Every Thursday from now until September, you can come here to find an in-depth look at fantasy baseball's sell-high and buy-low candidates. But, as anyone tracking the Mayan calendar can see, it's still early March. Since most auctions and drafts haven't taken place just yet, we'll spend the next few weeks taking a closer look at the boom and bust picks at each position. This week, catchers and relievers ...
Ryan Doumit, Pirates
Indeed, many a fantasy owner was scorned by Doumit last year. Coming off a .318-71-15-69 year in 2008, he turned in a .250-31-10-38 line in an injury-riddled '09. There are obvious concerns with Doumit, ranging from his surgically repaired wrist to his lack of a supporting cast (good luck driving in Ronny Cedeno there, buddy). But for him to be a borderline top 200 pick in mixed leagues (206 average draft position at Sportsline, 191 at Yahoo and 186 at ESPN) is absurd.
His lack of power can probably be attributed to the wrist problems, but Doumit was still on pace for a 15-homer season if he had stayed in the lineup. He also had a lot of bad luck, with his batting average on balls in play dropping to .268 from .333 in '08 and .324 in '07. So realistically, a healthy Doumit is likely to hit somewhere in the .280s. And while the Pirates lineup is weak, he is one of the few catchers who hits in the middle of the order. Doumit should be coming off the board somewhere around pick 130 in mixed leagues.
Miguel Montero, Diamondbacks
I hesitate to pump up Montero, because I think he's already being overhyped this spring. But the ADP numbers tell a different story. Montero should be the fourth or fifth catcher off the board in mixed leagues (depending on how you feel about Matt Wieters), around 120th overall.
Taking a player's big second half and trying to project it over a full season is a dangerous strategy. Montero's .316-39-11-40 post-All-Star break line doesn't project to a .316-78-22-80 season any more than Tuffy Rhodes' 4-for-4, three-HR Opening Day projected to a 1.000-486-486-486 season in 1994. But Montero does pack 20-home run potential, and his drastic cut in strikeout rate without sacrificing his batting average on balls in play (meaning he was not only making contact more frequently, but not sacrificing the quality of that contact) is good news for the batting average, which should hover in the .280s (I'm not sure if I trust his .329 average against lefties last season, but he has always held his own versus LHP). If he can hold down the fifth spot in this lineup, he'll drive in 70-plus runs.
Right now, he's only a little low in Sportsline (130th, 5th among catchers) and ESPN drafts (140th, 5th). But in Yahoo! drafts, he's going 174th and 11th. I'm not sure if that's because of a low projection from the Yahoo staff, but there's no way Montero should be on the board that late.
Russell Martin, Dodgers
He's just such a nice guy. Maybe that's why fantasy owners are finding it so difficult to let the Russell Martin 20-20 dream die. But it's not going to happen. Even if you don't factor in the groin injury, which will likely cost him the first week or two of the regular season (and which hasn't had time to dramatically affect his average draft position), Martin is being wildly overrated.
First the good news: Martin has reportedly packed on 25 pounds of bulk (well, maybe 22 pounds, and three pounds of fro). That should go a long way toward helping his positively Herm Winningham-esque .329 slugging percentage from last year, including just seven home runs. But, assuming he adheres to basic laws of physics, that extra weight will make it more difficult for him to move quickly (even more so with the bad wheel), meaning his stolen base total (which had dropped from 21 in 2007 to 18 in '08 to 11 in '09) is sure to suffer.
Considering he's likely to hit seventh most nights, a .280-55-15-55 line with 10 steals seems to be an absolute best-case scenario for Martin. Right now (and before the injury news has had a chance to drag down his ADP), he's going way too high in Sportsline (117th overall, fifth among catchers) and Yahoo! (130th, 5th) leagues, and even a bit high in ESPN drafts (200th, 10th). He's been coming off the board in front of guys like Jorge Posada, Miguel Montero, Mike Napoli and Ryan Doumit, and that ain't right. He's a top 200 pick in two-catcher leagues only.
Jason Varitek, Red Sox
So according to Yahoo!, Varitek is being taken in only three percent of drafts but is coming off the board an average of 182nd in those drafts.
So what does that tell us? Apparently, Varitek and his immediate family participate in quite a few Yahoo! fantasy baseball leagues. It's been three years since Varitek was worth of an MLB roster spot, so he's certainly not worthy of a fantasy roster spot. He'll back up Victor Martinez in 2009, and even an injury to V-Mart wouldn't be enough to earn Varitek a roster spot. His batting average will cancel out his above average power (which will likely decline further considering he turns 38 in April). Anyway, I know most of you weren't considering it, but if you were: Don't draft Varitek.
Octavio Dotel, Pirates
I touched on Dotel recently, so I won't go too in depth here. But these are the components you want in an ideal fantasy closer: (1) high strikeout rate, (2) no recent health problems, (3) no major control issues, (4) team with great starting staff but offense that doesn't overwhelm, (5) no competition for save opps.
Dotel hits three of those four conditions, and No. 4 isn't necessarily a killer. Heath Bell saved 42 of the Padres' 75 wins last year, largely because when the Padres win they don't win big. So maybe the Pirates are staring at a 60-win season, but Dotel should save half of those considering their offense won't blow anyone out of the water.
He posted the fourth-best strikeout rate in baseball over the past two seasons (167 in 129.1 innings), avoided the DL the past two seasons (don't worry about a minor "side" injury this spring) and the only serious challenger for save opps in Pittsburgh is Joel Hanrahan, who collapsed as the Nats' closer last year and has struggled with elbow issues since late last season. (Even better for anyone who takes Dotel in deep leagues, you don't have to burn a pick on Hanrahan as his handcuff.)
The biggest danger with Dotel is that he'll be traded at the deadline and become a set-up man. But considering he's falling well out of the top 200 in just about every draft right now, he's a steal even if he loses his job in August.
Brian Fuentes, Angels
I've heard all the lip service being paid to Fuentes. Mike Scioscia says Fuentes is his closer, and free agent signee Fernando Rodney says he doesn't want the job anyway. That talk has seemed to sooth fantasy owners more than enough: Fuentes' ADP is healthy in Sportsline (115th overall, 8th among closers), Yahoo! (142nd, 14th) and ESPN (157th, 14th) leagues.
I believe that Fuentes will open the year as the closer, but I don't think he'll keep it without a near-perfect performance. Why? Two numbers: 55, and 9 million. As is, if Fuentes finishes 55 games this year, his 2011 option kicks in for $9 million. (To give you an idea, 11 closers finished 55 games last year). Considering Fuentes' performance in 2009 (yes, 48 saves, but seven blown saves, a pedestrian 46-to-24 K-to-BB ratio in 55 innings and 1.40 WHIP), he's not worth half that at age 35. They're already paying Rodney $11 million through 2011, and 25-year-old fireballer Kevin Jepsen is better than both of them right now.
While I don't think Tony Reagins and that front office is the kind to meddle with Scioscia, they'll have no choice but to drop some strong hints. It would be stunning to see the Angels paying around $15 million to their second- and third-best relievers in 2011. Thus, it would be stunning to see Fuentes hang onto the closer's role for a full season. He shouldn't be among the first 20 closers off the board in any draft.