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March 24, 1998
Rotisserie Turns: Three Up, Three Down
A few last-minute thoughts for your auctionsThe sought-after "sleepers" aren't the only players in your auction whose actual values are likely to exceed their purchase price. Plenty of established players are likely to step their game up - or down - a notch or two in '98, but their prices won't fully reflect that probability. Since most of you are heading into your auctions and drafts in the next two weeks, I've presented some thoughts on potential boons and busts to ponder when tidying up your bid lists.
American League - Up:
Jason Giambi: Moving to a leadership role may get Giambi more attention, but moving to a leadership spot in the batting order will help his roto value. At 27, he's still improving and likely to hit offensive highs this year; we have him projected at .328/.391/.520 with 24 dingers and 104 RBI. If Ryan Christenson starts in CF and hits ahead of Giambi, the RBI potential gets even higher.
Ray Durham: In my bloated opinion, I'm damn lucky to get Durham at just $24 in LABR, as I figured he'd be out of my price range as he was last year ($29). I don't think I have a screaming bargain here, but I think Durham's going to show us '97 was something of an aberration. It's unusual for a player to drop from an 80-85% success rate on the bases to a 67% rate unless he's slowing down, which doesn't appear to be the case for the 26-year-old Durham. The pressure of the leadoff spot and the high expectations in Chicago may have contributed to Durham's overeager ways at the plate; with the spotlight turned on Mike Cameron, and Cameron frequently on base, Durham's numbers across the board should see improvement.
Johnny Damon: Just not as awful as his stats last year, when he couldn't steal a base if all the infielders sat on their hands for him. Like the man above, Damon was a much better percentage basestealer before last year, and hasn't slowed down enough to justify downgrading his dollar value as if 1997 represents a new level. He may not be the .300 hitter that Vlad projects, but .280 with modest power is not an unreasonable expectation, and if he steals 30 bases, everything else is gravy. That aside, be aware that Damon has not meshed well with Tony Muser, so there's always the potential for yet another tiff that lands his derriere on the pine.
American League - Down:
Fred McGriff: Most people picked up on McGriff's huge power decline last year, attributing it partially to age and partially to the pitcher's haven of Turner Field. Many of those folks have predicted a roto return to form for the Dog in Tampa Bay, given the improved ballpark situation. Yet no one has mentioned the fact that McGriff will be in the middle of one of the worst lineups in baseball, with such OBP "studs" as Dave Martinez, Quinton McCracken, and Miguel Cairo in front him. His RBI numbers aren't likely to improve unless his power numbers improve even more, and that's not likely either.
Paul Sorrento: Hate to pick on the guy, but the signs don't look good for him. Sorrento had another fine season in the Kingdome, but the move to Tampa Bay may remove the major source of his power - the Kingdome itself. Sorrento slugged 143 points higher at home last year than on the road, not surprising given the Kingdome's reputation for favoring LH power hitters. If he stays in the platoon role, his numbers will drop slightly unless the Tropicana is similarly favorable; if he plays every day, his average will drop down into more dangerous waters.
Jose Rosado: I feel compelled to include him, so forgive me if this is old news to you. Rosado has struggled through a miserable spring, probably resulting from the overuse that broke him down at the end of last year. His ERAs, by month, for 1997: 2.59, 3.83, 3.27, 5.23, 7.03, 7.94. (To think, a LABR competitor tried to pawn him off on me in August.) He will probably find himself in Omaha to start the year, and I'd bet he ends the year rehabbing from major surgery somewhere. Avoid.
National League - Up:
Moises Alou: Up? With the move to the Astrodome? I'll stick my neck out and say yes. If your competitors are savvy enough to recognize that Alou's level of performance will drop with the move to Houston, then you may be able to snatch Alou up at a good price relative to his new situation. Alou will probably hit right behind Jeff Bagwell and three spots behind Craig Biggio - two guys who combined for 211 walks and 50 HBP last year with OBAs of .425 and .415 respectively. The 4-hole in Houston is the best RBI opportunity in baseball, and Alou is worth $20 easy if that is indeed where he hits.
Shane Reynolds: Those of you who bought the '98 Prospectus (thank you) know that we think pretty highly of Reynolds from a statistical standpoint, but there's another huge point in his favor. Reynolds faded badly in September '95 and '96 as fatigue caught up with him, making him a prime candidate for elbow and/or rotator cuff problems in '97. Fortunately, a knee problem intervened, limiting Reynolds to just 8 innings in June and 22 in July. He obviously struggled a bit before and after the injury, but finished extremely strong, with a 3.00 ERA in 33 September innings, allowing 35 hits but just 5 walks against 32 strikeouts. He'll be hard-pressed to match the WFG projection, but the physical factors that worked against him in the past are now pointing in his favor. (Note: He went for $20 in LABR, indicating that some other folks share my opinion on his value.)
Steve Cooke: OK, he's kind of a sleeper. Cooke's season last year was hardly encouraging: 4.30 ERA, 9 wins (against 15 losses), 1.560 Ratio. Heck, the Pirates released him outright after the season. What most people ignore is that Cooke was coming back from nearly two lost years after shoulder surgery. Many pitchers who've had surgery take a good year or so to return to form as they re-learn how to pitch (and get past the fear of hurting themselves again). Cooke was a solid starter before his injury, and there's every reason to think he'll improve enough on those numbers to be a worthwhile $3-5 starter this year with Cincinnati.
National League - Down:
Rondell White: You've probably heard the reports on White. His recovery from offseason knee surgery hasn't gone as well as expected, and he's been shifted to left field to reduce the strain. He's also struggling a bit at the plate. While I don't think the health problems will drastically affect his power numbers, they will almost certainly take a toll on his stolen base totals. Your competitors will pay for him as if he's a four-category player, but I don't think he's going to be one this year.
Mike Lieberthal: Chronic elbow woes do not a valuable catcher make. Yes, the MRI came back negative, but Lieberthal had to shut it down again with pain before starting to throw again. As I write this, he needs to play extra time just to get enough practice in to start the season on the active roster. If Estalella is optioned, most owners will assume Lieberthal's fine and bid on him as if nothing was wrong. Something is wrong, and it will at least cause Lieberthal to miss short spells of games over the course of the season, and could land him on the DL a few times.
Tony Womack: My favorite whipping boy had to make this list. The major flaw with Womack is that he's all downside: given the fact that he has no power and has never hit for any sort of average, how could he exceed his '97 value? In every league, you'll have to pay for him as if he'll steal 50-60 bases, and yet will incur the risk that he'll play himself out of the Pirates' lineup in time for Chad Hermansen to arrive. There's just too much risk.
A final note
Those of you in the New York area may want to come down to the All-Star Cafe this weekend to see the inaugural ToutWars! experts' rotisserie league auction, featuring yours truly as the BP representative.