Eric Mack
Tuesday February 15th, 2011

Feb. 14 is one of the greatest days of the year and it has nothing to do with Cupid and his little love arrows. It is when pitchers and catchers report, a surer sign of spring than any groundhog.

This time of year we're usually re-hailing the defending champs, but there is something different about last year's World Series heroes: Few, if any, will be picking the Giants to repeat. After all, no one picked them a year ago.

But many will still be picking Giants players early and often on fantasy baseball draft day. Here is a word of warning: You shouldn't be joining those people.

The lasting images of the fall tend to lie with the winners, which also gives the laymen their basis for their drafts. We gave the word of warning last month, but postseason heroes tend to become fantasy busts -- especially with regard to pitchers. That extra month of workload took a toll, not to mention kept arms from an extra month of offseason rest.

Tim Lincecum, Brian Wilson and Matt Cain hadn't experienced that before, and the unknown is not a risk you want to take with your fantasy arms. There are already too many reasons for early round pitchers' bubbles (or elbows) to burst.

With that in mind, we slot Lincecum fifth this season among fantasy arms. Wilson is No. 1 among closers, but with a caveat: Closers at the top are a bit more jumbled and shouldn't go in Round 5 like they usually start to do on draft day. Cain will list No. 18 among starting pitchers in SI.com's rankings this month -- even if he has top-10 potential.

Shoulders and arms are intricate pieces of human tissues and machinery. They need to be conditioned for what they are asked to do. It could mean a slow start for that leading trio with the Giants, which could make them candidates to disappoint you if you pick them too early this spring.

The Giants lacked punch in their order last spring, but they found some in midseason with some surprising years and acquisitions. This looks like a team that will play a lot of low-scoring games again, but there are a lot of options for hitters who can pop those solo homers to get them leads again.

San Francisco Giants outlook

Projected lineup

1 Andres Torres CF 2 Freddy Sanchez 2B 3 Buster Posey C 4 Aubrey Huff 1B 5 Miguel Tejada SS 6 Pablo Sandoval 3B 7 Cody Ross RF 8 Pat Burrell LF

Top bench options

R Mark DeRosa UTL R Aaron Rowand OF R Nate Schierholtz OF

Projected rotation

1 Tim Lincecum RH 2 Matt Cain RH 3 Jonathan Sanchez LH 4 Madison Bumgarner LH 5 Barry Zito LH ALT Clayton Tanner LH

Top bullpen arms

CL Brian Wilson RH SU Sergio Romo RH RP Jeremy Affeldt LH RP Santiago Casilla RH RP Javier Lopez LH

Posey is going to be going early on draft day, coming off his NL ROY campaign, but it is going to be hard for the young catcher to be better -- or even as good -- then he was a year ago. It makes him more of a bust than a sleeper or a breakout.

Fellow sophomore Bumgarner, too, but pitchers can slip into the depths of a draft more than elite slugging catchers do.

The returning rotation and bullpen are very good, but the Giants' fantasy success will be predicated on how well the streaky hitters in their lineup can support that staff. DeRosa returning from a season-ending injury and Sandoval having a year closer to his 2009 form should help. Those might be the best bargains among Giants picks this spring.

Dodgers fans had to hate seeing their bitter rivals celebrate a championship, especially since their winter didn't really bear much fruit. They will still be about pitching, but one of their "bigger" offseason acquisitions was taking a middle infielder off the defending champs' roster.

Los Angeles Dodgers outlook

Projected lineup

1 Rafael Furcal SS 2 Juan Uribe 2B 3 Andre Ethier RF 4 Matt Kemp CF 5 Casey Blake 3B 6 James Loney 1B 7 Rod Barajas C 8 Jay Gibbons LF

Top bench options

R Marcus Thames OF R Tony Gwynn OF R Dioner Navarro C

Projected rotation

1 Clayton Kershaw LH 2 Chad Billingsley RH 3 Ted Lilly LH 4 Hiroki Kuroda RH 5 Jon Garland RH ALT Vicente Padilla RH

Top bullpen arms

CL Jonathan Broxton RH SU Hong-Chi Kuo LH RP Matt Guerrier RH RP Kenley Jansen RH RP Scott Elbert LH

Uribe is one of the more versatile players in fantasy and he still has pop in his bat. Let's figure he hits in front of the likes of Ethier, Kemp and Loney -- all potential prime-time stars for fantasy owners. They are more valuable than most of those in the Giants lineup and also more likely to outperform their draft positions than those postseason heroes. We haven't seen the best of that trio yet.

The only real weakness on this team is left field, where Gibbons and Thames could platoon. The rotation and bullpen could be every bit as good and deep as the Giants or anyone in the division.

The race in the NL West figures to be between the Rockies, Giants and Dodgers and it should be a good one. The Padres took a hit and figure to retool with the losses of Garland to the Dodgers and Adrian Gonzalez to the Red Sox.

The Arizona Diamondbacks had one of the worst bullpens in baseball history last season and they did improve it, even if marginally, by adding a closer and a few young arms in the Mark Reynolds deal.

Here's to the belief the D-Backs are going to miss Reynolds' thunder, even if they won't miss those swings and ... well ... misses.

Arizona Diamondbacks outlook

Projected lineup

1 Stephen Drew SS 2 Melvin Mora 3B 3 Kelly Johnson 2B 4 Justin Upton RF 5 Chris Young CF 6 Miguel Montero C 7 Brandon Allen 1B 8 Xavier Nady LF

Top bench options

R Gerardo Parra OF R Tony Abreu UTL R Juan Miranda 1B

Projected rotation

1 Daniel Hudson RH 2 Ian Kennedy RH 3 Joe Saunders LH 4 Zach Duke LH 5 Barry Enright RH ALT Armando Galarraga RH

Top bullpen arms

CL J.J. Putz RH SU Juan Gutierrez RH RP David Hernandez RH RP Sam Demel RH RP Kam Mickolio RH

Putz becomes the closer, but a young rotation might not get him a consistent number of save chances to make him a true top 15 option at the position. The setup staff is still a bit weak and unproven, too. It cannot be as bad as a year ago, though.

Mr. Imperfect Game Galarraga will actually give them some depth in the rotation, where Hudson, Kennedy, Saunders and Duke could be useful to fantasy owners that employ the Pitch-or-Ditch strategy (shuffling pitchers in and out of their lineups and on or off the waiver wire).

Save for third base or left field, the D'backs do have young or close-to-prime hitters that can take significant steps from a year ago. We likely have yet to see the best from Drew, Johnson, Upton or Montero. Allen will finally get his chance, too, and should be considered an NL-only sleeper.

The D'backs don't quite have the pitching staff the Padres have (we already took a look at them Jan. 25), so they figure to be bringing up the rear in the NL West.

• Carlos Marmol is no longer a contract year player, getting an extension Monday. It shouldn't affect his draft position too much. He probably shouldn't have been the first closer off the board in the SI.com mock draft last week (which will post as a part of our fantasy baseball preview this month).

• Albert Pujols imposed a Wednesday deadline for contract talks, but getting an Alex Rodriguez megadeal done in a matter of days figures to be a challenge. Pujols is going to play this season as the No. 1 pick in fantasy and in a contract year. It should clinch his status if it hadn't already.

• CC Sabathia seems likely to join Pujols on the free-agent market next winter, because he has an opt-out clause in his contract. That makes him our No. 3 pitcher to target on draft day behind Roy Halladay and King Felix Hernandez. The annual list of contract year players will be coming in our season preview this month as well.

• Jose Reyes isn't interested in talking contract until next winter and will be a nice contract year player as well. He certainly has a bigger year in his than the past few.

• Last year's breakthrough player of the year, Jose Bautista, is in talks for a contract year, but the Blue Jays and fantasy owners likely should make him put back-to-back years together before they price his true value. Bautista is going to be one of trickiest players to judge this spring. He slots just inside the top 40 of SI.com's pre-spring Top 300 -- somewhat hesitatingly.

• And if you are sick of contract talks, Michael Young remains the most likely to be dealt. The Rockies have been considered and the Marlins have chimed in. The Marlins might not be able to afford him, but they also might not be willing to slot Chris Coghlan at third (now almost completely out of the question) -- or Double-A prospect Matt Dominguez (far more likely, barring a Young deal).

• On the injury front ... feeling ready to go are: C Carlos Santana (knee), CLE; 2B Dustin Pedroia (foot), BOS; SP Brandon Webb (shoulder), TEX; and 3B David Freese (ankles), STL.

• On the still healing front ... questionable to be ready for opening day are: 1B Kendry Morales (ankle); 1B Justin Morneau (concussion), MIN; OF Grady Sizemore (knee), CLE; RP David Aardsma (hip), SEA; and 2B Omar Infante (abdomen), FLA.

• On the outs ... for various reasons: CL Billy Wagner (retirement), ATL; and Johan Santana (just starting tossing after shoulder surgery), NYM.

Eric Mack writes bi-weekly for SI.com. You can mock him, rip him and (doubtful) praise him before asking him for fantasy advice on Twitter @EricMackFantasy. Hit him up. He honestly has nothing better to do with his free time.

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