June 05, 2012

Each week of the baseball season a committee of SI.com fantasy experts will meet at pitching mound and offer their insights into the most intriguing questions facing fantasy players.

1. Matt Kemp, Troy Tulowitzki and Dustin Pedroia all went down to injuries last week. How should fantasy owners manage the situations?

Will Carroll: By reading my column, of course. I wouldn't panic about any of them. Losing a star player is never good, but if you constructed your roster correctly, you shifted over to protect against this. The problem is that this probably isn't the first injury you're dealing with and maybe not your best player. Injuries may be the single most deterministic thing in fantasy baseball this year, which means it's a bit more luck and a lot more work.

Eric Mack: You cannot replace early rounders like this. The best you can do is hope for a speedy recovery. Kemp is out for June and is clearly the biggest loss. Maybe you stopgap his roster and lineup spot with a returning DL guy like Jason Bay. Tulo might just be a couple of weeks, while Dustin Pedroia is back Tuesday. Replacing Tulo is the toughest because of scarcity at shortstop. Mike Aviles and Jed Lowrie have been tremendous bargains relative to their late draft positions, but if you miss out on them, give the recently hot Zack Cozart a look. He is a rookie with pop and considerable upside here on out.

David Sabino: Let's start from the bottom here. Pedroia's torn adductor muscle in his right hand seems to have healed to the point that his return is imminent, possibly coming as soon as Tuesday at home against the Orioles. Tulowitzki's strained groin has him on the shelf for the next two weeks and it isn't considered too serious. Although he had been gaining momentum the last 10 days, smacking half of his home runs for the year and raising his batting average 25 points, Tulo's production hasn't been so tremendous that you won't be able to find a suitable temporary replacement. Kemp, on the other hand, is out for a month with what's become a chronic hamstring issue. Unfortunately, there's no replacement for the all-around productivity Kemp brings to a fantasy team. All a fantasy owner can do in this case is to try to stop the bleeding by plugging your lineup with the hot hand, someone like Lucas Duda or Michael Brantley, or in keeper leagues find a team bailing on the season early and try to deal some of your excess talent for a suitable replacement. If that fails, one needs to simply hope that Kemp can return to full strength in as short a time as possible.

2. A.J. Burnett and Barry Zito have proved better than many expected this season. Do you trust the good times to continue for both?

Carroll: Burnett's always been consistently inconsistent, so expecting anything is a bit much. Moving to the NL and out of the NY spotlight is a good thing for him. One thing to keep in mind is that Burnett is not a likely trade target -- .500 means a lot to the Pirates, so unless someone blows them away, a cheap Burnett is a good asset for them as they try to get back to that level. Zito is doing what he's always done and getting a little lucky. He's been injured for the better part of the last year, so getting back to his normal, flexible self is a big plus.

Mack: Well, we have seen brief stretches from each of them in the past few disappointing seasons that teased us into trusting them before -- only to let us down all over again. It will happen again, but getting some mileage out of them now is advisable in deeper leagues. Just expect the inevitable fall from grace and be prepared to want to send them back to the waiver wire in a fit of fantasy rage.

Sabino: Throughout his career, when Burnett has been good, he's been great, as evidenced by his 2.46 ERA and .216 batting average against in 125 career victories. However, when he's been bad, he's been downright awful. In his 113 career losses his ERA is 6.06 and opposing hitters bat a robust .275 against him. That's why I'm not buying fully into Burnett just yet. In fact, from June 13 to Sept. 7 last season, Burnett's ERA not only climbed from 3.98 to 5.66, it rose after each of the eight appearances he made, a streak that should have his owners trying to sell high on him now. Zito, on the other hand, has been in a groove all season, recapturing the form he showed in winning 102 games and a Cy Young Award in the East Bay. He's developed a great working rapport with catcher Hector Sanchez, and with Tim Lincecum struggling, has all but saved San Francisco's pennant chances. I can see him remaining among the more reliable starters in the NL.

3. The Astros are said by many to be readying a fire sale of their veterans. Whose potential move could bring the biggest return for fantasy owners?

Carroll: In fantasy terms, Brett Myers moving to a winning club would seem to be the best move, but the best teams don't always have the most save situations. I think Wandy Rodriguez could end up the fantasy prize, but he's a back end of the rotation guy. He could solidify a rotation and get a couple extra wins, but there's no huge jump from any of these players.

Mack: In the right situation as a closer, Myers can be an elite fantasy option, and there are plenty of places a reliable closer is needed. Myers would be a Top 10, if not a Top-5 closer if he was dealt to a win-now team like the Angels or Yankees. Carlos Lee was sent to the DL recently, so he won't be as worthy of generating much in the way of return in the near future. It would be hard to imagine a new destination that makes him more valuable than he would be in hitter-friendly Houston. Everyone is going to want and need Wandy Rodriguez, but it is more likely he takes the longest to deal, since he is going to have the most suitors vying for him. Anywhere he goes will raise his fantasy stock to being a solid start in all leagues through thick and thin.

Sabino: Since most of the Astros' best players like Jose Altuve, Jed Lowrie and J.D. Martinez are part of the rebuilding process, the sale of flawed veterans Lee (power outage and now injured), Myers (closer for Houston but won't be for anyone else) or Rodriguez (potentially a good starter for a contender, but Ubaldo Jimenez proves that crossing from the NL to the AL is no panacea). Perhaps the only players who'll gain value from such a "talent" sell-off will be the Astros who remain and get a chance to fill in the blanks, like first baseman Brett Wallace, potential closer David Carpenter and outfielder Justin Maxwell.

4. Baseball's amateur draft takes place this week. Is there anyone fantasy owners should take note of?

Carroll: There's no Chris Sale in this bunch, and even if there were, you don't get the real value from these picks for a couple years. If you're in one of those crazy deep leagues, someone like Mark Appel could come as quickly as anyone since the Astros will have a need (but also would have to start his clock.) College arms that can work in the bullpen are usually the fastest, so maybe Duke's Marcus Stroman, who's projected to go in the middle of the first round.

Mack: If recent drafts tell us anything, it doesn't take as long for the top picks to reach the majors and become significant contributors in fantasy leagues. Still, the elite guys from last June's draft have yet to make an impact in fantasy, so don't expect anything in the way of 2012 help. But these picks in the first round are going to dominant prospect talk and hype in the next 12 months for sure.

Sabino: The least scientific and reliable of all the major drafts, baseball has a long history of high draft picks flaming out and low picks becoming stars, so take all of this newfound analysis with a grain of salt. With a few exceptions (Bryce Harper), high draft picks have a relatively long road ahead to reach the big leagues. But history has shown that the quickest way to reach the majors is by being a collegiate pitcher drafted by a team in need of help on the mound. That's why for a short-term fix look at Pittsburgh's Mark Appel, Kansas City's Kyle Zimmer and Baltimore's Kevin Gausman, all of whom have a chance to make an impact before the end of the 2013 season.

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