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Hot Stove Report: Diminished expectations meet Damon, Webb


Time again to pontificate on Hot Stove happenings going down around baseball.

Johnny Damon looked like a fool for not taking a $14 million offer from the Yankees earlier this offseason, but he has recently found himself some suitors. In fact, agent Scott Boras has drummed up enough interest to probably net a nice contract for his 36-year-old client. While Damon makes sense for MLB clubs, fantasy owners should not be so eager to roster the veteran. Last year, Damon benefited greatly from the short porch (and wind current) at the new Yankee Stadium, clobbering 17 home runs in 272 at-bats. His isolated power (ISO) was 92 points lower on the road, where it sat at .162. No matter where he hits in 2010, fantasy owners should expect him to produce closer to 15 HRs than the 24 he socked in 2009. Couple that with his worn-down wheels (5.8 speed score and 12 SBs in 2009) and you have the makings of a fringe third OF for fantasy purposes.

Brandon Webb threw off a mound Tuesday and claimed he's "right where I expected to be." Manager A.J. Hinch added, "He looked comfortable. This is a positive sign as we're getting close to spring training." The news is encouraging, but fantasy owners shouldn't go rocketing Webb up their ranks. Coming off right shoulder surgery, it's too risky to trust that his heavy-sinker will be as effective as it once was. If he can't induce groundouts the way he used to, Webb may even struggle to remain mixed league relevant. We've all seen how sinker-ballers can suffer if their sinker isn't bearing down on hitters (see: Chien-Ming Wang and Derek Lowe). Before the successful throwing session, Webb was getting drafted around the same time as Wandy Rodriguez, Scott Baker, and Max Scherzer. His stock is sure to rise in the coming weeks and as long as he does not suffer any setbacks, he'll probably be among the top 25 pitchers selected on draft day. While his durability (averaged 219 innings per year before 2009) and career numbers (3.27 earned run average/1.24 walks plus hits per inning) cannot be ignored, there are pitchers with higher upside that will be available far later than Webb. If you can get him as your third SP, that's reasonable. As a No. 2? Not worth it.

Speaking of Wang, he's reportedly on the verge of signing. While Webb still warrants being drafted, Wang does not. Anyone who saw him pitch last year can attest that he simply was not the same guy who won 19 games in back-to-back seasons. The foot injury he suffered in 2008 clearly threw something off as he had a difficult time keeping the ball down in 2009 (9.64 ERA and 2.02 WHIP). Fantasy owners who think Wang will bounce back have to bank on him re-building his mechanics or reinventing himself. Neither of those paths sound likely. Unless you feel like blowing a draft pick on a risky pitcher with meager whiff potential (4.2 strikeouts per nine innings in his career), opt against drafting Wang.

Some surprising news surfaced this week as it was reported that Cliff Lee underwent surgery to remove a bone spur from his left foot. The procedure was said to be minor, and since Lee did not seem to have any foot issues in 2009, he should be alright for 2010. That being said, he seems a bit overvalued in fantasy circles. Right now, Lee is being taken as a Top 10 SP in mock drafts. He's going ahead of guys like Jon Lester, which is peculiar. Lee was a dominant pitcher in the National League last season, and fantasy owners probably think of Lee as the shutdown ace who toyed with the Yankees in last year's World Series. Yet people are forgetting that he was human while still in the American League last year, sporting a 3.14 ERA and 1.30 WHIP in 152 innings with the Indians. I'm not saying his WHIP will be that high now that he's back in the AL, but expecting a repeat of his 2008 performance (22-3, 2.54 ERA, 1.11 WHIP) is wishful thinking. He's a Top 20 pitcher for sure, but I'd rather have the strikeout potential of a Lester than spend a fourth-round pick on Lee.

Quietly, Carlos Zambrano has gotten himself in shape, and Cubs GM Jim Hendry believes, "you're going to get a very well-focused guy who's determined to rectify last year's season." Manager Lou Piniella agrees, telling the Chicago Tribune, "Carlos was a little heavy last year, there's no question ... He looks absolutely wonderful, and I think you'll see a heck of a better performance from him just because of that." Descriptions such as "well-focused" and "absolutely wonderful" have rarely been used to describe Big Z. After all, this is the same guy who assaulted a Gatorade dispenser in Chicago's dugout last May. Still, this news is worth storing in your memory bank since he could be a steal on draft day. Though Big Z remains a talented hurler who can generate plenty of movement on his pitches, his past inconsistencies have him going in the middle-rounds of mock drafts (in Ryan Dempster/Scott Kazmir/Neftali Feliz/Edwin Jackson territory). Even though it feels like he's been around forever, Zambrano is only 28-years-old and a monster season is possible if he can harness his potential.

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The Yankees are taking the training wheels off Joba Chamberlain, which means no more strict innings/pitch counts for the young right-hander. Pitching coach Dave Eiland stated, "He's just going to go out and pitch and he'll be the one who'll dictate when he comes out as far as getting hit or getting tired or losing his stuff." Before fantasy owners go shooting Chamberlain up their cheat sheets, a few things need to be kept in mind:

1) He's not guaranteed a rotation spot. Chamberlain will battle four other pitchers (Phil Hughes, Alfredo Aceves, Chad Gaudin, and Sergio Mitre) for the fifth starter's role.

2) Working almost exclusively as a starter last year, his average fastball velocity dropped to 92.5 mph (down from 95 in 2008).

3) Working strictly as a reliever in the post-season last year, Chamberlain flashed his 2007 form (7:1 strikeout to walk ratio in 6.1 innings). His stuff looked more crisp in pen, so the organization may consider putting him back in a relief role for good if his velocity remains down as a starter.

4) He was not coming at much of a discount before this news came out, being taken around the same time as Brett Anderson, Clay Buchholz, and Rich Harden.

Chamberlain has dominated as a starter in the past. In 2007, he raced up the Yankees system in his first professional season with a beastly line: 9-2, 88.1 IP, 2.45 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 135 Ks in 18 games (15 starts). However, if he cannot regain the velocity and control that made him an immediate top prospect, he may have to settle for being Mariano Rivera's bridge. Keep a close eye on how he performs in spring training and adjust your ranks accordingly. If I were drafting today, I would not feel comfortable taking Chamberlain ahead of Buchholz, Harden, or any other pitchers who actually have starting jobs.

The Royals are letting Kyle "Country Heat" Farnsworth try his hand at starting. The right-hander averaged 96 mph on his fastball last season, but his cheddar sits in the fat part of the strike zone too often. Combine that with a career 1.41 WHIP and you have yourself a meltdown ready to happen. He was awful for the Royals in the bullpen last season (4.58 ERA/1.53 WHIP) and has poor career numbers as a starter (6-11, 144 IP, 5.81 ERA, 1.58 WHIP, 5.4 K/9). Even though Farnsworth has good stuff, he's not worth considering unless he's dominating hitters during the spring.