Archive for April, 2006

The Roving Thoughts of a Fantasy Insomniac

Sunday, April 30th, 2006
  • I’m as big of a Billy Beane fan that you’ll find, but two of his biggest recent acquisitions, Jason Kendall and Esteban Loaiza, are looking pretty terrible. Expensive too.
  • Don’t look now, but Corey Patterson is all of a sudden a valuable fantasy commodity.
  • Put a fork in Oliver Perez; he’s done.
  • Rich Harden is injury-prone. And by injury-prone, I mean he’s more brittle than my 94-year-old grandma who is now sporting her third different hip.
  • Kevin Mench was once known purely for having the largest head in all of sports; now, we can add feet to the newsworthy anatomy of one Kevin Mench.
  • Tigers outscored the Twins 33-1 this weekend; it’s safe to say Minnesota is not reaching my 88-win prediction.
  • Anyone else find it a little bizarre the Patriots first five draft picks went RB, WR, TE, TE and K?
  • It’s official; Marv Levy is senile. The Eagles look like the big winner from this weekend’s draft to me. LenDale White is the new Mike Williams. The Texans will be sorry.
  • I’m going to the Kings/Spurs game 4 tonight. Something tells me game 3 was the one I should’ve been at.
  • Still unsure about watching Mission Impossible III. I like Philip Seymour Hoffman, and JJ Abrams gives it hope, but Tom Cruise has reached too-crazy-to-take-serious status.
  • With new albums coming out for Tool, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and The Streets, maybe there’s hope for music after all.
  • Caught an episode of “The Real Housewives of Orange County” on Bravo the other day. Like a car crash, I literally couldn’t turn my eyes away from it.
  • And finally, go to http://www.familywatchdog.us/ to see if your neighborhood is safe. Apparently, no sex-offenders live in Mexico; I’m off to go pack my bags.

Market Watch

Friday, April 28th, 2006

SELL-HIGH

Tom Glavine: Glavine has been pitching well since the All-Star break of last year. He could maintain a sub-3.75 ERA all year and pick up a solid amount of wins. His current strikeout rate, however, doesn’t figure to last. He’s striking out 8.4 batters per nine innings this year; the last two years, it’s been 4.6 per nine. With little help in strikeouts and WHIP, Glavine may be overvalued at this point; see what you can get for him.

Ty Wigginton: The guy has gone from an afterthought to the D-Ray’s cleanup hitter in a matter of weeks. He has eight bombs, 22 RBI and a 987 OPS. Hurry and try to deal him before that 5/17 BB/K ratio catches up to him, because the career 766 OPS suggests a return to reality is imminent.

Jonny Gomes: Gomes has the ability to continue mashing taters at a nice clip, but if you can get a star in return, I suggest you do so. A poor contact rate should lead to an average in the .270 range. You might be able to get quite the return for him at this point.

Jack Wilson: Use Wilson’s hot start to your advantage, and talk up his return to 2004 form. Even if the high batting average is here to stay, Wilson doesn’t steal enough bases to be a truly valuable fantasy property. In the Bucs anemic offense, he’ll also struggle to score runs. Move him if possible.

Ben Broussard: Make offers with Broussard’s 8 RBI game in people’s recent memory. Remember that he platoons, so big counting stats aren’t likely. With a career OPS under 800, his current 1105 looks like quite the anomaly. The time is now to pull a deal off.

Mike Mussina: Maybe his elbow troubles are now truly in the past, and Moose is back to old form. If so, he has 20-win upside with a solid strikeout rate. If someone in your league believes all of this, I recommend pulling of a trade with him. If not, hold tight and hope it’s not just another streak and that his elbow remains sound.

Greg Maddux: His stuff has been so sick this year that the Cardinals asked the homeplate umpire to check to see if the ball was doctored three separate times last week. Maddux currently sits at 5-0 with a ridiculous 1.35 ERA. Normally a slow starter, Maddux has been a little underrated in recent years because he always contributes in WHIP. A good to great year is probably in store for Mad Dog, but it would behoove you to at least see what can be brought in return, as his numbers are unreal as of now.

DON’T SELL-HIGH

Victor Martinez: He’s just so much better than any other catcher out there. Dating back to last year’s All-Star break, V-Mart has now hit .382 for 346 at-bats now. Hitting in front of one of the game’s best hitters, Travis Hafner, doesn’t hurt either. Don’t deal him unless the offer is overwhelming.

Brad Hawpe: A RotoScoop favorite, Hawpe currently sits at .357/.419/.667. While the 1086 OPS is sure to drop, Hawpe should retain fantasy value all season long. His contact rate is something of a concern, but Hawpe is now an established member of the Rockies lineup. The fact he is hitting .439 on the road and .279 at home could be seen as encouraging, as it’s only a matter of time before he begins to take advantage of Coors Field.

BUY-LOW

Mike Sweeney: One homer and under the Mendoza line for Sweeney this year. The thinking is he can be acquired extremely cheap. Although still an injury risk, becoming a full time DH should really help in that regard. Sweeney will hit; he is a career .300 hitter and sports an 871 OPS. He even has improved lineup protection with the addition of Reggie Sanders this year. Feel free to take him off the hands of impatient owners tired of his injuries and lack of production.

Barry Zito: Zito has a career ERA of 5.04 in April. His next highest month is all the way down to 3.76. Clearly the best way to handle Zito is let someone else get fed up with his April, and then deal for him in May. His poor numbers thus far stem from getting hit hard by Texas twice and the Yankees once. His WHIP is fine and batters are only hitting .211 against him. The A’s offense will only get better; he’s pitching in front of a terrific defense, and is in a contract year. Go get him.

Jake Peavy: He’s 1-3 with an ERA over 5. Hardly the only pitcher off to a slow start after participating in the WBC, Peavy will get it figured out soon enough, as he is throwing the ball just fine. Results are soon to follow. There won’t be a better time to go after him.

DON’T BUY-LOW

Carl Crawford: Listen, Crawford will still probably manage to swipe 40-50 bases this year and no doubt be valuable. But the shoulder injury should not be taken lightly. If you listen to Crawford himself, not many other players would even be playing with it. It’s something that could affect his hitting throughout the year and can partially explain his slow start.

Jon Garland: Obviously he’s going to improve upon his 7.30 ERA and 1.66 WHIP, but still, last year is looking more and more like a fluke. His horrid start is especially worrisome when you consider he has faced a rather easy schedule: Kansas City twice, Detroit and Seattle. Last year’s 18-win campaign is a distant memory; I’d rather own Brandon McCarthy.

PICK UP

Juan Cruz: If you’re in a deep league, consider nabbing Cruz from the waiver wire. He is set to replace the D-Backs $33 million man, Russ Ortiz, in the rotation. Cruz was once a top prospect in the Cubs system and was traded from the A’s earlier this year. He has electric stuff, a live arm and finds himself in a good division for pitching. Give him a chance and hope his command is on. There is actually quite a bit of upside here.

NFL Draft Preview: Sleepers

Thursday, April 27th, 2006

Editor’s note: The following article is not written by RotoScoop’s administrator, Dalton Del Don. It is written by Jeff Chudnofsky, who will be handling the NFL Draft coverage.

We are all familiar with the publicized group of likely first round picks, but there are players flying under the radar who will make impacts in the NFL. While some futures are brighter than others, here are some names you might hear called in rounds 2-7.

Thomas Howard, OLB, UTEP– Howard has incredible range and is built like a strong safety. From snap to whistle, he plays at full throttle and has shown the ability to shed blockers. He performed well in pre-draft workouts and is likely to be picked at the top of the 2nd round. Howard needs to line up at weak OLB, as he is more effective chasing the play from behind. Possible landing spots- New York Jets, Oakland, Philadelphia

Drew Olson, QB, UCLA– Olson led the nation with 34 touchdown passes, with just six interceptions. Built like Trent Dilfer or Matt Hasselbeck, Olson has shown the ability to make smart decisions and is a perfect developmental QB for the West Coast Offense. Scouts criticize his arm strength, but Olson can throw a good enough deep ball to make it on the next level. He could go as high as the third round but is probably a second day pick. Olson is a diamond in the rough if he lands in the right system. If Mike Holmgren, Andy Reid, or Brad Childress are able to select him, Olson just might have a career like Hasselbeck, Dilfer or Rich Gannon. Possible landing spots- Kansas City, Seattle, Philadelphia, Tampa Bay

Taurean Henderson, RB, Texas Tech– We often hear success stories of overlooked running backs that slipped through the cracks of the NFL Draft. For every Curtis Enis, there is a Priest Holmes. Built like Holmes, Henderson (5-10, 205 lbs) is elusive in the open field and has shown exceptional receiving ability. He does not have amazing speed but shows adequate burst running to the outside and is surprisingly effective in short yardage. No doubt a second day selection, Henderson will provide a team with versatility and could possibly serve as a third-down back in year one. Solid value with slept-on upside; just remember, Terrell Davis was drafted in the 6th round and Holmes wasn’t even drafted. Possible landing spots- New England, Jacksonville, St. Louis

Brandon Marshall, WR, Central Florida– At 6-5, 210 lbs, Marshall’s size alone is worth a draft pick. A former safety turned receiver, look for a team to draft him ala Jerry Porter and wait until his route running and coverage reads are ready. Marshall could be a lethal red zone target and has shown willingness to block as well. He might line up as an H-Back due to his marginal speed (4.52 in the 40-yard-dash), but staying at WR is still more likely. Marshall is also a day two pick but has the physical tools to make an impact on the next level. Possible landing spots- Buffalo, Miami, Denver

Omar Jacobs, QB, Bowling Green– Jacobs was a topic of conversation at the combine, as scouts and GMs alike are amazed with his accuracy and athleticism. His 3?4 throwing motion scares off some scouts, along with the fact that Bowling Green worked primarily from the shotgun. At 6-4, 226 lbs, his size is only eclipsed by his rocket arm, with agility to match. He will be a third round selection, possibly earlier if one team locks onto him. Possible landing spots- Arizona, Dallas, Baltimore

Demetrius Williams, WR, Oregon– Product of De La Salle High School in Concord, Calif., Williams developed well at Oregon, amassing 1,059 yards and 10 touchdowns as a senior. He was phenomenal at the Senior Bowl, raising eyebrows with his reliable hands and route running ability. Standing 6-2 and 185 lbs, Williams has ability to start in the NFL but needs to get stronger and improve against bump and run coverage. A prototypical No. 2 receiver, Williams is likely to go in the third round. Possible landing spots Denver, Green Bay, Oakland, Seattle, New York Giants

Ryan O’Callaghan, G/T, California– If not for recurring shoulder injuries in college, O’Callaghan might have been a first round pick. At a whopping 6-7, 340 lbs, this pass protector will make you more miserable than Ricky Manning Jr. at a late night trip to Denny’s. Stout versus the bull rush, he is not as explosive pulling on the run. O’Callaghan will have the chance to start in the NFL, and if he can avoid further injury to his left shoulder, you might see him in the Pro Bowl one day. He should be gone by the end of the third round. Possible landing spots- Cleveland, Houston, Tennessee

Orien Harris, DT, Miami– The younger brother of San Francisco OT Kwame Harris, Orien will slip through the cracks despite anchoring the defensive line at the U. His physical tools need improvement, in areas such as footwork, conditioning and explosion; improvements I believe he is capable of making. Orien has the quickness to line up in the 4-3 and is a high reward/high risk player. With proper coaching on his technique, he will be an NFL starter within two years. He’ll be grabbed up in the third or fourth rounds. Possible landing spots- Detroit Lions, Miami Dolphins, New York Giants

NFL Draft Preview: Picks 21-32

Thursday, April 27th, 2006

Editor’s note: The following article is not written by RotoScoop’s administrator, Dalton Del Don. It is written by Jeff Chudnofsky, who will be handling the NFL Draft coverage.

21. New England Patriots– It was bound to happen. Not every player you plug in will win you championships. In the modern NFL, it is too difficult to keep veteran free agents when you abide by the GM Scott Pioli business model. Losing key players like OLB Willie McGinest and K Adam Vinatieri will result in a youth movement for the Pats. Safety Rodney Harrison is facing his last years in the NFL while rehabbing a torn ACL, while stopgap veteran corners Tyrone Poole and Duane Starks take their services to Oakland. New England is still solid on the D-line, but their linebackers are aging and the back end is vulnerable to the deep ball. At 21, New England will grab the best available player that fits their system. That player is OLB Bobby Carpenter from THE Ohio State University. Major needs-OLB, MLB, S, RB

22. San Francisco (via Denver, via Washington)– Former NYJ GM/Sirius NFL Radio personality Pat Kirwin describes Iowa OLB Chad Greenway as “A safety playing linebacker.” Greenway will be a good fit for Coach Mike Nolan’s rebuilding of the 3-4, replacing Julian Peterson on the outside. I’d be tempted to couple Ohio State WR Santonio Holmes with Vernon Davis, but then again, John York isn’t paying me the big bucks (and of recently he hasn’t paid anyone but Alex Smith the fat cheddar either). Nolan is a defensive-minded coach, and linebacker coach Mike Singletary would love to groom a talent like Greenway. The run on outside linebackers continues with the 49ers selecting Greenway. Major needs- RB, WR, OLB, CB, DT, DE

23. Tampa Bay Bucs– The Tampa Bay offense was surprisingly effective last year, much in part to QB Chris Simms rapport with WR Joey Galloway. Second year wideout Michael Clayton took a step backward from his rookie campaign, but Coach Jon Gruden still has confidence in him. With Ohio State WR Santonio Holmes still on the board, do the Bucs elect to take the best player available, or do they address an aging linebacker unit? Derrick Brooks still has some pop left in him, and the Bucs signed former SF/JAX LB Jamie Winborn. Tight end is also an option, with talented players such as Marcedes Lewis and Leonard Pope available, but rookie Alex Smith (Stanford) flashed enough potential in ’05 to let Tampa Bay look elsewhere. The Bucs will address a bigger need at safety, as FA Dexter Jackson opted to sign with Cincinnati. The Bucs will acquire the services of Donte Whitner of THE Ohio State University. With Michael Huff off the board, Whitner is the best safety available. Major needs- S, TE, G

24. Cincinnati Bengals– To say head coach Marvin Lewis has done a phenomenal job building this franchise is an understatement. This off-season has been no different, as Cincy signed mammoth DT Sam Adams to fix the run defense. The aforementioned acquisition of Dexter Jackson solidifies one of the best secondary corps in the AFC, joining CBs Deltha O’Neal and Tory James, along with SS Madieu Williams. The arrival of Adams has Coach Lewis contemplating a switch to the 3-4, which would allow second year OLB David Pollack to play more of a natural position coming off the edge. Pollack struggled to adapt to playing SLB in the 4-3 system. The Bengals stole MLB Odell Thurman in the 2nd round of the 2005 draft, so a MLB is not likely in the event that they stay in the 4-3. Lewis will not rush the defense into a new system, so Cincy will address the last weak link on offense by selecting Marcedes Lewis, TE from UCLA. If Carson Palmer can recover from off-season surgery, the potent Bengal offense will be sicker than Dylan Baker in the film “Happiness.” Major needs- TE, LB, DE

25. New York Giants– The G-Men recently acquired OLB LaVar Arrington via free agency; so addressing a struggling group of outside backers is not as mandatory as previously perceived. The constantly injured Tackle Luke Petitgout could find his eventual replacement in Eric Winston, a road-grading Tackle from the U. At this point, Santonio Holmes is too good to pass up and would be a good replacement under aging WR Amani it’s not a Toomer. The Giants could opt for help at corner by taking a look at South Carolina’s Johnathan Joseph, but QB Eli Manning can use all the help he can get to reach his potential. NYG would be wise to accommodate their large investment in Manning by giving him yet another talented weapon in his arsenal. Major needs-CB, T, WR, OLB

26. Chicago Bears– Who would win…Da Bears or God? It depends if WR Steve Smith is on God’s team. The Chicago secondary was torched by Smith in the playoffs, so the Bears might add another playmaker for their secondary. The front seven is stellar, and I chalk up Steve Smith’s success in the playoffs to Chicago Head Coach Lovie Smith’s decision to play single coverage on the Carolina WR. Current CB’s Peanut Tillman and Jerry Azumah had been pretty good up to that point in the year, so Lovie will probably use them in a different fashion when they meet Carolina again. However, Coach Smith won’t take any chances, so look for Da Bears to draft Clemson CB Tye Hill. Chicago is better off grabbing a playmaker on offense, but with Holmes and Chad Jackson likely gone, the Bears are unlikely to reach for Sinorice Moss. Georgia TE Leonard Pope is a possibility, but there is plenty of depth in this year’s tight end class. Hill is a likely pick in this spot for Chicago. Major needs-WR, TE, DB

27. Carolina Panthers– Deshaun Foster is too brittle to be penciled in for 16 starts. Rookie Eric Shelton was drafted in the second round of ’05 to be the short yardage replacement for Stephen Davis. The Carolina backfield has been decimated by injuries during the course of two seasons. If Memphis RB DeAngelo Williams is available, the Panthers will draft him to form a versatile three-headed monster in Charlotte. I don’t see the Cats going with a defensive player here; the run on outside linebackers has left the pool shallow and Williams is too good to pass up. Major needs-RB, TE

28. Jacksonville Jaguars– This team is quietly becoming a legitimate contender in the AFC, much in part to their stout run defense. The pass rush needs improvement to take pressure off their stellar D-Tackles, John Henderson and Marcus Stroud. Another playmaker on offense wouldn’t hurt, as Fred Taylor is injury-prone and getting up there in years (by NFL RB standards). Wide Receiver Jimmy Smith is no spring chicken either, but the Jags spent a 2005 first round pick on former Arkansas QB/WR Matt Jones. With the high-powered passing attack of the Colts to deal with in the AFC South, the Jaguars are likely to add a pass rusher here to harass Peyton Manning. Although some scouts have him sliding into the second round, Boston College DE Mathias Kiwanuka would be a solid pick, giving Jacksonville some much needed speed flying off the edge. Major needs-DE, RB, TE

29. New York Jets (via Denver)– The Jets could very well use this pick as bait to trade up in the draft. If they stand pat, New York will address the running back position by selecting Minnesota RB Laurence Maroney, the heir apparent for Curtis Martin. Although Maroney did not carry a full load in college, he’s built for durability and versatile in the passing game. Major needs-RB, DE, OLB, QB

30. Indianapolis Colts– With the loss of LB David Thornton to free agency, look for the Colts to replenish their defense. Workhorse RB Edgerrin James also bolted out of Indy, so the Colts wouldn’t think twice if DeAngelo Williams or Maroney is available. With USC Tailback LenDale White nursing a torn hamstring/feeding his face/getting out benched by punters, the Colts are more likely to draft a replacement for Thornton than reach for a running back. Web rumors suggest that the Colts might shop this pick to Chicago for disgruntled RB Thomas Jones, who would be a superb fit in the Indy offense. I think they’ll get a deal done for Jones, so Alabama OLB DeMeco Ryans would make a good selection and start immediately at outside-backer. Major needs- RB, OLB, and postseason success.

31. Seattle Seahawks– The Rain Birds seem to have all of their bases covered. If some calls went their way and Jerramy Stevens could catch, they might have hoisted the Lombardi Trophy. They will most likely take the best available safety on the board and upgrade the position over current starter Etric Pruitt. USC safety Darnell Bing would form an electric tandem with former college teammate/MLB Lofa Tatupu. Tennessee safety Jason Allen is a possibility, but recent hip problems have caused his stock to slip. The ‘Hawks take Bing and add a hard-hitting safety with great range. Major needs-Safety, DT (to pair with Rocky Bernard)

32. Pittsburgh Steelers– The Champs can go in any direction here. LenDale White is a strong possibility, regardless of his hammy tear; the Steelers can afford to let him heal. Despite the retirement of Jerome Bettis and the FA departure of DT Kimo Von Oelhoffen, the biggest area of need is wide receiver, as playmaker Antwaan Randle El left for Washington. The Steelers address this need by adding one of the most exciting players in the draft, WR Sinorice Moss from the U. Although he lacks Randle El’s QB pedigree, Moss will be a versatile weapon for creative offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt. Much like his older brother, Santana Moss, Sinorice can line up in the slot, on the outside and immediately serve as a punt/kick returner. His upside is bigger than Sean Salisbury’s midsection. Major needs-WR, DT, RB

Delmon Young and Restless

Thursday, April 27th, 2006

According to MLB.com, Devil Rays top prospect Delmon Young is facing a potentially lengthy suspension after throwing his bat at an umpire’s chest during Wednesday night’s game at Pawtucket.

Young is the consensus No.1 prospect in all of baseball. Apparently, he didn’t agree with a third strike call, stayed in the batter’s box and glared at the umpire for about 30 seconds. After moving toward the dugout he was ejected, which prompted the soon to be infamous bat toss. First Josh Hamilton and now this, pretty crazy.

Player Spotlight: Bronson Arroyo

Wednesday, April 26th, 2006

The man who A-Rod and Tim McCarver think is named Brandon is off to a tremendous start. After eight innings of one-hit ball on Wednesday, he currently stands with a 2.34 ERA, 0.94 WHIP and a 30/7 K/BB ratio. Yes, the National League is treating him well.

Arroyo was set to open the year out of the bullpen before getting dealt from Boston. It was a trade the Red Sox supposedly promised wouldn’t happen. Since then, Arroyo has been pitching with a determination that has led to terrific results. It was evident immediately following the trade, as a motivated Arroyo fanned nine former Red Sox teammates in seven scoreless innings in his final exhibition start.

In his second regular season start, he shut out the Cubs in seven innings while facing a 17-MPH-wind blowing out, which led to six Reds homers; making it a downright impressive performance. Being a flyball pitcher in Great American Ball Park doesn’t seem like a great fit, but so far Arroyo’s mixture of breaking balls is playing nicely in the NL, especially the wicked slider.

Obviously, he’s pretty much pitching over his head thus far; he’s not going to morph into a top-20 fantasy pitcher or something. Still, with the Reds offense clicking and in a division that features the Pirates, a Derrek Lee-less Cubs, and a diminishing Cards lineup, wins could be coming in bunches. But don’t listen to me, take it from A-Rod himself: “Brandon is a great pitcher,” Rodriguez said. “I played against him in high school.”

Nash to win MVP

Wednesday, April 26th, 2006

According to an anonymous league source, Steve Nash will be named the NBA’s Most Valuable Player for the second straight season. This should come as absolutely no surprise, as he seemed to be the media’s consensus choice.

That doesn’t mean it’s the right choice. The fact that once again writers got an award voting wrong should also not be surprising, but it’s still dumbfounding. Do these people actually watch basketball?

Nash will be only the 9th player in the history of the league to win the award in consecutive seasons. Listen, Nash had a great year and in other seasons would be deserving; this year, anyone paying attention knows LeBron and Kobe are more valuable basketball players. First off, they both play defense. If given ten one-on-one opportunities, don’t you get the feeling you could score on Nash at least one time?

A guy who averaged 31.4 PPG, 7 RPG, and 6.6 dimes, or a guy who dropped over 35 points on his opponents head each night, including an 81 point effort (the single-greatest regular season performance ever?) will be regarded as the third most valuable player in basketball this year; what a joke.

NFL Draft Preview: Picks 11-20

Tuesday, April 25th, 2006

Editor’s note: The following article is not written by RotoScoop’s administrator, Dalton Del Don. It is written by Jeff Chudnofsky, who will be handling the NFL Draft coverage.

11. St. Louis Rams– The Rams are as likely as any team to trade down at this spot, as a QB starved team might take a stab landing Jay Cutler. The Rams have many holes on defense, so they would certainly entertain a trade if the price is right. Minnesota and the Jets (NYJ also holds the 29th pick) are possible suitors. If a trade does not ensue, St. Louis will address the D-line or secondary. Virginia Tech CB/S Jimmy Williams has been labeled as a “bad seed,” but rookie Head Coach Scott Linehan might look the other way. The back end is the Rams’ weak link, so look for them to snag Williams and sign him to a contract with plenty of behavior based clauses. Major needs- CB, DT, OL, TE

12. Cleveland Browns– If either Ngata or Bunkley fall, Cleveland is sure to grab a DT. Head Coach/Defensive Guru Romeo Crennel was instrumental in New England’s three championships, especially in regards to the development of linebackers such as Mike Vrabel and Teddy Bruschi. Crennel toys with mixtures of the 3-4 and 4-3, and if he cannot draft one of the “big boys” to plug the line, he will most likely grab an outside linebacker. Iowa OLB Chad Greenway has visited the Browns, but his stock hasn’t recovered since his poor showing at the combine. I believe Bunkley will be on the board and become a Cleveland Brown. Major needs- DT, OLB, DE, S

13. Baltimore Ravens– Ray Lewis would love for the Ravens to select a bodyguard/DT, but Ngata and Bunkley could be gone by this point. If Winston Justice falls, in lieu of Cutler, he is a lock for this pick. The Ravens might put a deal together to sneak into the top 10 for a DT. If Justice, Ngata and Bunkley are all gone by 13, a trade down is also a possibility. Head Coach Brian Billick has stated that he wants a veteran QB (*cough* Steve McNair) to compete with incumbent Kyle Boller, so Cutler is not a likely choice here unless Minnesota or another team trades up. The Ravens find themselves in a tough spot, but they opt for the best talent on the board by selecting Ernie Sims, WLB out of Florida State. Sims immediately challenges incumbent stiff Tommy Polley on the outside as the Ravens prepare for life without Ray Lewis. Major needs- DT, DE, OL, OLB

14. Philadelphia Eagles– The Philly Birds lost the LeCharles Bentley sweepstakes and are looking to find a center to call out protections for oft-bruised QB Donovan McNabb. Ohio State’s Nick Mangold has scouts, GMs and glow stick tweakers raving over his maturity and ability. The Eagles are rumored to be enamored with FSU linebacker Ernie Sims, who would be the inevitable replacement for WLB Keith Adams. In the end, look for Philadelphia to trade down with Minnesota (14th for Minny’s 17th and an extra pick) in a gamble that they can select Mangold at 17 while acquiring a 3rd or 4th round pick. The Minnesota Vikings (via Phi) select Vanderbilt QB Jay Cutler. *Cutler walks to the podium with his leg half asleep. Major needs- C, OLB, WR

15. Denver Broncos (via Atlanta)– Denver has grown frustrated with the inconsistency of WR Ashley Lelie and could very well ship him to Green Bay for disgruntled WR Javon Walker. Rod Smith is not getting any younger, so Denver is in line to select a receiver, albeit from a very thin pool. Coach Mike Shanahan is very unpredictable, but I believe he will opt for the services of WR Chad Jackson (6-1, 215, 4.40 in the 40 yard dash) from the Florida Gators. Major needs- WR, TE

16. Miami Dolphins– Head Coach Nick Saban is currently searching for a way to move this aging defense to the 3-4. Since the Fins’ best playmakers (MLB Zach Thomas, DE Jason Taylor) are suited for the 4-3, Saban will select an OLB who can fit in both systems. NC State OLB/DE Manny Lawson is a great fit at OLB, immediately replacing Junior Seau as the weak side linebacker. Second year pro Channing Crowder will move to the strong side. Some scouts wonder if Lawson’s collegiate success was due to him lining up next to Mario Williams. Saban will cast those concerns aside and draft Lawson, who makes an instant impact for the vastly improving Dolphins. Major needs- OLB, S, CB

17. Minnesota Vikings– No more meter maids, no more chartered cruises. New head coach Brad Childress, the former mentor/OC for Eagles HC Andy Reid, is looking to build the Vikings into an instant contender in the mediocre NFC North. QB Brad Johnson is not getting any younger, and as stated before, the Purple and Gold will move up to nab Cutler. Picking in place of Minnesota, the Eagles select Nick Mangold, C, THE Ohio State University. Major needs- LB, QB, OL

18. Dallas Cowboys– Parcells and the Boys did a fantastic job in last year’s draft with the selections of 3-4 hybrid DeMarcus Ware and DE Marcus Spears. Although they will be tempted to add a free safety to offset coverage mismatches with safety Roy Williams, look for Dallas to add more talent in the linebacker unit with the selection of FSU OLB/DE Kamerion Wimbley, who will line up as the right OLB in the 3-4. Major needs- FS, MLB, OLB

19. San Diego Chargers– Like Dallas, the Chargers pass rush last year was aided by a solid 2005 draft. Rookie Shawn Merriman morphed from a holdout in training camp to a Pro Bowler, notching 10 sacks in 15 games. Despite the improved pass rush and run defense, the San Diego secondary did not improve. In the run & gun AFC West, it is imperative that the Bolts upgrade at cornerback. San Diego drafts Florida State CB Antonio Cromartie, who has been labeled as the best Seminole CB since Deion Sanders. He is unlikely to fill Deion’s shoes on the NFL level but is sure to be an improvement in the San Diego secondary. Major needs- CB, S, WR

20. Kansas City Chiefs– In 2005, second year DE Jared Allen came out of nowhere to record 11 sacks for KC. On the left side of the defensive line, the Chiefs struggled to provide additional support. Kansas City made improvements in the secondary and linebacker units last year, so addressing the front four is a top priority. Look for the Chiefs to provide Allen with a tag team partner with the selection of Tamba Hali, defensive end from Penn State. Major needs- DT, DE, WR

NFL Draft Preview: Picks 1-10

Tuesday, April 25th, 2006

Editor’s note: The following article is not written by RotoScoop’s administrator, Dalton Del Don. It is written by Jeff Chudnofsky, who will be handling the NFL Draft coverage.
1. Houston Texans– Don’t buy into the recent hype of Houston selecting Mario Williams or Vince Young. As Saturday grows closer, expect more rumors to swirl regarding potential trades, but treat these rumors as pure posturing to negotiate the contract of one Reggie Bush. The “Chief Buy Me House” scandal may negate Bush’s collegiate accomplishments, but it will not affect his draft status. The Texans do not have a leg to stand on in regards to drafting Vince Young; they already extended the contract of QB David Carr. Texans coach Gary Kubiak is confident that his bootleg heavy system will help Carr stay on his feet, and with the addition of WR Eric Moulds, the Texans offense could be much improved. I believe Virginia T D’Brickashaw Ferguson would address their needs better, but I cannot see the Saints, Jets or Titans trading up for Bush. With the first pick of the 2006 NFL Draft, the Houston Texans select USC RB Reggie Bush. Major needs- OL, OLB, DE

2. New Orleans Saints– The Saints could go in many directions here. A trade down is a legitimate possibility, but not many teams have the firepower or motivation to trade two first round picks for this spot. Mario Williams has been a popular mock draft choice, but with Charles Grant and Will Smith anchoring the DE spot in Naw’lins, I believe they will draft Ferguson to be a cornerstone on their offensive line. UFA QB Drew Brees essentially signed a short-term deal, so QB Matt Leinart is a possibility, but I believe the brevity of Brees’ contract has less to do with drafting a QB and more to do with the evaluation on his injured shoulder. With the 2nd pick of the NFL draft, the Saints select Virginia T D’Brickashaw Ferguson. Major needs- LB, S, OL

3. Tennessee Titans– Now or later? Steady or exciting? Ivory or Ebony? Leinart or Young. A case can be made for both, and the Titans are likely to pick a QB. Leinart has the obvious USC ties to former o-coordinator Norman Chow and USC alum Jeff Fisher, but Titans owner Bud Adams is reportedly smitten with Texas QB Vince Young. Come draft day, the pro-ready Leinart will be the 3rd overall selection based on the approval of Chow and Fisher. The question remains…how many games before Leinart ditches the NFL to star in Scary Movie 5, The Real World, or host TRL? Major needs-QB, WR, OL, OLB

4. New York Jets– This pick is very contingent upon the Saints at #2. NYJ gets the sloppy seconds of the Mario Williams/Ferguson choice. In this case, DE Mario Williams fills both need and value for the Jets and their rookie Head Coach Eric Mangina, oops, Mangini. A disciple of the raved Belichick coaching tree, Mangini will no doubt employ a version of the 3-4, where Williams thrives at rushing the passer and dropping into coverage ala Willie McGinest. With the 4th pick the Jets select NCST DE Mario Williams. A QB selection is an option, but Mangini will lean on newly acquired Patrick Ramsey instead of a rookie coach grooming a rookie QB. Major needs- RB, DE, OLB, QB

5. Green Bay Packers– In hindsight, maybe that Aaron Rodgers pick was a bit premature, but someone cannot make up his damn mind. Instead of drafting Leinart or Young, the Packers will address the defensive side of the ball and select A.J. Hawk, OLB from THE Ohio State University. This seems to be a no-brainer. Major needs-OLB, CB, S, G, WR

6. San Francisco 49ers– The Niners recently traded their 2nd and 3rd RD picks to Denver (37th and 68th) for the 22nd pick in the first round. This gives SF freedom to address their offense with the 6th overall pick, giving prepubescent QB Alex Smith a safety valve in Vernon Davis, the freakishly gifted TE out of Maryland. Safety Michael Huff from Texas is a possibility, but the 22nd overall pick will probably be used on defense. Niners go with Davis here. Major needs-WR, TE, CB, T, RB

7. Oakland Raiders– As much as I’d like to see Oakland win now, Owner Al Davis will draft Vince Young if available. Huff, or Oregon DT Haloti Ngata fill immediate needs on defense, but Young is too talented to pass up. Young will sit behind Aaron Brooks for at least one season before throwing bombs to Randy Moss. The Raiders are likely to address their strong-side LB in the 2nd round and will acquire another DB and DT in the draft as well. After acquiring New England DB’s Tyrone Poole and Duane Starks, the Oakland secondary is no longer a major need. With the selection of Young, I probably won’t lose at Madden ever again. Major needs-QB, SLB, S, G, DT

8. Buffalo Bills– The departure of Sam Adams leaves a gaping hole in Buffalo’s defensive trenches. Haloti Ngata makes a lot of sense here, as aging MLB London Fletcher and OLB Takeo Spikes (recovering from a torn Achilles) need a big body in front of them to allow them to sweep the field. Michael Huff is arguably the best player on the board at this spot, but the Buffalo secondary is in better shape than their defensive line. Florida State DT Broderick Bunkley is climbing up draft boards, but Ngata is a blue chip talent that has raised comparisons to Jacksonville DT John Henderson. Major needs-DT, T, G, DE

9. Detroit Lions– Head Coach Rod Marinelli, previously Tampa Bay’s DL coach, would love to have a body like Ngata anchoring his front seven, but Michael Huff is the likely choice here. Versatile enough to play corner and both safety positions, Huff will provide hard hits, intelligent coverage decisions and an immediate impact in the Detroit secondary, modeled after the Tampa Cover 2 system. Huff has Pro Bowl written all over him. Major needs-DT, S, OLB, MLB

10. Arizona Cardinals– New stadium. New running back. New expectations. The Cardinals offense was explosive last year despite offensive line woes and a stagnant running game. Look for USC OT Winston Justice to open up holes for Edgerrin James while keeping aging QB Kurt Warner upright. Many prognosticators call for Vanderbilt QB Jay Cutler here, but Denny Green is not exactly patient with young quarterbacks. The Cards go for Justice and will look to chip away at Seattle’s lead in a very weak NFC West. Major needs- OL, OL, OL, DB

Balance – An Overrated Commodity

Monday, April 24th, 2006

Editor’s note: The following article is not written by RotoScoop’s administrator, Dalton Del Don. It is written by Robby Wellington, who will be a regular contributor to the site.

With the third week of the year in the books and the fantasy waiver wire bereft of any real talent, owners begin the quest to improve their teams via the old-fashioned trade.

These days league message boards are often populated with posts along the lines of “Who needs steals? I want a closer in return.” That owner is, most likely, near the top of the league in steals, but hurting in saves and, like many other owners tend to do during this time of year, erroneously employing the principles of comparative advantage to rectify the situation. Because, this early in the year, a balanced team is not necessarily a good team. In fact, owners’ obsession with maintaining a balanced lineup and rotation throughout the year is one of the great fallacies of fantasy baseball.

Balance is certainly not a bad thing by any stretch of the imagination; the ideal fantasy teams, and the ones that are usually still contending in October, have a balanced attack: a couple of mashers, a speed guy or two, some stud starting pitchers, solid closers. However, you should not be going out of your way to acquire a player to help you in a deficient category. Your primary goal when it comes to trading early in the year should be getting better players than you are giving up (another important goal should be shedding multiple marginal players for one or two quality guys, a staple of the savvy fantasy owner. . .but we’ll talk about that some other time).

Really the only time you should be concerned with improving your team in a specific category is with the trading deadline looming, and even then, you still shouldn’t necessarily be looking to improve in your weakest areas but rather in the most hotly contested categories where the most roto points can be either gained or lost. But right now, it’s still early in the year and you should be trading for talent, not overreacting over categories in which you are deficient.

That being said, there are probably plenty of owners in your league who are overly concerned that they are trailing in saves, SBs, HRs or some other category. Check the standings, find out who’s behind in which categories, and use that to your advantage in hammering out an advantageous deal.

Cuba’s Finest

Monday, April 24th, 2006

Jose Contreras followed up a 5.50 ERA in 2004 with a 7.04 spring training in 2005. He was then rather unimpressive through July; since then, he’s been baseball’s best pitcher.

In his last 15 games started in the regular season, Contreras is 12-1 and winner of 11 straight. His ERA stands at a minuscule 1.92 and WHIP a microscopic 1.05. It doesn’t end there. Last year in the postseason, he went 3-1 with a 3.09 ERA while sporting a 14/2 K/BB ratio and holding opponents to a .222 batting average. Although his strikeout rate could be better, it’s safe to say Contreras has finally figured out American hitters.

After defecting from Cuba in 2002, Contreras was bound to go down as a monumental bust before the miraculous turnaround. The Fat Toad part 2; it was only going to be a matter of time before he showed up drunk to a minor league game like Irabu. Who knows what made the light turn on, but no longer is Contreras the same pitcher who was once afraid to attack hitters with his stuff.

I’m guessing there were typically 20-30 starting pitchers taken before him in most drafts this year. Pitching for the World Series champs, who are seemingly even better on the offensive end this year, Contreras looks like he will provide great value for his owners. If not all of them realize just how dominant he has been over the last 20 starts, be sure to take Contreras off their hands.

NBA Playoff Preview (Round 1)

Saturday, April 22nd, 2006

WESTERN CONFERENCE

San Antonio (1) vs. Sacramento (8)

The Kings are a much better team now with Artest in the fold, but still not quite in the Spurs’ league. The Spurs are ripe for the taking this year, and the Kings do have potential, but Artest finished the year shooting 9 for 35 because of a debilitating thumb injury. It’s something that figures to make this series even less competitive than it could’ve been. Plus, the Popovich over Adelman coaching advantage is rather drastic. The Kings may be able to take two in Arco, where they resumed dominant play as of late, but ultimately the Spurs will move on.

Spurs 4-2

Phoenix (2) vs. Los Angeles Lakers (7)

The buzz is a Lakers upset here, but remember, besides the Lakers blowout in which Nash and Bell didn’t even suit up, the Suns took the season series 3-0. Additionally, the Lakers lost all of those games by at least 10 points. The loss of Kurt Thomas, however, should not be taken lightly. The Suns have a poor defense to begin with and now none on the interior whatsoever. They stumbled a bit down the stretch while the Lakers are coming in on a 5-game win streak. Kobe is good enough to win this series by himself, and Phil Jackson has never lost in the first round, so it should come down to the very end.

Suns 4-3

Denver (3) vs. Los Angeles Clippers (6)

The Nuggets come in losers of four straight and don’t even have home court advantage despite the higher seed. Of course the Clippers should have tanked the last few games; not only do they now have home court and a much easier opponent, but they will also have an easier second round opponent. It’s a flawed system and the Clips simply took advantage of it. Although Melo is as clutch as they come, Cassell is money come playoff time, and the Clippers, who are in their first playoff series in nine years, will advance to the second round.

Clippers 4-2

Dallas (4) vs. Memphis (5)

Again because of the poor seeding system, we have a very lopsided four and five matchup. The Mavs have the third best record in basketball, and the fourth best record is six full games behind them, yet are stuck with a four seed. At least they don’t have to play the Clippers, as justice was served in the form of a Memphis matchup. It’s one that heavily favors the Mavericks. Look for the Grizzlies to get their first ever playoff victory, but that will be all they get.

Mavericks 4-1

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Detroit (1) vs. Milwaukee (8)

While very good teams miss the playoffs yearly in both baseball and football, an under .500 Bucks squad heads to the postseason this year in the NBA. At 40-42, the Bucks were disappointing after a hot start to the year. The Pistons, meanwhile, are poised to take home the title. Round one will be a rout. Side note: Larry Brown deserves to be in the overrated Hall of Fame, while it’s good to see Flip Saunders get retribution for last year’s travesty. Get out the brooms.

Pistons 4-0

Miami (2) vs. Chicago (8)

The Bulls led the league for the second year in a row in opponents’ field goal percentage. Chandler, who has chosen to play rather than be present for the birth of his child, is a big reason for that strong defense. Still, this looks like a pretty big mismatch on paper. The road team actually won all three games in this season’s series. Wade, for whatever reason, really struggles versus Chicago, averaging only 12.3 PPG while shooting an abysmal 24.3 percent. Another consideration is how the Heat will respond to Riley losing his mother on Friday. Maybe the Baby Bulls will squeak one game out of the series.

Heat 4-1

New Jersey (3) vs. Indiana (6)

Indiana may have taken the season series 2-1, but it will be the Nets who win when it counts the most. O’Neal is nicely rounding into form in his return from the groin injury, and although it was a trade they probably had to make, the Pacers are a worse team sans Artest. The Nets, on the other hand, are a team no one wants to face. The big-three are tough to combat, and they are even getting solid interior production out of Kristic now. The Nets are vulnerable on the road though, and this series could easily be one where the home team wins every game.

Nets 4-3

Cleveland (4) vs. Washington (5)

It’s probably the toughest series to call, as either team could easily win it. The Wizards won the season series 3-1, but the Cavs are extremely tough at home. The Wizards won a playoff series as recent as last year, while it will be a new experience for most of the Cavs, including King James. I think home court will once again prove the difference.

Cavaliers 4-3

MVP Race

Friday, April 21st, 2006

10. Allen Iverson

According to the stats, this is actually Iverson’s best campaign to date. His 33 PPG would be more recognized if not for Kobe. He is even shooting nearly 45 percent. The 7.4 dimes with 2 steals per is pretty impressive. The Sixers should be better, however, and that perception of underachievement hurts A.I. How they didn’t even make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference is quite perplexing.


9. Chris Paul

The Hornets fell short of a playoff berth, but it’s amazing just how long they were even in the picture. After all, the team won 18 games last year. That’s right, 18. Paul is the reason for the turnaround. He nearly led the league in steals and averaged almost 5 boards and 8 assists a night. He plays through injuries and doesn’t even really turn the ball over all that much. Yes, the Hawks blew it.

8. Jason Kidd

Kidd is the reason no one wants to face the Nets come playoff time. Last month, he shut down Nash and Billups on back-to-back nights. Having Carter and Jefferson make this a tough sell, but Kidd is more the reason for their success than vice-versa. He had eight triple-doubles this year. He is more valuable than people realize.

7. Chauncey Billups

The best player on the best team does not equal MVP. In fact, rating him this high may be erroneous. He makes big shots, plays tough defense and has the Pistons primed for another championship. Still, when the game is on the line, Rip is the one with the ball in his hands. The guy played with three other All-Stars as teammates.

6. Dwyane Wade

He just keeps getting better. The near 50 percent shooting cannot be understated. A great decision-maker, Wade will battle James as the NBA’s best player for years to come. According to 82games.com, the Heat outscores its opponents by 8.2 points every 48 minutes Wade is on the floor. Without him, the Heat is outscored by 8.6 points. For now though, Shaq is still a big reason for the Heat’s success.

5. Dirk Nowitzki

Although no other true star, Dirk is surrounded by so much talent that it hurts his cause here. The Mavs are legit title contenders and it’s because of him. He is now even consistently hitting game winners and no longer letting smaller defenders bother him. A seven footer who won the three-point contest, Dirk is officially among the elite.

4. Elton Brand

The best Clipper ever; Brand showed up determined this year and in great shape. The fact that he led the Clips into the postseason in itself makes him deserving of the award. Still, Cassell is also instrumental in the turnaround. To think, this was the guy the Bulls dealt for Tyson Chandler.

3. Steve Nash

The guy has been on the NBA’s highest scoring team for five straight seasons now! They lost Stoudemire and seemingly every teammate is having a career-year because of Nash. After winning the award last year, he has actually increased his scoring by 3.4 points this time around. He shoots well and is the best passer in the Association. While the Suns record is very impressive, the guy simply cannot defend. A tremendous year, but not better than…

2. LeBron James

The numbers are pretty staggering for the 21-year-old, and he figures to only get better. Finally the personal numbers translated to team success. It’s hard to argue that he doesn’t deserve to win this award, but…

1. Kobe Bryant

He’s the best player in the NBA, period. His 35.4 PPG were the most since Jordan’s 1988 season. He scored at least 40 points 27 times and is the most competitive player out there. Although not known for making teammates better, take away Kobe and the Lakers are a dreadful 15-20-win type team. The fact he scored 62 points in three quarters in one game and 81 points in another matters; his season will plain and simply be more memorable than anyone else’s. With the game on the line and one possession left, you’d have to be Tom Cruise-crazy to not pick Kobe as the guy to take the shot. He’s basketball’s Most Valuable Player.

Penny for my thoughts

Thursday, April 20th, 2006

It’s time for everyone to start taking Brad Penny seriously. Sure, maybe I’m patting myself on the back a bit; after all, I had Penny rated higher than just about any other ranking system out there going into the season. My rather high-ranking looks awfully good now, but I’ve certainly had my misses as well (Adrian Beltre, anyone?).

Back to Penny, who is now 2-0 with a 1.88 ERA and 0.92 WHIP. The 25/2 K/BB ratio in 24 innings is downright impressive. The thing is, his velocity is actually slightly down from a few years ago, which means maybe he is finally learning to “pitch.” Although three of his four starts have occurred at home, his most dominating one happened in Philadelphia, suggesting he might be for real this time.

Penny may finally be completely over the damaged biceps nerve from 2004, which even cost him the first three weeks of last season. Credit the new split-finger fastball for the early success. Penny, who looks at the radar gun MPH reading after nearly every fastball, has always had this potential. Although there’s no way he keeps the current pace, pitching in Dodger Stadium and in the NL West should allow him to remain rather valuable throughout the year.

Poor DePodesta, when Penny and Drew carry the Dodgers to the NL West title this year no one will remember those two as being key DePodesta acquisitions, and everyone will hail Colletti for the turnaround. By the way, since leaving the Dodgers, Mota’s ERA is 4.49; meanwhile, Brad Penny is poised to dominate the National League.

More buy-low candidates

Monday, April 17th, 2006

This time around I’ll give you some pitchers who are off to slow starts. It’s only a matter of time before they turn it around, so go after these guys while their value is relatively low. Once again, I’m leaving off the overly obvious names, such as Johan, Peavy and Carlos Zambrano.

Andy Pettitte: He didn’t figure to match his career-best ERA of 2.39 last year, but Pettitte’s current 6.35 ERA may have his owners overly concerned. He got a late start to spring training and is just a little behind most pitchers at this point. Remember, Pettitte is another year removed from surgery, so it’s still advised to expect a solid season on the way.

Jeremy Bonderman: Bonderman has a career ERA of 5.02 with a 1.39 WHIP. This year his ERA is all the way up to 6.23. Use all of this to your advantage as the peripherals say he is much better, and a brighter future lies ahead. He has a 20/3 K/BB ratio in 17 1/3 innings and only a 1.15 WHIP. After the recent shelling at the hands of the Indians, see if Bonderman’s owner realizes that his value could be quite high by year’s end, especially with such an improved Tigers offense.

Tim Hudson: Someone who never greatly contributes in strikeouts or WHIP, Hudson is not a superstar in fantasy. Still, he can be quite the asset in wins and ERA when he’s on. Hudson, however, has been far from “on” thus far as his ERA stands at 9.20 with a 2.11 WHIP. It’s poor command that is the major culprit because his velocity has been fine. Although it’s hard to like how he’s been throwing, it’s something Hudson figures to be able to correct in time, see if owners are ready to give up on him.

Barry Zito: Zito, who has an ERA of 7.53, also got off to a poor April last year (6.60 ERA and 1.43 WHIP) before turning in a solid campaign. He has been hit hard by the Yankees and Rangers powerful lineups; it happens. The 1.19 WHIP and 15 strikeouts in 14 1/3 innings are good signs. And don’t forget, Zito is playing for a big contract when he becomes eligible for free agency this winter, giving him extra motivation.

Felix Hernandez
: Maybe he’s not worth the trouble of going after with all the hype, but it might not be a bad idea to at least try. King Felix sat out the end of spring, so early command issues are to be expected. There is a lot of talk about getting “only” 180 innings out of him this year, just make sure his owner realizes how dominant those 180 are going to be.

Odalis Perez
: The ugly 5.28 ERA and 1.50 WHIP stem mainly from a terrible first start against the Braves. That whole series featured tons of runs and poor pitching conditions. Since then, Perez has only given up two runs total in two starts. He is perennially underrated because of the always-positive WHIP contribution. The poor early season numbers combined with the injury-marred high ERA from last year might make it relatively easy to net you a solid starting pitcher in disguise.

Jon Lieber
: Gotta love going after pitchers with inflated numbers because of starts in Coors Field. In this case it’s Lieber, who also has a shelling at the hands of the Cardinals on his early season resume. A 9.18 ERA and 1.74 WHIP is uglier than Henry Gale after Sayid gets a hold of him, but remember that Lieber had a 3.28 ERA and a 1.03 WHIP in the second half of last year. Don’t let two poor early season starts change your view of him.

David Bush
: Forget about the 5.54 ERA and rough outing against the Cardinals. The 1.88 ERA in spring and current 1.00 WHIP are more telling. Bush, a great sleeper going into the season, also plays for a Brewers team that figures to score an ample amount of runs. Get him while he’s still reasonably affordable, as Bush will take the switch to the NL to his liking.

Dan Haren: It will be a lot tougher to get him after an impressive performance against the Rangers on Sunday. Still, Haren does currently sport a 5.40 ERA. The 17/2 K/BB ratio and 1.10 WHIP suggest strong numbers are on the way.

Zach Duke: Although his ERA is 4.50 and WHIP 1.39, it’s the result from only one poor outing versus the Dodgers. Duke has looked sharp in his other two starts, so talk up the rough spring combined with the poor overall numbers and see if you can get him for cheap.

Buyer’s Market

Friday, April 14th, 2006

All of these players are off to painfully slow starts. Take advantage of the situation and buy low. The quicker you act, the better, as some of these guys won’t ever have their values as low as they are now. I’m leaving the obvious names off this list; after all, you don’t need me to tell you that Manny, Bonds and Johan are going to turn it around.

Adrian Beltre: As tough as he is making it on me, I am not giving up quite yet. At least he’s swiped four bases already. Don’t expect a return to 2004 numbers, but with a current .143 batting average, Beltre owners may be fed up with his unrealized potential. See if you can get 30 cents on the dollar for him; I still have faith.

Jeff Francoeur: Francoeur started the year off 3-for-37. Maybe a little too hyped going into the season after an amazing rookie-run, his owners seem to be running out of patience. Two homers on Thursday night should silence any return to the minors talk, and hopefully get him settled in for a nice run of solid production.

Aramis Ramirez: Off to a horrible .174/.269/.304 start, Ramirez is now currently battling a nagging injury. It’s not serious, and his poor start is nothing to worry about as it’s only in 23 at-bats. Derrek Lee’s OBP spike last year looks for real as he’s off to another hot start, putting Ramirez in a terrific situation to rack up RBI. Go get him.

Chase Utley: You better hurry. Utley hit his first two homers of the year yesterday; expect many more to come. Once he gets hot, he’ll move back into the cleanup spot and be impossible to trade for. He’s still the middle infielder I’d want to own the most.

Scott Podsednik: Podsednik is one of the riskiest types of fantasy players as he is one-dimensional and any leg/groin injury could absolutely ruin his value. For now, it’s his bat, not legs, that is failing him. He is hitting an unbelievable .059 on the year. That’s right, he’s off to a 2-for-34 start. Podsednik is definitely the type of player that could have owners worried and more than willing to deal him while undervalued. It’d take some guts to go after him, but remember, steals are the rarest category.

Justin Morneau: Morneau is hitting a paltry .206 with only one walk on the year, following a campaign that saw him hit only .239 last year. Maybe .270 is the highest you can expect, but look deeper at the numbers and Morneau should be a huge asset in the power department. He has four homers in 34 at-bats. He’s just getting started. Talk up the poor average and trade for the big time pop.

Jeremy Hermida: He’s hitting only .250 and has yet to homer. Now he’s battling a hip flexor. Although Hermida may have typically gone too early in fantasy drafts, he does sit in a pretty good situation hitting in front of Cabrera. The 20/20 potential is still there, make sure his owner didn’t forget about it either.

Jorge Cantu: Although Manager Joe Maddon recently hit Cantu second, the same guy with a bad OBP and a knack for driving in runs, his value will eventually return. That experiment can’t possibly last long, and Cantu missed some games with a sore foot, which partially explains the weak numbers. Don’t forget, the guy had 117 RBI last year.

Brad Wilkerson: He sure was easier to recommend when he was hitting at the top of the lineup opposed to seventh. Still, the switch figures to be temporary and he’ll move back up top once he starts hitting again. Speaking of hitting, that .182/.200/.295 line is downright ugly. So are the 18 strikeouts in just 44 at-bats. Remember though, with that ballpark and lineup, the upside for Wilkerson is still rather large, make sure his owner feels the same way.

Mark Ellis, Bobby Crosby & Dan Johnson: All three are off to ridiculously slow starts out of the gate. Ellis is hitting .188, Crosby .208 and Johnson doesn’t even have one hit yet. It happens. All are aberrations and the hits will start coming soon enough. Crosby could be huge while hitting third, and remember, Ellis hit a tremendous .344/.418/.564 in the second half last year. It will all even out.

Early Surprises

Thursday, April 13th, 2006

These guys are off to hot starts; some are for real, while others are not. The key is to decipher the ones that are here to stay from the ones bound to fade.

Chris Shelton: He just hit his seventh bomb and is batting over .500. Shelton, who almost began the year hitting eighth, is the hottest hitter in baseball. It’s entirely possible that he is already the best hitter on the Tigers. Still, the best bet would be to sell him while he’s white-hot. Obviously, no one could keep up his pace, but his fade may be more pronounced than others will anticipate. 25-30 homers sounds about right. See how much you can get for him; he might bring in quite a return. (SELL)

Jim Thome: Maybe the second hottest hitter in baseball, Thome just hit his sixth jack of the year and is racking up runs and RBI. Looking slimmer and healthier now than the past couple years, he could be in store for a monster campaign. Before last year, he had hit at least 40 homers in four straight years and at least 30 in nine straight years. Now playing in the best homerun park in the league, expect at least 40. (DON’T SELL)

Hanley Ramirez: Ramirez is currently hitting .424 with a couple of steals and hitting atop the lineup. Use all of the hype generated by him being a big-time prospect and see if there are any takers. Ramirez is not ready to succeed against big league pitching, especially at anything close to this rate. If you’re in a non-keeper league at least, move him as soon as you can. (SELL)

Travis Hafner: Maybe this year he won’t be passed over by Shea Hillenbrand for the All-Star team. Hafner is legit and the early power he is exhibiting is no fluke. Expect him to post another OPS over 1000 for the second year in a row. MVP consideration cannot be ruled out. (DON’T SELL)

Khalil Greene: Everyone’s been patiently awaiting his big breakout year and finally there are some signs of it happening. The four homers and 10 RBI are great, but the OBP is too hard to ignore. Last year Greene finished with a pathetic .296 OBP. This year, even with the powerful start, his OBP is even lower at .241. Maybe this will truly be his year, but the astute owners will concentrate more on the putrid OBP than the pop he’s shown thus far. See what you can get for him. (SELL)

Brad Hawpe: Hawpe is a better hitter than Holliday, and maybe the Rockies organization will eventually realize that. The hot start is no fluke; what was a fluke, however, was that Hawpe barely hit better in Coors than on the road last year. Look for much better Coors-aided numbers with continued road production from him this time around. See if others don’t realize just how valuable Hawpe has the potential to be this year and try to go after him. (DON’T SELL)

Jose Vidro & Nick Johnson: Both of these Nationals were somewhat afterthoughts in many fantasy drafts this spring, but could provide solid value in return. Yes, RFK limits their upside, but still, both are very good hitters. Injuries will always be a concern, but hitting over .300 won’t be a problem when they are in the lineup. (DON’T SELL)

Picks for 2006

Thursday, April 6th, 2006

AL MVP: Vladimir Guerrero

The contenders: Hafner could make a strong push, but DH may ultimately hold back enough votes. Same goes for Big Papi, whose team will be edged out by the Angels anyway. Konerko could easily lead the league in RBI with Thome now in front of him, and it would surprise no one if Rodriguez repeated. But unlike A-Rod, Vladdy isn’t surrounded by an All-Star lineup; if the Angels do indeed make the postseason, it will be because of Guerrero carrying them on his back. Health is all that can stop this scenario from happening.

NL MVP: Albert Pujols

The contenders: It’s Pujols’ award to lose. The guy started what could turn out to be a ridiculous streak of consecutive MVP awards last year. Bonds will rake like always but will not get enough at-bats to challenge Pujols’ counting stats. If the Mets really do make the postseason, Wright could easily finish second. Carlos Lee could factor in if the Brewers contend. Utley could be another surprise entry into the race. One real big dark horse is J.D. Drew; if he can miraculously stay healthy, watch out.

AL Cy Young: Rich Harden

The contenders: Look for Santana’s fate to be similar to last year, when he was baseball’s best pitcher, but run support and team record robbed him of the award. Last year was a great example of how much of a joke the voters too commonly are; if the overrated win statistic is such a big deal to voters, it makes it even more absurd to pick Colon (the Angels were 22-11 when he pitched) over Santana (the Twins were 24-9 when he pitched). It’s almost as if they don’t pay any attention. Anyway, Randy Johnson might have a hard time avoiding 20 wins this year, throwing his name into the race. In the end, Harden will walk away this year’s winner because he has the stuff and the team to do it.

NL Cy Young: Jake Peavy

The contenders: There’s got to be one award winner on a non-playoff team, right? Look for Peavy to be the one. He plays in the best pitchers park, the right division and has a filthy arsenal. Peavy is the favorite. Pedro can still be more than effective working in the low 90s, and if the Mets advance, should be a big contender. Carpenter could easily repeat and is in a great situation to do so. Sheets would be right in the thick of it if healthy. Zambrano worked extra hard this off-season and has stated a Cy Young goal, but too often his head leads to terrible outings. Maybe Smoltz has one more Cy Young caliber year left in him, but he’ll probably fall short.

AL ROY: Francisco Liriano

The contenders: Papelbon may be a late entry for ROY favorite, as it appears he is the Red Sox closer. Although not quite as talented a prospect as teammate Hansen, Papelbon has the ability to take the job and run with it. He currently looks better than Foulke and might end up running away with this award. Johjima is another nominee, but voters often don’t count Japan players as true rookies and catching will hurt his counting stats. Kinsler might not be quite ready yet, but his numbers could look good hitting in that park with that lineup. Liriano will eventually force his way into the rotation and win a narrow vote for ROY honors.

NL ROY: Josh Willingham

The contenders: Teammate Hermida might be the best bet to upset this pick, as both rookies will see substantial playing time for the 100-loss bound Marlins. Hermida should put up pretty big numbers hitting directly in front of Cabrera. Fielder is another candidate, but he’ll be sitting versus southpaws and batting average might be a problem. Cain has as much upside as any NL rookie, but lack of control figures to ultimately make this 21-year-old fall short. Willingham, on the other hand, is 27 years old and ready to contribute immediately while switching between left field and catcher. He’s had an OPS over 1000 throughout the minors and is primed for big numbers batting behind Cabrera.

ALDS: Athletics over Indians
Angels over Yankees

NLDS: Cardinals over Phillies
Braves over Dodgers

ALCS: Athletics over Angels

NLCS: Braves over Cardinals

World Series: Athletics over Braves

American League Central Preview

Sunday, April 2nd, 2006

1. Cleveland Indians 93-69

Overview: The White Sox will be tough to beat, and the Twins will field a much-improved club, but it will be the Indians who will ultimately wind up on top of the Central. A loaded lineup, a solid starting staff and a dominant bullpen, the Indians have it all. Even though they had the majors best bullpen (2.80 ERA) last year, the Tribe were only 22-36 in one-run games. Meanwhile, the White Sox were 35-19; look for that to even out this time around.

Hitting: Sizemore, Hafner and Martinez form a tremendous big three. Their upside is sky-high; after all, V-Mart hit .380 with a 1026 OPS after the break last year. Losing Crisp will hurt short-term, but Marte will eventually be huge for them. It was a deal that was too good to refuse. In the meantime, look for a bounce back from Boone, as he will try to hold off Marte as long as possible.

Pitching: Maybe this will be the year when Sabathia finally puts it all together; the fact he had his best strikeout rate since his rookie season last year suggests it’s possible. Consistency has been a problem, but the potential is there for him to anchor this staff. Lee, Westbrook and Byrd are solid enough to get the job done. Mota, Betancourt and Fernando Cabrera, one of the game’s best relief prospects, all might be better than closer Bob Wickman; it is a dominant group.

2. Chicago White Sox 92-70

Overview: History shows it is very difficult to repeat, but GM Kenny Williams did everything in his power this off-season to attempt it. He was not complacent, taking chances and changing key aspects of his championship squad. Gone are Rowand, Everett and Thomas; in are Vazquez and Thome. They will be in the playoff picture right up till the very end.

Hitting: Rowand’s terrific center field defense will be missed, but Thome looks like he’s still got it; he hit eight homers in his final seven spring training games. Konerko may lead the league in RBI hitting behind him. Mackowiak gives them good flexibility, and maybe Crede’s postseason success will carry into this year. Dye’s healthy season was an anomaly, look for a DL stint this year; after all, this is a guy who once missed multiple games because of spider bites.

Pitching: With this starting rotation, it would surprise no one if the White Sox did, in fact, repeat as champions. Contreras looks here to stay, now that he’s attacking the strike zone; it just took a little longer than expected. How will Vazquez and his fly-ball tendencies play in U.S. Cellular Field, the most homer-friendly park in the Majors? Buehrle and Garland can’t possibly be as good as they were last year. Bobby Jenks is electric, but a wildcard for the time being. Don’t count on 30 of their first 31 saves to be converted like Hermanson did last year.

3. Minnesota Twins 88-74

Overview: The Twins scored the fewest runs in the league last year and figure to employ the worst bottom third of the order in the AL yet again. Still, with their pitching, they can contend. Sending Bartlett down to the minors was a step backward; the team will once again struggle to score enough runs.

Hitting: Hunter’s return will help, and Castillo’s OBP will be a welcome addition. But it all comes down to Mauer and Morneau; if the Twins are going to be a threat, the M&M boys need to play up to their potential. Count on it happening. It’s also quite possible that Cuddyer and/or Kubel start producing. This franchise hasn’t had someone hit 30 homers in a season since 1987.

Pitching: Johan is the best pitcher in baseball, period. The staff is going to need to carry the offense, something they might have a chance of doing. Lohse is having a great spring, but if Liriano replaced him in the rotation, it might just be the best in baseball. Baker, Radke and Silva (9 BB in 188 IP!) are all reliable, and when Liriano does get his chance, he’ll make the most of it. Nathan, Rincon and Crain form a rock solid pen.

4. Detroit Tigers 64-98

Overview: Jim Leyland, the man who smokes in the dugout while coaching, returns to the game and may be wondering what he got himself into as early as May. There are some offensive players in place, but in a tough division, wins will be hard to come by.

Hitting: Will Magglio Ordonez start producing after he signed the $75 million deal? How much does Pudge have left? Granderson is a nice young talent. Polanco was the toughest batter in all of baseball to strikeout last year, and was a steal for Urbina, who remains in the clink. Why not carry Josh Phelps, who had a respectable 1595 OPS this spring, and play him against lefties? It’s not rocket science.

Pitching: This will be the year Bonderman becomes a true ace. He has the ability to be one of the best starters in all of the AL. Verlander and Zumaya will also be special, but are a few years away. The Gambler for $16 million? Kenny Rogers, their Opening Day starter, is not the answer; nor is Todd Jones for $11 million. The bullpen will struggle in what could be a long year in Detroit.

5. Kansas City Royals 55-107

Overview: The Royals will hold off the Marlins to finish with the worst record in baseball for the second straight year. There’s not much to get excited about here; instead of building for the future, the teams acquires Mientkiewicz and Grudzielanek.

Hitting: Well, at least Mike Sweeney has a better chance to stay relatively healthy now becoming a full-time DH. Reggie Sanders was a nice addition but can’t be counted on to stay healthy. DeJesus is underrated and was worth signing long-term. This offense should be anemic, however.

Pitching: Zack Greinke was put on the 60-day DL because of mental issues; a loss they could ill afford with their lack of depth. Redman, Elarton and Mays are dreary additions. Is Affeldt ever going to stop disappointing? Andy Sisco might have the best long-term outlook of anyone on the staff.

American League East Preview

Sunday, April 2nd, 2006

1. New York Yankees 96-66

Overview: The Yankees have won at least 95 games in each of the last five seasons but haven’t won the World Series since 2000. Their lineup seriously reads like an All-Star roster. They will outscore opponents by enough to win their 9th consecutive division championship.

Hitting: An already lethal lineup now adds Damon to the mix. This offense is ridiculously loaded. If they don’t lead the majors in runs scored, it would be an upset. Last year, the Yankees made the mistake of thinking Giambi was done and tried to send him to the minors. After he refused, Giambi hit .288/.453/.582 with 29 homers in 340 at-bats. He’s still got it. A-Rod could easily repeat as MVP winner.

Pitching: Not nearly as strong as their hitting, pitching has been the Yankees postseason downfall in recent years. The Big Unit is the key here. Johnson had a 3.31 ERA and 0.99 WHIP after the All-Star break last year, so he’s still more than capable of dominance. How much Mussina has left is more questionable, however. Wright and Pavano look like quintessential free-agent busts. Their ultimate success may rest in the hands of Chien-Ming Wang and Shawn Chacon.

2. Boston Red Sox 94-68

Overview: The Blue Jays are the trendy pick to make the playoffs this year, but it will be the Red Sox fighting for the wild card till the very end. Similar to the Yankees, offense will be carrying the Sox; they have led the majors in runs for three straight years. A healthy Schilling and Foulke would make them a huge threat, but the Angels will ultimately get the last playoff spot.

Hitting: Although he probably wasn’t worth giving up Andy Marte for, Coco Crisp will be a fine replacement for Damon. Loretta’s strong OBP is a great fit in front of Ortiz and Manny. Alex Gonzalez and Lowell better play terrific defense because they figure to be liabilities with the bat. The only thing standing in the way of Wily Mo Pena clubbing 40 bombs is lack of at-bats. Man-Ram is unhappy in Boston and also has a case of the crazies, but should stay around for at least one more year.

Pitching: Schilling will put last year in the past and bounce back in a big way. And no, he shouldn’t be shifted back to the pen. Josh Beckett was a great addition. He’s fiery, possess nasty stuff and clutch in the postseason. The fact remains, however, that he has yet to throw even 180 innings in a season. Maybe this will be the year he changes that. Wells, Clement and Wakefield form a solid bottom of the rotation. Foulke is a huge question mark. The Red Sox better hope Papelbon and Hansen develop sooner rather than later.

3. Toronto Blue Jays 82-80

Overview: The Blue Jays spent a ton of money in the off-season and will no doubt improve, just not as much as some hope. Burnett and Halladay could form the best one-two punch in baseball. The off-season movements did make their defense significantly worse, however.

Hitting: Vernon Wells is going to bust out one of these years, and Glaus will be a 40-homer threat as long as he can stay in the lineup. The better play would be to DH Glaus and put Hillenbrand at third, but Glaus disagrees. Overbay and Molina are solid additions. Rios and Hinske’s divided playing time remains to be seen.

Pitching: The Blue Jays brass breathed a huge sigh of relief when it turned out Burnett’s latest injury concern was only the breaking up of scar tissue – a best-case scenario. Before Halladay went down with a broken leg last year, the Jays were tied with the Yankees with 44 wins. Halladay and Burnett’s health are paramount to their success. The league seems to have figured out Chacin, but maybe Lilly can come through with a better effort. B.J. Ryan was given the largest ever contract sum for a reliever, and for the next few years at least, he’ll be worth it.

4. Baltimore Orioles 78-84

Overview: How great of an effect will Leo Mazzone have? Bedard and Cabrera may turn into front-line starters as soon as this year. The Orioles didn’t shed too many tears when they said goodbye to Sosa and Palmeiro.

Hitting: Even though catching wasn’t a position in need, Ramon Hernandez was a nice signing. Nick Markakis is one of the game’s best outfield prospects, but he shouldn’t be opening the season on the active roster unless he’s playing full time. The people running this club can often come off as clueless. It appears the Tejada trade rumors are over, and he’ll stay with the team for now. A big misconception is that Camden Yards is a hitter’s park; in fact, it is one of the best pitching parks in all of baseball. In 2005, it was the No. 3 rated pitcher’s park based on runs suppressed.

Pitching: Bruce Chen didn’t get along great with Mazzone with the Braves, and the relationship will be key the second time around. Bedard is one of the most underrated pitchers in baseball; look for him to be well above average starting this year. Daniel Cabrera is filthy; he might have the best stuff of anyone in baseball, with King Felix the main competition. Whether or not he truly breaks out this year depends on his control; he may still be a year away. Chris Ray will immediately become one of the better closers in the league.

5. Tampa Bay Devil Rays 68-94

Overview: New manager Joe Maddon is a stark contrast to Piniella, something that may benefit a team full of young players. The potential is there for this team to surprise; too bad they are in one of the toughest divisions in all of baseball.

Hitting: Crawford, Cantu and Baldelli are the current rosters young stars, with Delmon Young and B.J. Upton looking ready to contribute by mid-season. The future may not be so bad. Huff is likely to be traded before he hits free agency.

Pitching: The Rays absolutely ripped off the Mets when they stole Kazmir for Victor Zambrano. Kazmir may still be prone to wildness, but he’s a future star. The Mets shortsightedness might be the difference in them falling short of expectations this year. Edwin Jackson was another savvy pickup; the stuff is there for him to succeed. Casey Fossum hit a batter in ten straight starts last year! Orvella will eventually become a solid closer.