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Fantasy

Ten key questions for 2010

Although the pay's not great, being a fantasy expert certainly has its perks. I get to write about a game played by people who follow another game. I'm able to use the MLB Extra Innings package as a tax write-off -- at least I think I can. I should probably call my accountant. Best of all though, I've been able to meet, and befriend, many of the most important people in baseball. Whether drinking cocktails at Tony LaRussa's house, eating a steak dinner with John Kruk, or playing a heated game of Scrabble with Bud Selig, Scott Boras and Hiroki Kuroda, I've been able to make contacts at all levels of the game.

Over the winter, my new friends in baseball sought my counsel on a variety of topics. Due to legal concerns I can't divulge most of what we discussed, but in scouring old text messages and e-mails, I was able to extract 10 questions that, in a roundabout way, may just be of interest to all you fantasy enthusiasts out there.

Note to reader: Although Chris may be delusional about his standing in the baseball community -- and let's be clear, he is delusional -- there's nobody more qualified to deliver biting fantasy analysis through a series of possibly made up questions than him. Just play along.

I had the Minneapolis market cornered in the "chicks dig the long ball" department until my ex-roommate Joe Mauer went and hit 28 bombs last season. Now he thinks he's the big swinging stick in town. Can you give me something, anything, I can use to convince the ladies that Mauer's power isn't for real?"-- Justin Morneau

Unfortunately, I'm not sure I have much ammunition for you. All his ratios last year were identical to the season before, with the only significant change coming in his home run-to-fly ball ratio (HR/FB), which jumped from 3.8 in 2008 to 12.1 last season; basically indicating that instead of doubles off the wall, the 6-foot-5, 220 pound catcher is now capable of crushing homers almost at will. Sorry, Justin, Mauer's power is for real. I recently watched a buddy take him in the first round of a mock draft and all I could do afterward was nod in silent approval. Maybe you should consider buying an Ed Hardy shirt if you want to keep up with the "Minnesota Long Ball" at the bar. It seemed to work for the Jersey Shore dudes.

I'm over at Circus Circus placing a couple futures bets. I need three 20-game winners, man. Pronto. By the way, what's your favorite color, red or black?-- Pete Rose

Geez, Pete. Everyone knows you never chase wins. You realize there were zero pitchers who reached 20 wins last year don't you? You know it's the single hardest stat to predict in baseball on a yearly basis, right? Whatever. I still owe you for that time in San Juan.

The way I see it, you have to make the safest bet possible if you decide to prospect for high win totals. That eliminates pitchers with subpar offenses, major injury concerns, and volatile pasts. By my math, that leaves Roy Halladay and CC Sabathia as the only "sure" bets. As for a third, how about Adam Wainwright? He's 30-11 in his last 41 decisions, and his 233 slump-free innings in 2009 indicate he's developed into a workhorse who will stick around deep into games. Plus, the Cardinals have averaged 91.3 wins over the last 10 years. I know he was hurt two years ago, but it was a finger injury, not a shoulder/elbow thing. Wainwright may not be the sexiest beast out there, but he's a consistent hurler with a good offense and a proven track record. That works for me. Oh, and my favorite color is green.

Who do you think my brother gets traded to? I'm not really digging Tokyo, and I'd really like to know what G.M. I should start sending my résumé to.-- Edgar Gonzalez

Boston fans have been pining for an Adrian Gonzalez trade since last season. Jacoby Ellsbury is off the table for obvious reasons, but Clay Buchholz and prospects is still a viable option. The Mariners flirted with Gonzalez this winter, but thankfully didn't have the horses to pull it off. If it's not Boston, the Braves -- who are rolling with Troy Glaus at first -- and the Mets, who have David Murphy and half a bag of excrement on their depth chart, are the most likely candidates.

Whoever it is, Gonzo's sure to benefit. Of his 130 homers as a Padre, only 46 have come at spacious Petco Park. His batting average is a pedestrian .253 at home, compared to .302 on the road over the past three seasons. The only thing holding up a deal is selling the idea of trading a homegrown talent, and the team's only recognizable player, to the San Diego fans. It'll take a little work, but Gonzalez will be out of the Petco before the All-Star break. So Edgar, take solace in knowing that like Matt Holliday last year, a potentially monstrous second half is on the horizon for your younger, richer, better-looking, and more talented brother. Hopefully he'll put in a good word for you.

I was vacationing down in Venezuela this winter and happened to run into Pablo Sandoval. Well, I didn't so much run into him as I found him sticking headfirst out the top of a street vendor's hot dog cart. I know he's a great hitter and all, but did I just sign a deal to hit behind the winner of next season's "Biggest Loser?"-- Mark DeRosa

Ummm, possibly. He was listed at 245 pounds heading into last year, a laughable figure considering he topped out at over 270 by year's end. He dropped 10 pounds during a team-supervised training program in November, but then went home to Venezuela and mama's homemade cooking. Rumors of outlandish feedings and ballooning weight soon followed. According to Chris Hart of MLB.com, Sandoval appeared "a trifle thick" but not "grossly overweight" at a team banquet in January. I guess that's good news. For the record, despite the excessive flab, Sandoval still managed to hit .477 with five homers in nine Venezuelan Winter League playoff games. So to answer your question, yes, the Kung-Fu Panda could be working out with Jillian and Bob by the beginning of next season. He could also post a .330/30/100 stat line with a chicken leg in one hand and a bat in the other. So I guess you take the good with the bad. Until he hits triple-digits (on the scale), just enjoy batting behind him, Mark. Sandoval's a Top 10 corner infielder.

I was catching some batting practice with my new Rockies teammates over the winter, and this dude Ian Stewart was clobbering the ball, but every time he missed -- which was often -- the subsequent breeze would blow the catcher's mask clear off my head. I didn't want to say anything until I knew for sure, but is he Dan Uggla's cousin or something?-- Miguel Olivo

I see where you're coming from. The prodigious power, the gale force winds his whiffs produce, the second base eligibility, the black hair ... they seem identical to me. Looking deeper into their numbers, I was surprised to find that although similar in style, Stewart actually out-performs Uggla in the two things the Marlins two-bagger does best: banging out homers and whiffing balls. Stewart struck out on a ridiculous 28 percent of his plate appearances last year while bashing 5.1 percent of his opportunities over the wall. As a reference point, Uggla has a career 22.7 strikeout percentage and 4.5 homer rate.

Of course, Uggla didn't make his major league debut until he was 26 years old while Stewart already has 263 big league games under his belt at age 25. There's a chance Stewart develops into a more sophisticated hitter, but I'll be damned if his numbers don't make him look like he fell directly out of the Uggla family tree. Unfortunately, I couldn't find any legitimate familial relation between the two, and let's face it, if they were related, Stewart wouldn't have normal sized arms.

What were the Yankees thinking? Not signing me after what I did for them last year was like a knife in the back. I feel so betrayed. And this Curtis Granderson kid they got to replace me? He can't even hit lefties! You don't actually think he'll top my .282/24/82/107/12 line from last year, do you?-- Johnny Damon

First off, enjoy the knife, John. You earned it. Second, you hit a career-high 24 homers as a 35-year old playing with the benefit of a short right-field porch. Granderson hit 30 as a 28-year old playing his home games in a big boy park. You do the math. I know his .249 average last year wasn't pretty, but he posted a .280 average in '08 and it was .302 in '07. The ability is there. Many people make the case that his low average was simply a result of trying to hit more homers, a theory backed up by his rising fly ball percentage. At new Yankee Stadium, he won't have to try to hit homers, he can just stick the bat out and the infant fences will do the rest.

As to your point about lefties, yeah, Granderson's atrocious against them, and with Brett Gardner and Randy Winn in the fold, there's a chance he could be replaced at times. But c'mon Johnny, Granderson's gonna top your 2009 output in every category and you know it. Quit with the sour grapes and just be happy you're finally able to go back to the "stoned Jesus" look now that you're out of New York. Chicks loved that inebriated Messiah thing you had going.

YOU BETTER NOT SAY ANYTHING BAD ABOUT MY BOYS!!!-- Bossman Upton Sr.

That's not even a question, Bossman. And there's no need to yell. What could I possibly say bad about your boys? Sure, B.J. Upton's average fell to an Adam Dunn-esque .241 last season, and he's only hit 20 homers over his past 1,091 at-bats, but he's still the same player who batted .300 with 24 long balls as a rookie two seasons ago. As long as he can steal 40 bases for a third straight year, I'm buying on the premise that the bum shoulder/swing revamping excuses are done and he's ready to jump back to the 20 HR/.275 AVG we all know he's capable of. As for Justin Upton, I'd believe anything you told me at this point. Hit 45 homers? Sure. Steal 35 bases? Why not. A .325 average? If you say so. In that park, with that skill set and pedigree, no number is out of the realm of possibility for the youngster.

I've kind of had a rough year (stupid intern!), and the only thing I have to hold onto now -- and I mean that literally -- is the fact I gave New York the gift of David Wright. Please tell me the power's coming back. I need the power to come back.-- Steve Phillips

I feel for you, Steve, I really do. If I had a dollar for every time a RotoExperts intern drove to my house and delivered a letter detailing our sexual exploits along with an in-depth description of my privates to the wifey, I'd have, well, zero dollars. But still, I feel for you man.

As for your prized pick, last year couldn't have been more awkward for Wright. He was trying to adapt his swing to a new home park, the Mets were without the entire top half of their batting order for a majority of the season, and he suffered a concussion in early August that undoubtedly contributed to his poor finish (.245 AVG/.658 OPS after being concussed). Don't make the mistake of placing undue blame on Citi Field; Wright hit five homers at home, and five on the road. It may cost him a few here and there, but he's still a player who'll hit over .300 and steal 20 bags. With a year to figure out his new surroundings, and a hopefully healthier supporting cast -- which will alleviate the pressure on Wright -- I fully expect the 20-plus homer power to return.

How bout that pitching staff I've constructed? Best young arms in the game wouldn't you say? Please write back. Michael Lewis won't return my calls anymore and I desperately need an ego stroking.-- Billy Beane

I'll be honest with you Billy, after giving us guys like Dan Johnson, Daric Barton and Jack Hannahan over the past three years, nobody trusts your batting eye anymore. We'll just take our Kurt Suzuki and be happy. On the mound, though, you still have the heater.

Remember the Dan Haren/Rich Harden/Barry Zito/Joe Blanton rotation you rolled out in the mid-aughts? The current one could be just as good. Twenty-one-year old Brett Anderson is a top of the rotation power pitcher in the making, as illustrated by his 1.28 WHIP over 30 starts last year -- his first year above Double A, by the way -- to go along with 150 strikeouts in 175.1 innings. Dallas Braden got everyone's attention with a 3.12 first-half ERA and outstanding 0.6 home run per nine inning ratio (HR/9), while Gio Gonzalez, Vin Mazzaro, and Trevor Cahill all showed flashes of being useful. Throw in a healthy Ben Sheets and Justin Duchscherer, and you could very well have four Top 50 starting pitchers taking the hill for you. Scrub your feet Billy, your former disciples will be fighting to see who can be the first to kiss them before the years out.

Since I've already dated half the major leagues, I think it's time I turned my love attention to the titillating world of fantasy baseball. I've always wondered what the embrace of an "expert" felt like. Got any plans for Friday night?-- Alyssa Milano

Sorry, Alyssa, I already have a prior engagement with four mock drafts and a six pack of beer. Hit me up in June, maybe we can hang. You know what your desperate attempt to seduce me away from my draft prep got me thinking of though? Busts. Not human ones, either -- I'm talking about the sort of bust you can only find in the early rounds of a fantasy baseball draft. I'm talking about Ichiro Suzuki.

Ichiro posted his worst overall season in 2008, but when his average bounced back to .352 last year, thanks in part to a 27-game hitting streak, the critics quieted (his latest ADP was 39, 10th among outfielders). I'm not buying it. He struck out more frequently and walked less. His steals total dropped from 43 to 26, and his 88 runs marked the first time in his career he'd failed to top 100. Plus, he missed a smattering of games with a bleeding ulcer and a slow healing calf strain.

The guy's entire value is predicated on speed, hand-eye coordination, and durability, and at 36 years old, it's logical to think those qualities have started to diminish. I'd say we're looking at a .300/90/7/45/25 line, which basically makes Ichiro a less powerful Denard Span (whose ADP is 137 in case you were wondering). Add it all up, and I sincerely hope the girl in my league drafts Suzuki in Round Three just so I can say "nice bust" without getting slapped.

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