Bringin' the Noise: Dead-End Rhodes

On Opening Day 1994, a little-known Chicago Cubs outfielder exploded onto the baseball scene smashing three home runs in one of the greatest first-game performances in major league history.

Slurring his speech over the WGN airwaves, Harry Caray wiped his fishbowl spectacles in disbelief. Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley drew up plans of a bronzed statue for the new hero in Grant Park. And, while watching their mythic savior round base-after-base, Wrigley bleacher bums thought the normally bitter-tasting Old Style beer tickled the gullet with a smidge of sweetness.

After years of sacrificing goats to the baseball gods, divine retribution had brought Cubdom a reincarnated Ernie Banks – at least it seemed.

This was the year.

Unfortunately, the superhero of the day, Karl "Tuffy" Rhodes, was merely "Moonlight" Graham in blue pinstripes. Flopping over the remainder of the season and the rest of his mediocre major league career – he did smack 360 career homers in Japan – Rhodes slugged just 10 more bombs in 117 games. Rhodes' initial charge and subsequent fallout taught fantasy dinosaurs a poignant lesson: For some guys, a hot start masks their true value.

First-week performances need to be viewed objectively. If you're a bandwagon zealot, don't be misled by deception. Feel free to take chances on upstarts, but avoid overly rash moves. Just ask that guy who bought Chris Shelton on a bull market last year …

With the season underway, here are this week's flames and lames:

Flames/Lames Notes:
BNR = Big Noise position rank
Y!% = Percent owned in Yahoo! leagues
Market value = Suggested player worth
Stats = For games played through April 3

Fantasy Flames
Player Team Pos BNR Y!%
Scott Hairston
OF 84 0.47
'07 Stats: 3-9, 0 HR, 2 RBI, 1 R, 0 SB, 1:1 K:BB
Market Value: Moderate Buy
Lowdown: With Carlos Quentin out until mid-April, deep-thinking owners and Treky nerds alike are saying "Beam me up, Scotty!" Searing this spring, Hairston swatted seven homers, drove in 18 runs and tallied a .419 average in 62 at-bats. A converted second baseman, Hairston possesses the power and plate discipline to emerge a .300 BA, 25 HR, 85 RBI player with a regular gig. Unless the D-Back outfield is stricken by injury, Hairston can only gain playing time via trade. For now, it appears Hairston will return to a reserve role once his two-week trial ends. Going 1-for-4 with two RBI hitting in the fifth spot on Opening Day, he'll be an excellent source of average and RBIs as a utility player in deeper leagues until Quentin returns.
Travis Buck
OF 79 NA
'07 Stats: 1-3, 0 HR, 0 RBI, 0 R, 2:0 K:BB
Market Value: Moderate Buy
Lowdown: Bob Geren's announcement that Buck would start the year as the A's everyday right fielder was about as eye-popping as Sanjaya's Trojan-esque pony-hawk on last week's American Idol. Schooled in Billy Beane's take-a-pitch philosophy, Buck is a crafty line-drive hitter comparable to the Dodger's Andre Eithier. Although he's only launched 10 homers in 497 minor league at-bats, some scouts project Buck to slap 15-20 homers annually. Because of his fantastic eye (84:60 K:BB in two minor league seasons) and balanced swing, the bushy-locked Buck could be an unheralded consistency king in deep head-to-head formats. However, hitting eighth, don't expect the 23-year-old to wow you in any single category. If he maintains a stranglehold on the right-field job, expect end-season totals around: .290 BA, 12 HR, 65 RBI, 60 R, and 7 SB.
Elijah Dukes
OF 75 0.79
'07 Stats: 1-3, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 1 R, 1:1 K:BB
Market Value: Moderate Buy
Lowdown: Dukes is the Chazz Michael Michaels of the dissentious D-Ray duo (Delmon Young the other)– Lycra and triple axels included. A phenomenal athlete who was once offered a full ride to play linebacker at NC State, the 22 year-old rookie showcased his plate toughness popping a homer off Carl Pavano in his second Major League plate appearance at Yankee Stadium on Opening Day. Dukes won a D-Ray roster spot after a torrid spring in which he hit .367 with seven RBIs in 60 at-bats. With Rocco Baldelli still nursing a hamstring injury, the pompous youngster should see regular PT in center over the next few games. If he can wield a hot stick and keep his attitude in check, he will see occasional at-bats as a part-time DH and fourth outfielder. Because of his advanced strike-zone knowledge (11.9 BB% in the minors) with 450 at-bats: .290 BA, 15 HR, 75 RBI, 70 R, 18 SB.
David Weathers
RP 32 18.5
'07 Stats: 1 IP, 1 H, 0 BB, 0 K, 0 S
Market Value: Strong Buy
Lowdown: Reason No. 4,371 why you never overpay for saves on Draft Day, the seemingly despondent Weathers is back in a familiar role as the head of Jerry Narron's mishmash bullpen. Not overpowering like most stoppers, he depends on pinpoint location to get outs. Throwing a scoreless inning in a non-save situation versus the Chicago Cubs on Opening Day, it appears Narron favors Weathers over other committee choices Todd Coffey, Mike Stanton, and underdog Kirk Sarloos. Coffey has the best stuff of the group, but Weathers' experience (27 total saves since 2005) makes him a reliable source of 10-15 saves. If you're in dire need of a No. 3 reliever, add Weathers in all formats, but hawk Coffey. Equipped with a 96 MPH sinking fastball, if Weathers falters, he may become a pillar in the ninth.
Alejandro De Aza
OF 83 NA
'07 Stats: 3-8, 0 HR, 0 RBI, 2 R, 0:1 K:BB
Market Value: Moderate Buy
Lowdown: De who? Fighting off Eric Reed and Alex Sanchez to nail down the coveted center field spot in Florida, after a 2-for-4, two-run Opening Day De Aza is no longer a secret. Going 13-for-37 this spring, De Aza is making the leap from Double-A, where he totaled a .278 BA and 27 steals in 230 at-bats in '06. A slap hitter with minimal power, De Aza is reminiscent in fantasy speak of another product of the Marlins system, Luis Castillo. Although he'll be deficient in home run and RBI production, the svelte outfielder is a valuable NL-only player because of his 20-25 stolen base potential. Marlins field general Fredi Gonzalez is confident De Aza can "bring something to the game every time he plays," which points to the youngster being a fixture in center for the remainder of the season. If he's sitting on waivers in NL-only leagues, the speed upside is worth a $15-20 bid.
Fantasy Lames
Player Team Pos BNR Y!%
Octavio Dotel
RP 27 91.7
'07 Stats: (Spring) 8.2 IP, 6.23 ERA, 1.46 WHIP, 15:2 K:BB
Market Value: Hold
Lowdown: After a tremendous spring in which the maligned stopper struck out 15 batters in 8.2 innings and touched 98 MPH on the gun, Dotel has been sidelined by an inopportune oblique injury. Possibly headed to the DL pending results of a side session on Wednesday, it appears Dotel's current status and combined 282 DL-days since 2005 makes him an untrustworthy option for owners, even when healthy. In his place, former Cleveland Indians bookend David Riske is expected to serve as the short-term KC closer and, if Dotel is sequestered for a lengthy amount of time, Rule 5 pick Joakim Soria could net some chances as well. After watching the talent-rich Royals explode for seven runs on Opening Day, they should greatly improve on their 20th-ranked run scoring offense from a season ago and give whoever closes a minimum of 40 save opportunities – only bank on Dotel for 20-25 of those chances.
John Patterson
SP 43 91.0
'07 Stats: 3.2 IP, 6 ER, 7 H, 2:3 K:BB
Market Value: Hold
Lowdown: Tattooed for six runs on seven hits in 3.2 innings on Opening Day, the supposed "ace" of the Nationals set an ominous tone versus the power hungry Marlins. After a healthy, optimistic spring in which he tallied a 3.45 ERA in 15 innings, Patterson's command eluded him on Monday, missing the strike zone repeatedly with an assortment of breaking balls. Even more alarming, his mid-90s velocity vanished as he registered 90 MPH only a handful of times. The beleaguered Patterson remarked about his pedestrian fastball saying, "I've got to find some drive somewhere." Not good. Until he finds the gumption, the injury-plagued starter will have to generate outs with offspeed strikes. Normally I wouldn't overreact to a first start, but with no run support, a history of injuries, and his fastball incognito, the popular draft day sleeper may never awake and be the solid source of strikeouts, ERA and WHIP we all anticipated. Bench him until more positive results are yielded.
Nelson Cruz
OF 72 0.29
'07 Stats: 0-4, 0 HR, 0 RBI, 0 R, 2:0 K:BB
Market Value: Moderate Buy
Lowdown: The hidden gem of the Carlos Lee deal with Milwaukee last season, Texas skipper Ron Washington announced Cruz will split time in right with Sammy Sosa for the first couple of games. As an everyday player in September '06, Cruz's overaggressive plate demeanor was exploited by pitchers (32:7 K:BB in 130 at-bats). Still, he showcased adequate power that, if extrapolated over 550 at-bats, would have totaled 25 homers. A legitimate 25-15 player, it's crucial for Cruz to shine when in the lineup. With Frank Catalanotto, Brad Wilkerson and Sosa vying for outfield time, the 26-year-old Cruz must grow up quickly. Temper your expectations slightly, but because of his 20-20 upside he should be a bench standby in all 14-team and deeper mixed leagues.
Jorge Cantu
2B 34 55.8
'07 Stats: (Spring) .254 BA, 1 HR, 6 RBI, 1 SB, 13:1 K:BB
Market Value: Strong Sell
Lowdown: Demoted to Triple-A in favor of upstart B.J. Upton, Cantu has suddenly become the "can't do" man. Reportedly, Cantu was upset with his demotion and has demanded to be traded. Only two years removed from a 28-homer, 117-RBI season, the downtrodden infielder has never regained his stroke after breaking his foot early last year. The D-Ray's push to make Upton a regular made Cantu quickly expendable, largely due to the vet's defensive inadequacies. Motivated to get back to the Majors, Cantu's disgruntled attitude has cooled and, with a strong showing at Durham, he could be traded promptly. In the right situation, Cantu could be an admired 20 HR, 85 RBI player, but until the names of possible suitors are released, he's free agent fodder in all mixed leagues.
Brad Lidge
RP 18 99.9
'07 Stats: 1 IP, 2 H, 1 ER, 1:1 K:BB
Market Value: Moderate Sell
Lowdown: Serving up a game-tying home run on Opening Day to Pittsburgh's Xavier Nady, Lidge picked up where he unfortunately left off – in blown save suck-land. Although removed from the closer's role on three separate occasions last year, Garner was quick to defend his frustrated stopper, stating, "We still have great expectations (for Lidge) around here." Sure, the 11 earned runs in nine spring innings and his meltdown on Monday is a bit disconcerting, but it will take a string of unsuccessful conversions for Garner to make a change. If he can erase subconscious thoughts of Albert Pujols and use his slider more effectively, he'll be a 35-save, 100-strikeout closer. Just make sure you handcuff Dan Wheeler.

We've all seen these seemingly ambiguous statements on exams and quizzes since elementary school, now the classic test teaser gets a fantasy makeover. Each week, I'll tackle three pressing diamond topics with a direct, succinct answer. Please, keep your eyes on your own paper.

1. Anibal Sanchez will continue to bring what he showed us last year, move into the Marlins' No. 2 spot and disappear from waiver wires. – Dan, Cincinnati, OH
Noise: False. Sanchez electrified owners last season with the bigs' first no-hitter since 2004, but, still a baby at 23, peaks and valleys are in the forecast. Many would argue he's as polished as other notable youngsters like Matt Cain, Cole Hamels and Felix Hernandez based on his outstanding .217 BAA in '06, but his 46 walks in 114.1 innings is a red flag. The kid will improve and deserves a starting spot in most leagues, but my crystal ball doesn't show perpetual quality starts until his control is harnessed.

2. Alex Gordon might be fantasy's latest sweetheart, but Edwin Encarnacion will have more value at third by year's end. – Charles, Duluth, GA
Noise: True. Sure the perception of "Flash" Gordon as a fantasy superhero is well-deserved, but Encarnacion's ample Major League experience (621 MLB at-bats) trumps the hotshot rookie. Yes, Gordon will easily outperform him on the basepaths, but Double-E's stark improvement in plate patience last year (78:41 K:BB) coupled with playing most of his games in the Great American bandbox and with better table-setters ahead of him – I'm lovin' Adam Dunn in the two spot – will help Encarnacion rack higher totals in HR, RBI and Runs.

Upset you don't have a forum to express your disdain for drafting Barry Bonds? Do you question why on earth you're not a fantasy expert? This is the place for you to vent your thoughts, tirades and frustrations. Can you bring the noise?

After reading your comments on Oliver Perez, I wonder who the heck you think you are. These guys are professional athletes far superior to your own talents yet you write about them as if they were peasants. Not to mention you're dead wrong. When Perez has a 15 win, 200 K season, will you apologize? I bet you won't.

Tom, Boston, MA

Noise: Why should I have to apologize for a guy who's destroyed fantasy rotations for two straight years? Heck, I gave him a more than fair projection (12 W, 4.40 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 170 K). To take liberty with the memorable Al Pacino line in "Godfather III," "Just when I thought I was done with Ollie P, he keeps pulling me back in." Listen, I own Perez in several leagues and want nothing more than for him to exceed his late-round ADP, but we have to be realistic. I sincerely hope my conservative estimate is "dead wrong", but until Perez cuts back on free passes I'll continue to have love-hate feelings for the guy. And if my writing talents are anything like Perez's control, Brandon Funston should give me a swirlie.

Your status as "expert" should be revoked immediately. I was reading Falzone's column and it had a link to the Friends/Family League. You picked Carl Crawford ahead of A-Rod. Then you had the unmitigated gall to insult someone else's ability to draft. Mark Teixiera was the only decent pick you made in over 20 rounds. Your team is awful. I can't believe they gave you a column. You're going to finish in 10th place or worse. You're a dope. Case closed.

Nick, Boston, MA

Noise: What the heck did I do to Bostonians to deserve such ridicule? Did I insult Curt Schilling's bloody sock? Sam Adams? Any of Ben Affleck's stellar acting performances? Honestly, I'm surprised I haven't received more vitriol emails about bypassing A-Rod in favor of Crawford. My motivation: In numbers speak, with 15-20 fewer runs, Crawford is a Jose Reyes doppelganger. Because outfield is Olive Oyl-thin this year when compared to the insane depth at third, Crawford's .300 BA, 20 HR, 80 RBI, 95 R, 55 SB potential was too good to pass up. Oh, and if I don't finish above 10th in the Friends and Family league, I'll let you post a 200-word rant on my expert revocation in this space. Bring the noise, Nick.

Of course, you took Billy Wagner in Round 6 in the Friends and Family League. Considering the unreliability of closers, which you've been talking about all over Yahoo! lately, it's imperative you draft an elite closer early.

Jack L., Hermitage, PA

Noise: Ya, even Funston called me a "poser" for the Wagner pick. Although counter to my beliefs, the value was just too enticing. However, my rants on abundant bullpen turnover have already rung true in '07. Three saves saints: Jorge Julio, David Weathers and David Riske, show that even if you ignored top-flight closers in favor of offense in the early rounds you can vulture plenty of saves off the wire to remain competitive.

I was completely taken aback by your comment about a supposed "lack of plate patience" by Chris Shelton. This guy saw 4.17 pitchers per at-bat last year, which would have ranked seventh in the AL if he would have qualified. I figure you must be knowledgeable since Yahoo! pays you to write this stuff. How could you have missed this one so badly? Overall his prodigious power, excellent place discipline (look it up) and respectable .348 OBP allow no conclusion except that Shelton is a Richie Sexson type who's getting a raw deal from Jim Leyland.

Jeff, New York, NY

Noise: Well, I looked it up, and although Casper-white Shelton may have worked pitchers incessantly, he posted a 49:10 K:BB on 2-2 counts. Yowza! His deplorable 107:34 K:BB in 373 at-bats (3.48 K/AB) ranked alongside bountiful '06 whiffers Bill Hall (3.31) and Curtis Granderson (3.43). Sexson is a poor comparison. Why? 1.) He has 40-plus homer power, Shelton is a 25-30 max player and 2.) He has a career 11.7 BB%, Shelton a meager 9.5 mark. The "lack of plate patience" line was completely justified.

I actually appreciated your comment about "trolling the bar for women" at the end of the night. Unfortunately, after looking at your picture, I don't believe you've ever copulated, let alone are married like you state.

Nick, Gaylord, KS

Noise: I've said the same thing since my sixteenth birthday. For some reason, my wife finds talk of skyward on-base percentages uncontrollably arousing …