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Noise: Ageists, Raul Ibanez demands your respect

Brad Evans
Roto Arcade

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Golden oldie Ibanez is still a fantasy goodie (US Presswire)

Old. Decrepit. Antiquated. These were just a few words fanalysts used to describe Raul Ibanez preseason.

Though it's true the centenarian once decked Bill the Butcher in a bare-knuckle boxing match in 1851, it appears he has plenty left in the tank. Sipping from the Fountain of Youth, Ibanez has posted numbers most owners would fawn over if not tallied by an supposed over-the-hill hitter. His .273-7-21-10-2 line over just 88 at-bats checks in at No. 38 among eligible outfielders and No. 147 overall, ahead of coveted juniors Justin Upton, Alex Gordon and Drew Stubbs.

Enough with the age discrimination, mixed leaguers. The venerable Yankee deserves your consideration, at the very least.

Thumbing through the baseball annals, a handful of major leaguers fended off the corrosive effects of Father Time to post quality numbers during their age 39 campaigns. Since 2000, notable names Barry Bonds, Frank Thomas, Steve Finley and Andres Galaragga each clubbed 25-plus homers and drove in 90 or more runs at an identical point on the career arc. Sure, his elite days with the Mariners and Phillies are firmly entrenched in the past, but there are several underlying signs that suggest Ibanez could join his geriatric predecessors in the exclusive 25-90 Club 39.

[ Jeff Passan: Who's most likely to land Josh Hamilton on the free-agent market?]

For starters, the crafty veteran has sported an eagle eye. He's sliced his K-rate in half ('11: 18.4, '12: 9.3), seeing more pitches while drawing more walks. A ground pounder in his final two stints with the Phillies ('10 GB/FB: 1.19, '11: 1.32), he's also transformed into a fly-ball hitter (0.88 GB/FB in '12), routinely turning on offerings over the inner half in an attempt to take advantage of the friendly Yankees Stadium jet stream. Of the five homers he's smacked at the House Jeter Built, four were pulled. Even more impressive, Ibanez ranks second to Josh Hamilton in no doubters according to Hittracker. Balls off his bat are sailing, not sneaking, over the fence, an excellent indicator of bat speed and strength. Despite his advanced age, the man needs no Boniva. And based on his two steals (In the past, pandas mated more frequently than Ibanez stole bags), he apparently doesn't need a motorized scooter either.

With Brett Gardner roughly 2-3 weeks from activation, Ibanez will continue to log regular PT. Even when the speedster returns, he should remain a fixture in the lineup. As New York manager Joe Girardi remarked earlier this week, the lefty has delivered many timely connections. From the Daily News:

Capping a week in which Ibanez went 8-for-18 with four homers and nine RBI, the seventh hitter in the lineup drove in the game's first run on a two-out, two-strike double in the second inning. He then hit a solo shot over the center field wall in the fourth.

"He's been doing it for a long time," Joe Girardi said. "I'm not sure (the double pitch) was on the plate. I don't think it was a strike and that's how good of a hitter he is."

Ibanez had a two-homer game against the Rays Tuesday night and a three-run blast off King Felix Hernandez on Friday.

"It's been incredible," Girardi said. "It's one thing to have 20 or so RBI, but it's another thing to have the 20 RBI, the type that he has. How big they've been for us. A lot of them have been game changers for us and that's what he's done for us."

Overshadowed on his own team by superstars Derek Jeter, Curtis Granderson and Nick Swisher, the 27-percent owned commodity should continue to thrive as long as his peripherals remain intact. On a 33-homer, 100-RBI pace, it's fathomable he could outpace or finish within striking distance of heavily owned boppers like Corey Hart, Matt Joyce and Josh Willingham.

As Fantasyland continues to fawn over a 19-year-old .232 hitter with anger issues (Bryce Harper), New York's Old Man River quietly rages.

Fearless Forecast (rest of season): 395 at-bats, .268 BA, 19 HR, 74 RBI, 52 R, 2 SB

FLAMES OF THE WEEK

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Andy Dirks, Det, OF (28-percent owned) — With five multi-hit games, two homers, six RBIs and eight runs scored since Cinco de Mayo, the former Wichita St. standout has shocked the fantasy community. Cemented in the two-hole behind Austin Jackson, the sparkplug is immediately acquirable in 12-team and deeper mixers. His high-contact rate and knack for getting on-base should give owners a pleasurable case of the runs, especially with Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder dismantling baseballs behind him. Dirks' minor league track-record denotes he's more of a low double-digit power producer, but his 17 steals between two levels last year indicates he should eventually swipe bags. Put it all together and he could emerge a 12-15 player come year's end. Dirks, though currently bothered by a minor hamstring injury, is a valuable asset who deserves more attention.

Fearless Forecast (rest of season): 418 at-bats, .280 BA, 8 HR, 51 RBI, 65 R, 13 SB

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Christian Friedrich, Col, SP (8-percent) — Seventeen strikeouts in 13.1 innings pitched. About 99.9-percent of the time, fantasy owners would scale Mount Everest to acquire a starting pitcher with that kind of initial output. But few have made the effort. Coors Field's thin air combined with Friedrich's skyward ways (0.69 GB/FB) are, to some, a recipe for future disaster. Though his ERA is due to rise, it's extremely difficult to ignore his first two turns in the Bigs. Showing the poise and polish of an established vet, the southpaw has performed like a well-oiled machine, featuring a darting, late-moving low-to-mid 90s fastball, big-breaking curve, slider and change. As long as his command remains harnessed, continued success is in the crystal ball. After humiliating the Giants on the road Monday (7 IP, 1 ER, 10 K, 1 BB), he is worth an immediate add, deep-leaguer. Two of his next three starts, home clashes with SEA and HOU, are quite favorable.

Fearless Forecast (rest of season): 146.1 IP, 8 W, 3.79 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 142 K

LAMES O' THE WEAK

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Jimmy Rollins, Phi, SS — The once revered shortstop's slow descension toward mediocrity continues. A common entrant high on owner cheat-sheets preseason, he currently ranks outside the SS top-20 and No. 346 overall, behind future superstars Kyle Seager and Robert Andino. One of Rollins' goals entering the season was to become a more efficient hitter. Sadly, the opposite has occurred. His spike in strikeouts ('11 K%: 9.4, '12: 16.3) and dwindling power are major concerns. However, he's not completely toast. His 88-plus contact percentage suggests if he can take a pitch or two, his BA should eventually rebound into the .265-.275 range. He's also stealing bases at a rather prolific clip, evident in his 31 SB pace. At 33, MVP-caliber numbers are certainly behind him, but J-Roll should eventually reverse course, finishing at or around the top-10 at his position. Traded this week for Vance Worley, Jon Lester and Logan Morrison in one-for-one deals, the veteran is a quality buy-low candidate.

Fearless Forecast (rest of season): 422 at-bats, .272 BA, 10 HR, 54 RBI, 63 R, 21 SB

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Ricky Romero, Tor, SP — Tattooed in two of his past three turns, last year's breakout star has faded rapidly. Since May 2, he's surrendered 11 runs in 19.1 innings pitch, amassing a wretched 13:13 K:BB split in the process. Clear in his dramatic rise in BB/9, fastball command has been Romero's biggest bugaboo. The offering is largely average so far this season according to Fangraphs' pitch value metric. Because his strikeout pitch is the change, fastball execution is imperative for the lefty. Without it, as seen recently against Texas and Minnesota, and he's extremely vulnerable. Romero still coaxes a high volume of groundball outs, but his increase in gopherballs coupled with the walks leaves a bitter taste. There's hope for a turnaround, but considering the division, his 4.20 xFIP and other disturbing peripherals, it could be a step-back year for the hurler. Shop him while his all-around numbers are still palatable.

Fearless Forecast (rest of season): 163.1 IP, 10 W, 4.11 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 127 K

QUICK HITTERS (Random musings from my demented brain)

Consider this your final notice to take advantage of slashed prices on Drew Storen and Michael Morse. Both are slated to start rehab assignments in the next week or two targeting early June returns. Due to Henry Rodriguez's recent struggles, Storen, who slammed the door 43 times last year, should reclaim the ninth-inning role once he rounds into shape. As for Morse, many have already written him off as a one-year wonder, but his prime age and steady isolated power totals since 2009 indicate he's no flash-in-the-pan. He is very capable of smashing 20-plus homers once reinserted into the starting lineup.

Carlos Beltran claims his right knee soreness is nothing to be concerned about, but, based on his long injury history and current earth-shattering pace (.295-60-148-129-23), it's sage for owners to advertise the outfielder's services. I would be shocked if played 135 games this year. In one-for-one swaps this week he's attracted the likes of Justin Verlander, Dustin Pedroia and, interestingly enough, Albert Pujols. Profit.

God forbid, but if the injury imp wreaks havoc on the Rangers outfield later this season, Leonys Martin could become a fantasy factor. Scouts peg him as an above average leadoff man capable of contributing noticeable returns in all major 5x5 categories. He looked fantastic in a brief stint with the senior club last year and was off to a torrid start at Triple-A Round Rock (98 at-bats, .347 BA, 3 HR, 11 RBI, 13 R, 7 SB) before succumbing to a thumb setback May 1. He should return to the Express lineup sometime mid-summer. If he bounces back quickly, a promotion could be right around the corner. Store his name to long-term memory.

In every fantasy football draft imaginable this year, I'm targeting Matthew Stafford in Round 2. Coming off one of the most historic, and overshadowed, seasons in NFL history, the 5,000-yard, 41-TD beast continues to get slighted for being injury prone. In a way, he's this generation's Fred Taylor, a player who was consumed by injury early in his career, earned an unfortunate "fragile" label but proved to be largely durable and highly productive over the remainder of his career. Look, Stafford, arguably one of the toughest quarterbacks in the league (Remember the separated shoulder game versus the Browns a couple years back?), has yet to reach his prime and is in a ripe situation. He has arguably the game's deadliest downfield weapon in Calvin Johnson, a host of quality secondary and tertiary targets (e.g. Nate Burleson, Titus Young, Brandon Pettigrew and hopefully Jahvid Best), a still flimsy defense and suspect ground attack. Mix all of those ingredients together and 2011's sweet numbers could be replicated. And don't be swayed by the silly Madden Curse. Larry Fitzgerald and Drew Brees were able to stave off its voodoo powers. Megatron will too.

REO Speedwagon's classic "Take it on the Run" has officially become my favorite singalong while half-crocked song. If Nelson Cruz ever cheats on the Noise, I will go "Say Anything" on his front doorstep, blaring the tune, to ensure he clearly understands the pain he caused. And Sweet Nelly, please quit whiffing.

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