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June 07, 2006

ESPN Fantasy Column

Nevin Departs
Texas blessedly traded the permaslumping DH Phil Nevin to the Cubs last week. Since then, Buck Showalter has apportioned the DH at-bats to several players. Recently recalled Jason Botts has started six of thirteen games since joining the Rangers, and that trend should continue. Botts has 98% ownership in ESPN’s AL-only leagues and 4% in mixed leagues. ESPN owners have it right: he probably won’t play quite enough or hit well enough to help most mixed-leaguers. Despite the .318 average he offered in AAA, I expect a mediocre average coupled with respectable power. Botts has yet to start against a lefty.

Laird Ascends
On Tuesday night, catcher Gerald Laird makes his second consecutive start for the first time this season. Laird smacked two homers and two doubles against the White Sox Sunday and finally appears to have Showalter’s attention. He won’t receive more than half the starts in the near term, probably a little less, but AL-only owners in need of catching help should consider him. Laird is currently batting .367 with four homers in only 60 at-bats. He can’t persist at that pace, but .280 with decent power is attainable. If Laird continues to hit well and Rod Barajas remains below .250 with one walk per week, he will graduate to two-thirds of the team’s starts during the season’s second half.

Kinsler Regresses
Ownership of Ian Kinsler has fallen from 90% to 66% in the past week because… well, I suppose because his former owners are disgusted that he won’t bat .440 all season. Kinsler has a tepid line of .214/.266/.433 since returning from a long DL stint for a dislocated thumb. As I’ve mentioned repeatedly to fantasy players, my wife, my cats, and passers by, true rookies very rarely make worthwhile fantasy performers in mixed leagues. Don’t drop him for newly acquired Jerry Hairston or someone of similar (lack of) standing, but most leagues of ten or fewer teams should have someone better or safer in the free-agent pool. Kinsler merits ownership in AL-only leagues.

Matthews Amazes
Gary Matthews has quietly raised his line to .321/.384/.556 with five homers, 27 runs and 26 RBI in only 45 games. Matthews ranks fourth in baseball with 21 doubles, which does fantasy owners no good directly but indicates his recent prowess. He’s approaching 44% ownership in mixed leagues. Matthews can help any fantasy team but might not have a long shelf life. He has a far more modest career line of .254/.331/.410, and though he’s batted better while with Texas, he’s not known for his magic bat and has a history of extreme streakiness. He’s not the “grab him and forget about him? type.

Rheinecker Destroys
John Rheinecker has pitched brilliantly in the two starts since I recommended him only for larger AL-only leagues. I saw at a pitcher with a 1.38 WHIP and 6.3 K/9 in the high minors and shrugged. Meanwhile, Rheinecker contemptuously glared down hitters Bob Gibson-style and chopped them into a fine mulch. So, what of the future? Rheinecker will stay in the rotation at the expense of Robinson Tejeda. He next faces Boston in Fenway and Chicago in Arlington, neither of which is conducive to success. On the other hand, he handled Chicago on the road. Start him in AL-only leagues, don’t take the bait yet in mixed leagues. I doubt he’ll offer more than adequacy in terms of ERA, WHIP and strikeouts, but considering that he effectively didn’t exist a few weeks ago, that’s enormous progress.

Millwood Confounds
Last week, Kevin Millwood defied his year-long run of all-or-nothing performances with a workmanlike six-inning, three-run, four-strikeout evening against Seattle. Tuesday night, he dominated Kansas City, as well he should. For those considering acquiring him in mixed leagues, he current stats reflect his long-term status. He should provide ample wins and strikeouts and a mediocre WHIP and ERA. He went seven days between starts because of a sore back and struggled briefly against KC, but he recovered and seems good to go.

Hairston Arrives
Texas acquired utility guy Jerry Hairston Jr. for Nevin. Hairston ranks behind Mark DeRosa in utility guy-ness and certainly won’t displace a regular. No value except in gigantic AL-only leagues. As for DeRosa, he has maintained his near-everyday status and ridiculous hitting through the arrival of Botts and Hairston and departure of Nevin. Ride him while he's hot, drop him when he cools.

Posted by Lucas at June 7, 2006 01:22 AM