March 28, 2007

Fired!

ESPN has discontinued offering Fantasy Baseball Correspondents, effective immediately, so I’m out of a “job.? I found out second-hand from another correspondent, who tried to post a new story, only to discover the uplink had disappeared. He informed someone upstairs, who replied: “I sent an email to the correspondents to let them know that we are discontinuing correspondents this year. Thanks for all your help!?

Neither I nor many of the other correspondents received said email, but in my case I’d bet he was using something like tex05@scottlucas.com, which I deleted after 2005. Given that this was my sixth year, I would’ve preferred they’d used the actual, working email address listed in my ESPN profile, and I also would’ve preferred they’d cut us loose before the busiest time of year for a fantasy writer, but oh well.

That said, I’m not displeased. Five years ago, the correspondents were an intergral part of ESPN’s fantasy product, and I was proud to be part of it. There was a group of people back then: Kent Williams, Mick Doherty, John Gizzi, maybe me, and several others, who were equal to or better than any paid roto writer. As ESPN expanded Eric Karabell’s role and added more paid writers over the years, the correspondents became superfluous. Until 2005 I used to receive 4-5 emailed questions per day during March. Last March I received a ten, total. So far this March, four. This was to be my last year.

I’m still (online) friends with several former correspondents, and when the ESPN gig proved too stifling (you can only write so much about fantasy ball for one team) I created the blog you’re reading now. Plus, I now have the affiliation with Jamey Newberg.

So, to make a short story very long, if you’re looking for fantasy advice about the Rangers, I’m afraid you won’t find it here. It was (mostly) fun while it lasted.

Also, my fantasy league with eleven other fired correspondents has its draft on Sunday. It’s an ESPN league, of course.

Posted by Lucas at 02:58 PM

March 21, 2007

ESPN Fantasy Column

Outfielder Update
I’d talked last week about Brad Wilkerson lacking the platoon issues that cut into the value of guys like Kenny Lofton and Frank Catalanotto. As it turns out, manager Ron Washington has hinted that Cat may get at-bats against lefties despite his well-established track of mediocrity against them. Since Wilkerson has done little to encourage management this spring, and I don’t peg Nelson Cruz for more than 400 appearances anyway, I’d guess that Cat’s extra at-bats would come mostly at Wilkerson’s expense.

So, downgrade Wilkerson some, and upgrade Catalanotto a tiny amount. In any case, neither is draftable in most mixed leagues. The Ranger outfield situation is very fluid and ought to change throughout the season, another reason to look dimly upon all possible draftees. Sammy Sosa is batting .417 with three homers. I put no weight in Spring Training stats as an indicator of future performance, but he has definitely cemented a significant role on the team to start the season. I remain skeptical of his fantasy potential. You know, “a foolish consistency? and all that.

Teixeira Returns, Young On The Way
Mark Teixeira returned to action Sunday showing no ill effects from his bruised knee. Texas will attempt to get him as many at-bats as possible during the next ten days since he has always begun the season slowly. He probably will again, but don’t sweat it. Michael Young should return Thursday or Friday after having sutures removed from his left ear. He required surgery after being hit on the ear. He should be fine; don’t adjust his value based on this mishap.

Gagne
Eric Gagne pitched in an “A? game for the first time this spring and allowed a solo homer in one inning. It was also his first appearance after only one day of rest. Texas will handle him with care early on, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Akinori Otsuka get a save chance if Gagne’s pitched the previous two days. All the more reason to have Aki as a fallback in AL-only leagues, and he’s a decent late-round pick in mixed leagues.

Third and Fourth Starter
As is stands, Brandon McCarthy with be the #3 starter followed by Robinson Tejeda. Both have mean stuff and potential, but neither has any value in mixed leagues. I project McCarthy as a poor man’s Kevin Millwood: 10 wins, 140 strikeouts, 4.80 ERA, and a 1.36 WHIP in 175-180 innings. The strikeouts and WHIP are respectable, but his penchant for homers will drive up that ERA.

As for Tejeda: 8 wins, 105 Ks, 5.20 ERA, 1.60 WHIP in 155 innings. That’s an ugly line, but that’s what the computer tells me. The problem is that Tejeda pitched 52 of last year’s 73 innings on the road and was also outstanding with runners in scoring position. A more even distribution of innings and typical RISP performance will not help his fantasy production.

Battle For Fifth Starter
Hah, just kidding! I’m not writing about the Rangers’ fifth starter in a fantasy column. Just don’t draft him.

Posted by Lucas at 01:20 PM

March 13, 2007

ESPN Fantasy Column

Injury Notes

Eric Gagne pitched his first live action of the spring and threw his full assortment of pitches with solid results. He can’t and won’t dial it up like he did in 2003, but he has become a worthwhile fantasy risk. Right now he’s averaged 18th among closers taken in ESPN’s mixed leagues and 10th in AL-only leagues, both of which feel right at this time. He has room to move up, though I can’t see him ranking among the top half of closers prior to the season because of his injury history. Akinori Otsuka is a fine caddy and darn near a must-own for Gagne owners in large mixed leagues and single leagues.

Mark Teixeira missed Monday’s game with a sore knee and won’t play again until at least Friday. That’s all I know. Texas is probably just being careful, but owners drafting this week should move him down a few slots.

Outfielder Nelson Cruz was tested for a concussion and fractures after Yovani Gallardo plunked him on the noggin. Results were negative, and he should be back soon.

Pitcher Projections

KEVIN MILLWOOD
2006: 16-12, 4.52 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 157 SO, 215 IP
2007: 14-11, 4.22 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 158 SO, 210 IP

Millwood pitched very close to my expectations in 2006, but I also predicted greatness from Brad Wilkerson, so there I go. Millwood’s a pretty ordinary fantasy pitcher, useful only in AL-only leagues and large mixed leagues. His 2006 was highly indicative of what to expect this season. Yes, I project a lower ERA despite a higher WHIP. Millwood was terrible last year with runners in scoring position and seemed to allow his baserunners in huge clumps; a more even distribution should help his ERA.

VICENTE PADILLA
2006: 15-10, 4.50 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 156 SO, 200 IP
2007: 12-11, 4.58 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 155 SO, 200 IP

My normally trusty computer predicts a very slight decline for Padilla, but that may be a hangover from his injury-riddled 2004 and 2005. Padilla offers a performance remarkably similar to Millwood overall, though he also will melt down on occasion and disgorge some pitching lines that will kill owners in head-to-head leagues. Another pitcher who doesn’t quite merit a look in typical mixed leagues, but if you’re in need of strikeouts, he and Millwood will provide.

Outfielder Projections

Keep in mind that the Ranger outfield situation can change on a daily basis. I don’t believe that any outfielder is worth owning in mixed leagues with twelve or fewer teams.

KENNY LOFTON
2006: 522 PA, .301/.360/.403, 79 R, 3 HR, 41 RBI, 32 SB
2007: 500 PA, .280/.335/.375, 75 R, 3 HR, 40 RBI, 22 SB

Among players age 40 or higher, only Rickey Henderson and Davey Lopes have achieved 30 stolen bases. Kenny Lofton won’t join them, and his other stats should decline also. I think there’s a little upside in the batting line listed above, but he is going to be 40 in May, and what would be really strange is if he didn’t decline some. Don’t factor in a park bounce; Lofton doesn’t hit for power, and Dodger Stadium was actually favorable to hitters last year. Since he won’t start against lefties, Lofton won’t amass enough runs to counteract his lack of power and RBI. He’s suitable strictly for AL-only leagues and very large mixed leagues.

FRANK CATALANOTTO

2006: 499 PA, .300/.376/.439, 56 R, 7 HR, 56 RBI, 1 SB
2007: 500 PA, .290/.360/.418, 60 R, 6 HR, 55 RBI, 1 SB

Skydome has favored hitters just as much as The Ballpark during the past three years, so Little Cat doesn’t gain anything by coming to Arlington. Plus, he’s already spent three years in Texas and has career highs of only 77 runs, 15 homers and 59 RBI. Yawn. He’s not the same player as Lofton but is generally as useful in fantasy leagues. He’ll sit against lefties. Catalanotto stopped running four years ago.

BRAD WILKERSON
2006: 365 PA, .222/.306/.422, 56 R, 15 HR, 44 RBI, 3 SB
2007: 550 PA, .253/.353/.465, 70 R, 22 HR, 74 RBI, 3 SB

Of the Rangers’ 24 outfield options, I believe Wilkerson has the best chance to help a mixed-league team. I’m not suggesting you draft him, not in small and average-sized leagues, anyway. However, he lacks the platoon issues that hinder other Rangers and stands to get the most playing time. If he returns to full-time status, he could become a worthwhile free agent in many mixed leagues. 25 homers are possible.

SAMMY SOSA
2005: 424 PA, .221/.295/.376, 39 R, 14 HR, 45 RBI, 1 SB
2006: Did not play, not even for the Long Island Ducks
2007: 250 PA, .235/.310/.430, 28 R, 11 HR, 32 RBI, 0 SB

Swingin’ Sammy has ripped the cover off the ball in Arizona, and Ranger management and players have professed their Sosa love. Neat. On a totally unrelated topic, Kevin Mench batted .417 and slugged .929 in Spring Training last year and by July had played himself out of a regular job and off the Ranger roster.

I’m not saying Sosa will fail, but I am saying his spring numbers are indicative of jack squat. His last fantasy-worthy season was 2004, and even then he didn’t offer much beyond his 35 homers. Attribute his awful 2005 to injuries and emotional upheaval if you like, but that won’t make him any younger or make up for an entire year out of baseball. Worth a flyer in AL-only leagues; otherwise, pass. I hope I’m wrong.

NELSON CRUZ
2006: 138 PA, .223/.261/.385, 15 R, 6 HR, 22 RBI, 1 SB
2007: 400 PA, .250/.310/.425, 52 R, 16 HR, 60 RBI, 8 SB

Cruz is no easier to predict than Sosa. After hitting .300 with 20 homers and 17 steals in AAA, Cruz struggled mightily in the big leagues. Already 26, he doesn’t have that much upside. He also might begin the season starting only against lefties, with more at-bats to come based on performance and injuries to others. An intriguing late-middle pick in single leagues.

Posted by Lucas at 05:57 PM

March 01, 2007

ESPN Fantasy Column

I’m not going to offer outfield predictions yet because I haven’t a clue right now. It’s not so much a question of predicting quality, though unproven Nelson Cruz and back-from-the-void Sammy Sosa present their difficulties. Instead, it’s figuring out who will play.

The Rangers have eight outfielders on the 40-man roster with Major League experience. They also have this non-roster invite named Sosa. They’ll be fighting for playing time at just four positions (outfield plus DH). 2,800 plate appearances spread amongst nine hitters? Awkward.

We can eliminate two straight off. Freddy Guzman has practically no chance of making the team out of Spring Training. The Rangers didn’t sign Marlon Byrd to a Major League deal because they thought Guzman was The Answer. Likewise, Victor Diaz hasn’t a prayer.

The optimal lineup might involve starting Brad Wilkerson, Kenny Lofton and Sosa in the outfield plus Frank Catalanotto at DH against righties, then Wilkerson, Byrd, and Nelson Cruz plus Jason Botts against lefties. That requires seven outfielders. If Texas carries twelve pitchers, two catchers, and five infielders, it has slots for only six outfielders. Very awkward. Unfortunately for Botts fans, getting from six outfielders to five is painfully simple: if Sosa makes the team, Botts does not.

What else is most likely? Lofton and Catalanotto will probably start every game against righties and sit against lefties. The platoon will limit each of them to about 500 plate appearances. Byrd will replace Lofton against righties, giving him around 150. Guzman may get a large mug of coffee holding about 50 appearances, and perhaps Diaz squeezes in with 30.

The rest is frightfully unknown. Not much on which to base a fantasy strategy, is it?

So, with the probables out of the way, here are my semi-educated guesses that are subject to change based on injuries, Spring Training performance, and the flavor of yogurt I eat for breakfast.

Sosa will become 2007’s version of Phil Nevin. He’ll make the team, bat fifth, and hit just well enough to keep a full-time job for a while. After a lengthy slump, Texas will platoon him and eventually cut bait. Let’s give him 250 plate appearances.

Nelson Cruz will make the team, but, as with much of last year, start only against lefties. He’ll gain more starts after Texas bids Sosa adieu, but not enough to qualify for the batting title. Say 400 appearances.

Poor Jason Botts will finally get a real chance at a regular Major League job by June and achieve about 300 plate appearances. Or, perhaps Texas will again trade for a big bat in July, and Botts will again spend the late summer torching the Iowa rotation.

Wilkerson makes out better than anyone. With no serious platoon split and no obvious successor to left field, he plays frequently and attains 600 PAs.

Making all these predictions on March 1 is the height of foolishness, and in a few months I’ll probably look back on this exercise with embarrassment. But, they do reveal a common thread, which is that Texas may not have a single outfielder worth drafting in average-sized mixed leagues.

Really, who do you want? Lofton has the .300 average and plenty of steals, but he also won’t play every day, hasn’t surpassed the modest sum of 80 runs in three years, and is a negative in homers and RBI. Catalanotto likewise won’t play full-time and undercuts his .297 lifetime batting average with bland career highs of 83 runs, 13 homers and 59 RBI. Cruz and Botts are unproven 26-year-olds. Sosa is an unproven 38-year-old. Wilkerson is coming off shoulder surgery, and I believe he struck out in 142% of his at-bats last season. Most of these players will be pretty good baseball players and help Texas win. They’re just not nearly as likely to be good fantasy players, at least in mixed leagues.

The situation is fluid. I’ll try to explain it as March progresses.

Posted by Lucas at 10:51 AM

February 26, 2007

ESPN Fantasy Column

Infield Projections


MARK TEIXEIRA
2006: 727 PA, .282/.371/.514, 99 R, 33 HR, 110 RBI, 2 SB
2007: 725 PA, .290/.373/.546, 104 R, 39 HR, 124 RBI, 3 SB
Batting Position: Probably 4th to start, maybe 3rd later on.
Upside: Low
Downside: Low

Always a slow starter, Teixeira didn’t speed up until mid-July last season and disappointed owners who drafted him in the first round. Tex inexplicably struggled at home (.266 with 12 homers) and was strangely powerless in the 1st inning (.245/.368/.336). He hadn’t experienced those troubles before and should be free of them in 2007. Expect slight-to-moderate increases in all categories except steals. Also expect another mediocre April and an eventual reward for not trading him during said month. He might aggravate you during the spring, but his Teixeira’s 2006 totals of 99 runs, 33 homers and 110 RBI were his worst since his rookie season. Teixeira is as healthy as an ox. I rank him third among true first basemen behind Pujols and Howard, fourth if including David Ortiz.

IAN KINSLER
2006: 473 PA, .286/.347/.454, 65 R, 14 HR, 55 RBI, 11 SB
2007: 650 PA, .276/.340/.445, 85 R, 20 HR, 80 RBI, 16 SB
Batting Position: As low as 9th against righties and probably 2nd against lefties to start the season. Could be 2nd or anywhere between 5th and 9th eventually.
Upside: Low (see below)
Downside: Moderate

Kinsler roared out of the gate as a true rookie in 2006, injured his thumb sliding into second base, and finished the season rather flat. ESPN ranks him 15th among eligible second basemen, but I believe he can help owners in all but the smallest of mixed leagues. That thumb injury held him to only 473 plate appearances last year; a reasonable 650 this season would boost his rookie numbers by 37%. Thus, Kinsler could surmount 80 runs and RBI, 20 homers and 15 steals simply by showing up. Only a handful of second basemen can say the same. I say his upside is low because I already grade him so highly.

On the downside, there is some chance that the real Kinsler is the one who hit .267/.329/.399 after the All-Star break, and his tremendous start (.320/.379/.553 during the first half) was a fluke that just about any player can have. He also hit extraordinarily well with runners in scoring position; a return to normalcy could reduce his RBI total considerably. Further, new manager Ron Washington has considered batting him ninth against righties, which would cut into all his counting stats.

Again, I’m not projecting fantasy greatness for Kinsler, just solid production at a lackluster position. Are you counting on 35-year-old Ray Durham to repeat his career-best 26 homers, or on Brandon Phillips to repeat his out-of-the-blue success, or on 39-year-old Jeff Kent to stay on the field? Kinsler just might best all of them.

HANK BLALOCK
2006: 646 PA, .266/.325/.401, 76 R, 16 HR, 89 RBI, 1 SB
2007: 650 PA, .269/.328/.428, 76 R, 20 HR, 87 RBI, 1 SB
Batting Position: Probably 6th to start, between 5th and 7th as the season progresses. Possibly on the bench against lefties toward the end of the season.
Upside: High
Downside: Moderate

A shoulder injury hampered Blalock during last season’s second half, but it provided only temporary cover for what has become a depressing decline into mediocrity. Blalock hit .216/.281/.315 against lefties and .253/.311/.383 on the road last year. He might be a platoon player (or worse) if not for his astounding first two full years at the ages of 22 and 23. Last year, I suggested he’d partially return to form and recommended trading him early if he started hot. This year, in small and medium-sized mixed leagues, I wouldn’t bother with him. Unlike at second base, the hot corner is rich in fantasy talent. Blalock doesn’t measure up.

That said, Blalock has publicly rededicated himself to his craft. Blalock is only 26, a year younger than both Mark Teixeira and Ryan Howard, and has genuine potential to recapture his former glory. He’s a worthwhile risk in AL-only leagues and worth eyeing in mixed leagues. Alas, he has a long history of cratering in the second half. Irrespective of how well he plays to start the season, his owners should trade him by the All-Star break, even if for a seemingly modest return.

MICHAEL YOUNG
2006: 748 PA, .314/.356/.459, 93 R, 14 HR, 103 RBI, 7 SB
2007: 725 PA, .304/.351/.461, 97 R, 17 HR, 93 RBI, 7 SB
Batting Position: Probably 3rd to start, maybe 2nd later on.
Upside: Low
Downside: Low

Young finally crested at age 29, showing declines in most categories for the first time in his career. His 2005 appears to be a mild outlier, which is to say he’s only excellent, not other-worldly. Though Young won’t accrue the steals of Reyes and Rollins or the homers of Tejada, he is the rare shortstop who will surpass 90 runs and RBI. Like Teixeira, Young doesn’t get hurt or take days off. He’s averaged 734 plate appearances per season during the last four years. After the frontrunner Tejada, I rank Rollins, Young, Jeter and Reyes very closely in that order.

Posted by Lucas at 06:17 PM

February 16, 2007

ESPN Fantasy Column

Greetings
I’m Scott Lucas, would-be fantasy expert and ESPN’s correspondent for the Texas Rangers. 2007 begins my sixth year on the job. When I started in ’02 I was unmarried, unemployed, and drove a 1980 Volvo 240. Now I have a wife, a job, and a car built several years after Pink Floyd concluded its tour for The Wall. I owe it all to ESPN Fantasy Games.

ESPN now archives columns here, but if you want columns plus other bloggy goodness on the Rangers please visit rangers.scottlucas.com. Drop me a question at tex07@scottlucas.com for specific advice. Now, some first impressions:

Can Sosa Contribute?
From 2002-2005, Sammy Sosa saw annual decreases in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging, runs, homers and RBI. In 2006 he sat on his couch and turned 37. I queried a list of over-35 players from 1969 to present who achieved at least 200 plate appearances in a season, then completely missed the following season (no MLB, minors or overseas play), then returned and again surpassed 200 PAs. I found six: Al Martin, Kevin Elster, Tony Fernandez, Ryne Sandberg, Ray Lankford and Andres Galarraga. Of the six, only Sandberg and Big Cat played enough and well enough to help a fantasy team. The odds are very long.

Most likely, Sosa will win a job in Spring Training after pummeling some NRIs and youngsters bound for AA, hit about .235/.310/.430 with just enough homers to avoid complete uselessness, then lose his job by mid-May. Ranger fans will recognize this as a repeat of the 2006 Phil Nevin Season Arc. Nevin himself imitated the 2003 version of Brad Fullmer, who imitated 2001’s Ken Caminiti. It’s a proud Ranger tradition. In all seriousness, Sosa is a wild card. My trusty computer tells me he’ll hit .235 with a little power, but the standard deviation is huge. Mixed leaguers drafting early should just avoid him except as a last-round what-the-heck pick. Even AL-only owners should be skeptical. Probably better to let an opponent draft him.

What Of The Other Outfielders?
It’s a mess. Kenny Lofton can still hit .300 but won’t start (or won’t hit well) against lefties. He hasn’t surpassed 80 runs since 2003. He did steal 32 bases last year and will be allowed to run, but he also hits the big Four Oh in May. Frank Catalanotto likewise won’t play much against lefties. Though he’s a steady .300 hitter, the rest is pretty thin: an average of 56 runs, eight homers and 58 RBI during the past two years, and no speed. Little Cat is for single-league owners only. Brad Wilkerson has a shiny new shoulder and hopes to avenge last year’s debacle. He may produce more fantasy happiness than the other outfielders, but he’s yet another risky selection. Nelson Cruz has shown only flashes of his potential and may end up on the wrong end of a platoon. Poor Jason Botts slugged .562 in a ferociously hitter-unfriendly AAA park last season but must await the results of the Sosa Experiment.

Closers
Eric Gagne recently threw off the mound for the first time in months, and he proclaimed himself satisfied. For three years he was possibly the most effective closer ever plus offered more strikeouts than many rotation pitchers. Now, he’s a giant question mark. Understand that if he’s healthy, the closing job is his at Akinori Otsuka’s expense. Were I drafting today, I’d rate Gagne below most decent closers with reasonable grips on their jobs but above fluid scenarios like Cleveland, Tampa Bay and Florida. Especially in AL-only leagues and large mixed leagues, I’d protect my investment by drafting Otsuka in a late round. Teams will be interested in Otsuka, and Texas may trade him if Gagne performs well.

Rotation
Kevin Millwood conveniently performed to my expectations last year, allowing owners this year to draft him based on who he really is instead of the guy who posted a sub-3.00 ERA in Cleveland. Actually, his 2006 ERA of 4.52 was slightly unlucky. In 2007, he could drop to 4.25 or so with an adequate WHIP and a little over 150 strikeouts. He’ll have some use in larger mixed leagues. Vicente Padilla has an erratic track record and is tougher to predict. He has more upside and downside than Millwood. Brandon McCarthy makes the scouts drool but has yet to translate his potential into worthwhile fantasy production. Mixed leaguers (except in very large leagues) needn’t bother, single-leaguers can take a flyer on him late. Robinson Tejeda managed a 4.28 ERA but with thoroughly mediocre peripherals in 14 starts. He’s worth watching but not worth drafting outside of large AL-only leagues.

Posted by Lucas at 06:00 PM

September 28, 2006

ESPN Fantasy Column

The Last Series
Texas will start Vicente Padilla, Kevin Millwood, and Robinson Tejeda in the final series of the season at Seattle. Both Padilla and Millwood pitched poorly in their previous starts, but either is a good play against the vanilla Mariners offense in a pitcher’s park. Tejeda is also a surprisingly strong play; he’s allowed only nine runs (just six earned) in his last five starts. If you need a last-day boost, pick him up. Odds are that Seattle (and Texas) will have plenty of backups in the lineup, and they’ll be swinging at everything so they can get home and forget their disappointing season.

Akinori Otsuka won’t pitch again this season because of persistent migraines. Wes Littleton stands the best chance of earning the save opportunities. If another save could affect your rank in the standings, grab him. Those outside keeper leagues can safely drop Aki. For those of you in giant AL-only leagues, Rick Bauer also won’t pitch again.

Hank Blalock is hitting .174/.224/.261 in September. This weekend won’t help. Mark DeRosa has also cooled off (.204/.295/.280) but is still more likely to help a fantasy team than Blalock. Three weeks ago I gave Nelson Cruz a qualified recommendation in AL-only leagues. He started off slowly but had batted .262 with 9 runs, 2 homers, 7 RBI and 1 SB in his last 11 games. He ought to start at least twice, so AL-only and large mixed-league owners ought to consider him.

Thanks For Reading
So concludes my fifth(!) year of writing about the Rangers for ESPN. I hope you’ve gotten some use out of it. Thanks to Eric Karabell for picking me back in 2002, and thanks to Courtney for being the best baseball wife ever.

Posted by Lucas at 07:01 PM

September 07, 2006

ESPN Fantasy Column

What September Brings
The Rangers have as much chance of winning the division as you do of winning the lottery, but for the most part they’ll continue to play their front-liners until they’re eliminated. Only two notable changes among position players have occurred.

First, Nelson Cruz, acquired as part of the Carlos Lee trade, has become an everyday player. Previously he’d started only against lefties. Cruz hit well in AAA (.302/.378/.528 with 20 steals in 104 games) but has shown little in the Majors except for a three-for-four, two-homer, five RBI afternoon against Oakland three days ago. Still, he’s worth considering in most AL-only leagues if only because almost every full-time player has value. At this point in the season, you should take a chance on him if you needed hitting. Pass if you’re satisfied with how your hitting has contributed to your place in the standings. The loser in Cruz’s ascension is Matt Stairs, who hasn’t started a game this month. Those in larger AL-only leagues probably have little choice but to keep him and hope he gets a few starts down the road. Those in smaller single-leagues and mixed leagues can waive goodbye.

Second, Gerald Laird has started six consecutive games at catcher. Unfortunately, his increased play is not a belated realization on Buck Showalter’s part that Laird is the better catcher right now and for the future. No, Rod Barajas just has a sore back. Though I suspect Laird still won’t start much more than 50% of the time once Barajas recovers, he’ll remain the better choice. Neither has value in typical mixed leagues.

Blalock’s Descent Continues
Hank Blalock briefly abandoned his second-half slump for a few weeks but has since resumed not hitting. Blalock has started 46 of 53 games since the All-Star break and has batted .261 with 23 runs, three homers, and 22 RBI. I would seriously consider dropping him in all but the largest mixed leagues. I’m not saying that because I’m in your league and ready to claim him off waivers. Here’s Blalock’s last three Septembers:

2005 -- .208/.259/.347
2004 -- .250/.346/.398
2003 -- .226/.245/.453

Blalock is batting .136/.136/.136 with no runs, homers or RBI in five games this month. He’ll should still earn a good number of RBIs simply because of his position in the batting order, but otherwise he could actually hurt your team. A minor injury has relegated him to DH lately, but he should continue to start against all righties and about 50% of lefty pitchers. Mark DeRosa may be available in your league and probably constitutes a better play. Really.

Pitchers
Kevin Millwood has overcome his home-park issues lately, making him a slightly better play in mixed leagues. Don’t bother with him if a small hit in ERA would cost you points. Wins and strikeouts are what he contributes. Vicente Padilla is nearly identical to Millwood statistically but isn’t nearly as widely owned, mostly because he’s not a “name.? If your mixed league is large enough for Millwood to help but he’s unavailable, consider Padilla. Simlar to Cruz above, he’s a choice for owners needing to take risks to catch up, not for owners maintaining a lead.

Adam Eaton had a career ERA+ of 92 in San Diego and has an ERA+ of 96 in Texas. Who would have guessed? Given that he’s allowed twenty walks and eight homers in just 42 innings, he’s lucky to have an ERA of 4.93. A weak play in all but the largest of AL-only leagues. Robinson Tejeda and Edinson Volquez round out the present rotation and are toxic in any league or format.

Posted by Lucas at 06:25 PM

August 06, 2006

ESPN Fantasy Column

Laird
Buck Showalter has promoted Gerald Laird from Catcher 2 to Catcher 1(A). Early this season, Laird started only once every four games or so. He then graduated to designated lefty-starter and Kevin Millwood personal assistant. Now, he has retained his full-time status against lefties plus 50/50 status against righties. If this arrangement holds, Laird can expect between 55%-65% of the playing time versus Rod Barajas. As such, Laird is the preferable choice in AL-only leagues, though his average should decline some. Laird still has only minimal value in typical mixed leagues.

Lee, Cruz and Stairs
Carlos Lee has done little in a Texas uniform (.259/.286/.359, 7 runs, 0 homers, 3 RBI in ten games). He's healthy, if that's crossed your mind. He should be fine.

Nelson Cruz has batted .300 and hit his first MLB homer since joining Texas. He'll start strictly against lefties for now, so he has little value even in AL-only leagues. As he's fairly young and not a rent-a-player like Stairs, he could gain additional playing time if Texas falls out of the division race. Keep him in mind should that happen. He supplied average, power and speed in AAA.

Matt Stairs has started three of seven games as a Ranger. With Brad Wilkerson hurting and struggling, Stairs stands to pick up a more at-bats. However, if Texas falters, the aforementioned Cruz may add some start against righties at Stairs's expense. In sum, his situation is fluid. He has modest value in AL-only leagues, a bit less than when he toiled for Kansas City. His owners must carefully monitor his situation and always bench him against lefties.

Wilkerson
Yeesh. Brad Wilkerson may have decided to forego surgery until the "season is decided," but his owners need to consider excising him now. Over the All Star break he received another cortisone shot which may have cured his pain but sure didn't cure mine. Wilkerson has batted .167 with five runs, two homers and 11 RBI since the break and has started only four of the last eight games. At the moment, he's sitting against lefties and sharing time with Stairs against righties. He's not worth the bother in most mixed leagues, and even in small AL-only leagues he's dubious. Those in larger AL-only leagues should continue their prayer vigils. Yes, I did think he'd have a great season. Yes, I am paying dearly for that opinion.

Blalock
I wrote about him at my blog on Saturday. Blalock has batted well in August -- .304 with two triples(?) -- but has a history of extreme second-half fades and persistent struggles against lefties and on the road. Showalter has benched him in two of the last three games against a lefty starter. I kid you not: over the coming weeks he could actually hurt owners in mixed leagues. His owners must practice active roster management to protect themselves.

Eaton, Wells and Volquez
Management cautiousness, erratic control and erratic umpiring have limited Adam Eaton to ten innings in three starts, making his future difficult to gauge. I wasn't fond of him before the season and haven't changed my outlook. He posted an ERA of 4.34 prior to 2006, seemingly adequate but earned in the decidedly pitcher-friendly realm of Petco Park. I definitely wouldn't bother with him in mixed leagues. In AL-only leagues he'll help owners in need of strikeouts and perhaps wins, but he could give up ground in ERA and WHIP.

I'm even less enamored of Kip Wells. Perhaps you'd read that he rebounded from his shaky return after surgery. He allowed only four runs in his last three starts. Unfortunately, he also allowed 30 baserunners in those starts (1.52 WHIP) and nine more in five innings against Minnesota. Eventually, those baserunners will become runs. Wells does provide an upgrade on John Rheinecker but hasn't pitched well consistently since 2003, and his strikeout rate has fallen off a cliff. Furthermore, he'll miss Monday's start because of a sore shoulder. Avoid him unless you have little to lose. It's hard to envision his presence on a winning fantasy roster.

Wells's absence opens the door for Edinson Volquez to start against Oakland on Monday. One of the Rangers' top pitching prospects, Volquez has an eyepopping 130 strikeouts and just 89 hits allowed in 120 Triple-A innings. He also has, gulp, 72 walks. Volquez struggled mightily in a few MLB starts in 2005 and is probably still too raw to offer much value. Still, his upside is substantial. Make a note to check his performance Monday night.

Posted by Lucas at 11:59 PM

July 28, 2006

ESPN Fantasy Column

The Trade And You
Texas has traded outfielders Kevin Mench and Lance Nix and pitcher Francisco Cordero (plus a minor-leaguer) for outfielders Carlos Lee and Nelson Cruz. A fantasy perspective:

Carlos Lee
If you hold the top waiver position in an AL-only league, you have to claim him. If not, put in a claim and hope the folks above you are snoozing. Lee isn't quite a five-category stud but comes pretty close, batting .286 with 60 runs, 28 homers, 81 RBI and 12 steals. Texas's offense is only average and during 2006 The Ballpark hasn't favored hitters as much as in prior years. Also, Lee probably won't run as much in Texas. Nevertheless, he's a terrific fantasy player and an obvious must-have. Those is mixed leagues should expect fewer steals and perhaps slight increases in other stats.

Nelson Cruz
Reportedly, the 26-year-old Cruz will make his MLB debut in right field for Texas on Saturday. Cruz has batted .302 with 19 homers and 17 steals for AAA Toledo. He's drawn 42 walks in 412 plate appearances but also has 100 strikeouts. A righthanded batter, he'll probably start only against lefties for the time being. Those in AL-only leagues may consider spending a low-ranking waiver claim on him. I wouldn't bother with him in typical-sized mixed leagues.

Wilkerson/DeRosa
Cruz, Brad Wilkerson and Mark DeRosa must share two positions. DeRosa has tailed off badly since the All-Star break (.208/.276/.340), but Wilkerson has done no better (.186/.217/.395). I expect DeRosa to continue to play almost every day, and Wilkerson again will sit against lefties. Both are dubious choices in average or smaller mixed leagues. Was I ever wrong about Wilkerson.

The Departures
Mench will move into Lee's position and ought to experience negligible-to-slight declines in production. Nix probably will stay in AAA and has no value except in insanely deep NL-only leagues. With Derrick Turnbow's recent troubles, Cordero might resume closing duties. Mixed leaguers in desperate need of saves should take a flyer on him. By the time his waiver delay expires, NL-only owners should have a better idea of his usage in Milwaukee and can then assess whether he's worth a claim.

Be Advised
Texas may not be done.

Posted by Lucas at 02:01 PM

July 16, 2006

ESPN Fantasy Column

Trade Blalock
Hank Blalock has posted solid fantasy numbers thus far, though his OBP of .343 and slugging percentage of .429 leave much to be desired. Unfortunately, he has declined in the second half of every season, and in 2004 and 2005 the deterioration was severe. Since 2004, Blalock has played exactly 162 games in the second half and is batting .234 with 76 runs, 18 homers and 77 RBI. Not a total loss, but certainly not what his owners expect. Perhaps 2006 is the year Blalock plots a different course, but probability suggests he won’t. Getting value in trade based on his first-half numbers would be a smart move.

Same Old
Who are you going to believe: Buck Showalter, or your lying eyes? During the All-Star Break, Mssr. Showalter stated that both Brad Wilkerson and Kevin Mench would play more often during the second half. Yet Wilkerson sat on the bench Saturday in favor of Jerry Hairston, and Kevin Mench is resting on Sunday. Until a string of lineups provides contrary evidence, assume that Wilkerson will continue to sit against lefties and Mench will rest every third game or so. As to whether either will hit to expectations… Wilkerson responded well Thursday to a cortisone shot for his sore shoulder, while Mench is one-for-eleven since the ASB. Much to my dismay, both have devolved into marginal plays in typical mixed leagues. But I’ve been very wrong about a great many things this season, so use my advice with extreme caution.

Eaton On Schedule
Adam Eaton could rejoin the rotation as soon as July 25th. I don’t expect much from a fantasy perspective. He spent his previous six seasons in extremely pitcher-friendly San Diego but has a career ERA of 4.34 and WHIP of 1.34. Other than the incentive of pitching for his next contract, nothing indicates that Eaton could surpass those modest numbers in the heat of Arlington. I wouldn’t touch him in a mixed league.

The Ranger rotation will consist of Eaton, Kevin Millwood, Vicente Padilla, John Koronka, and one of John Rheinecker, John Wasdin, and Kameron Loe. I suspect Texas will use the hotter of Rheinecker and Wasdin. Millwood tired quickly but otherwise successfully overcame the strained biceps that cost him his last start.

Trade Winds
The Rangers could use a starting pitcher and another bat. GM Jon Daniels proved his boldness last offseason with the Soriano and Eaton trades, so a blockbuster acquisition isn’t out of the question. Having said that, I think it’s unlikely. Who, if anyone, the Rangers acquire will depend on how willing they are to relinquish one or more of their four pitching prospects (Edinson Volquez, John Danks, Tom Diamond and Eric Hurley). They don’t appear to be very willing. In any case, those in AL-only leagues should angle for the highest possible waiver position in order to acquire fresh talent from interleague trades. Volquez has pitched well in AAA lately and is an option to join the rotation (but a risky selection for fantasy ball).

No top-notch Ranger fantasy player is trade bait. I’d guess that Francisco Cordero and Kevin Mench are the most likely departures.

Posted by Lucas at 01:46 PM

July 07, 2006

ESPN Fantasy Column

Quick Pre-ASB Advice
Texas faces Francisco Liriano Saturday and Johan Santana Sunday. Consider benching your marginal Ranger hitters, assuming you have an adequate replacement. Since both pitchers are lefties, it’s possible that catcher Gerald Laird and (insert long, weary sigh here) Jerry Hairston could start both of those days in lieu of Rod Barajas and Brad Wilkerson. They’ll almost certainly get at least one start.

Hairston has played more often than I ever would have imagined but still won’t start more than 50% of the time in the long run. Given his typically anemic bat, he’s still worth only a pittance in just about any conceivable fantasy format. Yes, yes, I know he’s played excellent outfield defense as a Ranger, but having a guy with a career OPS of .698 on an outfield corner makes my skin crawl.

Minnesota has won 21 of 25 and scored six runs per game in the process. Neither John Rheinecker and John Koronka, this weekend’s Ranger starters, look like especially solid plays, particularly given their mound opposition. In theory, much of the benefit of owning any Texas starter comes from the increased probability of a win, courtesy of the high-octane Ranger offense. That is, an extra three or four wins can offset the mediocre ERA. Trouble is, the Rangers doesn’t have a good offense. They rank seventh in the AL with a shrug-worthy 5.1 runs per game.

Kevin Millwood won’t pitch this weekend while nursing a sore biceps. The team expects him healthy and available after the break. A couple of bad starts have pushed his ERA back up to a queasy 4.83. He’s better than that, but not by much. In mixed leagues with ten or fewer teams, he’s of marginal value.

Mark Teixeira promptly began an oh-for-fifteen run the day after I declared him “hot.? For whatever reason, he’s hitting .215/.307/.339 his first time up against a pitcher and .337/.382/.526 in subsequent appearances. Yell at me if you like, but keep him in your lineup.

Adam Eaton may return by the end of July, probably at the expense of Kameron Loe, who himself is on the DL and about two weeks from returning.

Posted by Lucas at 08:17 PM

June 26, 2006

ESPN Fantasy Column

The Ascension of Mark Derosa
Buck Showalter declared Mark Derosa a starter before last weekend, hardly earth-shattering news regarding a player who had already played twenty consecutive games. On the other hand, the announcement does provide some certainty for potential mixed-league owners. Derosa’s best quality is his .342 batting average, but as I wrote a few days ago, his .406 average on balls in play is historically aberrant and won’t hold up. Since he doesn’t hit many homers or run much, his fantasy value is limited even with the high average. Without it, he’s garden variety. Still, batting second or fifth for Texas makes almost anyone respectable, and many owners could benefit by trying to ride his hot streak. He’s available in 86% of ESPN’s mixed leagues.

Teixeira Heats Up
Mark Teixeira is heating up. Enjoy.

OF/DH Carousel
Jerry Hairston has seven starts in the last sixteen games, almost enough to make him a worthwhile player in AL-only leagues. The problem is, he’s not very good, so don’t bother playing him. Why you and I know this but the manager doesn’t is a mystery. Giving seven outfield-corner starts to a guy with a career line of .259/.331/.366 might make sense in some eldritch Lovecraftian universe, but not this one.

Meanwhile, Jason Botts has only four starts over those same sixteen games and won’t accrue more than a few pinch at-bats while in San Francisco. I really didn’t expect Texas to call him up just to let him watch other boys play, yet there he is. As I mentioned last week, he can’t expect many starts as long as Mark Derosa plays every day, because he then forces either Brad Wilkerson or Kevin Mench to the bench (a too common occurrence without Botts’s help). Those in larger AL-only leagues might wait for the upcoming homestand to see if he earns enough playing time to help a fantasy squad. Otherwise, it’s time to move on. I’d like to say that he’ll start more often if Texas falls out of contention, but I’m at a loss to explain the recent decision-making of the powers that be.

Brad Wilkerson spent three of his last four games chatting with Botts from the safety of the dugout. He rebounded well from his awful April but has again struggled in June, batting .200/.243/.431. When he’s played, he has at least offered decent counting stats despite his weak average. History suggests he’ll improve, so don’t cut him except in smaller mixed leagues.

Likewise, Kevin Mench is floundering his way through June (.206/.306/.302) and sitting about 25% of the time. Treat him as you would Wilkerson. He tends to hit better after the All-Star Break.

Kinsler Settles Down
Ian Kinsler is batting .259/.333/.493 in 25 games since returning from his thumb injury. I expected the so-so average and OBP; the power is a pleasant surprise. I’ll tediously reiterate my claim that true rookies rarely make for good fantasy players. Kinsler may slip to the fringes of worthiness in mixed leagues depending on their sizes, so keep an eye on him and potential replacements.

The Ballpark
Typically, The Ballpark achieves maximum hitter-friendliness during July and August. In fact, to date, the Rangers and their opponents have scored more runs per games on the road (10.54) than in Arlington (10.17). Something to keep in mind when predicting future performances of Ranger players.

Pitchers
Five consecutive quality starts have dropped Kevin Millwod’s ERA to 4.29. His strikeout rate has fallen in the process – a modest 5.7 per nine innings during that span. During the previous three years, he has a 4.11 ERA before the All-Star Break and .343 afterwards, so perhaps he stands to improve a little more. I think that if he finishes the season with his current ERA and 1.31 WHIP, owners should be satisfied.

Adam Eaton could return within a month. Here’s my preseason prediction with the injury caveats deleted: “10 wins, 4.90 ERA, 1.42 WHIP, 130 Ks, 170 innings. Eaton has a career ERA of 4.34 in the best pitching environment in the National League. You don’t need a computer or even an abacus to understand how his flyball tendencies should translate to the AL and Arlington. His wins and strikeouts can help AL-only owners, and he is pitching for his next contract.? So, I’m not very high on him. Depending on how John Rheinecker and John Koronka hold up, Eaton’s arrival could demote currently DL’ed Kameron Loe to the bullpen role at which he excelled in 2005. Loe has negligible fantasy value.

Vicente Padilla: acceptable in AL-only leagues. Rheinecker and Koronka: acceptable in larger AL-only leagues. Robinson Tejeda: unacceptable.

The Ballpark
Typically, The Ballpark achieves maximum hitter-friendliness during July and August. In fact, to date, the Rangers and their opponents have scored more runs per games on the road (10.54) than in Arlington (10.17). Something to keep in mind when predicting future performances of Ranger players.

Texas completes its run through NL parks on Thursday.

Posted by Lucas at 11:58 PM

June 17, 2006

ESPN Fantasy Column

Teixeira’s Extended Vacation
Mark Teixeira’s homer-free stretch reached 17 games last night, leaving him on pace for a miserly 16 on the season. As mentioned in the Dallas Morning News this week, Teixeira claims to have found a flaw in his swing that reduces homers to doubles. His.280 average and .370 OBP are solid. He’s not hurt and is actually hitting much better in road games than at home. What I can’t fathom is how he’s batting only .230 with no homers and two RBI in 68 first-inning at-bats. He should recover. Be patient.

The Dreaded Job-Sharing Arrangement
Mark Derosa’s hot bat, Jason Botts’ recall from AAA and Ian Kinsler’s activation from the DL have made a mess of the starting lineup. In the 22 games since Kinsler’s return, those three, Kevin Mench and Brad Wilkerson have started the following number of games:

Derosa – 20 (benched 2)
Kinsler – 19 (benched 3)
Mench – 16 (benched 6)
Wilkerson – 16 (benched 6)
Botts – 8 (benched 14, more on him below)

Why does Derosa top the list? He’s batting .338/.395/.525, making a mockery of his career line of .263/.319/.380 coming into the season. Derosa certainly will cool down but seems to have made genuine progress at the plate, so owners in mixed leagues can play him in the near term without too much fear of multiple zeros on the stat line.

Derosa has, in fact, pushed Mench into a utility role, flipping him among left, right and DH depending on the handedness of the pitcher and Showalter’s mood. Mench had a magnificent two-week stretch from late April into early May but has done little since. He has one homer and nine RBI during the last five weeks and a .200 average during June. In the short term, expect him to continue to play against all lefties and 70% of the time overall.

Likewise, Wilkerson has occupied the dugout with irritating frequency. Though on pace to set career bests in runs, homers and RBI, he isn’t walking much and has a mediocre .331 on-base percentage. Also, even though strikeouts are rarely more harmful than an ordinary batted out, his 82 in just 60 games can’t please the guy who writes the lineup. He should continue to produce, if in unattractive fashion.

As to how this shakes out, I’m sometimes skeptical of Showalter’s lineup construction, but in this case I think the players themselves (primarily Derosa) will make his decisions for him. None among Wilkerson, Mench and Deorsa has enough defensive wizardry to play through an extended slump. The hot bats will play.

Fool Me Once...
Throughout much of 2005 and into this season, Texas declined to promote DH Jason Botts because management wanted him to get regular at-bats. No point in bringing him to Arlington just to sit in a 100-degree dugout while wearing long pants. Much to my chagrin, Texas has done just that, starting him only seven of the last 21 games. Perhaps Texas intended to play him more often, but with Derosa’s hot bat in the lineup every day, a start by Botts forces either Mench or Wilkerson to the bench. Botts has a .258 average, one homer, seven runs and four RBI in nine starts. AL-only owners (except perhaps those in eight-team leagues) should hold him for a while longer. He has the bat to reward your patience. If your league does not allow game-time decisions on starts, understand that Botts has yet to start against a lefty and has started against righties just over 50% of the time.

Fool Me Twice...
When Gerald Laird caught consecutive games June 4th and 6th (with a day off in between) and received approbation from Buck Showalter, he seemingly had achieved a permanent increase in playing time. I should know better. Laird has started three of ten games since then and appears to be trapped in the same once-start-per-series limbo as before. Also, Rod Barajas has warmed up in June (.324, six runs, one homer, five RBI), which confirms the current arrangement.

Interleague!
Texas begins interleague play with six home games, so its lineup won’t suffer the indignity of pitchers attempting to hit until the 23rd. Start or bench your Texas players as you normally would.

Posted by Lucas at 03:42 PM

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 01:22 AM

May 25, 2006

ESPN Fantasy Column

Kinsler Returns
Second Baseman Ian Kinsler rejoined the Rangers Thursday night after spending six weeks on the DL with a dislocated thumb. Kinsler will start most of the time. He hit ridiculously well before his injury (.476/.577/.714) and AL-only owners were smart to keep him, but don’t be surprised if he returns a little slowly. First, nobody hits .476 consistently, and second, a dislocated thumb doesn’t promote strong hitting. His owners in mixed leagues, particularly smaller ones, ought to keep him benched for a little while. I’ve said it for years: true rookie hitters almost never make for worthwhile fantasy players (in mixed leagues).

The displaced Mark DeRosa will spot for Kinsler and also sub for others on occasion, thus keeping his bat in the lineup and his value in AL-only leagues mostly intact. Derosa subbed for Brad Wilkerson Thursday. Derosa hits lefties particularly well and should continue to start against most of them.

Nevin’s Slump Halted
DH Phil Nevin didn’t make a single out on Tuesday or Wednesday. Nor did he play. Texas recalled DH Jason Botts from AAA and started him on consecutive days. Botts batted .318/.373/.615 for Oklahoma and began his MLB 2006 two-for-six with a double and two walks. For the short term, he should start most games against righties and sit against lefties. He’s a must-own in AL-only leagues. Since he won’t play every game and has minimal Major League experience, his value in mixed league is light. Botts can also play outfield, though it’s not a pretty sight. Botts has batted eighth, with Hank Blalock, Kevin Mench, Brad Wilkerson and Mark Derosa shifting up one slot.

His long term depends on his performance and that of Phil Nevin, whose line against righties has plummeted to .202/.303/.363. Nevin does have 22 RBI against righties, but so would any other Ranger hitter given the opportunity to bat cleanup every night. Nevin will continue to hit lefties, where his line of .314/.400/.571 will continue to help in AL-only leagues if his owners check the schedule and bench him against righties.

Michael Young Is Terrible
Shortstop Michael Young has only two homers this season. I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest you keep him. Young isn’t hitting the ball quite as far as normal but is batting .332 and on pace for over 90 runs, over 100 RBI, and about ten steals.

Closering
Francisco Cordero’s loss against the Angels Tuesday killed whatever miniscule chance he had of reclaiming the closer role in the near future. I’ve retained him in a 20-team mixed league; I still expect quality middle relief and an occasional vultured win, if not any more saves. Those in small mixed leagues should have Cordero ready to drop in case another team coronates a new closer who’s in the free-agent pool. Having said that, dropping Cordero for someone like Elmer Dessens makes me pretty queasy. Your mileage may vary.

Pitchers
John Rheinecker has replaced Robinson Tejeda in the rotation at least temporarily and will start on Sunday against Oakland. He’s pitched respectably in AAA – 3.26 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, seven strikeouts per nine innings – but doesn’t come recommended except in larger AL-only leagues.

Kevin Millwood’s ownership percentage in mixed leagues has been gyrating wildly depending on the results of his most recent start. Thursday night he was lit up, and doubtlessly he’ll hit a bunch of waiver wires again. Potential owners shouldn’t bother trying to time the market. He’ll win plenty of games, strike out a pleasant number of batters, and provide an average WHIP and substandard ERA. If that helps your team, grab him. If not, don’t. He’s useful in mixed leagues of twelve or more teams, borderline in ten-team leagues, and inferior elsewhere.

Posted by Lucas at 11:39 PM

May 18, 2006

ESPN Fantasy Column

No Change At Closer
On Tuesday, Akinori Otsuka blew the first of his six save opportunities since taking over for Francisco Cordero. Otsuka has pitched well since the promotion: 8.1 IP, 3.24 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 3 strikeouts. Despite Tuesday’s heartbreaker against the Yankees, Texas has no intention of reverting him to setup duty in the near term. In eight innings since his demotion, Cordero has a 3.38 ERA, 1.00 WHIP and eight strikeouts. I’d retain him in any league format, though owners in smaller mixed leagues should consider dropping him when someone interesting hits the waiver wire. He may yet regain his closer status, and if not, he’ll still provide some value.

What’s On Second?
2B Ian Kinsler is making contact in his AAA rehab assignment (three strikeouts in nineteen appearances) but isn’t doing anything with it (.118/.211/.176). He may rejoin the active roster as soon as Saturday, whereupon he’ll share time with white-hot Mark DeRosa. DeRosa is batting .418 with eleven runs, two homers and seven RBI in May as Kinsler’s replacement. Since he normally doesn’t hit righties well, he should cool off and eventually cede at-bats to Kinsler. However, if the Rangers maintain their division run and Kinsler struggles, they may stick with DeRosa’s veteran presence, gritty play and all-around derring-do. In other words, the situation is fluid. Kinsler might help in larger mixed leagues but not as a part-timer.

Rotation and Matchups
Ranger rotation members have performed to mixed reviews during this ten-game road trip through Boston, New York and Houston. As you may recall, I advised benching the entire rotation in mixed leagues and considering it in AL-only formats. Kevin Millwood atoned for his disastrous nine runs allowed against the Twins by holding New York to two runs and striking out six. He takes the mound Saturday game against Houston and is the only pitcher worth starting through the weekend. Don’t bother with flyball-prone Robinson Tejeda, who draws Minute Maid Park and Roy Oswalt on Friday. Likewise, most owners should bench John Koronka on Sunday. The Juicebox makes life unpleasant for left-handed pitchers. After this weekend, Texas encounters the light offensive squads of Oakland, Los Angeles and Seattle, Start everyone as you normally would.

Tex and Nevin
Mark Teixeira will be fine. His slow start insures he won’t approach last year’s numbers, but what matters is not his recent past but the rate at which he produces henceforth. I expect glad tidings from him. Phil Nevin’s .242-with-homers will suffice in fantasy ball, if not the real world. Texas will keep Nevin in the lineup and cleanup spot long past his sell-by date, but if they do eventually reduce his role, they’ll call up Jason Botts, not Erubiel Durazo, who could and did request his release from AAA Oklahoma. Rod Barajas and his dreary .225/.282/.333 aren’t going anywhere.

Posted by Lucas at 10:21 AM

May 12, 2006

ESPN Fantasy Column

Fear Is A Man’s Best Friend
On Friday evening, Texas embarks on a ten-game road trip through Boston, New York and Houston. That spells trouble for Ranger starting pitchers and anyone owning them. In all but the largest of mixed leagues, any Ranger starter is marginal. Consider benching them during the next week-and-a-half. Even in AL-only leagues they’re high-risk plays right now.

Kevin Millwood had a career-worst start against Minnesota that by itself will account for 0.40 of ERA by season’s end. A one-inning, nine-run outing is a soul destroyer but doesn’t change his outlook. I’m holding to my preseason prediction of a 4.55 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, and 145 strikeouts. He’ll get his share of wins. If statistics like that are an asset in your mixed league, enjoy.

Vicente Padilla is pitching to expectations except for an improved strikeout rate. On several occasions he’s started superbly, only to self-immolate in one of the middle innings. Until he improves his control, he could benefit from a quicker hook from Buck Showalter.

Like Millwood, Kameron Loe alternates between brilliance and inaptness. Unfortunately, he won’t offer the strikeouts that can somewhat mitigate and otherwise rough performance. Loe has yet to whiff over three in a start.

John Koronka motors away. He struggled against Cleveland near the end of April as I expected, but since then he had dominated Baltimore and pitched respectably against Minnesota. Obviously, he demands ownership in AL-only leagues, though my caution about the road trip applies. In mixed leagues, he might merit a spot start against the next weak offense he faces. I can’t countenance him maintaining a sub-4.00 ERA.

Texas optioned would-be fifth starter Robinson Tejeda and probably will alternate between him and John Rheinecker in that role as the need arises. Don’t be tempted by either on this road trip.

Hitters
Phil Nevin is batting .129/.227/.154 in May after his torrid April. Though in no imminent danger of losing his job or even his valuable cleanup spot in the order, he has to be concerning his owners. Nevin’s problem isn’t his recent slump as much as his five-year-long inability to hit right-handed pitchers. Thus, he must kill lefties in order to maintain overall usefulness. Active owners should consider benching him against tough righties to maximize his value. Should Texas have to call in a replacement, alternatives include Erubiel Durazo (soon to return from a minor leg injury) and Jason Botts.

Likewise, Rod Barajas and his .207 batting average aren’t disappearing from the box scores any time soon. He’ll continue to start two of every three games. If he can’t resume hitting his normal .250 with decent power, Gerald Laird will see more playing time… but not until at least June.

2B Ian Kinsler began a rehab assignment and could join the active roster during the next week. He won’t return to an everyday role yet, instead sharing time with recently hot Mark DeRosa. That’s understandable given the severity of Kinsler’s injury, but the nagging worry is Buck Showalter’s deep and abiding love of DeRosa, a fine bench player who just doesn’t deserve daily play. Kinsler owners can't count on him as an automatic starter for the indefinite future.

Ephemera
Texas recently acquired outfielder Freddy Guzman from San Diego for a couple of minor leaguers. The Rangers will send him to AAA initially but may ask him to replace backup outfielder Adrian Brown before long. Guzman has decent on-base skills, zero power, and ferocious speed: 166 steals versus 30 caught in 249 minor-league games. Guzman might provide a little help in AL-only leagues if a Ranger starting outfielder suffers an injury. Keep his name if the back of your head. A true center fielder by trade, Guzman’s arrival would appear to dump water on the smoking embers of Laynce Nix’s fantasy value.

Posted by Lucas at 07:31 PM

May 02, 2006

ESPN Fantasy Column

A Change At The End
Not since 2002 have the Rangers demoted their closer. Back then I held the grim task of advising whether fantasy owners should acquire John Rocker or Hideki Irabu. Today, the issues are the firmness of Akinori Otsuka’s grip on the closer role and whether Francisco Cordero can or will reacquire it.

Is Cordero injured? Will Carroll of Baseball Prospectus thinks so. I honestly don’t know. I see a guy still lighting up the radar gun and regularly throwing breaking pitches (too regularly, in fact). Of course, if an injury is eliminating some slider-bite or a quarter-inch of late movement on his fastball, that’s just as damaging as any loss in velocity. To my untrained eyes, Cordero’s problems seem more of pitch location and confidence.

In theory, Otsuka has the job only temporarily while Cordero regains his confidence or whatever else he’s lost. On the other hand, it’s hard to envision Buck Showalter reinstating Cordero before Otsuka blows a save or two. I do expect Cordero to regain closer status during the season, but not in the immediate future.

Owners in AL-only leagues clearly must retain Cordero. Though it’s depressing for his owners to contemplate, Cordero can still provide value as a middle reliever. Owners in mixed leagues should also hold firm. Cordero has a reasonable chance to recover his dominance and status. Keeping him on the bench or as a plain vanilla reliever won’t hurt in the short run unless a there’s 24-carat gold on the waiver wire.

Rotation
Robinson Tejeda will make his AL debut Tuesday night. As I mentioned a month ago when Texas acquired him, Tejeda did not pitch nearly as well as his 2005 ERA of 3.57 would indicate. He walked 5.3 per nine innings and permitted only five homers despite a worrisome ground-fly ratio of 0.81. Not to say that he absolutely won’t offer support to AL-only owners, but pretend he posted a 4.57 ERA and set expectations from there. Worse still, after the Rays he’ll face the Yankees in Arlington followed by Boston and the Yankees again on the road.

At Second
Mark Derosa returned from the DL and will get the majority of starts at second base while Ian Kinsler heals his bum thumb. Derosa has modest, short-term value in AL-only leagues. Former fill-in D’Angelo Jimenez has minimal value even in large AL-only leagues, while recent call-up Drew Meyer has none. Kinsler won’t return before the middle of the month. Keep him DL’ed in AL-only leagues. In mixed leagues, if he’s occupying your DL spot and your bench is healthy, there’s no harm in keeping him. If, however, you also have a worthwhile but injured player clogging a bench spot, you certainly should drop Kinsler. Even the healthiest of rookies rarely make for quality fantasy players, much less those coming off severe hand injuries.

Posted by Lucas at 05:47 PM

April 25, 2006

ESPN Fantasy Column

Patience Rewarded
After ten games, Kevin Mench had a sore toe, zero homers and zero runs batted in. Ten days later, Mench has a new pair of shoes, four homers and fourteen RBI. Unfortunately, more than one-half of his mixed-league owners had decided to cut bait just as he began to wallop the ball. Such is the price of compacting a player’s potential into two weeks of box scores. Certainly, each fantasy league’s winner will have made tough evaluations and bold moves in the early days of the season, but the keys are patience and thoughtfulness. If a player is struggling, his owner shouldn’t consider whether a potential replacement will outhit or outpitch him for the rest of the season, not just next week. That seems obvious, but watching your #7 pick offer yet another zero-for-four can test your resolve. Always take a couple of deep breaths before making a roster move with only modest upside.

Patience Revisited
Francisco Cordero partially absolved his previous sins by getting an easy, quiet save against Seattle one night after his low point as a reliever. Over the weekend, he promptly committed the mortal sin of blowing a three-run lead in the ninth against the Devil Rays. Cordero had never before entered a game up by three and lost the lead. Nevertheless, Cordero will get as much slack as possible to correct himself. He did have shoulder problems in the spring but his arm and velocity seem fine. I’d suggest Akinori Otsuka would be a 2:1 favorite to get some save opportunities if Cordero loses his job. Antonio Alfonseca is a 2:1 underdog.

Pitching
Kevin Millwood’s ownership percentage in mixed leagues sits at 66.7%, which feels just about right. Millwood doesn’t have much value in smaller leagues. He pulled his ERA down to 4.20 with a rough but fairly run-free performance, and for the second consecutive start the bullpen coughed up his lead. For fantasy purposes, he’s Kenny Rogers with more strikeouts. Kameron Loe allowed six flu-ridden runs against Tampa Bay Friday and sickened a portion of his owners in the process. Loe is a decent pitcher but shouldn’t do more than tread water in ERA and WHIP. Add his K rate of four per nine innings, and what does he really offer? Mostly wins; he has none at the moment although he’s pitched well enough to win twice. Wins are awfully fickle, so when a pitcher’s most valuable fantasy attribute is wins, his value is pretty dubious.

John Koronka: Mr. Popularity?
A Ranger pitcher – a rotation member – is the most added player in ESPN’s AL-only league. On the heels of his eight inning, eight strikeout performance on Sunday, Koronka dropped his ERA to 3.75 and his WHIP to 1.17. Nice story, but I think his new owners should exercise extreme caution. In 550 innings spread among AA and AAA, Koronka has an ERA of 4.39, a WHIP of 1.49, and 3.7 walks and 6.6 strikeouts per nine innings. Which is to say, he hasn’t exactly dominated the minors. He’ll start next against a Cleveland squad averaging six runs per game. I understand the land rush on any pitcher who shows a glimpse of usefulness, but don’t expect much from him.

The Rest
If you really want to test your patience, keep holding on to Brad Wilkerson. I still think he’ll contribute fantasy value in mixed leagues. --- As mentioned last week, Gerald Laird won’t start more than once per series in the short term, but owners in AL-only leagues should keep an eye on him in case Rod Barajas’s season-long slump doesn’t abate. Laird belted seventeen homers in 75 AAA games last year. – Newcomer Drew Meyer started two consecutive games at second in place of D’Angelo Jimenez. Jimenez should get most of the starts and provide a stopgap in AL-only leagues.

Posted by Lucas at 11:55 PM

April 17, 2006

ESPN Fantasy Column

Ownership Society

A look at ownership percentages of Ranger hitters in ESPN’s mixed and AL-only leagues, plus a word on the closer situation:

BRAD WILKERSON (72% mixed / 99% AL)
Wilkerson has endured an atrocious start and a demotion to the seventh spot in the batting order. I’ve written about his surplus of 0-2 counts and struggles with his few good counts here. Though he’s at .185/.214/.315, I wouldn’t drop him in any league yet. At least wait for some improvement against the weak staffs of Seattle and Tampa Bay. The drop in the order will cost several runs but could help his RBI.

KEVIN MENCH (48% mixed / 100% AL)
Mench missed several games with a sore toe but returned on Sunday. He has one run and no RBI in nine games. Except in small mixed leagues, I expect most owners will regret dropping him. He might be available in yours. Give him a chance.

GARY MATTHEWS (1% mixed / 92% AL)
Buck Showalter has handed Matthews the center field and leadoff positions in favor of Laynce Nix and Wilkerson, respectively. Matthews is nothing special but will provide decent returns to any AL-only league. He might offer a spurt that gives the appearance of usefulness in mixed leagues, but remember that his career bests are a .276 average, 72 runs, 17 homers and 55 RBI.

LAYNCE NIX (0% mixed / 55% AL)
On April 2nd I suggested Nix was worth a flyer in AL-only leagues. Now, not. Drop him.

D’ANGELO JIMENEZ (0% mixed / 76% AL)
Jimenez was expected to be the wrong end of a temporary platoon with Mark Derosa while Ian Kinsler healed. Derosa’s own problems have forced Jimenez into an everyday role. He can provide modest short-term value in AL-only leagues. His shelf-life is short.

IAN KINSLER (43% mixed / 100% AL)
The ESPNers have this right. Despite his fantastic start, I don’t expect Kinsler to be a worthwhile fantasy player in most mixed leagues. Very few rookie hitters are. Still, AL-only owners should hold on. Kinsler is why you have an extra DL slot. If you also own Coco Crisp, tough it out.

MARK DEROSA (0% mixed / 14% AL)
Derosa’s persistent ankle troubles have prevented him from starting in place of Kinsler or getting outfield at-bats against lefties, against whom he hits quite well. Texas might have to DL him. He’ll have very modest value in AL-only leagues upon his return, probably as a starter against many lefties.

GERALD LAIRD (0% mixed / 14% AL)
Laird has caught three of the last seven games after watching the first six. It’s possible that if he continues to hit well and Rod Barajas continues to falter, Laird could usurp the majority position. For the short and medium term, however, don’t expect Laird to catch more than one game each series. If you’re grumbling about your current catcher, keep one eye on Laird.

CLOSERING
Francisco Cordero hasn’t pitched well, blowing one save and terrifying teammates and fans in two other appearances. The concern is whether a sore shoulder that truncated his spring is legitimately affecting his pitching. I don’t know, but I think it’s unlikely. He’s still lighting up the radar gun, and he also missed much of last spring to minimal effect. More likely is that just slumping. Cordero has always struggled with control, steadily walking about four per nine innings during the last three years. Times of exceptionally bad control lead to bad results, thus, his current situation. If in fact the worst comes true, Akinori Otsuka should get the save opportunities, though Antonio Alfonseca has an outside shot.

Posted by Lucas at 11:25 PM

April 11, 2006

ESPN Fantasy Column

The Texas offense hasn't played well thus far, scoring only 29 runs in eight games. The killer has been the Rangers' .194 on-base percentage leading off an inning. They have zero leadoff walks.

Still, most of the guys expected to deliver fantasy production have done so. Michael Young is batting .294 with four runs and six RBI. Mark Teixeira has yet to homer but is hitting .385 with four runs and four RBI. Hank Blalock has a homer and a .300 average. You expect as much from them. Now to the men who've exceeded or trailed expectations.

OF Brad Wilkerson is 6-for-36 with one walk and sixteen strikeouts, and the stats don’t fib. He looks lost at the plate right now, taking belt-high pitches for strike two, then flailing at a 59-foot breaking pitch and trudging to the dugout. He does have five runs, three RBI, a homer and a steal, so he's really only punishing his owners in one category right now. Buck Showalter has expressed patience and no intention to drop him from the leadoff spot. Wilkerson owners should likewise be patient.

OF Laynce Nix longs for Wilkerson's line. Nix is zero-for-18 with no walks and seven strikeouts to start the season. Unlike Wilkerson, Nix risks far more than a drop in the order if he sputters. Already a benchwarmer against lefties, he might find himself in Oklahoma when Gary Matthews comes of the Disabled List, though the original plan calls for him and Matthews to share center field duties. This is pure speculation on my part; I've witnessed no rumors in the local media. Be prepared to grab Matthews in AL-only leagues if you need an outfielder. Matthews won't win your league title but can be a useful role player.

Showalter looks to start Rod Barajas more often than I expected, but Barajas has responded with a .160 average, three runs, a homer, and two RBI. Again, not terrible except for the average. Poor Gerald Laird has one start in eight games and won't help anyone in any league for now.

Kevin Mench left his bat in Arizona: .258 with one run, no dingers and no runs batted in. Also, no reason to drop him unless you’re in an eight-team mixed league with a heavily stocked free-agent pool.

On the flip side, DH Phil Nevin has allayed worries that he was cooked. His two homers and eight RBI lead the team. He won't win the MVP, but he's worth grabbing in the handful of mixed leagues where he’s available. True rookie Ian Kinsler is off to a righteous start: .450/.560/.700, four runs, a homer and two RBI. He's not a swing-at-everything poseur either, as his four walks and only two strikeouts attest. I'll reiterate that most rookies make for lousy fantasy players, but if you're hurting for middle-infield production in a mixed league you can try to ride his hot streak.

Kevin Millwood has pitched better than his 7.36 ERA would indicate, though it's faint consolation to his owners. In each of his two starts, one bad inning and a few bad pitches have ruined him. This isn't "Chan Ho, The Sequel." Still, I never thought much of him in smaller mixed leagues. Larger mixed-league owners (that's larger leagues, not larger owners) should hold steady, and AL-only owners would be foolish to drop him.

I still wouldn't bother with Vicente Padilla or Kameron Loe in all but the largest of mixed leagues. Padilla didn't impress despite getting the win in Sunday’s effort, and Loe is probably the kind of pitcher who'll help Texas more than your fantasy team. You probably don't know the back end of the Ranger rotation. In this case, ignorance really is bliss.

Posted by Lucas at 12:38 AM

April 02, 2006

ESPN Fantasy Column

Texas made three trades over the last three days. Their impact on the Rangers’ fantasy prospects is described below:

DAVID DELLUCCI
Dellucci’s trade to Philadelphia makes him an unperson in AL-only leagues. He also loses his value in mixed leagues because Philly doesn’t need a DH and Pat Burrell and Bobby Abreu don’t need a substitute. He’s a back-ender in larger NL-only leagues.

PHIL NEVIN
Nevin lost his only two competitors to the DH at-bats in the last week. As I mentioned a few days ago, I don’t expect greatness, but he could bat .260 with 20-plus homers and 80-plus RBI as the cleanup hitter. Worth a shot in all but the smallest of mixed leagues. If Nevin collapses, keep an eye out for Jason Botts, who will begin 2006 in AAA.

BRAD WILKERSON
His owners can breathe easier. Wilkerson rebounded well from last week’s shoulder malady, and a move from center to left could help his stamina. A must-own in any 5x5 league.

LAYNCE NIX / GARY MATTHEWS
Only last week, Nix seemed bound for AAA and fifth on the outfield depth chart. With Dellucci’s departure and Matthews’s placement on the Disabled List, Nix will start Monday in center field. Nix has a dubious resume but has struggled with shoulder problems during the last two years. Now fully healed, he might show improvement. He’s worth a flyer in AL-only leagues. Matthews will start against lefties and sub for the corner outfielders upon his return. He doesn’t provide much value right now, but if someone suffers an injury or Nix falters, he’ll become a tolerable AL-only outfielder.

ADAM EATON
Eaton will miss at least two months because of impending surgery on the middle finger of his throwing hand. He had no value in mixed leagues anyway, and his marginal value in AL-only leagues just cratered. Stash him on your DL if no absolutely have no other options.

ROBINSON TEJEDA
Tejeda posted a 3.57 ERA as a rookie in Philly but got away with 5.3 walks per nine innings and a .260 average on batters in play. His fly-prone tendencies translate badly to Arlington. Tejeda just turned 24 and may yet develop into a solid MLB pitcher, but I doubt he’ll offer much to fantasy owners in 2006. I project a 4.75 ERA and 1.50 WHIP as a Ranger. His upside is in wins and strikeouts. I wouldn’t bother with him except in very large AL-only leagues.

JOHN KORONKA
Koronka, not Tejeda, will start the Rangers’ fifth game of the season. His minor-league stats do not impress, and I wouldn’t expect any more of him than of John Wasdin. No value anywhere.

JUAN DOMINGUEZ
Currently, Oakland needs Dominguez for its rotation like a mule needs a spinning wheel. Dominguez might appear in relief later in the season. No value anywhere right now.

ANTONIO ALFONSECA
You might remember him as a closer, but those days are over. He’ll attempt to provide league-average middle relief in Arlington and is no higher than third in line to get any saves. Don’t bother.

Posted by Lucas at 04:13 PM

March 29, 2006

ESPN Fantasy Column

Brad Wilkerson's MRI came back negative, but like last year he may have to play through pain much of the season. Erase the "something special" potential I'd projected last week. Fellow outfielder Gary Matthews will start the season on the DL, and Laynce Nix will be the fourth outfielder. Neither has any value except in very large AL-only leagues. Texas released Erubiel Durazo and optioned Jason Botts, leaving Phil Nevin alone as the DH. I discuss him below.

Adam Eaton will start the season on the DL with a strained finger tendon. He had little value anyway. His absence makes R.A. Dickey the fourth starter, followed by... Juan Dominguez? A trade acquisition? Gaylord Perry? Just avoid Dickey and the fill-in fifth starter, whoever it is..

Last of the Predictions

Phil Nevin
.261/.324/.445, 52 runs, 16 homers, 67 RBI, 2 steals

Nevin could be the Comeback Player of the Year or the 2006 version of "Dead Bat Dick" Hidalgo. The above statistics are an ugly average of the two. He hit 26 homers with 105 RBI just two years ago, but he also collapsed prior to last year's midseason trade (.256/.301/.399). Nevin should start the season batting cleanup for Texas, about as choice a location as exists in fantasy baseball, so he has the opportunity to be the steal of the draft. Larger mixed-league owners could pick him in the last round, and he merits a late-middle round pick in most AL-only leagues. I don't expect greatest, but he’s worth a flyer.

Kevin Millwood
12 wins, 4.55 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 145 Ks, 195 innings

Like Kenny Rogers, Millwood has the mental toughness to succeed in the hot, windy climate of midsummer Arlington. Unfortunately, that by itself won't make him a top-tier fantasy pitcher, and my view of Millwood is on the pessimistic side. Last year's AL ERA champ is moving from a pitcher-friendly park to a decidedly pitcher-angry one. He also held opponents to a .195 average with runners in scoring position, a feat unlikely to reoccur. He won't have much value in ten-team mixed leagues.

Adam Eaton
10 wins, 4.90 ERA, 1.42 WHIP, 130 Ks, 170 innings

Eaton left Wednesday's Spring Training game in the second inning with a strained tendon in his finger. A torn tendon sheath in the same finger limited him to only 128 innings last year. Healthy or no, Eaton has a career ERA of 4.34 in the best pitching environment in the National League. You don't need a computer or even an abacus to understand how his flyball tendencies should translate to the AL and Arlington. Assuming his injury is short-lived, his wins and strikeouts can help AL-only owners, and he is pitching for his next contract. Still, given his uncertain present situation, I'd just avoid him.

Vicente Padilla
9 wins, 5.05 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, 100 Ks, 170 innings

Padilla pitched quite well for Philadelphia in 2002-2003, but injuries wrecked his most recent two years. Like Eaton (well, like just about anyone), Padilla's statistics don't translate well to Arlington. He's worth following in AL-only leagues case he shows evidence of recapturing his '02-'03 form.

Kameron Loe
10 wins, 4.55 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, 95 Ks, 170 innings

In 2005, Loe was a more effective version of Ryan Drese, striking out few batters but inducing a million ground balls. He has a career minor-league strikeout rate of eight per nine innings, so perhaps he can improve on the 4.4 per nine he offered last year. Again, worth a late-round shot in AL-only leagues. Loe has never surpassed 163 innings in a season.

Fifth Starter

No. Just no.

Francisco Cordero
5 wins, 40 saves, 3.30 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 75 Ks, 66 innings.

Part of a large second tier of closers. Not an elite like Rivera or Lidge but a safer pick than Wickman or Jenks. Cordero is a low risk in terms of ability and potential for losing his job.

Posted by Lucas at 06:14 PM

March 20, 2006

ESPN Fantasy Column

Projections for Blalock, Kinsler, Wilkerson, Mench, Dellucci

HANK BLALOCK
277/.340/.485, 90 runs, 29 homers, 95 RBI, 3 steals

In 2005, Blalock endured a second-half slump, didn’t hit lefties and didn’t hit on the road. That’s nothing new. What is new is that he didn’t had the ferocious first-half that made his overall stats so valuable in previous years. He’s still just 25, and I expect a partial return to form in 2006. He should be a solid third baseman, if not an elite one. Texas might rest him occasionally, particularly against lefties, but he is impervious to injury and will amass at least 150 games. If you draft Blalock, put out trade feelers if he starts the season hot.

IAN KINSLER
.254/.305/.405, 65 runs, 13 homers, 60 RBI, 10 steals

Alfonso Soriano’s replacement has batted well enough in Spring Training to secure the second base job. He batted .274/.348/.464 in AAA last season. Kinsler might have a fantasy-worthy season, but he doesn’t merit selection in any of ESPN’s mixed leagues. Rookies almost never make capable fantasy players, and a slow start could cost him at-bats to Mark DeRosa or even a demotion to AAA. That’s not a risk worth taking. Even with the depressingly thin field of 2Bs in AL-only leagues, he justifies only a late-round pick.

BRAD WILKERSON
.254/.360/.465, 105 runs, 23 homers, 70 RBI, 10 steals

Though I base my projections on a self-designed spreadsheet that serves me well, I wonder if Wilkerson could really do something special this season. He won’t hit for average, even in Arlington, but the short right-field porch could prop his homer total well above the 23 I’ve projected. He probably will bat first, and the leadoff position for Texas is some prime real estate. He achieved 660 plate appearances last season despite a litany of minor injuries. Wilkerson doesn’t rank among the top 200 players drafted in ESPN’s mixed leagues, but he should, and his owners should be pleased with him by season’s end.

KEVIN MENCH
.285/.345/.505, 75 runs, 27 homers, 75 RBI, 3 steals

Mench has yet to provide the breakout season that would make him a fantasy star. He tantalizes with his power, but he always seems to be fighting through an injury or losing at-bats to guys like Gary Matthews. Last year, he batted a dire .185 with runners in scoring position. That’s actually good news for you, his potential owner, because your rivals will probably downgrade him on the basis of a fluky performance that is highly unlikely to reoccur. As with Wilkerson, I see more upside than downside in the stats projected above. Mench should be a solid if unspectacular mixed-league outfielder..

DAVID DELLUCCI
.246/.355/.465, 85 runs, 23 homers, 65 RBI, 5 steals

Last year, Dellucci rode a near-Bondsian walk rate and unexpected power to a career season at age 31. Much of his offensive value comes in walks, so he contributes less to a 5x5 fantasy team than in real life. Also, he tends to wear down and never starts against lefties, so he’s not worth drafting in all but the largest of mixed leagues. In AL-only leagues, Dellucci can be an especially valuable addition to an active owner who pays attention to Texas’s opposing pitchers.

Posted by Lucas at 11:54 PM

March 09, 2006

ESPN Fantasy Column

The Easy Projections

1B MARK TEIXEIRA
.295/.375/.575, 110 runs, 45 homers, 135 RBI, 4 steals

Teixeira has rocketed from decent fantasy first baseman to top-ten pick in two short years. ESPN ranks him fourth overall and I don’t disagree. He’s 26 and batting third for a good offense in a very offense-friendly park. He might not miss a game if the Rangers are competitive. Teixeira doesn’t homer often versus lefties and struggles on the road, but these are minor quibbles. Don’t worry about a slow start; he has a career .240 average and .449 slugging percentage in April. His slugging never dips below .517 in any other month.

SS MICHAEL YOUNG
.305/.355/.485, 115 runs, 23 homers, 95 RBI, 8 steals

Not long ago, Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and Nomar Garciaparra reigned supreme over the world of both real-life and fantasy shortstops. Today, only Jeter even plays short anymore and he ranks behind Miguel Tejada and Texas’s Michael Young. For five years he’s surpassed (my) expectations and now he hangs on the fringe of fantasy’s top twenty players. He can’t exceed last year’s line of .331-114-24-91-5, can he? This time, I think not. Nevertheless, a lower but 300+ average combined with similar stats in all other categories should keep owners happy. The gap between Young and Tejeda is not large, and Young might finish with a better overall line. Like Teixeira, Young plays darn near every game.

More projections coming soon.

The Paradox Of Spring Training
Fifty at-bats against scattershot pitching or ten innings against organizational fodder is a terrible way to earn or lose a job, but that’s how Spring Training works. Within this framework, the fantasy owner must discern between worthwhile and pointless information. Worthwhile are reports on player health and job status. Unless you’re a hyper-dedicated owner sophisticated enough to formulate Plan B and Plan C, you should avoid players with troublesome histories and downgrade those who develop potentially nagging injuries in Spring Traning (think wrists, obliques, hamstrings, groins). Competing owners will pick these players before you and pay the price.

Conversely, spring statistics don’t matter. Of course they matter to players and management. If Ian Kinsler doesn’t hit (he is), he could end up repeating in Oklahoma (he won’t). However, prospective owners shouldn’t draft him over Marcus Giles if he bats .550 with eight homers in Arizona. Better to dig up his age and last year’s AAA stats to learn his capabilities over a full season. In this case I’ll just tell you: as a 23-year-old he batted .274/.348/.464 with 23 homers and 19 steals.

Posted by Lucas at 02:20 AM

February 08, 2006

ESPN Fantasy Column

Greetings
I’m Scott Lucas, and since 2002 I’ve been ESPN’s fantasy correspondent for the Texas Rangers. It’s a sweet gig: paid junkets to Bristol, fine tequila delivered to my front door, groupies who dab my forehead with a cool, slightly damp washcloth while I write. 2006 promises an interesting season for Ranger fans and fantasy owners, as new GM Jon Daniels has upended the roster this winter after the team failed to capitalize on 2004’s surprising 89 wins. I’ll offer player projections in the coming weeks as Spring Training unfolds, but for now, answers to a few questions:

How will Kevin Millwood do?
I’m startled at how poorly my trusty computer thinks of Kevin Millwood. Right now it suggests a 4.59 ERA and a 1.40 WHIP, drastic declines from last year’s numbers of 2.86 and 1.22. Why so glum, computer? First, his home last year, Cleveland’s Jacobs Field, rivaled Safeco Field for pitcher-friendliness. Millwood can expect to surrender more homers, more doubles, and more hits on balls in play in The Ballpark. Second, his peripheral stats suggest a 2005 ERA of about 3.40 instead of his league-leading 2.86. Third, his previous two seasons in Philadelphia were rather pedestrian and occasionally marred by injury. My computer would do a spit take if it knew his salary.

On the other hand, some pitchers (like Kenny Rogers) have the ability to shrug off the centerfield-bound jet stream that turns The Ballpark into Gameboy Backyard Baseball during the summer months. Millwood has pitched well in the ultimate hostile environment of Coors Field (3.97 ERA in seven starts), so there’s evidence to suggest that pitching in Texas won’t faze him. Millwood does have a decent strikeout rate and should garner a fair number of wins, so he could help some fantasy teams despite a mediocre ERA. Just don’t think of him as an elite fantasy pitcher, even in AL-only leagues.

Could Eaton or Padilla help?
Adam Eaton and Vicente Padilla might help Texas, but they probably won’t help you. Eaton has a career ERA of 4.34 while pitching in perhaps the most favorable environment in all of baseball. I think he’d do well to post a sub-5.00 ERA in Arlington. The same applies to Padilla, who has battled arm troubles the last two years. He did pitch well in 2002 and 2003, and perhaps some health will foster an improved performance. However, based on two consecutive mediocre seasons and a move to Texas, he’s tough to recommend.

Where will Brad Wilkerson bat, and how will he perform?
Wilkerson might lead off if manager Buck Showalter isn’t too enamoured with David Dellucci. If not, he’ll probably bat fifth or sixth. Batting sixth instead of first would cost him about eighty plate appearances, not an insignificant number, though he would receive juicier RBI opportunities. Even if he doesn’t hit first, a healthier body and a move from RFK to Arlington should produce improved fantasy numbers. Keep him in mind.

Who’s on second?
The trade of Alfonso Soriano, error-prone and occasionally lackadaisical though he was, left a gaping hole at second base. The leading candidate to fill his shoes is Ian Kinsler, a 23-year-old who batted .274/.348/.464 with 102 runs, 23 homers, 94 RBI and 19 steals for AAA Oklahoma last year. Nothing would please Texas more than for him to command the position, because the alternatives are Mark DeRosa, whose hot September of 2005 masks a very ordinary bat, and D’angelo Jimenez, who couldn’t even maintain his 40-man roster spot with the Reds last year.

Posted by Lucas at 02:18 PM

September 28, 2005

ESPN Column

Advice For The Final Week
Texas finishes the season with three games in Seattle and three against Los Angeles in Texas. Seattle has a weak offense, and LA probably will have clinched the division and be resting its regulars to the extent possible, so Ranger pitchers gain a little value this week.

KAMERON LOE starts Tuesday and might start the final game of the season. Loe hasn’t struck out many batters as a starter but otherwise has performed well and seems no worse for wear after his beaning last week. He’s a definite start in AL-only leagues. CHRIS YOUNG gets one last start Wednesday. He returned from a two-week dead-arm layoff last Thursday and threw passably. I’d use him if I needed some help but not if I were protecting a lead. KENNY ROGERS takes the mound Thursday and can be started in just about any fantasy league.

R.A. DICKEY begins the final series with LA. Dickey is learning how to throw a knuckleball and is not the kind of guy you want on your team in September. JUAN DOMINGUEZ will start on Saturday. Dominguez has a 3.45 ERA and six Ks per nine innings as a starter, yet he’s owned in only 48% of AL-only leagues. Not only can he help AL-only squads, he might be worth a high-risk play in mixed leagues. The final start will probably go to Loe or JOSH RUPE. Rupe showed promise in his last start, but it’s also his only Major League start. Only the absolutely desperate should consider him.

DAVID DELLUCCI has missed several games with a strained calf but is expected back Tuesday night. He’ll continue to start against righties and sit against lefties, as will DH ADRIAN GONZALEZ. Keep an eye on Dellucci; if he misses another game you should consider a replacement. After sharing the backstop equally with GERALD LAIRD for a week or so, ROD BARAJAS has caught seven of the last ten games. I think he’ll start three or four of the last six, with Laird getting the rest. KEVIN MENCH missed Sunday’s game with a sore thumb but should start most of the remaining games. The four famous infielders should start most, if not all, of the final six games. Texas might let Marshall McDougall or Esteban German spell one of them for a day or two. No reason to bench any of them, though.

I’d Like To Thank The Academy
Thus concludes my fourth year of covering the Rangers. Thanks to ESPN’s Eric Karabell for drawing my name out of the hat in February 2002 and giving me an opportunity to write about Hideki Irabu and John Rocker (both Rangers at the time, unfortunately). Thanks also to Courtney Bissonnet, who, against all logic and common sense, decided to marry someone who writes about baseball in his spare time.

Posted by Lucas at 12:16 AM

September 13, 2005

ESPN Column

Seven’s A Crowd
After Wednesday, Texas finishes the season inside the AL West with seven games against Seattle, six against LA and three against Oakland. None of these teams has an above-average offense (relative to their home parks) and none plays in a hitter-friendly stadium (The Ballpark is very hitter-friendly, of course). So, the matter at hand is who the heck is in the rotation. CHRIS YOUNG left his last start after just one inning in which he topped out at about 85 mph. He’s not injured as far as anyone knows, but Texas didn’t want to risk disaster, and they may shut him down for the duration. Certainly, he no longer belongs in an ESPN mixed league, and those in AL-only leagues need to find help where they can.

KENNY ROGERS will continue to start and ought to provide adequate if uninspiring support in AL-only leagues and larger mixed leagues. KAMERON LOE finally took a beating after three excellent starts. Loe’s performance as a starter is oddly reminiscent of the departed Ryan Drese: very few strikeouts and an exceptionally low (lucky?) hit rate on balls in play. JUAN DOMINGUEZ likewise faltered after three consecutive strong outings. He does have the stuff to get more strikeouts, though the results haven’t shown it lately. Both Loe and Dominguez are risky but potentially worthwhile selections for AL-only owners in need of pitching. The rest – young EDISON VOLQUEZ, R.A. DICKEY, and potentially JOSH RUPE – won’t help anybody.

September Call-Ups Have Little Impact
Texas has recalled catcher GERALD LAIRD, outfielder JASON BOTTS and infielders MARSHALL MCDOUGALL and ESTEBAN GERMAN since September 1st. Only Laird has played, starting five of twelve games this month while ROD BARAJAS has started six and SANDY ALOMAR just one. Laird and Barajas have alternated starts during the last eight games. I expect this arrangement to continue, although Laird might nab a little more time toward the very end. Job-sharing is the bane of the fantasy owner, so check those free-agent pools. At this stage of the season, with the eliminated teams doling out at-bats among so many players, you might just have to stick with Barajas.

Botts may supplant MARK DEROSA in right field or PHIL NEVIN at DH against lefties. Or, Texas might just let him draw the Major-League minimum as an observer. Texas faces a lefty on Wednesday, so take a gander at who starts. McDougall and German couldn’t gets fewer at-bats if they were dead, so don’t bother.

So The Rich Get Richer
The relative stasis is good news to owners of most Ranger position players. Texas didn’t recall prospect Ian Kinsler, so ALFONSO SORIANO won’t miss more than a game or two the rest of the way. The same applies to MARK TEIXEIRA, MICHAEL YOUNG and HANK BLALOCK. Blalock’s post-All-Star swoon continues unabated, but until the last week or so his fantasy stats were at least palatable. Lately, not so much. Blalock did hit his first homer in over a month Tuesday night. Keep him in your lineup and hope for the best. Outfielders KEVIN MENCH and GARY MATTHEWS will play every day, while DAVID DELLUCCI and ADRIAN GONZALEZ will start only against righties. Dellucci is useful in larger ESPN mixed leagues, while Gonzalez doesn’t quite make the cut.

Posted by Lucas at 11:55 PM

September 01, 2005

ESPN Column

September 1st Brings Little Change
Texas made only one roster move on the first day of roster expansion, recalling catcher GERALD LAIRD from AAA Oklahoma. For the next few days and probably through the PCL playoffs if Oklahoma retains its hold on first place, outfielder JASON BOTTS and second baseman IAN KINSLER will stay on the farm. Texas hasn’t indicated how often Laird will start. I’d guess not as often as ROD BARAJAS, swell for his owners but a disappointment for those who’d like to see the ostensible “catcher of the future? start some games in the present. Barajas will see a cut in his playing time, but not enough to cut immediately into his value too much. Laird might start more often as the season enter the final two weeks or so.

Ranger Hurlers Dominate!
After setting the game of baseball back 100 years during a 1-12 road trip, Texas finished its homestand 7-3 via six quality starts and two additional strong five-inning efforts. All for the sole purpose of frustrating my vain efforts to advise fantasy owners. With Texas playing the hopeless Royals (“Batting fourth, outfielder Terrence Long.?) over the weekend in pitcher-friendly Kaufmann Stadium, any Ranger starter merits consideration. CHRIS YOUNG starts Friday and is obviously the best choice. He suffered through a terrible six weeks in which his home run rate approach infinity, but since then he’s allowed one run in three starts. JUAN DOMINGUEZ pitches Saturday. He’s gifted, but who knows what he’ll do. Maybe six scoreless innings. Maybe six runs allowed in three innings.

Those needing help in AL-only leagues should give him a try. He might even have some value in mixed leagues for this particular start, but only to owners with desperate pitching situations. Don’t bother with JOAQUIN BENOIT, who belongs in relief. EDISON VOLQUEZ made a shaky but promising debut on Tuesday. The 22-year-old has split the season between high-A and AA, and though he struck out a million batters he also had a four-plus ERA. Don’t mess with him this year. KAMERON LOE has made two excellent starts in the past week, albeit against rather weak Twin and White Sock batters. He’ll face Minnesota on the road next. As with Dominguez, he could help an AL-only owner, but I can’t recommend him outright. He has yet to start on the road and doesn’t have much stamina.

Line Up
DAVID DELLUCCI and ADRIAN GONZALEZ play only against righties, while PHIL NEVIN and MARK DEROSA face lefties. The other non-catchers start every game. Dellucci is batting only .247 in August but otherwise has strong numbers (18 runs, 5 homers, 13 RBI). Remember to platoon him with another outfielder to maximize his value. Gonzalez hasn’t hit well of late but still should assist AL-only owners. Nevin is still owned in 49% of mixed leagues. He belongs in 0%.
With the Rangers facing several lefties lately, RF MARK DEROSA (yes, right fielder) has started more frequently and is hitting fairly well for once (.289 with two homers in August). He might offer a smidgen of help in larger AL-only leagues for a week or so, but he should (he’d better) hit the bench once Botts and friends arrive.

Cordero Okay
FRANCISCO CORDERO missed a couple of games with a stiff forearm and back, but since then he’s pitched and recorded saves in two of the last three games. He saved only three games in August, but that’s (mostly) not his fault. Owners needn’t worry about him.

Posted by Lucas at 01:56 AM

August 22, 2005

ESPN Column

Prospects Not On The Way
With the Rangers firmly ensconced in Loserville, fantasy owners might be looking for fresh blood to infuse life into their teams. Alas, at this time, Texas does not offer much in the way of promising pitchers and hitters. Other than Adrian Gonzalez (see below), no prospective hitters are expected to make their way to Arlington before September, and their arrival might be further delayed by AAA Oklahoma’s potential playoff run. OF JASON BOTTS and catcher GERALD LAIRD are the most likely arrivals. I fear that neither will play often enough to have much use even in AL-only leagues. Botts probably will supplant MARK DEROSA in right field (yes, DeRosa’s been playing RF – quality roster management, gentlemen) against lefties and DH on occasion.

Laird will join the catching rotation but probably won’t start more than half the time at best. 2B IAN KINSLER is firmly blocked by ALFONSO “Give Me Second Base Or Give Me Death? SORIANO, who apparently did not entice enough in return to consummate a trade. Texas has several promising pitchers in the minors (really) and might recall one or two for some September hi-jinks, but they’re just plain old promising, not “King Felix? promising.

Gonzalez Up Again, Nevin Semi-Demoted
Texas recalled ADRIAN GONZALEZ for what must be the seventeenth time this season, the difference now being that they actually plan to play him. Gonzalez should start against righties, while ironically titled “designated hitter? PHIL NEVIN is reduced to a lefty-only role. Active AL-only owners should take a flyer on Gonzalez with the understanding that daily roster management will be necessary. As for Nevin, moving from Petco Park to a hitter-friendly park in the American League has accomplished nothing. He has as many double plays as RBI. Nevin is an easy drop in mixed leagues, and, like Gonzalez, he’ll require daily roster management in AL-only leagues. If Texas sticks to its guns (a dubious proposition, I know), Gonzalez will start about twice as often as Nevin.

Stay The Course

Nobody among MARK TEIXEIRA, HANK BLALOCK or KEVIN MENCH is having much of a second half. Mench in particular has tailed off. Just keep playing them. I’d stick with Blalock even though he has a history of weak second halves. Blalock is batting a tepid .248-22-7-17 since the break, but those 22 homers rank fourth among third basemen, the seven homers are tied for eighth best in MLB and the 17 RBI rank twelfth. You won’t find a replacement for that on the waiver wire.

Rotation
CHRIS YOUNG awoke from a two-month nap last week and pitched eight innings of shutout ball against Cleveland. I wouldn’t lie to you by suggesting he’s turned a corner or that his slump is in its last throes. However, Young does face a light-hitting Seattle squad, and those willing to take a risk ought to consider him. Opponents have battered KENNY ROGERS in three starts since his truncated suspension, and you might say he deserves it. Whether he does or not (he does), the matter at hand is his ability to help a fantasy team. Rogers will next face Minnesota and Chicago, two good teams with unimpressive offenses (relative to their home parks, both are worse than Seattle). As with Young, I grudgingly recommend him to owners needing to make a move and willing to risk abject failure.

JUAN DOMINGUEZ should start for Texas the rest of the way. Statistically, Dominguez is the condensed version of Chris Young. Young alternates between dominating and atrocious performances, while Dominguez usually displays both within the space of a few innings. At this stage, Dominguez offers more potential than actual production. He might strike out ten batters and permit twelve baserunners. Only the least risk-averse of AL-only owners need apply. Healthy or not, RICARDO RODRIGUEZ may not join rejoin the rotation until September, and the local dailies indicate he may have fallen out of favor with management. Don’t bother with JOAQUIN BENOIT or anyone Texas might recall from the minors next month.

Schedule Fair and Balanced

In their last 39 games, Texas plays fourteen against basement dwellers (Seattle and Kansas City) and sixteen against playoff-bound teams (Chicago, LA and Oakland), with the rest versus Minnesota and Baltimore. They also have 23 home games and sixteen on the road.

Posted by Lucas at 12:56 AM

August 13, 2005

ESPN Column

What Is Gary Matthews Eating?
GARY MATTHEWS is easily the hottest Ranger right now, batting .342/.425/.631 with seven homers since the All-Star Break. I haven’t touted him because his career line is a far more modest .253/.330/.402, and I expected him to slide back toward those numbers sooner rather than later. Yet, not only is Matthews staying hot, he’s batting .400 and slugging .700 in August. His ownership in mixed league has reached what must be a lifetime high of 36%. He is the only legitimate center fielder on the team and is virtually guaranteed to play every game. Advice? Sure. I still wouldn’t bother with him in eight-team mixed leagues and probably not ten. Recall that he batted .250/.285/.415 in about 200 pre-ASB plate appearances and was barely worth owning even in AL-only leagues.

Acquiring him in mixed leagues won’t hurt you, but you’ll need to keep him on a short leash and scan the waiver wire for a potential upgrade. I just don’t think Matthews is someone who’ll stay hot over the last six weeks and give you a ride to a championship. As for his field mates: RICHARD HIDALGO is progressing slowly from his strained wrist tendon. Even if he suddenly heals, Texas would be wise to delay his return until rosters expand in September. Expect very little from him the rest of the way. DALID DELLUCCI’s starting status hasn’t changed (all righties, no lefties), but now he plays left field instead of DH. KEVIN MENCH has moved to right. He’s hit poorly since the break, but you have no reason to remove him from your lineup.

What Phil Nevin Can Do For You
So far, not much. The new everyday DH has batted .220 with one homer and four RBI in twelve games as a Ranger, and his OPS trails what he posted in pitcher-friendly Petco Park. Those in AL-only leagues have no choice but to keep him and hope for improvement, but mixed-leaguers have a decision to make. Those in smaller mixed leagues ought to cut bait. In twelve-team leagues, give him another week, then reassess, but if you see someone decent in the free-agent pool, make a move now. I predicted “middling? production from him two weeks ago, and that’s what he ought to provide. Nevin has a sub-.300 OBP and sub-.400 slugging percentage in 85 games. He’s highly unlikely to revert to his 2001 form.

Rogers Returns
KENNY ROGERS returned from his all-too-brief suspension and promptly allowed five runs in five innings to a formidable Boston lineup. Rogers took a comebacker off of his already broken glove hand in the first inning but remained in the game. He won’t miss any time and should start Tuesday at Cleveland followed by Sunday at Tampa Bay. RICARDO RODRIGUEZ hit the DL with a contusion in his arm caused by yet another comebacker. He shouldn’t miss over the minimum, though he isn’t fantasy-worthy in anything but a large AL-only league.

What’s Wrong With Cordero?
FRANCISCO CORDERO hasn’t saved a game since July 30th. Texas is 3-11 since then, and the smallest margin in any of them has been six runs. Cordero is fine. Don’t trade him for Tanyon Sturtze or someone silly like that.

September Morn
Though I approve of the Park-for-Nevin trade, Nevin’s presence combined with the Rangers’ post-Break collapse creates some unfavorable roster issues in September. Texas ought to be creating room for both 1B ADRIAN GONZALEZ and OF JASON BOTTS , but where to play them? Assuming Nevin will start most of the time, Gonzalez is blocked by him and Teixeira at first. Botts likewise can’t DH and would have to supplant Mench or Dellucci in the outfield (he can’t play center). For that matter, the retention of ALFONSO SORIANO blocks prospect IAN KINSLER. Unless Texas finds a post-waiver trading partner for Nevin (who is doing nothing to create interest), they may find themselves in a position of needing to build for 2006 yet having nowhere to fit the youngsters.

Posted by Lucas at 12:31 AM

August 04, 2005

ESPN Column

Trade Winds Blow Softly
After weeks of speculation and intrigue, the Rangers retained the services of ALFONSO SORIANO but traded the seemingly untradeable CHAN HO PARK. Texas technically can still trade Soriano or anyone else, but players must now pass through waivers. Since none of the bottom-ranked teams would dare claim Soriano and his $7.5 million salary, the Rangers might yet work out a deal with a mid-level team. Odds are he'll finish the season in Arlington, and AL-only owners can rest a little more easily.

Nevin Arrives
Texas traded Park to San Diego for Phil Nevin. Nevin's role is undefined for the long term, but so far he's watched from the bench once and then batted cleanup against a lefty and a righty. He doesn't deserve such placement against anyone, yet there he is. Texas may be showcasing him for another trade. Clearly he merits pickup in AL-only leagues, although he shouldn’t provide more than middling production. Nevin has batted a loathsome .256/.301/.399 this season in hitter-hating Petco Park. In mixed leagues, avoid him for now if your league has ten or fewer teams. Incidentally, Park joined the Rangers the same season I "joined" ESPN, and I'm relieved I don't have to write about him anymore.

Seems Like Old Times
The Rangers have quickly reverted to their m.o. of not offering any worthwhile starting pitchers in mixed leagues. That's not entirely true, as KENNY ROGERS should provide help once his suspension ends. As for the rest... CHRIS YOUNG has run off the rails in his last nine starts, his ERA jumping from 2.78 to 4.94. Oddly, most of his peripherals haven't changed dramatically, and in fact his strikeout rate has increased. The killer is his home run rate. Young allowed four homers in his first thirteen starts and twelve in his last nine. Since he'd mostly stayed the course except for that one (admittedly important) statistic, I'd suggested to some emailers that he deserved another chance against Tampa Bay Monday night. Let's just say that didn't work out.

Now, with Young presumably facing a solid Orioles offense in Arlington followed by the Yankees on the road, mixed leaguers should cut bait. Likewise, mixed leaguers should look skeptically upon JOAQUIN BENOIT and his 1.94 ERA. Benoit has a checkered history as a starter and will face Baltimore and Boston in his next attempts.

Posted by Lucas at 12:29 AM

July 27, 2005

ESPN Column

Soriano’s Days Numbered In Single Digits?
With the Rangers quickly falling out of the race for the postseason, Texas looks like they’ll be selling. ALFONSO SORIANO stands out among tradeable players, and rumors abound of him going to the Mets, Yankees, and even the Twins and Mets. Trading him makes sense for Texas (in my opinion), but his departure is by no means assured. Owners in AL-only leagues need to prepare to compensate for a hole in their lineups. Owners in mixed leagues can relax; Soriano would move to a more pitcher-friendly park wherever he goes, but he’ll remain an elite fantasy performer. Prospect IAN KINSLER would probably take Soriano’s place. Kinsler is batting an unexciting .261/.329/.454 in AAA and wouldn’t have any value in mixed leagues at the onset.

Rogers Officially Suspended, Sort of
Baseball upheld the 20-game suspension of KENNY ROGERS for shoving two cameramen and generally making a fool of himself. The Players Association has appealed the ruling and will get a hearing on August 8, but in the meantime Rogers really and truly will not play. In his absence, Texas will need a replacement for this Saturday in Toronto and August 6th versus Baltimore. Candidates include C.J. WILSON, recently acquired JAMES BALDWIN, JOHN WASDIN and JUAN DOMINGUEZ. Baldwin has pitched well in relief but really isn’t ready to start. For fantasy purposes, none is desirable in any league, though Dominguez has the best chance to do well.

Nix Done
LAYNCE NIX will have surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder. Nix actually injured his right shoulder two weeks ago. Apparently the tear is a remnant of an injury suffered last June that caused him to miss a month. Barring a trade, GARY MATTHEWS will start most games in center field. He has batted incredibly well of late but doesn’t have much of a track record. He’ll provide some assistance in AL-only leagues but is a dubious long-term choice in most mixed leagues.

Gonzalez Recalled
ADRIAN GONZALEZ has rejoined the squad after three months in the minors. Gonzalez has started three of five games since his return and has batted .333 with a run and RBI. It’s hard to predict how often he’ll play since the personnel could change by next week. For that matter, Texas might trade Gonzalez. At the moment, he has some value in larger AL-only leagues. He stands a good chance to see more playing time down the road assuming he doesn’t switch franchises, so keep an eye on him. His arrival also permits Texas to play DAVID DELLUCCI in the outfield occasionally and rest KEVIN MENCH and RICHARD HIDALGO.

Other Rumors
I can understand why Kansas City covets Mench. I can’t see Texas giving him away for whatever the Royals have to offer. Expect Mench and Dellucci to stay with Texas. John Hart inexplicably bears a fondness in his heart for Baltimore’s Sidney Ponson and is dangling Hidalgo. What a blockbuster that would be. Ponson has an ERA of 5.01 in what has been an extraordinarily pitcher-friendly park this season, so it’s tough to fathom how he could assist even the rotationally challenged Rangers. If Hidalgo leaves, Texas may re-recall JASON BOTTS and actually give him an at-bat or two.

Posted by Lucas at 11:54 PM

July 21, 2005

ESPN Column

Rogers Starts Thursday, Then What?
MLB will hear KENNY ROGERS’ appeal of his 20-game suspension on Friday. Should it be upheld in full, Rogers would disappear until August 11 against the Yankees. Or, perhaps not. The Players Association may file a grievance if the suspension isn’t reduced significantly (on technical grounds, as Bud Selig himself decided the punishment instead of baseball’s veep of operations), so Rogers might hang around for a while longer. His fantasy owners should keep him in the lineup it is confirmed that he’s suspended. Rogers will pitch next Tuesday in Baltimore if he remains a free man.

The Replacements
The Texas rotation should consist of CHRIS YOUNG, CHAN HO PARK, RICARDO RODRIGUEZ, and… man, this is depressing. JOAQUIN BENOIT started Wednesday night against the Yankees. Benoit has always pitched much better in relief, and pitching in The Ballpark against a superior offense didn’t help. Benoit might lose what value he has in AL-only leagues if he continues to start. JOHN WASDIN might get another chance, but he also has bombed as a starter after making several strong relief appearances. Texas might recall R.A. DICKEY from Oklahoma, where he has worked on becoming a knuckleballer. Former Astros prospect WILFREDO RODRIGUEZ could get a chance once he returns to good health. Basically, I’ve named a bunch of guys who have no value in any league.

Trading Season
At seven games behind LA, fifth in the wildcard standings, and staring at three weeks of a sub-patchwork rotation, Texas might already be looking ahead to 2006. ALFONSO SORIANO seems the obvious candidate to leave: an arbitration-eligible player who stands to make in excess of $10 million next year. AL-only owners of KEVIN MENCH shouldn’t worry. Trading him makes no sense as he’s inexpensive and the only current outfielder hitting at all. Texas also probably will retain DAVID DELLUCCI, who is a Showalter favorite and badly needed source of OBP. I suppose RICHARD HIDALGO is on the block, but he’s been worthless aside from the occasional homer. Texas isn’t inclined to trade any pitching.

Outfield Duty

Hidalgo and GARY MATTHEWS have started every game since LAYNCE NIX hit the DL with a shoulder injury. Texas recalled masher JASON BOTTS from AAA but never let him swing a bat before returning him in place of C.J. WILSON and his 8.78 ERA. Playing the unproven Botts in a playoff race would have been risky, but no more so than playing Matthews and Hidalgo every day. That is, of course, based on the assumption that the team is actually trying to win as opposed to showcasing replacement-level players to trade for C-level prospects. Anyway, I expect Botts to return sometime in August, and he might have value in AL-only leagues. Nix should return after the minimum 15-day waiting period.

Posted by Lucas at 02:36 PM

July 15, 2005

ESPN Column

Buyers or Sellers?
With last night’s loss to Oakland, Texas finds themselves six games behind Los Angeles and two games out of the wild-card spot (but behind three teams). Through the 24th, the Rangers play no one but the white-hot Athletics and Yankees, then they finish the month with the still-competitive Orioles and Jays. A week’s worth of bad baseball could effectively eliminate Texas from a playoff spot. Whether buyers or sellers, Texas has reason to be active at the trading deadline. If sellers, Texas could move ALFONSO SORIANO, due to earn about $10 million in 2006, his last year of arbitration. The Rangers might also consider KENNY ROGERS’ recent actions a breach of their “handshake? no-trade agreement.

Plenty of teams want outfielder KEVIN MENCH, but I believe he’ll stay. He’s young, inexpensive and, unlike his fellow outfielders, he can hit. If Texas decides to make a run for it, they’re in the awkward situation of not wanting to trade either major-leaguers or their top prospects. Among ML players, Texas is more likely to trade LAYNCE NIX than Mench, who is only 24 but is beginning to give the idea that he’s not going to evolve into a quality hitter. As for who to acquire, Texas could use a starter, reliever, and another bat. The last part sounds silly, but Nix and Hidalgo/Matthews have hit so poorly that the Rangers effectively have a seven-man lineup. Texas could recall outfielder JASON BOTTS if Nix departs, and IAN KINSLER probably would replace Soriano.

Rogers Gets To Play For Another Week
KENNY ROGERS will start tonight in Oakland and at home against the Yankees before he receives an appeal hearing. Assuming the suspension is upheld in full, he’ll disappear until the second week of August. With JOHN WASDIN already in the rotation, Texas may replace Rogers with EDISON VOLQUEZ. Volquez ought to be a dandy Major-League pitcher by 2007 but for now is a 22-year-old with 38 career innings above A ball. When Rogers returns he could start in Yankee Stadium, not exactly his favorite place on the planet.

Young Rocked Again
CHRIS YOUNG lasted only four innings and seemed to tire quickly against Toronto last Sunday. In front-loading Rogers’ starts, the Rangers also pushed Young back to give him two extra days of rest. Young is young (25) and has never pitched over 144 innings in a season, so perhaps throwing 100 in just over three months has worn on him. On the other hand, Texas has managed his pitch counts carefully all season. I’d stick with him for the time-being. He is still striking out batters at a healthy rate and could nab some wins even with a sub-par performance thanks to the Texas offense.

Starting Lineup Unchanged
Barring trades, don’t expect any fancy new lineups for the next few weeks. The infielders and Mench will play every day, and ROD BARAJAS will catch about three of every four games. DAVID DELLUCCI will start only against righties, Nix will start against all righties and some lefties, and GARY MATTHEWS will draw most of the starts in right in favor of RICHARD HIDALGO. I ought to amend what I said about Matthews; practically any regular has value in an AL-only league, so he is worth owning. Just don’t expect him to maintain his July line of .273/.351/.697. He’s good for a .260 average and a dinger about every ten games.

Posted by Lucas at 11:35 PM

July 06, 2005

ESPN Column

Rogers: Two or More Starts Before Suspension
KENNY ROGERS received a 20-game suspension for decking two cameramen last week, but since he appealed the sentence, he remains a free man. With their increasingly ragged rotation, Texas is setting him up to pitch as often as possible before the appeal is heard. Rogers will face Toronto at home on Saturday, then pitch next Thursday in Oakland where he has prospered. He pitched well in his last start despite the broken finger in his non-pitching hand. Rogers has dropped to 76% ownership in mixed leagues, so he might be available in your league. I recommend him for his next two starts.

Young Rocked
Boston torched CHRIS YOUNG for six earned runs Tuesday night. It could have been worse; several caught fly balls came uncomfortably close to the bleachers. With three weak outings in four starts, Young's ERA has jumped to 3.79, a more realistic number than the sub-three ERA he sported a month ago. I see no reason to worry much. Boston has a tendency to beat up other pitchers. Young does have 20 strikeouts during his four-start span of ugliness, so he is helping his owners in that regard. If you're the active type, you might consider benching him against the league's offensive titans (NY, Boston, Baltimore).

Other Rotators
RICARDO RODRIGUEZ is entrenched with Ryan Drese and Pedro Astacio gone. He really hasn't pitched as well as his 3.90 ERA suggests (four homers allowed and only eleven strikeouts in 30 innings), so he has yet to make the jump to usefulness in typical mixed leagues. The ever mercurial CHAN HO PARK has offered two consecutive strong outings after averaging allowing twenty runs in his previous fifteen innings. I don't recommend him outside of 20-team AL-only leagues. He's just too risky. Likewise, JOHN WASDIN is a huge risk despite pitching exceptionally in long relief and one spot start. He'll start this Friday and probably gets the nod in Rogers' eventual absence. JOAQUIN BENOIT and JUAN DOMINGUEZ are longshots to replace Rogers; neither has a strong track record as a starter.

Outfield News
RICHARD HIDALGO has hit bottom. After batting .139 with six RBI in June, Hidalgo sat for three of four games, then missed last night with knee tendonitis. Injured or not, I have to grumpily concede that he's a lost cause; I really thought he'd make a decent outfielder in larger mixed leagues. GARY MATTHEWS has hit no better than Hidalgo but has "earned" a platoon with him in right field. Avoid him in mixed leagues, and don’t go out of your way to claim him in AL-only leagues. LAYNCE NIX is drawing regular work against lefties for the first time in his career. This season, he's batting 6-for-17 against them in sharp contrast to his struggles in prior years. He takes a step up in fantasy value, but not enough to merit ownership in all but the largest mixed leagues.

Names to Remember
Should Texas fall too far in the race for the division or wild card, their minor leagues have some names you might want to keep in mind. Perhaps most likely to help the team this season is outfielder JASON BOTTS, currently hitting .283/.379/.541 in AAA. Botts won't impress anyone with his glove but could take right field away from Hidalgo and Matthews as the season wanes. ADRAIN GONZALEZ, who made the team in April but never got a chance to prove himself, is batting .314/.382/.502 in AAA. He'll receive a September call-up at the very least. Should Texas trade ALFONSO SORIANO, Texas could give his job to either MARSHALL MCDOUGALL or prospect IAN KINSLER, batting .278/.340/.474 in AAA.

Posted by Lucas at 01:41 AM

June 28, 2005

ESPN Column

Plop
That sound you heard was the Rangers’ division-title hopes hitting the bottom of an abandoned quarry. At 7.5 games behind Los Angeles and barely above .500, Texas must reverse their free-fall immediately or begin consideration of the 2006 season. The schedule does them no favors, for in July the Rangers face the Yankees, Orioles, Red Sox, a respectable Blue Jays squad, and they have eight games against the suddenly vibrant Athletics. Within perhaps as little as one week, Texas must decide whether they will be buyers or sellers in the July street bazaar. Before the rumors become fruitful and multiply, let’s take a take at which Rangers might end 2005 in a different zip code.

Trade Candidates
No matter how Texas plays, HANK BLALOCK, MICHAEL YOUNG, CHRIS YOUNG, FRANCISCO CORDERO and MARK TEIXEIRA are going nowhere. Some seem confused about Teixeira’s status because his contract expires at season’s end, but the Rangers still own him for three arbitration-eligible years. Plenty of teams have inquired about KEVIN MENCH, but outfield is already a team weakness. Trading him, even as part of a package for an elite outfielder or DH, just doesn’t add enough value. Still, he has a slight chance of moving if Texas regains traction in the pennant race. Much more likely to be moved is fellow outfielder LAYNCE NIX, who is 24 and still screams “potential,? though the murmurs of “fourth outfielder? are increasing in volume.

If Texas collapses, trading ALFONSO SORIANO makes the most sense. He’ll earn $10 million or more in 2006, his last arbitration-eligible season, and prospect IAN KINSLER should be ready to helm second base by then. Likewise, Texas could move KENNY ROGERS (see below), who I don’t believe has a no-trade clause this time around and has said and done enough silly things to wear out his welcome. If Texas intends to fight for the division or wild card regardless of what happens in the next week or two, both will stay. CHAN HO PARK and RICHARD HIDALGO have negligible trade value and are more likely to be waived than traded. Should the Rangers trade to win now, most of the departing players will be minor-leaguers (John Danks, Edison Volquez, Joaquin Arias, etc.).

Rogers Works On Right Jab
KENNY ROGERS fought the water cooler, and the water cooler won. Rogers punched a cooler back on June 17 (a start he actually won), broke a bone in his non-pitching hand and apparently was able to pitch through it last week, albeit poorly. He will miss at least one start and might face a retroactive DL placement. Texas doesn’t expect him to miss much time, so just bench him. For the moment, JOHN WASDIN will take his place. Wasdin has a sparkly 1.38 ERA in 13 innings going into Tuesday but a leaden 5.38 ERA in his previous 668 innings. Just say no. Texas activated reliever JOAQUIN BENOIT Tuesday and might have to use him as a starter, a role that does not appear to suit him. He has a career 5.98 ERA as a starter and 3.95 as a reliever.

Outfield Situation (D)Evolves
Texas recalled catcher GERALD LAIRD for one game to cover for the temporarily injured ROD BARAJAS. Barajas is now fine and Laird has already been dispatched to AAA, but Texas also sent infielder MARSHALL MCDOUGALL to AAA to make room for Laird. Within these seemingly inconsequential moves is a kernel of useful information. McDougall’s departure forces Texas to use lefty-challenged DAVID DELLUCCI, Laynce Nix, or everybody-challenged MARK DEROSA against lefthanded starters. Against Jarrod Washburn on Tuesday, Texas used Nix, who has a career line of .170/.220/.277 against lefties. Barring a roster move, Dellucci might share these at-bats with Nix. Neither will gain much value with the extra playing time.

An Unsolicited Testimonial
If you’re a Ranger fan, you have to cringe when Texas offers C.J. Wilson against Bartolo Colon and John Wasdin against Jarrod Washburn to lead off what might be the most important series of the year. Do what I do, and stick a bottle of El Jimador tequila in the freezer. It'll be icy cold when Vlad hits a curveball into my parents' yard in north Arlington. El Jimador goes down smooth and easy, just like the Rangers in June.

Posted by Lucas at 07:42 PM

June 22, 2005

ESPN Column

Rogers And Young Experience Adversity
Ranger quasi-aces KENNY ROGERS and CHRIS YOUNG faltered in their starts at Los Angeles, part of a dire three-game sweep in which every starter surrendered ten hits and at least five runs. Both are worth owning in mixed leagues, though both also have the potential to lose that worthiness. Young has pitched very well but doesn’t have much of a track record, while Rogers has a recent history of first-half success and second-half decay. Young will start next against Brandon Backe in Houston followed by home dates against LA and Boston. Rogers will face LA at home, then Seattle on the road. Rogers might have avoided three of his six earned runs if not for backup shortstop Mark DeRosa’s sloth-like movement on a two-out grounder in the first. Juan Rivera followed with a three-run bomb.

Rotation Whirls Out Of Alignment
Texas had an obvious replacement for the departed Ryan Drese in RICARDO RODRIGUEZ, who had pitched well in AAA and is proving worthy of ownership on any AL-only roster. In the case of Pedro Astacio, dismissed last Friday, they do not, not at all. While Astacio undoubtedly earned his walking papers after allowing 13 homers in his last 43 innings, C.J. WILSON is arguably worse. At the least, he’s not ready for prime time, having missed all of 2004 with arm trouble and posting a 6.99 ERA in AA. Texas will skip Wilson with Thursday’s off day and might consider moving JOAQUIN BENOIT into the rotation once he returns from elbow soreness. Benoit has pitched much better in relief, so he doesn’t offer much as a starter on a fantasy team.

Compounding the trouble is CHAN HO PARK’s reversion to his old, bad self. Park has cut his homer rate admirably but has otherwise collapsed in June, averaging less than four innings per start and allowing three baserunners per inning (yes, three). Given his contract and the rotation’s two-week attrition rate of 40%, Park will get some time to recover. AAA’s Wilfredo Rodriguez might get a shot if his recent arm trouble turns out to be minor, but the rest of the AAA rotation offers no help. Texas has several quality starters in AA who could do some damage in the Majors someday but not now. Park is owned in 69% of AL-only leagues; I stand by my March assessment that he’s fantasy kryptonite. You’re better off with Cy Young or some similarly deceased pitcher.

Cordero Languishes
FRANCISCO CORDERO has only one save during the last 22 games. Did he lose the closer job to John Wasdin, or perhaps the estimable Jason Standridge? Fortunately, no. Unfortunately, the Rangers just haven’t played many close games lately. Cordero’s last seven appearances occurred in blowouts when the team simply needed to get him some work. Cordero won’t match last year’s 49 saves and his ERA is up, but he is on pace to match last year’s WHIP and strikeouts and tally 39 saves, a fine number.

Outfield Alignments
Oddly, though I and just about everybody else consider rightly Hidalgo a disappointment, he’s projecting to finish very close to my projections except for his batting average. Hidalgo is batting .220 and will conclude 2005 with 80 runs, 31 homers and 80 RBI at his current pace. I predicted .265 with 85 runs, 27 homers, and 85 RBI. He still has a little value in larger mixed leagues, and I don’t think Texas will cut bait yet. Hidalgo makes triple the combined salaries of the departed Drese and Astacio, and he is at least providing some power. Rumors abound that Texas might move the slumping DAVID DELLUCCI out of the leadoff spot, but I believe Buck Showalter will give him some more time given the lack of an obvious alternative.

GARY MATTHEWS continues to start for LAYNCE NIX against lefties and spot for Hidalgo every fifth game or so. MARSHALL MCDOUGALL started at DH against a lefty on Wednesday and smacked his first Major League hit. The AL West is far less lefty-heavy than in previous years, so McDougall won’t get many at-bats or generate much fantasy value in all but insanely large AL-only leagues.

Go Horns.

Posted by Lucas at 11:42 PM

June 15, 2005

ESPN Column

Rogers Surrenders Run, Nation Awestruck
KENNY ROGERS allowed only six baserunners in his last start, but five scored. Oddly, he also chose that night to set his season-best for strikeouts with eight, so at least his owners got a nice key lime pie for dessert after watching the meat he served to Florida’s hitters. Rogers will undoubtedly fall back to Planet Earth at some point, as he can’t possibly maintain that fabulously lucky average on balls-in-play of .248. Still, he does have some talent to fortify that luck, and his owners ought to be able to ride him through at least the All-Star break. On Friday, Rogers will face a Nationals squad that hits pretty well on the road, followed by a home-and-home set will the Angels, who have been hitting better of late.

Chris Young, Staff Ace?
The allegedly insightful fantasy correspondent follows the Rangers year-round but didn’t say squat during the spring about the guy with the third-best ERA in the American League. Quite true. I just didn’t see it. In 200 innings at AA and AAA, Young had an aggregate ERA of 3.84, good but not any better than what fodder like Pat Mahomes and Lou Pote are offering right now. Young also had a 4.71 ERA in 36 Major-League innings last year although he did show great potential in a couple of starts. Looking to his future, is that 2.78 ERA for real? No, not really; Young has had only one awful start out of thirteen, a trend that almost no one can maintain. Having said that, Young really does have the look of a Ranger pitcher who can help a mixed-league fantasy team for the long haul.

The Ballpark In Arlington: Pitcher’s Paradise
While casual fantasy owners refer to The Ballpark In Arlington as Coors Field East to their detriment, The Ballpark does inflate run-scoring as much as any field in the AL. Or does it? So far, Rangers and their opponents have scored 9.88 runs per game in Arlington and 10.84 in road games. Based on OPS, The Ballpark has been almost neutral (.785 in Arlington vs. .776 on the road). As to why, I have no idea. My guess would be a combination of unusually mild weather up until recently and pure dumb luck, better known as a small sample size. I have no reason to expect this phenomenon to continue, and Arlington should revert to a more run-happy environment hereafter. It’s just another kernel of knowledge to employ when evaluating Rogers, Young, or any other Ranger.

Dellucci Celebrates June By Not Hitting
DAVID DELLUCCI loves those Texas spring days, but the summer heat saps his strength. In 2004, he batted .330.396/.560 in April and May followed by a paltry .203/.311/.390 the rest of the year. Through June 1st of this year, he hit .286/.458/.555, assisted by a Bondsian walk rate of one per four plate appearances. Since then, alas, he is batting .150/.244/.350. The truth lays somewhere in the middle. Dellucci is a fine fourth outfielder and an asset to any team, but as a mixed-league fantasy outfielder, his shelf-life is short. Congratulations if you picked him up and got some mileage out of his white-hot two months, but you need to scan that free-agent list and consider a replacement. In eight and ten-team ESPN leagues, you almost certainly can upgrade the position this minute.

Beware Barajas
Unlike Dellucci, catcher ROD BARAJAS has found June to his liking, batting .379 with two homers and seven RBI and increasing his ownership in AL-only leagues to a lofty 74%. I implore his owners to beware. Maybe, if you’re lucky, you can ride his little hot streak for a while, but I can’t envision a winning owner with Barajas on his roster. Barajas batted .223 with three dingers and fifteen RBI for the entirety of April and May, and those months more accurately indicate his worth than his fun-filled two weeks in June. For better or worse, Barajas’s June bloom will guarantee his continued presence in the lineup, while 25-year-old GERALD LAIRD and his line of .285/.356/.520 rot in Oklahoma City.

Rodriguez Wows Critics And Fans In Debut
Ryan Drese’s replacement RICARDO RODRIGUEZ allowed only two runs over five innings in his season debut and also struck out five, though he did allow eight baserunners. Given his solid performance in AAA and the lack of alternatives (exacerbated by the ever-increasing possibility of PEDRO ASTACIO’s dismissal), Rodriguez should get a lengthy look in the Majors regardless of his performance. He’s risky but worth a shot in AL-only leagues. Resist the urge to claim him in all but the largest of mixed leagues.

Posted by Lucas at 01:43 AM

June 08, 2005

ESPN Column

Soriano Tweaks Ham, Takes Seat
ALFONSO SORIANO slightly pulled his hamstring while running out a grounder on Sunday. While his injury is not considered nearly as serious as the pull that forced him out of the last three weeks of last season, he has rested the last two games except for a pinch-hit appearance. He is not expected to start until Friday, perhaps. Sit him tomorrow and listen for breaking news. Barring such news, you probably should keep him in the lineup unless you have a quality replacement. Soriano’s replacement is MARK DEROSA, who is not worthy of your team. I’ll update this column if I learn anything, or you can write me at tex05@scottlucas.com.

Drese DFA’ed, Rodriguez Coming
Three months after signing a two-year extension and two months after starting on Opening Day, RYAN DRESE finds himself jobless. Apparently unwilling to give him the chance to improve his fortune as a reliever, Texas startlingly removed Drese form the 40-man roster. Drese had allowed a ghastly 96 hits in 69.2 innings, partly a function of his grim strikeout rate of 2.6 per nine innings. He also had hurt the team with terrible glove work in his last two starts and partook in an in-game, dugout melee with catcher and management darling Rod Barajas over pitch selection. Should no team claim Drese, who is owed about $450,000 for the rest of this season and $1.7 million in 2006, Texas will assign him to AAA. Given his dreadful performance, AL-only owners may safely drop him.

Texas intends to recall RICARDO RODRIGUEZ to take his place in the rotation. In 11 starts in AAA, Rodriguez has a 2.95 ERA and eight homers allowed, 23 walks and 47 strikeouts in 79 innings. Fine stats, if not awe-inspiring. Rodriguez pitched well in four Major-League starts in 2005 before a liner connected with his elbow, but in 150 career innings he has an ERA of 5.05 and a bland K rate of 4.8 per nine innings. What to expect? Probably not much more than what Drese should have offered: plenty of innings and an ERA in the mid-fours. Rodriguez is 27, not some hot-shot prospect. Owners in need of pitching in AL-only leagues can give him a shot; mixed-league owners should watch and wait. The Rangers face some tougher competition in June and several quality offenses in July.

Other Pitchers
The departure of Drese appears to grant shaky starter PEDRO ASTACIO some security in the short term. Should Astacio collapse, Texas might move JOAQUIN BENOIT into the rotation. Similarly optionless, Benoit has pitched very well in long relief and might at least earn some higher-leverage innings. KENNY “Koufax? ROGERS faces Florida on the road, Washington at home, and the Angels in Anaheim. CHRIS YOUNG will face Atlanta and Washington at home followed by Houston on the road.

Interleague Play Continues
Texas completed the second of six consecutive games in National League parks on Wednesday night. RICHARD HIDALGO drew the short straw on Tuesday while DAVID DELLUCCI rested on Wednesday. KEVIN MENCH may play again tomorrow then sit out on Friday or Saturday. He is a Delaware native who grew up loving the Phillies, and Showalter might be kind enough to give him another start in front of all the fans for whom Mench bought tickets. Texas plays three games this weekend in Florida and three in Houston during June 24-26.

Roster Moves
Texas recalled outfielder GARY MATTHEWS only one day into his rehab assignment. Matthews had been recovering from a hamstring pull and was not expected back before the weekend. Matthews should resume his platoon with LAYNCE NIX and will offer a smidgen of value in larger AL-only leagues. Texas also waived CHAD ALLEN, who had batted an empty .283 as the DH against lefties, and probably will send down ANDRES TORRES when they recall Rodriguez. The Rangers might use freshly recalled infielder MARSHALL MCDOUGAL as the wrong-end DH when they need one. RON MAHAY hit the DL with an inflamed ERA.

Posted by Lucas at 01:44 AM

June 03, 2005

ESPN Column

Clemens to Texas?
ROGER CLEMENS, Texas Ranger? Not yet, perhaps not ever, but let’s explore the fantasy implications. Those who own him in a mixed league needn’t worry. The Ballpark adores hitters, but so does Minute Maid. Clemens has always excelled at keeping the ball in the park and has a reasonable 1.45 ground/fly ratio. Certainly, he won’t face an “adjustment period? for American League hitters. The Clemens rumors should provide a wake-up call to AL-only owners to achieve the highest waiver position possible. Clemens could win a league championship, so don’t waste a waiver pick on a utility guy you’ll drop in two weeks. For what my opinion is worth, I think he’ll end up donning pinstripes again.

Interleague Play Arrives
After the weekend, Texas travels to Philadelphia and Florida for some National League ball, leaving DHs DAVID DELLUCCI and CHAD ALLEN temporarily jobless. In the case of Allen, he’ll simply watch from the bench. In Dellucci’s case, Texas would prefer to have him in the lineup. I’ve heard nothing on how they plan to handle these games, but I envision a rotation among Dellucci, KEVIN MENCH and RICHARD HIDALGO in the corner outfield slots. Possibly but less likely, Texas could play Mench or Dellucci in center in place of LAYNCE NIX, so far the weakest hitter of the four. Unless you have an obvious replacement, you should keep the Ranger outfielders in your lineup despite the chance that one of them won’t play on any given day. I’ll post an update as the situation develops.

Dellucci
Regarding Dellucci, I’ve seen some interesting heads-up trades for him lately. The last five, per ESPN, were for Johnny Damon, Tori Hunter, Tino Martinez, Juan Encarnacion, and Hideki Matsui. Martinez and Encarnacion don’t excite me much, as both are playing above their heads. As for the other three, if someone offers you a player of this caliber for David Dellucci, you absolutely must accept. Yes, he’s had an exceptional, Lasik-empowered two months, but he is also a career .261 hitter who has averaged 13 homers per 500 at-bats coming into 2005. Last year, he batted .242 (with an excellent walk rate that won’t help most fantasy owners) and slumped terribly after the All-Star break. Sell high if you can. Come September, he might be in the free-agent pool in most ten-team leagues.

Rogers and Young Revisited
Three-plus years into my “job? and I finally get to write more about the starting pitchers than “don’t own them.? KENNY ROGERS tossed yet another gem last Tuesday and now sports a 1.65 ERA and 1.15 WHIP. Rogers has pitched exceptionally well but has also had extraordinary luck. He’s striking out less than four per nine innings and batters are only hitting .247 on balls hit into the field of play. .300 or so is typical for a Ranger pitcher. I estimate that Rogers’ ERA would be around 3.70 without said luck, an enormous increase due to his low K rate. Still, 3.70 is good enough for all but the smallest of mixed leagues. Barring adjustments for off days, Rogers will face the Royals and Marlins on the road followed by the Nationals at home, then start twice against the Angels.

CHRIS YOUNG had reached six innings only once this season before his last two starts. Unlike Rogers, his 3.03 ERA doesn’t bear the epithet of “lucky,? and he provides plenty of strikeouts. He has offered only one terrible performance in eleven starts to date. Having said that, Young is a virtual rookie with good but not outstanding minor-league statistics. Don’t be shocked if he backslides some. Young will start next at Philadelphia, at home against Atlanta and Washington, and then at Houston. A warning to those owning any Ranger starter: in July, Texas will play sixteen games against everyone in the AL East except Tampa Bay. These teams are ranked second through fifth in the league in offense (Texas is first).

On the Farm
Buck Showalter hinted that Texas might option a reliever and recall catcher GERALD LAIRD as an extra bat for interleague play. Laird is batting a gaudy .306/.380/.531 for the Oklahoma Redhawks and certainly has made his case to start in Texas over the hitting-challenged ROD BARAJAS, still enjoying the windfall of those six weeks last year when he channeled a young Mike Piazza. I don’t expect a change yet, but those in AL-only leagues should keep a close watch. Given the state of catching for fantasy purposes, Laird could help if given regular duty. --- Injured outfielder GARY MATTHEWS is at least one week away from returning. ADRIAN GONZALEZ is now hitting well in AAA but has no chance of a recall.

Posted by Lucas at 02:17 PM

May 18, 2005

ESPN Fantasy Column

Kenny’s Magical Mystery Tour
KENNY ROGERS has extended his scoreless inning streak to thirty with his fourth-consecutive stellar outing. How is this possible, in light of his miniscule strikeout rate of 3.6 per nine and his good-but-not-supernatural 1.20 WHIP? Is it the steady stream of weak-hitting opponents? The .253 average on balls hit into play, when .305 or so is more likely? Those are indeed components of his astonishing 1.49 ERA, but here, fellow fantasy owners, is the money stat: Rogers’ opponents are batting .346/.402/.449 when the bases are empty and .110/.200/.121 with runners on base. I’m not permitted niceties like bolding and italics, so I’ll repeat for emphasis: .110/.200/.121! This cannot stand. Those lines with and without runners on should begin to converge very soon.

Nevertheless, I still think owning him is fine. Assuming the rotation stands pat, Rogers will face Houston (15th in the NL in runs scored), Kansas City (last in the AL), Detroit (9th, AL) , Philadelphia (12th, NL) and Florida (14th, NL) in his next five starts. Just keep in mind that you are taking a risk. A good ERA for any Arlington pitcher usually hovers in the low-four range. Also, Rogers is 40 and tailed off badly after the season’s first three months, so you’ll need to watch him carefully.

More on Ranger Starters? What A World!
Another guy receiving some mixed-league attention is CHRIS YOUNG, who sports a bright and shiny 3.18 ERA. In his favor and unlike Rogers and RYAN DRESE, Young can make hitters miss the ball. On the down side, he throws so many pitches per inning that he’s completed six innings only twice in eight starts, thus hampering his ability to earn wins. Also, he won’t maintain his current ratio of one homer allowed per 45 innings pitched. Like Rogers, he’ll face some of baseball’s weaker teams in the coming weeks, so perhaps he could offer some fantasy rewards. Based on his so-so track record and the factors outlined above, I can’t give him a blanket endorsement.

Ever-Popular Outfield Update
Some readers have asked if DAVID DELLUCCI might become an everyday player, apparently a point of concern with his potential ownership in mixed leagues. The answer is no, and for that you should be glad. Dellucci has a career line of .118/.206/.172 against lefties from 2002 to the present. Akin to Kenny Rogers, Dellucci is known to collapse after a fast start, so watch him carefully. Meanwhile, RICHARD HIDALGO is batting pretty well in May (.279-8-3-11) and could help those in 12-team mixed leagues. He’ll play almost every game, as will KEVIN MENCH. LAYNCE NIX plays only against righties and isn’t hitting enough to help any mixed leaguers. Come 2006 (or sooner), Texas may decide that Nix is unworthy of a starting role.

For AL-Only Fans Only
Though PEDRO ASTACIO pitched poorly in his last outing, AAA’s RICARDO RODRIGUEZ pitched just as badly, making an imminent jump to the Majors highly unlikely. Texas signed STEVE KARSAY to a minor-league deal and assigned him to AA Frisco. Expect him to join the Rangers unless he proves unable to retire Texas League opponents. He’s a potentially useful middle reliever in larger leagues. In case you just got back from Guam, FRANK FRANCISCO and CARLOS ALMANZAR are done for the year. ANDRES TORRES will start against lefties while GARY MATTHEWS rests his hammy. I wouldn’t bother with him.

Posted by Lucas at 10:18 AM

May 12, 2005

ESPN Column

The Gambler
KENNY ROGERS lowered his ERA to a sparkling 1.79 with a third consecutive run-free start on Monday against the Tribe. Everyone knows that won’t last; the questions are whether he’s a total fraud and could he help your mixed-league team? Problem 1: Opponents are hitting only .263 against him on balls in play. .300 is more likely in the future. Problem 2: His 1.30 WHIP, while also good, is more indicative of an ERA in the threes. Problem 3: His starts have come against LA (twice), Toronto, Tampa Bay, Seattle, Oakland and Cleveland. Yawn. Rogers faces a decent-hitting Twin squad next, but then he’ll battle the dire Kansas City and Houston squads assuming the rotation stays in form. So perhaps, in the short run, he actually can help a mixed-league team.

Outfield Drills
Any owner of a Ranger outfielder should know the routine: LAYNCE NIX and DAVID DELLUCCI play only against righties, GARY MATTHEWS starts against all lefties and the occasional righty, KEVIN MENCH starts against all lefties and most righties, and RICHARD HIDALGO… Well, Hidalgo is back in the lineup and has started seven of eight, though with little to show for it (.253/.211/.353 in May, and yes, his OBP is lower than his batting average). Hidalgo is turning into one of the premier busts of the season, and I regret suggesting he could help your team. Nevertheless, unless those of you in AL-only leagues find a pot of gold on the waiver wire, you probably have to hold on and hope for the best.. In mixed leagues, waive goodbye.

Also for those in AL-only league, remember to keep that waiver pick handy when trade season heats up. Assuming Texas stays in contention, they may upgrade their outfield. This is pure speculation on my part, but I’m going with the bold prediction that an outfield of Mench, Nix and Matthews/Hidalgo is not conducive to an AL West division title. Also keep an eye on JASON BOTTS, currently hitting a robust .300/.396/.617 in AAA.

No Ricardo Yet
PEDRO ASTACIO possibly saved his job with a six-inning, two-run performance on Wednesday. If he proves incapable of maintaining a roster spot, Texas may recall RICARDO RODRIGUEZ from Oklahoma. Rodriguez narrowly missed making the rotation out of Spring Training, and with the shape of the rotation it was assumed that he’d be in Arlington within two or three weeks. Unfortunately for him, with the entire rotation healthy and reasonably effective (read, not abjectly ineffective), he’s been stuck in OKC. Should Rodriguez get the call at some point, don’t knock over your grandmother in the rush to get him. He has potential but has shown little of it in the Majors to date. Tack on his home park and you have yet another mediocre fantasy pitcher.

Good, Bad, Ugly
MICHAEL YOUNG is batting a grim .182/.234/.273 in May, dropping him to a .243 average on the season. Young has always run hot and cold, a product of his free-swinging style, and you’ll have to live with it. Conversely, GARY MATTHEWS is having himself a pleasant little May (.333/.324/.528) and garnered interest in AL-only leagues. That’s fine, but keep in mind that he is and will always be Gary Matthews. Like Hidalgo, he hasn’t drawn a walk this month and has a lower OBP than batting average. Laynce Nix has cooled off as predicted. He’s strictly an AL-only type.

Don’t Worry About Cordero
Just don’t. He isn’t going to lose his job to Doug Brocail or Brian Shouse. God help us all if he does.

Posted by Lucas at 10:19 AM

May 06, 2005

ESPN Column

Cordero: Saving Ugly
FRANCISCO CORDERO provided a three-walk, one-hit “save? against Oakland Monday that recalled the Tums-popping glory days of Mitch Williams. That and two runs allowed in a mop-up role last week have propelled his ERA up to 4.76 with a 1.50 WHIP. Nevertheless, he remains as secure as any closer in baseball. Even with a healthy Frank Francisco and Carlos Almanzar around, he’d be safe. Without them, his status is beyond question. What is Texas going to do, throw RON MAHAY out there? Please. Actually, Cordero has allowed a run in only four of twelve appearances. Reliever stats are often skewed by a few bad outings, and Cordero’s are occurring now. Francisco Say Relax.

Dellucci: The Next Barry Bonds

Dellucci had a reasonable walk rate of one per 10.4 plate appearances going into this season. This year, he has 28 walks in 23 games, an unfathomable one per 3.3 PAs. Why am I boring you with walks, a stat that helps only those in sabermetric leagues? Because Buck Showalter has placed him in the leadoff spot and dropped ALFONSO SORIANO and his .292 OBP to fifth. I’m going to suggest with confidence that Dellucci will fail to reach the 156 walks that is his current pace. Nevertheless, as long as he continues to reach base, he’ll stay where he is. For fantasy purposes, he’ll never, ever have more value than he does right now. He still doesn’t, and probably won’t, start against lefties, so you must check your roster daily if you own him.

Nix: Hot or Not?
Outfielder LAYNCE NIX credits a more open stance for his improved batting average. The career .250 hitter is batting a sparkling .346 since returning from his mini-demotion to AAA, albeit with just one homer. Alas, Nix has only two walks in 54 plate appearances and is batting .414 on balls hit in the field of play (that is, discounting homers and strikeouts). Will that last? Well, Pete “Hit King? Rose had a career batting average of .321 on balls in play. Tony Gwynn, .344. Laynce Nix before this season, .319. You see where I’m going. Perhaps Nix really has made an adjustment that will provide permanent benefit, but he won’t be batting .346 for long. Enjoy his effort in AL-only leagues, keep an eye on him in mixed leagues. Remember: he sits against lefties.

Those Other Outfielders

KEVIN MENCH missed a few games with a sore elbow, courtesy of two HBPs nailing the same spot in a three-game stretch. He is starting Friday night and should be back in your lineup. Opposing outfielders have robbed GARY MATTHEWS of a solo shot and a grand slam in the last three days. That doesn’t mean he’s good or anything, but perhaps he’s out of his month-long slump and might provide some value in larger AL-only leagues. He’ll start against lefties and occasionally spell RICHARD HIDALGO, who broke a 16-game, 25-day homerless drought on Wednesday. Grit your teeth and hold on to him in AL-only leagues. I still own him in my 12-team ESPN mixed league, though he’s resting comfortably on my bench.

Rotation: Kenny’s Siren Song
KENNY ROGERS pitched a masterful game last week against a torpid Oakland squad, striking out a whole five batters in the process. His 1.28 WHIP, fine though it is, normally indicates a higher ERA than the 2.11 he currently sports. He has allowed only one homer in 38 innings. Still, with his high age (40) and low K rate (3.76 per nine IP), his risk remains high in mixed leagues. He might help you in the form of spot-starts against weak-hitting teams, but he’s not an own-him-and-forget-him type. His converse, PEDRO ASTACIO, has utterly collapsed after three stellar starts. Friday night, he allowed seven runs in less than one inning. He might rebound against Detroit next week, but obviously he’s a high risk. Your league probably has someone better on the wire.

CHRIS YOUNG has improved to a 3.90 ERA thanks to his 5.2 innings of shutout ball last Tuesday. While he does have potential and can strike out more batters than Rogers and RYAN DRESE combined, he did allow ten baserunners in those 5.2 innings and has more blowup potential than the average bear. Plus, who doesn’t shut out Oakland nowadays? Just watch him in mixed leagues.

Posted by Lucas at 03:54 PM

April 29, 2005

ESPN Column

Dellucci e Molto Meravigliosa!
DAVID DELLUCCI has a ridiculous OPS of 1.118, good enough for seventh best in all the land if he had enough plate appearances. Dellucci had Lasik surgery in the offseason and ought to be appearing in commercials for the procedure any day now, but let’s not get carried away: he just isn’t that good. Dellucci started 2004 in similarly fine fashion, batting .330 and slugging .560 through the end of May, only to hit .202 and slug .390 over the last four months of the season. So, should you own him? Nothing wrong with it, just don’t put him in your lineup and forget about him. Remember that he only starts against lefties, and, to use the cliché, he could revert to pumpkin status at any time.

On Hidalgo and Mench
Goodness, has Hidalgo been awful. I did suggest that KEVIN MENCH could offer the same or better production as Hidalgo but cost less (in the form of a later-round draft pick), but I didn’t think the reason would be Hidalgo’s .173 batting average. From May 1st of last year through April 28th of this year, basically a full season of baseball, Hidalgo is batting a stunning .213/.276/.391. Now, if he were ROD BARAJAS, Texas would shower him with love and arbitration-driven riches, but alas, he’s a right fielder. Worse still, he’s now sharing his position with GARY MATTHEWS. What to do?

In any ESPN mixed league, you have to look for a replacement. Perhaps keep an eye on him for potential improvement and grab him back down the road. In AL-only leagues and large mixed leagues, grit your teeth and hope he wakes up. As for Mench, he has started every game since the departure of Adrian Gonzalez and is batting a salty .300/.355/.500. That .300 average is probably the upper end of his range, but his power is legit. Unless he plummets to the core of the Earth like Hidalgo, he’ll start just about every day.

On Nix, Teixeira and Blalock
Hardly anyone in mixed leagues has taken the bait on LAYNCE NIX and his lofty .393 batting average. Given his tenure as a low-average, moderate-power outfielder, that seems justified. Nix might hit well enough to impart some value in mixed leagues, but come July I can’t imagine any owners saying “I wish I’d grabbed Laynce Nix when I had the chance! Curse you, Lucas!? He will continue to start against righties and sit against lefties. MARK TEIXEIRA and HANK BLALOCK continue to underwhelm. Actually, Teixeira’s projection look pretty respectable aside from his average, while Blalock projects to be a flop. Both will be fine. It’s a long season.

On the Rotation
I must commend my fellow ESPN owners on their collective skepticism of KENNY ROGERS and his 2.67 ERA. Rogers otherwise sports an unspectacular 1.42 WHIP and 11 strikeouts over 30 innings. As you probably know, Rogers is more valuable in real life than fantasy life. PEDRO ASTACIO discovered grim reality in the form of the Yankee offense last Sunday. He’ll face the Red Sox next in Arlington, so watch him rather than own him. In AL-only leagues, given the choice, I’d take CHRIS YOUNG over CHAN HO PARK. At least Young is young and has some potential. If you own Park and he collapses, you have his previous three-plus years of dreadfulness staring you in the face.

Posted by Lucas at 05:55 PM

April 20, 2005

ESPN Column

Nix Up, Gonzalez Down
Apparently, 80-or-so Spring Training at-bats were enough to merit the surprising big-league addition of ADRIAN GONZALEZ and equally surprising demotion of LAYNCE NIX to AAA. Now, 35-or-so genuine at-bats are enough to reverse that decision. One cannot compress the “merit? cycle any smaller without creating a black hole. Anyway, Texas did not stick Nix on a flight to Tampa just for him to sit in the dugout. He should become the regular centerfielder in place of Gary Matthews, though Matthews might get the starts against lefties. Nix warrants an immediate pickup in AL-only leagues. Since he has yet to display much beyond raw power, owners in mixed leagues should avoid him for now.

Strangely, this move could help KEVIN MENCH more than anyone. Gonzalez’s departure makes DAVID DELLUCCI the lefthanded DH by default, so Mench has one less person with whom to share at-bats. For those who followed my suggestion to pick up Gonzalez, I feel your pain. I assumed that if Nix wasn’t good enough to make the Rangers out of Spring Training, he couldn’t hit his way back on in just two weeks. Silly me. Likewise, if Texas is holding Gonzalez’s .194 average against him, perhaps they should also waive Richard Hidalgo.

Not Worth Your Worries
ALFONSO SORIANO threw himself a little hissyfit yesterday upon learning of his lack of presence in the starting lineup. Silliness aside, his behavior won’t make Texas any more inclined to trade him, or bench him, or option him to Bakersfield. I doubt Soriano will call Texas home in 2006, but as long as Texas remains in the playoff hunt, he won’t go anywhere. The wild card is Ian Kinsler, who might hasten Soriano’s departure with a torrid performance in AAA. Kinsler is batting only .229/.275/.438 at the moment. MARK TEIXEIRA still isn’t hitting. If you own him, relax. He’s batting .216 when hitting the ball into the field of play. An average that low is mostly bad luck. If you don’t own him but the person who does is a loose cannon, make a offer.

Vote For Pedro? Revisited
PEDRO ASTACIO turned in his third consecutive terrific start on Tuesday and sports an ERA of 1.64 in 22 innings. I’ve seen his two most recent starts, and he is not getting by with junk and luck. He has been in full command of all four of his pitches and generally making hitters look stupid. Can this continue? I remain the skeptic, but really, you can’t argue with results. His next two starts should come against the Yankees and Red Sox. If he can display the same stuff against them, he’ll have value in any league. With his very dubious history of arm trouble and poor performances over last few years, I can’t recommend him outright. That said, he is a worthwhile risk, and if you’re holding some deadwood, why not pick him up and give him a shot?

Posted by Lucas at 05:56 PM

April 16, 2005

ESPN Column

All Outfielders Utterly Worthless
Hyperbolic, I know, but RICHARD HIDALGO is two for his last 21, KEVIN MENCH is batting .200 with no extra-base hits this season, and struggling GARY MATTHEWS has found himself on the bench two of the last three games. You already know Hidalgo is supremely flaky; just be patient and he should come around. To my surprise and dismay, Mench has started only seven of the first eleven. He really needs to step up or he could lose more time to DAVID DELLUCCI. His ownership has already fallen to 65% in ESPN mixed leagues. I do think he’ll improve and provide value. Dellucci has six starts is eleven games and has a wild line of .235/.500/.647, but even if he wrests more at-bats from Mench, he’s a fourth outfielder at heart and not worth owning in mixed leagues.

As for Matthews, he was never worth owning in mixed leagues anyway. He’ll get an opportunity to straighten out, so his owners in AL-only leagues shouldn’t cut bait yet. Still, keep an eye on his playing time. Friday night, Buck Showalter gave Hidalgo his first start in CF in three years in favor of Matthews. AL-only owners should also keep an eye on LAYNCE NIX, batting .259/.394/.481 in AAA. If Matthews continues to struggle and Nix plays well, Nix will supplant him. Fifth outfielder CHAD ALLEN has a nifty .357 average starting solely against lefties. Nevertheless, he is Chad Allen, and has no value except as emergency filler in AL-only leagues.

Patience With Teixeira
MARK TEIXEIRA might be disappointing his owners with his .217 batting average, but don’t worry. Teixeira has actually brought that average up from a paltry .125 over his past five games. If he suffers a 2-for-25 streak in mid-August, chances are that you and I might not even notice. Since he did it in games two through six, everyone is alarmed. Last night, Teixeira homered and even stole a base, one of about four you might see from him this season. He’ll drive in a million runs with the guys hitting in front of him, and he’ll justify your high draft choice. I see some bizarre trades involving him in ESPN’s archives. Whoever offered Teixeira straight up for Eric Byrnes needs to find a new hobby. My wife recommends scrapbooking.

Vote For Pedro?
PEDRO ASTACIO, last effective in 2000, pitched his second consecutive gem on Thursday, and his ownership in AL-only leagues has rocketed to 84%. I suppose I can’t blame his new owners. I witnessed that start, and his curveball snapped Toronto’s hitters into little pieces. Astacio has also garnered a trifle of interest in mixed leagues. Is he worth the risk? I’m a bit skeptical, and I doubt he’ll offer much value except for the potentially high strikeout total. Facing Seattle in Safeco and Toronto at home is a relatively easy way to get off to a good start. Astacio faces the low-scoring A’s next but then must battle against the Yankees and Red Sox.

Other Starters
Nobody owns KENNY ROGERS and RYAN DRESE for their strikeouts, but one would expect more than four in 33 innings between them. Drese has the odd distinction of having an ERA higher than his peripherals would indicate despite his miniscule strikeout rate. In the long run, no amount of ground ball induction will compensate for a K rate below one per nine innings. Drese simply has to make more hitters miss if he wants to succeed. The same applies to Rogers, who (temporarily) has a pretty ERA and WHIP but no wins. Hold off in mixed leagues. As for CHRIS YOUNG, he has about two more starts to show he belongs in the Majors. RICARDO RODRIGUEZ has a 2.25 ERA in two AAA starts and would be first in line to replace him.

Posted by Lucas at 05:57 PM

April 11, 2005

ESPN Column

Infield Runs Hot And Cold
ALFONSO SORIANO’s hamstring problems clearly have not poisoned his bat. Although he’s hitting only .229, he has six runs, three homers and four RBI in seven games. He also has a steal, nice news to those worried about his gait. Not that you care, but his defense is as bad as ever. HANK BLALOCK and MICHAEL YOUNG have gotten off to their typically fine starts. MARK TEIXEIRA, on the other hand, hasn’t done much since Opening Day. If you own him, relax. He’ll hit any day now. Don’t put too much into one week of performance. The panicky owner is a losing owner. Regarding the Texas infield, I don’t normally write much about them because they’re so boringly reliable. Email me if you have questions.

Hidalgo Hot, Matthews Chilly
Outfielder RICHARD HIDALGO acclimated quickly to the American League by hitting .276 with two dramatic homers in the first week of play. Should he continue to hit for power and get his average up to around .300, that’s when his owners ought to consider trading him. Hidalgo should have a pretty good season, but he’s always been horribly inconsistent and prone to minor injuries. GARY MATTHEWS, all alone in center field with Laynce Nix in AAA, is batting only .207/.233/.241. He’s had opportunities to start elsewhere and failed. He has time to improve, but improved play by Nix will have him looking over his shoulder in a week or two. Hold on to him for now in AL-only leagues.

Mench Even Chiller
Outfielder KEVIN MENCH has doubly aggravated his owners, once by starting only five of the first seven games, again by batting only .182/.217/.182 with no runs and two RBI in his opening week. With most batters, the presumably temporary doldrums wouldn’t mean much of anything, but in Mench’s case there is some cause for concern. For a variety of reasons, most of them seemingly silly, Mench has never been a management favorite. Buck Showalter has already given backup DAVID DELLUCCI two starts and might be inclined to give him more if Mench continues to struggle. Don’t worry about him yet, but keep a hopeful eye on a breakout during this nine-game homestand.

Gonzalez and Allen(?!) Share DH duties
ADRIAN GONZALEZ has started only three of the first seven games. Showalter withheld him from starting Opening Day against putative ace Bartolo Colon, and since then, Gonzalez has started every game against righties and never against a lefty. As long as Delucci steals one or two starts per week from Mench, Gonzalez should continue to start consistently against righties, so expect Gonzalez to make 4-5 starts per week. Meanwhile, alleged fifth outfielder CHAD ALLEN has started at DH in all three games against a lefty. Allen has batted well so far (.364 with two runs and one RBI) but is a career .268/.321/.391 hitter and an option only in the largest of AL-only leagues.

Starting Pitchers: Keep On Avoiding
PEDRO ASTACIO parlayed one astonishingly good start into 33% ownership in ESPN’s AL-only leagues. Grab him if you enjoy queasy thrills, but understand that Astacio last pitched well in 2000 (from a real perspective, not fantasy). Is he a safer bet than CHAN HO PARK or CHRIS YOUNG? Trick question. It’s like asking which finger you’d like chopped off: every answer is unpalatable. I suppose Astacio has the most upside, in the sense that he’s utterly unpredictable, and I would take my chances with him over Park. As for RYAN DRESE and KENNY ROGERS, both have nice WHIPs, and Rogers has a spiffy 2.77 ERA, but neither has a win in four starts thanks to a porous bullpen and they’ve combined for four, FOUR, strikeouts in 24 innings pitched. Hence, limited value.

Bullpen Struggles
Last year, Texas featured the best bullpen in the American league. This year, with both CARLOS ALMANZAR and FRANK FRANCISCO missing, they’ve already blown four leads and have an ERA in the range of 6.00. Getting the lead to closer FRANCISCO CORDERO is but one issue, as he himself has blown two save opportunities. Cordero will be fine, but the overall shape of the pen is a concern. While some of the Ranger rotation does have value in AL-only leagues, much of it is a function of getting a win despite a mediocre performance. A weaker bullpen saps that value. Almanzar, coping with the deaths of his mother and brother, should return by the end of the week. Francisco will begin a rehab assignment before long and could return by the end of the month or soon after.

Posted by Lucas at 09:31 PM

April 03, 2005

ESPN Column

Opening Day Roster Brings Mild Surprises
Outfielder LAYNCE NIX will not make the trip to Anaheim with the Rangers. After a lukewarm Spring Training that left management skeptical that he could man center field every day in Texas, Nix will instead play every day for the Oklahoma Redhawks. GARY MATTHEWS, a pleasant addition last year, ascends from the wrong end of a platoon to everyday centerfielder. Meanwhile, 1B ADRIAN GONZALEZ has parlayed his torrid spring into a starting DH job in place of injured GREG COLBRUNN. Texas placed four pitchers on the DL along with Colbrunn, the only one worth mentioning fantasy-wise is setup man FRANK FRANCISCO. Fellow reliever CARLOS ALMANZAR will miss a few games after being placed on the Bereavement List.

The fantasy implications of these maneuvers are minimal in ESPN’s mixed leagues. No one mentioned above merits ownership, not yet anyway. Owners in AL-only leagues should drop Nix forthwith. Also, as just about any regular position player has value, consider Matthews and Gonzalez. Over his career, Matthews has veered between adequacy and wretchedness as a batter. Grab him if you really OF help but keep a short leash. Gonzalez has displayed only modest success above AA but has far more upside. He and ostensible fellow DH DAVID DELLUCCI are both lefthanded, so there’s no obvious platoon situation to be found. So, Gonzalez should start most of the time, but it’s hard to say exactly when or how often. Still, he’s worth owning, and he’s worth watching in mixed leagues.

Likewise, Francisco is of interest only in AL-only leagues. He is nursing a sore elbow and hopes to return by late April. His absence, along with the temporary absence of Almanzar, thins out 2004’s AL-best bullpen and perhaps could result in a few more leads lost before FRANCISCO CORDERO has a chance to close out. Cordero should still be an excellent fantasy closer, and he appears fully recovered from early March should soreness.

Soriano Hits, Then Runs
ALFONSO SORIANO stole a base in an exhibition game Sunday, his first attempt of the spring. At last, he appears healthy. He and his .324 OBP will lead off for Texas for the time being. Expect 20-25 steals, not 30-35. The question is how long he’ll remain in Texas. Tampa Bay reportedly declined his services in exchange for Danys Baez and Nick Cantu. Prospect IAN KINSLER played well this spring, and continued success in AAA will make Soriano all the more expendable, especially if Texas falls out of the playoff race.

Opening Week
Texas initiates the season with trips to the OC and Seattle. The opposing starters are not yet determined for every game, but expect the Rangers to face Colon, Washburn and Lackey in Anaheim and the three M’s (Moyer, Meche, Madristch) in Seattle. With Nix and Colbrunn gone, Texas has no lefty-righty platoons as was so common last year. In the early going, manager Buck Showalter probably will try to get every position player some action, so don’t fret if you see a bench player like Chad Allen or Mark DeRosa in the lineup in a boxscore this week. For that matter, don’t panic about an obvious winner like MICHAEL YOUNG or MARK TEIXEIRA starting off slow. If either goes 1-for-20 in August, you’d never see it. If it happens during the opening week, some owners panic. Not you, I hope.

Rotation Still Unworthy Of You
In my recently drafted 12-team ESPN league, one owner picked up starter RYAN DRESE very late, and the other starters went undrafted. That’s as it should be, and I’m not too fond of Drese either, for fantasy purposes. He and KENNY ROGERS have similar a similar fantasy repertoire: good production in wins combined with mediocrity in ERA, WHIP and strikeouts. Since wins are so fickle, Drese and Rogers strike me as a high-risk, low-reward solutions. Both have value in Al-only leagues and larger mixed leagues. CHAN HO PARK might tease you with a good outing or two, but he’s fantasy kryptonite. The same applies to PEDRO ASTACIO. CHRIS YOUNG has some potential but isn’t worth owning right now in any league.

Posted by Lucas at 09:29 PM

March 27, 2005

ESPN Column

Soriano Hits But Doesn’t Run
ALFONSO SORIANO is finally hitting better, and he bopped two doubles in Saturday’s game against the White Sox. He still has yet to run at full speed. His substandard stride might lead Buck Showalter to move Soriano out of the leadoff spot for while until he shows he’s fully recovered. For those drafting in the next few days, consider Soriano’s bat to be at 100% stretch but cut back on his steals. At the beginning of the month I projected a season of .295, 100 runs, 33 homers, 90 RBI, and 25 steals from him. That still seems reasonable overall, though the upside of 30-35 steals has dropped to 20-25. He still towers above his competition at second base, perhaps the weakest position in fantasy ball.

Scouting FRANCISCO CORDERO
2005 PROJECTIONS: Position: Closer. Saves: 40. Wins: 4. Strikeouts: 75. ERA: 3.05. WHIP: 1.30. Upside: Low. Saves are fickle. He might match last year’s 49, or he could end up with “only? 30-35. Downside: Low. I’m already predicting a regression from his 2.13 ERA of a year ago. He was a little lucky in 2004. Injury history: Trouble-free until this spring, when a sore shoulder kept him out of Spring Training games until very recently. He is not 100% but is pretty close. Owners might want to downgrade him ever so slightly. Outlook: Cordero is not in the class of Gagne, Lidge, or Rivera. He belongs in the next tier of closers with fine stats and secure jobs. Cordero is not a one-inning closer and can give you a healthy number of strikeouts.

Scouting KENNY ROGERS
2005 PROJECTIONS: Position: Starter. Wins: 11. Strikeouts: 115. ERA: 4.85. WHIP: 1.45. Upside: Low to moderate. Wins are flakier than saves. Rogers won 18 games last year and could get 15 or so this year. He is not fazed by the offense-happy Ballpark. Downside: Moderate to high. He’s 40 and tailed off badly in the second half of last year. Injury history: Stricken with the flu this spring and hasn’t pitched many innings. Otherwise in good shape for a 40-year-old. Outlook: Rogers doesn’t give owners much to go with his wins. He is a bend-but-don’t-break pitcher that allows plenty of runners and doesn’t strike many out. I wouldn’t bother with him in most mixed leagues. He’s an adequate back-end starter in AL-only leagues. Better in real life than in fantasy ball.

Scouting RYAN DRESE
2005 PROJECTIONS: Position: Starter. Wins: 12. Strikeouts: 105. ERA: 4.65. WHIP: 1.45. Upside: Low to moderate. I think his high side would be a repeat of last year’s 14 wins and 4.20 ERA. Downside: Moderate. Last year’s success was without precedent or forewarning. Career ERA is 5.18. Injury history: Healthy. Outlook: Like Rogers, Drese is more valuable to the Rangers than to your fantasy team. His strikeout rate is extremely low and he lives off inducing groundballs and minimizing damage rather than preventing it. Also like Rogers, he’s potentially useful in AL-only leagues but not worth the trouble in mixed leagues with twelve or fewer teams. Odds are that someone will draft him on the basis of last year’s stats. Don’t be that person.

CF and DH: A Mess
With Opening Day barely over a week away, the Rangers don’t know who will be playing in center or at DH. The original plan was for LAYNCE NIX and DAVID DELLUCCI to bat and righties with GARY MATTHEWS and GREG COLBRUNN against lefties. Nix has not performed well this spring and might actually visit AAA to get back on track. If that happens, Matthews would become the primary CF, possibly backed up by non-roster invite ANDRES TORRES. Meanwhile, young 1B ADRIAN GONZALEZ and 2B/SS IAN KINSLER have played well enough (and Colbrunn poorly enough) to merit consideration as backups and part-time DHs. I’ll keep interested parties posted, but for now, the combination of so-so production and uncertain playing time makes none of these guys worth drafting except in large AL-only leagues.

The Rest
Closer FRANCISCO CORDERO pitched well in his first Cactus League game. He was lit up two days later in a minor-league games, but more importantly, he has suffered no ill effects from pitching in anger. He should start the season with the club and with minimal worries. Setup man FRANK FRANCISCO hit the DL with a sore elbow. He could return by April 9, but mid-month or later seems more likely. Texas will be patient with him. Potential starter PEDRO ASTACIO has missed action with a pulled groin, not that you’d want him. His injury might open the door for RICARDO RODRIGUEZ despite his horrific outing a few days ago. CHRIS YOUNG’s spot in the rotation seems secure. Young and Rodriguez are players to watch, not to draft.

More Rangers / Questions and Answers

Read my Rangers preview for The Batter’s Box here. I also wrote previews for Houston and Colorado that you can find in the archives. The Box holds several fine writers including A’s correspondent John Gizzi, former Toronto correspondent Kent Williams, former Yankee and Ranger correspondent Mick Doherty, and a host of others.

Posted by Lucas at 11:05 AM

March 20, 2005

ESPN Column

Soriano Still Ailing
ALFONSO SORIANO’s silent spring continues. After missing several early games while recovering from his hamstring injury, he missed several more with the flu. Through Saturday, he is batting 2-for-22 with one homer and ten strikeouts. He’s also played atrocious defense (even for him). Normally, I preach that spring stats don’t mean anything, but in this case his are an indication of his overall health. If you’re drafting this week, knock him down a few slots and let someone else take that risk. As I mentioned last week, the first round is not where owners should take risks. If you’re drafting next week, keep a hawk’s eye on his progress. I’ll update his situation as it develops and will answer emails about him and others at tex05@scottlucas.com.

Scouting RICHARD HIDALGO
2005 PROJECTIONS: Position: RF. Spot in Batting Order: Probably #5. Plate Appearances: 600. Batting Average: .265. Runs: 85. Homers: 27. RBI: 85. Steals: 5. On-base Percentage: .340. Slugging Percentage: .500. Upside: Moderate. Hidalgo batted .310 with good patience just two years ago. Downside: High. He batted .239 with no patience just last year, and .235 three years ago. Injury history: Murky. Hidalgo hasn’t reached 600 plate appearances in five years because of a variety of minor injuries.

Meet the most difficult player to project in Major League Baseball. In addition to his seemingly randomly generated stats, he has surpassed 600 plate appearances only once in his career and averaged 568 over the last five years, so my prediction of 600 might be slightly generous. I think potential owners should pretend his unparalleled 200 season (.314-118-44-122-13) never happened, as he’s never come close to repeating it. Take out that season and what does he offer? An erratic batting average, 70-90 runs and RBI, never more than 28 homers, a small handful of steals. In a ten-team mixed league, he a generic outfielder. Hidalgo has considerable upside moving to Arlington, but remember that he spent much of career in hitter-friendly Enron/Minute Maid Park.

Scouting KEVIN MENCH
2005 PROJECTIONS: Position: LF. Spot in Batting Order: Probably #6. Plate Appearances: 575. Batting Average: .280. Runs: 75. Homers: 25. RBI: 80. Steals: 1. On-base Percentage: .340. Slugging Percentage: .500. Upside: Moderate. Mench hit 26 homers in 438 at-bats last year and slugged .540. Downside: Moderate. Troublesome injury history, had minimal power in 2003. Injury history: Annoying. Every year, Mench suffers from some malady that cuts into his playing time.

Mench was second on the team in slugging percentage last year to Mark Teixeira. An everyday player early and late last season, Mench missed a few weeks with an oblique pull in May and was demoted to platoon status for two months afterward. This year, he’s the everyday left fielder, though I think he’ll miss another 20-30 games with another injury and/or some dubiously conceived semi-platooning by management. Mench and Hidalgo project fairly similarly, both having hit for average (but only sporadically) and considerable power (same) in the past. As Hidalgo is the “name,? he’ll be drafted well before Mench. I think an intrepid owner could pass on Hidalgo, draft Mench several round later, and get essentially the same production.

Cordero Healing and Other News
Closer FRANCISCO CORDERO finally will face real competition on Sunday, albeit in a minor-league game. Cordero had suffered from a sore shoulder and is combing back slowly to be on the safe side. I own him in a keeper league and am not too worried about him. Setup man FRANK FRANCISCO, a potentially useful reliever in AL-only leagues, probably will begin the season on the DL. He has not progressed beyond throwing in the bullpen. The Rangers are passing around a severe case of the flu to each other, so don’t be shocked if some familiar names miss a few consecutive spring games.

More Rangers
Read my Rangers preview for The Batter’s Box here. I also wrote previews for Houston and Colorado that you can find in the archives. The Box holds several fine writers including A’s correspondent John Gizzi, former Toronto correspondent Kent Williams, former Yankee and Ranger correspondent Mick Doherty, and a host of others.

Posted by Lucas at 01:32 AM

March 13, 2005

ESPN Column

Soriano Struggles, Cordero Improves
Last week, I wrote the following about ALFONSO SORIANO and his troubled hamstring tendon: “Once he shows he’s ready, erase your worries about him.? He is decidedly, unequivocally not ready. Soriano returned to action last week but was zero-for-seventeen so far until hitting a homer as I typed this report. Spring stats are fundamentally meaningless, but in this case, Soriano’s line is cause for concern. He is also playing very tentatively in the field. Ranger doctors say he’s physically healthy; a workout-free offseason and fear of reinjury are the source of his troubles. Perhaps one solid hit or quality defensive play will snap him out of his funk. Perhaps not. For fantasy owners, his situation has introduced substantial risk into what should be an easy decision.

First-round decisions should be no-brainers. It is not the round to choose the infirm, the reaches, the question marks. I do think Soriano will be fine and put forth a fine fantasy season. However, I’m not nearly as certain of this as I am about Pujols, Beltran, Guerrero, etc.. Were I drafting today, I’d drop him several places on my cheat sheet. Doing so effectively means giving him up to another owner who will take that risk. If you’re drafting this week, keep an eye on his status every day for signs of improvement. The overarching lesson is not to participate in a draft that occurs this early. Meanwhile, closer FRANCISCO CORDERO will throw in a simulated game Monday. Unless bad news comes from this event, don’t downgrade him.

Scouting HANK BLALOCK
2005 PROJECTIONS: Position: 3B. Spot in Batting Order: Probably #3. Plate Appearances: 675. Batting Average: .295. Runs: 100. Homers: 32. RBI: 100. Steals: 2. On-base Percentage: .355. Slugging Percentage: .525. Upside: Moderate. Blalock just turned 24 and has plenty of time to grow. Downside: Low. As steady a player as they come. Injury history: After platooning in 2003, he wore down as a full-time player in ’04. Texas may try to rest him a few more games.

In 2004, Blalock cured his biggest flaw from the previous year, inability to hit lefties. Blalock, like many Rangers, has a spotty road record with plenty of power (16 of his 32 homers) but only a .239 average. As mentioned above, I think he has more upside than downside. Third base has amazing depth this year, and Blalock is mixed in with a bunch of guys who should hit in the .280-.300 range with 30+ homers and 100 runs scored and driven in: Rolen, Huff, Chavez, Ramirez, and Beltre (who I expect to cool off from last year), for example. Any of them will suit you fine. Rolen I rank higher than the others, but otherwise don’t agonize over slight differences between these guys. Just grab one and focus your attention elsewhere.

Scouting MICHAEL YOUNG
2005 PROJECTIONS: Position: SS. Spot in Batting Order: Probably #2. Plate Appearances: 700. Batting Average: .310. Runs: 105. Homers: 18. RBI: 85. Steals: 12. On-base Percentage: .345. Slugging Percentage: .465. Upside: Low. Hard to see him improving on last year’s line of .313-114-22-99-12. Will have some streaky months but end up in good shape. Downside: Low. Steady like Blalock. Injury history: None. Ridiculously healthy.

For two years running, I’ve predicted Young to fall back slightly from his previous year’s statistics. Each time, he’s improved. I still expect him to decline just slightly, but at this point he could decline a fair amount and still rank among the best fantasy shortstops. If you’re looking for steals from a shortstop, you need to look elsewhere. Otherwise, except for Miguel Tejada, Young should rank among the top three in every other category. I place him fourth behind Tejada, Jeter and Renteria. Garciaparra obviously could surpass Young but has a difficult injury history.

Other Notes
GARY MATTHEWS continues to play very well, putting ever more pressure on Buck Showalter to give him regular time in place of LAYNCE NIX. Potential starter JUAN DOMINGUEZ has already been sent to AAA. With CHAN HO PARK pitching to “expectations? and PEDRO ASTACIO’s lack of velocity, both CHRIS YOUNG and RICARDO RODRIGUEZ might make the rotation. Watch, but don’t pick, in AL-only leagues.

Posted by Lucas at 01:30 AM

March 05, 2005

ESPN Column

Scouting MARK TEIXEIRA
2005 PROJECTIONS: Position: 1B (and OF in ESPN Leagues). Spot in Batting Order: #4. Plate Appearances: 650. Batting Average: .285. Runs: 105. Homers: 42. RBI: 120. Steals: 4. On-base Percentage: .375. Slugging Percentage: .580. Upside: Low-to-moderate. I normally make pretty conservative predictions, but with this guy, the sky's the limit. Downside: Low. Only an injury can stop him. Injury history: Spent two weeks on DL last year with oblique pull. Might miss a small handful of games, but it’s nothing to worry about.

Teixeira turns 25 next month and is poised to join the elite among fantasy players. Unlike many Rangers last year, he batted well on the road and didn’t tail off after the All-Star break. He did hit unusually well with runners on base. Statistically, he should regress toward the mean in this regard, but I think he'll bat well enough overall that a slight decline in this facet of his game won’t matter much. Similarly to ESPN's Scott Engel, I rank him as the 4th-best 1B behind Pujols, Teixeira and Ortiz. Teixeira’s OF eligibility puts him ahead of Thome, Delgado and Hafner.

Scouting ALFONSO SORIANO

2005 PROJECTIONS: Position: 2B. Spot in Batting Order: Probably #1, maybe #2 or #3. Plate Appearances: 700. Batting Average: .295. Runs: 100. Homers: 33. RBI: 90. Steals: 25. On-base Percentage: .335. Slugging Percentage: .530. Upside: Moderate. Will run more out of the leadoff spot. Downside: Low-to-moderate. Watch how he recovers from torn hamstring tendon. If he doesn't seem bothered by it, downside is minimal. Injury history: Other than that tendon, has been a healthy player.

Soriano moved from a pitcher's park to THE hitter's park in the AL, but he put up some disappointing numbers. Even so, he looms well above any other 2B in fantasy ball as the only five-category stud, and he should improve upon last year's statistics. Manager Buck Showalter wants to run more this year, and if Soriano claims the leadoff spot he will improve of last year’s 18 steals. I don't think he’ll steal the 40 or so he managed not that long ago, but 30 is a possibility. Soriano is recovering from a torn hamstring tendon that ended last season prematurely and is easing back into workouts. He hasn't played in a Spring Training game yet but should very soon. Once he shows he's ready, erase your worries about him.

Injury Report
FRANCISCO CORDERO, yet to pitch for real because of a sore shoulder, has been throwing off flat ground and will throw off a slightly graded mound on Saturday. I don't think it's anything to worry about yet, but if you're drafting in the very near future you might want to downgrade him slightly as a precaution. Potentially useful setup man for AL-only leagues FRANK FRANCISCO has been bothered with a sore elbow and, like Cordero, is throwing at a more relaxed pace. Soriano, as mentioned above, should make his spring debut any day now, possibly as a DH. All other draft-worth Rangers are healthy.

Nix on the Bubble
As the more toolsy player, outfielder LAYNCE NIX is considered to have a higher ceiling than fellow outfielder KEVIN MENCH. The results have yet to fulfill the potential. In fact, his 2004 and 2003 seasons were nearly identical on an at-bat basis. Nix is already in a platoon (the more profitable side) with GARY MATTHEWS. If Nix starts out slow and the Rangers find themselves in the division hunt, Showalter may have to bench him. Owners have no reason to draft Nix in mixed leagues anyway. Owners in AL-only leagues should downgrade him a little and watch for signs of promise or further disappontment.

Posted by Lucas at 12:26 PM

February 26, 2005

ESPN Column

Soriano Less Than 100%
“Tentative? was the word used by manager Buck Showalter to describe ALFONSO SORIANO’s participation in Spring Training drills. Soriano missed the last two weeks of 2004 with a torn tendon below his hamstring and didn’t start running until recently. Management considers him healed but a bit gun-shy, worried that he’ll reinjure himself, and they may hold him out of the first few intra-squad games as a precaution. He may return to the leadoff spot (where his mediocre OBP is ill-suited, but what the hey) and improve on last year’s eighteen steals. As mentioned last week, he should rebound somewhat from last year’s disappointing season, but another 40-steal season is improbable. Think high twenties.

Cordero Almost 100%
Near-elite closer FRANCISCO CORDERO missed the first few days of drills with a sore shoulder, throwing a little fear into people like me who own him in a keeper league. The team doesn’t consider the situation serious. He’s participating in long toss and could throw in anger in a few days. Fellow reliever FRANK FRANCISCO, a potentially useful reliever in AL-only leagues, hasn’t throw at all because of elbow soreness and will be shut down until at least the end of the month. OF/1B JASON BOTTS, a longshot to make the team as a DH, has been sidelined with back spasms. Botts probably will begin the season in AAA but has a chance to make a late-season impact in Texas.

Everyone Else Is Healthy
Texas didn’t participate much in the offseason feeding frenzy and should write out a lineup very similar to last year’s. Soriano will probably lead off, followed by shortstop MICHAEL YOUNG and 3B HANK BLALOCK. 1B MARK TEXIERA will bat fourth, newcomer RICHARD HIDALGO fifth, and fellow outfielder KEVIN MENCH sixth. As of today, a platoon of DAVID DELLUCCI and GREG COLBRUNN would DH. LAYNCE NIX and ROD BARAJAS will finish the order, with GARY MATTHEWS replacing Nix frequently against lefties. Young has lost his eligibility at 2B but that doesn’t affect his value much. Teixeira retained OF eligibility in ESPN leagues, giving him a slight boost. The top six batters are draft-worthy in mixed leagues. I’ll get into stat predictions and discussions of upside and downside next week.

As with last year, Cordero is the only Ranger meriting a spot on every draft list. Both KENNY ROGERS and RYAN DRESE should win their fair share of games but otherwise offer pretty mediocre fantasy stats to mixed-league owners. CHAN HO PARK is already tinkering with his delivery less than a week into Spring Training, much to Showalter’s dismay. He’ll make the rotation or finally be cut. Either way, avoid him. Vet PEDRO ASTACIO is back from two years lost to injury. Youngsters RICARDO RODRIGUEZ, CHRIS YOUNG and JUAN DOMINGUEZ have potential, but their uncertain status and lack of experience make them too risky. Should anyone step up (or out), I’ll keep you informed.

About the Ballpark
The Ballpark In Arlington (yes, I know it has a new and improved name) wasn’t always a hitter’s heaven. It played neutral or only slightly hitter-friendly until 2002, when construction of a premium group of seats known as the “Gold Club? altered wind currents near the playing field. The Ballpark “catches? the prevailing southern winds and pushes them in the opposite direction, straight out to center field. Thus, more fly balls end up in the seats, and those that don’t have warped trajectories that play havoc with center fielders. Many parks inflate homers but suppress other types of hits such as doubles and triples. Last year, The Ballpark wasn’t profoundly homer-friendly but inflated all types of hits, resulting in the best hitter’s environment in the American League.

In 2004, the aggregate batting line in the AL was .270/.333/.433. Adjusting for the home park, a Ranger would have to hit .283/.353/.455 just to be average. That’s an increase of 13 points in batting, 20 in OBP, and 22 in slugging. Similarly, a league-average AL would post an ERA of 4.63 in an average park but would have a 5.05 ERA in Texas, an increase of almost one-half run. Individual results will vary, of course; Soriano’s lackluster 2004 is living proof. Still, these are figures to keep in mind when a player joins or departs the Rangers. The Ballpark isn’t the Coors Field of the American League, but since Kansas City moved the fences back, Texas owns the best AL hitter’s environment by a healthy margin.

Posted by Lucas at 02:34 PM

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 02:20 PM

February 10, 2005

ESPN Column

What To Play? A Few Suggestions
As always, ESPN will offer a variety of league sizes, scoring methods and draft systems to the fantasy owner. Based on several years of play, I offer the following recommendations. 1) Get your friends to join with you. The game is always more fun with people you know. 2) Take part in a live draft. I guarantee that the most fun you’ll have in the league all season will be on draft day. Set aside a block of time and draft the team you really want. If you absolutely can’t draft live, choose the Multi-List option. I’ve found that this option is more likely to give you a team that fits your draft strategy.

3) In mixed leagues, join a twelve-team league. Unless you’re completely new to the game, a twelve-team mixed league offers the best challenge. Smaller leagues will have too many good players on the waiver wire, tending to compress differences between teams. A larger league places more emphasis on the draft, clever trading, and strategic free-agent acquisitions. 4) In AL-only leagues, typical owners should choose an eight-team league. In a ten-team league, the combined fantasy rosters will require more hitters than real-life everyday players. If you’re a serious owner who seeks out small edges from platoons and injury substitutions, a larger league is definitely for you. Owners who don’t want to know every fifth outfielder in the AL will be happier in an eight-team league.

Questions About Teixeira
Reader “MP? recently sent in a well-reasoned explanation of why 1B MARK TEIXEIRA might not be as productive this season as most assume. He argues that Teixeira’s monstrous July -- .300/.379/.750, 13 homers, 30 RBI – was a performance that a Bonds, Guerrero or Pujols might accomplish once in a while, but for Teixeira it’s far less likely to reoccur. Thus, a potential owner might be wise to slightly discount his 2004 performance. It’s a valid argument, but in doing some research I discovered that such months are much more common than you might think. That July, Teixeira’s OPS of 1.129 was surpassed by seven players, including Bonds, Pujols, and lesser names like Carlos Lee and Jeromy Burnitz. A whopping 21 players had an OPS of 1.000 for the month. Other months are no different.

Almost any competent Major League hitter is capable of tossing out a line of .300/.400/.650 over a 25-game stretch. David Dellucci, of all people, did so twice last season. The important issue is how these players hit the rest of the time. In Teixeira’s case, he posted an OPS under .870 in only one month last season. Yes, July was an anomaly, but he also hit very well in four of the other five months. Meanwhile, Dellucci had a sub-.500 OPS in June and September and a .783 OPS on the season. The lesson is not to let short-term performances sway your assessments of players, especially in the first few weeks of the season. You should expect an occasional tremendous or terrifying month from just about every player.

Floyd And Other Outfielders
The Rumor Mill is churning out “Cliff Floyd To Texas? pulp again. If Texas does acquire another outfielder or legitimate DH, it won’t affect other fantasy-worthy Rangers much. Right now, Texas features the twin terrors of Dellucci and GREG COLBRUNN at DH. Another bat would cost them the most playing time, not KEVIN MENCH or LAYNCE NIX (who is fantasy-worthy now but has the potential). Incidentally, Texas is discussing a long-term deal with Mench, perhaps indicating that, yes, they intend to start him practically every game.

Vote For Pedro?
Texas won the dramatic PEDRO ASTACIO sweepstakes last week. The Major League contract bestowed upon him pretty much insures his place in the rotation barring injury or utter collapse. Historically, Astacio is a better pitcher than his career 4.61 ERA would indicate; four years in Colorado will ruin anyone’s numbers. More recently, injuries have limited him to a handful of mostly dismal innings. Hardcore owners in AL-only leagues might want to keep an eye on him as an extra double secret sleeper. The rest of you may ignore him with impunity. His signing makes the last rotation spot a horse race between CHRIS YOUNG, RICARDO RODRIGUEZ, and JUAN DOMINGUEZ.

Posted by Lucas at 12:59 AM

January 28, 2005

ESPN Column

Scoping ESPN’s Mock Draft

ALFONSO SORIANO (1st round / 5th overall): Soriano struggled throughout the season despite moving to a hitter’s park, then missed the last two weeks with a muscle pull. Still, he led all second basemen in homers, was second in RBI, sixth in steals, and tenth in average and runs scored. Soriano ought to perform better this year, probably not as well as his Yankee heyday, but well enough to return to elite status among second basemen. Positional scarcity is sometimes overrated, but in this case, I would pick Soriano over someone like Carlos Beltran. The combination of Soriano and the tenth-best outfielder is likely to perform better than Carlos Beltran plus the tenth-best second baseman. Note that the walk-averse Soriano takes a value hit in sabermetric leagues.

MARK TEIXEIRA (3RD / 15TH): Until most Ranger batters, Teixeira only improved as the season progressed, smacking 20 homers and driving in 64 in the 75 games after the All-Star break. He doesn’t turn 25 until the first week of the season ends. A 40-homer, 120-RBI season is in his sights. MICHAEL YOUNG (5th / 49th): Unlike with Teixeira, I believe Young is about as good as he’s going to get. Even with some decline, he’ll rank among the best at a position with only one elite fantasy player remaining, Mr. Miguel Tejada.

FRANCISCO CORDERO (6th / 57th): Not an elite closer, but very solid. Expect somewhere between his very good 2003 and his fantastic 2004, meaning 40 saves, 80 strikeouts and an ERA in the mid to upper twos. Division-mate Francisco Rodriguez was chosen 71st in the ESPN mock draft. Given the choice, I’d take Rodriguez, who probably will offer a slightly better WHIP and more strikeouts. HANK BLALOCK: (6th / 58th): Blalock slumped badly in the second half (.240/.338/.406) but still managed a near-elite fantasy season. He, Aramis Ramirez and Eric Chavez should finish pretty close in value. I’d rather have Blalock in the sixth round than Chavez in the fourth.

RICHARD HIDALGO (16TH / 158TH): A risky pick in a round full of them. Hidalgo’s stats have caromed wildly from year to year; over the last six years, he’s batted above .300 twice and below .240 three times. I think something similar to his 2003 campaign is a reasonable expectation, perhaps with a few more homers but a lower average and fewer steals. I’d pick him over fellow 16th-rounders Sean Burroughs and Jacque Jones in a heartbeat. KEVIN MENCH (24th / 231st): On the other hand, I’d take Mench in the 24th over Hidalgo in the 16th. Without a legitimate DH on the roster (David Dellucci?), Texas practically has to play Mench every day. He might equal or surpass Hidalgo’s output.

Among the undrafted hitters, none stands out. OF LAYNCE NIX certainly has the potential to become a worthwhile fantasy hitter, but I wouldn’t risk a draft pick in any mixed league with twelve or fewer teams. Catcher ROD BARAJAS clobbered the ball in May and June, after which he resumed his woefulness. I’m concerned about his value even in AL-only leagues. Having lost the Delgado sweepstakes, Texas probably will offer a DH platoon of DAVID DELLUCCI and GREG COLBRUNN, about which I have nothing to say. No one selected any starting pitchers from Texas, for reasons that should be obvious. Eric Karabell touted KENNY ROGERS as a source of wins, but I’m skeptical. Rogers is 40, his other stats are mediocre, and wins are a fickle thing, being so dependent on run support.

Posted by Lucas at 07:40 PM

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 08:33 AM

December 17, 2004

ESPN Fantasy Column

Texas Smirks at Free-Agent Wackiness
As with 2003, the Rangers waited until after the free-agent arbitration deadline to sign anyone and will continue to bide their time until the right deals come along. Outfielder Richard Hidalgo is the only free agent of fantasy consequence signed so far. Hidalgo is the very definition of erratic but even with another mediocre year in 2005 he should bolster the Rangers’ weak outfielder corps. Texas also signed Sandy Alomar Jr. as a backup catcher. He and putative starter Rod Barajas should combine to provide one of the most dreadful offensive catching tandems in baseball. Ostensible “catcher of the future? Gerald Laird will return to AAA.

The preposterous Troy Glaus and Richie Sexson contracts have Carlos Delgado feeling justifiably frisky, and he seems to have priced himself out of the Rangers’ range. Texas may sign Jose Valentin and Greg Colbrunn to create a DH platoon (Valentin can also sub just about anywhere but catcher) and pick up a veteran insurance starter such as Aaron Sele. Otherwise, no major signings are imminent, though GM John Hart never shows his hand too early. While the lackluster offseason disappoints me, I certainly can’t blame management for staying out of the way while other teams decide whether Eric Milton is worth $7 million or $9 million per year (answer: neither).

Rangers with Contracts
Pitchers: Doug Brocail, Francisco Cordero, Ron Mahay, Chan Ho Park, Kenny Rogers, and Chris Young. Catchers: Sandy Alomar, Jr. Infielders: Hank Blalock, Mark Teixeira, and Michael Young. Outfielders: Richard Hidalgo. Including the $8 million Texas will pay on Alex Rodriguez’s contract, Texas has committed just over $42 million to the 2005 payroll thus far. Add in about $7 million for Alfonso Soriano (assuming he stays) and $300,000-$500,000 per player for the rest of the roster, and Texas is currently looking at a payroll of about $55 million, barely over one-half of the 2003 figure. The Rangers have plenty of time to sign other free agents, but to this point it appears the vaunted “payroll flexibility? created by the Rodriguez trade was a canard.

Will Texas Keep Soriano?
We’ll get the initial answer on the 20th, when teams must tender offers to arbitration-eligible players (Texas must also decide on Barajas, reliever Carlos Almanzar and outfielder Gary Matthews). I fully expect the Rangers to offer arbitration to Soriano. He made $5.4 million in 2004 and probably would jump to at least $7 million despite last year’s disappointing season. Soriano has surprisingly little trade value at the moment, but that situation may improve when his salary is better defined and Texas perhaps indicates to trading partners that they’ll eat some of that salary. Texas may also decide that his 2004 was a fluke and count on him to bounce back. I expect some improvement in Soriano’s fantasy stats if he stays in Texas.

New Website
http://rangers.scottlucas.com is my new home for past ESPN columns, a rundown of all Ranger transactions, contracts and salaries, the 40-man roster (past and present), the status of top-ten draft picks from 1999 through 2004, and whatever else I’m in the mood to write. I haven’t uploaded everything yet and have more features on the way, but a good portion of the archives are there.

Posted by Lucas at 11:00 AM