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March 15, 2006

Fantasy Focus

Endgame Players

by Joe Oberkrieser

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So it's end of your draft, and you've got a buck or two remaining. You still have a spot to fill on your fantasy team. Who the heck do you take? Is there anyone left out there who won't hurt you? Could there even be someone who could--gasp!--actually help you?

The answer to that last question is a decisive "yes." In any draft, there are some intriguing end-game picks out there, players you should be able to pick up for only a buck or in the last round of your draft. None of these guys is a star--far from it. But all are able to help your fantasy team at least a little bit.

This week, we'll take a glance at some of these end-gamers. But before we get to the list, let me emphasize that this column is intended for those of you in deeper leagues. If you're in an eight-team mixed league, you shouldn't have to stoop so low as to draft any of the players mentioned here. Just wanted to make that clear, because we wouldn't want someone in a shallow Yahoo! league to walk away with Omar Infante as his starting shortstop.

On to the end game:

SP Pedro Astacio, Washington Nationals

Last year, Astacio started off in Texas. He had a sparkling 45/11 K/BB there, but his ERA was a whopping 6.05. That sort of thing can happen to a guy in a hitter's park. Then, Astacio joined San Diego, and while he pitched a lot worse than he did in Texas--his K/BB was a hideous 33/26--his ERA improved to a much prettier 3.17. That can happen in a pitcher's park.

Which brings us to the present, where the good news is that Astacio is pitching in another extreme pitcher's park. RFK should treat him kindly. Even if he's not really that good--say, no better than he was in San Diego last year--his ERA could be useful to you, and he could pick up some wins, too. Remember also that since Brian Lawrence is out for the year, Astacio will definitely get the opportunity to start.

OF Jeff DaVanon, Arizona Diamondbacks

There are three reasons to like DaVanon. For one, he's going to get some playing time in center field against right-handers. Also, Arizona's Chase Field is a great place to hit. Lastly, starting center fielder Eric Byrnes is coming off a lousy year and is no sure bet to rebound. If he struggles out of the gate, DaVanon could find himself playing quite a bit.

INF Chris Gomez, Baltimore Orioles

Gomez could end up the starter at second base if Brian Roberts' elbow isn't ready for Opening Day. Should Roberts suffer a serious setback, Gomez could get a lot of playing time before Roberts returns or the Orioles find a better replacement. Remember that this advice is for deep leagues; Gomez isn't much of a player, but it's not a bad idea for Roberts-owners to handcuff him with Gomez.

INF Omar Infante, Detroit Tigers

Put on your gas mask, because we're about to push past the stench and discuss Infante's 2005. Infante hit just .222, and his plate discipline was nonexistent (73/16 K/BB). Those stats, combined with the fact that Infante doesn't have a starting job in Detroit, might make him initially look like a useless fantasy player.

Nevertheless, Infante is an interesting $1 pick. For starters, he's an intriguing power/speed combo; as bad as he was last year, he still knocked nine home runs and swiped eight bases. Of course, power and speed are worthless if you don't have the opportunity to show them off, and Infante enters the season as a backup. However, he could end up with some playing time. Shortstop Carlos Guillen hasn't been the healthiest sort over the last couple of seasons, and if his knee gives him trouble, then Infante--and his fantasy owners--will reap the benefits. Also, Infante is eligible at both second base and shortstop, and he's still just 24 years old. So despite last season, there is some upside here.

C Gerald Laird, Texas Rangers

Laird is behind Rod Barajas on the depth chart, and won't get much playing time to start off the season. Laird still makes a great $1 catcher, though. He hit .310/.380/.562 at Triple-A last year, so his bat shouldn't hurt you, and should he get traded or should Barajas get hurt, you could have a major steal.

C Doug Mirabelli, San Diego Padres

Mirabelli will be a great second catcher for those of you in deep leagues. He's got plenty of pop, smacking six home runs in just 136 at-bats last season, but you might reasonably expect even better production in 2006. Why? Because Mirabelli should get more playing time than he's seen in years, while starter Mike Piazza is penciled in to start little more than half of the time. Assuming Mirabelli starts the other games, double-digit homers are possible.

RP Guillermo Mota, Cleveland Indians

Mota put up a 4.70 ERA and suffered an elbow injury last year, so obviously, his stock is way down. All the more reason to buy a share of Mota Inc., because it might end up paying huge dividends. There were some encouraging things last year--namely, a strong strikeout rate (60 K's in 67 innings) and the ability to keep the ball in the park (five home runs allowed). That's good, and if Mota is healthy, he could be even better this season. He also could end up saving some games: Indians closer Bob Wickman was extremely successful last year, but his low strikeout rate (5.95) and his age (37) suggest that a repeat performance is unlikely. If Wickman falters, Mota could get his chance to close. Your $1 would certainly be well spent if that happens.

OF Xavier Nady, New York Mets

Nady is never going to accomplish the great things that were once expected of him, but can he accomplish enough to make him a strong $1 fantasy pick this year? You betcha. Nady has some pop, he hits for a decent average, he's 27 years old (peak age alert!), and he could win the starting right field job on the Mets. Keep an eye on Nady's battle with Victor Diaz this spring. Even if Nady loses the fight, he should still pick up enough at-bats to hit 10 home runs. That's going to be worth a buck or two in deep leagues.

INF Abraham Nunez, Philadelphia Phillies

When Scott Rolen got hurt last year, Nunez not only stepped in, he stepped up. His .285/.343/.361 line won't send a shiver down your spine, but those numbers were pretty darn good for a player whose expected level of performance was so low. Now a Phillie, Nunez could do the same thing this year. Incumbent third baseman David Bell is already battling back problems, and if he can't get healthy, Nunez might again be relied upon to man his club's hot corner. Bell hasn't exactly been hitting the cover off the ball anyway, so Nunez probably would see plenty of at-bats even if Bell were 100 percent. Expect another decent average out of Nunez and perhaps a little more power, because Citizens Bank Park is a fun place to hit.

SP Ramon Ortiz, Washington Nationals

Ortiz was awful last year, posting a 5.36 ERA, allowing 34 home runs, and winding up with a mediocre K:BB ratio to boot. But maybe, just maybe, he can be decent in 2006. Ortiz always gives up a lot of fly balls, all too many of which became home runs in Cincinnati, but his new home, RFK Stadium, is more forgiving than a nun. The spacious ballpark is tailor-made for a pitcher like Ortiz. Don't expect greatness, but Ortiz could be worth a few bucks--and that's good if you're spending just one buck to get him.

OF Bernie Williams, New York Yankees

Williams is a shell of his former self. However, that shell still has enough life to give you $1 worth of production. RotoWire's projection for Williams is .255-15-66, and PECOTA's got him coming in at .261-8-45. Those numbers aren't anything special, but they're value for a one buck, end-game pick. Of course, if that annoying Yankees fan in your league wants to spend more than a buck on Williams, by all means, let him have his way.

RP Scott Williamson, Chicago Cubs

In 14.1 IP last year, Williamson put up a 23/6 K/BB, so it looks like he's recovered from Tommy John surgery. Bid a buck on Williamson and enjoy, because he should give you plenty of K's and keep your ERA and WHIP low. Plus, if and when the Cubs trade Williamson, he might wind up someplace where he could close. If that happens, this would be the best buck you'll ever spend.

Joe Oberkrieser is a columnist at RotoWire. He can be reached here.

Related Content:  Omar Infante

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