March 18, 2009

The fantasy baseball season is upon us. As teams prepare for Opening Day, let's take a peek at the latest moves, injuries and intriguing performances and see how they might affect the season ahead.

News: Julio Lugo out 3-4 weeks after knee surgery

Views: How far the arguably somewhat mighty a few years back have fallen. The Sox are preparing to go into the regular season with Lugo shelved, and with Jed Lowrie as their starting shortstop. The Sox have been willing to concede on many of their free agent busts, but Lowrie must show he's up to the task before they essentially swallow the final three seasons and $27 million or so left on Lugo's deal.

Verdict: Don't bother with Lugo on draft day unless you're in a deep league with lots of bench spots. Obviously, you're not taking the guy for his Spike Owen-esque power (.330 slugging percentage last year). If Lugo's knee problems linger and hamper his speed in any way, he's 100 percent useless to fantasy owners. As for Lowrie, don't go nuts. He's a nice end-game option in Boston's lineup because of his on-base skills. But you're looking at a No. 9 hitter with little speed and yet-to-be-developed 15-home run power (only two HRs last season, but the 25 doubles and three triples are encouraging). He hit .254 after the All-Star break, essentially as a full-time player. You could do worse at shortstop, but you could also do much better.

News:Trevor Hoffman bothered by strained right side

Views: Uh oh. It's never good news when a 76-year-old closer (give or take a few years) has any kind of injury issues, no matter how minor. Even worse for fantasy owners, there's no clear Plan B to Hoffman. Next in line for saves in Milwaukee would be David Riske, Jorge Julio or Todd Coffey, not quite a modern day Nasty Boys. Fortunately, Hoffman doesn't need a ton of work in March to be able to throw his 20 pitches a night come April.

Verdict: Hoffman becomes a boom-or-bust pick, and not just because of his age. He was excellent in limited action for the Padres last year, striking out more than a batter per inning for the first time since 2002. When he's healthy, he's still got it, and he could save 40 in Milwaukee. The biggest problem with taking Hoffman is that you don't know which set-up man to pair him with? If the all-time saves leader misses any time, you're not just looking at a closer by committee, but a crappy one. As of now, I'd still roll the dice on Hoffman around the 20th closer off the board.

News:Chipper Jones bows out of WBC with side injury

Views: It's unlikely to be an issue over the remainder of the spring. But it's another reason to be shocked if Chipper avoids the DL in '09. He hasn't made it through 140 in a season since '03, and with the way he talks about his nagging injuries, you'd think he was turning 57 instead of 37 next month. The guy is obviously capable of playing through the pain, but this is getting ridiculous.

Verdict: It's almost to the point that you might as well pencil in Chipper for the same number of games A-Rod will get this season. He's a boom-or-bust pick, but with the depth at third base, Jones shouldn't be going in the Top 50.

News:Cole Hamels' MRI comes back clean

Views: The MRI on Cole's left elbow came after an injection to relieve inflammation. The Phils are now saying his Opening Day start is in doubt. Getting stretched out could be an issue. It's important to remember that the one knock on Hamels when he was coming through the Phils' system was that he couldn't stay healthy.

Verdict: This is a splash of cold water on the face of anyone expecting 34 Cy Young-caliber starts from Hamels this season. As long as his next spring start goes well enough, there's no reason he shouldn't go among the top 10 starters.

News:Johan Santana throws four innings against minor leaguers

Views: If you're looking for spring training excitement outside of the WBC, this is as good as you're going to get. The Mets had Santana pitching against their minor leaguers rather than take a two-hour bus trip to go against Atlanta. His velocity came back a bit, his control was good, and overall, he was sharper than in his outing against Florida last Thursday. No one's ready to declare him ready for the opener, but nothing out of the ordinary went down. This is now less about elbow problems and more about stretching out for the regular season.

Verdict: He's pretty darn close to being in the clear. It looks like worst case, Santana could miss one April start. But this is a guy who usually starts slow anyway (though "slow," of course, is a relative term here). The lowest you should knock him down your rankings is to 1B among starters (to Tim Lincecum's 1A). At this point, if you get Johan outside the top 20 picks on draft day, it's time to go get yourself a lottery ticket.

News:Royals sign Sir Sidney Ponson

Views: It's good to see that Dayton Moore is keeping his sense of humor. Though you'd think Ponson would have chosen a team with a more slimming color than powder blue.

Verdict: Ponson is perfect for commissioners who want their draft to move along at a brisk pace. Take more than 30 seconds to make your pick, and Ponson is your punishment.

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