Fantasy: Personality Problems

One nice thing about fantasy baseball is that you generally don’t need to worry about personalities. All you care about is what numbers the players produce, so you don’t care if they’re good guys and proven leaders or if they’re egomaniacs and clubhouse cancers.

As long as he puts up the numbers you expect him to, for example, you don’t care about Carl Everett‘s views on the moon landing or the existence of dinosaurs. Personalities don’t matter unless they hinder a player’s performance, like when Everett head-butted an umpire in 2000 and got tagged with a 10-game suspension.

Or more recently, when Cleveland centerfielder Milton Bradley up and left the team for no good reason. Despite being limited to 101 games by injuries last year, Bradley hit an impressive .321 with 10 homers and 17 steals and he was expected to bat cleanup for the Indians this season.

According to Peter Gammons, the Indians will trade Bradley by Sunday, but GM Mark Shapiro has said there’s no timetable for a trade. Whenever the trade happens, there are obviously a number of repercussions. First and foremost would be that Bradley’s value — I put him 39th in my preseason rankings — is a little up in the air. There are several teams that could use Bradley’s bat in the outfield, but you can’t tell how a change of location will affect his value until you know where the new location would be.

Just looking over some rosters, teams that would seem to have a need for another outfielder include the White Sox, Expos, Mets, Cardinals, Giants and Dodgers. His value could vary significantly depending on which one of those teams, if any, he ends up with and where he hits in the lineup.

Also, Bradley has a history of causing problems. While he has been better recently, this latest episode shows that he can still be a headache for an organization. You don’t want to shy away from a player who can help your fantasy team, but you need to realize that his attitude could cost him some playing time at some point no matter where he ends up. Combine that with the fact that he’s never been the healthiest player, and it’s a little difficult to expect him to play more than 130-135 games.

Ultimately, Bradley should be at least a decent outfielder when he can play no matter where he ends up. So, the only way this could really hurt your team is if you’re in an AL-only league and he gets traded to an NL team.

Since Bradley seems unlikely to play for the Indians again even if it takes longer to trade him, there are two new questions — who takes his spot in center field and who takes over in the cleanup spot?

Before this incident, the battle for the fourth outfielder spot was between Coco Crisp and Alex Escobar since Ryan Ludwick is likely out until the All-Star break. Now, one of them will start and the other will fill in for Matt Lawton whenever he gets injured.

Crisp has struggled mightily in 131 major-league games, but he’s generally hit well in the minors and he’s shown nice speed on the basepaths. Escobar was not good last year after missing all of 2002, but he used to be a top prospect and 29 home runs in 538 at-bats between Buffalo and Cleveland last year show that he still has his power.

They would both have interesting, but very different, potential if they were to win the starting job. Crisp could possibly steal 30 bases while Escobar could conceivably hit 20-25 home runs with 10-12 steals. Neither of them would likely hit for a high average or add much to any other category.

Since steals are harder to come by and thus worth dealing with a one-category player to get, Crisp probably has more potential to be a fantasy asset this year. However, even if one of them does end up starting almost every game, it’s unlikely that either one would be worth using as more than a backup outfielder.

What might eventually end up happening is that nobody out of the trio of Crisp, Escobar and Ludwick finishes the season as a starting outfielder for Cleveland. Grady Sizemore hit .304/.373/.480 in 496 at-bats at Class AA last year and will start this season at Class AAA.

If he tears up the International League for a month or two and Crisp and Escobar aren’t getting it done in the majors, it wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see Sizemore starting in Cleveland by the All-Star break. If that happens, however, it’s hard to see him being worth using on a fantasy team.

The other question would also seem to have two probable solutions. The Indians could either drop Jody Gerut from third to fourth in the lineup or they could move Travis Hafner up from fifth to fourth.

Dropping Gerut a spot in the order doesn’t seem like it would make a lot of sense. One reason is that doing so would just mean that Cleveland would need to find somebody new to hit third in the order. Another reason is that Gerut doesn’t seem like he would be a typical cleanup hitter.

In fact, Gerut’s numbers last season stood in stark contrast with his minor-league numbers. Gerut posted a .336 OBP and slugged 22 home runs in 127 games for the Indians last year. In 246 minor-league games from 2000-2003, Gerut had a .391 OBP and hit just 18 homers.

If Gerut hits a few less home runs and improves his OBP, which seems likely to me, he would make a pretty nice No. 3 hitter. It seems much more likely that they Indians will bump up Hafner one spot and then keep moving people up until they got to the place where they’d like to slot in Crisp or Escobar.

It may not seem like a big difference for Hafner to bat fourth instead of fifth and maybe it isn’t, but if he’s hitting cleanup on a regular basis it can only help his RBI total. As many people have said before me, almost anybody can drive in a bunch of runs batting cleanup in almost any lineup.

Last year, 15 different players got at least 400 plate appearances in the cleanup spot and each one of them knocked in at least 85 runs. They averaged 106 RBI and while many of them are better hitters than Hafner, not all are.

Raul Ibanez, Moises Alou and Jeff Conine each saw significant time batting fourth last year and they each drove in 90-95 runs. Hafner was a better hitter than all three of them last year, and he probably will be again this year.

If he plays almost every game hitting cleanup and matches last year’s production, he should hit .250-.260 with 20-25 home runs and 85-90 RBI, which would make him a solid backup. If he has a breakout year in his age 27 season, he could possibly become a viable starter in some leagues.

So, now let me briefly summarize my thoughts on what all this means.

If you have Bradley, you shouldn’t worry unless you’re in an AL-only league. He’ll be a decent outfielder no matter where he ends up, with the same risks you already knew he had. Even if you’re in an AL-only league, you shouldn’t panic yet because he could very well get traded to another AL team.

Crisp and Escobar now have interesting potential, but neither will likely end up being that useful. If you’re in an AL-only league, especially a keeper league, you might want to keep an eye out for Sizemore getting called up sometime this summer.

Finally, if you don’t have a backup first baseman you’re in love with and Hafner is still available, it might not be a bad idea to pick him up. He’s a solid hitter, and he could turn some heads if the Indians just put him in the cleanup spot and leave him there all year.

First impression: Before I finish up for the day, let me touch on the opening series in Japan quickly. You shouldn’t make any decisions based on just two games, but the most impressive player in Japan to me was Toby Hall. I know other players wowed with their home runs, but I expected most of them to be good. I expected Hall to develop into a solid fantasy catcher each of the last two seasons and he didn’t, so I gave up on him a little bit this year.

However, Hall is still only 28 years old and sometimes it takes awhile for catchers to figure things out offensively. The fact that he started off 5-for-6 doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll have a good year, but it’s better than starting 0-for-6.

Hall has only hit .265/.302/.396 in 270 major-league games, but he always hit well in the minor leagues and it looked like he might be able to become a solid major-league hitter. He hit .297/.354/.395 in 216 games at Class A, then hit .309/.336/.477 in 114 games at Class AA and finally hit .328/.365/.533 in 162 games at Class AAA.

He probably doesn’t walk enough to become a really good hitter, but he’s got good power for a catcher if he could just improve his batting average a little bit. Since no catcher you could have as a backup is going to look like a good major-league hitter, it wouldn’t hurt to have one who was recently a great minor-league hitter.

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