Fantasy baseball season is heating up as drafts are taking place every day. On March 21, I participated in the second of my four fantasy league drafts. This is the Hardball Times 12-team, mixed AL/NL roto auction league comprising several THT Fantasy writers and bloggers. Overall I am happy with my team, but what do you think?
Here is my team with some commentary and analysis for each pick:
Catcher: Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Boston. I admittedly do not care at all about catchers in fantasy baseball leagues. While other people were spending big bucks on catchers such as Carlos Santana, Buster Posey, Brian McCann and Joe Mauer, I waited until the end of the draft and grabbed Saltalamacchia for $1.
Is he a superstar? No. Will he hit .300 with 20 home runs and 75 RBI? Probably not. But he is the starting catcher on a good team in a dynamic lineup and will give me sufficient production for a player who will likely play only four or five times a week.
First base: Adrian Gonzalez, Boston. I got A-Gone for $42, which was less than Miguel Cabrera, Albert Pujols and Joey Votto. I have always been a big fan of Gonzalez. Obviously, hitting at Fenway Park in the middle of the Red Sox lineup means we should expect similar numbers to 2011.
He was sapped of some of his power in the second half last year, so assuming he is fully healthy I anticipate he will approach 40 home runs. He will be right up there with the other elite first baseman and may even gain outfield eligibility if the rumors coming out of Boston are true.
Second base: Neil Walker, Pittsburgh. I was somehow able to steal Neil Walker for $1 later on in the draft. I had held out for a second baseman hoping to sneak Rickie Weeks or Ben Zobrist, but they went well above what I could afford.
Walker is a solid second base option who should thrive in a blossoming Pirates lineup. I expect .280 with 15 home runs, 75 RBI and 15 stolen bases. Not too shabby for a $1 second baseman.
Third base: David Wright, New York Mets. He hasn’t played in spring training due to an abdominal injury, but I am still confident that Wright will have a bounce-back season. He is the lone face of the franchise and should benefit from the improved hitting dimensions at Citi Field. He is motivated to prove he can carry a team on his shoulders, so for a position as weak as third base is in fantasy, I have no regrets spending $21 for a third baseman who should hit .290 with 25 home runs, 95 RBI, 90 runs scored and 20 stolen bases. I admit I am a Mets fan (hold your laughter).
Shortstop: Marco Scutaro, Colorado. After the big boys went off the board early, I scooped up Scutaro for $3, hoping to cash in on his move to the thin air of Denver and gaining second base eligibility as well. Scutaro is a late bloomer and has proven he can hit for a good average and score runs. My hope is that the Rockies commit to him at second base and let him play instead of giving some of their younger players an opportunity.
Middle infielder: Ryan Raburn, Detroit. This was another $1 bargain late in the draft. Rayburn has been tearing it up in spring training and has all but locked up the primary second base job with the Tigers. If given sufficient playing time, he should reach 20 home runs this year. He needs to show improvement in his plate discipline and cut back on the strikeouts. Once he can do that, his batting average will start to increase. I am excited about this pick, especially at the price.
Corner infielder: Aramis Ramirez, Milwaukee. After already drafting Wright, I didn’t need a third baseman. But the bidding was slow and low on Ramirez and I did need a corner infielder. So for $13, I was able to grab A-Ram, who will be the new protector of NL MVP Ryan Braun in Milwaukee. Ramirez stayed healthy in 2011, and if he can remain healthy he should replicate his usual numbers of .280 with 25 home runs and 85 RBI.
Outfielder: Curtis Granderson, New York Yankees. I had Curtis Granderson in a couple of leagues last year where I was able to draft him for under $10. Not so this year. He was the first player I acquired by spending $31, which is a good value for him because of his power and speed potential. It may be too much to expect a repeat of last year, but he should still easily reach the 30 home run, 100 RBI, 100 runs scored and 20 stolen base marks again. With better plate discipline and big improvements against lefties, his batting average should increase as well.
Outfielder: Hunter Pence, Philadelphia. I have been targeting Pence in all of my drafts. I thought I could get him for $15, but a bidding war ensued and I eventually won at $20. Pence will have his first full season in the bandbox in Philadelphia and should be productive in all five roto categories.
The only downside to him, at least for the beginning of the season, is that he will be sole focus of the Phillies lineup with Ryan Howard recovering from his Achilles surgery and Chase Utley likely starting the season on the DL as well. But Pence has always been a free swinger with technique that would make Tom Emanski vomit, so he may not let teams pitch around him.
Outfielder: Alex Gordon, Kansas City. In 2011, Gordon established himself with his across the board production. Now firmly entrenched as Kansas City’s leadoff hitter, Gordon should score plenty of runs this year with the Royals young and talented lineup. As he gets older, he should develop more power, which could translate into 20-25 home runs. I targeted him as I did Pence and got him for $19 which I think is a fair price for Gordon at this point in his career.
Outfielder: Ichiro Suzuki, Seattle. Granted he’s old, in decline, and playing for one of the worst offensive teams in the league. However, I was able to get him for only $5, which surprised me. He won’t hit .360 or steal 60 bases anymore, but it’s not like he has been terrible for several years in a row.
I realize I will not be winning the steals category if I am relying on a 38-year old player to be my primary source of stolen bases, but Ichiro will certainly help keep me competitive. He was well worth the gamble for only one Lincoln.
Utility: Vernon Wells, Los Angeles Angels. Wells should have sent flowers every day to Adam Dunn because if not for Dunn, we would probably be paying a lot more attention to the horrendous season Wells had in 2011.
Saddled with a ridiculous contract, the Angels will keep sending Wells out there to reap whatever benefits they can from that albatross. Despite how bad Wells was last year, he is a strong bounce-back candidate because he has worked hard in the offseason and is motivated to win with the presence of Albert Pujols in their lineup. For only $2, I bought myself a fourth outfielder or utility player capable of hitting over 20 home runs and driving in 75 runs.
Utility: Jason Bay, New York Mets. Ugh. I did it again. This time it was sort of intentional, because I knew I could get Bay for $1. I really think Bay will have a better year than he has shown in his first two seasons with the Mets. Besides being healthy, he will have the shorter fences at Citi Field, which should increase his home run totals.
He was a solid player for seven years and all of a sudden forgot how to play baseball once he came to Queens. Now he sees light at the end of the tunnel with potential trades and being more than halfway done with the contract. Bay will be motivated to prove he does not suck. I will reap those benefits for only $1.
Bench: Ryan Howard, first baseman, Philadelphia. I thought I got Howard as a steal for $10 in my previous draft. Here, I did even better, getting him for $5. He will miss a month, maybe two, depending on how his rehab progresses. So by the time he gets back, it will be like making a huge trade because he will still end up with 25 home runs and 80 RBI. I see no downside to this pick because he was cheap enough to not hinder anything else I was doing. Whatever he does provide will be well worth $5.
Bench: Ryan Roberts, third baseman, Arizona. His tattoos are cool and he has eligibility at multiple positions. He should be the starter at third base for Arizona, so if any of my guys go down on the corners I at least know I have Roberts, who plays every day and can hold his own.
Bench: Russell Martin, catcher, New York Yankees. Continuing my trend of not caring about catchers, I grabbed Russell Martin for $1 with one of my last picks. So near the end of the draft, I got two starting catchers on good teams with good lineups around them who do not suck and have the potential to put up decent fantasy numbers.
Starting pitcher: Cole Hamels, Philadelphia. While I would have rather had Roy Halladay or Cliff Lee, they both went for a lot more money than Hamels did at $22. Hamels is in a contract year and will be extra motivated as he looks to cash in on the next big deal given out to a pitcher. I was very happy with this pick because I think Hamels will be a Cy Young Award candidate this season with 15-18 wins, a sub 3.00 ERA and over 200 strikeouts.
Starting pitcher: Dan Haren, Los Angeles Angels. I was also very happy with this pick as I have always been a fan of Haren. He has the third most wins by a right-handed pitcher since 2005 and is as consistent as they come. I consider him a bargain at $23 because he is a lock for at least 15 wins, a 3.00 ERA and 175 strikeouts.
Starting pitcher: Jon Lester, Boston. For some reason Jon Lester lasted until fairly late in the draft. I had reserved money to spend on closers and a second baseman, but when the bidding stalled around $15, I got involved and landed Boston’s ace for $17. He had a bad second half in 2011 and will be motivated to rebound. This could turn out to be one of my best picks of the draft for the value.
Starting pitcher: Gio Gonzalez, Washington. I may have overspent a little on this one, but I think $10 for Gonzalez was worth it. He had a very solid 2011 season and now is part of the up and coming Nationals rotation. He has the benefit of pitching in a big ballpark and gets to face the Mets several times. He should be in line for 12-15 wins with a 3.50 ERA.
Starting pitcher: Ubaldo Jimenez, Cleveland. It has been a tremendous fall from grace in a short amount of time for Jimenez. He has been awful since the second half of 2010 and was traded to Cleveland last season. He has pitched fairly well this spring and is a good bounce-back candidate if he can maintain his velocity in the mid-90s. For only $5 it was worth the potential upside.
Starting pitcher: John Danks, Chicago White Sox. I have had John Danks on at least one of my fantasy teams for several years in a row now. He had a terrible first half in 2011 but ended the season strong. He is now one of the anchors of the White Sox staff and is a bargain for just $1.
Relief pitcher: Carlos Marmol, Chicago Cubs. I waited until the very end to get a closer, and that move paid off. While other teams spent significant dollars on closers such as Craig Kimbrel, Jonathan Papelbon and John Axford early on, I waited and was able to land Marmol for only $6. Granted he had a rough year last year and the Cubs won’t be very good this season. But Marmol can be a dominating closer and should reach 35 saves.
Relief pitcher: Joe Nathan, Texas. After landing Marmol, my goal was to get at least one other closer on the cheap. I was able to land the Rangers’ new closer, Nathan, for $3. He is now two years removed from his surgery, which is usually when everything starts getting back to normal. Texas will be very good this year so he should have plenty of save opportunities.
Relief pitcher: Brett Myers, Houston. This pick was made purely on gut instinct. Myers was awful last year along with the rest of the Astros. However, they have moved him into the bullpen to be the closer, which is something he thrived at a few years ago with the Phillies. For $3, I figured I would take a shot on him and an additional 20-25 saves and actually make a run at that category.
Bench: Chad Billingsley, starting pitcher, Los Angeles Dodgers. Last year was miserable for Billingsley, who has fallen off everyone’s fantasy radar. He has talent and potential, so for only $1, I took a chance on him making a comeback.
Bench: Doug Fister, starting pitcher, Detroit. Because I enjoy making Fister jokes, I am glad he is on my team. He was phenomenal last year after being acquired by the Tigers. He won’t blow anyone away, but he should win 12-15 games with good run support and a very good bullpen. For just $2 he is extra pitching insurance.
So that is my team. I recognize that it has some deficiencies, but it should be competitive. I am banking on several players having bounce-back years, which is a risky proposition. My biggest weaknesses are in the outfield and saves. As I said earlier, I don’t care about my catchers as long as they play regularly and don’t completely suck. I will certainly need to be creative and aggressive in the trade market depending on how things progress.