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For Better, For Worse

Those already fretting over the first handful of baseball box scores or second-guessing their rosters need a cold-water wakeup. The initial production -- or lack thereof -- from expected stars such as Carlos Zambrano, Brandon Webb, Scott Kazmir, Jose Contreras, Curt Schilling, Chris Carpenter, Erik Bedard and even Johan Santana, who were all dirtied up in their debuts, means little at this stage of the long season.

Conversely, those managers patting themselves on the back for morphing late-round flyers into Week 1 --such as the Twins' Luis Castillo (5 for 9, SB) and Oakland's Mark Ellis, who registered five RBIs es on Wednesday, giving him seven in the first three games -- aren't focusing on the big picture. Fantasy owners should be managing the back end of their teams, the weak links so to speak.

Each week, I'll break down the players who are, for a number of reasons, in line to be liabilities or assets in the fantasy realm. Obviously I'm working off a small sample size this week, but that doesn't mean there aren't already baseball sub-plots projecting better or worse days ahead.

After four days injuries and rotation shuffles have offered owners some pitching options who weren't necessarily front and center on draft day. The one alarming envelope this year is the number of quality starting pitchers who opened the season on the disabled list. Be it short term; long term; or for one reason or another, Jered Weaver, Josh Johnson, Kenny Rogers and even Pedro Martinez are considered mysteries as to their injury status or true fantasy worth.

While you build your staff around aces, these teams' fifth starters could make or break your fantasy season:

Mark Maroth, Detroit: The Tigers' one-time Opening Day starter is coming off elbow surgery, but before the ailment ended his 2006 season he was impressive, with a 3-1 April record and 1.85 ERA. Maroth works half of his games in a pitcher-friendly venue and could be that one surprise this year. Just don't expect much in strikeouts.

Mike Pelfrey, New York Mets: The Mets' right-handed prospect has the arsenal to compile high strikeout totals. His high-90s fastball is major league-ready, and he compliments his pitch array with a good curveball and changeup. Pelfrey finished the spring with an ERA of 2.84 despite allowing four runs in five innings during his final exhibition start on Sunday. Pelfrey has a chance to put up a solid win total this season pitching in front of an explosive Mets lineup.

Edwin Jackson, Tampa Bay: Just two years ago Jackson was among the top prospects in the game. His talent has not yet transferred to the box score, and his lack of success at the major league level has all but left him as a free-agent fodder. He is not only worth tracking in AL-only leagues because of his upside, in my opinion, it's only a matter of confidence before he becomes a solid option in mixed formats. Will he be on your roster when this transformation happens?

Brett Tomko, Los Angeles Dodgers: He has already received his 15 minutes of fame, but this mediocre starter pitches in Dodger Stadium. As long as he can keep the Dodgers offense in games, he will eat innings and offer average numbers and those all-important wins roto junkies scratch and claw for.

Chris Sampson, Houston: Sampson registered a 2.12 ERA and 0.88 WHIP in 12 games, which included three starts, with Houston last season. The young right-hander beat out Astros' prospect Fernando Nieve for the final spot in the Houston rotation. Sampson will hold this starting spot with the smallest of success and is an intriguing fantasy option. Track his progress and be ready to make a FAAB for his services in mid-April.

Honorable Mention:

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Sergio Mitre, Florida: He has a starting job in a pitcher-friendly park.

Fausto Carmona, Cleveland: Loads of talent and is a terrific bench option in mixed formats. Has the ability to start or close.

Steve Trachsel, Baltimore: Trachsel was once a serviceable fantasy option. Once being the key word. Even AL-only owners should avoid him as Hayden Penn is his inevitable replacement.

Braden Looper, St. Louis: Looper allowed three runs on eight hits and a walk over six innings in his first career start. This is as good as it gets with Looper and it will get worse. If for unforeseen reasons Looper has one more solid start, find a buyer and fast. This isn't a very good Cardinals team, they don't have confidence in their closer and the offense is anemic after Albert Pujols.

Brandon Duckworth, Kansas City: The Astros were outspoken at one point that a change of teams would rejuvenate Duckworth's confidence and potential, but he's failed after numerous chances. Being the fifth starter for a team that's lost at least 100 games for three straight seasons isn't a recipe for fantasy success. Looking to self destruct? Add Duckworth to your starting staff.

Horacio Ramirez, Seattle: Ramirez will have a pitcher-friendly venue, but the move from the NL to the AL is never promising. Ask A.J. Burnett and Josh Beckett. Ramirez comes with a number of injury concerns, a 1.40 career WHIP and a K/9 ratio that makes David Wells look like Nolan Ryan.

Carlos Silva, Minnesota: His inconsistent 2006 campaign was followed by a poor spring showing. Sure, he will give you an occasional outing that will tease even the most conservative, but Silva is an AL-only disaster waiting to happen.

Honorable Mention:

Wade Miller, Chicago Cubs: His one-time major league arm is a shadow of what it was. You never know what kind of winds you will get in Wrigley, and the same goes with a Miller performance.

Jamey Wright, Texas: The Rangers simply don't have any other options outside of Wright. It's Bruce Chen, Cameron Loe or Wright. Wright had a good shot of losing 20 games for Colorado in 2005 but was pulled from the rotation late in the year. In Texas, he will be pulled from the rotation early on.

Remember, reactive approaches can only get you so far. Proactive approaches are what will make you a legend. "It don't mean a thing if you don't win that bling."