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January 18, 2005

ESPN Fantasy Column

Jogging and Stretching on the Horizon
Pitchers and catcher report as soon as February 17th. In less than one month, ESPN and other, lesser networks will supply video of baseball players jogging, stretching, tossing the medicine ball, playing lawn darts, what have you. About two weeks after that, they start playing actual games that mean nothing statistically but everything to guys like me who can name exactly two present-day LA Lakers (Kobe Bryant and Chris Mihm, with whom I share a university). I’ll delve into comprehensive evaluations of the Rangers as Spring Training takes place, but for now, let me present some basics:

Your Starting Lineup

If Buck Showalter had to present a lineup card today, it might look something like this: MICHAEL YOUNG at short, HANK BLALOCK at third, ALFONSO SORIANO at second, MARK TEIXEIRA at first, RICHARD HIDALGO in right, KEVIN MENCH in left, DAVID DELLUCCI at DH (against righties only, with GREG COLBRUNN battling the lefties), LAYNCE NIX in center (spotted by GARY MATTHEWS against some lefties), and ROD BARAJAS behind the plate. Dellucci and Matthews will back up the outfielders and SANDY ALOMAR JR. will caddy for Barajas, while Gerald Laird will sulk in AAA until Alomar suffer his requisite injury. Right now, Texas has no one on the 40-man roster to back up at second, third or short.

Soriano adapted surprisingly poorly to the hitter-friendly Ballpark, which actually can present some difficulty to right-handed pull hitters. I expect some improvement (assuming he remains a Ranger), if for no other reason than his previously established performance was so much better. If Showalter decides to bat Soriano first, expect a substantial improvement on last year’s 18 steals. 40? Nice try. Perhaps 30. Hidalgo’s annual stats seem randomly generated; what he’ll offer this year defies prediction. I think he’ll perform reasonably well, based on the Delphian visions contained in this morning’s coffee grinds. The Most Likely To Decline Award goes to Barajas, who channeled Mike Piazza for a few giddy weeks last May and June but otherwise batted as he usually did, which is to say, poorly.

On The Mound
Ranger pitching spearheaded last year’s 18-game turnaround, and the offense bore most of the responsibility for losing the division lead. Don’t laugh, it’s true. Texas batted a paltry .248/.316/.432 after the All-Star break while the hurlers posted a 4.46 ERA, quite respectable considering where they play half their games. Having said that, as in previous years, most Texas pitchers won’t be worth the trouble in fantasy leagues. KENNY ROGERS and RYAN DRESE will chew up their innings and get a fair share of wins, but they also sport mediocre ERAs and WHIPS and have low strikeout rates. Though Texas has several youngsters who could step up, including RICARDO RODRIGUEZ, JUAN DOMINGUEZ and CHRIS YOUNG, they’re too risky to draft in all but the very largest of AL-only leagues.

FRANCISCO CORDERO leads a bullpen that had the lowest ERA in the American League last year. Cordero isn’t a Gagne or Lidge, but he has moved into the second tier of fantasy closers. He should deliver forty or more saves, 70 or more strikeouts, and a sub-three ERA. In most mixed leagues, only a handful of middle relievers merit a roster spot. I wouldn’t draft FRANK FRANCISCO, but if any Ranger setup man has the stuff to help a fantasy team, it’s him. The dreadful chair-throwing incident won’t result in any jail time or deportation for the Dominican Republic native. In AL-only leagues, Francisco merits a late-round flyer.

Posted by Lucas at January 18, 2005 08:33 AM