Bringin' the Noise: Wanna bet?

Brad Evans
Yahoo! SportsApril 9, 2009

Ask any fantasy owner and they'll tell you, gambling is an integral part of the male psyche.

Although no historical record exists of its origin, betting likely dates back to prehistoric times when a Neanderthal male claimed he could outrun a woolly mammoth. Over time, it has evolved into an exercise centered around random trivia questions, sexual conquests, feats of athleticism, vulgar shot consumption and, of course, sports prognostication. Putting-money-where-one's-mouth-is is a practice designed to prove an individual's intelligence, manliness and retention of useless knowledge – or in Pete Rose's case, blatant stupidity.

In essence, when contested to drink the worm, real men step up to the challenge to avoid peer chastisement. And forking over $20 …

When the Yahoo! baseball brass convened at Purple Headquarters in early February, two minds, one supremely intelligent (Jeff Passan), the other annoyingly obnoxious (Brad Evans), clashed over a perceived Quad-A player fantasy bargain hunters fawned over this spring. His name: Nelson Cruz.

For U.S. Grant to find his way into the Noise's pocket, the Caribbean Cruz must continue to grip it and rip it. (Getty)

Confident in their convictions, Passan and Evans disagreed on how many homers the Babe Ruth of the PCL would finish with this season. Since gambling is imprinted on the Y chromosome it was only natural they agreed to throw down the gauntlet over the issue. To ensure proper betting procedure, several witnesses were in attendance to validate the wager. One onlooker, assistant managing editor Mark Pesavento, couldn't resist the action. Below are the details of the "Great Cruz Debate" followed by each expert's justification:

The Bet: Over/under 25 homers for Nelson Cruz, no qualifiers.

The Stake: 50 bucks (Note: The Noise contemplated including an addendum with the loser choking down five shots of Tabasco sauce, but it was not discussed).

The Sides: Evans: over; Passan/Pesavento: under.

The Arguments:

Passan's perspective:
Evans would not shut up about Nelson Cruz. I needed to do something about this man-crush. It was so over the top, so positively saccharine, that it begged for someone to cut through the hype and say: Wake up, man! This is the same guy who strikes out more than, well, you on ladies' night! His BABIP last year was over .360! He's got the Quad-A label for a reason! He's not going to get enough at-bats to hit 20 home runs, let alone 25!<

So then came the whole put-your-money-where-your-mouth-is ruse, and I bit. Though not without a little hedging. I drafted Cruz in my Scoresheet league. If Evans is right, Cruz is an awfully nice No. 7 hitter. And if not, it's the easiest $50 I'll ever make.

Evans' counterpoint:
Sugary words do indeed spew from the Noise's mouth. Taste the rainbow, Pass.

Passan, who apparently was so unsure about Cruz he hedged, is obtuse to the Texas outfielder's mammoth potential this season. His .360 BABIP was inflated, but suggesting he won't reach the proposed 25-homer benchmark because he'll lose at-bats is laughable. Even though Andruw Jones is expected to occasionally bat cleanup against southpaws, Cruz is the everyday right-fielder and four-hitter against righties. If he doesn't log 500-plus at-bats, Jones would have to mistaken him for a Chipotle burrito. Passan's blind observation is exactly why he's never hoisted a fantasy baseball trophy. (Editor's note: Passan has claimed titles, the last coming in 1992.)

Simply put: after a stellar Triple-A campaign followed by a power-packed cup of coffee with the senior club (HR per 16.4 at-bats), Cruz is destined to erase unfair labels. He's more patient in his advanced "prospect" age (12.9 BB% in '08), well-protected by Josh Hamilton and playing half his games in one of baseball's friendliest ballparks. Not only will the 28-year-old reach 25 long-balls – he's only 23 shy – he'll likely finish inside the outfielder top-20 (Fearless Forecast: .283 BA, 29 HR, 104 RBI, 89 R, 14 SB). Frankly, the difference between Cruz and Nick Markakis could be negligible …

On a side note, when Passan asked Rangers GM Jon Daniels several weeks ago what his vote was, he supported the Noise's "over" argument.

What Yahoo! expert do you support? Post your comments below.

Here are this week's flames, lames and stars of video games:

Fantasy Flames
Emilio Bonifacio FLA 3B, 2B 1 78
Market Value: Strong Speed Buy (all formats)
Lowdown: The relatively unknown third basemen with a name akin to an Hispanic soap opera character has roared out of the gates going 8-for-14 with an inside-the-park homer, triple, six runs and a pair of fours in RBIs and steals. Based on his groundhog-beheading peripherals (career 55.4 GB%), blazing speed and versatility, he's essentially Chone Figgins. But due to his historical high whiff output (career 24.8 K%) and questionable OBP totals (.314), a BA near .270 should be expected. His Barracuda-like speed is very real – scouts once clocked his home-to-first time at 3.6 seconds – but unless he develops into a more patient hitter, epic droughts are bound to occur.
Fearless Forecast: 588 at-bats, .271 BA, 2 HR, 42 RBI, 91 R, 42 SB
Adam Jones BAL OF 22 89
Market Value: Strong Buy (all formats)
Lowdown: Jones, a mid-round sleeper in March drafts, already has his owners panting. Batting second in an underappreciated Baltimore lineup, the combo contributor has gone 4-for-6 with four runs, three RBIs and two walks. The 23-year-old worked extensively on honing his base-stealing craft this spring, which means he could swipe 20-plus bags sandwiched between Brian Roberts and Nick Markakis. More importantly, if he continues to exude patience at the dish, his power and BA potential could be unleashed. Upside: Johnny Damon '08.
Fearless Forecast: 575 at-bats, .282 BA, 19 HR, 70 RBI, 81 R, 20 SB
Nyjer Morgan PIT OF 18 8
Market Value: Moderate Speed Buy (12-teams-plus mixed, NL-only)
Lowdown: Glancing at Morgan's underlying stats, he could easily be mistaken for Juan Pierre. A contact hitter who routinely frightens ground vermin (career 53.1 GB%), the Buccos' left-fielder has collected six hits, three runs, three RBIs and a stolen base in his first 15 at-bats. Because of his suitable OBP track-record (career .353), he should be a very profitable three-cat contributor in the near-term. But remember he's merely a placeholder for uber-prospect Andrew McCutchen, who should force Nate McLouth to left, supplanting Morgan, or potentially shifting him to right, by midseason.
Fearless Forecast: 426 at-bats, .281 BA, 1 HR, 31 RBI, 67 R, 33 SB
Adam Lind TOR OF 3 55
Market Value: Strong Buy (all formats)
Lowdown: On temperance night in Toronto, Lind inebriated fantasy owners with a bevy of statistical libations. His record-setting six RBIs on Monday was an anomalous achievement, but continued power production is in the forecast. Southpaws have frustrated Lind in his short career, which means he could ride the pine on occasion, but batting fifth against righties should yield bountiful fruits. Plate discipline will need to be a priority, but if he can slice a significant chunk off his career mark in groundball percentage (47.0) a 25-homer campaign is attainable.
Fearless Forecast: 510 at-bats, .280 BA, 22 HR, 91 RBI, 83 R, 3 SB
Nomar Garciaparra OAK 1B, 3B, SS 741 5
Market Value: Moderate Buy (14-teams-plus mixed), Strong Buy (AL-only)
Lowdown: Bob Geren must have Nomar's shirtless Sports Illustrated cover plastered on his office wall. In an unforeseen move, the apparently smitten manager penciled the two-time batting champ into the middle of the order in consecutive games. Based on Geren's remarks earlier this week, the "future Hall of Famer" (apparently Geren believes 325 DL days since '04 is a HOFer trait) will see regular at-bats going forward. Inevitably the injury imp will wreak havoc on Nomar, but at 35, he's still a quality contact hitter (89.1 CT% last year) capable of posting serviceable BA, RBI and run totals. Owners strapped at middle infield may want to take the plunge.
Fearless Forecast: 425 at-bats, .285 BA, 12 HR, 72 RBI, 64 R, 2 SB
Dexter Fowler COL OF 798 9
Market Value: Moderate Buy (14-team mixed), Strong Buy (NL-only)
Lowdown: Atlanta's Jordan Schafer may have seized the early lead for NL ROY but the multi-tooled Fowler will soon be nipping at his heels. First featured in the Noise's "Farm Aid" series in mid-February, Colorado's top prospect made a cannonball splash in his season debut going 1-for-4 with a screaming leadoff homer off Doug Davis. Because of his marvelous defense, plus patience (13.4 BB% at Triple-A last year) and developing power, he will slowly push Ryan Spilborghs from center to left. Clint Hurdle plans to install Fowler atop the lineup somewhat regularly, which could lead to sizable numbers, especially in runs and steals. Low double-digit power and 15-20 swipes are foreseeable with 350-plus at-bats.
Fearless Forecast: 415 at-bats, .277 BA, 10 HR, 42 RBI, 63 R, 17 SB
Santiago Casilla OAK RP 118 6
Market Value: Moderate Buy (12-teams-plus mixed), Strong Buy (AL-only)
Lowdown: Joey Devine's date with Dr. Death and current closer Brad Zeigler's pedestrian stuff labels the glove-popping Casilla a dark-horse for saves. Although wildly ineffective at times (career 4.42 BB/9), the Dominican import has posted a healthy 8.21 K/9 in 114 career innings. Because his fastball routinely sits around 94-98 mph and his hard-breaking mid-80s slider can embarrass hitters, he certainly has an end-game profile. Setting up an adventurous Zeigler save by tossing two scoreless innings on Tuesday, Casilla is a strong waiting-in-the-wings closer candidate who'll likely log double-digit saves this season.
Fearless Forecast: 63 IP, 3.48 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 59 K, 3 W, 12 S
Edwin Jackson DET SP 38 41
Market Value: Moderate Buy (12-teams-plus mixed, AL-only)
Lowdown: The former Dodgers prodigy was noticeably sharp in his inaugural '09 start surrendering just one run on two hits in 7.1 innings in Toronto. He also notched a 4:1 K:BB split. Shipped from Tampa to Detroit this past offseason for Matt Joyce, Jackson is poised to take a major step in overall value this season. More polished in his approach, he's trimmed significant chunks off his walks-per-nine totals three consecutive years. His somewhat unattractive GB/FB totals (career 1.11) suggest long-ball problems will persist, but by continuing to limit free passes the damage can be minimized. The Tigers' faulty bullpen will squander a few wins, but Jackson is an advancing talent who may finally develop into a quality rotation caboose in deeper leagues.
Fearless Forecast: 185 IP, 11 W, 4.09 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 128 K
Fantasy Lames
Mike Aviles KC 2B, SS 1090 94
Market Value: Hold (all formats)
Lowdown: For AL-only owners who shelled out Brewster's Millions for Aviles (the Noise included), Trey Hillman is Darth Vader. Projected to bat second in KC's much improved order, the shortstop was demoted to the ninth spot, a position where he's expected to remain for the foreseeable future. Per Hillman, it could be a temporary experiment if Aviles is productive. Still, it's a devastating blow to the infielder's immediate value, especially in runs and RBI. Considering his favorable BA potential and versatility, only ignorant novices would cut him loose. By mid-June, he'll force his way back into the two-hole. Pitch a discounted offer.
Fearless Forecast: 510 at-bats, .292 BA, 13 HR, 62 RBI, 65 R, 9 SB
Justin Upton ARI OF 1063 84
Market Value: Moderate Sell (all formats)
Lowdown: Bob Melvin's frustrating lineup shuffle has already defanged several D-Backs, including the young Upton. Forecasted by fantasy pundits and players alike to have a breakthrough season, the 22-year-old outfielder is probably still a year or two away from driving owner libidos wild. His overly aggressive demeanor (34.0 K%) at the dish and sorrowful contact numbers (68.1 CT%) last season support this claim. Make no mistake, he's incredibly talented, but Melvin's puzzling tactics will make Upton, and any Arizona outfielder for that matter, frustrating to own. He still possesses 20-10 upside this season, but his BA, inconsistent playing time and bottom-dwelling spot in the order labels him undependable.
Fearless Forecast: 389 at-bats, .259 BA, 17 HR, 58 RBI, 56 R, 5 SB
Elijah Dukes WAS OF 1071 52
Market Value: Moderate Buy (12-teams-plus mixed), Strong Buy (NL-only)
Lowdown: Manny Acta would be wise to hire a bodyguard. Dropped by thousands of owners this week after he was benched in favor of Austin Kearns, the troubled outfielder is still a breakout candidate despite the initial limited opportunity. Kearns' career .354 OBP and tireless work ethic is admirable, but his all-around talents pale in comparison to Dukes. Neither will likely eclipse a .270 BA, but because of the firebrand's 20-20 skill set and keener eye, he's better suited for everyday play long-term. One prolonged slump by Kearns and Acta will come to his senses. Of course, odds are strong Nick Johnson will lose an eyeball in a violent goose attack. If that does indeed occur, Adam Dunn would shift to first, paving the way for Dukes in left. Stay the course.
Fearless Forecast: 411 at-bats, .266 BA, 18 HR, 63 RBI, 77 R, 17 SB
Delmon Young MIN OF 1111 55
Market Value: Moderate Buy (12-teams-plus mixed), Strong Buy (AL-only)
Lowdown: As expected, Ron Gardenhire's outfield revolving door has the underachieving Young on owners' most unwanted list. Although his prospects for reaping immediate reward are ominous, the former No. 1 pick's fantasy potential hasn't completely vanished. He compiled inspiring numbers this spring, hammering out seven extra-base hits, including three homers, in 65 at-bats. The biggest knock against him has been his turf-heavy GB/FB splits (2.00 in '08). But if he starts driving the ball with more authority, Gardenhire will be hard-pressed to keep him out of the everyday lineup. Double-digit homers and steals with a strong BA are still expected. In other words, when wearing vintage Twinkies threads, he's Gary Ward minus roughly 12 homers.
Fearless Forecast: 462 at-bats, .294 BA, 14 HR, 67 RBI, 70 R, 15 SB
Carlos Pena TB 1B 1107 97
Market Value: Strong Power Buy (all formats)
Lowdown: Still shaking off the rust from offseason adnominal surgery, Pena embarrassingly donned a Golden Sombrero in his first game of the season. A polarizing player in fantasy drafts, most owners are split down the middle whether or not the Rays rocket launcher will return to 40-homer territory. Although he's off to an inauspicious start (1-for-8, HR, 5 Ks) he should finish with close to 35 bombs. His low number of at-bats this spring likely means his April returns will be sluggish – fantastic news for discount seekers. Thoughts of a .280 BA are outlandish, but Pena will be a terrific source of RBIs and homers come mid-May.
Fearless Forecast: 505 at-bats, .258 BA, 34 HR, 101 RBI, 75 R, 1 SB
Justin Verlander DET SP 1150 97
Market Value: Hold (all formats)
Lowdown: It's déjà vu in Detroit. Well on his way to matching last year's abhorrent April (6.60 ERA, 1.60 WHIP), the once respected righty was pounded for eight runs on eight hits and two walks against the Blue Jays on Monday. Jim Leyland blamed Verlander's porous outing on the pitcher's desire to throw "at max effort." According to the Tigers' skipper, by cutting 2-3 ticks off his fastball, the 26-year-old could generate more movement, and thus better results. One start won't make or break Verlander's season, but if his command isn't harnessed soon another abominable campaign is very possible.
Fearless Forecast: 185 IP, 12 W, 4.23 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 151 K
Cliff Lee CLE SP 1147 98
Market Value: Moderate Buy (all formats)
Lowdown: After the reigning Cy Young winner was burned for seven runs in five innings by the best hitting lineup in baseball (Texas), his skeptics became message board braggarts. Unable to establish a rhythm early, Lee, who finished spring training with a revolting 12.46 ERA, made several early mistakes against the Rangers, especially after being struck on the forearm by a comebacker in the second inning. Despite the atrocious outing, Eric Wedge remarked his prized starter was "crisper than he was in Arizona." Because Lee has never been effective against Texas (career 7.09 ERA), chalk his performance up to opening day jitters. Although it's highly improbable he'll match last year's spectacular season, the odds of him suddenly morphing into Ian Snell are unfavorable. Buy at a sale price.
Fearless Forecast: 190 IP, 15 W, 3.42 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 152 K
Jason Motte STL RP 452 88
Market Value: Strong Sell (all formats)
Lowdown: Motte looks to be swallowing a bitter pill, not delicious bratzels, in his Y! profile photo. After his horrific opening day meltdown, it's understandable. Abhorrently reckless against the Buccos, the gun-scorching righty was rocked for four earned on four hits. Tony LaRussa has never been fond of using rookies in pressure-packed situations, which suggests Motte's leash is very short. Dynamite this spring, the converted catcher will likely get another opportunity to impress his manager but he must keep his heater down in the zone. One more ninth-inning catastrophe and Ryan Franklin, who was 17-for-25 in save opportunities last year, will become the hottest waiver acquisition since, well, Bonifacio.
Fearless Forecast: 61 IP, 3.84 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 70 K, 3 W, 14 S