April 09, 2010

Winning anything, whether it's the lottery, a business deal, a woman's heart, or fantasy baseball, requires calculated risks. The Powerball jackpot jumped up to $125 million for Wednesday night's drawing. I bought two tickets. The winning chances are slim, so I don't want to invest a lot of cash into it, but $125 million is worth the risk of a two-dollar investment.

Brandon Webb quickly became a popular risk-reward fantasy draft selection in 2010. The guy has a career 3.24 earned run average. He averaged 17.5 wins between 2005 and 2008, including 22 in his last full season (2008). Despite the fact that he missed most of 2009 with a torn labrum and the Diamondbacks have never given a clear timetable for his return, he's owned in nearly three-quarters of all fantasy leagues.

Based on his past statistics, Webb can provide plenty of reward for the Diamondbacks and his fantasy owners. The problem is nobody knows when those rewards will come. Webb received a cortisone shot in his surgically repaired shoulder last Wednesday, and hasn't played catch since. Whenever Webb has stepped up his throwing regimen, he's suffered a setback.

The best-case scenario is that once Webb resumes throwing off a mound, he'll have a one-month rehab period and then make his 2010 debut. There were reports before last week's cortisone shot that a May return was "likely" for Webb, but now June is a safer bet.

Fantasy owners with an open DL slot can afford to stash Webb away for a couple months, but it might be time for everyone else to cut their losses. Even with his upside, Webb is becoming too big of a risk to waste on a roster spot that could be used for a pitcher who can actually throw. Shaun Marcum comes to mind. Like Webb, he's coming back after missing '09. He's owned in about 40 percent of leagues, and he had two decent fantasy seasons pre-injury.

Winning by taking calculated risks also means knowing when to bail on those risks. With Webb ailing, and others thriving, it may be time to look elsewhere.

Andre Ethier, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers

Ethier suffered a mild ankle sprain in the Dodgers' extra-innings loss at Pittsburgh. X-rays showed no major damage to the ankle, but Dodgers manager Joe Torre held Ethier out of the lineup Thursday and he is considered day-to-day.

It's difficult to guess how serious the injury is, especially because Torre opted to rest a handful of other players Thursday afternoon following the late game on Wednesday, including Manny Ramirez, Casey Blake and Russell Martin. It wouldn't be shocking to see him back by the weekend series at Florida. At the very latest, he'll return for next Tuesday's home opener.

In his place, 37-year-old Garrett Anderson replaced Ethier in left field. Anderson doesn't really have much fantasy value, except as a spot-starter in NL-only leagues.

Jose Reyes, SS, New York Mets

Fantasy managers who took a risk on Reyes (hamstring, thyroid) will reap the benefits when he returns to the Mets' lineup Saturday against the Nationals. It's been widely reported that the Mets have been treating Reyes with kid gloves, so it's safe to say that when he returns Saturday (his first day of eligibility) he'll be ready to go full-speed. In an intrasquad game on Tuesday, he swiped two bases.

It's probably too late, but this is the last chance to make a low-ball offer for Reyes.

Kerry Wood, RP, Cleveland Indians

Although Wood probably will not return until May, fantasy owners of the Indians' closer received good news when his injury was classified as an upper back strain as opposed to any type of shoulder ailment.

Fill-in closer Chris Perez capitalized on his first save opportunity of the year, and his continued success would allow Cleveland to be more conservative with Wood. Believe it or not, Perez is still available in around 50 percent of fantasy leagues. The job is his to lose for at least another month. With Wood's injury history, Perez is a player to keep on your fantasy watch list even when Wood does return.

Lance Berkman, 1B, Houston Astros

Berkman (knee) will be an early season regular in this column. The Astros hoped to have Berkman back by April 10, but now April 14 is his target date. I noted last week that he would be lucky to meet the original time schedule, and I think that even the 14th is very optimistic.

Here are the facts. Berkman had his knee scoped on March 13. He had that knee drained at least five times this year due to swelling. Every time it swells, it slows his recovery process. If the Astros manage to get him back next week, he will not be close to 100 percent.

In the meantime, Pedro Feliz and Geoff Blum will fill in at first base. If Feliz logs enough time at first, he could earn dual eligibility (1B and 3B), making him a decent fantasy replacement for Berkman in deep mixed leagues and NL-only formats.

Daisuke Matsuzaka, SP, Boston Red Sox

Matsuzaka (neck, back) will make his first rehab start Saturday for Class AAA Pawtucket. This will be the first of three planned minor-league starts. The minor league starts aren't as much about injury recovery as they are about regaining command of his pitches.

With his first start still close to a month away, Matsuzaka is an excellent buy-low candidate, especially for fantasy owners in need of strikeouts. It is worth noting, however, that there are rumors of Boston going to a modified six-man rotation when Matsuzaka returns. Fewer starts could hurt his value in head-to-head leagues.

Alex Gordon, 3B, Kansas City Royals

Gordon started the year as a popular post-hype sleeper before a broken thumb derailed him in spring training. The former second overall pick is on schedule with his recovery, and made a Class A rehab start on Thursday night. Gordon is eligible to come off the disabled list on Saturday, but a return late next week is more likely.

In the meantime Alberto Callaspo made his first start of the year on April 7, filling in for Gordon at third base. The switch-hitter couldn't swing left-handed this spring due to an oblique strain, but he homered from the left side of the plate in Wednesday's game. Callaspo is available in most fantasy leagues, and he may move to second base once Gordon returns.

Gil Meche, SP, Kansas City Royals

Meche is also closing in on his return for the Royals, and is expected to start Sunday against the Red Sox. Meche, who is battling a shoulder strain, was able to avoid surgery on the shoulder and said, "I haven't felt anything in my shoulder whatsoever. My body feels great, my back's good. It's just a matter of getting out there and doing what I know I can do."

Although it's unlikely that Meche will bounce back to his 2008 form, when he won 14 games, had a sub-4.00 ERA, and struck out nearly eight batters per nine innings, it's also unlikely he'll struggle as much as he did in 2009. Meche is a sneaky fantasy starter in AL-only leagues, and is a player for mixed league owners to keep on their radar.

There are so many bumps and bruises after the first week of the season, let's check who's getting some ice.

Ian Kinsler is scheduled to test his injured ankle with some light running this weekend. I'm still estimating his return to come no earlier than April 14 ... Oakland right-handed starter Trevor Cahill is on the DL with a left shoulder injury. Although it's not his throwing shoulder, it's serious enough to keep him out of any type of throwing until later next week ... Phillies starter Joe Blanton's oblique strain rehabilitation is ahead of schedule. Blanton and the Phillies believe he could be closer to the three week side of the anticipated three-to-six week recovery time ... Reports say that Brad Lidge (knee, elbow surgeries) is close to making a rehab start. This is good news following his elbow cortisone shot last week. Ryan Madson was impressive in a four-out save on Wednesday, but the closer job is still Lidge's when he is healthy ... Speaking of closers, Oakland's Andrew Bailey (knee) has thrown one-and-a-third scoreless innings so far this season (he hasn't been in a save situation yet). This is a relieving sign for his fantasy owners, especially after Bailey jammed his surgically repaired knee a few days before the season ... Mariners starter Cliff Lee threw 10 pitches off a mound on Wednesday, which is an encouraging sign on his way back from an abdominal strain. He's on pace for an early-May return ... Cleveland second baseman Luis Valbuena missed the Indians' opener after bruising his hand in the spring finale. Valbuena returned and went 1-for-3 on Wednesday. He's a good AL-only second baseman with shortstop eligibility ... After throwing 77 pitches in a Class AAA rehab start last Sunday, Scott Kazmir will throw 95 pitches in a minor-league start on Friday and is scheduled to join the Angels rotation next week against the Yankees.

* All stats up-to-date as of 04/08/10.

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