David Sabino
Friday April 29th, 2005

Although the games we play are called "fantasy," the label is often a misnomer. While we aren't assembling real teams to play between the lines, we are basing our strategy and actions on realities that are rather unpredictable and frequently cruel.

Take the case of team in your league that either froze or drafted Giants closer Armando Benitez. 'Mando was likely a bargain in 2004 drafts and re-established himself as one of the most dominant closers in baseball. This year those who were fortunate to retain him thought they were set for saves. Now, as Benitez faces four months on the DL after tearing a hamstring, what are you to do?

That scenario has been playing over and over. Big-ticket players such as Nomar Garciaparra, Curt Schilling, David Wells, Magglio Ordonez, Jose Cruz Jr., Bobby Crosby and Jason Isringhausen all have suffered disabling injuries of varying severity. That list doesn't even include Barry Bonds, Frank Thomas, Rocco Baldelli and Wade Miller who have yet to play this year and are on uncertain timetables to take the field. All of these injuries have left their fantasy owners scrambling for replacements. But really, is there any way to replace one of your team's cornerstones?

The short answer is no. However there's a way to at least stay afloat while your big guns are on the rack.

In some mixed leagues (like mine, for example), it's not terribly difficult to pick up players at certain positions. Lose an outfielder and moments later you can simply claim a full-time starter to replace him. Heck, I've already churned through about 10 different closers, gradually upgrading each time (bye bye, Mike MacDougal; hello, Matt Herges) while no one else even notices, so losing Isringhausen for two weeks isn't going to sink me. Should Brandon Inge, my catcher, go down, I'll have issues, but in mixed leagues those problems never get too bad. However lose a player of that caliber in an NL- or AL-only league and you've got major issues.

What most owners attempt to do is to pick up the player directly replacing the one they've lost. Why? Because it's usually the easiest thing to do. While it could work on occasion in the short run (Julian Tavarez will likely convert all of the save opportunities Isringhausen would have gotten), most of the time, the replacement isn't going to get anywhere near the numbers lost over the long haul.

Sure Neifi Perez is hitting nearly .400 with a bit of power while playing shortstop in place of Garciaparra for the Cubs, but if you believe that his production will continue, I have a great deal for you on the Sears Tower.

Instead, look at promising players with strong upsides. Whether the Cubs acquire Arizona's Alex Cintron, as has been rumored, or not, there might be a good fit for you ailing Nomarians (Nomarites?). Cintron appeared to be one of the top members of the next great class of middle infielders when he hit .317 with 13 HRs and 51 RBIs in just 117 games in 2003. Last season the shine came off and his .262 with 4 HRs and 49 RBIs in 154 games looked pretty ordinary. This season the power hasn't been there (0 home runs, four RBIs, but his batting average has risen to .367 after a hot streak and he's earning more and more playing time at second (where he's currently behind the annually replaced Craig Counsell) and shortstop (ahead of Royce (one year and done) Clayton).

Because of player scarcity and the fact that bench players are usually seldom used, nothing is as difficult as replacing an injured star in a deep AL-only league. One possibility has been the Tigers' Nook Logan who is receiving a large share of the at-bats vacated when Ordonez went on the disabled list. A speedster with absolutely no power, Logan has pushed Craig Monroe into Ordonez's spot in right while patrolling Comerica Park's vast center field.

Alan Trammell's flexibility in Detroit is a good model for fantasy players to follow. While you're restricted to the players available on your waiver wire, don't automatically assume that just because you lost a home run hitter, you have to pick up a home run hitter. While your player is sidelined you can take advantage of the roster spot to shore up other categories, such as steals.

For pitchers, if you lose a starter, you aren't necessarily obligated to pick up a starter. You should always pick up the best available pitcher, no matter what spot on the staff they fill. I'd much rather have a Ray King or a Chad Qualls on my staff in place of Tony Armas Jr. or Kris Benson than someone such as Joe Kennedy or Brett Tomko, who may pick up wins but will kill you in every other category.

Injuries will destroy your team if you let them, but they can also make your squad stronger in the long run if you decide to go out on a limb and take a few chances.

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