May 11, 2009

Did you ever think that you'd have to investigate the effects of women's fertility drugs before determining your rankings and ratings this year? Trust me, I still don't know what human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) is, but I know what its effects are on fantasy baseball teams: devastating.

The drug that Dodgers' OF Manny Ramirez used to allegedly mask the use of anabolic steroids resulted in a 50-game suspension this week, leaving Manny on the sidelines until at least July 3. It's a devastating blow to Manny, who no longer is a lock for the Hall of Fame. It's a devastating loss to Dodger fans, who actually believed in Manny and had thrown their full support behind his incredible talent and his wild dreadlocks. It's a devastating blow to the Dodgers, who appear to be a different team without Manny in their lineup (with losses in their first two games since his exit). And it's obviously a devastating blow to fantasy owners, who built their teams around this incredibly talented slugger.

Manny was living up to expectations despite missing much of spring training after signing late with the Dodgers. During his first 27 games, he was hitting .348 with six homers, 20 RBIs and 22 runs, adding a .492 on-base percentage as he had more walks (26) than strikeouts (17). In the NFBC, Manny's Average Draft Position (ADP) was 25, having gone as high as 13th overall and no lower than 35th. NFBC owners built their offenses around Manny and they are as upset with Manny as Dodger fans are.

HCG. Who would have ever thought that a women's fertility drug could ruin the fantasy seasons of so many owners? Manny, you've let us down and now it's hard to trust any of your numbers from past seasons. You are one of the greatest pure hitters in MLB history, but HCG has now tarnished everything you've done. In this age of regular testing, it's almost hard to believe that you could continue to use something that would get you in this predicament. Unreal.

Now fantasy owners are left to pick up the pieces and survive the next two months until Manny returns. There isn't anyone on the free agent wire who can come close to replacing Manny, but here are a few options to consider:

Juan Pierre, OF, Dodgers: Pierre was drafted in 86 percent of all NFBC leagues with an ADP of 314, so he might not even be available in your league. But he's now in line to get most of the starts in left field and he remains a good contact hitter with good speed. He's currently hitting .405 with six RBIs and six runs in 24 games. He's only two-for-four in stolen base attempts, but given the majority of the starts while Manny is out he could get 15-20 SBs during that time. The Dodgers called up rookie OF Xavier Paul from Triple-A Albuquerque to replace Manny on the roster. He's not fantasy-worthy yet, but he had a solid start at Triple-A (.344 with 2 HRs, 14 RBIs and 8 stolen bases in 25 games) and has shown good promise since being a fourth-round pick in 2003.

Chris Coghlan, 2B, Marlins: The best rookie pickup of the week is this former first-round pick out of Mississippi, who was called up from Triple-A New Orleans to add a spark to the Marlins' lineup. Coghlan was on a major tear at New Orleans before his promotion, hitting .344 with three homers, 22 RBIs and nine stolen bases in 25 games. During his last 10 games at New Orleans, he was 20-for-36 with three home runs, 16 RBIs and 12 runs. He was the 36th overall pick in 2006 who moved from third base to second base and can even play outfield. He has hit at every level for the Marlins and he jumped on the radar last year by hitting .298 with seven homers, 74 RBIs, 34 stolen bases and 83 runs at Double-A Carolina. He's a tough, gritty player who is a favorite of management and he's expected to play at several positions in the majors. He was two-for-four in his MLB debut on Friday night and is an interesting pickup for fantasy leaguers right now. If he keeps hitting and gets more playing time, he could be a solid play.

Josh Whitesell, 1B, Diamondbacks: With Tony Clark going on the DL and Chad Tracy continuing to struggle, the Diamondbacks called up their 2003 sixth-round pick and handed him the starting job at first base. The big left-handed hitting slugger struggled in his first four games, going 1-for-13, but he drew five walks and showed a pretty good eye at the plate. At Triple-A Reno before his call-up, he was hitting .356 with three homers, 20 RBIs and 18 runs in 25 games, with a .477 on-base percentage. The Diamondbacks are looking for an offensive spark and Whitesell will get every chance to prove he belongs at first base. He might be a risky pickup in mixed leagues right now, but keep an eye on him and make sure you take a chance on him if you're in an NL-only league.

Randy Wells, SP, Cubs: Wells replaced Carlos Zambrano in the Cubs' starting rotation this week and performed well enough to get a couple of more starts. He threw five scoreless innings on Friday night against the Brewers and was in line for the win before the bullpen blew it and looked very sharp after getting out of some early inning jams, striking out five. During five starts at Triple-A Iowa before the call-up, Wells was 3-0 with a 2.77 ERA, a 1.00 WHIP and 21 strikeouts in 26 innings. The 38th round pick of the Cubs in 2002 has some upside, but he's just a short-term pickup who will likely be back in New Orleans when Zambrano comes off the DL.

Jon Niese, SP, Mets: Niese is another short-term fill-in who looked good in his debut on Friday night. The 6-foot-3 lefty allowed just two runs in six innings during a no-decision, giving up seven hits and no walks, while striking out five. It was his best outing of the season as he struggled in five starts at Triple-A Buffalo, going 0-2 with a 6.55 ERA and 25 strikeouts in 22 innings. Niese has good upside and this was a good start, but he's still too risky to jump on just yet. Watch his next start before deciding on him.

Bobby Scales, 2B, Cubs: The Cubs called up Scales on Monday to add some competition to the second base job, but with Aramis Ramirez now on the DL and out for eight weeks Scales could see more playing time at third base. He was hitting .303-3-10 in 21 games at Triple-A Iowa before the call-up and was hitting .300 through his first three games with the Cubs. Watch to see if the Cubs pick up a veteran to fill in the third base job until Ramirez returns, but if they give this job to Scales don't be afraid to pick him up.

Others To Watch: The Tigers recalled Jeff Larish to play first base while Carlos Guillen tries to get healthy on the 15-day DL. In five games at Triple-A Toledo, Larish hit .368 with two homers and five RBIs, and he has a shot at some playing time over the next two weeks. The Yankees have lost both catchers to injuries -- Jorge Posada and Jose Molina -- so they called up Kevin Cash from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, where he was hitting .500 with one home run and six RBIs. He's not a recommended fantasy play, but in AL-only leagues he could have some value thanks to the playing time.

Also note that Laynce Nix is stealing playing time from Chris Dickerson in the Reds' outfield and he's playing well, hitting .311 with one homer and six RBIs. He could be a worthy pickup if you've suffered injuries in the outfield.

The Orioles are struggling in left field and they may reach down to the minors soon to solve that problem. Nolan Reimold, the Orioles' second-round pick in 2005 out of Bowling Green, has been tearing up Triple-A Norfolk this year, hitting .379 through 27 games with eight homers, 25 RBIs, five stolen bases and 27 runs. He would be a solid pickup if the Orioles make the move soon.

It's just a matter of time before the Braves call up phenom Tommy Hanson from Triple-A Gwinnett. He had another 10-strikeout outing this week and now has 48 strikeouts and only 12 walks in 32.2 innings. He's just 1-3 at Gwinnett, but his 1.65 ERA is stellar. He will definitely be up in the majors by June 1.

Also keep an eye on Kansas City RHP Luke Hochevar, the 2006 first-round pick who struggled in the majors last year. He seems to have found his groove at Triple-A Omaha and is 5-0 through his first six starts with a 0.90 ERA, 0.95 WHIP and 30 strikeouts in 40 innings. He could join Zach Greinke to form a solid 1-2 punch in the majors soon and would be a solid fantasy pickup if he keeps pitching like this.

Now go read up on this HCG stuff and hope that none of your players use this the rest of the season. None of us can handle another devastating blow like that one again.

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