Fantasy Mailbag: 4/7/05

The season’s finally underway, which means that people no longer need help preparing for fantasy baseball drafts. Now, there are questions to be answered about running the already-assembled fantasy teams.

Today’s is just a mini-mailbag, with only two questions. My plan this year is to try and do fantasy mailbags as often as possible, running them whenever I have some time and some good questions to answer.

Anyway, let’s get to the questions.

I was one of the many owners who got burned by the recent revelation that Chase Utley won’t be starting everyday for Philly, so now I’m scrambling to cover my hole at 2B. Mike Cuddyer and Clint Barmes are looking like my two best options, though I don’t know nearly as much about Barmes as I do Cuddyer, and I usually hesitate to play rookies. I saw that Barmes hit second for Colorado on Opening Day — is that expected to be his normal spot? Is he supposed to play every day?

So basically my question comes down to who do like more this year, Cuddyer or Barmes?Ryan Kobliska, Iowa City

I feel your pain, Ryan. I targeted Utley as my second baseman in two of my leagues, thinking he’d be playing every day. First of all, I’d hang on to Utley if I were you, because I still think he’ll play a lot and could end up earning an every day job.

To answer your question, though, I like Cuddyer better overall and Barmes better at Coors Field. Cuddyer’s been kicking around for a while, but is just now getting his first chance to play every day. Last year, he hit .263 with 12 homers, five steals, 49 runs and 45 RBIs in 339 at-bats. Getting 500-plus at-bats this season, he could definitely hit 20-plus homers.

Barmes played most of last season at Triple-A, hitting .328 with 16 homers, 20 steals, 104 runs and 51 RBIs in 125 games. I didn’t have him in my second base rankings, but I probably should have. His minor-league success combined with his home park gives him a chance to be very useful, especially if he stays near the top of the order.

If you have daily lineup changes, you might want to pick up Barmes and use him when the Rockies are at home while using Utley when the Rockies are on the road or have the day off. If you don’t have daily changes or don’t feeling like fantasy platooning, I’d probably pick up Cuddyer and go with him.

Whatever you choose to do, keep a close eye on what happens with Utley and the Phillies. He should be getting a chance to start every day at this point in his career, and I think he eventually will get that chance this season.

Here’s a simple one. Offensive categories: R, RBI, SB, TB, OBP. 13 teams, mlb, keeper league.

Who do you value more Nick Johnson or Calvin Pickering? I’m wondering which to keep as a backup (Morneau is our primary 1B), with an eye to possibly using him as trade bait if he plays well enough. I think Pickering, if he’s for real, will outperform NJ. But is he for real? And can Johnson stay healthy?John Walsh, Pisa, Italy

Pickering would have been a major-league regular much earlier than this season if he wasn’t overweight and a bad defensive player. He could always hit in the minors, but the Orioles always looked at him and saw what he wasn’t and what he couldn’t do rather than what he was and what he could do.

Last year, he hit too well in the minors to be ignored, .314/.451/.714 with 35 homers in just 299 at-bats (no, that’s not a typo) in Triple-A. That earned him a promotion to Kansas City, where he hit .246/.338/.500 with seven homers in 122 at-bats.

Those weren’t great numbers, but they show that he can be a successful major-league hitter. If he gets 500-plus at-bats this season, he has 30-homer potential. Of course, you don’t care about homers specifically.

I would say Pickering could post a .370-.375 OBP with 250-275 total bases, 70-75 runs and 80-90 RBIs if he gets to play a full season. Unfortunately, I don’t think Tony Pena is going to pencil Pickering into the lineup every day.

Johnson’s just two seasons removed from being a rising star for the Yankees. In 2003, he was only able to play 96 games, but he posted a .422 OBP with 14 homers and five steals in 324 at-bats. Unfortunately, he was even less healthy last year, playing just 73 games and posting a .359 OBP.

Johnson’s still only 26 years old, and the Nationals still see him as a potential star. As long as he’s healthy, he’s going to play every day. And if he stays healthy, he definitely has the potential for a .400-plus OBP with 225-250 total bases, a handful of steals, 80-90 runs and 80-90 RBI in 500 at-bats.

Both players obviously have great potential and a great amount of risk. In your situation, I’d go with Johnson. With him, you just need to hope he stays healthy, because he should hit and he should stay in the lineup. With Pickering, you need to not only hope that he can really hit at the major-league level, you need to hope he avoids any slumps that could cause Pena to take playing time away.

It just seems more likely to me that Johnson will have a hot month or two that would enable you to trade him for something useful.

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