MLB fantasy roundtable: Uncertain prospects for Upton, more debate
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. Justin Upton found himself benched last week. Will that spark him to find the groove he had last year or are fantasy owners in for more disappointment?
Will Carroll: Ken Kendrick went rogue on his own team, putting Upton, Stephen Drew and Kirk Gibson in a very awkward position. Gibson took this team to the playoffs based on motivation and a hard-nosed approach that you'd expect from Gibson. Now he's got to placate an owner and his stars' egos. Upton hasn't been right all year, but shouldn't we expect some comedown after last year? After seeing his brother B.J. struggle and tantalize for years, why did we think Justin wouldn't have any of the same ups and downs? I still like Upton but I'm realistic about him.
Eric Mack: You probably have already reached the depths of disappointment with Upton. The benching might not quite wake him up, but he should be offering increasing returns from here on out. Heck, he could be as good as any slugger in baseball in the second half. Now is no time to sell on one of the burgeoning young stars of fantasy.
David Sabino: It's never good to be singled-out by disappointed ownership, but that's what happened last week to Upton who drew the ire of managing general partner Ken Kendrick in a radio interview on XTRA 910 AM. Kendrick called Upton, 24, inconsistent, which the 2011 MVP candidate has been since injuring a thumb during the first series of the season. He has just one three-hit game this year, has no multiple home run performances and has yet to drive in more than two runs in any contest, not exactly what Kendrick, D'backs fans or fantasy owners were expecting. His brother, B.J., has experienced similar dry periods throughout his career with the Rays, some of which have lasted entire seasons. That and the possibility that he's playing with an injured wrist are enough to make me worry about his prospects for the rest of the season. Still, he's showing some signs of progress, having gone 4 for 11 with a couple of RBIs since his return to the lineup. Perhaps the rest, plus extra motivation from ownership has helped, but I can't see Upton challenging for any of the league's top honors this season.
2. For weeks, minor league stars Anthony Rizzo and Trevor Bauer have been tantalizing fantasy owners who cannot put them on an active roster. At what price are they worth stashing?
Carroll: Bauer isn't Strasburg, but he's not far off. If he can stay healthy, he's better ... or at least won't have the lost year and innings questions that Strasburg has. Bauer could be the true ace that Arizona hasn't had since (stupidly) trading Dan Haren. There hasn't been a better young pitcher since Tim Lincecum. Rizzo, I'm less interested in. It's nice to hit a bunch of homers in the PCL, but lots of people do that. Rizzo hasn't hit at the major league level in a couple tries and he couldn't beat out Bryan LaHair before we knew LaHair could actually stay hot for two months. Rizzo's a nice pickup if you need power, but you have to have room on the bench because the Cubs will not rush him.
Mack: As they are not here yet, it should be a minimal price. A lot of things can happen and only one of them is good: They get called up and star immediately. While they are intriguing long-term talents, the immediate returns might be mitigated by their youth and inexperience. Prospects are great to track, but only when they provide returns at a reduced rate. We already saw Rizzo come up and fail once.
Sabino: The question really is how much do you have to spend? Both Rizzo and Bauer are franchise-type players who will be among the most valuable fantasy performers for years to come once they finally reach the majors, so if there's any chance to get them either via FAAB, another waivers/free agency system or trade, you'd be doing a disservice to yourself by not exploring and then employing all options to secure them. Of course, that's for those playing in long-haul keeper leagues. For re-drafters, Bauer should become a great add to your staff for the second half of the season, but as many youngsters struggle at least a little when making their first foray into a regular rotation, his value is tempered to that of a solid, No. 2 or 3 starter. Rizzo has put up monster numbers in the Pacific Coast League, but so do many others. His situation in Chicago is also clouded by the "what to do with Bryan LaHair" question, which has delayed his arrival with the North Siders. Still, his power potential makes him as valuable to NL-only owners as a true starting first baseman would be if he were to come over from the AL.
3. Francisco Liriano seems to be experiencing a bit of a rebound. Do you trust him or is it wiser to stay away?
Carroll: I sat next to Twins GM Terry Ryan not too long ago and watched as he and the scouts eyeballed a mop-up inning from Liriano. To say he was doubtful about his potential is putting it mildly. What he said will stay off the record, but it's going to take a lot (or some injuries) to get Liriano back in the good graces of Ryan and Ron Gardenhire. It's not just going to be pitching either.
Mack: Liriano is still in a contract year and still relatively young at 28. He should be in his prime and taking off; instead, he is just try to hold down a major league job. His solid results of late took a hit with a bad outing Sunday, so clearly he cannot be completely trusted in mixed leagues. His talent and one-time potential make him worth stashing, though.
Sabino: Liriano has allowed at least four earned runs in eight of his 14 outings this season, seven of which came in his nine starts. Things looked better against the anemic A's and Royals, when he held them to a combined one-earned run over 12 innings upon his return to the rotation. In his last outing, though, he reverted to form, letting the Cubs touch him up for four runs. I wouldn't touch him, especially playing for a team that will be fortunate to avoid 95 losses.
4. Many owners are quick to drop a regular starter for short-term injury or slump. What rules do you follow in deciding when to drop a player?
Carroll: I'll do anything to improve my team, but I won't make snap decisions. When I ask "does this make me better?" I try to be unemotional. I focus on points, not players. I look for category fillers, not particular players. When I find an opportunity, I'll take it, but it has to work short and long term. Anyone can get lucky over a week, but winners focus on incremental improvements.
Mack: I use draft position and ownership percentages (you can get them on many of the major game sites) to determine the values of players. It doesn't necessarily matter what your opinion of a player is as much as the masses -- most specifically, the rest of the owners in your league. If you're thinking about dropping a player you drafted with a reasonably high pick or dollar value, first offer him around the league in trades. Pay close attention to how your league mates respond. If they have no interest in him, then it is absolutely safe to cut him. There is a chance the player you cut will just stay on the waiver wire. Clever fantasy roster management includes using your waiver wire as your extended bench. Draft position and ownership percentages can help you discern which players are roster worthy in different formats.
Sabino: I'm often guilty of being impatient with complementary players who cool off and too conservative when it comes to stashing players with injuries. However, most successful fantasy teams ride the tides of the season, ebbing and flowing as the action transpires, and reacting to opportunities when they're presented is the only way to win. My general rules of thumb are: How bad is the injury and what are the prospects for a full return and or recurrence? How has the player been performing otherwise? Who am I replacing him with? Is the replacement better? What are the keeper implications? Does the player I'm going to cut have trade value to someone; if so, am I better off making a small deal?
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