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April 4, 2003

Prospectus Today

New Causes

by Joe Sheehan

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So, who had the Expos 3-0/Royals 3-0 exacta?

(Sit down, Pete.)

Not since 1972 have those two teams, expansion brethren in 1969, both started a season 3-0. (Historians will note that the 1972 season started late due to a lockout, and marked the first games in baseball history to be lost to labor troubles and never made up.) The Expos would reach 5-0 before losing, and go on to a nondescript 70-86 campaign. The Royals lost their fourth game that year, and 77 more, finishing 76-78.

No one will be surprised to see these squads match the desultory performance of their predecessors. For now, the two teams can stand proud with the Yankees, Twins, Pirates, Cardinals and Giants as the last remaining and-ohs.

It has to be especially rewarding for the Royals, who have won two of their first three games by beating the White Sox bullpen, winning in the same fashion that they lost so many contests in 2002. Thursday's game in particular, when they scored seven eighth-inning runs off of four White Sox, was reminiscent of any number of Royals losses the past two seasons.

While beating up Chicago's revamped pen, the Royals have gotten great work from their own young fireballers. Mike MacDougal saved the first two games, and Ryan Bukvich threw two shutout innings in closing out Thursday's win after Kris Wilson had blown a late lead. Even Rule 5 fireballer Dan Carrasco made a successful cameo appearance. If the Royals can simply keep from losing many leads late in games, they'll close a lot of the ground between last year's squad and .500.

The Expos won their first three games despite being without the services of one of the game's best players in Vladimir Guerrero. Guerrero's understudy, Ron Calloway, was 2-for-6 with two walks and a double while Guerrero served a two-game suspension. More importantly, Expos pitchers held the Braves to two runs in 27 innings, with the three starters (Tony Armas, Zach Day and Javier Vazquez) coughing up just one run in 18 2/3 frames.

While the Expos' rotation should be a team strength, I think the three games showed us more about the Braves, who couldn't sustain anything offensively. They've returned essentially the same team as last year, with Rob Fick taking over at first base and Marcus Giles theoretically the everyday second baseman. With Vinny Castilla and Javy Lopez still in the lineup, though, they'll need Fick, Giles and Rafael Furcal to have their best seasons to date, because they will be allowing more runs this year than any Braves team has in some time. I don't think they can make up the losses of Tom Glavine and Kevin Millwood, plus an expected decline from the bullpen as a whole, with the current personnel.

Just a Fantasy

After playing no "personal" baseball last year--save a couple of friendly Yahoo! leagues--I'm back in this season with both a Scoresheet team and a rotisserie team. I mentioned the latter a couple of weeks back; we finally finished the auction and drafts, and this is what I ended up with:

18-team keeper league, 23-man active roster, 5x5 roto (includes runs, strikeouts), $260 budget


Roster                  Price

C  Charles Johnson       16
C  Eli Marrero            9
1B Carlos Pena            5
2B Frank Catalanotto     15
SS Alex Rodriguez        57
3b Ronnie Belliard        1
CI Adam Dunn             37
MI Alex Gonzalez (Chi)    7
OF Endy Chavez            1
OF Eugene Kingsale        4
OF Carl Everett          10
OF Brad Wilkerson        10
OF Jay Payton             5
UT David Ortiz            1
P  Greg Maddux           26
P  Aaron Heilman          1
P  Damaso Marte           1
P  Vladimir Nunez         1
P  J.C. Romero            1
P  Octavio Dotel          6
P  Byung-Hyun Kim        14
P  Scott Williamson      15
P  Billy Koch            17

I had just $17 left when the auction restarted, which severely limited my options. I had to watch Ted Lilly get away for just $3, which hurt. On the other hand, I was able to out-max-bid one team--I had a max bid of $5, he had one of $4--for Carlos Pena, which was nice. The endgame picks of Endy Chavez and Ronnie Belliard were met with positive response, and I still don't understand how Jay Payton went for just $5. Is there any real difference between Payton v.2003 and Jeffrey Hammonds v.2000?

My pitching strategy reflects my stubborn beliefs about what can win in roto, even 5x5: Dominate ERA, ratio and saves, and hope for the best elsewhere. Byung-Hyun Kim's move to the rotation leaves me with just two closers (and four backup closers), but I think that might actually be a net positive. If Aaron Heilman comes up in three months and does what I think he can do, I may finish higher in wins than I expected.

The drafts went as follows:


Res Placido Polanco
Res Jack Cust
Res Bobby Howry
Res Colby Lewis
Res Mike Timlin
Res Desi Relaford
Res Chad Bradford

Placido Polanco will be eligible at second base soon enough, and provides an insurance policy should Belliard flop. I think Desi Relaford could steal 20 bases and provide BA and runs if he plays. I grabbed two members of the Red Sox bullpen as well, just in case the saves do start flowing in one direction (which may be Chad Fox's, if it happens).


Minors Jake Gautreau
Minors Jeremy Brown
Minors Lew Ford
Minors Josh Stewart
Minors Anderson Machado
Minors Jayson Nix
Minors Jhonny Peralta
Minors Andy Phillips
Minors Koyie Hill
Minors Kelly Shoppach

I had a bit of a brain lock in the middle rounds (Anderson Machado and Jayson Nix, who are marginal for this depth) but recovered nicely with Jhonny Peralta, and finished strong with two older catching prospects who can hit a little.

I know a lot of fantasy players read this column, and many of you provided feedback going into the auction that proved invaluable. If you have any ideas on how to improve this squad, fire away.

Notes

  • I'll have to wait a couple of weeks to do a full piece on this, but check out what Grady Little is doing in Boston. It appears that he's going to set his lineup not just according to the opposition starter, but according to his own, maximizing infield defense when groundball machine Derek Lowe pitches, and letting it slide a bit when Pedro Martinez takes the mound. It's just a few games, but the pattern was already apparent in Tampa, particularly at first base and third base.

    I don't think many managers have done this aggressively. I want to say Earl Weaver did, but I don't know if that was based on his starting pitchers or other factors. Davey Johnson did a pretty good job of using Howard Johnson at shortstop when he started Sid Fernandez, who got groundballs as often as he ordered heart-healthy meals. Other than that, I can't think of a comp for what Little appears to be trying, and I think it's a more interesting storyline than the Sox bullpen is.

  • Speaking of good managerial decisions, Lloyd McClendon has just two catchers on his roster, so Craig Wilson is the #2 man. Jason Kendall catches 85% of the innings anyway, so there's not much need for a backup. This gives McClendon another way to get Wilson in the lineup while not wasting a roster spot on a no-hit backup catcher. Additionally, it keeps Wilson's catching skills from deteriorating further, sustaining his value as more than a wrong-league DH. It's a great move by McClendon.

  • Terry Shumpert, Cleanup Hitter.

    On April 3, folks. Not April 1.

  • For the second time in as many games, Hee Seop Choi was on the Cubs' bench, this time against righthander Steve Trachsel. I've seen/heard two reasons for this; on the Fox Sports New York broadcast, it was stated that Dusty Baker was doing it because of Trachsel's effectiveness against left-handers (.233/.303/.358 in 2002, and a fairly long history of being better against lefties); at Rotowire, Karros' recent performance against Trachsel was the reason given.

    I don't care if it was because Karros showed up at Shea Stadium with a magic bat capable of roping line drives and curing the sick. To sit Choi in consecutive games--to sit him against any right-hander--and to make him go three days without an at-bat are criminal wastes of his talent. Exactly how much grace is Choi going to get when his OPS slips under 1.000?

    I know Dusty Baker comes into Chicago off a World Series appearance and with the reputation of being a winner. I return, however, to what I wrote when he was hired:

    "The Cubs have a ridiculous reserve of young talent, and Baker's signature skill is his ability to manage veterans. For a team like the Giants, with a GM in Brian Sabean who uses his farm system as a tool to get veterans for the major-league roster, Baker is the right man for the job. I don't think Dusty Baker is the right man for Hee Seop Choi and Corey Patterson and Bobby Hill. I certainly don't like the idea of him handling Kerry Wood and Mark Prior and Carlos Zambrano, even if Zambrano is older than his listed 21. I don't think, as much as Jim Hendry seems to want Baker, that the match between a player-development-centric GM and a manager who values experience is going to work."

  • Choi's absence from the lineup has some fans up in arms, and they've been e-mailing me to solicit my support in freeing him, a la Erubiel Durazo. It's not just Choi; I've heard similar pleas from fans of Craig Wilson and Jack Cust.

    The next cause, however, is none of these people. While all have been denied their rightful plate appearances, none has suffered as long as the rightful heir to Durazo's place as the most unfairly treated man in the game. From the mountains to the oceans, from ballpark to ballpark, on sports radio and the Web, let all baseball fans be heard in a movement that will break the chains of the one too long shackled, and allow to him shine his light from gap to gap across the major leagues.

    Free Ramon Castro! Free Ramon Castro! Free Ramon Castro!

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Joe's other articles. You can contact Joe by clicking here

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