Fantasy baseball mailbag

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Each week I'll answer a handful of the most pertinent questions I've received during the week in my attempt, weak as it might be, to bring insightful fantasy analysis to the fore (my email address is listed at the bottom of the piece if you wish to drop me a line).

I'm just about ready to give away Carlos Lee for anything I can get. Will the return of Lance Berkman help or is Lee just old, fat and done?-- Paul, Georgia

Well, I can't really dispute that Lee no longer owns a body that would make a professional athlete jealous, though come to think of it I don't remember ever thinking "beefcake" when I saw Lee come to the dish. And as far as the "old" designation, it's a fair question to ask in relation to his work on the field in the early going, but he doesn't actually turn 34 until June.

Lee has been one of the most consistent hitters in baseball since his second season way back in 2000. Since that time he has hit at least 24 homers each year. He and Alex Rodriguez are the only two members of that club. Lee has also produced at least 99 RBI in each of the past seven seasons. Only three others belong to that group (Albert Pujols, Bobby Abreu and A-Rod). Moreover, Lee has hit at least .300 with 26 homers and 100 RBI in each of the past four seasons, and this is an even smaller group of two, and it includes Lee and the best hitter on the planet in Mr. Pujols. Hopefully the point of all of those numbers is obvious -- Lee is an elite hitter with a track record of consistency that few can match. Sure he doesn't steal bases anymore, but other than that pretty much everything else he does has remained rock solid across the board.

Will the return of Berkman help Lee, and for that matter, Hunter Pence (.188-1-2-6-1 in 48 at-bats)? I don't see how it couldn't. Plus, you aren't as good as Lee has been for a decade because of luck. Lee may not be the force he was three years ago, but I have to think there is still plenty left in his tank so don't jettison him simply because of a couple of poor weeks -- you'll regret it.

With Jacoby Ellsbury finally going on the DL, I can pick up a player. Who would you suggest from Eugenio Velez and Jeremy Hermida?-- Steve, Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Hurrah. The Red Sox finally placed Ellsbury on the DL after waiting a week and a half because of his rib cage injury. It sounds like the team is hopeful that he will return early next week, but at least you can make a move to shore up your team until then now that he is officially on the DL.

So which of these injury replacements should you add to your squad?

In San Francisco, Aaron Rowand is on the 15-day DL with some facial injuries suffered when he was hit by a Vicente Padilla pitch (he is expected to return in the first or second week of May). In his place, the Giants will likely run Velez out there an awful lot. What does Velez bring to the table? He is a very "toolsie" player, albeit one who lacks a very high baseball IQ (he is constantly getting picked off on the bases and takes poor routes to balls in the field). However, he does make things happen on offense, and in a 599 at-bat big league career he has used his blazing speed to steal 30 bases and to score 83 runs despite owning a career .309 OBP. He is a streaky player because of all the movement in his swing, but when he is locked in he can offer a whole lot of production.

In Boston, the aforementioned Ellsbury and Mike Cameron (abdominal injury) have both been placed on the DL, which will means the role of Hermida, the 11th overall pick in the 2002 draft, will increase (at least in the short-term). Long viewed as a disappointment, Hermida moved to Boston this season with the hope of putting behind him the failures he experienced in Florida. It's not that he hasn't been a decent major league player, it's just that first round picks aren't supposed to be decent major league players. In nearly 2,000 plate appearances in his career, he has struck out too much (25 percent of the time), lost the speed he once flashed in the minors (never more than six thefts in a big league season), and has basically been a replacement level player on offense (he owns a slash line of .264/.343/.429 whereas the league average during his career is .269/.340/.430).

So which player do you roster? Given the skill set of each, and the fact that both seem to be short-term fixes, I would go with Velez for two reasons. (1) He has dual position eligibility at second and the outfield, and (2) Velez can make a difference in the theft department. Hermida may be the better hitter, but even with full-time employment I just don't have faith that he will ever really figure it out.

I drafted Jose Lopez hoping for a big year, and he has stunk so far. I was recently offered Rickie Weeks straight up for him. Should I take the offer?-- Nate, Los Angeles

The last two years there have been few second basemen in baseball who have been more productive that Lopez. His total of 42 homers was fourth among second sackers, his 185 RBI was second only to Chase Utley, and his total of 126 extra base hits was seventh. Add in third base eligibility this season, and what wasn't there to like with this guy heading into the season? Alas, things have started off excruciatingly slowly for Lopez who is hitting .246 with one extra base hit, a double, through 15 games. Hell, his OBP of .266 is five points below his career batting average. So it is time to panic? Of course not. Unless he is injured, and we don't have any word to that effect, Lopez should end up being just fine, and remember, he now qualifies at second and third meaning he also has middle and corner infield eligibility making him a very nice player to have on your squad.

What about Mr. Weeks? I have a crush on him -- platonically speaking of course. I don't know how any one could look at the skills and not feel the same way. And this isn't just a case of a guy with skills who doesn't produce, Weeks has been very effective in his career with a 162 game average of 20 homers, 63 RBI, 113 runs scored and 27 steals. Sure he owns a career .249 batting average, but that really matters little when you look at the other four categories of the fantasy game since we are talking about a potential 20/20, 100-run threat from second base. Of course, an astute fantasy owner will realize that I said "per 162 games" and not per season, because Weeks has never appeared in more than 129 games in a campaign, and three times in five years he hasn't even made it out on the field for 100 games. Coming back from his second wrist surgery -- one on each -- worries about his long-term durability were louder than ever this offseason, though he has certainly quieted those skeptics somewhat in the early going with his performance (.333-2-9-11-1).

Talking all that into consideration, I think you have to hold on to Lopez. Weeks is certainly more dynamic, and I think you would be hard pressed not to acquiesce to the view that he has a higher upside, but the risk with him is also great because of his Milton Bradley-like injury history. Sometimes the devil you know is preferable to the one you don't.

I grabbed one guy late (Dallas Braden) and another off waivers (Doug Fister) to help my staff. Any chance either of them comes through and becomes an ace this season?-- Russ, Texas

Braden has been one of the better starting pitchers in the American League so far, going 2-0 with a 2.70 ERA, 0.75 WHIP and superb 5.33 K/BB mark. At the same time you would be wise to remind yourself we are only talking about 20 innings, including an outing against the sad sack Orioles. What everyone wants to know is if this hot start is legit or a fluke-based on sample size. I'd vote the latter. Braden owns a 2.01 K/BB mark in 300.2 big league innings, so it makes no sense to see him raise that mark over 150 percent this season. You also have to account for his current .198 BABIP, only .113 points below his career level. Braden was solid last season with a 3.89 ERA and 1.36 WHIP before an ankle injury slowed him down, but those ratios are more reflective of his overall skill set than the work we are seeing from him currently.

The Mariners are down two starters with Cliff Lee and Erik Bedard on the shelf, though Lee is expected back in about two weeks. At that time the Mariners will have to move a starter to the pen, and the popular belief is that Jason Vargas will be that guy, meaning that Fister will remain in the rotation. That's certainly good news for Fister owners like yourself, but at the same time, the upside is almost non-existent with this hurler. In 80 innings at the big league level, Fister owns a poor 5.06 K/9 mark, only passable because he keeps the walks in check (2.14 per nine). He's also been pretty fortunate to post a 3.49 ERA and 1.17 WHIP, thanks in no small part to a low .262 BABIP mark and a far too high 80 percent left on base rate. Toss in an average GB/FB ratio (1.11) and HR/F rate of 11 percent, and you have a pitcher who really does nothing outstanding on the hill despite his recent "success."

Neither one will be an "ace" of any kind this season, and I wouldn't be at all surprised to see Fister on many a waiver-wire in a month or two. Braden has more staying power and could end up being a decent depth arm in mixed leagues, but know that this is as good as it gets and that the road back to "decent" might be a bumpy ride.