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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, May 25, 2009

Fantasy baseball: Mauer, A-Rod, Pick Three and more Week 7 notes

The comeback that couldn't escape our attention -- and this would've been the case even without "SportsCenter" following his every spring training step -- was Alex Rodriguez and his 2009 impact following hip surgery.

Two that have caught our eye in the last few weeks don't involve the tabloids or steroids. Just a couple of feel-good returns -- one from a player who would be a certain first-round pick if we redid the draft today, and one who's trying to overcome a much more serious disorder.

We knew entering the draft that Twins catcher Joe Mauer wasn't expected to play until May because of a back injury. What we didn't know was the all-average, little-pop hitting machine would transform himself into the Albert Pujols of backstops during his time on the disabled list.

Mauer came back right on schedule -- May 1 -- hit a home run in his first trip to the plate and hasn't stop mashing since. In 80 at-bats in 22 games, he's scored 24 runs, hit 10 home runs, walked five more times than he's struck out (16 to 11), is batting .438 and has an on-base percentage of .525 and an OPS of 1.400.

If you could select any hitter for your team today, aside from Pujols, Evan Longoria and maybe Raul Ibanez, is there any choice but Mauer?

His batting average and patience certainly aren't surprising, considering he's a career .322 hitter with a .404 on-base percentage and 64 more walks than strikeouts (308 to 244). What's shocking is his monthly output of 10 homers, which is one better than his 2008 total and three more than he hit in 2007.

Prior this season, Mauer averaged a home run every 46.8 at-bats. This year, it's one per eight.

Should we expect him to hit 40 homers? Probably not. But in a year in which all of the highly rated young catchers, with the exception of the surging Brian McCann, have struggled (Russell Martin and Geovany Soto) or gotten hurt (Ryan Doumit), Mauer's Justin Morneau imitation provides a refreshing jolt to a bad position.

He is only three homers shy of his career high of 13, set in 2006, when he batted a career-best .347 and drove in a career-high 84 runs.

His draft-day ranking now looks ridiculously low. As do his career home run totals prior to 2009.

Talking about Willis: It's impossible not to root for Tigers pitcher Dontrelle Willis as he tries to overcome an anxiety disorder. In three starts since returning to Detroit's rotation on May 14, he is 1-1 with a 3.57 ERA. He's struck out nine and walked eight in 17 2/3 innings.

It's too soon to consider Willis a fantasy starter, but he is at least worth a look in deeper leagues.

He hasn't been effective since 2006, and he hasn't been a fantasy stud since 2005, when he was 22-10 with a 2.63 ERA for the Marlins. That said, he's only 27 and has pitched well in his last two starts (three runs and nine strikeouts in 13 innings).

At some point, he could be a weekly starter. More importantly, we're able to even consider that possibility, one we couldn't have imagined during Willis' difficult 2008 season.

We can't forget him: Now for the federally mandated Yankee portion of the blog.

A-Rod hasn't disappointed the owners who took a chance on him in the second, third or fourth rounds of their drafts. The tabloid punching bag is batting only .189, but he's hit seven homers and driven in 13 runs in 16 games.

If you're worried about his batting average, don't. He's been patient -- two more walks (13) than strikeouts (11) -- and he has an OPS of .971, which suggests his batting average will rise with the temperature. Rodriguez is a .305 career hitter, and he should at least reach .290 by the end of the season.

So far, it's been home run or bust. Of his last seven hits, six have been homers. That might not sound encouraging until you consider that those home runs have come in the last nine games. And that he plays in a stadium that might allow David Eckstein to hit 10 homers.

Pick Three

This week, we have all-starting-pitcher version of free-agent recommendations for deeper leagues. Again, these are players who are available in the majority of the leagues on -- in this case, the three are free agents in between 79 and 95 percent of the leagues.

Jason Marquis, SP, Rockies (available in 94.8 percent of the leagues on He's won six of his nine starts. He also has an ERA of 4.45, only 27 strikeouts in 60 2/3 innings and calls his home park Coors Field. What, you expected Johan Santana to be available? He's not going to help you much in the K department and, like most pitchers, he struggles pitching in Colorado (he's 2-2 with a 7.13 ERA at home this season). But before you dismiss Marquis' six wins, consider that he's won 11 or more games in each of the previous five seasons, a span in which he's averaged 13 victories, and he's 12 games over .500 for his career. He's also been very productive on the road: 4-1 with a 2.70 ERA this season. If he's scheduled for two starts, and at least one is on the road, in a given week, he's a decent option.

Brian Bannister, SP, Royals (available in 82.1 percent of ESPN leagues): He's 4-1 with a 2.79 ERA and has limited the opposition to two runs or fewer in five of his eight starts. Like Marquis, he's not much of a strikeout asset (just 25 in 42 innings this season and 234 in 427 2/3 innings for his career). He's not a top-flight starter by any means, but the 28-year-old is more than capable of improving upon his 2007 statistics (12-9 with a 3.87 ERA).

Rick Porcello, SP, Tigers (available in 79.4 percent of ESPN leagues): He's only 20 and prior to this season he had never pitched above Class A. But save me a seat on his bandwagon after a four-start span in which the right-hander is 4-0 with a 1.13 ERA and 16 strikeouts in 24 innings. He was the Tigers' first-round selection in 2007, and you have to believe big-league batters will figure him out soon. Until they do, reserve a spot in your starting lineup.

That does it for Week 7. We'll be back Saturday on the News-Herald's main sports site with a first-round do-over. Until then, good luck and remember to give thanks to those who have sacrificed their lives for our safety.

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Monday, May 18, 2009

Fantasy baseball: Jimmy Rollins, talk radio and Pick Three

Come ahhhhhhhhhhhhnnnnnnnn.

There’s an amusing ESPN radio commercial in which Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins utters the above line in -- of all places -- the back seat of a car. It’s a relevant jab at the lack of creativity that is so prevalent in sports talk radio, and it’s a spot that’s made me wonder what I would say to Rollins if I had drafted him in the first round and just so happened to be driving him around town.

The answer wouldn’t be Rollins’ commercial catchphrase, but his recent play has certainly taken away some of the sting felt by owners who were expecting much more from a late first- or early second-round fantasy pick.

As we detailed in a column that appeared in print editions and online Saturday, there are more than a few struggling stars in the first six weeks of the season. What’s difficult is determining which players will snap out of their early funk and should be kept in the starting lineup and which are headed downward faster than an all-callers segment on Jim Rome’s radio program.

I would put Rollins in the no-worries category. Yes, he’s batting only .222 and has just two homers and four steals in eight attempts, but consider his numbers from his current seven-game hitting streak: 10 hits, eight runs, one homer, four RBI and three steals.

It’s fair to wonder if Rollins’ 30-homer season in 2007, when he was named National League MVP, was an aberration, since he had only 11 homers last season and has hit more than 14 long balls only twice in eight full seasons in the majors.

He probably won’t be a huge source of RBI, either (his average total from the previous eight seasons is 67), but he should steal at least 30 bases, hit for average and some pop.

First-round production? Maybe not.

Bench him? Enter catchphrase.

Pick Three

Our weekly look at three players who should help you in deeper leagues, with the caveat that each must be available in more than half of the leagues on

Kendry Morales, 1B, Angels (owned in only 26.8 percent of the ESPN leagues): He’s batting .275 with six homers and 23 RBI, putting Mark Teixeira’s replacement in the Angels’ infield on pace for 27 homers and 104 RBI. His position is loaded with fantasy talent, but if you’re looking for an extra power bat, pick up this 25-year-old who hit .337 with a .939 OPS in his minor-league career.

Alberto Callaspo, 2B, Royals (19.9 percent): He’s proving to be an undrafted gem at a weak position. Callaspo, 26, is batting .341 with 16 RBI, 18 extra-base hits, one more walk than strikeouts (12 to 11), and he has an OPS of .919. If you need power, Callaspo isn’t the answer – his two home runs this season are the only long balls he’s hit in 525 big-league at-bats. He batted .316 in the minors, with 84 more strikeouts than walks (229 to 145).

Juan Pierre, OF, Dodgers (48.8 percent): All it took was Manny Ramirez getting suspended for him to start earning his hefty paycheck (a $10 million salary this season). In the 10 games Ramirez has missed, Pierre is batting .465 (20-for-43) with 11 runs, nine RBI and six steals. If you need power from your third outfield spot, seek help elsewhere, but there’s no reason he shouldn’t find a spot somewhere in your lineup.

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Thursday, May 14, 2009

Fantasy football: More NFL draft numbers

In a column for the print editions two weeks ago, I broke down the success -- or lack thereof -- of rookie quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers from a fantasy perspective.

A quick recap: Since 2004, only four quarterbacks have thrown for 2,500 yards or more and at least 10 touchdowns as rookies -- Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco in 2008, Matt Leinart in 2006 and Ben Roethlisberger in 2004. There have been eight rookie running backs to record 1,000 yards on the ground -- Chris Johnson, Matt Forte and Steve Slaton last season, Adrian Peterson and Marshawn Lynch in 2007, Joseph Addai in 2006, Cadillac Williams in 2005 and Kevin Jones (yes, Kevin Jones; he was such a surprise I omitted him in the previous column) in 2004. And the most surprising stat: Only two wide receivers have had 1,000-yard campaigns in their first seasons, and Larry Fitzgerald wasn't one of them. The two are Marques Colston in 2006 and the seldom-heard-from-since Michael Clayton in 2004.

Some leftover statistics from that analysis:

-- Where are the receivers? It goes without saying that quarterbacks can't be trusted as fantasy options as rookies. Of the four QBs to reach the aforementioned plateau, only Ryan threw for 3,000 yards (3,440 with the Falcons in 2008), and only Ryan and Roethlisberger had more than Flacco's 14 TD passes.

I went into this assuming there would be more 1,000-yard receivers than rushers, strictly because of the pass-happy nature of today's NFL, plus the fact that more teams split carries now than before. But even Fitzgerald (58 catches for 780 yards and eight TDs in 2004) wasn't much more than a No. 3 fantasy option as a rookie. Same goes for 2004 draft classmates Roy Williams (54-817, 8 TDs) and Lee Evans 48-843, 9).

-- What about Braylon? The butter-fingered Edwards had 32 receptions for 512 yards and three TDs for the Browns in 2005.

-- Close calls and other WR notables: The Broncos' Eddie Royal was sensational last season (91 receptions), but fell 20 yards shy of 1,000. ... Philly's DeSean Jackson had 62 receptions for 912 yards and two scores in 2008. ... Of the triple-figure club, no one came closer to 1,000 than Kansas City's Dwayne Bowe, who had 70 catches for 995 yards and five TDs in 2007. ... Super Bowl MVP and former Buckeye Santonio Holmes had 49 catches for 824 yards and two TDs for the Steelers in 2006.

-- Run, rookie, run: Last season's rookie class was easily the best of the five, with Forte, Johnson and Slaton likely high first-round draft choices this season. The 2008 class also includes the Lions' Kevin Smith, who ran for 976 yards and eight TDs and caught 39 passes for 286 yards.

-- Reggie and MJD:
The Saints' Reggie Bush ran for only 565 yards in 2006, but he scored eight total TDs and had 88 receptions for 742 yards. It remains his best season. ... The Jags' Maurice Jones-Drew, a likely top-five pick this season with Fred Taylor no longer around to eat up carries, was a fantasy stud as a rookie in 2006, but didn't run for 1,000 yards. Jones-Drew had 941 yards on the ground, caught 46 passes for 436 yards and had 15 total TDs.

-- More RB notables: Ronnie Brown had 907 yards rushing, 32 receptions for 232 yards and five total TDs for Miami in 2005 -- the same year Cadillac had his only big season (1,178 yards, six TDs). ... Steven Jackson rushed for 673 yards and four TDs as a Rams rookie in 2004, the same year Kevin Jones had 1,133 yards and six total scores with the Lions. He hasn't rushed for more than 689 yards since.

-- Don't count on the tight ends. A quick look at some bigger-name tight ends as rookies -- 2008: John Carlson, Seahawks, 55 receptions, 627 yards, five TDs; Dustin Keller, Jets, 48-535, 3; 2007: Greg Olsen, Bears, 39-391, 2; Zach Miller, Raiders, 44-444, 3; 2006: Vernon Davis, 49ers, 20-265, 3; Owen Daniels, Texans, 34-352, 5; 2005: Heath Miller, Steelers, 39-459, 6; Alex Smith, Buccaneers, 41-367, 2; 2004: Kellen Winslow Jr., Browns, two games played; Ben Troupe, Titans, 33-329, 1; Chris Cooley, Redskins, 37-314, 6.

-- Although I didn't go back to 2003 for the other positions, I was curious to see how that class of tight ends -- Antonio Gates, Jason Witten and Dallas Clark -- fared as rookies. All three had between 340 and 389 yards (led by Gates' 389), the trio combined for only four TDs (two by Gates) and Witten's 35 receptions were the most of the bunch.

The lesson, 12 long paragraphs later: On draft day 2009, know that rookie running backs have the greatest chance of success among the four primary positions. The problem, of course, is determining the right one.

Five backs were chosen in the first round in 2008 -- Darren McFadden, Jonathan Stewart, Felix Jones, Rashard Mendenhall and Chris Johnson -- and Stewart and Johnson were the only fantasy assets. Forte was a second-round pick by the Bears, Smith was selected 64th overall in Round 3, and Slaton (maybe the best of all) went 25 choices later at 89.

Could that mean big things from LeSean McCoy, Shonn Greene or Glen Coffee?

That's more than enough numbers for now. Go to The News-Herald's Web site on Saturday for a breakdown of the struggling stars in fantasy baseball. The site also currently has a fantasy baseball and football audiocast.

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Monday, May 11, 2009

Fantasy baseball: Closer calls

Last week, we mentioned how overrated stolen bases can be on draft day.

The same can be said for saves, but not because of the reason you might think. You can never go wrong with a stud closer, who will help you in strikeouts, ERA and (Austin Carr Master of the Obvious warning) saves.

Saves are overvalued only when the likes of Carlos Marmol, B.J. Ryan and Joel Hanrahan are selected much too early strictly because they are closers -- or in the case of Marmol, we thought they'd be closers (thanks, Lou Piniella).

In 5x5 category leagues, closers are even more valuable than stolen-base threats, but while we know the speed guys likely aren't going to hit for power, we can never be sure which closers are going to lose their jobs because of ineffectiveness or injuries.

By my rather unscientific count (I scanned the standings, then went through each team's schedule, looking at the saves recorded for each), 10 teams have switched closers this season. Seven were because of injuries -- Toronto (B.J. Ryan to Scott Downs), Kansas City (Joakim Soria to ...? More on that in a bit), Seattle (Brandon Morrow to David Aardsma and back to Morrow), Oakland (Brad Ziegler to Michael Wuertz and Andrew Bailey), Milwaukee (Carlos Villanueva to Todd Coffey to Trevor Hoffman), Houston (Jose Valderde to LaTroy Hawkins) and Pittsburgh (Matt Capps to, well, Capps; see below)

Two changed because of ineffectiveness -- St. Louis (Jason Motte to a committee to Ryan Franklin) and Colorado (Huston Street to Jason Grilli and Manny Corpas, and back to Street) -- and one (Atlanta, with Mike Gonzalez and Rafael Soriano) prefers to rotate.

All of which leads to a waiver-wire frenzy in category leagues whenever Player X gets A. Demoted, B. Injured, C. Doesn't lose his job, but Player Y sure seems to be getting a decent amount of opportunities.

All of which leaves us scratching our heads, throwing the hammer down (picking up Player Y) and getting that weak stuff out of here (Player X), a la Austin Carr (minus the head-scratching; we're the ones who do that when we hear the same four or five catchphrases throughout a Cavs broadcast).

Let's look at five of the recent closer developments and try to determine a method to this maddening position (and you thought Eric Wedge had problems).

Kansas City: Joakim Soria, who has saved 49 games in 52 opportunities since the start of last season, is on the disabled list because of shoulder soreness. A two-week waiver-wire gem could prove to be Juan Cruz, who has a 1.88 ERA and 11 strikeouts in 14 1/3 innings this season. Cruz was 4-0 with a 2.61 ERA and a whopping 71 strikeouts in 51 2/3 innings for the Diamondbacks last season. Cruz is an effective source of strikeouts (he has 546 K's in 529 1/3 career innings) and the Royals (with a surprising 18 wins) should give him a decent amount of save opportunities.

Houston: Jose Valverde, who had a combined 91 saves in 2007 and '08) has been on the disabled list since April 28 because of a calf injury. He's expected to return in the third week of May. LaTroy Hawkins (four saves, 2.40 ERA, 13 strikeouts in 15 innings) has been productive when called upon, but he's had only three save chances (blowing one) since Valverde went down.

Pittsburgh: Capps, who is on the DL with an elbow injury, is expected to return Tuesday. In his place, the Pirates might as well have had one of the Tribe's gas cans at the back end of the 'pen. Pittsburgh hasn't had a save since Capps recorded his fifth on April 22.

Oakland: Ziegler hasn't had a save since April 25. Since, Wuertz has two and Bailey one. Until Ziegler recovers from recent flu and asthma ailments (he says he won't be 100 percent for a couple of weeks), it's probably better to avoid any of these players unless you're desperate. Of the three, Bailey (3-0, 1.27 ERA, 24 strikeouts in 21 1/3 innings) has been the best.

Washington (aka the Indians of the National League): Hanrahan lost his job to former Indian Julian Tavarez and former starter Kip Wells. The bullpen was so bad Wells was brought off the street and has been one of the Nationals' most effective relievers. His save Friday was the first of his career. Tavarez recorded his first save of the season April 29, lost the following night and has had only two holds since. For the time being, Hanrahan (who bailed out Wells on Saturday night, getting his third save in the process) might still be the best option. He's a good source of strikeouts (16 in 13 1/3 innings; 93 in 84 1/3 in 2008) and at 28, he's likely the future of Washington's bullpen. In deeper leagues, he's a risk, but the same can be said for almost anyone at the position.

Later this week, we'll have more Pick Three options, NFL draft leftovers, an audiocast on the News-Herald's Web site and a column in Saturday's editions and online. Until then, good luck and remember to thank Mom even when it's not technically her day.

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Thursday, May 7, 2009

Fantasy baseball: Replacing Manny

As fantasy owners, we are usually prepared for injuries. We know when players have a history of being brittle, and we know the ones who seem to be breaking down.

Thanks to the Steroids Era, we have something else for which we need to prepare.


With seemingly every big-name bat sullied in some way, losing Manny Ramirez for 50 games because of the use of a performance-enhancing drug really shouldn't be a surprise. At this point, we're an Albert Pujols or Grady Sizemore positive test away from believing any and everyone is dirty.

Naively, though, we figured drafting Manny meant getting first-round talent in the second round -- a future Hall of Famer who has hit at least 33 homers and driven in 100 runs or more in 10 of the last 11 years. He batted .292 or better in each of the previous 11 seasons.

Now, we're left with ... Juan Pierre?

Ramirez's 50-game suspension takes him out of the picture until July 3 -- near the end of Week 13 of the fantasy season. That leaves Manny owners scrambling for the next eight weeks, or almost twice as many games as A-Rod owners are likely to be without their disgraced star.

One obvious replacement is Pierre, who figures to get regular playing time in the Dodgers' outfield with Ramirez gone.

Pierre is batting .355 this season, but that's in 31 at-bats. He'll help you in stolen bases, batting average and not much else.

He has only 13 homers in 5,184 career at-bats, and he's never driven in more than 55 runs, even though he played the first three seasons of his career in Colorado. He did, however, score 96 runs or more five times in seven seasons from 2001-07, and he entered 2009 with eight consecutive seasons with at least 40 steals.

In deeper leagues, he's a decent No. 3 outfielder who will provide a big boost to your stolen-base totals. Since he has no power, he's not an adequate replacement for Manny unless you have significant home-run and RBI options elsewhere in your lineup.

Let's look at four tiers of possible outfield replacements for Ramirez. The first group consists of players who are owned in 25 to 50 percent of the leagues on, followed by 10 to 25 percent, fewer than 10 percent and players who are outfield-eligible but start at other positions. We've mentioned quite a few of these guys in previous blogs that analyzed the best possible free agents.

25-50 percent

4. Dexter Fowler, Rockies (42.6 percent): He'll help you in steals (nine thus far, although five were in one game), but the rookie is in a 4-for-24 slump and doesn't have a lot of pop.

3. Chris Duncan, Cardinals (48.3): His batting average is mediocre (.275 this season and .248 the year before), but he drives in a lot of runs (19 this year, a combined 97 in 597 at-bats in 2007 and '08) and is capable of hitting 20-plus homers (three this season, a combined 27 the previous two years).

2. Denard Span, Twins (38.1): He hits for average (.305), is fast (seven steals) and isn't bad in the RBI department (14 this season, 47 in 347 at-bats in 2008).

1. Elijah Dukes, Nationals (37.3): He's batting .298, is powerful (four homers this season, 13 in 276 at-bats last year) and fast (13 steals in 2008).

10-25 percent

4. Michael Bourn, Astros (17 percent): Don't put too much stock into his .299 average (he batted .229 last season). Bourn will help you in steals (eight this year, 41 in 2008) and runs scored.

3. Daniel Murphy, Mets (23.3): He batted .313 as a rookie last season and is one point better thus far (.314).

2. Ryan Spilborghs, Rockies (18.5): He's anything but a big name, but his stats are surprisingly solid (.281, three homers, 14 RBI, 16 runs, four steals). In a combined 497 at-bats in 2007 and '08, he batted .306 with 17 homers and 87 RBI.

1. Melky Cabrera, Yankees (20.6): He won his center-field job back, and he's not going anywhere, thanks to a .338 batting average, four homers, 10 RBI, 14 runs and three steals in only 68 at-bats.

Fewer than 10 percent

4. Garret Anderson, Braves (3.2 percent): He's a .296 career hitter who has driven in 75 runs or more in each of the previous 12 years. Anderson returned from a calf injury to drive in three runs on Wednesday.

3. Michael Cuddyer, Twins (2.9):
He was very good in 2006 (.284, 24 homers, 109 RBI), decent in 2007 (.276, 16, 81) and has been only OK this season (.263, 2, 14, three steals).

2. Josh Anderson, Tigers (5.4): He doesn't play every day (eight starts in the last 12 games), but with Carlos Guillen on the disabled list, he should get enough at-bats to give you a spark in steals (six this season) and batting average (.333).

1. Marlon Byrd, Rangers (6.3): With a .330 batting average and 16 RBI, he's underrated. In 817 at-bats from 2007 to '08, Byrd hit 20 homers, had 123 RBI, 12 steals, 130 runs scored and batted .302.

Eligibility check

Oakland designated hitter Jack Cust (owned in 24.6 percent of the leagues) can play the outfield in some leagues. Same for Angels first baseman Kendry Morales (16.9), Royals third baseman Mark Teahen (14.1) and Twins DH Jason Kubel (40.9).

All four are adequate power options, especially Kubel (a combined 33 homers and 143 RBI in 881 at-bats in 2007 and '08) and Cust (59 homers in 876 at-bats in that span).

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Monday, May 4, 2009

Fantasy baseball: News and notes from Week 4

There is no more difficult statistic to analyze in fantasy baseball than the stolen base.

Most of the time, it's overrated. Players who have no business being selected in the third or fourth round of the draft are taken because of one stat: the steal. In category leagues, players such as Carl Crawford have the ability to take the point all by themselves -- witness Crawford's six-steal effort Sunday against Boston.

I've always taken a simple approach with the steal -- I underrate it.

I'd rather select players who will help me in three or four areas instead of one. Most of the stolen-base threats are one- or two-dimensional. They'll help you in steals and maybe runs scored, but not much else.

Of the six players who have stolen eight bases or more (two per week) this season, only two (Crawford and the Angels' Bobby Abreu, who has a surprising 11 steals) have reached double figures in RBI. The six have combined for a grand total of four home runs, and the group includes a .226 hitter who has three RBI (the annually overrated Chone Figgins) and a player who recorded five of his nine steals in one game (Colorado's Dexter Foxler).

Players such as Abreu (who has yet to hit a homer, but averaged 22 long balls the previous 11 years) and Texas' Ian Kinsler are draft-day gold. They'll steal bases, but they also will hit for power and average.

But for every Abreu and Kinsler, there are four or five Michael Bourns and Chone Figgins.

If you drafted Crawford, who is healthy after a mediocre, beat-up 2008, you did the right thing -- even if you reached for him in the third round. He's on pace to steal 105 bases, he's batting .317 and he should score more than 100 runs.

He's not much of a power boost -- he has yet to hit a homer -- but you can ignore that as long as he's helping you in a few other categories.

With Crawford, that is the case. With most of the speed guys, that is not.

So long, Travis: Tribe designated hitter Travis Hafner is on the disabled list with (boring Eric Wedge quote alert) what his manager describes as "some soreness and a little fatigue" in his bothersome shoulder.

Translation: We gave this guy a huge contract, he was terrible last year, he had offseason surgery on his shoulder and now we've typed the 14 words no organization wants to include in a press release: "(Enter player's name) is heading to Birmingham, Alabama, to be examined by Dr. James Andrews."

The Indians are downplaying the injury, and maybe they're right. But I don't blame the 17 percent of owners in leagues who dropped Hafner last week (his ownership percentage is down to 66.1).

Since hitting his fourth homer of the season on April 18 at Yankee Bandbox, Hafner is batting .240 (6-for-25) in eight games. In that span, he scored one run and had zero RBI.

His days as a fantasy force might be over, which is a gentle way of saying I wouldn't count of him helping you the rest of the season.

Pick three

This week's look at three possible free agents who should be an asset in deeper leagues, with the rule of thumb that all must be available in more than half of the leagues on

Russell Branyan, 1B, Mariners: He hits a lot of homers and he strikes out a lot more. Lately, though, he's been Albert Pujols-like (only if Pujols struck out way too much): Since April 24, Branyan is batting .368 with four homers, four doubles, 11 RBI and nine runs scored in nine games.

He's a career .233 hitter who has an amazing 816 strikeouts in 2,071 at-bats, so you know he won't sustain his success. But he's also eligible at third base, where he's more of an asset than at first in fantasy, and he's a home-run and RBI machine when he's on his game.

Again, it's not going to last. But if you need help at third, allow Russell to give you some needed muscle for a week or two. Just remember to bench him once he goes on one of his patented runs of 0-for-15 with 10 strikeouts.

Melky Cabrera, OF, Yankees: Brett Gardner opened the season as the Yankees' starting center fielder, but Cabrera has taken over, starting nine of the last 10 games. He's hit in seven straight games, and he's batting .321 with four homers and 10 RBI in 56 at-bats this season.

Cabrera wasn't much of an asset last season, when he batted .249 with eight homers and 37 RBI, but he was decent in 2006 and '07 (a combined 15 homers, 123 RBI and 141 runs in 1,005 at-bats). In deeper leagues, he can be a serviceable third outfielder who is capable of batting .280, scoring 90 runs and hitting 15 homers.

Kurt Suzuki, C, Athletics: I neglected to mention him in the blog about the struggles of catchers this season, which hasn't proven to be a wise move. Suzuki is batting .333 and has hits in 16 of the 20 games in which he's played.

He's only 25 and any catcher who is a threat to hit .300 is worthy of being started. Don't expect much power (Suzuki has 15 homers in 824 career at-bats), but this Athletic can reach double figures in home runs, bat better than .280 and drive in at least 70 runs.

Check back later this week for more NFL draft leftovers, good luck in Week 5 and remember to thank the owner at the top of your draft who selected Hanley Ramirez over Pujols.

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Friday, May 1, 2009

Fantasy baseball: The struggles of CC

CC Sabathia knew his seven-year, $161 million contract would bring with it ridiculous expectations, scrutiny he never could have imagined in Cleveland and Milwaukee, and yes a 12,000-square-foot mansion in Alpine, N.J. -- for which he paid cash.

Fantasy owners who drafted the big lefty didn't get the oversized house or contract, and thus far, they're not even getting the expected results.

To read the rest of the blog, click here.

Later this weekend, we'll have our weekly news and notes on fantasy baseball. Saturday, we'll analyze which rookies should make the biggest impact in the NFL next season. To read that column, go to this section of the Web site.

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