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The Thinking Chair



After a long, hard winter, we're finally here. Baseball season is, as they say, upon us. With Opening Day approaching, fantasy drafts and auctions are largely a thing of the past. If selecting your team went according to your plan, now you get to find out if your plotting was worthwhile. And if something went materially wrong during your draft, it's time (yes, already) to start addressing your holes.

I'm generally not a fan of making fundamental changes to your team early on. Still, I get trade requests where the guys being offered were readily available when I chose the guys the other team is asking for. Unless I was particularly distracted, drunk or otherwise confused during that draft, I don't feel like second guessing myself, at least until the season gets going. So, what do you do if you selected Carlos Marmol, Trevor Hoffman and Joey Devine as your closers? Obviously, take a look at your waiver wire for guys in line for saves. The guys filling the closer role on these teams (Kevin Gregg, Carlos Villanueva and Brad Ziegler, respectively) are obvious targets, while other unsettled bullpens like St. Louis, Chicago and Toronto provide ample guys to help you through the rough spots. (And in case you were wondering, I checked and Ziegler did not actually attend my Bar Mitzvah. Thanks for wondering, though.)

Remember this: The team in your league that currently looks like the worst almost assuredly won't end the season in last place.

The start of the regular season also means, of course, the end of spring training. While I love the simplicity of spring games, it's time for real ball. Plus I won't have to endure something like last Friday's Braves-Tigers game. I caught a few innings, and Justin Verlander was absolutely dealing, looking overpowering. Joe Simpson, the longtime announcer for the Braves, said something like, "For those of you in fantasy leagues, here's a tip for you: This guy, Justin Verlander, is for real." Gee, thanks. Yes, Verlander slipped last season -- but if you pay attention to baseball (let alone fantasy), you'll know that he's averaged 15 wins a year for the last three seasons, won Rookie of the Year in 2006, is the Opening Day starter for the Tigers and is still just 26 and developing. Point being, if he's not on your fantasy radar, your radar needs a trip to the shop. And my other point being, man, it's fun to make fun of the Braves announcers.

I completed my NL-only auction last Sunday and, while I won't bore you with every detail of the happenings, a few things occurred that I'd like to share. News travels fast, and the fact that the Cubs had named Kevin Gregg the closer was common knowledge before things kicked off. And yet, Marmol went for more than Gregg did, with more teams interested in owning him. Part of this was the timing (Gregg was thrown out early, Marmol towards the end when saves were scarce) but there was a definite bias towards Marmol's talent over Gregg's.

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Folks were surprised that Manny Ramirez went for essentially the same cost as Ryan Braun, the latter who I not only call "The Hebrewer" but also regard as the clear dominant outfielder in the National League. That being said, it's looking less likely that he'll start the season close to 100 percent. After recovering from a strained intercostal muscle (um, it's a rib injury), he got beaned on the thumb while batting and had to leave the game. The x-rays were negative, but if you just built your team around Braun (and if you own him, you essentially did just that) you can't be at all happy about this.

One last thing about my auction: In the late afternoon, we took a small break and as we walked back in, one of the owners in my league had turned on the TV. We generally ensure this is kept off during the auction as it's insanely distracting and just extends an already long process. But no one said anything, because Tiger Woods was lining up his putt on the 18th to win. If you saw it, you know what an amazing putt it was, and nobody in the room doubted that he'd make it (until the putt itself got closer to the hole, which looked like it was not going to turn right ... until it did just that at the last minute and we all remembered that Tiger is a freak of nature who should never, ever be doubted). No matter what you think about golf, it's important to at least remember occasionally that we're all experiencing one of the all-time greatest athletes in his prime. That's worth paying attention to.

Strange things are afoot in Detroit, and I'm not just talking about CEOs getting fired. First, something clearly isn't right with Dontrelle Willis, and whatever it is, it's not funny. (Which is really unfortunate for a cynical, snarky guy like myself.) The team placed him on the disabled list with what they called an anxiety disorder, something Willis stated was actually a problem with his blood. As far as I know, these two things are not the same story. I can't imagine that the Tigers would go to these lengths unless there was something there, which if true is quite sad. Willis has always been a huge talent, and depression and anxiety are no joke. Let's hope he figures things out.

The Tigers then released Gary Sheffield on Tuesday, eating $14 million in salary in the process and eliminating the public relations and goodwill that would come after Sheffield's next home run -- his 500th career shot. If you drafted Sheffield, don't panic. The odds of him catching on somewhere are pretty high, though his role may diminish.

Maybe it's just cities starting with the letter D, but Denver is also making some odd noises these days, with the Broncos dealing the disgruntled Jay Cutler to the Bears. (Yes, I switched topics to football. Stay on your toes here folks -- it's a bumpy and uneven ride.) I'm not saying that this situation hasn't become inevitable, but I really wonder if Josh McDaniels thought, "Hey, I know -- after getting my first head coaching gig, I'll run the star QB out of town!" Things are probably not going as planned, which is also bad news for Brandon Marshall. You know who really could use someone like Jay Cutler? The Broncos. They've got nobody behind him. This has the potential to be pretty ugly.

What's more, I'd proceed with caution trading for such a headcase. I understand being upset that McDaniels apparently tried to trade for Matt Cassel, but now he won't return phone calls, show up for team events or behave like an employee being paid millions of dollars to be a professional. He's a gamble worth taking, but don't doubt for a minute that he is, indeed, a gamble.

OK, you know what time it is? (Yes, the correct and anticipated answer is, "For the end of this freakin column." But I'm going for something else here.)

It's time ... to play ball.