May 13, 2009

This article is not about Manny Ramirez -- not directly anyway. The Ramirez suspension will send a fantasy owner scrambling in each league to replace the homers, runs, RBI, OPS and average. But it will also create an opportunity for owners looking for steals. Juan Pierre will replace Manny for the Dodgers, and while he's no Manny, he is one of the better base stealers of the past decade. Pierre stole 40 bases in only 119 games last season. That's about one steal every three games and consistent with what he's done over his 10-year career. Give him the next 50 starts in left field for the Dodgers and you can expect 17 steals before Manny gets back. Pierre will bat leadoff for Los Angeles and will help fantasy owners in steals, runs scored and average. Pierre doesn't walk so the OBP, slugging and OPS will be painful -- take that into account. Pierre is owned in only 25% of leagues and that rate will rise rapidly.

Pierre is not the only base thief lurking on the waiver wire. He's probably not even the best free agent speedster in your league. Pierre returns to the bench in July, so that hurts his value. Better options would be players that will play regularly into September. Better options would help more with the bat. Better options would play middle infield instead of outfield.

Asdrubal Cabrera, 2B/SS, Indians: Dual eligibility at 2B and SS, a .325 average, an .814 OPS and six steals ... what's not to like? There must be something since Cabrera is still available in 35% of leagues. The six steals project to 29 over a full season, which would top his professional high. Cabrera stole 25 two years ago in the minors. Pick Cabrera up if he is available.

Emmanuel Burriss, 2B/SS, Giants: The 24-year old Burriss is red-hot, hitting .425 in the month of May. Burriss' average on the season stands at .274 and his nine steals are among the league leaders. Manager Bruce Bochy just put Burriss at the top of the Giants' batting order, which means more at bats, more runs scored and more opportunities to run. In 2007 Burriss stole 68 bases in the minors. Burriss is available in 95% of leagues.

Nyjer Morgan, OF, Pirates: Morgan has consistently hit well in the majors, albeit in limited action. He hit .299 in 28 games in 2007, .294 in 58 games in 2008 and is hitting .301 so far through 30 games this season. Morgan has surpassed his walk total of last season and already has nine steals. Morgan stole 53 bases in 2008 between Triple A and Pittsburgh. Mysteriously, Captain Morgan is still available in about half of all leagues.

Michael Bourn, OF, Astros: Fantasy fans soured on Bourn after he hit only .229 last season with a pathetic .288 OBP. He stole 41 last season and has swiped 10 this season. That ties him with Jose Reyes for the NL lead and puts him on a 70-steal pace. Bourn's average is up to .287 this season and his OBP is a respectable .364. He is walking about double the rate he did last season: a very good sign. Take a chance on Bourn while he's available. Bourn is owned in only 30% of leagues.

The following players could also be lurking on your waiver wire. They all project to 20+ steals for the season, but you can do better.

Kazuo Matsui, 2B, Astros: The 33-year old Matsui is a career .276 hitter and will steal close to 30 bases barring an injury. Unfortunately injuries have tormented Matsui ever since he came to the U.S. in 2004. He averages only 94 games a season. Matsui is available in about 80% of leagues.

Randy Winn, OF, Giants: Winn started very slowly this season, due to injuries and age (34). Last year's 25 steals was his highest tally since 2002 and is not something Winn is likely to do again. Though Winn's numbers are edging towards respectability (.261 and 5 SB), you would be better off looking at one of the youngsters like Morgan or Bourne. Winn is owned in about 20% of leagues.

Dexter Fowler, OF, Rockies: Fowler has nine steals, but five of them were in one game. The average (.235), OBP (.302) and OPS (.633) couldn't be any lower. Fowler is owned about as much as Bourn and that makes no sense.

Coco Crisp, OF, Royals: Crisp is playing every day in centerfield for the Royals and has stolen eight despite batting .241 -- well below his career average of .278. I expect Crisp to finish in the .260s with 25 to 30 steals but not much help in any other categories. Crisp is owned in about 50% of leagues.

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