Tony La Russa: Jeff Roberson/AP
Every sport has one. In basketball it's Golden State's Don Nelson. In football, Miami's Tony Sporano and New England's Bill Belichick are the most pronounced. And in baseball it's St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa. What is it that all of these men have in common? They are all nearly impossible to gauge when it comes to decision-making, and therefore they all make life impossible for fantasy owners. Thus far this season La Russa's Cardinals have been the hardest team to figure out, fantasy-wise, in the National League.
Always game for a good experiment (e.g. pitcher batting ninth) or reclamation project (Rick Ankiel, Todd Wellemeyer, etc.), La Russa (along with his longtime pitching coach Dave Duncan) may be best known for establishing the modern one-inning closer with his use of Dennis Eckersley in Oakland. However thus far this season he's been forced by circumstance to go to the dreaded closer by committee, consisting of flawed pitchers Ryan Franklin (average stuff), Jason Motte (high on potential, low on experience), Dennys Reyes (situational lefty), Kyle McClellan (suited for set-up) and now, as originally planned, Chris Perez (recalled yesterday from Triple A). In all, six different Cardinals relievers have been given save opportunities through the first nine games of the year, with three converting saves.
Then there's the mess at third base. Thinking that Troy Glaus would be sidelined by a bad shoulder for a month, the Cards auditioned temporary candidates all spring, with rookie David Freese the likely choice to start. Freese was sent out quickly as Joe Mather moved to the front of the line. Then Mather fell out of favor and off the roster while Freese re-entered the picture, along with longshots Brian Barden and Joe Thurston. However Glaus is now likely out until near the All-Star break and there is still no conventional solution to the third base problem. In the first 10 days of the season the hot corner hasn't been a platoon, it's been a carousel: with Barden playing the most games there (eight), Thurston playing the most innings (36), with Freese right behind in both categories.
Yet through all that, the Cardinals lead the NL Central with a 7-3 mark and are the perfect example of baseball being more about situations and team play than individuals. Unfortunately, fantasy baseball is all about the numbers and the predictable, which, with few exceptions (Albert Pujols, Ryan Ludwick and Yadier Molina to name a few) is a good reason to observe most of La Russa's team from afar and not from your roster.
It's awfully early in the season but these starters, including both 2008 Cy Young Award winners, are making fantasy owners who paid dearly to have them as staff anchors squirm in their seats.
Everth Cabrera, SS/2B, Padres
Although San Diego has jumped to the top of the NL West, this should end up being a rebuilding season before long. One of the sure signs that even Padres management doesn't expect the team to compete is the presence of Rule 5 pick, Everth Cabrera, on the 25-man roster. Selected from the Rockies organization, Cabrera, 22, had never played above Single A before, but must remain on the San Diego roster all season, or be offered back to Colorado for just $25,000. The switch-hitting Nicaragua native's calling card is blazing speed, which he used for the eye-popping total of 73 stolen bases last season for Asheville Tourists of the South Atlantic League. But even with the Pads, he's not in a great position to contribute to the fantasy bottom line this year, backing up sure-handed Luis Rodriguez at short and both David Eckstein and Edgar Gonzalez in the second-base pecking order. Cabrera may not even be viable in keeper leagues as he's very likely to return for more seasoning in the minors in 2010 should he remain on the roster all year in San Diego. Don't pick him up, but he's someone to keep an eye on for the 2011 season or even late in 2010.
C Henry Blanco, Padres (two home runs, .333 avg.)
1B Nick Swisher, Yankees (1.208 slugging percentage)
2B Orlando Hudson, Dodgers (.333 avg., hit for cycle)
SS Orlando Cabrera, Athletics (.323 avg.)
3B Emilio Bonifacio, Marlins (.500 on-base percentage, four steals)
OF Endy Chavez, Mariners (.394 average, five RBIs)
OF Raul Ibañez, Phillies (three home runs)
OF Josh Anderson, Tigers (.438 OBP)
SP A.J. Burnett, Yankees (2-0, 2.70 ERA, 15 Ks)
RP David Aardsma, Mariners (2 saves, 0.00 ERA, .071 opp. avg.)