David Sabino
Thursday January 20th, 2005

It may sound hypocritical coming from a fantasy columnist, but these days there's a glut of fantasy-related information on the Web, in print and over the airways. Sometimes it's possible to know too much. Things like hourly reports on Mark Prior's Achilles tendon and elbow, the battle for third base in Houston and the closer of the day in Toronto and Cleveland, can make your head spin.

What I'm going to try to do this week and for the rest of the season, is separate worthwhile news and rumors, which can help you to win your league, from worthless chatter. In addition to the normal information that you can cull from Web sites, newspapers, game telecasts, and sports news shows, folks like me also get reports from beat reporters in each city (a.k.a. stringers), and SI's writers who are on the road all season talking to players and team decision makers.

The rehab assignment has become standard practice in baseball before someone returns from the disabled list. So until you hear about your injured player's scheduled stint in the minors, don't torture yourself by reading every single report about them.

In Chicago, every throwing session by Mark Prior is major news. It's safe to assume that barring an unforeseen setback, Prior will make his season's debut sometime in June. In the spring, Prior told SI's Albert Chen in Arizona that he was really worried about the injury since he never had anything like happen to him before, so it's no surprise that the Cubs are being super-careful with their franchise player. Now he's finally beginning to look comfortable on the mound, and after taking many intermediate steps, he's throwing regularly and will proceed with a normal routine until he makes a couple of rehab starts.

Pittsburgh's Jason Bay is on the verge of returning, possible as early as this weekend. Grab him if he's available in your league. Although he won't be a superstar right out of the gate, Bay's a middle-of-the-order hitter with power and will play every day as long as his bum shoulder holds up. And don't forget about multitalented veteran Mark McLemore who is playing in Class AAA and will get time very shortly as a utility man for the struggling A's.

Trade rumors buzz around all the time but few ever hold any water. Most of the sources of these are agents, general managers and other front office types who hear through the grapevine about which players are being offered around.

One of the hot rumors right now has the Reds getting rookie outfielder Abraham Nunez from Florida. Although he may not end up in Cincinnati, expect Nunez, a super-talented player who is out of minor league options and plays sparingly, to be traded somewhere.

As the season goes along some others you'll probably see change teams are Pittsburgh's Jose Mesa, Milwaukee's Junior Spivey, and -- depending on if they can turn their season around or not, and whom they can acquire for him -- quite possibly Oakland's Barry Zito.

Position battles are the hardest rumors to figure out since most of the time those making the choices don't have the answers either. The best thing to do is to take a chance on the most likely candidate for the job.

History tells us that Houston's Jimy Williams likes to a) have a left-handed hitter in the lineup in place of Morgan Ensberg and b) play the hot hand, which opens the door for the smoking hot Mike Lamb. Although Ensberg is clearly a better overall player with more long-term potential, look for Lamb to continue to get plenty of at bats in an nearly even split.

In Cleveland, Rafael Betancourt has supplanted David Riske as the closer -- at least for now. Currently injured Jose Jimenez has the most experience in the role, having saved 102 games since 2000 for the Rockies and should stake a claim at some point. A dark horse candidate is newly acquired Cleveland-area native Rick White, who has earned a dozen saves in his 10 major league seasons. The Blue Jays have a similar problem but have no frontrunner. Terry Adams who saved 13 for the Cubs in 1999 seems best suited for the job, although Toronto's early-season malaise has left little need for a closer anyhow.

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