First Pitch: Fantasy Clicks
Brett Anderson and Trevor Cahill: Michael Zagaris/SI
The first pitch of the season is just a few days away and many of the questions that have been swirling around all offseason have finally been answered and here's a rundown of what we now know on the mound.
1. The A's are starting the season with two of baseball's top prospects, Brett Anderson and Trevor Cahill in the starting rotation. How they'll do in their first taste of the big leagues is anybody's guess and it's not wise to depend on both, but using a roster spot for one will pay longterm dividends.
2. The A's aren't the only team to tab rookies as starters. James McDonald (Dodgers), Jordan Zimmerman (Nationals), Shairon Martis (Nationals), Rick Porcello (Tigers) and Ricky Romero (Blue Jays) all earned spots in their rotations.
3. All three international imports on the hill, Baltimore's Koji Uehara, Atlanta's Kenichi Kawakami and San Diego's Walter Silva didn't only make their respective rotations, they're all being counted on to be major contributors being slotted second, third and third respectively.
4. Three pitchers who appear to be successful in comebacks from serious injuries are Chris Carpenter (Cardinals), Kelvim Escobar (Angels) and Jose Contreras (White Sox). All should be drafted and Carpenter and Contreras can be used from Day 1.
5. Those who aren't ready for the start of the season and may not be for a while are Cole Hamels (Phillies), John Lackey, Ervin Santana (Angels), Justin Duchscherer (Athletics), Jason Schmidt (Dodgers) and Trevor Hoffman (Brewers).
6. The Mariners scrapped the idea of putting Brandon Morrow in the rotation, naming him the starter for the foreseeable future. That dashes any hopes that Mark Lowe, Roy Corcoran, Miguel Batista or Chad Cordero will have that job anytime soon.
...and what we know in the field...
1. Catcher Jeff Clement wasn't ready to start the season in Seattle and was sent to the minors, not only opening a roster spot for professional hitter Mike Sweeney, but it also creates a role for Wladimir Balentein.
2. The Yankees made it official that Brett Gardner is the starting centerfielder and he'll be a major asset. However incumbent Melky Cabrera will also make the opening day roster, and while GM Brian Cashman will try to deal him, it's possible that Cabrera re-claims the job at some point during the season.
3. Gaby Sanchez was sent to Triple A, making the Marlins starting third baseman and leadoff hitter this season Emilio Bonaficio, thus pushing Jorge Cantu to first. Should he start the season well in the minors, Sanchez will force a promotion, but Bonaficio is a threat to steal 50 bases for the hustling Marlins.
4. The winner of the second base job in St. Louis, to no one's surprise is Skip Schumaker.
5. The winner of the second base job in Kansas City to everyone's surprise is Mark Teahen.
...and five more things we should expect to happen.
1. The release of Gary Sheffield cost the Tigers $14 million, but also provides an opportunity to keep often injured Carlos Guillen and Magglio Ordonez healthy. Look for newly acquired Josh Anderson to play as a regular, spelling both stars who will fill the DH role. Anderson stole more than 40 bases in each of his past five minor league seasons and should prove to be a fantasy steal on a team that quickly transformed itself from purely a power lineup to one with speed and defense.
2. Tony La Russa is still non-committal, but there's very little competition left for Jason Motte as the Cardinals closer with Chris Perez in the minors and Ryan Franklin as, well, Ryan Franklin. The fireballing former catcher has shed his sleeper status by now but for those on the fence about him, you can take the plunge with a clean conscience.
3. Lou Piniella officially named Kevin Gregg the Cubs' closer, keeping Carlos Marmol as a lights-out setup man. However, for the length of the season, I'd be shocked if Gregg had higher value than the more electric and younger Marmol.
4. Juan Pierre wasn't traded but especially for those in mixed leagues, he's someone to target since he'll be on the move. Joe Torre favorite Xavier Paul is capable of handling a fourth outfielder role which makes Pierre great bait to use to attract help for much needed bullpen help.
5. Although they're both ticketed for the minors, the AL Rookie of the Year race will come down to David Price of Tampa Bay and Matt Weiters of the Orioles, with Price the overwhelming favorite. It would be shocking if both aren't in the big leagues by June 1.
Mixed leaguers don't have much use for this list, but for those in AL or NL only leagues, you realize that there aren't enough starting catchers to go around. In 12 team roto-style leagues that require two active catchers each week, you're 10 leading men shy in the AL and 12 below what's needed in NL .Since you'll be stuck with a backup backstop, isn't it best to grab one who not only won't hurt you, but who's also an asset? Well, here are a quartet of the best catchers who you'll find in the dugout more often than behind the plate.
1. Taylor Teagarden, Rangers: Last season's late sensation has been officially named the backup to Jarrod Saltalamacchia in Texas, but he showed by clubbing six home runs in just 48 at bats that he doesn't need a lot of time to be a fantasy asset. Look for Ron Washington to find a way to shoehorn him into the lineup more often than the ordinary backup anyway.
2. George Kotteras, Red Sox: Tim Wakefield's latest personal catcher's OPS was a very respectable .809 last season at Triple A Pawtucket. Jason Varitek has been durable, but is getting long in the tooth and could yield more than just Wakefield's flutters to the soon-to-be 26 year old slugger.
3. Chris Coste, Phillies: Phillies management loves Coste and despite him not being the most skilled guy around, he's a great clubhouse presence with a pinch-hitter quality bat. He flat out produces, clubbing 21 home runs in limited action the last three seasons while hitting at a very healthy .288 clip.
4. Landon Powell, Athletics: The argument against Kurt Suzuki's new backup is that the starter has not needed a backup the last year and a half. The reality is that he hasn't had a backup the caliber of Powell who despite being sidetracked twice by ACL injuries, has averaged 15 home runs in the minors the last three seasons.
And finally, if you look at your roster and any of these players is in your starting lineup, it's time to scramble and do something about it, A.S.A.P.
C Jason Kendall, Brewers
1B Dmitri Young, Nationals
2B David Eckstein, Padres
SS Jack Wilson, Pirates
3B Geoff Blum, Astros
OF Matt Diaz, Braves
OF Reed Johnson, Cubs
OF Cliff Floyd, Padres
SP Horacio Ramirez, Royals
RP Miguel Batista, Mariners