March 03, 2009

As February has slipped into March, exhibition games are underway in Florida and Arizona. It's a fun time of year, preparing for the start of the baseball season and the fantasy season. All serious fantasy owners should do their own preseason calisthenics by mock drafting. Do at least a couple of mock drafts between now and when you start drafting for real. Any biases you have will become apparent after a two or three mock drafts. If you always end up with Josh Beckett, for instance, then maybe you have him ranked too highly.

I admit I have my own biases. I have tended to avoid alleged steroid and HGH abusers, Barry Bonds being the most prominent example. I never had Bonds on my teams once the rumors surfaced and I know I put myself at a competitive disadvantage as a result. I held no grudge against people that drafted him -- I just knew I couldn't enjoy a Bonds home run even if I were to benefit in fantasy.

It's about time I face reality and temper my views a bit. The Alex Rodriguez revelation is the latest steroid bombshell, and undoubtedly not the last. A-Roid was one of 104 players that tested positive in 2003. You would expect some additional big names among the remaining 103 players on that list. I bet my fantasy squads from last year were chock full of steroid cheats, but I just didn't know it.

A scan of the Most Valuable Player Award winners confirms the problem. Players linked to performance-enhancing drugs won eight of the last 16 National League MVPs. Before you blame that all on Bonds, he accounted for only four of the eight. The American League also had 50 percent with eight of the last 16 MVPs. Keep in mind that this ratio could very well increase if some of the assumed "clean" winners turn out to have been using as well. What a mess.

From a fantasy perspective, you can't compete if you refuse to include an Alex Rodriguez on your draft board. If you want to snub Miguel Tejada at this point in his career, you can get away with that. But if you have the third pick in your draft and A-Roid is still there, you have to take him.

As you prepare for your fantasy draft, you can't help wonder if some of the users suddenly play clean in '09 and consequently suffer performance reductions. So let's see if some of these players have room to improve this season (for better) or are at risk of a substantial drop-off (for worse).

Alex Rodriguez, 3B, Yankees: Nothing about Rodriguez ever makes sense. The controversy could be a distraction, but I wouldn't pass on a talent like him for such an intangible reason. Last year the 33-year-old slugger had a relatively quiet season by his standards: .302, 35 HR, 103 RBI, 104 runs and 18 steals. He could surpass all of those numbers in '09, especially if the new Yankee Stadium plays a little better for right-handed hitters.

Rick Ankiel, OF, Cardinals: Ankiel's scandal hit the press late in the '07 season. It's safe to assume that he will be performing in '09 with the same advantages, or lack thereof, that he had in '08. Ankiel is a young 29 and still has upside as a hitter. In 672 career at bats he has 38 homers. He has mid-30s homerun potential.

Jason Giambi, 1B/DH, Athletics: Giambi was tied to BALCO earlier in the decade, at the height of his success. Then Giambi spent seven mostly unhappy seasons in the Bronx. Nevertheless, he managed to club at least 32 homers in five of those seven seasons. He should be happy again, returning to Oakland, though he could break down like any normal 38-year old would. Until he does, Giambi has good power and a knack for great OBP / OPS numbers. He's still a useful fantasy player.

Magglio Ordonez, OF, Tigers: Never named on the Mitchell report and he never failed a test, Ordonez has a bizarre connection to this list. Jose Canseco allegedly asked Ordonez for investment funding in exchange for not naming him in one of his tell-all tomes. The FBI investigated, and the whole matter was eventually dropped. Ordonez, 35, is coming off three straight 100-RBI seasons. He hasn't slowed down much at all and looks to have plenty left in the tank. He's an asset in 4/5 of roto categories.

Eric Gagne, RP, Brewers: Gagne, a Mitchell Report member, re-signed with the Brewers as a free agent. He will set up for closer Trevor Hoffman. Gagne gave up an absurd 11 HR in 46.1 innings in '08. He can't get any worse, hence some upside potential. The 33-year-old Gagne could get a shot at some saves if the 41-year-old Hoffman falters or gets hurt.

Miguel Tejada, SS, Astros: The alleged usage is the least of Tejada's problems. He is facing potential perjury charges and time in the slammer. The rapid decline of Tejada's power is telling. If you chart his homeruns per season, it resembles Citibank's stock price. Beginning in '04, he had 34 HR, then 26, 24, 18 and only 13 last year.

Jack Cust, OF, Athletics: The acquisition of Giambi could hurt Cust in '09. Giambi blocks Cust from his natural position, DH. A modern-day Dave Kingman, last year Cust hit 33 HR, batted only .231 and made every fly ball an adventure. His defense could take him out of the lineup, which hurts his fantasy value. Cust is also older than you think and at 30 has limited potential.

Andy Pettitte, SP, Yankees: The 36-year-old lefty has pitched 200-plus innings for four straight seasons. Shoulder soreness caused him to limp across the finish line last season, however. Pettitte was 10-7 with 4.03 ERA before the All-Star break versus 4-7 with a 5.35 ERA afterwards. Pettitte belongs on rosters of only the deepest fantasy and AL-only leagues.

Gary Sheffield, DH, Tigers: The 40-year-old misanthrope showed his age last season. He hit only .225 with 19 HR and 57 RBI. Sheffield is done.

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