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News-Herald Assistant Sports Editor Kevin Kleps doesn’t just write headlines and stories. He also checks on his fantasy sports teams. A lot. See if the moves and news from the world of sports affect your fantasy teams.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Fantasy baseball: News and notes from Week 3

Let's take a trip around the horn as we breathlessly wait for Alex Rodriguez's return to a .500 team (can he pitch in the seventh and eighth innings?):

Closer comings and goings

-- B.J. Ryan's oblique injury has significantly enhanced the value of replacement Scott Downs in category leagues. Downs has converted both of his save opportunities (Ryan was 2-for-4 before heading to the disabled list) and has 14 strikeouts and a 0.84 ERA in 10 2/3 innings pitched for Toronto. Combine those numbers with his 2007 and '08 stats (a 2.17 and 1.78 ERA, respectively, and a total of 114 strikeouts in 128 2/3 innings), and you wonder if the Blue Jays would dare keep him in the role when Ryan returns. That probably won't happen, but when Ryan comes back in the next week or two, don't discount Downs if you have the roster space. I wouldn't be surprised if he finishes the year as Toronto's closer.

-- Don't look now, but it seems as if the Cardinals have decided on a closer. Ryan Franklin, who converted 17 saves in 25 chances last season, is 5-for-5 in save situations, and he's yet to allow a run in eight innings this season. Franklin isn't going to be much of an asset in the strikeout department (he has 573 in 1,055 1/3 career innings), although he has fanned one batter per inning this month.

-- The Braves are alternating closing opportunities between Mike Gonzalez and Rafael Soriano, both of whom have two saves since April 11. Neither has significant value and should only be started in deeper category leagues. Both are injury risks and both are good for strikeouts. For the long run, I prefer Soriano, who began last season as Atlanta's closer but had his campaign wrecked by injury.

-- The Brewers activated Trevor Hoffman from the disabled list Sunday (it was fun while it lasted, Todd Coffey). Hoffman's four-year streak of saving 41 or more games ended with the Padres last season, when he had 30 saves and an uncharacteristically high 3.77 ERA. He's a shell of his former self, but he's still worthy of a start as low-end No. 2 closer in category leagues.

Remember him?

The Rangers have dusted off Andruw Jones, who is 10-for-23 (.435) with 10 runs scored, five doubles, two homers, a .913 slugging percentage and a silly 1.480 OPS. Before you think the former fantasy standout with the Braves is worth playing, consider this: Jones has only 23 at-bats because the Rangers' outfield and DH situation is loaded with Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz, Marlon Byrd and Hank Blalock. At most, Jones will play every other day, which isn't enough for fantasy consideration.

Pick three

Our weekly look at three players worth acquiring on the waiver wire, with the rule of thumb that each must be available in more than half of the leagues on

-- Scott Rolen, 3B, Blue Jays: Injuries limited this former stud to 392 and 408 at-bats the previous two seasons, but the 34-year-old again is worth starting in deeper leagues. Rolen is batting .319 with 11 runs scored, two homers and eight RBI. If he stays healthy, he's a shoo-in to drive in 90 to 95 runs (he's hit at least 21 homers nine times in his career, and has seven seasons with 92 or more RBI).

-- Skip Schumaker, 2B, Cardinals: He's made the move from the outfield to the middle of the diamond, which significantly increases his fantasy value. Schumaker won't provide much pop (he has 11 homers in 847 career at-bats), but he'll hit for average (.300 career), steal the occasional base (eight last season) and score 90-plus runs. He should start in NL-only leagues and is valuable in deeper mixed leagues. He has five hits and four RBI in his last 11 at-bats.

-- Edwin Jackson, SP, Tigers: He's not going to help you much in strikeouts (328 in 482 career innings), and he's five games under .500 for his career. But this former Tampa Bay Ray won 14 games last season and is 1-1 with a 2.77 ERA and a 1.04 WHIP in his first month in Detroit. If your starting rotation needs help, Jackson, who is available in about 80 percent of the ESPN leagues, is a decent option.

Zack Greinke, really?

If you saw this coming (the Royals right-hander with a 38-45 career record has yet to allow an earned run in 29 innings this season), you also must have had Mel Kiper's 73rd-ranked safety, Ohio University's Michael Mitchell, pegged for the Raiders in the second round of the NFL draft on Saturday.

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Thursday, April 23, 2009

Fantasy focus: Catcher confusion

Too say it hasn't been a good start for fantasy's best catchers ranks somewhere between "Boy, Coach Taylor is getting a raw deal" and "Minka Kelly is nice to look at" on the obvious scale (and if you have no idea what I'm referring to, you need to give "Friday Night Lights" a chance).

Thursday, Pittsburgh's Ryan Doumit, who led all National League catchers with a .318 batting average last season, is having surgery on his right wrist and is expected to miss 8 to 10 weeks. The consensus No. 1 catcher entering the season, Atlanta's Brian McCann, is batting .195, hasn't driven in a run since April 12 and is adjusting to a new contact lens after being bothered by blurred vision in his left eye.

The AL's top-hitting catcher last season, Minnesota's Joe Mauer, is out until May because of a back injury, and the Dodgers' Russell Martin (a consensus top-three catcher prior to this season) is batting .245 with zero home runs and zero stolen bases after averaging 16 and 19.5, respectively, in those categories the previous two seasons.

Did we mention that the Cubs' Geovany Soto, who had 23 homers and 86 RBI en route to NL Rookie of the Year honors last season, is 3-for-26 (.115) with no extra-base hits?

Yes, it's been that bad.

If you drafted Doumit, are still waiting on Mauer (who is expected to return next weekend) or are just worried about the position in general, let's look at five catchers who might be available in your league (all five are owned in fewer than 50 percent of the leagues on All stats are through Wednesday:

5. John Buck, Royals (12.8 percent): He's got the best numbers of the five (a .409 batting average and 10 RBI), but he has only played in six games (to teammate Miguel Olivo's eight), which limits his value significantly. Even the 2008 McCann could only be so effective playing 80 games a year.

4. Ivan Rodriguez, Astros (17.7 percent): He's a shell of his former self and no longer is a threat to hit more than 12 to 14 homers, but he's capable of batting .270 and driving in 55 to 60 runs.

3. Jason Varitek, Red Sox (24 percent): He was more dreadful than Joe McCoy (watch FNL, folks) last season, but he's shown some life early, hitting three homers in 39 at-bats. Like Pudge, Varitek's days as a fantasy standout are long gone, although I wouldn't be surprised if he was at least serviceable in deeper leagues the rest of the way.

2. John Baker, Marlins (23.4 percent): The 28-year-old batted .299 in his major-league debut last season, and he's off to a productive start in 2009 (.308, nine runs and nine RBI in 39 at-bats). Baker drove in 312 runs in 2,108 minor-league at-bats.

1. Yadier Molina, Cardinals (43.7): That percentage seems low, since he's a starter in every league in which I play, but if Molina is available in your league, acquire him. He's batting .340 with a .424 on-base percentage, and he drove in 56 runs and batted .304 last season.

And if you're really desperate ...

Doumit's backup, rookie Jason Jaramillo, has four hits in 14 at-bats. The 26-year-old, a second-round pick by the Phillies in 2004, has decent minor-league numbers (.271, 29 homers, 213 RBI in 1,747 at-bats), but he's not much of a power threat. ... The Nationals' Jesus Flores, 24, drove in 59 runs in 301 at-bats last season, and he has an impressive 89 RBI in 519 big-league at-bats in his career. The not-so impressive number: Flores' career batting average in the minors: .250.

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Sunday, April 19, 2009

Fantasy baseball: News and notes from Week 2

The Indians are off to another awful April start. Their starting pitching has been dreadful, and their bullpen is a Kane Davis or Jorge Julio sighting from being even worse.

None of that will stop us from our best Eric Wedge impersonation today. We're going to keep our eyes on the prize, stay focused, continue to grind it out and look at the positives. OK, we're just going to look at the positives -- the Tribe's surprising offensive numbers (stats that are skewed by their 22-4 win over the Yankees on Saturday in The House That George Built and Hitters Love).

Through Sunday, the Indians rank seventh in the major leagues in batting average (.280), are second in runs scored (83), home runs (22), on-base percentage (.380) and OPS (.875). The Indians lead the big leagues in doubles (33), are tied for third in RBI (79) and, here's a shocker, have rung up the most strikeouts (115 in 13 games).

All of which means the following from a fantasy perspective:

-- Every-week starters: Grady Sizemore, Victor Martinez, Mark DeRosa, Travis Hafner and Jhonny Peralta. Sizemore is striking out as much as ever (17 in 54 at-bats) and is batting only .259, but you can't sit that combination of speed and power. ... Martinez's power has returned (he has four homers, which is double his 2008 total), and his .466 OBP doesn't hurt. ... Don't bench DeRosa strictly because of his batting average (.236). The versatile infielder has three homers and 15 RBI in his last eight games. ... Hafner has four homers and eight RBI, but isn't as much of an asset in points leagues that penalize for strikeouts (14 in 42 at-bats). ... Peralta has yet to hit a homer, but he's batting .333 and has an OBP of .404.

-- Backups: Shin-Soo Choo and Asdrubal Cabrera. Choo has three homers and eight RBI in 43 at-bats, and he's a rare member of the Tribe who has more walks (nine) than strikeouts (eight). ... Cabrera has been surprisingly effective (.333, 10 runs scored, one homer, seven RBI and two steals), but should only be started in deeper leagues in which you need infield help.

-- Not much help: Ryan Garko, Kelly Shoppach and Ben Francisco. Garko is batting .300 with a .447 on-base percentage, but he doesn't play every day and has just one homer. That's not enough power at a position as loaded as first base. ... Shoppach, who hit 21 homers last season, doesn't play enough (24 at-bats in 13 games) and has already struck out nine times. ... Even Wedge couldn't find something to like in Francisco's stats (.211, one homer, four RBI).

That sound you just heard was Nick Swisher coming back to earth. The Yankees outfielder, after starting the season 11-for-24 (.458) with four homers and 11 RBI, is 3-for-18 with one run, zero RBI and six strikeouts in his last four games.

Tick, tick, tick ... Fantasy owners who took a chance on Alex Rodriguez in the second, third or fourth rounds might be rewarded sooner than originally thought. A-Rod is already taking batting practice and fielding ground balls, making the original May 15 timetable for his return from hip surgery seem pessimistic. I'm no doctor, and I don't play one on the Internet, but here's a guess: A-Rod will be in all fantasy lineups by the start of Week 6 on Monday, May 11 -- at the latest.

You don't need me to tell you to bench Chien-Ming Wang. But I wouldn't drop him, as is happening in many leagues, even with that slow-pitch softball ERA (34.50).

Pick three

In the fantasy baseball column that was published in Saturday's editions, I wrote about three free agents who were worth picking up in deeper leagues (Kyle Davies, Chris Duncan and Randy Winn), with the rule of thumb that each player must be available in more than half of the leagues on

Let's look at three more:

Denard Span, OF, Twins -- He's young (25), fast (three stolen bases this year, and 18 in 347 at-bats last season) and drives in a decent amount of runs (nine this season, 47 in a little more than half a season in 2008). He's also batting .300 and has been so effective that the playing time of Carlos Gomez (.200) and Delmon Young (.212) has suffered.

Jason Kubel, DH, Twins -- He hit for the cycle on Friday, which only jumped his ownership percentage to 7.4 entering Sunday night on The fact Kubel is only a DH limits you, but he'll hit for power (a combined 33 homers in 881 at-bats in 2007 and '08) and his batting average (.333) and OPS (.939) are too good to pass up as a low-end starter in 12-team leagues.

Zach Duke, SP, Pirates -- His poor outing Sunday notwithstanding, Duke has resembled his 2005 rookie self (8-2, 1.81 ERA), not the 18-37 train wreck from 2006-08. The lefty is 2-1 with a 2.95 ERA. The negative: He won't help you much in the strikeout department (11 in 20 2/3 innings this season, and 314 in 613 career innings).

That does it for this week. Good luck, keep your head up and (channeling my inner Eric Wedge) remember there's a lot of baseball left to be played.

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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Fantasy focus: Nick Swisher

It's OK to believe in Nick Swisher. The former Buckeye has been the best fantasy option this season outside of Albert Pujols.

You can plug the Yankees outfielder into your lineup, comfortable in the fact you made a steal on the waiver wire in the first few days of the season.

Just don't expect Swisher to be the 2009 version of Carlos Quentin.

Swisher will hit for power and he'll drive in runs. But don't expect him to score 100 runs or bat .300.

He's a career .246 hitter who strikes out a lot (543 in 2,138 at-bats) and is as much of a stolen-base threat as you or I (seven in his career).

Is it possible Swisher could defy his career numbers and hit for a high average this season? Yes, but history says, with a career sampling that large, it's about as likely as the Indians striking out fewer than 1,000 times this season.

Heading into Wednesday, Swisher was 11-for-24 with four homers, 11 RBI, 10 runs scored and nine extra-base hits. With Hideki Matsui (3-for-24 with two runs scored) struggling and Xavier Nady possibly heading to the disabled list with an injured elbow, Swisher has to get regular playing time for the Yankees. He started the year as New York's backup right fielder, but now figures to be ahead of both Nady and Matsui in the RF-DH pecking order.

We've seen power from Swisher before -- he had 24 homers with the White Sox last season and 35 with the Athletics in 2006. But we've also seen plenty of poor batting averages -- .219 last season, .262 in 2007 and .254 in 2006.

I doubt Swisher will hit .250 this season. He threw a scoreless inning in relief Monday night, so this seems to be his year. But I wouldn't expect him to suddenly morph into a .300 hitter, either.

He's a sure-fire starter who should make you look pretty smart for acquiring him after your draft. But he likely will have the numbers of a No. 3 outfielder this season, not a No. 1, a la Quentin, the free-agent find of 2008.

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Saturday, April 11, 2009

News and notes from Week 1

If you drafted Cliff Lee, you have issues. But it could be worse: You, like me, could have drafted Lee, Roy Oswalt and Francisco Liriano on the same team.

Let's take a spin around the horn with some news and notes from the first week of the season.

It's time to start worrying about Lee. The frustrating part is we can't do anything but bench him (his trade value couldn't be lower). It's way too soon to panic, but if your starting rotation is deep, I would consider sitting Lee next week, when he'll likely face CC Sabathia and the Yankees in the debut of their new stadium on Thursday.

Lee is 0-2 with a 9.90 ERA in his first two starts. Worse, he's allowed 17 hits (good for an opponents' batting average of .423) and walked five. His 2.20 WHIP is almost double his 2008 norm of 1.11.

More troubling stats: Lee didn't allow 11 runs in a two-game span all last season (it took him a week to accomplish the feat this April), he is coming off a terrible spring that has carried over to the regular season, and he didn't exactly close 2008 on the best of terms (Lee was 1-1 with a 4.98 ERA and 30 hits allowed in 21 2/3 innings in his final three starts).

Again, we have to wait this out. But you could say I'm not as optimistic about the Indians lefty as I was a week ago.

Keep Brandon Webb in your lineup. Yes, he was terrible in his first start (six runs allowed in four innings) Monday. Yes, he has a sore shoulder. But Webb expects to make his next start Friday at San Francisco, and an MRI of the shoulder concluded the problem is muscular, not structural, which is encouraging.

If you have a deep rotation and can afford to sit Webb, go for it. If you don't have much of a bench, keep him in your lineup.

Give Pronk a look. Tribe designated hitter Travis Hafner has two home runs and four RBI in four games. Pronk is batting .313 and seems to have some pop back in his bat after an injury-ruined 2008. Considering he had five homers in 198 at-bats last season, his early power surge would be enough for me to at least hope he was reverting to past form and insert him into my Week 2 lineup. The Indians play seven games next week, and three are against the Royals.

Free-agent fliers of the week: Marco Scutaro and Hank Blalock. The former is a one-time Tribe minor-leaguer who has never hit more than nine homers or driven in 61 runs. The latter is a former All-Star who has gone the way of Pronk the last two seasons.

Of the two, I would target Blalock first. The Rangers' designated hitter is eligible at both first and third base in ESPN leagues, and he's hit two homers and driven in five runs in his first 14 at-bats this season. Blalock was limited to 208 and 258 at-bats in 2007 and 2008, respectively, but he did total 22 homers and 71 RBI in the limited duty.

Blalock is only 28, and his numbers from 2003-05 (a combined 86 homers and 292 RBI, including a 32-homer, 110-RBI 2004 season) might at least fool us into believing he can mash again. He's owned in just 31 percent of the leagues on, but he's worthy of a starting spot in deeper leagues.

Scutaro, meanwhile, is an intriguing choice strictly because of his versatility (he's eligible at second base, shortstop and third base in ESPN leagues) and his surprising start. The 33-year-old is a career .263 hitter who has never reached double figures in homers, has only 21 stolen bases in 702 career games and tallied a career-high 60 RBI with the Blue Jays last season.

Call me optimist, but Scutaro's production (nine runs scored, two homers and five RBI in six games) is at least worth a look. In deeper leagues in which you need help in the middle of the infield, put in a waiver claim.

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Tuesday, April 7, 2009

For starters, relax; it's only one game

The opening day of the baseball season brings with it a special feeling. It's a sign of spring, a reminder that sunshine will be here soon enough (except here), and it's so soon in the season the Washington Nationals have a chance and we've yet to be annoyed by Joe Buck and Tim McCarver.

It's also the beginning of a less-than-cheery ritual -- fantasy owners panicking because of one bad day by their ace. Or, in the case of Monday, one very bad day by seven aces (OK, six if you deduct Justin Verlander).

Verlander, Roy Oswalt, Cliff Lee, CC Sabathia, Brandon Webb, Francisco Liriano and Jake Peavy combined to go 0-6 with an 8.76 ERA on Monday. The only one to get a no-decision was Webb, who allowed six runs on six hits, lasted only four innings and complained of shoulder stiffness after the game. Other than that, it was a great day.

The seven pitchers threw only 38 innings, with just Oswalt, Liriano and Peavy lasting more than five innings. The only ones who were halfway decent were Oswalt (three runs in seven innings), Liriano (four runs on four hits in seven) and Peavy (four runs on seven hits in seven). Lee, Sabathia, Webb and Verlander allowed a combined 27 runs in 17 innings.

Before you contemplate trading one of the seven, consider the following:

-- Last season, Liriano was 0-3 with an 11.32 ERA in April, was banished to the minor leagues until August, then finished the season by winning six of seven decisions and compiling a 2.74 ERA in his last 11 starts.

-- Sabathia was 1-4 with a 7.76 ERA with the Tribe in April 2008, then won 16 of his last 22 decisions. After the All-Star break, the big lefty was 9-2 with a 1.56 ERA in 15 starts.

-- Oswalt was a combined 4-4 with a 5.48 ERA in April and May last season, then went 13-6 with a 2.54 ERA in the next four months.

Again, it's one game. The only one you should worry about at this point is Verlander, who was awful last season (11-17, 4.84 ERA).

The 2006 and 2007 fantasy standout (a combined 35-15 record) struck out 20 fewer batters last season than he did the year before, despite pitching only two fewer outs. He had only one month with more than two wins in 2008.

Still, he's 26 and you won't be able to get much for him if you were to try and make a deal.

All you can do is -- begin Eric Wedge impersonation -- stay the course. And watch the snow fall.

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Friday, April 3, 2009

Fantasy focus: Bear market for Cutler

We interrupt the non-stop baseball portion of this blog to address the non-stop soap opera of the NFL offseason.

Jay Cutler finally has a new home, and it's one almost none of saw coming.

The Broncos traded the 25-year-old Pro Bowl quarterback to the Bears on Thursday, getting two first-round picks, a third-round pick and Kyle Orton for Cutler and a fifth-round selection in this month's NFL draft.

Instead of Cutler in Cleveland, Tampa, New York or any other rumored destination, the strong-armed, seemingly thin-skinned QB is in the Windy City, forced to contemplate life with Devin Hester and Rashied Davis and his top wide receivers.

Rookie Broncos coach Josh McDaniels' reputation has taken a hit during this juvenile, back-and-forth, text-message-filled drama, but maybe not as big of a blow as the one Cutler's fantasy value just endured.

In January, I ranked Cutler third in a list of the top keeper-league candidates at quarterback, trailing only Peyton Manning and Drew Brees. Four months from now, fantasy owners will be considering whether to spend an early draft pick on a QB whose top receivers -- at the moment -- are a running back (Matt Forte), tight end (Greg Olsen) and Pro Bowl kick returner (Devin Hester, who led all Bears with 665 receiving yards last season).

Heading into next season, Cutler has to drop behind Philip Rivers, Aaron Rodgers, Tony Romo, a seemingly healthy Tom Brady and a re-signed Kurt Warner, and don't be surprised if many owners prefer Matt Ryan, Matt Cassel (the guy who inadvertently started this whole mess because of McDaniels' preference of coaching him in New England), Donovan McNabb and even Ben Roethlisberger over Cutler.

Instead of Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal, Cutler is faced with a depth chart of Hester, Davis (35 catches for 445 yards and two TDs last season) and Vanderbilt product Earl Bennett (zero catches as a rookie in 2008) as his top three wide receivers. He does have a solid tight end in Olsen (54 receptions for 574 yards and five TDs last season) and a stud running back (Forte) who is a very good receiver (a team-high 63 grabs in 2008).

Conservatively, Cutler's new home plummets him from No. 3 at QB to No. 9 entering next season. The list starts with Manning, Brees, Rivers, Warner and Rodgers, and Brady, Romo and Ryan should also surpass Cutler. If you prefer McNabb or Cassel, the case could be made that Cutler has dropped from an upper-echelon fantasy QB to a low-end No. 1, and possibly a No. 2 in 10-team leagues.

The biggest beneficiaries of this deal figure to be Hester (who could score double-digit touchdowns next season with the strong-armed Cutler throwing to him), Forte (who might find more running room) and, yes, Orton.

The latter has been a punching bag for many during his career in Chicago, but he was pretty effective for much of last season, when he threw for 2,979 yards and 18 touchdowns, with 12 interceptions and three TDs on the ground. The bearded one now goes to a franchise with a young, gifted offensive mind calling the shots, and two young, productive receivers in Marshall and Royal.

Could Orton be a better fantasy option than Cutler next season? Will that be one of the crazier, ironic subplots of 2009?

I wouldn't rule it out. But I would rule out taking Cutler in the first few rounds next August.

He got his wish. And it's one he might be second-guessing sometime this fall.

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