By Andy Behrens
May 29, 2007
I've heard that most workplace terminations occur on Fridays. If true, I suspect the reason for this isn't tactical. It's probably just about procrastination. It isn't pleasant firing anyone.
It ain't no picnic being fired, either. Just ask Mike Mussina. I terminated Mussina's employment in the Yahoo! Friends & Family League on Sunday morning. It was basically the fantasy baseball equivalent of an end-of-week workplace firing. I like imagining him quietly cleaning out his cubicle while Phil Hughes pretends not to notice. I'd considered the drop for several days, since watching Mussina lob 87 mph fastballs to Red Sox hitters last week. And yes, I shopped him around the league before releasing him. This process returned only polite rejections. Not surprisingly, there were no counter-offers. It's no easy thing trying to complete a trade involving a starting pitcher with a 6.52 ERA. He cleared waivers this morning if you'd like to take a flier, Funston.
I'm not bringing up the F&F league because I think you should find transactions in expert leagues incredibly compelling. You shouldn't. You've got your own leagues to worry about. But discussing this particular drop allows us to consider two topics that generate a fair number of questions: managing around your underperforming stars, and proper construction of a fantasy bench.
In most cases, I've advised emailers to hold onto slumping players who were taken early in drafts. You shouldn't overreact to a bad month, not if the player in question has a history of fantasy usefulness. Albert Pujols raised his average from .239 to .302 in two weeks; Andruw Jones homered on consecutive days this weekend; Carlos Delgado slugged a pair of home runs on Saturday and he's hit safely in five straight; Paul Konerko homered on Monday and doubled the day before. Those guys are just fine. If you traded them while they were struggling, there's a good chance you didn't get a reasonable return. They've generated lots of questions from desperate owners so far this season, but those questions have been easy to answer.
In fact, there are only two players that have caused consternation – Mussina and Garrett Atkins. The Rockies third baseman is probably the subject of 75 percent of my email. (The other 25 percent involves some combination of trade proposals, Barry Bonds, and various methods of herbal enhancement. I challenge you to rank those in order of interest). Atkins has followed an amazing 2006 season – 117 R, 29 HR, 120 RBI, .329 AVG – with an abysmal 2007. He's hitting only .220 with three home runs. Seems like whenever he has a multi-hit game, he follows it up with an 0-for-5.
If we had a great deal of history to rely on with Atkins – as we do with players like Jones, Delgado and Konerko – I'd tell you to remain patient. But we don't. There's just the one phenomenal season. Yeah, Atkins hit .366 for Triple-A Colorado Springs in 2004, but he did it in an extremely favorable hitting environment. He didn't project as a 25-35 HR guy when he came up; many of us thought Atkins would hit for a .300-plus average with 10-15 HR power. That's pretty much what he did in 2005, too. When I receive emails like this …
"I expected 120 R, 30 HR, 120 RBI from Atkins. What's wrong with him?"
… I find myself responding with answers like, "Well, that was a mistake."
I'm as aggressive as anyone when it comes to young players – if they don't work out, you can always find an acceptable replacement in a 12-team mixed league. The penalty isn't steep. But I don't like to project career years for anyone, either. Our baseline expectations for Atkins entering 2007 were too high. Would I buy low on him? Sure, if I'm buying very low. Do I prefer him to Ryan Braun? That's the question many of you should be asking. And at the moment, I'd start Braun. The stolen base potential clinches it. If I owned Atkins, I wouldn't quite be ready to drop him, but I'd certainly bench him.
I'm not crazy about firing Mussina, but we only have three bench spots in the F&F League. In that configuration, you just can't keep anyone you refuse to start – and I sure wasn't about to start Mussina anytime soon. His stuff simply isn't there. If we had a five-player bench I might stash him, but I'm already off the pace in terms of maximum games-played at a few positions. In roto leagues, you just can't give away stats by failing to reach your games-played or innings-pitched limits. So my intention is to use Mussina's roster spot as a kind of revolving door. Whatever I can squeeze into the lineup in a given day, that's what I'll add.
In a public league, this is a perfectly reasonable way to look at your bench. Keep a starting pitcher or two benched, but use your remaining spots to address immediate needs: add hitters with favorable match-ups on Mondays and Thursdays; add starting pitchers if you're chasing wins and Ks in a head-to-head league; add top-tier middle relievers whenever possible. Your bench can be a lot of things, but it shouldn't be unchanging. Thus, Mussina isn't on mine.
Andy Behrens has written for ESPN.com, the Chicago Sports Review, NBA.com, the Chicago Reader and various other publications. In all likelihood, Andy owns more Artis Gilmore memorabilia than you. Follow him on Twitter. Send Andy a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated on Tuesday, May 29, 2007 7:01 pm, EDT
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