Every year we get the rush of people who, acting like it's a holiday sale at Walmart, aren't afraid to run over their competitor to add the hot new toy to their basket (in this case we're talking hot shot youngster to their fantasy team). Believe me I understand the temptation. Just look at what guys like Trout and Harper did last season. But for every successful rookie standout there are tons of youngsters who fail to live up to the overblown expectations of many in the fantasy game. I'll try to lend some sanity here. I'll then touch on some of the news of the day including will Manny Ramirez play in 2013? Is Joe Saunders a reliable innings eater? What were the Phillies thinking signing an unreliable veteran righty? Is Mike Napoli every going to sign with the Red Sox? Is Jose Valverde's career as a closer over even though he had 35 saves last year?
The Value of Rookies
Forgive me, but I'm going to get on my soapbox and discuss something that I'm faced with on a daily basis – people LOVE rookies.
Probably a quarter of all questions I get on a daily basis involve a player with at most a year of big league experience. It's like people have more of an interest in being known as the person who “discovered” a player than they do at putting together a winning fantasy team. I try telling people every single day, I doubt they are listening, but you give me a team of Kubel's and Swisher's, solid but unexciting veterans, and I bet you I will defeat your high “upside,” huge downside team built with a ton of youngsters the vast majority of the time. I know many don't want to let facts ruin a good story, but I'm going to be the bearer of the truth regardless. Let's take a look at the list of FAILED rookies the last three years, guys that were looked at as players who were primed to be fantasy studs but who, for whatever reason, just didn't get it done.
2010: Justin Smoak, Pedro Alvarez, Desmond Jennings, Brett Wallace, Dustin Ackley, Yonder Alonso, Alcides Escobar, Domonic Brown, Matt LaPorta, Mat Gamel, Kyle Blanks, Cameron Maybin
2011: Domonic Brown, Jesus Montero, Desmond Jennings, Brandon Belt, Julio Teheran, Mike Moustakas, Jacob Turner, Zach Britton, Kyle Drabek
2012: Domonic Brown, Randall Delgado, Julio Teheran, Trevor Bauer, Wil Myers, Devin Mesoraco, Drew Pomeranz, Brett Jackson, Jacob Turner, Mike Montgomery, James Darnell, Matt Harvey, Matt Adams
I could go on and on, but hopefully this illustrates my point. For every Bryce Harper we have a Julio Teheran. For every Wade Miley there is a Drew Pomeranz. For every Mike Trout there is... oh wait, there is no comp there.
And that's the main point I'm trying to direct you all to. Are there rookies that live up to expectations from day one? Absolutely there are. Do some rookies surpass the expectations that are held for them? The answer is certainly yes. But the point is that those who hit the ground running and meet/exceed expectations are a minority of the young players so many people are excited about each year. The majority of “rookies” – the overwhelming majority – fail to live up to what people hope for. And that's the key. Can you win a fantasy league if you take a guy like Trout in the 22nd round and he performs like a first rounder? Of course that is a championship move. However, the overwhelming majority of the time those players fail to do much of anything. While your taking the hot young gun in the 22nd round that no one has seen play in the big leagues before, “winning” teams are adding the likes of Denard Span, Drew Stubbs or Garrett Jones – dependable, proven big league performers that are locked into starting spots and fellas who we have a handle on after seeing them play at the big league level. I'm telling ya folks the majority of the time that is the winning move. I know no one listens, but that doesn't mean it is any less accurate.
Around the League
The Phillies signed Aaron Cook to a minor league contract with an invite to Spring Training. Really? I know he has been around for a while, and teams feel comfortable with what they know, but did they realize that he walked more batters than he struck out last season (21 to 20)? Did they notice that he struck out 20 batters in 94 innings last season? That's a 1.91 K/9 mark which is the lowest in baseball since 1982 for a hurler who threw at least 90 innings. But hey, he can still generate grounders – his ground ball rate was 58.6 percent – and with that it sounds like a job in the big leagues could follow.
Mike Napoli and the Red Sox are still negotiating as they try and come to an agreement both sides can live with. Napoli and the Red Sox agreed on a three year, $39 million deal, but when Napoli took a physical an issue with his hip was discovered. The Sox thought it was enough of an issue that they balked at their side of the agreement and told Napoli they wanted to renegotiate the terms of the deal (that was totally within their rights, so don't think they were pulling a fast one – they weren't). It's been more than a month since the initial agreement was struck, so I fail to see what could possibly be hanging things up this long. Napoli can still sign with another club, he's not forced to stay with the Sox, and one would have to think that the power hitting catcher might consider going to another club, though it's fair to wonder if any other organization would be willing to give Napoli a multi year deal given his medical reports. It might be that Napoli will see his time behind the dish significantly reduced or perhaps he'll even be forced to give up catching because of his hip issue, but even so the guy has a bat that can play at first base or DH for many a team.
Manny Ramirez hit four bombs in the Dominican Winter League postseason, and the 41 year old wants to play in the majors again. Manny last appeared in the majors in 2011, he had just on hit in 17 at-bats in 2011, but he did bat .302 in Triple-A for the Athletics last season (it was just 17 games though). I would bet that Manny could still be a productive hitter in the big leagues if someone gave him a shot, a case can be made for him that he is one of the 10 greatest right handed hitters of all-time, but with all the off the field stuff and the circus that surrounds him I would be surprised if he isn't left out in the cold without a gig (ala Barry Bonds who could still play when teams stopped offering him a contract).
Just for the heck of it. Hotness.
Joe Saunders is still looking for someone to offer him three years on a contract. Will he continue to wait unless he lowers his demands? The list of teams on the trail of Saunders is long – Twins, Mets, Mariners, Padres are known to be chasing him – so it's not like his services aren't desired by many. Apparently, a lefty that can basically take the ball every five games is a valuable commodity, even if that fella isn't exactly an overwhelming option on the bump. Saunders has thrown at least 174.2 innings each of the five years, an only five other lefties can say they have done that: CC Sabathia, Cliff Lee, Jon Lester, Cole Hamels and Mark Buehrle. Only of of those five arms is comparable to Saunders, and that's Buehrle since both are more of the soft tossing variety. Of course, Buehrle is a better pitcher than Saunders, and that's the issue that Joe is currently dealing with. He can take the ball every five games and keep his team in most games, but he doesn't dominate anyone and really isn't that good. Over the last three seasons he's won a total of 30 games. Ho hum. His ERA has been over 4.00 in three of the last four seasons. His WHIP has been below 1.31, just about the big league average, just one time in his career at 1.21 back in 2008. His career bets in strikeouts is 114. Kenley Jansen had 99 strikeouts last season in 65 innings. Because of the lack of whiffs his career K/BB ratio is terrible at 1.87. Last season was a career best effort in that category for Saunders, his K/BB ratio was 2.87, but that was the first time the number had ever been above 2.05. Saunders is also pretty blah in the GB/FB ratio area with a mark between 1.17 and 1.34 each of the past six years. Face it, the term vanilla can be applied here and be totally accurate. Still, he's a solid depth arm and someone will pay him, even if he shouldn't be touched in mixed leagues this season no matter who is his employer.
Jose Valverde is looking for a job. That's a bit surprising, but it really shouldn't be, should it? Jose has recorded 49 and 35 saves the past two years, and that's impressive indeed, but that's really all he has to hang his hat on. Here's what you should be focusing on. His 3.78 ERA in 2012 was a six year high. His 1.25 WHIP was a six year high. His 6.26 K/9 mark was a career worst. Not just that, his K/9 rate has gone down every single year from 2006 from a career best of 12.59 to last year's 6.26 which is, if you hadn't figured it out, a 50 percent reduction. Now it becomes pretty obvious why you should have a healthy does of skepticism with Valverde and understand why it is that he is still looking for a home.
Ray Flowers can be heard daily on Sirius/XM Radio on The Fantasy Drive on Sirius 210 and XM 87, Monday through Friday at 5 PM EDT. For more of Ray's analysis you can check out BaseballGuys.com or the BaseballGuys' Twitter account where he tirelessly answer everyone's questions.
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