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For better, for worse


The 2009 campaign is underway, albeit without some big names. Quite a few teams began the season with key players on the disabled list. Fantasy owners had to consider whether or not to take a chance and draft a player on the DL. Getting injured in spring training can have a big impact on where a player is drafted. No player slipped more in drafts than Alex Rodriguez -- tumbling all the way from a top-four pick to a top-30 pick.

Let's look at A-Rod and all the other fantasy stars on the DL. If they have a reasonable timetable for returning and a job when they return, they are for better. If their future is uncertain in terms of either health or playing time, they are for worse.

Alex Rodriguez, 3B, Yankees: The season just started and I'm already sick of writing about A-Rod. Rodriguez' rehab is going well and he may be available ahead of schedule. We could even see him play before the end of April. That hip injury scared off a lot of people, including me, during fantasy drafts. People that picked him around pick 25 probably got a bargain.

John Lackey, Ervin Santana and Kelvim Escobar, SP, Angels: Three-fifths of the Angels rotation began the season on the DL. Lackey (strained triceps) also began 2008 with an injury and he bounced back nicely with a 12-5 record. Both Lackey and Santana (elbow) are shooting for an early May return. Escobar's recuperation from last year's shoulder surgery is nearly complete. He looks great in extended spring training with a fastball in the mid-90s. Escobar is available in over 90 percent of leagues and is certainly worth picking up as a DL stashie. Escobar was an 18-game winner in 2007 before the shoulder injury.

Ichiro Suzuki, OF, Mariners: An ulcer is something you expect a bank chairman to get, not a professional athlete. It figures that it took something so random to knock Ichiro out of the lineup. The 35-year old superstar has been an iron-man since coming to the US in 2001. In his eight seasons, Ichiro averaged 160 games and 683 at-bats. The ulcer developed late in the spring, after a lot of drafts were finished. Fortunately, there should be no lasting impact. Ichiro will come off the DL on Apr. 15 after missing the first eight games of the season.

Trevor Hoffman, RP, Brewers: A strained oblique put the all-time saves leader on the DL. The injury and Hoffman's age (41) are causes for concern. A lot of people also worry about Hoffman moving to a less pitcher-friendly park. However, in Hoffman's case it's not that big a deal. Hoffman actually pitched better on the road last season. Once he returns, later in April, he will assume the closer role. There are no suitable challengers to Hoffman in Milwaukee. He should be picked up in the 10 percent of leagues where still available.

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B.J. Upton, OF, Rays: Upton (shoulder) is hitting in simulated games in extended spring training. He is close to returning to the leadoff spot for Tampa Bay. You made a mistake if you were scared away by this trip to the DL. Upton has the potential for a 20-20 or even a 30-30 season.

Max Scherzer, SP, Diamondbacks: This injury looks a little fishy to me. The Diamondbacks need to stash Scherzer until they need a fifth starter and the DL is as good a place as any. Expect Scherzer to take that start, next Tuesday the 14th.

Scott Baker, SP, Twins: Baker would have been the Opening Day starter for Minnesota, but a sore shoulder landed him on the DL. Baker should be back in April, perhaps ready for H2H leagues for the week of Apr. 20.

Joe Mauer, C, Twins: Mauer's back started to bother him during spring training, in early March. By mid-March it was clear that he would spend Opening Day on the DL. Mauer slipped in drafts, about 20 picks later than the Geovany Soto, the third-best fantasy catcher. If Mauer were healthy, then his fantasy value would be at least comparable to Soto and arguably to Brian McCann and Russell Martin as well. Though Mauer is eligible to come off the DL next week, he still can't run. It's hard to play baseball if you can't run. The best case scenario is Mauer comes back at the end of April and stays healthy the rest of the way. Last year from May 1 onwards, Mauer hit .334 with 9 HR, 82 runs, 76 RBI and an .881 OPS. Worst case is he returns much later or he returns with a lingering back issue that will require more frequent rest.

Troy Glaus, 3B, Cardinals: The 32-year old was a nice surprise last season for the Cardinals. He played 151 games and hit 27 homers with 99 RBI and an .856 OPS. Off-season shoulder surgery was supposed to keep Glaus out only until May, but his recuperation is going poorly. The Cardinals moved the timetable from May to "post All-Star break." Glaus is owned in roughly a third of leagues. This news is so discouraging that Glaus isn't even worth keeping in leagues that carry DL spots.

Joey Devine, RP, Athletics: A sprained elbow doesn't sound too bad. But it is. Oakland put Devine on the 60-day DL. This means that Brad Ziegler gets the closer job all to himself. Devine should not be owned in any league unless it has a DL spot, and perhaps not even then.

Justin Duchscherer, SP, Athletics: The Oakland ace had his elbow scoped and will be out until May. As noted previously in this space, Duchscherer is injury prone and can't be counted on to stay healthy.

Julio Lugo, SS, Red Sox: Once upon a time Lugo was a useful fantasy shortstop. He averaged 32 steals from 2005 through 2007. Injuries cost him half the 2008 season and afflicted him again in spring training. Lugo tore the meniscus in his right knee and begins the season on the DL. While Lugo rehabs the knee in Florida, young Jed Lowrie will start at shortstop. Lowrie hit a ton in spring training and is a far superior defender to Lugo. If Lowrie hits just a little bit, it will be very hard for Lugo to get playing time when he returns from the DL in late April.