2010 Fantasy Baseball Preview, Part Three of Six: Late Bloomer or One-Year Wonder?
Welcome back to the third installment of my fantasy baseball preview.
This particular installment is a list of established veterans who had unexpectedly All-Star-caliber seasons and draws speculation as to whether they can repeat their success from 2009.
Let's take a look at 14 profiled vets whose careers are now at a crossroads.
Jason Bartlett: Shortstop, Tampa Bay Rays
By his fourth year in the league, Bartlett had matured into a defensive-minded shortstop that was good for a bushel of steals per year. In his sixth season, Bartlett shocked the baseball world with 14 homers, 90 runs scored, 30 steals, and a .320 average.
If this is Bartlett’s new skill set from this point forward, the 30-year-old All-Star should be a good all-around shortstop who can put up numbers similar to Derek Jeter. Bartlett has a lot fewer miles on his body than the future Hall of Famer and can probably be grabbed three to four rounds later than the Yankee captain.
Heath Bell: Relief Pitcher, San Diego Padres
Bell made a seamless transition to uber-closer after Trevor Hoffman left for Milwaukee. Although Bell had Hall of Fame shoes to fill, he stepped up to lead the National League with 42 saves.
While Bell's talent is for real, the penny-pinching Padres could already be shopping the 32-year-old, as well as anyone else on the team attracting a modicum of interest for anything younger and cheaper. Okay, Padre rant aside, Bell is a very reliable closer but presents risk if he’s traded to a contender and toils only in a setup role.
Russell Branyan: First Base, Cleveland Indians
The 34-year-old held out a little too long for a multi-year contract and should have re-signed with the Mariners when they extended him an offer after the 2009 regular season concluded.
Branyan joined Cleveland on a paltry one-year, $2 million deal with a 2011 team option to man first base the majority of the time.
If Branyan hadn’t suffered a herniated disc in his back in August, he might have had a crack at 40 homers and gotten the big free agent payday he wanted. As things currently stand, Branyan’s long swing creates a small margin for error, as his career .234 batting average will attest.
Don’t get sucked into one good year amid a career of swings and misses.
Marlon Byrd: Outfield, Chicago Cubs
Although he’s headed for the so-called Friendly Confines of Wrigley Field, are there friendlier confines in MLB than the launching pad he left behind in Arlington, Texas?
Byrd should have ample RBI opportunities with Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez hitting in front of him, but last year was the first time he received more than 500 at-bats in a season in his eight-year career. Byrd isn’t stellar defensively, and his move to the National League eliminates the possibility of DH duty.
If you believe Byrd will flourish in the National League, then take a shot. Personally, I’m staying away if 20 homers in 547 at-bats is the 32-year-old’s upside.
Jorge De La Rosa: Starting Pitcher, Colorado Rockies
Jorge had a nice season pitching for playoff-bound Colorado and has silenced detractors by showing marked improvement in almost every pitching category in each of his last four seasons.
Having recently signed another one-year deal with the Rockies, De La Rosa should be plenty motivated to pitch his heart out this season in an attempt to secure a long-term deal at the end of 2010.
Also, Colorado isn’t the hellhole for pitchers it was 10 years ago. Some of the Mile High mystique seems to have worn off with the decrease in scoring in recent seasons.
Although De La Rosa can be a formidable addition to the back of your fantasy rotation, he can be a bit of a WHIP assassin (career LOW 1.38 in '09). I would only draft the southpaw if I had a Zack Greinke/Danny Haren-type SP1/SP2 who could effectively neutralize the damage De La Rosa will do to your team's ratio.
J.D. Drew: Outfield, Boston Red Sox
Look up the term "grossly overpaid career underachiever" in your search engine under "Images." Yep, I'm surprised J.D. Drew's mug isn't posted either.
Thought to be on the downside of his disappointing baseball career, Drew played as if 2009 was a contract season with one of his highest OPS percentages ever.
While 68 RBI from an outfielder who doesn’t get steals is hardly worth salivating over, Drew is streaky enough that he may get hot and provide your team with a solid OF5 when one of your other outfielders gets hurt.
J.D. sits against most lefties, which helps to keep his batting average and OPS up, as well as his name off the disabled list.
Regardless, one can't help but see Drew's name on their roster without wondering, "Can't I do better than this mutt as my OF4/OF5?!"
Ryan Franklin: Relief Pitcher, St. Louis Cardinals
Widely believed to be the biggest surprise of the 2009 season, Franklin titillated both fantasy owners as well as his own coaches with 38 saves and a 1.92 ERA.
He’ll be counted on for a repeat performance in 2010 on an elite contender in St. Louis. Since he lacks a proven track record, Franklin could fall to the middle rounds, where he would be a bargain since he still has premier pitching coach Dave Duncan in his corner.
Frank Francisco: Relief Pitcher, Texas Rangers
For someone who made three trips to the disabled list, Francisco had a great year with 25 saves and a 1.11 WHIP.
The 30-year-old righty is a legitimate talent, but he has three factors working against him. First, 2009 proved that Francisco can be injury-prone.
Second, he pitches for Texas—a team that, with so much offensive talent, has a tendency to win big (thereby creating fewer save opportunities).
Finally, Texas has other ninth-inning options like C.J. Wilson to step in if Francisco either falters in the closer role or throws any more chairs at hecklers.
Brian Fuentes: Relief Pitcher, Los Angeles Angels
Although he had a career-high 48 saves, Fuentes struggled at times with his command and was shaky towards the end of the season.
Furthermore, the Angels signed former Detroit stopper Fernando Rodney, who figures to cut into Fuentes’ save totals even though Rodney was brought in as a setup man.
Traditionally, left-handed closers need to be dynamite every night in order to keep their job as ninth-innings specialist. Fuentes did not have the stuff to get the job done as 2009 wound down.
However, Rodney can be just as shaky as Fuentes in spite of his 37-save season a year ago. So take a wait-and-see approach as to how the Angel bullpen situation shakes out towards the end of spring training. In the meantime, don’t overpay for Fuentes' 48 saves last season.
Raul Ibanez: Outfield, Philadelphia Phillies
The 37-year-old made a favorable impression on Philadelphia fans (not always an easy task) and posted career numbers with the protection of a mighty Phillie lineup he never had in Seattle or Kansas City.
While Rauuul! has had a solid track record of production and lit up the stat sheet in the first half of ‘09, one should expect a little regression in his second season now that National League pitchers have a better handle on how to pitch to Ibanez.
One thing is for certain: He doesn't look or play his age.
Brandon Inge: Third Base, Detroit Tigers
Inge started 2009 off gangbusters, but knee problems derailed his production after the All-Star Break.
Furthermore, he’ll no longer be catcher eligible, which pretty much kills his fantasy value unless you need a third baseman who will sap your BA in exchange for some pop.
Mixed leaguers would be well-served to keep Inge out of their starting lineups unless injuries create depth issues.
Jason Kubel: Outfield, Minnesota Twins
Kubel, whom I affectionately started calling “Turtle” based on his uncanny resemblance to Jerry Ferrara’s character on Entourage, busted out in a big way in 2009 with improved stats across the board.
With the heart of the Twins’ lineup intact for the next several years, coupled with the addition of 564-HR legend Jim Thome, the 28-year-old could have even more in store down the road if he can find a way to hit left-handed pitching (.644 OPS) nearly as well as right-handed pitching (1.013).
Derrek Lee: First Base, Chicago Cubs
D-Lee provided a rare ray of sunshine for an otherwise cloudy Cubs team in 2009.
Many skeptics were convinced that Lee’s days of hitting 35 HR and amassing 110-plus RBI ended five years ago. However, he proved that his surgically-repaired right wrist was fully healed.
While I wouldn’t expect the 34-year-old to repeat last season’s numbers, I would gladly take the durable Lee as a middle-round corner infielder once the elite options are gone.
Joel Pineiro: Starting Pitcher, Los Angeles Angels
Coming off five consecutive awful seasons, Pineiro finally took renowned Cardinal pitching coach Dave Duncan’s instruction to heart and revived his career with 15 wins, a 3.49 ERA and a 1.14 WHIP as he headed into free agency.
The Angels signed the 31-year-old to a two-year contract worth $16M. As Pineiro was so bad in his previous seasons, his move back to the American League scares me.
Alas, I’m personally staying away from Joel. His lackluster strikeout totals are a detriment in 5x5 leagues anyways.
To check out the rest of The Fantasy Baseball Hintbook 2010 Preview, click on the links below.
Part 1: New Names on Your Cheat Sheet
Part 2: Promoted to Stud Status
Part 4: Young Talent That Hit a Rough Patch
Part 5: Keep an Eye on These Sleepers
Part 6: Thanks For The Memories