points
2007 - 41 points

Within 30 points
2003 - 59 of 212
2004 - 77 of 218
2005 - 77 of 237
2006 - 71 of 232
2007 - 83 of 223

Over 90 points off
2003 - 44 of 212
2004 - 43 of 218
2005 - 59 of 237
2006 - 56 of 232
2007 - 49 of 223

Despite the rather big miss for the group of players as a whole, this looks like my best year as far as hitting projections. Of course, a few of the biggest misses in Carlos Pena, Josh Hamilton and Jason Giambi didn't make the cut for the list above, but Ross Gload and Juan Encarnacion were also disqualified and they were under-10 misses. A fair portion of the difference in the group as a whole is with the extreme misses. Of the 18 misses of at least 140 points, I was over on 15 (all but Magglio Ordonez, Hanley Ramirez and Prince Fielder).

The median is where this year's success really shows up. I had about twice as many players within 10 points as usual. Of course, there's a lot of luck there. I consider anything within 30 points to be good, and I had my highest percentage ever falling into that group.

I'll be doing a bit more with these numbers in the blog this week. Come December, when it's time to start projecting again, I plan on opening the floor to discussion regarding some of the trickier players. That way I can blame everyone reading if I don't take another step forward next year.

Hache Man

"Seven Days Without Gambling Makes One Weak"
Re: Fantasy Baseball News 2007

Projection Review - Hitters
Here's a look at some of my preseason projections for offensive players. First up is a run-through of some of the notable projections by position. At the end of the column is a chart looking at my OPS projections.

Next to each player's name and team are his preseason AL- or NL-only dollar ranking and his overall position ranking.


Preseason Top 5

Joe Mauer - Twins - $26 - #1
Projection: .322/.410/.494, 16 HR, 90 R, 81 RBI, 8 SB in 506 AB
2007 stats: .293/.382/.426, 7 HR, 62 R, 60 RBI, 7 SB in 406 AB

Victor Martinez - Indians - $24 - #2
Projection: .303/.381/.477, 21 HR, 81 R, 96 RBI, 0 SB in 545 AB
2007 stats: .301/.374/.505, 25 HR, 78 R, 114 RBI, 0 SB in 562 AB

Mike Piazza - Athletics - $20 - #3
Projection: .273/.360/.486, 28 HR, 69 R, 95 RBI, 0 SB in 539 AB
2007 stats: .275/.313/.414, 8 HR, 33 R, 44 RBI, 0 SB in 309 AB

Piazza wasn't hitting for power before his shoulder injury, so it's hard to blame that for his downfall. I thought he'd be an outstanding fantasy catcher while acting as a DH. Now he's lost eligibility there, and he's not a lock to find a DH job this winter.

Brian McCann - Braves - $21 - #4
Projection: .295/.366/.501, 22 HR, 66 R, 83 RBI, 3 SB in 457 AB
2007 stats: .270/.320/.452, 18 HR, 51 R, 92 RBI, 0 SB in 504 AB

Ivan Rodriguez - Tigers - $18 - #5
Projection: .291/.332/.443, 14 HR, 80 R, 71 RBI, 6 SB in 512 AB
2007 stats: .281/.294/.420, 11 HR, 50 R, 63 RBI, 2 SB in 502 AB


Michael Barrett - Cubs/Padres - $14 - #10
Projection: .286/.351/.491, 17 HR, 55 R, 70 RBI, 1 SB in 430 AB
2007 stats: .244/.281/.372, 9 HR, 29 R, 41 RBI, 2 SB in 344 AB

My biggest OPS miss among guys projected for at least 300 at-bats. Barrett finished at 826, 824 and 885 the previous three years. There's every reason to think he'll bounce back next year if he lands in the right situation. He was only truly awful this year after the deal to San Diego.

Ramon Hernandez - Orioles - $16 - #7
Projection: .277/.339/.460, 20 HR, 63 R, 82 RBI, 1 SB in 483 AB
2007 stats: .258/.333/.382, 9 HR, 40 R, 62 RBI, 1 SB in 364 AB

Kenji Johjima - Mariners - $14 - #9
Projection: .283/.338/.432, 16 HR, 59 R, 71 RBI, 4 SB in 488 AB
2007 stats: .287/.322/.433, 14 HR, 52 R, 61 RBI, 0 SB in 485 AB

Johjima hit .248 with RISP, versus .302 with the bases empty, or else this would have been an even better projection.

Paul Lo Duca - Mets - $11 - #15
Projection: .281/.323/.398, 9 HR, 71 R, 54 RBI, 2 SB in 502 AB
2007 stats: .272/.311/.378, 9 HR, 46 R, 54 RBI, 2 SB in 445 AB

Lo Duca hit second just 32 times in 2007, so the run and at-bat projections were well off. Still, nothing to be embarrassed about here.

Russell Martin - Dodgers - $16 - #8
Projection: .287/.364/.427, 12 HR, 65 R, 66 RBI, 9 SB in 464 AB
2007 stats: .293/.374/.469, 19 HR, 87 R, 87 RBI, 21 SB in 540 AB

Bengie Molina - Giants - $9 - #17
Projection: .277/.321/.422, 14 HR, 39 R, 65 RBI, 0 SB in 415 AB
2007 stats: .276/.298/.433, 19 HR, 38 R, 81 RBI, 0 SB in 497 AB

Silly me for thinking that Molina would get driven in by his teammates 25 times. It actually happened on just 19 occasions, even though he had an extra 82 at-bats over my projection.

Jorge Posada - Yankees - $16 - #6
Projection: .268/.372/.456, 20 HR, 68 R, 85 RBI, 1 SB in 471 AB
2007 stats: .338/.426/.543, 20 HR, 91 R, 90 RBI, 2 SB in 506 AB

Jason Varitek - Red Sox - $11 - #14
Projection: .263/.351/.437, 16 HR, 61 R, 71 RBI, 2 SB in 449 AB
2007 stats: .255/.367/.421, 17 HR, 57 R, 68 RBI, 1 SB in 435 AB

First Basemen

Preseason Top 5

Albert Pujols - Cardinals - $42 - #1
Projection: .333/.436/.644, 43 HR, 126 R, 124 RBI, 8 SB in 571 AB
2007 stats: .327/.429/.568, 32 HR, 99 R, 103 RBI, 2 SB in 565 AB

Ryan Howard - Phillies - $37 - #2
Projection: .291/.400/.613, 53 HR, 112 R, 131 RBI, 0 SB in 584 AB
2007 stats: .268/.392/.584, 47 HR, 94 R, 136 RBI, 1 SB in 529 AB

I should have gone lower than .291 for Howard's average. There was little chance that he was going to hit close to .313 again while striking out as often as he does.

Mark Teixeira - Rangers - $33- #3
Projection: .294/.386/.572, 41 HR, 111 R, 128 RBI, 2 SB in 622 AB
2007 stats: .306/.400/.563, 30 HR, 86 R, 105 RBI, 0 SB in 494 AB

Taking his numbers out to 622 at-bats would give him 38 homers, 108 R and 132 RBI. If not for the quad strain, this could have been an outstanding projection.

Lance Berkman - Astros - $30 - #4
Projection: .303/.416/.569, 34 HR, 111 R, 109 RBI, 4 SB in 548 AB
2007 stats: .278/.386/.510, 34 HR, 95 R, 102 RBI, 7 SB in 561 AB

Derrek Lee - Cubs - $30 - #5
Projection: .286/.376/.539, 35 HR, 106 R, 104 RBI, 13 SB in 590 AB
2007 stats: .317/.400/.513, 22 HR, 91 R, 82 RBI, 6 SB in 567 AB

Great OPS projection, lousy fantasy projection.


Carlos Delgado - Mets - $24 - #8
Projection: .273/.374/.538, 34 HR, 97 R, 115 RBI, 0 SB in 532 AB
2007 stats: .258/.333/.448, 24 HR, 71 R, 87 RBI, 4 SB in 538 AB

Prince Fielder - Brewers - $21 - #12
Projection: .277/.359/.510, 31 HR, 87 R, 92 RBI, 5 SB in 553 AB
2007 stats: .288/.395/.618, 50 HR, 109 R, 119 RBI, 2 SB in 573 AB

There was no question in my mind that Fielder had this kind of potential, but since I really thought he was another year away, I gave him only modest boosts from his rookie line (.271-28-81).

Nomar Garciaparra - Dodgers - $15 - #18
Projection: .299/.357/.500, 19 HR, 75 R, 73 RBI, 4 SB in 442 AB
2007 stats: .283/.328/.371, 7 HR, 39 R, 59 RBI, 3 SB in 431 AB

In a way, this isn't as bad as the Lee projection. Sure, I was way over, but since I was projecting declines from 2006 and had 17 first basemen ahead of him, I don't think many people using my rankings ended up with him on draft day.

Ross Gload - Royals - $3 - #30
Projection: .285/.329/.426, 7 HR, 37 R, 44 RBI, 4 SB in 298 AB
2007 stats: .288/.318/.441, 7 HR, 37 R, 51 RBI, 2 SB in 320 AB

I had to include this one here, mainly because it doesn't qualify in the OPS projection review below. Gload hit .321 and .327 the only other two years in which he had received significant major league action, so putting him at .285 and nailing it was one of my better picks.

Travis Hafner - Indians - $31 - DH #2
Projection: .302/.416/.595, 37 HR, 111 R, 125 RBI, 1 SB in 533 AB
2007 stats: .266/.385/.451, 24 HR, 80 R, 100 RBI, 1 SB in 545 AB

Elbow issues may be at the root of Hafner's decline, though he hasn't gone public with any excuses. A lot of players would be thrilled with an 836 OPS and 100 RBI, but Hafner was one of the game's biggest disappointments this year.

Todd Helton - Rockies - $22 - #10
Projection: .308/.419/.512, 21 HR, 104 R, 88 RBI, 2 SB in 549 AB
2007 stats: .320/.434/.494, 17 HR, 86 R, 91 RBI, 0 SB in 557 AB

I had big misses on Helton two years in a row, so I was glad to come quite a bit closer this year. It was disappointing just how few runs he scored from the cleanup spot in the Colorado order. He crossed home plate just 11 times in April despite getting reaching safely on 58 occasions.

Justin Morneau - Twins - $28 - #6
Projection: .289/.362/.543, 37 HR, 97 R, 116 RBI, 2 SB in 589 AB
2007 stats: .271/.343/.492, 31 HR, 84 R, 111 RBI, 1 SB in 590 AB

Morneau seemed poised for another great season until collapsing in August. He had only three homers and 22 RBI while hitting .222 over the final two months.

David Ortiz - Red Sox - $32 - DH #1
Projection: .291/.410/.593, 44 HR, 112 R, 133 RBI, 0 SB in 570 AB
2007 stats: .332/.445/.621, 35 HR, 116 R, 117 RBI, 3 SB in 549 AB

Bizarre that he had more than one steal in a year for the first time in a career even though his knee was bothering him most of the way.

Carlos Pena - Devil Rays - $1 - #35
Projection: .257/.339/.481, 12 HR, 31 R, 38 RBI, 2 SB in 237 AB
2007 stats: .282/.411/.627, 46 HR, 99 R, 121 RBI, 1 SB in 490 AB

An 820 OPS was actually pretty aggressive here. There was simply no way of knowing this was coming.

Richie Sexson - Mariners - $23 - #9
Projection: .264/.346/.522, 37 HR, 92 R, 114 RBI, 1 SB in 575 AB
2007 stats: .205/.295/.399, 21 HR, 58 R, 63 RBI, 1 SB in 434 AB

Jim Thome - White Sox - $25 - DH #3
Projection: .274/.403/.564, 39 HR, 104 R, 100 RBI, 0 SB in 500 AB
2007 stats: .275/.410/.563, 35 HR, 79 R, 96 RBI, 0 SB in 432 AB

Dmitri Young - Nationals - $3 - #33
Projection: .264/.322/.437, 9 HR, 30 R, 34 RBI, 1 SB in 261 AB
2007 stats: .320/.378/.491, 13 HR, 57 R, 74 RBI, 0 SB in 460 AB

Second Basemen

Preseason Top 5

Chase Utley - Phillies - $34 - #1
Projection: .296/.371/.524, 32 HR, 118 R, 106 RBI, 12 SB in 626 AB
2007 stats: .332/.410/.566, 22 HR, 104 R, 103 RBI, 9 SB in 530 AB

Brian Roberts - Orioles - $23 - #2
Projection: .284/.355/.416, 11 HR, 100 R, 58 RBI, 31 SB in 589 AB
2007 stats: .290/.377/.432, 12 HR, 103 R, 57 RBI, 50 SB in 621 AB

Robinson Cano - Yankees - $22 - #3
Projection: .311/.346/.488, 19 HR, 78 R, 91 RBI, 4 SB in 570 AB
2007 stats: .306/.353/.488, 19 HR, 93 R, 97 RBI, 4 SB in 617 AB

Cano didn't get his OPS over 700 for good until June, but he was one of the AL's best in the second half, batting .343/.396/.557 with 13 HR and 57 RBI in 75 games.

Jeff Kent - Dodgers - $22 - #4
Projection: .283/.367/.485, 24 HR, 84 R, 100 RBI, 3 SB in 538 AB
2007 stats: .302/.375/.500, 20 HR, 78 R, 79 RBI, 1 SB in 494 AB

A very disappointing RBI total for Kent and not all of the blame goes to Rafael Furcal, Juan Pierre and Nomar Garciaparra. Kent hit .293 with RISP, but he had just 10 extra-base hits in 150 at-bats. He had 37 extra-base hits in 245 at-bats with the bases empty.

Howie Kendrick - Angels - $21 - #5
Projection: .306/.341/.456, 13 HR, 77 R, 75 RBI, 17 SB in 572 AB
2007 stats: .322/.347/.450, 5 HR, 55 R, 39 RBI, 5 SB in 338 AB

Kendrick was just as productive as expected, but he was a disappointment from a fantasy perspective because of his modest homer and steal totals. He really needs to work on a basestealing technique before next season begins. He's plenty quick enough to swipe 30 bases a year.


Josh Barfield - Indians - $18 - #11
Projection: .283/.327/.444, 17 HR, 75 R, 73 RBI, 18 SB in 552 AB
2007 stats: .243/.270/.324, 3 HR, 53 R, 50 RBI, 14 SB in 420 AB

Craig Biggio - Astros - $8 - #24
Projection: .253/.320/.413, 17 HR, 81 R, 56 RBI, 5 SB in 526 AB
2007 stats: .251/.285/.381, 10 HR, 68 R, 50 RBI, 4 SB in 517 AB

Luis Castillo - Twins - $11 - #20
Projection: .291/.370/.364, 2 HR, 89 R, 44 RBI, 17 SB in 539 AB
2007 stats: .301/.362/.359, 1 HR, 91 R, 38 RBI, 19 SB in 548 AB

Castillo has had an OPS in the 720-780 range in each of the last six seasons. He's also been very steady with his run and RBI numbers. The only real work for a guesser like me is trying to figure out how many bases he's going to steal. I was quite close this time.

Ray Durham - Giants - $13 - #15
Projection: .283/.361/.448, 14 HR, 68 R, 85 RBI, 6 SB in 466 AB
2007 stats: .218/.295/.343, 11 HR, 56 R, 71 RBI, 10 SB in 464 AB

I had him losing 90 points off his career-best 2006 OPS. Instead it was 260.

Marcus Giles - Padres - $15 - #13
Projection: .278/.363/.429, 14 HR, 93 R, 53 RBI, 14 SB in 571 AB
2007 stats: .229/.304/.317, 4 HR, 52 R, 44 RBI, 10 SB in 420 AB

917, 821, 826, 729 and 621. Those are Giles' OPSs in his five full years in the majors. He'll have to be better far away from Petco Park next year, but he's going to have trouble landing a starting job after back-to-back poor years.

Kaz Matsui - Rockies - $5 - #28
Projection: .279/.330/.427, 9 HR, 54 R, 39 RBI, 12 SB in 377 AB
2007 stats: .288/.342/.405, 4 HR, 84 R, 37 RBI, 32 SB in 410 AB

I actually overshot Matsui's OPS on his supposed breakthrough year. By month, he had OPSs of 867, 586, 851, 534, 883 and 614. He was a great basestealer, so the fantasy projection isn't good at all. Still, it's not like he can suddenly be counted on as a quality regular going forward.

Dustin Pedroia - Red Sox - $6 - #27
Projection: .276/.350/.393, 8 HR, 65 R, 59 RBI, 4 SB in 468 AB
2007 stats: .317/.380/.442, 8 HR, 86 R, 50 RBI, 7 SB in 520 AB

Missing this badly hurts, especially since I was higher on Pedroia as a prospect than practically anyone else. As rarely as he strikes out, he should be able to maintain a .300 average going forward.

Brandon Phillips - Reds - $20 - #7
Projection: .271/.323/.424, 17 HR, 88 R, 70 RBI, 22 SB in 594 AB
2007 stats: .288/.331/.485, 30 HR, 107 R, 94 RBI, 32 SB in 650 AB

Placido Polanco - Tigers - $12 - #16
Projection: .292/.337/.403, 9 HR, 90 R, 59 RBI, 5 SB in 551 AB
2007 stats: .341/.388/.458, 9 HR, 105 R, 67 RBI, 7 SB in 587 AB

Rickie Weeks - Brewers - $21 - #6
Projection: .283/.371/.444, 17 HR, 87 R, 59 RBI, 23 SB in 520 AB
2007 stats: .235/.374/.433, 16 HR, 87 R, 36 RBI, 25 SB in 409 AB

Ty Wigginton - Devil Rays/Astros - $11 - #19
Projection: .270/.326/.458, 19 HR, 64 R, 78 RBI, 5 SB in 485 AB
2007 stats: .278/.333/.459, 22 HR, 71 R, 67 RBI, 3 SB in 547 AB

Third Basemen

Preseason Top 5

Alex Rodriguez - Yankees - $37 - #1
Projection: .296/.400/.567, 41 HR, 117 R, 122 RBI, 13 SB in 594 AB
2007 stats: .314/.422/.645, 54 HR, 143 R, 156 RBI, 24 SB in 583 AB

Miguel Cabrera - Marlins - $34 - #2
Projection: .317/.412/.570, 35 HR, 112 R, 111 RBI, 6 SB in 593 AB
2007 stats: .320/.401/.565, 34 HR, 91 R, 119 RBI, 2 SB in 588 AB

Only 91 runs scored was a disappointment. The lack of production from the guys behind him besides Josh Willingham is the main culprit, but it certainly doesn't help that Cabrera's expanding waistline has already cost him a step on the basepaths.

David Wright - Mets - $33 - #3
Projection: .307/.390/.539, 30 HR, 101 R, 114 RBI, 16 SB in 577 AB
2007 stats: .325/.416/.546, 30 HR, 113 R, 107 RBI, 34 SB in 604 AB

Garrett Atkins - Rockies - $28 - #4
Projection: .317/.390/.504, 24 HR, 111 R, 107 RBI, 2 SB in 621 AB
2007 stats: .301/.367/.486, 25 HR, 83 R, 111 RBI, 3 SB in 605 AB

It's easy to forget now, but Atkins actually opened the season batting third, with Matt Holliday in the fifth spot. That's the big reason for the strong run projection. He ended up batting fifth in 120 of his 157 games.

Aramis Ramirez - Cubs - $27 - #5
Projection: .290/.350/.552, 37 HR, 95 R, 116 RBI, 1 SB in 580 AB
2007 stats: .310/.366/.549, 26 HR, 72 R, 101 RBI, 0 SB in 506 AB


Adrian Beltre - Mariners - $20 - #13
Projection: 280/.334/.473, 26 HR, 86 R, 92 RBI, 5 SB in 615 AB
2007 stats: .276/.319/.482, 26 HR, 87 R, 99 RBI, 14 SB in 595 AB

Everything except the steals. Beltre swiped 11 bases in 2006, but he averaged five per year in the four years prior.

Chone Figgins - Angels - $18 - #17
Projection: .281/.346/.385, 6 HR, 65 R, 48 RBI, 36 SB in 441 AB
2007 stats: .330/.393/.432, 3 HR, 81 R, 58 RBI, 41 SB in 442 AB

Alex Gordon - Royals - $19 - #19
Projection: .279/.358/.464, 19 HR, 75 R, 82 RBI, 10 SB in 509 AB
2007 stats: .247/.314/.411, 15 HR, 60 R, 60 RBI, 14 SB in 543 AB

Gordon was at .264/.305/.472 with nine homers after the break. Still, I was expecting more, especially when it came to OBP. He finished with a 137/41 K/BB ratio.

Akinori Iwamura - Devil Rays - $11 - #26
Projection: .284/.353/.441, 15 HR, 69 R, 66 RBI, 7 SB in 510 AB
2007 stats: .285/.359/.411, 7 HR, 82 R, 34 RBI, 12 SB in 491 AB

The most difficult thing with projecting Japanese players is trying to figure out how well their power will carry over. Iwamura topped out at 44 homers in 2004 and hit 32 in his final season in Japan, but he didn't even try to be that kind of hitter in the U.S., probably for good reason. Interesting is that of the seven homers the left-handed hitter did hit, five came southpaws.

Chipper Jones - Braves - $20 - #10
Projection: .295/.406/.539, 27 HR, 84 R, 89 RBI, 3 SB in 451 AB
2007 stats: .337/.425/.604, 29 HR, 108 R, 102 RBI, 5 SB in 513 AB

Mike Lowell - Red Sox - $13 - #23
Projection: .272/.335/.450, 19 HR, 75 R, 86 RBI, 2 SB in 551 AB
2007 stats: .324/.378/.501, 21 HR, 79 R, 120 RBI, 3 SB in 589 AB

B.J. Upton - Devil Rays - $10 - #28
Projection: .276/.347/.408, 9 HR, 52 R, 44 RBI, 24 SB in 395 AB
2007 stats: .300/.386/.508, 24 HR, 86 R, 82 RBI, 22 SB in 474 AB

Ryan Zimmerman - Nationals - $21 - #7
Projection: .285/.354/.476, 23 HR, 86 R, 97 RBI, 9 SB in 592 AB
2007 stats: .266/.330/.458, 24 HR, 99 R, 91 RBI, 4 SB in 653 AB


Preseason Top 5

Jose Reyes - Mets - $40 - #1
Projection: .294/.348/.479, 20 HR, 119 R, 69 RBI, 57 SB in 629 AB
2007 stats: .280/.354/.421, 12 HR, 119 R, 57 RBI, 78 SB in 681 AB

I had Reyes at 17 homers for the magazine projections, which were finalized in mid-January. The boost came after he hit four in spring training (plus one more in an intrasquad game). I usually don't mess with hitters' performance projections very much based on spring training, but I really thought Reyes was going to show more power this year.

Derek Jeter - Yankees - $31 - #2
Projection: .308/.385/.452, 17 HR, 120 R, 78 RBI, 21 SB in 626 AB
2007 stats: .322/.388/.452, 12 HR, 102 R, 73 RBI, 15 SB in 639 AB

I still don't get how Jeter scored just 102 runs while playing 156 games. The Yankees scored 968 runs, which is an average of 108 per lineup spot. Hitting second ahead of Bobby Abreu and Alex Rodriguez, it only figures that Jeter would have crossed the plate 120 times. On a per-at-bat basis, it was easily his worst ever showing in that category.

Miguel Tejeda - Orioles - $30 - #3
Projection: .299/.352/.503, 29 HR, 96 R, 118 RBI, 5 SB in 638 AB
2007 stats: .296/.357/.442, 18 HR, 72 R, 81 RBI, 2 SB in 514 AB

Tejada had 11 homers and 40 RBI in 60 games after the break, which suggests that his power numbers will be better next year.

Jimmy Rollins - Phillies - $30 - #4
Projection: .281/.339/.435, 15 HR, 117 R, 66 RBI, 37 SB in 665 AB
2007 stats: .296/.344/.531, 30 HR, 139 R, 94 RBI, 41 SB in 716 AB

Hanley Ramirez - Marlins - $29 - #5
Projection: .278/.342/.445, 15 HR, 106 R, 61 RBI, 43 SB in 604 AB
2007 stats: .332/.386/.562, 29 HR, 125 R, 81 RBI, 51 SB in 639 AB


Stephen Drew - Diamondbacks - $16 - #14
Projection: .280/.338/.460, 17 HR, 85 R, 68 RBI, 8 SB in 539 AB
2007 stats: .238/.313/.370, 12 HR, 60 R, 60 RBI, 9 SB in 543 AB

It doesn't matter to anyone who lost a fantasy league with him this year, but Drew is hitting now. He's a top breakout candidate for 2008.

Rafael Furcal - Dodgers - $25 - #7
Projection: .281/.347/.420, 13 HR, 105 R, 56 RBI, 33 SB in 584 AB
2007 stats: .270/.333/.355, 6 HR, 87 R, 47 RBI, 25 SB in 581 AB

It's clear that the ankle injury took a real toll on Furcal's performance. He'll be very motivated to bounce back next year with free agency on the way.

Carlos Guillen - Tigers - $20 - #12
Projection: .303/.370/.465, 14 HR, 84 R, 78 RBI, 9 SB in 488 AB
2007 stats: .296/.357/.502, 21 HR, 86 R, 102 RBI, 13 SB in 564 AB

Back-to-back healthy seasons for Guillen, who had never played in more than 140 games before topping 150 each of the last two years.

Bill Hall - Brewers - $22 - #8
Projection: .276/.339/.473, 23 HR, 79 R, 93 RBI, 14 SB in 560 AB
2007 stats: .254/.315/.425, 14 HR, 59 R, 63 RBI, 4 SB in 452 AB

Felipe Lopez - Nationals - $22 - #9
Projection: .270/.346/.412, 14 HR, 91 R, 53 RBI, 35 SB in 597 AB
2007 stats: .245/.308/.352, 9 HR, 70 R, 50 RBI, 24 SB in 603 AB

Jhonny Peralta - Indians - $13 - #16
Projection: .278/.350/.446, 17 HR, 78 R, 76 RBI, 2 SB in 543 AB
2007 stats: .270/.341/.430, 21 HR, 87 R, 72 RBI, 4 SB in 574 AB

Troy Tulowitzki - Rockies - $10 - #25
Projection: .272/.341/.444, 15 HR, 61 R, 65 RBI, 7 SB in 489 AB
2007 stats: .291/.359/.479, 24 HR, 104 R, 99 RBI, 7 SB in 609 AB

This was still looking like a pretty good projection until he went and delivered 12 homers and 51 RBI in the final two months. At the end of July, he was hitting .277/.349/.427 with 12 homers and 48 RBI. He ended up with 59 R and 57 RBI in 70 games as a No. 2 hitter, versus 32 R and 30 RBI in 62 games in the No. 7 spot, which is where I was expecting him to bat all year.

Michael Young - Rangers - $28 - #6
Projection: .310/.357/.468, 19 HR, 107 R, 98 RBI, 6 SB in 671 AB
2007 stats: .315/.366/.418, 9 HR, 80 R, 94 RBI, 13 SB in 639 AB


Preseason Top 10

Carl Crawford - Devil Rays - $38 - #1
Projection: .310/.352/.492, 17 HR, 109 R, 74 RBI, 54 SB in 620 AB
2007 stats: .315/.355/.466, 11 HR, 93 R, 80 RBI, 50 SB in 584 AB

Alfonso Soriano - Cubs - $37 - #2
Projection: .282/.337/.523, 38 HR, 112 R, 85 RBI, 37 SB in 656 AB
2007 stats: .299/.337/.560, 33 HR, 97 R, 70 RBI, 19 SB in 579 AB

Vladimir Guerrero - Angels - $35 - #3
Projection: .319/.388/.555, 34 HR, 105 R, 113 RBI, 12 SB in 598 AB
2007 stats: .324/.403/.547, 27 HR, 89 R, 125 RBI, 2 SB in 574 AB

Carlos Beltran - Mets - $34 - #4
Projection: .277/.367/.536, 35 HR, 125 R, 106 RBI, 23 SB in 573 AB
2007 stats: .276/.353/.525, 33 HR, 93 R, 112 RBI, 23 SB in 554 AB

Bobby Abreu - Yankees - $33 - #5
Projection: .295/.417/.484, 23 HR, 114 R, 102 RBI, 28 SB in 576 AB
2007 stats: .283/.369/.445, 16 HR, 123 R, 101 RBI, 25 SB in 605 AB

Probably the two most vehement complaints regarding my oft-criticized monthly rankings, at least when it came to hitters, were my decisions to keep Abreu over Magglio Ordonez and rank Pat Burrell over Hunter Pence. Burrell vs. Pence worked out fine for me. Ordonez, though, maintained his outstanding performance all year long, and while Abreu was a top-10 fantasy outfielder over the final three months, he never matched Mags.

Manny Ramirez - Red Sox - $32 - #6
Projection: .308/.416/.591, 38 HR, 102 R, 123 RBI, 1 SB in 526 AB
2007 stats: .296/.388/.493, 20 HR, 84 R, 88 RBI, 0 SB in 483 AB

Manny hit .330 with 15 homers from May through July. It was a definite down year for him, but it was really only one particularly awful month, and he's back looking pretty good now that he's recovered from a strained oblique.

Grady Sizemore - Indians - $31 - #7
Projection: .296/.370/.513, 25 HR, 127 R, 86 RBI, 20 SB in 645 AB
2007 stats: .277/.390/.462, 24 HR, 118 R, 78 RBI, 33 SB in 628 AB

Matt Holliday - Rockies - $32 - #8
Projection: .307/.374/.552, 31 HR, 101 R, 112 RBI, 10 SB in 579 AB
2007 stats: .340/.405/.607, 36 HR, 120 R, 137 RBI, 11 SB in 636 AB

Ichiro Suzuki - Mariners - $31 - #9
Projection: .320/.373/.433, 12 HR, 113 R, 61 RBI, 36 SB in 674 AB
2007 stats: .351/.396/.431, 6 HR, 111 R, 68 RBI, 37 SB in 678 AB

Carlos Lee - Astros - $30 - #10
Projection: .288/.347/.523, 34 HR, 91 R, 114 RBI, 14 SB in 587 AB
2007 stats: .303/.354/.528, 32 HR, 93 R, 119 RBI, 10 SB in 627 AB


Jason Bay - Pirates - $30 - #11
Projection: .292/.400/.532, 31 HR, 102 R, 107 RBI, 13 SB in 566 AB
2007 stats: .247/.327/.418, 21 HR, 78 R, 84 RBI, 4 SB in 538 AB

Barry Bonds - Giants - $20 - #30
Projection: .283/.455/.588, 29 HR, 90 R, 87 RBI, 4 SB in 364 AB
2007 stats: .276/.480/.565, 28 HR, 75 R, 66 RBI, 5 SB in 340 AB

So much for the thought that the league would be a little less afraid of a declining Bonds in 2007. Compared to 2006, he walked 17 more times in four fewer games played. With RISP, he had 59 walks and 76 official at-bats.

Pat Burrell - Phillies - $18 - #40
Projection: .269/.380/.491, 28 HR, 77 R, 101 RBI, 1 SB in 509 AB
2007 stats: .256/.400/.502, 30 HR, 77 R, 97 RBI, 0 SB in 472 AB

Eric Byrnes - Diamondbacks - $23 - #23
Projection: .270/.329/.459, 22 HR, 88 R, 84 RBI, 23 SB in 566 AB
2007 stats: .286/.353/.460, 21 HR, 103 R, 83 RBI, 50 SB in 626 AB

J.D. Drew - Red Sox - $21 - #25
Projection: .294/.415/.526, 24 HR, 91 R, 95 RBI, 3 SB in 487 AB
2007 stats: .270/.373/.423, 11 HR, 84 R, 64 RBI, 4 SB in 466 AB

Drew finished with OPSs of 1006, 931 and 891 the previous four years and was moving into the best hitter's park of his career, so 941 seemed reasonable to me. Only in June (963) and September (1072) did he even manage to exceed 800.

Adam Dunn - Reds - $27 - #13
Projection: .254/.390/.558, 46 HR, 111 R, 98 RBI, 6 SB in 573 AB
2007 stats: .264/.386/.554, 40 HR, 101 R, 106 RBI, 9 SB in 522 AB

Curtis Granderson - Tigers - $17 - #38
Projection: .270/.343/.460, 21 HR, 87 R, 76 RBI, 14 SB in 567 AB
2007 stats: .302/.361/.552, 23 HR, 122 R, 74 RBI, 26 SB in 612 AB

Ken Griffey Jr. - Reds - $11 - #63
Projection: .259/.340/.511, 25 HR, 65 R, 79 RBI, 0 SB in 405 AB
2007 stats: .277/.372/.468, 30 HR, 78 R, 93 RBI, 6 SB in 528 AB

The move to right field did seem to rein Griffey in a bit. I'll probably bump him up to the 450-475 at-bat range in 2008, which is higher than I've gone on him in several years.

Josh Hamilton - Reds - $2 - #119
Projection: .243/.287/.389, 9 HR, 42 R, 31 RBI, 11 SB in 288 AB
2007 stats: .292/.368/.554, 19 HR, 52 R, 47 RBI, 3 SB in 298 AB

Brad Hawpe - Rockies - $17 - #41
Projection: .296/.377/.523, 23 HR, 71 R, 84 RBI, 3 SB in 480 AB
2007 stats: .291/.387/.539, 29 HR, 80 R, 116 RBI, 0 SB in 516 AB

Andruw Jones - Braves - $25 - #18
Projection: .260/.349/.514, 38 HR, 98 R, 112 RBI, 4 SB in 580 AB
2007 stats: .222/.311/.413, 26 HR, 83 R, 94 RBI, 5 SB in 572 AB

Nook Logan - Nationals - $3 - #111
Projection: .256/.309/.343, 1 HR, 41 R, 21 RBI, 20 SB in 309 AB
2007 stats: .265/.304/.345, 0 HR, 39 R, 21 RBI, 23 SB in 325 AB

Logan, Jason Kubel, Jason Michaels and Lastings Milledge were lesser-name outfielders I was particularly close on.

Hideki Matsui - Yankees - $23 - #19
Projection: .297/.383/.493, 24 HR, 99 R, 108 RBI, 2 SB in 572 AB
2007 stats: .285/.367/.488, 25 HR, 100 R, 103 RBI, 4 SB in 547 AB

Magglio Ordonez - Tigers - $20 - #27
Projection: .295/.356/.487, 23 HR, 85 R, 102 RBI, 2 SB in 546 AB
2007 stats: .363/.434/.595, 28 HR, 117 R, 139 RBI, 4 SB in 595 AB

Juan Pierre - Dodgers - $26 - #15
Projection: .286/.336/.371, 2 HR, 102 R, 45 RBI, 55 SB in 672 AB
2007 stats: .293/.331/.353, 0 HR, 96 R, 41 RBI, 64 SB in 668 AB

Alex Rios - Blue Jays - $23 - #20
Projection: .297/.344/.488, 21 HR, 87 R, 90 RBI, 16 SB in 555 AB
2007 stats: .297/.354/.498, 24 HR, 114 R, 85 RBI, 17 SB in 643 AB

This could have been a great projection had he remained a No. 6 hitter all year long. However, thanks to injuries, he ended up hitting in the top third of the order in all but 13 of his games.

Aaron Rowand - Phillies - $13 - #62
Projection: .276/.333/.446, 17 HR, 70 R, 69 RBI, 13 SB in 514 AB
2007 stats: .309/.374/.515, 27 HR, 105 R, 89 RBI, 6 SB in 612 AB

Sammy Sosa - Rangers - $7 - #83
Projection: .252/.329/.454, 19 HR, 48 R, 64 RBI, 0 SB in 377 AB
2007 stats: .252/.311/.468, 21 HR, 53 R, 92 RBI, 0 SB in 412 AB

Josh Willingham - Marlins - $15 - #47
Projection: .272/.362/.471, 24 HR, 74 R, 87 RBI, 4 SB in 544 AB
2007 stats: .265/.364/.463, 21 HR, 75 R, 89 RBI, 8 SB in 521 AB

Chris Young - Diamondbacks - $15 - #46
Projection: .259/.340/.458, 21 HR, 75 R, 70 RBI, 18 SB in 506 AB
2007 stats: .237/.295/.467, 32 HR, 85 R, 68 RBI, 27 SB in 569 AB

Delmon Young - Devil Rays - $18 - #35
Projection: .290/.322/.454, 16 HR, 74 R, 85 RBI, 15 SB in 566 AB
2007 stats: .288/.316/.408, 13 HR, 65 R, 93 RBI, 10 SB in 645 AB

Hache Man

"Seven Days Without Gambling Makes One Weak"
Re: Fantasy Baseball News 2007

AL Rookie Review
This week's column is the first of two looking at the rookie class of 2007. 23 of the AL's top first-year players are featured below.

A reminder first: I'll be doing real-time game diaries for each game of the World Series in the blog beginning on Wednesday.

American League Rookies (Ages as of Opening Day 2008)

Brian Bannister - RHP Royals - Age 27
Projection: 8 wins, 4.68 ERA, 1.43 WHIP, 95 Ks in 148 IP
2007 stats: 12 wins, 3.87 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 77 Ks in 165 IP

It looked like the Royals were trading a potential closer for an innings-eating fifth starter when they sent Ambiorix Burgos to the Mets for Bannister. One year in, the deal stands as GM Dayton Moore's best to date. Bannister, whose father, Floyd, used to pitch for Kansas City, opened the season in Triple-A after a poor spring and wasn't up for good until mid-May, but from that point on, he was arguably the AL's top rookie starter. His ERA stood at 3.16 until he gave up 19 runs over 16 2/3 innings in his final four starts. That his already poor strikeout rate bottomed out in September isn't a good sign, but fatigue likely had something to do with that. Bannister tops out at right around 90 mph, and his curve is better at keeping hitters off balance than generating swings and misses. As few hitters as he retires by himself, he's going to have a hard time posting another sub-4.50 ERA as a sophomore. AL-only leaguers should stay away.

Travis Buck - OF Athletics - Age 24
Projection: .263/.329/.425, 8 HR, 37 R, 36 RBI, 4 SB in 285 AB
2007 stats: .288/.377/.474, 7 HR, 41 R, 34 RBI, 4 SB in 285 AB

100 points off on the OPS, but still quite a fantasy projection.

That Buck made the A's after just 500 professional at-bats -- none of them coming in Triple-A -- was one of the biggest surprises of the spring. The left-handed hitter went on to play very well when healthy, even against southpaws (.323, 4 HR in 65 AB), but he ranked among the league leaders in Rotoworld injury updates before his season came to an end in mid-August because of a strained hamstring. Minor elbow surgery followed in September. Buck should enter 2008 as a regular in the outfield, but the A's will have to make an effort to keep him healthy and that should mean frequent days off, with Chris Denorfia probably taking his place. He's not going to be exceptional enough in any category to break out with a $20 season. Still, he could be good for 20 homers, 80 RBI and 10 steals if he manages to approach 550 at-bats. Don't expect him to improve on this year's .288 average right away.

Billy Butler - OF Royals - Age 21
Projection: .291/.333/.436, 1 HR, 7 R, 8 RBI, 0 SB in 55 AB
2007 stats: .292/.347/.447, 8 HR, 38 R, 52 RBI, 0 SB in 329 AB

Butler, who was first up for two weeks in May before being recalled for good in mid-June, more than held his own in the majors at age 21, showing the form that could earn him a batting title someday. After something of a slow start, he hit .341 with three homers and 24 RBI in July. He turned back into a .280 hitter and a 780-OPS guy during the final two months, but he managed to avoid any extended slumps. What should cause the Royals some concern was that he had only a 715 OPS versus righties. He was at 981 against lefties. It's not going to be a long-term problem, but it's reasonable to think that he'll only be a real asset about one-third of the time again next year. Butler, a born DH who might be tried one more time at first base, should be an everyday player regardless -- the Royals certainly can't stunt his development by platooning him -- and a .300-20-90 season could be within reach in 2008.

John Danks - LHP White Sox - Age 22
Projection: 7 wins, 4.85 ERA, 1.48 WHIP, 97 Ks in 128 IP
2007 stats: 6 wins, 5.50 ERA, 1.54 WHIP, 109 Ks in 139 IP

Danks had ERAs in excess of 4.00 in each of his last two seasons in the minors and he finished at 5.91 last spring, but the White Sox decided to make him their fifth starter anyway after acquiring him from Texas in the Brandon McCarthy deal. He ended up turning in just eight quality starts, four of them coming consecutively in May. His last win came on July 16, and due to concerns that he had worn down, he pitched only once in September. Danks' future still seems fairly bright. He throws 90-92 mph, and his changeup is a quality offering against right-handers. More consistency with his curve is needed. A flyball pitcher, it's going to be hard for him to ever post a particularly good ERA while pitching at U.S. Cellular half the time. Still, he'll make for an intriguing $1 pick in strikeout leagues. He could post a 4.50 ERA and fan 140 batters next year.

Josh Fields - 3B White Sox - Age 25
Projection: .270/.331/.447, 8 HR, 29 R, 32 RBI, 6 SB in 226 AB
2007 stats: .244/.308/.480, 23 HR, 54 R, 67 RBI, 1 SB in 373 AB

Fields hit .305/.379/.515 with 19 homers and 26 steals in Triple-A in 2006, but rather than move him to left field and let him contend for a starting job last spring, the White Sox insisted at keeping him at third base and sending him back to the minors. He ended up getting a chance anyway when Joe Crede underwent back surgery, and he spent 2 ? months as the White Sox's everyday third baseman before the team pulled a sudden reversal and put him in left. He was just as much of a liability there as at third, but he did hit a whole lot better at the less demanding position, amassing a 923 OPS in 21 games. If it's how they want to use him, Fields should prove to be an average defensive corner outfielder in time. He's not quite ready to hit for average in the majors yet, but he should be good for 30 homers in 2008 and he might feel more comfortable stealing bases, something he enjoyed doing in the minors. Because of his defensive problems and his struggles against right-handers, Fields won't necessarily be guaranteed anything next spring. Still, it'd be foolish for the White Sox not to give him 550 at-bats.

Matt Garza - RHP Twins - Age 24
Projection: 10 wins, 4.28 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 128 Ks in 166 IP
2007 stats: 5 wins, 3.69 ERA, 1.54 WHIP, 67 Ks in 83 IP

The Twins wanted to find out just what Ramon Ortiz and Sidney Ponson had left, so Garza was left out of the rotation last spring. Given instructions to work more on his offspeed pitches at the expense of his fastball, he was less than dominant in Triple-A. Still, he deserved the callup he received at the end of June and he went on to post the second-best ERA among the eight pitchers the Twins used as starters. As ordered, he used his 92-95 mph fastball less frequently, and both his slider and changeup looked like plus pitches at times. Garza did have a poor WHIP and he allowed 10 unearned runs, so he wasn't as good as his ERA suggests. Still, the potential is certainly there for him to win 12-15 games with a sub-4.00 ERA in 2008. His upside will make him worthy of an $8-$10 bid in AL-only leagues, and mixed leaguers should look to pick him up if he gets off to a fast start.

Alex Gordon - 3B Royals - Age 24
Projection: .279/.358/.464, 19 HR, 75 R, 82 RBI, 10 SB in 509 AB
2007 stats: .247/.314/.411, 15 HR, 60 R, 60 RBI, 14 SB in 543 AB

Gordon hit .325/.427/.588 for Double-A Wichita in his first pro season. It was all the Royals needed to see. They didn't give him a September callup because of 40-man roster issues, but just a week after the World Series ended, they indicated that they were moving Mark Teahen to right field to open up third base for their No. 1 prospect. Gordon went on to leave no doubt about his status with a strong spring, but he struggled mightily over the first two months and didn't even reach the Mendoza Line for the first time until mid-June. He ended up hitting .285/.330/.478 with 12 homers and 10 steals over his final 98 games to finish with respectable numbers. Now he'll look for a Prince Fielder-type breakthrough in year two. Gordon isn't going to hit 50 homers, but 30 is within reach and he should raise his average at least 30 points. In whichever order the Royals opt to arrange them, he and Butler should form one of the game's best three-four combinations starting in 2009. Because he has third-base eligibility and he likes stealing bases, Gordon is the significantly better bet of the two for fantasy purposes.

Jeremy Guthrie - RHP Orioles - Age 28
Projection: 2 wins, 4.86 ERA, 1.48 WHIP, 40 Ks in 63 IP
2007 stats: 7 wins, 3.70 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 123 Ks in 175 1/3 IP

The Indians can hardly be blamed for giving up on Guthrie. He hadn't even been any good in the minors, posting a 4.40 ERA and a K/BB ratio under 2-to-1 in four seasons. That he failed to progress may have been a matter of bad coaching. After being claimed off waivers, Guthrie had a poor first month in the Baltimore bullpen. However, when injuries thrust him into the rotation, he was outstanding right away, allowing two earned runs over 21 1/3 innings in his first three starts in May. Using a fastball that peaked at 97 mph and a plus slider, he had a 3.44 ERA in his 26 starts. If he had received better run and bullpen support and hadn't missed a couple of starts in September with a strained oblique, he would have had a legitimate case for Rookie of the Year honors. Though Guthrie's breakthrough came at age 28, it'd be hard to write it off as a fluke. He has the stuff to spend the next several years in the second of third spot in the Baltimore rotation. $10-$12 would be a fair price to pay next spring.

Phil Hughes - RHP Yankees - Age 21
Projection: 7 wins, 3.85 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 103 Ks in 110 IP
2007 stats: 5 wins, 4.46 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 58 Ks in 72 2/3 IP

The Yankees couldn't have had any idea that they'd have to call on Hughes, who was widely viewed as the game's top pitching prospect, before the end of April, but there he was in the Bronx after going 2-1 with a 3.94 ERA in his first three Triple-A starts. After a rough debut, Hughes pitched 6 1/3 innings of no-hit ball before badly injuring his hamstring in his second start. Three months passed before he again took the mound in the majors. An inconsistent August followed, but he finished up by going 3-0 with a 2.73 ERA in September. Hughes' stock is down ever so slightly from where it was a year ago. He hits 95 mph on the gun less frequently than he used to, and he was too often afraid to go to his changeup this year. Still, his fastball remains plenty good and his curveball is a true strikeout pitch. As is, he simply looks like more of a future No. 2 than a true ace. He has a pretty reasonable chance of winning 15 games with an ERA a little under 4.00 next year.

Akinori Iwamura - 3B Devil Rays - Age 29
Projection: .284/.353/.441, 15 HR, 69 R, 66 RBI, 7 SB in 510 AB
2007 stats: .285/.359/.411, 7 HR, 82 R, 34 RBI, 12 SB in 491 AB

Iwamura, who signed a three-year, $7.7 million contract with Tampa Bay after being won through the posting system, looked like one of the worst hitters in Florida last spring. The Rays made him their everyday third baseman anyway, and he went on to bat .339/.479/.482 in 18 games before suffering a strained oblique that cost him five weeks. Upon returning, he had a 743 OPS the rest of the way. He ended up with just seven homers after hitting 32 in his final season in Japan. Somewhat alarming was the fact that he struck out 61 times in the final two months. If Iwamura can keep his OPS in the 750-800 range, his fine defense will make him a solid regular. The Rays will work him out at second base in spring training and likely move him there permanently when top prospect Evan Longoria proves he's ready. With a few more homers likely in store for 2008, he could be a $15 player if the Rays again bat him leadoff. Since he'd lose value as a No. 7 or No. 8 hitter, he'd only makes much sense in the $10-$11 range.

Adam Lind - OF Blue Jays - Age 24
Projection: .271/.324/.449, 9 HR, 30 R, 36 RBI, 1 SB in 236 AB
2007 stats: .238/.278/.400, 11 HR, 34 R, 46 RBI, 1 SB in 290 AB

When the Jays spent a lot of their available money to sign Frank Thomas, they committed to sending Lind back to the minors, even though he was terrific in a late-season stint in 2006. Lind, though, only had to play a week in Triple-A before getting another opportunity. With Reed Johnson out three months for back surgery, Lind hit a disappointing .230/.274/.383 in 235 at-bats. Recalled in September, he was quite a bit better, ending the season with a 10-game hitting steak in which he drove in 13 runs. Still, Lind's 2008 role is unclear. The best-case scenario would be a starting job over Johnson against right-handers. He does have options left, so the Jays could send him down again if they'd like. That Lind is a subpar defender, while Johnson is one of the best left fielders around, makes it a tougher call. Lind has 30-homer ability, and he's not quite the all-or-nothing guy the .238 average suggests. However, since he's streaky and he's a liability when he's not hitting, he'd be a better gamble at $2-$3 if he doesn't have a job than at $10-$12 if he does.

Jesse Litsch - RHP Blue Jays - Age 23
Projection: No Projection
2007 stats: 7 wins, 3.81 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 50 Ks in 111 IP

Litsch, a former Rays bat boy, looked like an unlikely candidate to reach the majors in 2007 after posting a 5.06 ERA in his 12 starts in Double-A in 2006, but he was called up in May after opening the season 5-1 with an 0.96 ERA and he dominated the Orioles in his debut, allowing one run in 8 2/3 innings and getting 21 outs on the ground. Too bad he went on to pitch a total of nine innings in his three subsequent starts before returning to the minors. Up for good in July, he allowed more than four earned runs in just one of his last 16 starts and he beat both the Red Sox and Yankees with strong outings during the final two weeks of the season. Litsch typically works at 86-90 mph with his sinking fastball, and what few strikeouts he gets tend to come on his slider. There's not a lot of fantasy upside here, but he seems poised to stick around as a bottom-of-the-rotation starter. Expect his ERA to increase as AL managers stack their lineups with left-handers against him next year.

Daisuke Matsuzaka - RHP Red Sox - Age 27
Projection: 16 wins, 3.61 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 165 Ks in 197 IP
2007 stats: 15 wins, 4.40 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 201 Ks in 204 2/3 IP

The numbers say Boston's $103 million investment should have been better. Matsuzaka had a .246 average against as a rookie, and the 25 homers he gave up was hardly an extreme total. The first thing to look for when the ERA doesn't match the other numbers is how a pitcher did with RISP. Matsuzaka, though, was actually better in those situations, and 15 of the homers he allowed came with the bases empty. The truth is that Dice-K was terribly prone to big innings. He'd have periods in which he couldn't find the strike zone at all for 15-20 pitches, often after he had already thrown three or four clean innings. It happened less frequently as the year went on, and Matsuzaka's problems in August and September appeared to be fatigue related. The only time he was truly on was June, when he had a 1.59 ERA and fanned 42 in 34 innings. With a 91-94 mph fastball and an occasionally outstanding slider, he can dominate when he's on. It's likely that he'll be more comfortable and confident in year two in the U.S. As strong as he should be in wins and strikeouts, he might be worth $20 or so even if his ERA remains north of 4.00.

Brandon Morrow - RHP Mariners - Age 23
Projection: 2 wins, 1 Sv, 4.39 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 37 Ks in 41 IP
2007 stats: 3 wins, 0 Sv, 4.12 ERA, 1.67 WHIP, 66 Ks in 63 1/3 IP

There was ample reason for skepticism when the Mariners passed over Andrew Miller and Tim Lincecum to make Morrow the fifth overall pick in the 2006 draft. No one questioned his arm, but he was a bust in two of his three years in college and he lacked a quality third pitch. The Mariners, though, put him on the fast track and opted to carry him as reliever out of spring training. Wildly inconsistent, Morrow had streaks of 16 and 15 appearances in which he didn't give up a run. Unfortunately, he allowed 29 runs his other 29 times out, and he was especially bad as the team fell out of contention during early September. Now the Mariners have to decide again whether to send Morrow back to the minors to develop him as a starter. With a fastball that tops out at 99 mph and a fair slider, he has a great deal of potential. However, if the Mariners just throw him back into the pen again, they might not be doing him or themselves any good.

Hideki Okajima - LHP Red Sox - Age 32
Projection: 4 wins, 0 Sv, 3.68 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 62 Ks in 66 IP
2007 stats: 3 wins, 5 Sv, 2.22 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, 63 Ks in 69 IP

If there's a run on Japanese relievers this winter, here's the big reason why. Okajima wasn't a star in the Far East. He had a 2.14 ERA in 2006, but he was over 3.00 his previous four years and he was five years removed from his one season as a closer. He didn't even really impress for the Red Sox last spring. However, once the season started, he was arguably the game's best reliever for four months. His ERA was under 1.00 as late as Aug. 9. With a delivery that makes him tough to pick up and two very good offspeed pitches in his curve and changeup, the league hit just .202 off him. Things did get tougher for him at the end, as he was on 75-inning pace until being shut down for nearly two weeks in September. He hadn't thrown more than 55 2/3 innings in any of his previous five years, so fatigue was a definite factor. The league should start to catch up to him in 2008, but it probably won't prevent him from remaining a quality setup man for at least one more year. Expect the odd save with the Red Sox likely to remain especially careful with Jonathan Papelbon.

Jerry Owens - OF White Sox - Age 27
Projection: .271/.322/.349, 1 HR, 19 R, 9 RBI, 8 SB in 129 AB
2007 stats: .267/.324/.312, 1 HR, 44 R, 17 RBI, 32 SB in 356 AB

The White Sox had no intention of entering 2007 with Brian Anderson as their regular center fielder after he posted a 649 OPS as a rookie. Instead, they signed Darin Erstad and went to Owens after the inevitable injury to the veteran. Those two finished with OPSs of 645 and 636, respectively. Owens had to hit .340 in September just to reach that mark. A one-time UCLA receiver, Owens has never tried to be anything more than a slap hitter, and since his walk rate is subpar, he has to bat .300 to be a useful player. He's only adequate in center field, in part because of a poor arm that'd play better in left. A long career as a bench player is possible because of his speed, but the White Sox shouldn't ever need to give him 80 starts again. Assuming that they land a center fielder this winter, Owens will enter spring training as a $3-$4 player.

Dustin Pedroia - 2B Red Sox - Age 24
Projection: .276/.350/.393, 8 HR, 65 R, 59 RBI, 4 SB in 468 AB
2007 stats: .317/.380/.442, 8 HR, 86 R, 50 RBI, 7 SB in 520 AB

There were calls for Pedroia to be demoted after he went hitless in 13 of his first 20 starts last year, leaving him with a .184 average in 147 at-bats since debuting in 2006, but the Red Sox kept the faith in his minor league numbers and he went on to hit .335/.392/.407 in 462 at-bats over the rest of the season. A move to the top of the order came soon after he got hot, and he'll probably spend the next several seasons batting first or second for Boston. Pedroia will top out at 10-12 homers and probably won't build on his 2007 steal total, so he'll never be a stud fantasy second baseman. However, he should be able to maintain a .300 average as rarely as he strikes out and it's conceivable that he'll score 110-120 runs next year. That should be enough to make him worth $13-$14 in 5x5 leagues. 4x4 leaguers might as well stay away.

Rafael Perez - LHP Indians - Age 25
Projection: 1 win, 0 Sv, 4.20 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 28 Ks in 30 IP
2007 stats: 1 win, 1 Sv, 1.78 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, 62 Ks in 60 2/ IP

Perez first debuted in the majors in April 2006, though he only pitched an inning then. A permanent move from the rotation to the pen didn't come until this year, and it was only at the end of May that he arrived for good. He quickly established himself as a setup man for the Indians with his 89-92 mph fastball and hard slider. The mediocre changeup he used as a starter vanished from his arsenal with the change. The league hit .187 off him as a whole, and left-handers were at just .145. Perez faltered in the postseason against the Red Sox, but it was likely a temporary setback. Assuming that his workload doesn't catch up with him, the 25-year-old should continue to form one of the game's top righty-lefty setup combinations with Rafael Betancourt. Including the postseason, he threw 67 2/3 innings this year on top of the seven starts he made in Triple-A.

Andy Sonnanstine - RHP Devil Rays - Age 25
Projection: 5 wins, 4.32 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 66 Ks in 102 IP
2007 stats: 6 wins, 5.85 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 97 Ks in 130 2/3 IP

Sonnanstine was the Rays' minor league pitcher of the year in 2006 after going 15-8 with a 2.67 ERA at Double-A Montgomery, but he didn't get a chance to win a spot out of spring training. In fact, he appeared to be behind at least a couple of other starters in Durham's rotation. Nevertheless, his opportunity came in early June and he ended up spending the next four months in Tampa Bay's rotation. He was pretty solid despite the poor ERA, throwing at least five innings in 19 of his 22 starts. His most notable achievement was holding the Yankees to an unearned run and two hits over eight innings on Aug. 31. Sonnanstine should remain a valuable innings eater for the Rays. He may not peak as much more than a No. 4 starter, but by staying away from walks and keeping right-handers in check with his varied arsenal, he'll usually be able to battle quality offenses for six innings at a time. Left-handers are always going to be a major problem for him. If Sonnanstine can get his ERA down to 4.50 or so next year, his WHIP and strikeout rate will give him some value in AL-only leagues. Still, he'd be more of a sleeper on a better team.

Joakim Soria - RHP Royals - Age 23
Projection: 2 wins, 0 Sv, 4.89 ERA, 1.51 WHIP, 43 Ks in 57 IP
2007 stats: 2 wins, 17 Sv, 2.48 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, 75 Ks in 69 IP

No one knew about Soria before he suddenly became the best pitcher in Mexico during the winter of 2006. By that time, it was too late for the Padres to protect him in the Rule 5 draft, and the Royals took him second overall. Despite having pitched just 16 innings in the minors over the previous four years, he excelled right away for Kansas City, earning a save in his fourth career appearance. In all, he picked up 10 saves while Octavio Dotel was recovering from a strained oblique and then seven more after Dotel was dealt. Soria has four pitches, but he pretty exclusively used his low-90s fastball early in the count. An excellent curve generally came out to play only when it was time to go for the strikeout. His change is a solid third pitch that he could unveil more often this year. Soria should be here to stay as a late-game reliever, and while the Royals don't appear to be considering it, he'd probably be a successful starter if given the chance. The Royals will likely go with him as a closer next year unless another Dotel falls into their laps.

Kurt Suzuki - C Athletics - Age 24
Projection: No Projection
2007 stats: .249/.327/.408, 7 HR, 39 RBI, 39/24 K/BB, 0 SB in 213 AB

With Jason Kendall hitting a ridiculous .199/.241/.208, the A's opted to bring up their top catching prospect on June 10 to see if he could help. Suzuki didn't get much of a chance initially, making only three starts over the rest of the month, but more playing time came in July and the A's sent Kendall to the Cubs right after the break in order to make Suzuki a regular. He went on to play about as well as his minor league numbers suggested he would. Suzuki offers 15-homer potential and a disciplined approach at the plate that should lead to decent OBPs even though he won't hit for a high average. On defense, he's not exceptionally quick to pounce on balls in the dirt and his arm is pretty average. Still, technique and hard work have given him an average all-around game. Look for him to peak as an $8-$10 fantasy catcher in two or three years. With another .250 average and mediocre run and RBI numbers likely on the way in 2008, he's more of a $5 player now.

Reggie Willits - OF Angels - Age 26
Projection: .271/.359/.353, 1 HR, 27 R, 13 RBI, 14 SB in 170 AB
2007 stats: .293/.391/.344, 0 HR, 74 R, 34 RBI, 27 SB in 430 AB

Wilits entered 2007 as a relative unknown, and those that had heard of him probably couldn't distinguish him from Tommy Murphy (Baseball America had them ranked 27th and 26th, respectively, in their Angels' top 30). Willits, though, was always the better bet of the two, and he shouldn't have been viewed as such an afterthought following a year in which he had a .448 OBP at Triple-A. Willits' big break came because of a Garret Anderson injury, and he was a Rookie of the Year favorite after hitting .337/.430/.399 through three months. In the second half, he maintained respectable OBPs but did little else. That he lacks even warning track power allowed outfielders to creep in and steal singles away from him, and he was too often overpowered by pitchers with great fastballs. Willits should be a handy player going forward, but he's probably more valuable getting 300-350 at-bats in a season than 500-550. The Angels will likely use him against left-handers and have him provide Gary Matthews Jr. with the occasional day off next year. He may not get enough playing time to reach 20 steals, so he's not going to be a very good bet in fantasy leagues.

Delmon Young - OF Devil Rays - Age 22
Projection: .290/.322/.454, 16 HR, 74 R, 85 RBI, 15 SB in 566 AB
2007 stats: .288/.316/.408, 13 HR, 65 R, 93 RBI, 10 SB in 645 AB

A .288 average and 93 RBI as a 21-year-old had some touting Young for AL Rookie of the Year honors. Still, he was a thoroughly below average player in his first full season. Young made 492 outs, 11 more than any other player in the AL, and he tied for the league lead in double plays with 23. He also made some pretty obvious mistakes in the outfield, though his natural ability suggests he'll be a strong right fielder in time. Finally, questions about his makeup became even more prevalent following his outburst after he was pulled from a late-September game for lack of hustle. Young has the potential to be one of the top players in baseball someday. He makes such solid contact that he'll always sport quality batting averages, and he'll probably be a 30-homer guy by 2009. He needs to be more selective at the plate. He too often goes after pitcher's pitches and simply rolls them to short. He hammers pitches at his thighs, but he doesn't wait for the mistakes and he tends not to do much with the ones at his knees and below. Quick improvement when it comes to OBP isn't necessarily on the way. However, it's likely that he'll be quite a bit more valuable as a fantasy outfielder next year. He could put up a 20/20 season and be worth $25 as a sophomore.

Hache Man

"Seven Days Without Gambling Makes One Weak"
Re: Fantasy Baseball News 2007

NL Rookie Review
We're looking at the future of the NL's rookie class in this week's column.

NL Rookie Review

Ryan Braun - 3B Brewers - Age 24
Projection: .276/.330/.448, 7 HR, 26 R, 27 RBI, 5 SB in 192 AB
2007 stats: .324/.370/.634, 34 HR, 91 R, 97 RBI, 15 SB in 451 AB

Braun had to wait until May 25 to make his major league debut, so he missed qualifying for the batting title by 10 plate appearances. Still, his numbers were simply staggering. The University of Miami product would have come in eighth in the NL in average and fourth with a 1004 OPS. He finished tied for fifth in homers despite having 100 fewer plate appearances than anyone else in the top 10, and he turned in the highest OPS from a rookie since Albert Pujols ended up at 1013 in 2001. Unfortunately, Braun erased a lot of the good he did offensively by playing the worst third base of anyone in the majors. He has the quickness and arm strength to handle the position, but as little progress as he's made, it looks like he'd be more helpful in the outfield. The Brewers don't appear prepared to make the switch right now, which is good news for Braun's long-term fantasy value. On the other hand, he will lose a handful of at-bats again because of the need to replace him with Craig Counsell late in games. Braun's rate stats are in for a modest decline, but he's here to stay as one of the NL's better hitters and a fantasy stud. He should reach the century mark in both runs and RBI while batting third, and he could add another 5-10 steals. Expect him to lose more off his average than his homer total.

Matt Chico - LHP Nationals - Age 24
Projection: 5 wins, 4.77 ERA, 1.47 WHIP, 91 Ks in 132 IP
2007 stats: 7 wins, 4.63 ERA, 1.54 WHIP, 94 Ks in 167 IP

Chico, a product of the Livan Hernandez trade in 2006, jumped to the majors to open 2007 despite never having thrown a pitch in Triple-A. He went on to make 10 more starts than any other National, and though his record was unspectacular, the team went 16-15 when he was on the mound. Chico held his own despite a fastball that rarely touched 90 mph. Since hitters don't have to respect his heater, his slider was generally handled pretty well. His changeup gives him a decent weapon against righties. Chico can throw with more velocity when he's not trying to pace himself, so a future in the pen could be a possibility. The Nationals, though, figure to give him every chance to stay in the rotation. Since he shouldn't be of any help in WHIP or strikeouts, he can be avoided in NL-only leagues.

Yunel Escobar - SS/3B Braves - Age 25
Projection: .274/.341/.376, 3 HR, 26 R, 24 RBI, 4 SB in 197 AB
2007 stats: .326/.385/.451, 5 HR, 54 R, 28 RBI, 5 SB in 319 AB

Escobar, the rare Cuban defector who ended up in the draft, failed to live up to the hype in his first full pro season in 2006, finishing at .264/.361/.346 in Double-A. However, he went on to tear up the Arizona Fall League and manager Bobby Cox quickly took a liking to him last spring. A Chipper Jones injury got him to the majors on June 1, and he went on to pick up 319 at-bats as a fill-in on the left side of the infield and a platoon partner for Kelly Johnson. He never slumped, batting .300 each month he was in the majors, and he hit .355 in his 141 at-bats against lefties. The plan is for him to play regularly following the Edgar Renteria trade, though he may have to hold off a challenge from Brent Lillibridge in spring training. Escobar's ability to hit for average is legit, and he'll probably peak as a 15-18 homer guy. Still, he's unlikely to get there next year and he may not steal more than 8-10 bases. Unless he can hold down the second spot in the order for Atlanta, he may be a modest disappointment in NL-only leagues.

Yovani Gallardo - RHP Brewers - Age 22
Projection: 4 wins, 4.14 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 54 Ks in 63 IP
2007 stats: 9 wins, 3.67 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 101 Ks in 110 1/3 IP

Gallardo hasn't been talked up as much as some, but the native of Mexico has a chance to put together a career as strong as any other pitcher who debuted in 2007. With a 90-94 mph fastball, three more pitches and plus command, he's capable of dominating when he's on, even if he doesn't have the signature breaking ball of a Homer Bailey or Joba Chamberlain. Gallardo never walked more than three batters in any of his 17 starts, and he allowed just two homers in his final eight outings. In his first three starts of September, he pitched 21 scoreless innings. He's even a quality hitter (.250 AVG, 2 HR in 40 AB), fielder and holder of baserunners, making him a complete package. Committed to taking care of him even in a pennant race, the Brewers never let him throw more than 110 pitches. There's no guarantee that he won't have arm problems anyway, but he's about as good of an investment as a 22-year-old pitcher can be. It'd be fine to spend $18-$20 on him on draft day.

Justin Germano - RHP Padres - Age 25
Projection: 3 wins, 4.50 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, 41 Ks in 68 IP
2007 stats: 7 wins, 4.46 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 78 Ks in 133 1/3 IP

Germano debuted with San Diego in 2004 and amassed an 8.86 ERA in 21 1/3 innings. He was traded to the Reds and later the Phillies before rejoining the Padres organization on waivers in March. Given a look as a fifth starter in May, he went 5-1 with a 2.67 ERA through the end of June. Unfortunately, he had just four more quality starts the rest of the way and he was bounced from the rotation in mid-September. Germano throws 85-88 mph and has an average curve and a plus change. Odds are that he'll resume bouncing around the league soon enough, and while he will see more stints as a fifth starter, he may never again throw 133 innings in a season. It'd be better for the Padres if he's merely insurance, rather than the regular fifth starter, when the club breaks camp.
Josh Hamilton - OF Reds - Age 26
Projection: .243/.287/.389, 9 HR, 42 R, 31 RBI, 11 SB in 288 AB
2007 stats: .292/.368/.554, 19 HR, 52 R, 47 RBI, 3 SB in 298 AB

Due to drug suspensions, Hamilton, the first overall pick in the 1999 draft, missed three entire seasons going into 2006. Finally reinstated on June 30, he lasted all of 15 games before left knee surgery halted his comeback. The Rays thought they were safe leaving him off the 40-man roster after so much inactivity, but he was taken with the third pick in the Rule 5 draft and traded from the Cubs to the Reds. Amazingly, he didn't only make the team, but he excelled right away. He went from posting a .260/.327/.360 line in 15 games in low-A ball to hitting six homers in 64 at-bats in the majors last April. With his life put back together and his immense talent still obviously evident, it's only Hamilton's durability that's in question now. He went on the DL in May with gastroenteritis and in July with a sprained right wrist. A strained hamstring ended his season on Sept. 12. Hamilton should open next year as the Reds' center fielder against righties. He hit just .222 with one homer in 72 at-bats against lefties last season, and even if he's ready to improve there, platooning him should help keep him healthy. Hamilton could hit 25-30 homers given 450-500 at-bats, and it's possible he'll become a basestealer if he avoids leg problems. Expect a modest decline in average or maybe a more substantial one if he does play against lefties. Caution is recommended because of the likelihood of injury.
Jason Hirsh - RHP Rockies - Age 26
Projection: 10 wins, 4.60 ERA, 1.45 WHIP, 123 Ks in 184 IP
2007 stats: 5 wins, 4.81 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 75 Ks in 112 1/3 IP

Hirsh didn't have the kind of rookie season he was hoping for after arriving in Colorado in the Jason Jennings trade. Poor run support left him with a lousy record early on, so that when he actually began struggling a couple of months in, there was plenty of talk of him losing his rotation spot. Things got worse when he suffered a sprained ankle running the bases after pitching six scoreless innings on July 2. It was a two-week injury, but the Rockies had him make three rehab starts, and in his second start back after his month-long absence, he suffered a fractured fibula when he was hit by a liner. Hirsh was healthy by the time the playoffs started, but the Rockies declined to activate him. He may have to compete to keep his spot in next year's rotation. The 6-foot-8 Hirsh isn't the flamethrower he looks to be. Instead, he works at 89-92 mph and uses his quality slider and changeup to good effect. A flyball pitcher, he'll always have ERA troubles at Coors. However, he should be a long-term No. 3 starter. Fantasy leaguers can pass on draft day and maybe look at him as an early-season pickup.
Norris Hopper - OF Reds - Age 29
Projection: .273/.317/.339, 0 HR, 18 R, 11 RBI, 7 SB in 121 AB
2007 stats: .329/.371/.388, 0 HR, 51 R, 14 RBI, 14 SB in 307 AB

Simply pounding the ball into the ground and hoping for the best is a strategy that has paid off for Hopper through 346 major league at-bats, resulting in a .332 average. Extra-base hits are almost accidents for him, and he pulled off a truly incredible feat by going 10-for-25 with a runner on second base this year and driving in just three runs in the process. Hopper's success in the majors could prove to be short-lived. Unfortunately, the former second baseman is no longer a legitimate option in the infield, and the Reds could enter 2008 with four outfielders ahead of him of the depth chart and the hard-charging Jay Bruce ready for any injury-created opening. What playing time Hopper will get should come versus lefties, something that's not good for his prospects as a basestealer. There will certainly be better outfield sleepers available.

Ubaldo Jimenez - RHP Rockies - Age 24
Projection: 4 wins, 4.81 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, 66 Ks in 86 IP
2007 stats: 4 wins, 4.28 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 68 Ks in 82 IP

No one ever knocked Jimenez's stuff when he was in the minors, but the question was command. He walked more than a batter every other inning in both 2005 and 2006, and he issued 62 free passes and 11 wild pitches in 103 innings in Triple-A last year. Surprisingly, he went on to excel for Colorado, allowing three runs or fewer in eight of his last 10 starts and then posting a 2.25 ERA in three postseason outings, though he did walk 13 in 16 innings. With a 94-98 mph fastball and a strikeout curve, Jimenez is as tough to hit as any starter in Rockies history. His changeup has come a long way, giving him a third pitch to use versus lefties. He still has problems hitting his spots, something that probably won't change anytime soon. However, with his strikeout ability, he has to be taken seriously as a fantasy property. Since he won't have the same price tag as other young starters -- making the injury risk less of a problem -- he should be fine to pursue next spring. Mixed leaguers could even take a flier and use him as a spot starter.

Kyle Kendrick - RHP Phillies - Age 23
Projection: No Projection
2007 stats: 10-4, 3.87 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 49 Ks in 121 IP

With only 12 starts of experience above A ball and a very modest strikeout rate, Kendrick seemed an unlikely candidate for immediate success when the Phillies were forced to call him up in June, but he went at least six innings in each of his first six starts and remained a solid pitcher throughout. He earned wins in five of his final eight outings and pitched well in two of the others as the Phillies over took the Mets for the NL East title. A poor postseason start followed, but he probably did enough by that time to guarantee that he'd open 2008 in the rotation. The concern going forward is that Kendrick has a dangerously low strikeout rate and gets only a slightly above average number of grounders. He'll need to improve in one of those two areas if he's going to survive long-term. Kendrick throws in the low-90s and has a pretty good slider, so it's not as if he's all smoke and mirrors. However, 2007 might be the best he has to offer from a fantasy perspective. Expect his ERA to increase by half a run next year.

Kevin Kouzmanoff - 3B Padres - Age 26
Projection: .280/.337/.454, 15 HR, 58 R, 64 RBI, 3 SB in 460 AB
2007 stats: .275/.329/.457, 18 HR, 57 R, 74 RBI, 1 SB in 484 AB

The Padres had to be concerned about Kouzmanoff's prior back troubles and his defensive issues when they acquired from the Indians for Josh Barfield in an offseason trade that came as quite a surprise. What they weren't expecting was for Kouz to get off to the slowest start of any hitter in the NL. He batted .113/.171/.183 with one run scored (coming on his lone homer) in 21 games in April. The club stuck with him, even though his glove was also proving to be a problem, and he hit as advertised the rest of the way, amassing a .303/.355/.504 line during the final five months. 11 of his 18 homers came after the break. With Chase Headley coming up behind him, Kouz is a candidate for a move to the outfield. Still, he's guaranteed regular playing time. In a neutral ballpark, he would be a candidate to bust out with a .300-25-100 season next year. Petco, though, will continue to hold him back, and he remains something of an injury risk going forward. As a result, it'd be best to stop bidding if his price tag exceeds $15.

Tim Lincecum - RHP Giants - Age 23
Projection: 4 wins, 3.75 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 58 Ks in 60 IP
2007 stats: 7 wins, 4.00 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 150 Ks in 146 1/3 IP

Lincecum was arguably the top talent available in the 2006 draft, but nine teams passed, mostly because of the concern about how long the short right-hander with a somewhat violent delivery would last as a starter. The early returns are overwhelmingly positive. Lincecum forced the Giants to call him up by posting a 0.29 ERA in Triple-A last April, and he spent the next 4 ? months in the rotation before being shut down for precautionary reasons. Lincecum can dominate with his 94-98 mph fastball and hard curve. His changeup could use refinement, but it's still not easy to hit because batters are always expecting one of his top two pitches. There are times when Lincecum struggles to throw strikes. However, since the league hits just .226 against him, he often gets away with the walks. Because he won't work very deep into games and he probably won't have great run support, Lincecum is likely a year away from being a big winner. However, he could be a stud in three categories next year. Think $20.

Matt Lindstrom - RHP Marlins - Age 28
Projection: 2 wins, 3 Sv, 4.25 ERA, 1.42 WHIP, 50 Ks in 55 IP
2007 stats: 3 wins, 0 Sv, 3.09 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 62 Ks in 67 IP

Both Lindstrom and Henry Owens won spots in Florida's bullpen and emerged as closer candidates last spring after coming over from the Mets for lefties Jason Vargas and Adam Bostick. It was Owens who ended up earning a few saves early, but he underwent shoulder surgery and didn't pitch after June 8. Lindstrom had to settle for a setup role all the way through. Still, it's likely the Marlins would have been just as well off with him as a closer over Kevin Gregg. Unlike Gregg, Lindstrom got stronger as the year went on, finishing with a 2.35 ERA and a 31/7 K/BB ratio in 30 2/3 IP after the break. With a fastball that's hit triple-digits, Lindstrom probably will close at some point. None of his secondary pitches are particularly strong, but his slider is functional, and as long as he's throwing strikes, he can survive using the heater alone. Barring a trade, Gregg will likely remain Florida's closer at the beginning of next year. However, Lindstrom would be one of the best sleeper save candidates in either league.

James Loney - 1B Dodgers - Age 23
Projection: .293/.344/.463, 7 HR, 36 R, 36 RBI, 3 SB in 246 AB
2007 stats: .331/.381/.538, 15 HR, 41 R, 67 RBI, 0 SB in 344 AB

It was hardly the Dodgers' only mistake, but more than any other single move, the decision to re-sign Nomar Garciaparra and send Loney back to the minors to start the year was responsible for their failure to return to the postseason. While it shouldn't have turned out as badly as it did, there just wasn't much reason to think Nomar would be the better player. And that's not even factoring money into the equation. Loney's sweet swing allows him to spray line drives all over the ballpark, and he showed surprising home run power as a rookie. The left-handed hitter even batted .319 in 94 at-bats against southpaws, and he was a huge force in September, collecting nine homers and 32 RBI. With the outfield experiments seemingly at an end, Loney should be in for a long run as the Dodgers' first baseman. Perhaps Nomar will play over him against some lefties next year, but it shouldn't stop Loney from hitting .300 with 20 homers. Unfortunately, he'll likely have to settle for less-than-exceptional run and RBI numbers with some weak hitters around him and Dodger Stadium suppressing scoring. Throw in the fact that he does have a significant injury history, and he's more of a $15-$18 player than a $20+ guy.

Miguel Montero - C Diamondbacks - Age 24
Projection: .254/.321/.410, 11 HR, 35 R, 46 RBI, 2 SB in 327 AB
2007 stats: .224/.292/.397, 10 HR, 30 R, 37 RBI, 0 SB in 214 AB

Montero was behind Chris Snyder on the depth chart right from the start of the year, but it was close, with Snyder starting 14 games to Montero's 11 in April. It seemed likely that Montero would eventually overtake him. However, Snyder went on to post an OPS nearly 100 points better than his career mark, and by the end of the year, Montero wasn't doing much but serving as Livan Hernandez's personal catcher. He won't even have that crutch to fall back on in 2008, so if he's going to play more, he'll have to earn it. Both players have fine defensive reputations, but Snyder's experience gives him the edge there. Montero, a left-handed hitter, should prove to be the superior offensive threat against right-handers, though he still has some work to do. The possibility of him hitting 13-15 homers if he gets 300 at-bats gives him a clear edge over the $1 catchers. Still, he might not be much of a factor early with Snyder likely to get the lion's share of the action.

Peter Moylan - RHP Braves - Age 29
Projection: 0 wins, 0 Sv, 5.34 ERA, 1.59 WHIP, 28 Ks in 32 IP
2007 stats: 5 wins, 1 Sv, 1.80 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 63 Ks in 90 IP

Moylan, who was out of baseball for eight years before being rediscovered while pitching for Australia in the WBC, didn't rate as much more than an interesting story when he debuted in the majors in 2006. He wasn't very good in 15 innings then and he actually had a 6.35 ERA in 56 2/3 innings in Triple-A, so it was unexpected, to say the least, when he emerged as one of the NL's most valuable relievers last year. The 1.80 ERA may overstate his case a bit, as a full third of the runs he allowed were unearned, but he was able to pitch a whopping 90 innings for a team with few other quality options out of the pen. Moylan throws incredibly hard for a sidearmer, often reaching 95 mph, and his slider was untouchable at times. What changed from 2006 is that his command went from abysmal to very good, seemingly overnight. 12 of the 31 walks he issued were intentional. If not for them, he likely would have had a WHIP under 1.00. Moylan is good enough against lefties that he could excel as a closer if his command remains so strong. The Braves, though, would prefer to keep him in a setup role and take advantage of his ability to log as many innings as any reliever in the league. Since he's a good bet for at least another five wins, he'll be worthy of a spot on NL-only pitching staffs.

Micah Owings - RHP Diamondbacks - Age 25
Projection: 3 wins, 4.63 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, 42 Ks in 68 IP
2007 stats: 8 wins, 4.30 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 106 Ks in 152 2/3 IP

Scouts were pretty much unanimous in the belief that Owings should be a pitcher coming out of Tulane. What was disagreed upon was whether he'd last as a starter or require a move to the pen. The verdict remains out on that one, but it'd be quite a shame if he didn't get to use his bat every five days after hitting .333 with four homers and seven doubles in 60 at-bats as a rookie. Owings also had some very impressive outings on the mound. He was one of just 10 NL hurlers to throw multiple complete games last season, and he tossed one of the league's 16 single-pitcher shutouts. Owings' primary weapons are an 89-92 mph fastball and a mid-80s slider. He has a changeup that he desperately needs to improve in order to remain a starter. The thinking is that he'd add some velocity and become a quality late-game option as a reliever. The Diamondbacks, though, have more need of him as a starter right now and should give him every opportunity to claim a rotation spot in spring training. Expect another solid WHIP even if his ERA remains mediocre. There isn't enough upside here to make him much more than a $1-$2 pick.

Hunter Pence - OF Astros - Age 24
Projection: .264/.330/.449, 12 HR, 37 R, 46 RBI, 8 SB in 292 AB
2007 stats: .322/.360/.539, 17 HR, 57 R, 69 RBI, 11 SB in 456 AB

Pence almost didn't get an invitation to spring training last season following his DUI arrest in the AFL. The Astros relented in February, and he did everything he could to win a starting job by hitting .571 with an absurd 1718 OPS in 28 at-bats before being sent down. He was back to replace Chris Burke in center field a month later, and he was the Rookie of the Year favorite after hitting .342/.367/.589 over the rest of the first half. A fractured wrist suffered in late July halted his bid, but he was back after four weeks and put up solid numbers the rest of the way. Pence has a rather unorthodox swing that leads him to pull a lot of balls. It's something that works well for him at Minute Maid Park, but he might prove to be more slump-prone than most. Also, he fanned nearly four times for every walk he drew last year. He figures to be a quality regular for a long time, but it's entirely possible that he'll never hit .322 again. Look for 30 homers and strong run and RBI numbers next year. His average should dip into the .280-.290 range.

Carlos Ruiz - C Phillies - Age 29
Projection: .268/.326/.411, 7 HR, 28 R, 34 RBI, 2 SB in 246 AB
2007 stats: .259/.340/.396, 6 HR, 42 R, 54 RBI, 6 SB in 374 AB

Rod Barajas was the Phillies' Opening Day catcher last season after signing a $3 million contract, but Ruiz rode a fast start to regular at-bats practically right away. When he finally did lose some playing time in July and August, it was to Chris Coste, not Barajas. Still, he received a season-high 75 at-bats in September and he caught all three postseason games. The Phillies will likely be content to keep Ruiz in a starting role in 2008. He's not due for much of a step forward at age 29, but he could add a bit to his average and his defense will guarantee that he won't be buried even if Coste gets hot for a while. .270-10-60 is possible and would make him worth $7-$8.

Mark Reynolds - 3B Diamondbacks - Age 24
Projection: No Projection
2007 stats: .279/.349/.495, 17 HR, 62 RBI, 0 SB in 366 AB

Reynolds was tried at second base and in the outfield following a move off shortstop in 2006, but he found a home at third base last season and played there nearly exclusively last year after an injury to Chad Tracy resulted in a mid-May promotion from Double-A. He got off to a very fast start, batting .426 with 11 extra-base hits in his first 15 games before the league found out just how susceptible he was to high heat. Fortunately, he bounced back nicely after hitting .178 in 146 at-bats between July and August, coming in at .319 with 9 HR in 166 at-bats over the last two months. Reynolds has the power to hit 25-30 homers next year. However, his ugly strikeout rate (129 K's last season) could result in a decline in his average. Also, he has Tracy's return from knee surgery to contend with. If healthy, Tracy would have been a candidate to be dealt. However, as is, he'll likely be back to battle for playing time. If Reynolds ends up in a utility role, he may have difficulty staying sharp with his high-maintenance swing. His price tag figures to be substantial because of his power potential, so he probably won't be a great investment.

Chris Sampson - RHP Astros - Age 29
Projection: 5 wins, 4.16 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, 48 Ks in 93 IP
2007 stats: 7 wins, 4.59 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 51 Ks in 121 2/3 IP

Sampson had a brief minor league career as a shortstop before retiring in 1999. Four years later, he gave it a shot as a pitcher, and he reached the majors in 2006 with the same team that originally drafted him in 1998. The Astros made him their fifth starter to open last year, and he allowed three runs or fewer in 11 of his first 12 starts. He began struggling in June and admitted to a sore elbow in early August. He returned to make four relief appearances in September, but he still wasn't 100 percent and he was shut down again. With an 87-91 mph fastball and no strikeout breaking ball, Sampson relies on command and guile. Ideally, the Astros could have him begin next year in middle relief and then use him as a spot starter when necessary. Likewise, fantasy leaguers shouldn't look at him as much more than an injury replacement.

Troy Tulowitzki - SS Rockies - Age 23
Projection: .272/.341/.444, 15 HR, 61 R, 65 RBI, 7 SB in 489 AB
2007 stats: .291/.359/.479, 24 HR, 104 R, 99 RBI, 7 SB in 609 AB

Shoved down American's throats as the game's newest star in October, Tulowitzki would be a legitimate choice as the NL Rookie of the Year and as a Gold Glove winner. Still, he's quickly become overrated as a hitter. Tulo ended up batting .195 with three RBI and 15 strikeouts in 41 postseason at-bats. He hit .256/.327/.393 with nine homers away from Coors Field during the regular season. The seventh overall pick in the 2005 draft has trouble making contact against quality right-handers and needs to work on his basestealing after getting thrown out in six of his 13 attempts. The positives certainly outweigh the negatives -- he has excellent power for a shortstop and one of the game's best arms on defense -- but he might not be in for much of a breakthrough as a sophomore. What will keep his value up would be a full year as a No. 2 hitter. He had 59 runs and 57 RBI in 70 games while hitting second last year, as opposed to 32 runs and 30 RBI in 62 games while batting seventh. Hitting second all season would help his chances of finishing with 30 homers and could allow him to score 110 runs. If he's there in spring training, he'd have to be viewed as a $25 player.

Chris Young - OF Diamondbacks - Age 24
Projection: .259/.340/.458, 21 HR, 75 R, 70 RBI, 18 SB in 506 AB
2007 stats: .237/.295/.467, 32 HR, 85 R, 68 RBI, 27 SB in 569 AB

For a .237 hitter, Young had some rookie season. Never before had a first-year player come so close to achieving a 30-30 campaign. He's also deserving of Gold Glove consideration for his play in center field. In the postseason, he hit .280 with two homers, five RBI and seven walks in seven games. Young is always going to strike out a bunch, hindering his ability to hit for average. However, he will walk more than he did last season and post reasonable OBPs. With his power and speed, he's capable of hitting practically anywhere in the lineup. Fortunately, the Diamondbacks like him up in the order. It limits his ability to drive in runs, but it gives him more at-bats and additional chances to steal bases. Maybe he'll fall a couple of homers short this time, but expect another run at a 30-30 season. With his average likely to climb to the .250-.260 range, he should be a legitimate $25 player.

Hache Man

"Seven Days Without Gambling Makes One Weak"
Re: Fantasy Baseball News 2007

Free Agent Pitchers
Here's the first of two columns looking at this winter's free-agent class. Basically, I'm revising the columns that were first posted in August. The predictions from then are carried over here and then altered if I have a different guess now. The pitchers are presented this week, with the column focusing on hitters due next Monday.

Starting Pitchers

Roger Clemens (Yankees) - Aug. Prediction: Retirement

With elbow and hamstring injuries taking a toll, Clemens could muster only a 6-6 record and a 4.18 ERA in 99 innings for the Yankees. He made just one start over the final 27 days of the regular season, and he had to be pulled from his postseason outing in the third inning because of his hammy. He wouldn't have pitched in the ALCS had the Yankees advanced, and there's a good chance he would have missed the World Series. Since he can only have so much confidence about how his elbow would hold up for another year, Clemens might finally decide to call it quits at age 45. If he wants to go for it one more time, a return to the NL and Houston would be a possibility.

Prediction: Retirement

Andy Pettitte (Yankees) - Aug. Prediction: Exercises player option

Pettitte is again talking about retirement at age 35, but odds are that he'll continue his career and he said last week that he'd stay with the Yankees if he came back. The Astros were expected to make a run at him, and the Dodgers also figured to see if he was interested in following Joe Torre to Los Angeles. By the time he's ready to make it official, Pettitte's $16 million player option may have expired. Still, it shouldn't be difficult for him to work something out with the Bombers. $16 million is an appropriate figure after he avoided elbow problems throughout last season.

Prediction: Yankees - one year, $16 million

Curt Schilling (Red Sox) - Aug. Prediction: Red Sox - one year, $13 million

Schilling still wants to return to Boston, and his request for a one-year, $13 million contract is as reasonable of a demand as any free agent will make this winter. I just don't see why Red Sox are hesitating to give it to him. Schilling had a 2.79 ERA in his final six regular-season starts and then went 3-0 with a 3.00 ERA in the postseason. No, his stuff isn't what it once was and he does better when he gets the extra day off. However, one year minimizes the risk and allows for a run at Johan Santana, C.C. Sabathia or Ben Sheets next winter. As much money as the Red Sox have, it'd be foolish to go into next season with only Julian Tavarez as protection against an injury to one of their top five starters. One can argue that Schilling is no better of a bet than Clay Buchholz, who would likely be bumped back to Triple-A to make room for the 41-year-old, and I wouldn't necessarily disagree. However, stockpiling depth has been a priority in Boston during the Theo Epstein era and I don't see why that'd change now. If Boston passes, my guess is that Schilling would join the Mets or the Phillies.

Prediction: Red Sox - one year, $13 million

Carlos Silva (Twins) - Aug. Prediction: Reds - four years, $32 million

A disaster when the league hit .324 against him in 2006, Silva rebounded with his third quality season in the last four in 2007. With youth and durability on his side, he might get the biggest contract of any starting pitcher this winter, even if his average salary won't match up. Silva is viewed as a big groundball guy, though he's truly only a little above average when it comes to preventing flyballs. He's also had one of the weakest strikeout rates of any right-hander in the game. The potential is there for him to be a major bust.

Prediction: Phillies - four years, $42 million

Kyle Lohse (Phillies) - Aug. Prediction: Phillies - three years, $21 million

This one should be fascinating. Lohse finished with a 5.83 ERA in 2006 and a 4.62 mark in the NL last season. He's career-best ERA was a 4.18 mark, and his high strikeout total was 130. He has a career 4.82 ERA and a 1.43 WHIP. In days not all that long ago, something like $6 million-$8 million over two years seemingly would have been fitting for such an obvious fourth starter. However, Lohse is the second youngest healthy pitcher on the market behind Silva, he's durable and he's always had pretty good raw stuff. He's the closest thing to Gil Meche available this winter, and there's a good chance he'll get at least $10 million per year as a result. It just remains to be seen whether some team will go crazy and offer him $55 million for five years or if he has to settle for something more reasonable, like $30 million for three years.

Prediction: Dodgers - three years, $33 million

Bartolo Colon (Angels) - Aug. Prediction: Mets - two years, $26 million

Colon was able to make a sooner-than-expected return from shoulder surgery in April, and he started 5-0 with 3.69 ERA in his first six starts. Too bad it was all downhill from there. Colon made just two starts after July 23 due to elbow woes, and an appearance out of the pen against the A's during the final weekend of the season didn't convince the Angels to carry him as a reliever in the ALDS. Colon is almost certainly done in Anaheim, and it's likely that he'll accept a one-year deal elsewhere as he tries to rebuild his value. Odds are that he'll still be pricy enough to rule out most of the small-market teams. The Yankees, Mets, Cubs, Red Sox, Astros, Mariners, Phillies, Giants and Dodgers could be in the running.

Prediction: Astros - one year, $11 million

Hiroki Kuroda (Japan) - No Prediction

Koji Uehara and Kenshin Kawakami failed to qualify for free agency, so Kuroda is clearly the top Japanese starter available. Kuroda had a 1.85 ERA in 2006 and was a free agent then, but he chose to stay in Japan despite strong an offer from the Cubs and some interest from the Indians. In 2007, the 32-year-old went 12-8 with a 3.56 ERA, 176 H and 123/42 K/BB in 179 2/3 IP. Kuroda throws in the low-90s and uses a slider and a forkball/changeup. Plus command could make him a No. 4 starter, even if he has a below average strikeout rate. A three-year deal appears likely, and the Mariners and Cubs are expected to pursue him.

Prediction: Mariners - three years, $27 million

Jason Jennings (Astros) - Aug. Prediction: Yankees - one year, $7 million plus incentives

It's not a lock, but Jennings should be ready for Opening Day after Aug. 31 surgery to repair a torn flexor tendon in his elbow. Andy Pettitte had the same surgery on Aug. 24, 2004 and was ready to go the following spring. Jennings might have gotten at least $60 million for five years had his first season in Houston matched his last Colorado. As is, he may prefer to take a one-year deal to rebuild his value, though as little quality starting pitching as there is available, he could likely get two or three years if he wants.

Prediction: Rangers - one year, $8 million plus incentives

Kenny Rogers (Tigers) - Aug. Prediction: Tigers - one year, $10 million

Rogers was out until late June after surgery to remove a blood clot in his shoulder and then missed six weeks in the second half with a sore elbow. When healthy, he allowed two runs or fewer in six of his 11 starts. Well before Pettitte made a similar statement, Rogers said he'd play in Detroit next year or retire. Assuming that he's willing to take a one-year contract, he should be back in the Tigers' rotation. The $8 million he made each of his last two seasons could be what he shoots for now.

Prediction: Tigers - one year, $8 million

Jeff Weaver (Mariners) - Aug. Prediction: Nationals - three years, $24 million

The prediction of a three-year deal came immediately after Weaver won four in a row to start the month of August. He went 1-3 with an 8.47 ERA in seven starts to finish the year. Weaver needs to head back to the National League. He still has durability on his side, and he had 14 wins and a 1.17 WHIP in his last full year in the Senior Circuit (2005). The Cardinals might have some interest in bringing him back, and I can also see the Padres and Nationals in the mix.

Prediction: Cardinals - two years, $15 million

Tom Glavine (Mets) - Aug. Prediction: Exercises player option

Until losing his last two starts as part of the Mets' historic collapse, Glavine had an ERA under 4.00 in age 41-season. Only eight pitchers in either league had more quality starts than his 23. With the way things soured in the end, Glavine won't be returning to New York for a sixth season. Everyone is assuming he'll return home to Atlanta, though the Cardinals and Nationals could also make bids for his services. He'll want to make up most of the $10 million he gave up when he declined his player option to stay in New York, but he will likely take a competitive offer from the Braves, even if he can get an extra million or two elsewhere.

Prediction: Braves - one year, $7 million

Livan Hernandez (Diamondbacks) - Aug. Prediction: Cardinals - two years, $13 million

Amongst other things, Hernandez can still eat a ton of innings. though the quality of those frames decreases by the year. He managed only 90 strikeouts while giving up 247 hits, 34 homers and 79 walks in 204 1/3 innings last season. Still, he beat the Cubs in the NLDS and then held his own in a loss to the Rockies. There are a lot of contenders that figure they could do worse at the back of their rotations. Count on him to stay in the NL, perhaps with the Cardinals, Astros, Reds or Mets.

Prediction: Mets - two years, $13 million

Jon Lieber (Phillies) - Aug. Prediction: Padres - two years, $12 million

Lieber was knocked out for the season by a ruptured tendon suffered June 20. He's become increasingly hittable with age, and it might be that he's no longer capable of succeeding in the AL. Still, he could be a valuable 190-inning guy in the NL, especially for a team in a big ballpark. In fact, he might be the closest thing there is to a bargain this winter.

Prediction: Padres - two years, $12 million

Josh Fogg (Rockies) - No Prediction

Here's another test for the market. Fogg is durable, and he suddenly has a reputation as a big-game pitcher based on the fact that he picked up wins against a few aces in 2007. He even had FOX saying that he had a Hall-of-Fame heart. What he also has is a career 4.90 ERA. Even before he got into Coors, he had posted ERAs of 5.26, 4.64 and 5.05 in his last three years in Pittsburgh. He only has one season of 180 innings, 100 strikeouts or a WHIP under 1.45 (2002). The Rockies' run will guarantee that he receives a multiyear contract as a free agent. $21 million for three years might even be possible, but I won't be that bold. He's strictly a fifth starter.

Prediction: Reds - two years, $10 million

Randy Wolf (Dodgers) - No Prediction

All the way back from Tommy John surgery, Wolf had a 3.41 ERA through the first two months of last season. Too bad it didn't last because of a sore shoulder. Wolf went on the DL on July 4 and wasn't able to make it back, though exploratory surgery in September found nothing major. Wolf turned down multiyear contracts to head home to California a year ago, thinking he'd cash in with a big payday if he turned in a strong year. Now he'll likely be forced to accept a one-year deal, though there should be enough demand that he could make plenty through incentives.

Prediction: Angels - one year, $5 million plus incentives

Freddy Garcia (Phillies) - Aug. Prediction: Rangers - one year, $9 million

Garcia underwent surgery for a torn labrum not long after the above prediction was made. He's likely to miss half of the season, so a $9 million guarantee is pretty unlikely. An incentive-laden one-year contract figures to be on the horizon.

Prediction: Tigers - one year, $4 million with 2009 option

Matt Clement (Red Sox) - Aug. Prediction: Blue Jays - one year, $5 million plus incentives

A year removed from surgery to repair tears in his labrum and rotator cuff, Clement felt ready to pitch in games during the final month of 2007. However, the Red Sox didn't think they could afford to activate him. Clement will almost certainly head elsewhere in an attempt to reclaim his career. The Angels, Blue Jays and Diamondbacks were among the teams interested in him last time around and might be again. The Mariners, Rangers and Padres are other clubs that could look to gamble.

Prediction: Padres - one year, $4 million plus incentives

Kris Benson (Orioles) - No Prediction

Benson is done in Baltimore after missing 2007 following surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff and having his $7.5 million option for 2008 declined. Expectations are that he'll be ready to pitch in spring training, but there's no guarantee that he'll make a full recovery. His velocity was already well down from where he was when he came out of college 11 years ago, and if he loses much more, it's possible that he won't be able to survive in a major league rotation. There are better gambles out there.

Prediction: White Sox - one year, $4 million plus incentives

Kip Wells (Cardinals) - Aug. Prediction: Rockies - two years, $9 million

Wells was able to put together a run of quality starts in the month after the break last season, but a weak finish followed and he was booted out of the rotation for a second time in mid-September. He ended up with the next-to-worst ERA and WHIP among qualifiers in the NL. As a result, he'll likely have to settle for another one-year deal this winter, probably for something around the $4 million he made last season. The Cardinals shouldn't have any interest in bringing him back.

Prediction: Marlins - one year, $3 million

David Wells (Dodgers) - No Prediction

Wells' agent says the big left-hander wants to return for his age-45 season, though the money won't be there like it has been in the past. Odds are that Wells will stay on or near the West Coast. The Dodgers, Giants, A's, Diamondbacks and Rockies could be in the running.

Prediction: Athletics - one year, $3 million plus incentives

Other free agents: Shawn Chacon (Pirates), Steve Trachsel (Cubs), Brett Tomko (Padres), Odalis Perez (Royals), Mike Maroth (Cardinals), Tony Armas Jr. (Pirates), Rodrigo Lopez (Rockies), Eric Milton (Reds), Byung-Hyun Kim (Marlins), Joe Kennedy (Blue Jays), Wade Miller (FA), Jaret Wright (Orioles), Casey Fossum (FA), Victor Zambrano (Orioles), Brian Lawrence (Mets), John Thomson (Royals), Ramon Ortiz (Rockies), Mark Redman (Rockies), Tomo Ohka (FA), Jamey Wright (Rangers), Scott Elarton (Indians), Sidney Ponson (FA), Jae Seo (Minor FA - Rays), Chan Ho Park (FA), Russ Ortiz (Giants), Jerome Williams (Minor FA - Twins), Dave Williams (Minor FA - Mets), Shawn Estes (Padres), Glendon Rusch (FA), Joe Mays (FA), Bruce Chen (FA), Zach Day (Minor FA - Royals), Brandon Claussen (Minor FA - Nationals), Elizardo Ramirez (Minor FA - Reds), Mike Bacsik (Minor FA - Nationals), Jason Simontacchi (Minor FA - Nationals), Mike Thompson (Minor FA - Padres), Mike Hinckley (Minor FA - Nationals), Dewon Brazelton (Minor FA - Pirates), Justin Lehr (Minor FA - Mariners), Ben Hendrickson (Minor FA - Royals), Jesse Foppert (Minor FA - Giants)

Chacon is the one pitcher here with a realistic chance of getting a multiyear deal, but that he wants to start, rather than pitch out of the pen, could limit his number of suitors. As a fifth starter, he's no better of a bet than Trachsel, Perez or Maroth. … Rodrigo Lopez and Russ Ortiz could miss the entire season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Lopez has the better chance of returning for the final two months.

Greg Maddux (Padres) - $11 million club option, $8.75 player option
Paul Byrd (Indians) - $8 million club option, $250,000 buyout

Maddux fell two innings short of having his player option be worth $10 million, rather than $8.75 million. That could throw a wrench into his returning to San Diego if the Padres decline their option. Still, something figures to be worked out. If not, perhaps he'll rejoin the Dodgers. … It seemed to be a given that Byrd's option would be exercised before he was linked to hGH. The Indians still could exercise it and trade him for a prospect if they don't want him back.

Trade candidates: Johan Santana (Twins - Limited NTC), C.C. Sabathia (Indians), Roy Oswalt (Astros - NTC), Dontrelle Willis (Marlins), Bronson Arroyo (Reds), Jon Garland (White Sox), Aaron Cook (Rockies), Rich Harden (Athletics), Joe Blanton (Athletics), A.J. Burnett (Blue Jays), Noah Lowry (Giants), Cliff Lee (Indians), Nate Robertson (Tigers), Daniel Cabrera (Orioles), Chris Capuano (Brewers), Zach Duke (Pirates), Mike Pelfrey (Mets), Scott Olsen (Marlins), Ervin Santana (Angels), Jeremy Sowers (Indians), Anthony Reyes (Cardinals), Edinson Volquez (Rangers), Dave Bush (Brewers), Chad Gaudin (Athletics), Clay Hensley (Padres), Philip Humber (Mets), Matt Morris (Pirates), Jose Contreras (White Sox), Esteban Loaiza (Dodgers), Kei Igawa (Yankees), Julian Tavarez (Red Sox), Robinson Tejeda (Rangers), Dustin Nippert (Diamondbacks), Ryan Feierabend (Mariners), Tyler Clippard (Yankees), Claudio Vargas (Brewers), Gustavo Chacin (Blue Jays), Mark Hendrickson (Dodgers), Mike Maroth (Cardinals), Dustin Moseley (Angels), Zach Jackson (Brewers), Edgar Gonzalez (Diamondbacks), Heath Phillips (White Sox)

Non-tender candidates: Mark Prior (Cubs), John Patterson (Nationals), Horacio Ramirez (Mariners), Mark Hendrickson (Dodgers), Josh Towers (Blue Jays), Matt Belisle (Reds), Tim Redding (Nationals), Luke Hudson (Royals)

Prior has earned $7.25 million for nine awful starts in 2006 and then a lost season in 2007. The Cubs may not want to spend another $3 million-$3.5 million to see if he can come back from shoulder surgery next year. Another large-market team would surely take a flier. … Patterson's second surgery in September on a nerve in his elbow went well, so the Nationals figure to spend the $1 million or so it will take to keep him in 2008. … Ramirez, Hendrickson and Towers should all be goners, though their teams could look to trade them first. Hendrickson is the only one that I can see having a little value in a deal.

Top 2008-09 free agents: Johan Santana (Twins), Jake Peavy (Padres)*, C.C. Sabathia (Indians), Ben Sheets (Brewers), Brad Penny (Dodgers)*, John Smoltz (Braves)*, Derek Lowe (Dodgers), Kazumi Saitoh (Japan), Kenshin Kawakami (Japan), Koji Uehara (Japan), Jon Garland (White Sox), Aaron Cook (Rockies), A.J. Burnett (Blue Jays)*, Oliver Perez (Mets), Pedro Martinez (Mets), Mark Mulder (Cardinals)*, Mike Mussina (Yankees), Orlando Hernandez (Mets), Randy Johnson (Diamondbacks), Tim Wakefield (Red Sox)*, Mark Prior (Cubs), Mike Hampton (Braves)*, Braden Looper (Cardinals), Matt Morris (Pirates)*, Esteban Loaiza (Athletics)*, Horacio Ramirez (Mariners), Woody Williams (Astros)*, Carl Pavano (Yankees)*, Jamie Moyer (Phillies), Julian Tavarez (Red Sox), Mark Hendrickson (Dodgers)

2009 options: Peavy - $8 million-$11 million ($500,000 buyout), Penny - $8.75 million ($2 million buyout), Smoltz - $12 million (vests with 200 IP in 2008), Burnett - Opt out clause (owed $24 million in 2009-10), Mulder - $11 million ($1.5 million buyout), Wakefield ($4 million), Hampton - $20 million option ($6 million buyout), Morris - $9 million ($1 million buyout), Loaiza - $7.5 million ($375,000 buyout), Williams - $6.75 million ($250,000 buyout), Pavano - $13 million club option ($1.95 million buyout)

Top 2009-10 free agents: Brandon Webb (Diamondbacks)*, Josh Beckett (Red Sox)*, Erik Bedard (Orioles), John Lackey (Angels)*, Tim Hudson (Braves)*, Dontrelle Willis (Marlins), Rich Harden (Athletics), Kelvim Escobar (Angels), Jason Schmidt (Dodgers), Chris Capuano (Brewers), Cliff Lee (Indians)*, Nate Robertson (Tigers), John Patterson (Nationals), Jarrod Washburn (Mariners), Vicente Padilla (Rangers)*, Jason Marquis (Cubs), Jose Contreras (White Sox), Adam Eaton (Phillies)*, Miguel Batista (Mariners), Joel Pineiro (Cardinals), Brandon Backe (Astros), Claudio Vargas (Brewers), Josh Towers (Blue Jays)
2010 options: Webb - $8.5 million ($1 million buyout), Beckett - $12 million ($2 million buyout), Lackey - $9 million ($500,000 buyout), Hudson - $12 million mutual ($1 million buyout), Lee - $8 million ($1 million buyout), Padilla - $12 million ($1.75 million buyout), Eaton - $9 million mutual option ($500,000 buyout)

Hache Man

"Seven Days Without Gambling Makes One Weak"
Re: Fantasy Baseball News 2007

Free Agent Pitchers (Page 2)
Relief Pitchers

Mariano Rivera (Yankees) - Aug. Prediction: Yankees - two years, $25 million

With Alex Rodriguez apparently gone, it's especially hard to imagine the Yankees letting either Rivera or Jorge Posada get away. It will take an extra year in both cases, but even if the deals go sour, they would hardly cripple the Yankees in 2010.

Prediction: Yankees - three years, $40 million

Francisco Cordero (Brewers) - Aug. Prediction: Giants - four years, $36 million

Cordero ended up blowing seven saves last season after opening the year 21-for-21. Still, he's been a pretty terrific pitcher since joining the Brewers in a trade with the Rangers in 2006, amassing a 2.60 ERA and 116 strikeouts in 90 innings. With no hint of arm troubles lately, he should be in line for a four-year deal worth at least $9 million-$10 million per year. The Brewers will make a bid to keep him, and the Giants, Orioles, Tigers, Phillies, Cubs and Reds could also be in the mix. Since they have no real need in the rotation and seemingly little desire to upgrade in center field, the Brewers' chances of keeping him appear better than ever.

Prediction: Brewers - four years, $40 million

Scott Linebrink (Brewers) - Aug. Prediction: Yankees - four years, $20 million

As far as landing a closing gig, Linebrink appeared to be in better position entering the season. Still, even with his performance tailing off last season after 3 ? years of outstanding setup work, he's due for one of the best contracts among free agent relievers. The four-year, $18 million contract Justin Speier received a year ago figures to be the starting point in negotiations. Possible suitors include the Yankees, Tigers, Red Sox, Cubs, Mariners and Mets. If Linebrink wants to close, he could probably do so with the Orioles, Reds or maybe the Braves. The Brewers figure to let him go and capitalize on the two draft picks he'll bring.

Prediction: Yankees - four years, $24 million

Todd Jones (Tigers) - Aug. Prediction: Braves - one year, $6 million

Jones appeared likely to depart Detroit at season's end, but the team will certainly have renewed interest now that Joel Zumaya (shoulder) is likely to miss at least two or three months to start 2008. If Jones still exits, it will probably be to pitch somewhere closer to home in Alabama. Atlanta would be ideal for him, and if he's not looking to break the bank, the Braves could sign him to close and keep Rafael Soriano in a setup role.

Prediction: Tigers - one year, $6 million

Jeremy Affeldt (Rockies) - Aug. Prediction: Cubs - three years, $12 million

Affeldt finally found his niche in his first full year in Colorado. Kind of. The Rockies often used him as a specialist, but he actually held righties to a .211 average, while lefties were at .250. Affeldt wasn't quite as effective in the second half, but he did bounce back nicely in the postseason, allowing one run and three hits in 5 1/3 innings. Just 28, he's obviously in line for a multiyear deal, and it's hard to imagine the Rockies keeping him unless they reverse course and trade Brian Fuentes. A four-year deal is possible.

Prediction: Yankees - three years, $17 million

Octavio Dotel (Braves) - Aug. Prediction: Indians - three years, $18 million

Dotel's $5.5 million option still hasn't been declined, but the Braves don't want to pick it up and it looks like he'd opt out of it and go after a multiyear deal elsewhere anyway. Dotel was out until late May with a strained oblique and he missed six weeks after the trade from the Royals with a strained right shoulder, but he managed to fan 41 batters in 30 2/3 innings when healthy. Many large-market teams will be interested in him as a setup man, while some lesser clubs may want him to close. A three-year deal would be appropriate.

Prediction: Mets - three years, $16.5 million

Eric Gagne (Red Sox) - Aug. Prediction: Orioles - one year, $10 million

No one's value plummeted like Gagne's over the last two months of the season. He allowed 14 runs and 26 hits in 18 2/3 innings after arriving in Boston, and the one time the Red Sox let him appear in a close game during the postseason, he took the loss. The bizarre thing is that Gagne was throwing in the low-90s the whole time. He just couldn't spot his fastball or get his changeup down, suggesting that he might have been injured regardless of how hard he was throwing. That the velocity was there means several teams will consider gambling on him this winter. However, it'd be difficult for a contender to sign him as a closer. A return to Texas is one possibility. Baltimore, Detroit and Cincinnati also could pursue him. The only way he returns to Boston is if he's offered arbitration and accepts it.

Prediction: Rangers - one year, $5 million plus incentives

Hitoki Iwase (Japan) - Aug. Prediction: Red Sox - four years, $20 million

Iwase, a 33-year-old left-hander, had 129 saves, a 1.89 ERA and a 146/25 K/BB ratio in 171 2/3 innings for the Chunichi Dragons over the last three seasons. He capped his 2007 season by throwing the ninth inning in the Dragons' perfect game to conclude the Japan Series against the Nippon Ham Fighters. Iwase throws in the high-80s and shows a plus slider. His deceptive motion should help him succeed in the majors as a quality setup man.

Prediction: Red Sox - four years, $20 million

Luis Vizcaino (Yankees) - Aug. Prediction: Tigers - three years, $16.5 million

Vizcaino had a rocky first season in pinstripes. He had a 7.27 ERA through two months, but he went on to post a 1.31 mark in 41 1/3 innings from June through the end of August. A poor September followed, and after he took the loss in Game 2 against the Indians in the ALDS, Joe Torre showed no desire to use him again. That poor ending will probably cause the Yankees to look elsewhere this winter. However, Vizcaino should have plenty of suitors after averaging 70 innings with sub-4.00 ERA over the last four years. Like Cordero and Linebrink, he's a candidate for a four-year deal.

Prediction: White Sox - three years, $15 million

Masahide Kobayashi (Japan) - No Prediction

The top right-handed Japanese reliever available, Kobayashi, 33, has saved 227 games in his homeland and posted a 2.95 ERA and a 116/29 K/BB ratio in 146 1/3 innings over the last three seasons. His low-90s fastball and low-80s forkball/splitter should make him an eighth-inning guy or possibly a closer in the U.S., though it may be tough for him to hold up if put on 70-inning pace (in seven years as a reliever, he's never topped 60 innings). The same teams after Linebrink should be interested in bringing him in.

Prediction: Mariners - three years, $15 million

David Riske (Royals) - $2.85 million club option, $250,000 buyout

Riske, one of the game's most underrated relievers the last few years, will finally get some recognition this winter after declining to exercise his player option to stick around in Kansas City. With a 2.45 ERA in 69 2/3 innings last season and little history of arm troubles, he should be in line for a three-year deal. Perhaps no club will look at him as a closer, but that shouldn't have much of an impact on his market.

Prediction: Phillies - three years, $13.5 million

Kerry Wood (Cubs) - Aug. Prediction: Cubs - one year, $2 million plus incentives

Wood was contemplating another shoulder surgery when his arm finally came around in July. After making it back in early August, he allowed runs in just four of 22 appearances. In his last eight outings, he allowed three hits and fanned 13 in 9 2/3 scoreless innings. He even pitched in both games of a doubleheader on Sept. 15. If Wood has given up on the idea of moving back into the rotation next season, there are a lot of teams that would love to gamble on him. He'll probably stick with the Cubs if the team makes a fair offer, but don't be surprised to see the Yankees and Red Sox involved.

Prediction: Cubs - one year, $4 million plus incentives

J.C. Romero (Phillies) - No Predicion

Being a bust for Boston didn't prevent Joel Pineiro from getting $13 million for two years. Romero is also in line for a multiyear deal after allowing just five runs and 15 hits in 36 1/3 innings for the Phillies. He's no worse of a bet than Scott Schoeneweis, who got $10.8 million for three years from the Mets last winter.

Prediction: Phillies - three years, $12 million

Jorge Julio (Rockies) - Aug. Prediction: Rockies - two years, $8 million

Julio pitched quite well for Colorado after self destructing as a closer in Florida, amassing a 3.93 ERA and a 50/20 K/BB ratio in 52 2/3 innings. However, he was very nearly the goat after allowing two runs without getting an out in the 13th inning of game No. 163 against the Padres. He ended up being left off the postseason roster because of a sore neck. It appears less likely now that the Rockies will ante up to re-sign him. He still might get a two-year deal to pitch in middle relief elsewhere, though that he's viewed as being better in low-pressure situations could keep large-market teams away.

Prediction: Giants - two years, $8 million

LaTroy Hawkins (Rockies) - No Prediction

After coming back from a sore elbow in late May, Hawkins had a 2.63 ERA in his last 48 innings. He was also effective in the postseason, allowing one run and two hits in five innings. Still, the Rockies passed on a chance to keep him when they declined their half of a $3.75 million mutual option. Hawkins says he'd still like to pitch in Colorado, but he might land a two-year contract elsewhere.

Prediction: Athletics - two years, $7.5 million

Yasuhiko Yabuta (Japan) - No Prediction

Kobayashi's setup man on the Chibe Lotte Mariners is believed to be of particular interest to the White Sox. Yabuta, 34, has a 2.80 ERA and a 147/49 K/BB ratio in 174 1/3 innings the last three years. The hardest thrower of the free-agent relievers, Yabuta should be the second or third man in a major league pen, if his command holds up. However, it's no sure thing that he'll cross the Pacific. The Marines could entice him to stay by making him their closer if Kobayashi leaves.

Prediction: White Sox - three years, $9 million

Bob Wickman (Diamondbacks) - Aug. Prediction: Retirement

Wickman was effective in a complementary role for the Diamondbacks after the Braves cut him, allowing two runs -- one earned -- in 6 2/3 innings. A closing gig still could be a possibility for the soon-to-be 39-year-old if he wants to continue his career. However, he's spoken of retirement before and might be ready to call it quits.

Prediction: Brewers - one year, $3 million

Armando Benitez (Marlins) - Aug. Prediction: Nationals - one year, $3 million

Benitez ended up pitching far worse in Florida than he ever did in San Francisco, giving up 28 runs -- 21 earned -- in 33 innings. He still managed 57 strikeouts in 50 1/3 innings for the season, so it's not like his arm is completely shot. However, there isn't much reason to think he'll bounce back and reemerge as a quality late-game reliever.

Prediction: Reds - one year, $2.5 million

Eddie Guardado (Reds) - No prediction

Guardado got off to an abysmal start after returning from Tommy John surgery, but by pitching seven scoreless innings and allowing just two hits during September, he gave some reason for optimism that he could be effective next year. He's still probably through as a closer.

Prediction: Cardinals - one year, $2 million

Kazuo Fukumori (Japan) - No Prediction

While I've heard nothing definitive, I think Fukumori is less likely to jump to MLB than the three other Japanese relievers on this list. The 31-year-old closer is coming off a poor season (4.75 ERA) and he had some elbow issues that figure to take an additional toll on his value. The Rays are reportedly interested in him, but even if he wants to switch leagues, he may figure he's better off doing so in a year or two.

Prediction: Remains in Japan

Other free agents: Mike Timlin (Red Sox), Keith Foulke (FA), Trever Miller (Astros), Matt Herges (Rockies), Antonio Alfonseca (Phillies), Troy Percival (Cardinals), Ron Mahay (Braves), Ron Villone (Yankees), Rudy Seanez (Dodgers), Doug Brocail (Padres), Jose Mesa (Phillies), Elmer Dessens (Rockies), Mike Myers (White Sox), Ray King (Brewers), Hector Carrasco (Nationals), Roberto Hernandez (Dodgers), Scott Williamson (FA), Chris Reitsma (Mariners), Arthur Rhodes (Mariners), Chad Paronto (Braves), Cliff Politte (Indians), Tanyon Sturtze (Braves), Tom Martin (FA), Jay Witasick (Devil Rays), Dan Kolb (Pirates), Mike Wood (Rangers), Paul Shuey (Orioles), Rheal Cormier (Braves), Kirk Saarloos (Reds), Ricardo Rincon (Giants), Aaron Sele (Mets), Mike DeJean (Rockies), Shawn Camp (Devil Rays), Rick White (Mariners), Jim Brower (Yankees), Scott Sauerbeck (Blue Jays), Ryan Bukvich (Minor FA - White Sox), Todd Williams (Minor FA - Rockies), Brian Moehler (Astros), Travis Hughes (Minor FA - Red Sox), Rob Bell (Orioles), John Wasdin (Pirates), Scott Patterson (Minor FA - Yankees), Ron Flores (Minor FA - Athletics), Erasmo Ramirez (Minor FA - Marlins), Nate Field (Minor FA - Marlins), Jon Adkins (Minor FA - Mets), Aaron Rakers (Minor FA - Padres), Sendy Rleal (Minor FA - Orioles), Eude Brito (Minor FA - Phillies), Steve Andrade (Minor FA - Devil Rays), Mike Koplove (Minor FA - Indians), Buddy Hernandez (Minor FA - Braves), Wes Obermueller (Minor FA - Marlins), Jim Ed Warden (Minor FA - Indians), Steven Shell (Minor FA - Angels)

Timlin figures to be invited back to Boston for his age-42 season after an excellent second half and a strong postseason. A one-year deal worth $3.5 million should be sufficient. ? Foulke wants to attempt a comeback following elbow surgery and should get an incentive-laden one-year deal. He might be a candidate to close for the Reds. ? Miller and Mahay are probably in line for multiyear deals. Miller had a 4.86 ERA last season, but lefties hit just .209 off the 34-year-old. ? It will be interesting to see what happens with Herges after his remarkable second half and October for the Rockies. A two-year deal is likely, and if it's not with the Rockies, it may be that he'll rejoin the Giants for a second tour.

Joe Borowski (Indians) - $4 million club option, $250,000 buyout
Scott Eyre (Cubs) - $3.8 million player option
Al Reyes (Devil Rays) - $2 million club option
Aaron Fultz (Indians) - $1.5 million club option, $150,000 buyout

Borowski and Reyes still figure to have their options picked up, even if official decisions haven't come down yet. I'm also guessing Fultz remains with the Indians, though Eric Wedge was oddly afraid to go to him in the postseason. ? Eyre's player option is the bigger question mark. A few months ago, it appeared obvious that he'd have to exercise it. However, after seeing his ERA go from 6.60 before the break to 0.81 afterwards, he might be in line for another two- or three-year deal.

Trade candidates: Chad Cordero (Nationals), Brad Lidge (Astros), Brian Fuentes (Rockies), Akinori Otsuka (Rangers), Ryan Dempster (Cubs), Al Reyes (Devil Rays), Tony Pena (Diamondbacks), Jon Rauch (Nationals), Aaron Heilman (Mets), Zack Greinke (Royals), David Weathers (Reds), Dan Wheeler (Devil Rays), Chad Qualls (Astros), Mike MacDougal (White Sox), Derrick Turnbow (Brewers), Damaso Marte (Pirates), Juan Rincon (Twins), Kyle Farnsworth (Yankees), Jason Frasor (Blue Jays), Craig Hansen (Red Sox), Taylor Tankersley (Marlins), Brandon Lyon (Diamondbacks), Angel Guzman (Cubs), Salomon Torres (Pirates), Juan Cruz (Diamondbacks), Matt Wise (Brewers), Jimmy Gobble (Royals), Brian Bruney (Yankees), Andrew Sisco (White Sox), David Aardsma (White Sox), Nick Masset (White Sox), Todd Coffey (Reds), Kiko Calero (Athletics), Neal Cotts (Cubs), Will Ohman (Cubs), Kyle Snyder (Red Sox), Steve Kline (Giants), Sean Henn (Yankees), Lance Cormier (Braves), Brian Stokes (Devil Rays)

Non-tender candidates: Akinori Otsuka (Rangers), Brendan Donnelly (Red Sox), Jorge Sosa (Mets), Neal Cotts (Cubs), Julio Mateo (Phillies), Seth McClung (Brewers), Wilfredo Ledezma (Padres), Tyler Walker (Giants), Matt Miller (Indians), Brandon Duckworth (Royals), John Parrish (Mariners), Greg Aquino (Brewers), Grant Balfour (Devil Rays), Gary Glover (Devil Rays), Micah Bowie (Nationals), Billy Traber (Nationals), Dave Borkowski (Astros), Jason Grilli (Tigers), Ryan Wagner (Nationals), Joe Nelson (Royals), Juan Padilla (Mets), D.J. Houlton (Dodgers), Clay Condrey (Phillies), Kelvin Jimenez (Cardinals), Scott Dohmann (Devil Rays), Jon Switzer (Devil Rays), Chris Seddon (Marlins)

The Rangers would non-tender Otsuka if they believed his elbow troubles would prevent him from contributing in 2008. A decision probably won't come until December. ? Donnelly will miss at least the first half of the season following Tommy John surgery. ? The Phillies opted to trade for Mateo after the Mariners banished him following his domestic-violence arrest in May, but they never did give him a callup. He could be a real bargain this winter.

Top 2008-09 free agents: Francisco Rodriguez (Angels), Joe Nathan (Twins), Brad Lidge (Astros), Jason Isringhausen (Cardinals), Trevor Hoffman (Padres), Rafael Soriano (Braves), Brian Fuentes (Rockies), Ryan Dempster (Cubs), Hideki Okajima (Red Sox)*, Bobby Howry (Cubs), Dan Wheeler (Devil Rays), Brandon Lyon (Diamondbacks), Kyle Farnsworth (Yankees), Al Reyes (Devil Rays), David Weathers (Reds), Juan Rincon (Twins), Tom Gordon (Phillies)*, Damaso Marte (Pirates)*, Alan Embree (Athletics)*, Juan Cruz (Diamondbacks), Luis Ayala (Nationals), Salomon Torres (Pirates)*, Matt Wise (Brewers), Guillermo Mota (Mets), Scott Downs (Blue Jays), Jorge Sosa (Mets), Villarreal (Braves), Joe Beimel (Dodgers), Brendan Donnelly (Red Sox), Will Ohman (Cubs), Dennys Reyes (Twins), Brian Shouse (Brewers), Darren Oliver (Angels), Steve Kline (Giants), John Parrish (Mariners), Mike Stanton (Reds)*

2009 options: Okajima - $1.75 million vesting option, Gordon - $4.5 million ($1 million buyout), Marte - $6 million ($250,000 buyout), Embree - $3 million, Torres - $3.75 million ($300,000 buyout), Stanton - $2.5 million ($500,000 buyout)

Top 2009-10 free agents: J.J. Putz (Mariners)*, Billy Wagner (Mets)*, Chad Cordero (Nationals), Jose Valverde (Diamondbacks), Brett Myers (Phillies), Rafael Betancourt (Indians), Mike Gonzalez (Braves), Akinori Otsuka (Rangers), Fernando Rodney (Tigers), Derrick Turnbow (Brewers), Danys Baez (Orioles), Mike MacDougal (White Sox)*, Justin Duchscherer (Athletics), Ryan Madson (Phillies), Kevin Gregg (Marlins), Duaner Sanchez (Mets), Joaquin Benoit (Rangers), Jamie Walker (Orioles), Chad Bradford (Orioles), Ryan Franklin (Cardinals)*, John Grabow (Pirates), Kiko Calero (Athletics), Jesus Colome (Nationals), Scott Schoeneweis (Mets)

2010 options: Putz - $8.6 million ($1 million buyout), Wagner - $8 million ($1 million buyout), MacDougal - $3.75 million ($350,000 buyout), Franklin - $2.75 million ($250,000 buyout)