The elite guys in this category are not as plentiful spots like first and third base. Many of the middle tier second basemen provide virtually the same offensive output. If you’re unable to land one of the few elite guys at this position, waiting until later in the draft and going for a sleeper may be the best route.
- Chase Utley PHI- Utley has been the best second baseman in Major League Baseball since his first full season in 2005 when he had 105 RBIs. Last year he had career highs in walks and stolen bases while still hitting 31 homers.
- Robinson Cano NYY- Cano doesn’t get much attention with the presence of A-Rod, Tex, and Jeter in the same lineup, which is part of the reason he is so under-rated. After a down 2008, Cano bounced back to his usual form while scoring 103 times and hitting a career high 25 home runs. Yankee stadium boosts his power production and fantasy owners can take advantage of that.
- Ian Kinsler TEX- Kinsler did not play as well as most expected in 2009 but still had career highs in HR, RBIs, and stolen bases. The emergence of Julio Borbon in the leadoff spot will give Kinsler the chance to drive in even more runs. Kinsler is hindered because he has yet to put together a completely healthy season.
- In the running: Aaron Hill TOR, Brian Roberts BAL, Gordon Beckham CHW (Beckham will qualify for second base shortly after Opening Day)
- Orlando Hudson MIN- Many forget that Hudson was an All-Star for the Dodgers last season before injuries derailed his second half. Signing with the Twins enhanced his fantasy value as he will be hitting in front of Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and Jason Kubel.
- Rickie Weeks MIL- Rickie carried the Brewers in the month of April last season. Before he got hurt, Weeks was on pace to absolutely shatter his career highs in home runs and RBIs.
- Martin Prado ATL- With Kelly Johnson now in Arizona, Martin Prado will get the full-time duty at second base in Atlanta. Prado has always been able to get onbase but last year he added gap power to his game.
- Freddy Sanchez SF- Many people still remember Sanchez for his NL batting title in 2006. He still hits for a fine average but has regressed in all aspects of run production every year since 2006.
- Alberto Callaspo KC- Callaspo is in a rough situation. His fantasy numbers were great last year but his dreadful defense has his starting spot in jeopardy. Callaspo could still be a good pick if he beats out Chris Getz during spring training, but, as of right now, that’s a big ‘if’.
- Skip Schumaker STL- The addition of Felipe Lopez will help the team win games but will also hurt the fantasy values of Skip Schumaker, David Freese, and Julio Lugo (if he had any to begin). Lopez will play all over but his best position is second base where he will get the starts against tough lefties. Schumaker is still a solid player, but the platoon situation is something to consider before your fantasy draft.
Spring training games have already started which means Opening Day is close. Another season that is currently getting under-way is Fantasy Baseball. Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll write up my position-by-position preview to help prepare you for the pursuit of the ever important bragging rights. First on the list are the first basemen, led by superstar Albert Pujols.
- Albert Pujols STL- He continues to build on an already legendary career as his HR, RBIs, and SLG have all increased each of the past three years.
- Mark Teixeira NYY- Teixeira impressed in his first year with the Yanks. 100-plus runs and 100-plus RBIs are a near lock with his career .923 OPS.
- Miguel Cabrera DET- The Johnny Damon acquisition should only give Cabrera more chances to drive in runs.
- In the running: Adrian Gonzalez SD, Ryan Howard PHI, Prince Fielder MIL
- James Loney LAD- He is often forgot about due to low HR totals, but in his 4 year career Loney has a .295 AVG and two 90 RBI seasons. If his power comes through, Loney will becom a very valuable player.
- Billy Butler KC- Playing in the spacious Kauffman Stadium doesn’t help his power production, but KC’s lineup is improved and he showed progress last year.
- Adam LaRoche ARI- LaRoche will be available late in the draft and is someone you shouldn’t forget about. He’ll put up his usual 35 doubles, 25 HR, and 85 RBIs.
- Garrett Atkins BAL- Atkins will play first base in Baltimore but has been in a steady decline for three years. He bottomed out in ’09 with 9 HR and a .226 AVG.
- Garrett Jones PIT- Jones came on strong as a rookie and even had some ROY consideration. I expect him to come back down to earth after his stunning .938 OPS in ’09. Jones’ strikeout rate is also unfavorable.
- Lance Berkman HOU- Something must be in the water in Houston as Berkman and Roy Oswalt are already talking retirement. Berkman’s 2009 was below expectations and he seems to have lost his edge at the plate. He won’t be horrible but he is no longer a first tier first baseman.
Projected AL Central Finish: 4th
- Podsednik cf
- DeJesus lf
- Butler 1b
- Ankiel rf
- Guillen dh
- Callaspo 2b
- Gordon 3b
- Betancourt ss
- Kendall c
- Pena c
- Aviles if
- Getz if
- Bloomquist ut
- Fields ut
- Soria (closer)
Catcher: Jason Kendall was given a unexpectedly large commitment of $6M over two years. He provides a quiet leadership on the field and may be able to help a young rotation. Switch hitter Brayan Pena will give the team an offensive-minded backup catcher who can spell the aging starter when necessary.
Infield: Billy Butler is the only guarantee in this group. Alberto Callaspo surprised many with his dynamic bat last season but his 17 errors at second base kept him from securing the 2010 job. Chris Getz was brought in to provide plus defense and speed however the addition of Scott Podsednik could limit the need for Getz’s speed and left-handed bat in the lineup. Callaspo has been rumored in many trade talks since the season ended and a trade could create a platoon situation at second base between Getz and Mike Aviles. Aviles lost the starting shortstop job when he injured his elbow last season. Yuniesky Betancourt was traded for in the hopes that he can salvage the talent that made him a starter in Seattle. Alex Gordon is the projected third baseman but he has not been able to perform or stay on the field in his young career. Aviles and Josh Fields could split time with Gordon as well.
Outfield: David DeJesus is the constant in this outfield and should have another productive season. Scott Podsednik’s arrival will give the team a good base runner in front of Billy Butler. Jose Guillen only played in half of the team’s games due to injuries but a move to the DH role should help him stay healthy. Rick Ankiel’s strong arm will be beneficial in Kansas City’s large right field. Brian Anderson was signed to be a solid fourth outfielder but there may not be room for him without a trade or injury.
Rotation: After Cy Young winner Zach Greinke, the rotation is below average. Gil Meche, Brian Bannister, Kyle Davies and Luke Hochevar all under-performed in ’09. Prospects Aaron Crow and Noel Arguelles probably won’t be ready to pitch in the Bigs in the early going so non-roster invites Bruce Chen, Jorge Campillo and Phillip Humber will have a chance to compete with the returning starters. Kyle Farnsworth will also be trying to make the rotation this spring.
Bullpen: GM Dayton Moore has made a couple of puzzling moves regarding the bullpen in recent years. Ramon Ramirez and Leo Nunez were each traded for returns that are no longer with the team. The Royals may have to turn to Rule 5 pick Edgar Osuna as their lefty in the pen after not (yet) signing a more notable lefty specialist this off-season. A free agent such as Joe Beimel, Ron Mahay or John Bale could still be brought in to compete for a lefty reliever spot. The bullpen may have a couple surprises this year after many new guys were signed to minor league contracts and given the chance to fight for a spot. The Royals will again have a hard time getting the ball to stellar closer Joakim Soria.
2010: This team has improved over the winter, which is a start. Healthy seasons from Guillen and Gordon would help stabilize the lineup and the competition should only improve the play of their infield. Pitching will be the weakness of the Royals again. Elsewhere in the division, Detroit is questioning the path of rebuilding and Cleveland is already in the process. The Twins and White Sox will be strong again but now is a chance for the Royals to at least gain some respect within the league. The Royals will put up a fight for 3rd place but will ultimately finish 4th in the Central in 2010.
Rosters are starting to take shape as we inch closer to spring training. The trade market has been relatively quiet this off-season and the free agent market is dwindling. Some teams are rather comfortable with their rosters as they currently stand but many spots are still in question. Let’s take a look at the most important position battles for each American League team this spring:
Orioles- LF: The Orioles have put together a stellar offense that also has great depth on the bench. Besides left field, the lineup is set. Felix Pie is only 25 and finally realized some of his potential last season after a rough start to his career in Chicago. He provides great defense in left field and a left-handed bat for the bottom of the order. Nolan Reimold is two years older and made his debut last year. As a rookie, Reimold put up 15 homers and 45 RBIs in only 104 contests. They could form a platoon but Pie may be the early favorite to start more games.
Red Sox- IF: The Red Sox are completely set as far as hitters besides maybe another bench player. The bench is currently made of Jason Varitek, Jed Lowrie, Bill Hall, and Jeremy Hermida. One player who could still find his way onto the team is former starting third baseman, Mike Lowell. The Sox nearly traded Lowell to the Rangers earlier this off-season but his injuries kept the deal from being finalized. Adrian Beltre was signed to play third base. First base is already set with Kevin Youkilis. It seems like the only way for Boston to handle this is to trade Lowell for whatever they can get after he proves his health during spring training.
White Sox- BENCH: After shaking up the lineup earlier this winter, the batting order seems to be set. The White Sox have a veteran bench including Ramon Castro, Omar Vizquel, and Mark Kotsay. Whoever else is on the bench will have a tough time finding at bats. Jayson Nix has a shot at making the team as the primary right handed pinch hitter. Jayson, like his brother Laynce of the Cincinnati Reds, doesn’t hit for a high average but does provide raw power. Brent Lillibridge would give the team more versatility but has disappointed in all phases at the plate during his two years in the pros. Others who will get a look this spring include catcher Tyler Flowers, infielders Jason Botts and Freddie Bynum, and outfielders Brady Clark and Alejandro De Aza.
Indians- C: The Indians have many spots that are not set heading into camp. First base, second base, and left field could potentially have competitions this spring. However, the most important battle this spring in Cleveland’s camp could be that for the job of starting catcher. Lou Marson was brought in when the Indians traded Cliff Lee to Philadelphia. Carlos Santana is another candidate. Santana is one of the game’s top prospects and his switch-hitting skills profile similar to those of former Cleveland catcher, Victor Martinez. Lou Marson has already played at the top level but Santana has a higher ceiling. Mike Redmond was signed to mentor both prospects and help a young pitching staff.
Tigers- LF: The Tigers seem to be set with rookie Austin Jackson in center field. The left field competition will include front runners Clete Thomas and Ryan Raburn along with rookie Wilkin Ramirez. Raburn, who can play all over the field, has had the most success including a strong showing in 2009. The Tigers have also been linked to Johnny Damon this off-season. He would be a nice upgrade at the top of their order because none of the in-house options are ideal for the two spot in the lineup.
Royals- 2B/SS: The Royals have two huge battles this spring and both need to be mentioned here. Alberto Callaspo was a great find last year and spent most of the year around the top of the lineup. He is a very well-rounded hitter with good pop and a good eye. His defense was very poor, however, and that prompted the Royals to acquire Chris Getz in the Mark Teahen trade. Getz is a good defender with more speed than Callaspo. Early in the off-season it didn’t seem to be a log-jam as Callaspo could slide into the DH spot but the Rick Ankiel acquisition moves Jose Guillen to DH. The Royals will have to decide between defense and offense when it comes to their second baseman. The shortstop battle will be just as competitive this year. Yuniesky Betancourt was brought in via trade last summer. That deal left many questioning the front office because Betancourt has been declining in every facet of the game and is under contract through 2011. Mike Aviles was possibly the team MVP in 2008 before injuries derailed his 2009 campaign. The loser of the shortstop competition could very well be traded this spring.
Angels- C: The Angels’ starting catcher will probably be Mike Napoli but expect Jeff Mathis to give him a run for his money. Napoli has more power but his numbers did not go up with the increase in playing time he had last year. Napoli also struggled in the post-season. Mathis is a career .200 hitter but still gets plenty of playing time under Mike Scioscia. Mathis’ great post-season may give him a boost in confidence heading into spring training.
Twins- 3B: The Twins entered the off-season with holes at second, short, and third. Orlando Hudson will play second and J.J. Hardy was traded for to play short. Nick Punto is the favorite to play third given his great defense and the presence of many other prominent bats to pick up his slack at the plate. If Ron Gardenhire needs another bat, however, Brendan Harris could get some playing time. Others who will get a chance to audition at third base this spring are Matt Tolbert, Luke Hughes, and Danny Valencia.
Yankees- BENCH: Like many other AL teams, the Yankees’ defense is set. New York’s All-Star lineup is amazing, as usual, but every team needs depth. Juan Miranda is a first baseman that has been blocked by Mark Teixeira after solid play throughout the minors. He will fight for a bench spot with the big league team as a left-handed pinch hitter. Marcus Thames will also compete for a pinch hitting role but he is right-handed. Rule 5 Draftee Jamie Hoffman has a slim chance at making the team as a reserve outfielder and may need an injury to either a starter or to Brett Gardner in order to make the roster. Mike Rivera will compete with Francisco Cervelli for the chance to backup Jorge Posada.
Athletics- LF/RF: Coco Crisp is the only outfielder that is a lock for a starting position in Oakland’s outfield. Rajai Davis and Ryan Sweeney are the early favorites to start in left field and right field, respectively. Davis finally got consistent playing time and was able to produce runs in many clutch plate appearances last season. Sweeney is best known for plus defense but since arriving in Oakland he also has a .349 OBP. Sweeney still lacks power and speed. Travis Buck enters spring training with a chip on his shoulder after the club brought in Gabe Gross, Michael Taylor, and re-signed Jack Cust. Michael Taylor is one of the top prospect in baseball and many think he is ready for a full-time role in Oakland.
Mariners- C: Most of Seattle’s lineup will be different from opening day 2009 (catcher, first base, shortstop, third base, and left field). Catcher is the leading question mark entering 2010. Adam Moore is the catcher of the future but the Mariners see now as their best chance to take the division from the Angels. Will they let Moore grow in the midst of a pennant chase? Josh Bard is a veteran that was invited to camp with a chance to make the roster. Bard had two fairly good seasons in 2006 and 2007 but struggled at the plate last year in 90 games. Moore and Bard will battle Eliezer Alfonzo and Rob Johnson for playing time this year but the Mariners should not expect too much offense from this spot in 2010.
Rays- C: In 2008 Dioner Navarro was an All-Star catcher for the American League Champions. In 2009 Dioner Navarro lost playing time and saw his OBP drop from .349 to .261 while the Rays missed the playoffs. Navarro is still young but the Rays project to again be one of best teams in baseball and need production from the entire lineup to keep pace with Boston and New York. Kelly Shoppach was brought in to compete with Navarro. He is another young catcher who experienced a drop-off in production last year. The Rays hope the competition between the two will spark better play in 2010.
Rangers- 1B: The Rangers will again have a good offense with players like Ian Kinsler, Michael Young, Vladimir Guerrero, Josh Hamilton, and so on. One spot that isn’t so great is first base. Chris Davis played well as a rookie in 2008 but his ability to get onbase completely fell off the chart last year. The Rangers have their eyes set on the playoffs and tried to acquire Mike Lowell as insurance for first base. Lowell’s nagging injuries didn’t allow the deal to be completed. Justin Smoak is a switch-hitting prospect but is still very young. The Rangers may still look to free agency for a hitter like Russell Branyan, Carlos Delgado, or, longtime Ranger, Hank Blalock.
Blue Jays- LF: The Blue Jays are in rebuilding mode and are looking to stopgaps to fill in all over the field. Utility-man Jose Bautista may end up being the stopgap in left field. He has the ability to hit for power but will not have a high average. Bautista is the favorite but Jeremey Reed is another option along with speedster Joey Gathright. The Jays had a potential five tool left fielder in Michael Taylor but traded him for corner infield prospect, Brett Wallace. Free agents Johnny Damon and Willy Taveras could be brought in to play left and provide top-of-the-order experience as well.
My predictions of a free agent hitter each team will still sign this off-season:
Nationals: Chad Tracy to pinch hit and get some defense at 1st base for Adam Dunn.
Royals: Vladimir Guerrero to DH; maybe play some right to keep Jose Guillen rested. (I would say Scott Podsednik but it appears he is about to sign with them anyway.)
Pirates: Rick Ankiel to play right field and hit 4th/5th.
Orioles: Hank Blalock to play first base though Baltimore may use Garrett Atkins there.
Indians: Jose Molina to mentor the team’s young catching prospects.
Mets: Bengie Molina who will start at catcher.
Diamondbacks: Randy Winn to play left field and mentor their young outfielders.
Padres: Brad Ausmus to backup Nick Hundley at catcher.
Astros: Jerry Hairston Jr. to start the season at short until Manzella is ready
Blue Jays: Endy Chavez is a great defender in the outfield.
A’s: Khalil Greene to possibly get some innings at short and third.
Reds: Miguel Tejada to start at shortstop and hit 2nd.
White Sox: Ryan Church to be insurance for oft-injured outfielders Andruw Jones and Carlos Quentin.
Brewers: Fernando Tatis to provide some pop off the bench from the right side.
Cubs: Orlando Hudson to play second base and hit 2nd.
Rays: Marcus Thames who can hit for power and start if Joyce/Perez need time at AAA.
Mariners: Xavier Nady has power and can split innings at first with Casey Kotchman.
Tigers: Alfredo Amezaga to spend time in center and at second while prospects learn.
Braves: Jeremy Reed who won’t cost to much and can play all three OF spots.
Twins: Orlando Cabrera fit right in last year and he’ll be back to play second base this time.
Marlins: Gabe Gross to provide a lefty bat off the bench.
Rangers: Russell Branyan who will have to sign another cheap, one year deal.
Giants: Yorvit Torrealba to share catching duties with Buster Posey like Torrealba did with Iannetta in Colorado.
Cardinals: Matt Stairs to pinch hit.
Rockies: Jason Giambi will re-sign after a fun run in Colorado last year.
Red Sox: Rocco Baldelli to backup the outfield because I believe they will trade Jeremy Hermida.
Dodgers: Felipe Lopez to play second base and thrive in that lineup.
Angels: Melvin Mora who will get time at third and left.
Phillies: Paul Bako to play catcher at AAA and wait for an opportunity like he got last year with the Phillies.
Yankees: Reed Johnson to split time with Brett Gardner in left.
Here’s what the next group of teams still needs going into the New Year:
Florida Marlins: Entering the off-season the entire world new what this team was going to do: cut costs. Jeremy Hermida was shipped to Boston while Matt Lindstrom was moved to Houston. Since then, the Marlins have tried and failed to sign Josh Johnson to an extension and trade slugger Dan Uggla. Uggla has plenty of potential suiters but teams are not agreeing on similar trade value. If Uggla is moved, as expected, Florida could bring in a first or third baseman with Jorge Cantu playing the other and Emilio Bonifacio likely filling the second base void. A left-handed bat off the bench, preferably an outfielder, is also needed.
Houston Astros: The Astros have been in a horrible state of flux since their World Series appearance. They’re not quite good enough to win the division and not quite bad enough to completely rebuild. The latter is probably the best move however. For the rest of the off-season, expect another catcher to be added with the goal of meshing the scrap-heap that is their pitching staff.
Kansas City Royals: Adding another starting pitcher would be smart along with a good lefty in the bullpen to match up with AL foes Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Justin Kubel and Grady Sizemore. This division will be up for grabs next year because no teams in it are great just yet which gives the Royals hope. Hopefully the team will refrain from the idea of trading Alberto Callaspo. Players they may need to think about moving are Jose Guillen, Yuniesky Betancourt, Alex Gordon or Mike Aviles, in that order. Also, decide if David DeJesus will be in left or center.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: The Angels should focus on adding depth for the rotation and a swing man to come out of the bullpen. Though they have four young studs in the rotation even after the departure of Lackey, injuries seem to hit them each year. It seems inevitable Gary Matthews Jr. will be moved so the team will need some more pop added to the bench.
Los Angeles Dodgers: This team badly needs a fourth or fifth starter and is currently in early talks for Aaron Harang. Blake Dewitt is not the answer at second base and a reunion with Orlando Hudson is not in the plans after how much he was benched in the second half and the playoffs. The benching started because of injury but continued when Ronnie Belliard took his job. A more likely option is Felipe Lopez.
Milwaukee Brewers: More additions to the rotation are needed to compete with the Cardinals and Cubs. It has been rumored with great frequency (and great plausibility) that Mark Mulder will sign to fill one of those spots and reunite with former coaches Macha and Peterson. The Crew could also use an all-around utility player to fill out their bench.
Minnesota Twins: Depending on the Twins’ confidence in Francisco Liriano they may want to add a legitimate starting pitcher. However, even before that, the lineup needs to be more balanced. Last year the bottom half consisted of Brendan Harris, Nick Punto, Matt Tolbert, and Alexi Casilla far too often. Bringing in J.J. Hardy to play short was a fine move but improvements need to be made to either third or second base. Mark DeRosa seems like a good fit and the club may re-sign Orlando Cabrera to play second.
New York Mets: A healthy year is this most important facot for the Mets. The Phillies and Braves already pose challenges no matter who the Mets bring in, but Jason Bay and Bengie Molina would certainly help. The Mets were interested in John Lackey and Jason Marquis but with them off the market a Joel Piniero signing makes sense.
New York Yankees: Like the Red Sox, the Yankees don’t need too much. If the team wants some insurance or just an insurance partner for Brett Gardner in left, there are plenty of options on the free agent market. Reed Johnson has been in talks with New York. Jerry Hairston Jr. would be a valuable re-sign for the bench.
Oakland Athletics: The A’s will finish in last place next year while they wait for both their starting pitching to mature and Chris Carter and Michael Taylor to make an impact at the major league level. For now, newcomers Coco Crisp and Jake Fox will get a chance to prove they are starters in this league. The entire team is young and don’t expect Billy Beane to block paths with one year deals this time around. Justin Duchscherer was signed to mentor the staff, but there won’t be any Frank Thomas, Orlando Cabrera, or Jason Giambi-like signings this winter.
A quick synopsis of this year’s Winter Meetings from Indianapolis.
- Ivan Rodriguez was able to snag 2 years at a huge $6MM from the dismal Washington Nationals. He will provide great leadership for young catcher Jesus Flores and potential first overall pick of next summer’s draft, catcher Bryce Harper. Only time will tell if he really is worth $6MM.
- The Astros decided to spend relatively big on Brandon Lyon and Matt Lindstrom for the back of the bullpen plus another $4.5MM on Pedro Feliz to keep the hot corner warm until Chris Johnson arrives.
- Brad Penny got a large $7.5MM contract plus another $1.5MM in incentives from the Cards.
- In maybe the most surprising move of all (undoubtedly the most surprising to the Braves), Rafael Soriano accepted arbitration and then demanded a trade. I see that as another crafty move around not costing his new team a first round draft pick while still commanding a nice salary. The Braves are currently finalizing a trade to ship Soriano to the Rays for another reliever, Jessie Chavez.
- The Brewers decided to spend on another aging veteran for the rotation in Randy Wolf. They’re hoping he’s not the next Jeff Suppan. One solid move by Milwaukee, in my opinion, was adding LaTroy Hawkins to a previously unreliable setup crew in front of Trevor Hoffman.
- Andy Pettitte resigned with the Yankees on another one year contract. The salary was a little more than most expected however, at $11.75MM.
- The Yankees made another big splash in acquiring Curtis Granderson which has already been discussed in an earlier entry.
- The Cubs still have not found the elusive trade partner for Milton Bradley. The most intriguing rumors for Cubs fans so far would be an exchange of Bradley and Gil Meche, a starter on the Royals. The salaries match up pretty well and Meche may be able to win more in the NL.