Fantasy Mailbag: Will Morneau Get His Shot?

Well, after taking nearly a month off from doing this because of a variety of reasons which I don’t want to bore you with, it’s time to dip into the mailbag again. As always, e-mail me any fantasy questions you need answered. Even if I don’t use it for the mailbag, I’ll try and answer it as quickly as I can. Make sure you include your full name, city and state.

I’m in an AL-only keeper league… well, sort of in it. I’m actually out of the race at this point. Anyway, I have Travis Hafner, and I like him, obviously, but in our league, his salary is going to bump up a bit next year. If I could get Justin Morneau for him, should I do it? Is Morneau finally going to get a full-time job in Minnesota next year?Matt Klaassen, Stouffville, Ontario, Canada

Unless they trade him, which they would be stupid to do, the Twins pretty much have to give Morneau a full-time job next year. There’s just nothing left he can prove in the minor leagues.

Over the past two seasons, he’s played 143 games for Triple-A Rochester (and I’ve probably seen 8-10 of those games in person) and he’s hit .288/.362/.559 with 38 homers and 105 RBIs. And that performance came with his seasons getting interrupted by three different major-league callups, which usually resulted in him riding the bench for at least a few games before being sent down and needing to regain his rhythm.

Quite simply, he’s a hitting machine. I know he struggled last year, but after his 3-for-5 night on Wednesday, he’s now hitting .280/.333/.580 this season with a home run every 12.5 at-bats. He has monster power, and I just expect it to get better as he gains consistency with the other parts of his game at the major-league level.

What do I expect next year if he plays 140 games? Conservatively, a .275 average, 25 home runs and 80 RBIs. Potentially, a .300 average, 35 home runs and 120 RBIs. He’s that good, in my opinion.

Hafner’s a really nice player. He’s hitting .328/.425/.603 with 17 homers and 75 RBIs and while I don’t think he’s quite this good, he’s going to be a fine option at first base next year. But if Morneau’s going to be significantly cheaper, I’d have to go with him. I simply can’t imagine him not being an above average fantasy first baseman next year, and he has the potential to step right in and be a great fantasy option.

I am in a keeper league with 20 teams with 25 players per team. There are five keeper spots and while my offense has been outstanding, my pitching is lacking severely. I am wondering which of these potential keepers you would keep and who you think would make apt trade bait for pitching help. Potential keepers: Alfonso Soriano, Adrian Beltre, Nomar Garciaparra, Chone Figgins, Jose Reyes, Hideki Matsui, Jose Guillen, Miguel Cabrera and Joe Mauer. On the pitching side, I have Pineiro, Pavano, Sabathia and Benson who I would consider keeping.L. Frank Emshey

Well, I’d eliminate Figgins, Matsui, Guillen and Benson without even giving them a second thought. And you can eliminate Reyes as well because Soriano and Garciaparra would both be better options in the middle infield, and you’re not keeping three middle infielders.

Pitchers are an unpredictable lot, so it’s risky to keep them no matter who they are. In your case, none of the three remaining are real studs, so I don’t think I’d keep any of them.

That right there would leave you keeping Soriano, Garciaparra, Cabrera, Beltre and Mauer. I think that’s a pretty good foundation for a team. In such a deep league, position scarcity isn’t quite as important because every position gets scarce when you get down to No. 20.

However, Soriano’s still the odds on favorite to be the best fantasy second baseman in baseball next year (I think Marcus Giles is the only one with a real shot at unseating him) and Garciaparra could be the best fantasy shortstop in baseball next year with Alex Rodriguez no longer qualifying.

Mauer’s a little tougher call, especially with his injuries this year, but he’s shown that he’s the real deal offensively when he’s been healthy. If he can stay healthy, he could be a top five catcher as soon as next year, and I still think he’ll be the best fantasy catcher of the next 10 years.

Cabrera’s a no-brainer. He’s so young, and already so good that if you have him and can keep him, you pretty much have to. I haven’t thought about this in too much detail, but there probably aren’t more than 10 players in baseball I’d keep over Cabrera. Soriano’s the only one on your roster who might make that list of 10. Maybe.

And then there’s Beltre, who probably isn’t a 45-homer hitter but was always supposed to become a good hitter at some point and is still just 25 years old. And there’s a chance he could go to a better ballpark as a free agent this off-season.

So, without knowing what’s going to happen over the next several months, that’s probably what I’d go with. If you’re intent on keeping a pitcher, I’d probably rank them Sabathia, Pavano, Pineiro. But I don’t feel real strongly about any of them as a keeper and you could probably get me to change the order with a persuasive argument.

Just was curious about your opinion on this — I’m in a 5×5 ML 12 team league. We do a serpentine draft, and are able to keep 5 players each year in the round where they were drafted the previous year. Players can only be kept for one year and then they return to the pool. I am in 4th place, trying to make a big push in the second half to get into the money. I was offered either Pedro Martinez or Mark Prior for Ben Sheets. Since Pedro and Prior were both 1st round picks, they have no keeper potential, but I drafted Sheets in round 18 — very nice keeper for next year. As we were discussing this, I was thinking that I probably wouldn’t trade Sheets for both Pedro and Prior. Am I nuts? I know that it’s Pedro and Prior, but past performance is not a guarantee of future results — and both have a lot of big injury/durability questions surrounding them. My current staff is: Sheets, Santana (glad I held on), Wood, Hudson, Mussina, Contreras, Wakefield, Greinke, Nathan, Looper, Julio, Bukvich. I’m not convinced that he’ll offer me both, but now that I’ve planted the seed, he might.Ryan Secan, Boston, Massachusetts

No, you’re not nuts, and you certainly shouldn’t even consider trading Sheets straight up for just one of them. As you said, he’s much more valuable than either of them as a keeper for next year in your league, and neither of them have done much to inspire confidence that they’ll be better than Sheets the rest of the way.

I guess it depends on how close you think you are to making a move up the standings. If you think it’ll just take a little nudge, then I’d consider trading Sheets for the two of them. Even if they’re not up to their 2003 standards for the rest of the year (and the indications are that they won’t be), the two of them will be better for you than, say, Sheets and Greinke.

In fact, let’s take a look at how those duos match up this year. So far, Sheets and Greinke have 11 wins, a 3.04 ERA, 0.98 WHIP and 185 strikeouts in 195.1 innings. Pedro and Prior have 12 wins, a 3.91 ERA, 1.19 WHIP and 168 strikeouts in 168 innings.

A couple of things make me think the latter duo will be better, if not by a lot, the rest of the year. First, Sheets (and his 2.28 ERA) has thrown twice as many innings as Greinke (and his 4.57 ERA), which is unlikely to be the case the rest of the way.

Second, Prior and Pedro are both likely to improve over the rest of the season if they can stay on the mound. Pedro’s coming off a start on Wednesday in which he appeared to have pretty good stuff, but still allowed eight runs. I don’t think he’s going to finish with an ERA around 4.00.

Third, Sheets is probably going to slow down at least a little bit. Fourth, Greinke’s the only one of the four who doesn’t strike people out. Fifth, Sheets and Greinke are likely to continue to get less run support than Pedro and Prior.

So, like I said, you should expect at least a slight boost to your pitching staff if you trade Sheets for Pedro and Prior. Is a slight boost enough to give you a chance to make the move up the standings you want? Is the chance to move up the standings worth the fact that you won’t be able to get close to the value you’d have gotten for Sheets in the 18th round of next year’s draft?

Those are questions only you can answer since I don’t know everything about your situation, but I think I’d have a hard time letting go of Sheets if he was going to count as my 18th-round pick next year.

Our Yahoo rotisserie league is debating what statistical categories to use next year. Right now we use R, HR, RBI, SB, TB, and OPS for offense and W, Sv, K, ERA, and WHIP for pitching. Some of the issues/questions are: Should the offense and pitching have the same number of categories to keep it balanced? Do steals without caught stealing reward guys like Alex Sanchez too much? Do runs and rbi reward players on good teams as opposed to rewarding good players? Should we include BA because everyone else does? We have dozens of categories we can choose from — most of which are nonsense like sac flies and wild pitches. If you were constructing a league and needed to pick your statistical categories, what would you pick and why?Mark Flaherty, Rockville, Connecticut

Mark, the answers to those first four questions are all the same: it’s up to you. If that sounds like a cop out, well, then that’s what it is. The fact of the matter is that fantasy baseball is about having fun, so you should try and agree upon a system that all of you feel like you will be able to enjoy the most.

To answer your fifth question, I generally like to stick to the standard 5×5 roto leagues, although any kind of fantasy baseball is interesting to me.

Why do I like including steals and saves when my personal thoughts on the game are that neither statistic is all that informative about how much a player’s helping his team? Because I like that the games are different. I like that the most valuable players in baseball aren’t necessarily the most valuable players in fantasy baseball.

I do generally include the same number of categories for hitters and pitchers, but that doesn’t mean offense and defense are balanced. Even if you do that, you probably have 9-11 starting slots for hitters and only 7-8 starting slots for pitchers.

If you want different answers to the other three questions, then I’d say the answer to them is no.

Including steals without caught stealings does not reward Alex Sanchez too much because who’s to say how valuable Alex Sanchez is supposed to be in fantasy baseball. It’s not like these players get some benefit based on how valuable they are in various fantasy leagues across the country.

The same thing applies to your next question. Who’s to say whether all of a player’s value should come from what he does? In your league, you’re to say, that’s who. If you don’t like that good players have fantasy values that are too low because they’re on bad teams, then don’t use runs and RBIs. If you like that two players of similar talent can have different values because of the players around them, then keep it.

And you should absolutely not include batting average because everybody else does. You should include batting average because you want to include it, or else you should use something else.

What makes fantasy baseball such a great game to play is that there are so many variations you can use. None of them are right, none of them are wrong and all of them can be fun. The best advice I can give you is to try and find the system that you and your friends will think is the most fun.

And if you start to get tired of it, don’t hesitate to change it. It’s a game after all, not something to be taken too seriously.

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