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February 19, 2005

ESPN Column

Francisco and Francisco Show Up Sore
Closer FRANCISCO CORDERO and ace setup man FRANK FRANCISCO watched their teammates from the dugout during the first day of Spring Training. Cordero has a sore shoulder, Francisco is nursing a sore elbow. Neither situation is considered serious; in Cordero’s case the team didn’t even order an MRI. Nevertheless, it’s a situation worth watching for fantasy owners. When upgrading or downgrading players before the draft, health means much more than statistics. Any banjo hitter can bat .500 over a few games against substandard competition, and any superstar can slump for a couple of weeks. Grapefruit and Cactus League stats disappear on Opening Day, but bad knees and shoulders remain.

Teixeira or Blalock?
Given the choice, who would you draft first? That’s a tough question to answer, as both finished with similar fantasy numbers in 2004. The conventional wisdom suggests taking Blalock because of positional scarcity at third base, but is that wisdom correct? Third base now has a plethora of superior fantasy players, with guys like A-Rod, Beltre, Rolen, Chavez, Mora, Aramis Ramirez, and Blalock vying for supremacy. First base does have more depth. Regarding the players themselves, Blalock ought to improve on last year’s .276 average but seems fully developed in the power department. Teixeira has genuine breakout potential, could become an elite slugger as soon as this year, and has retained outfield eligibility in ESPN leagues. I would chose Teixeira.

Kevin Mench’s Excellent Adventure
Last year at this time, outfielder KEVIN MENCH slept uncomfortably Buck Showalter’s doghouse. Frequent injuries, an unwillingness to play winter and a seemingly carefree style did not score points with management. Now, he’s the everyday left fielder, someone the Rangers would rather keep than trade. Teammate RICHARD HIDALGO is the “name? and will be drafted before Mench, but Mench ought to produce similar numbers and could be a late-round steal. That said, don’t get carried away; he does have an injury history and has never surpassed 500 plate appearances. Mench crushes lefties and gets by against righties.

Alfonso Soriano’s Bogus Journey
Despite having by far his worst season in three years, ALFONSO SORIANO ranked among the elite fantasy second baseman in 2004. That couldn’t have mollified owners who drafted him in the first round and speaks more to the weak competition at the position than his own merits. Soriano produced 37 fewer runs, ten fewer homers and seventeen fewer steals than the previous season. He adapted well to The Ballpark but inexplicably suffered on the road (.244/.291/.444) and didn’t produce with runners in scoring position. In previous years, neither situation had bothered him. Expect at least a partial return to former Yankee glory in 2005. He should approached 100 runs and RBI and again surpass 30 homers. Even if he leads off, don’t count on more than 20-25 steals.

Designated Mediocrity
The Rangers don’t have what anyone would consider a wonderful DH situation. As it now stands, DAVID DELLUCCI would garner most of the at-bats against righthanders, and GREG COLBRUNN would bat against lefties, with others filling in as needed. Dellucci doesn’t hit that well for a corner outfielder, much less a DH, so Texas is looking for improvement even as Spring Training begins. Rumored targets include Kansas City’s Mike Sweeney and Detroit’s Bobby Higginson and Rondell White. Unfortunately, all have plus-sized contracts, and Kansas City would want Kevin Mench. Losing Mench to gain one of these guys isn’t a net positive, even when ignoring salary implications. Texas also will watch ADRIAN GONZALEZ and AA standout JASON BOTTS in the hopes that one will step up.

Posted by Lucas at February 19, 2005 02:20 PM