Duck And Cover

Fantasy/Roto, Hot Stove

Or cover and duck.

One of those.

Yesterday, in all my roto-innocence, I listed a few names that might help you in your fantasy baseball drafts, picks, trades, acquisitions, wheelings, dealings, healings and feelings.

Today, here are players you should avoid like the plague; or like Jose Canseco when he’s on Twitter and/or off his meds.

If you see these names available? Run.

But the strange part is that while some of them aren’t “numbers” players, they likely have use to their clubs on the field which, in part, proves my point of the need to place stats into their proper context; why being a numbers cruncher does not automatically imply a baseball expertise that takes years of watching, analyzing and participating to be able to come to a reasonable and educated conclusion.

Let’s have a look.

B.J. Upton, CF—Tampa Bay Rays

If you pick him up during one of his hot streaks, then fine, but too often Upton doesn’t look like he wants to play. He has barely evolved from the 2008 World Series when he grounded into a double play because he wasn’t running hard. Upton plays hard when he feels like it and this is not a positive attribute on the field or stat sheet.

He’ll steal you some bases, hit a homer here and there; but he strikes out a lot, doesn’t hit for average and doesn’t get on base. His terrible attitude shows in the numbers if you read between the columns.

Russell Martin, C—New York Yankees

He’s coming off numerous injuries and his offense has declined drastically in the past three years.

Jacoby Ellsbury, CF—Boston Red Sox

He’s listed as the center fielder on the Red Sox depth chart and even if he’s healthy I think he’s going to share time with Mike Cameron and lose the full-time job by May. If anything, the Red Sox might play him regularly to bolster his trade value.

Admittedly, I’ve never been a fan of Ellsbury; he’s more of a product of the Red Sox PR machine than actual use on the field; he’s not a good defensive center fielder; he doesn’t hit the ball out of the park; and his stolen bases and triples aren’t worth the trouble of picking him when he’s not going to play regularly and there are many other options available.

Speaking of options available, I forgot to mention Josh Willingham in my list of players to pick up. Grab him. He can hit.

Jose Bautista, INF/OF—Toronto Blue Jays

This has nothing to do with any allegations of impropriety on his part to achieve the *absurd* heights he did last season. We don’t know whether it was due to the first chance he’s gotten to play every day; the approach advocated by Blue Jays hitting coach Dwayne Murphy to look for a fastball and try to hit it into space; illicit means; or a fluke.

No.

He’ll be very expensive because people will recognize his name and while I do think he’ll hit his homers (I’ll say 30+), he’s not worth the presumptive cost.

J.J. Hardy, SS—Baltimore Orioles

Hardy’s never gotten on base at an impressive rate and he’s been injured and awful  in the past two years. He’s a good fielder, but I don’t think you get credit for that in your fantasy leagues.

In reality, he’s a giant upgrade from Cesar Izturis for the Orioles, but because what a club now has is better than what they had previously, it doesn’t mean he’s necessarily “good”.

Carl Pavano, RHP—Minnesota Twins

I’m sure there will be those who look at his 17 wins last season and say, “well, he won 17 games,” but I wouldn’t touch him.

I’m cognizant of the “relaxation factor” where he’ll have his contract in hand and want to go to the beach. I doubt that’s going to happen again, but I didn’t expect the ludicrousness of his time with the Yankees; nor did I expect Yankees GM Brian Cashman to make an offer to bring him back(?!?).

With Pavano, there’s a vortex of unreality that I want no part of. If you get sucked into someone else’s madness, it infects you fast.

And his numbers, apart from the wins and innings, were not impressive. The Twins defense is worse than last year and, as a club, they’ve got some major issues.

Mark Buehrle, LHP—Chicago White Sox

Here is the epitome of a player you want on your team when you’re actually playing the game of baseball, but do not want in a fantasy league.

Buehrle is the guy you want at your back in a dark alley. If White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen walks up to him and says, “we need a compete game from you today,” or, in Ozzie-speak, “Compleh gah today babeh, huh?” Buehrle would not question nor complain; he’d stay on the mound for 140 pitches and if he allowed 10+ runs; he wouldn’t worry about how it blew up his ERA or hits/innings pitched ratio because it helps his team.

If you do pick him up, you have to be lucky in getting a “good Buehrle” day as opposed to “bad Buehrle”. The good one pitches a perfect game; the bad one gives up 7 runs in the first inning.

Stats do not adequately define a player and Buehrle is proof of that.

Grady Sizemore, CF—Cleveland Indians

People might remember what he was before micro-fracture surgery and he’ll be in demand; I’d expect absolutely nothing and wouldn’t waste my time.

The one saving grace is the fear that he won’t be able to come back and his availability/upside—it depends on whether he’s cheap or not.

Brandon Webb, RHP—Texas Rangers

More name recognition and remembrances of greatness; considering that he’s missed two years and his fastball was reportedly puttering in at 82-mph last summer, he’s going to be picked because he’s known for what he was.

There’s a big difference between a bowling ball sinker at 90+ and at 84; and he’s pitching in Texas in a ballpark highly conducive to hitters.

Carlos Ruiz, C—Philadelphia Phillies

A career .260 hitter batting .302 with a .400 on base? Are you buying that? I’m not.

Craig Kimbrel, LHP—Atlanta Braves

Because he racks up the strikeouts and has been anointed as the Braves closer entering spring training, he’ll attract interest; he has has trouble throwing strikes and will be closing for a team with playoff expectations. He’s only 23.

It’s a shaky combination.

I have no clue how it works with 40-man rosters and fantasy drafts, but here’s what I would do if he’s available—take Billy Wagner.

He’s still on the Braves 40-man. Pick him late and hope he possibly comes back at mid-season.

Angel Pagan, OF—New York Mets

I’m hesitant to believe in a player when he has his first full season as a regular and puts up the numbers Pagan did last season; plus he’s got a history of injuries that can’t be ignored—that would be my biggest concern.

Jayson Werth, OF—Washington Nationals

How is he going to fare as the focal point? As the highest paid player? With a long-term contract in hand?

Out of the cocoon of the Phillies lineup and into the wasteland of Washington, I wonder whether he’s going to fall on his face.

Probably not, but if you think you’re getting huge numbers from him, think again.

Scott Rolen, 3B—Cincinnati Reds

At age 36 and after two mostly healthy seasons, he’s due for an injury.

Zack Greinke, RHP—Milwaukee Brewers

Amid all the talk that a move to the National League will inspire a Roy Halladay-style dominance, it has to be remembered that mentally, Greinke is no Halladay.

Having taken time to learn to deal with high expectations pitching for a team with no chance at contention with the Royals, how’s he going to react as he’s picked to win the Cy Young Award and an entire organization is pinning their hopes for contention on him?

Brett Myers, RHP—Houston Astros

He was excellent last season and got paid.

That’s what worries me.

He’s emotional and has had injury issues in recent years; the Astros defense is awful and Myers is a contact pitcher.

Carlos Zambrano, RHP—Chicago Cubs

Since you don’t know which Zambrano is going to show up, he’s a dart flung at a dartboard while wearing a blindfold.

There will be those who believe his renaissance in September is a portent of turning the corner, but how many times has that been said of Zambrano?

I’ll believe it when I see it…and still be dubious after I see it.

Brian Wilson, RHP—San Francisco Giants

Tim Kurkjian wrote an article for ESPN that looked into the workloads of pitchers in the post-season and their results in the following season—link.

I haven’t torn it apart yet (I intend to), but after a quick glance, it’s a simplistic and broad-based way of analysis.

But one pitcher for whom it might be a problem is Giants closer Brian Wilson.

He’s tough, durable and willing to take the ball whenever, wherever and for however long he’s needed. The aftereffects of the long playoff run and intense innings are cumulative and the slightest downgrade in Wilson’s velocity/movement will give the hitters that extra split second to react to his power pitches; plus his control might not be as good.

It’s imperceptible but real.

Jason Bartlett, SS—San Diego Padres

People think he can hit after his 2009 career year, but he’s moving into a rotten lineup and a giant ballpark. He is what he is as a hitter and that’s not much.

Cameron Maybin, CF—San Diego Padres

With Maybin, you’re waiting until his rough edges are smoothed; he’ll be a good player one day, he’s not yet. Horribly inconsistent, strikeout prone and still learning the game, Maybin has a lot of expectations in his third big league stop and that’s a bad combination for a young player.

Ian Kennedy, RHP—Arizona Diamondbacks

Kennedy was impressive for the Diamondbacks last season and let his pitching do the talking as opposed to the constant yapping, tweaking and ignoring he did with the Yankees. Away from the hype and in an atmosphere with limited expectations, he pitched well.

It’s still not enough to take a chance on him yet. He’s the type to think he’s “made” it and relax. This is not good.

Buyer beware.

I’ll do the mail tomorrow.

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Teetering

Hot Stove

Barring anything miraculous in the positive or negative sense, there are teams that we pretty much know their collective fates.

The Red Sox and Phillies are at the top of the food chain; the Yankees, Braves and White Sox can expect to be good; the Royals are basing their entire future and present on the fact that everyone worships their packed farm system—they’ll see you in 2014, just you wait!!

The Mets know where they’re at; the Pirates are the Pirates.

But other clubs have pressing questions of the make-or-break variety; questions that could lead to their rise or fall, depending on the answers.

Here are those teams and things can go right…or wrong in 2011.

Toronto Blue Jays

They’ve done a lot of stuff, but I don’t necessarily know if they’ve gotten better from last season.

Stacked with young pitching, they’ve signed or acquired veteran relievers Octavio Dotel, Jon Rauch and Frank Francisco to augment young starters Brandon Morrow, Kyle Drabek, et al.

With the departures of Vernon Wells, John Buck and Lyle Overbay, they lost 71 homers and replaced them with nothing but hope. Hope that the atrocious seasons from Aaron Hill and Adam Lind were nothing more than blips; hope that Travis Snider will hit the way he did in the minors; hope that Edwin Encarnacion and Yunel Escobar won’t join forces to send new manager John Farrell to test the benefits of the Canadian health care system’s mental program; and hope that the young pitchers improve rather than stagnate or regress.

The Blue Jays could easily fall to 75 wins or rise to 90.

Minnesota Twins

The departures of Matt Guerrier, Jesse Crain, Jon Rauch and Brian Fuentes have gutted imperative parts of their bullpen. Joe Nathan is returning from Tommy John surgery and Matt Capps is still there for the late innings, but the foundation of their bullpen was based on the above names—names that are no longer there. The Twins won with competent, mediocre starting pitching and a deep, reliable bullpen.

They still have the mediocre starting pitching, but without the bullpen, they could have a problem.

Justin Morneau is a question mark returning from his concussion; Delmon Young had his career year in 2010; they’re replacing Orlando Hudson and J.J. Hardy with Alexi Casilla and, the biggest wild card, Japanese import Tsuyoshi Nishioka.

I don’t care what the scouting reports say about a player coming over from Japan, you never know what you’re getting until they play in North America. You could be getting Hideki Irabu; you could be getting Hideki Matsui. You don’t know.

If the Twins bullpen falters, that’s going to damage their starting pitching—starting pitching that isn’t all that great to begin with. With the new middle infield, they could take a drastic tumble. They’re also in a division with two good teams in the White Sox and Tigers.

Florida Marlins

The front office has had unreasonably high expectations in the past and it, along with the enabling of diva-like behavior from Hanley Ramirez, combined to cost Fredi Gonzalez his job as manager at mid-season, 2010.

They have an impressive array of talent, but there’s something…off about them. Wes Helms at third base? Chris Coghlan in center field? 3-years, $18 million for John Buck? Trading for relievers Edward Mujica and Ryan Webb when, in the past, the Marlins set the standard for building a bullpen the right way by finding cheap, discarded arms?

Javier Vazquez is a good pickup for the deep rotation as he joins Josh Johnson, Ricky Nolasco and Anibal Sanchez.

That division is a nightmare with the Phillies likely to disappear into the distance a month into the season and the Braves probably the second best team in the National League.

Manager Edwin Rodriguez is on a 1-year deal and the club has had an on-again, off-again flirtation with Bobby Valentine. Owner Jeffrey Loria wants a “name” manager to helm his club heading into the new ballpark in 2012 and Ozzie Guillen, another object of his desires, just had his contract option for 2012 exercised by the White Sox.

Rodriguez did a good job after taking over for Gonzalez, but he’s not box office.

Like a prospective romance that for a variety of reasons all parties insist is over, Valentine and the Marlins are still eyeing each other lustily. Unless the Marlins are right in the thick of the playoff race in June, don’t—do….not—be surprised to see Valentine managing the Marlins.

San Diego Padres

The starting pitching has been compromised with the departures of Jon Garland and Kevin Correia; they still have Clayton Richard and Mat Latos at the top, but after that?

I dunno…

Then they dealt away Mujica and Webb for Cameron Maybin who’s done nothing to justify his top prospect status as of yet—he’s not a prospect anymore, it’s either do it or don’t.

Who knows how the loss of Yorvit Torrealba—a terrific handler of pitchers—will affect the staff.

The offense is devastated by the trade of Adrian Gonzalez; they brought in Maybin, Jason Bartlett, Orlando Hudson, Brad Hawpe and Jorge Cantu.

Again, I dunno…

“I dunno” is not cutting it in a rough division.

The Padres could fall from 90 wins to 75 if their pitching doesn’t perform.

Hot And Not

Hot Stove
  • Brilliance either way:

The overwhelming reactions to the Rays “combo” signings of Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez have tended toward the ludicrous with a fair amount of ignorance thrown in.

To think that the Rays do anything just “because” is missing out on the way the front office has run their club since gaining their footing after a rough first year.

Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez for a combined $7.25 million for 1-year? In what world would this be considered laughable, risky or something any club wouldn’t do if given the opportunity?

Contrary to prevalent perception, the Rays were still going to be dangerous this season despite the free agent losses they mostly allowed without a fight. Of all the players they lost, the only two they presumably lament are Carl Crawford and Matt Garza, and they had justifiable reasons for their departures; apart from that, Carlos Pena was a declining force at the plate; Grant Balfour, Lance Cormier, Rafael Soriano, Jason Bartlett—all were pickups whose value was extinguished and are replaceable.

They couldn’t afford to keep Crawford—plain and simple—and they didn’t put up the pretense of an offer that was doomed to fail. Garza was growing more expensive and the Cubs gave up a massive package for him to augment the already bursting Rays farm system. Along with all those draft picks they accumulated with the other free agent defections, the Rays are well-stocked for the future.

With the rotation and lineup—a sum of the parts entity that was third in the American League in scoring despite having no DH; a first baseman batting under .200; and subpar performances from Ben Zobrist and Bartlett—they’re still dangerous.

It’s conveniently ignored that the majority of the players who left had ready-made replacements or were part of a bullpen that the Rays patched together with stuff they essentially found in the dumpsters of other clubs.

Manny was not the Manny we’ve come to expect last season, but he’s not finished either. His overall numbers—9 homers, 42 RBI, 25 extra base hits, a .298 average and .409 on base in 90 games look pretty good to me considering that the Rays designated hitters from last season were Pat Burrell (released) and Willy Aybar (whose main problem is that he’s Willy Aybar).

Manny Ramirez for $2 million? The Yankees would’ve jumped on that deal too.

Add in that the Rays know how to build a bullpen on the cheap and will have the prospects to be able to make a big mid-season splash if they need to bolster the bullpen. As I said a few days ago, there are going to be a lot of closers entering their walk year; a couple of their clubs are going to have down seasons and look to deal. If something can be worked out with Francisco Rodriguez‘s contract option from the Mets, he’s one to watch as are Francisco Cordero of the Reds and Heath Bell of the Padres.

The question of where this places Desmond Jennings is reasonable, but I wouldn’t be stunned to see Damon playing some first base to ease—not eliminate—but ease the amount of running he’d have to do on the Tropicana Field turf. People don’t realize that the first baseman, sometimes, does more running than an outfielder with covering the base and functioning as the cut-off man, but the Rays are willing to think outside the box and their current first baseman is listed as journeyman Dan Johnson. Why not Damon there for 50 games or so?

Teams that win know when to take a chance on a veteran who is approaching the end of his career, but still has something useful left. The Rays got themselves two and they got them cheap. If you’re laughing at them for it, it’s either due to fear of what they might accomplish this year or because you haven’t the faintest idea what you’re talking about. These are two brilliant moves even if they don’t work.

  • Then there’s this:

This deal isn’t as awful as it’s being portrayed, but it still makes little sense for the Angels.

The Angels and Blue Jays completed a trade that sends Vernon Wells and $5 million to Anaheim for Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera.

It’s January and Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos deserves to win executive of the year for getting Wells’s contract off the Blue Jays books and getting pieces of use in the process.

The Blue Jays are still relying heavily on a very young starting rotation and their offense is diminished from last season; they’re also hoping either Octavio Dotel or Jon Rauch can close—they have issues of concern—but getting the Wells contract off the books is a tremendous coup. That they received Mike Napoli—who replaces the no-hit Jose Molina as the primary catcher—and Juan Rivera, who will hit his 15-20 homers and play a serviceable left field, makes the trade a total win for the Blue Jays.

As for the Angels?

So it’s not that terrible. But that doesn’t make it wise.

Here’s the big problem with Vernon Wells: he’s a good player making Albert Pujols-level money. And this can’t work. Apparently $5 million went from the Blue Jays to the Angels as if that’s going to make a dent in the financial catastrophe that is the Wells contract which still has $86 million to go through 2014.

The Angels have money to spend—judging from this move, money that was disagreeable to owner Arte Moreno to hold onto. That’s dismissible I suppose. As long as it doesn’t stop them from making other necessary moves, it’s explainable. But what about the players?

They’re shifting Wells to left field for Peter Bourjos to get a legit shot at center field and Bobby Abreu to DH. Does this make them any better? They’re replacing Napoli behind the plate with Jeff Mathis (can’t hit, mediocre defensively); Bobby Wilson (28-years-old and yet to hit in the big leagues; has a good arm); or Hank Conger (23, has hit and thrown well in the minors). Unless Conger delivers at the plate, do you see the problem here?

It’s a lateral leap and doesn’t help that much in the short or long term.

The caveat of “not that bad” aside, this makes no sense for the Angels right now. If, in the short term, it catapulted them over the divisional competition—the Rangers and the Athletics—for 2011, then it made sense; but they picked up a financial albatross at age 31 who has pop, but doesn’t improve on what they gave up and it costs them a ton of cash.

The Angels offense and bullpen were their main obstacles to contending before and this doesn’t do one solitary thing to fix that; if anything, it makes them more expensive and less flexible.

It won’t be a disaster, but it won’t be good either.