This week in (fantasy) baseball 2/20-2/26

It’s hard enough following one’s own fantasy team without having to keep track of an entire sport’s daily transactions. To assist you, here’s a column dedicated to recapping the most notable trades, signings, promotions, demotions and role changes across the majors over the past week as they relate to fantasy. We’ll do this on a regular basis. If you feel I’ve missed anything important, please don’t hesitate to keep the conversation going in the comments below.

Ryan Braun is back

Who knew that a late delivery to the FedEx man could have such significant fantasy implications? As red-faced major league officials scramble to revisit the sport’s methods of policing performance enhancing drug usage, fantasy owners celebrate the exoneration of Ryan Braun, who instantly returns to the first round of every mixed-league draft this season.

Braun last year was a five-category demon, as he compiled career highs in steals (33), RBIs (111) and batting average (.332) while slugging 33 home runs and 111 RBIs. He’ll likely miss Prince Fielder’s protection, but hopefully Aramis Ramirez can provide some semblance of continuity out of the Milwaukee cleanup spot.

Baseball might be a sport where even the best hitters bat only once every nine times, and yet, a presence like Braun is felt throughout an entire game. For guys like Ramirez, Rickie Weeks, Corey Hart and Mat Gamel, Braun’s gravitational pull at the center of the order will keep their stats inflated and help bring run support to the starting rotation.

Braun will, of course, have to deal with a summer of people calling him a cheater, so we’ll see how thick his skin is. But assuming the 28-year-old has stayed in shape during the offseason, it doesn’t appear he’ll miss any spring training time and will be in his MVP form to start the 2012 season.

Less thrilled about Braun’s return are probably Norichika Aoki, a three-time Japanese league batting champ acquired by Milwaukee over the offseason, and Carlos Gomez, both of whom stood to benefit from the extra playing time offered by Braun’s absence. Neither necessarily promised much in the way of fantasy aside from one-category production, but they’re definitely going to be relegated for use in only deeper leagues now, assuming Nyjer Morgan holds down the center field starting gig.

Chris Perez likely to miss start of season

The Indians’ closer hurt his left oblique last week and now will miss four to six weeks. There’s an outside chance he could return by Opening Day, but it’s probably safe to go ahead and start looking for backup options.

Perez’s most likely replacement is Vinnie Pestano, who put together a 2.32 ERA, 1.048 WHIP and an eye-popping 12.2 K/9 in 62 innings last year, his first full season. Pestano, 27, closed games throughout his minor-league career, so he should be a dependable option in deeper mixed leagues.

The better question is whether Pestano can acclimate himself to the role well enough to steal the job from Perez. Despite making the All-Star team and saving 90 percent of his opportunities last year, Perez compiled a mediocre 5.9 K/9, and both his FIP (4.27) and xFIP (5.01) were well above his 3.32 ERA. When healthy, Perez is a decent option, but Pestano certainly offers more upside if he can earn the full-time gig.

Raul Ibanez to round out Yankees’ DH platoon

At 39, Raul Ibanez might not be getting any younger, but he was still fit enough last year to crush 20 home runs and collect 84 RBIs. His .245 average, the lowest full-season mark of his career, is a reasonable cause for concern, but it was also diminished by a .268 BABIP, more than 30 points below his career average.

Ibanez’s impact will be blunted by the amount of playing time he receives, as he’ll join Andruw Jones in a DH platoon in New York. But he’s coming to a place that, according to Stat Corner, boosts left-handed home runs by nearly 30 percent more than Citizens Bank Park. For a guy who’s a dead pull-hitter, he could be someone worth using in deeper leagues as a platoon man. Let’s just hope he stays healthy.

Manny Ramirez, A’s agree to minor-league deal

Manny might not be the fantasy stud he was in his heyday, but he could have an impact in deeper leagues once he returns from his 50-game suspension. But he’s 39 years old, and would likely have to siphon off at-bats from Seth Smith or Chris Carter at the DH spot for playing time. Still, it’s hard to turn your back on one of the best hitters of the past 20 years, and plenty of faded stars, from Frank Thomas to Mike Piazza, have found playing time and ways to make a fantasy impact in Oakland.

Other odds and ends from around MLB

• Joel Zumuya’s faulty right elbow is acting up again, as an MRI revealed a torn ulnar collateral ligament. That means he’ll be gone for the rest of this season, which is too bad, since had he been healthy, he might have been a dark-horse candidate to pick up saves for the Twins.

• Speaking of injury-prone players, Grady Sizemore strained his lower back earlier this month, and we learned this week he’ll miss Opening Day and does not have a firm return date. Of course, you have only yourself to blame if this comes as a surprise, as Sizemore has appeared in only 210 games from 2009-11. He’s still only 29, so there’s hope he’ll return sooner rather than later as he works to find the magic that once made him one of fantasy’s best players.

• Trying to rehab from a shoulder injury, Jon Garland did not take his physical examination last week, thus voiding his minor-league deal with Cleveland.

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