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Thousands of fantasy owners have their drafts this week and I'm happy to report that the wheeling and dealing has begun. At the end of my last piece, I included a question from an individual looking for advice on a trade that featured David Ortiz for the combination of Eric Gagne and Aubrey Huff. Its inclusion prompted a litany of responses from readers asking "why can't I be offered a deal like that?"

I just wanted to clarify why I chose to include and respond to that particular trade offer. I've received a number of questions in the past week regarding deals involving David Ortiz. In virtually every case, there was an extreme overpayment for Ortiz's services at work. Typically, the deals involved another top-tier 1B (such as Huff or Mark Teixeira) tied to an ace starter (Ben Sheets, Jake Peavey, Oliver Perez) or closer, as was the case with Gagne.

At the crux of the matter was to point out that while Ortiz's 2004 was phenomenal, the home runs and RBI's can be found among other players. If you can get comparable numbers at the base of the deal and add a four-tool hurler to your staff in the offing, don't be tied to that early pick of a player like Ortiz. Not to mix sports, but take the lay-up for the Red Sox, Yankees or "insert team" fan willing to overpay.

Now let's see what else is in the mailbag this week.


What can I expect out of Pedro Martinez? I drafted a lot of pitchers with the hopes of trading one or two. I have Mark Prior as well, and I was wondering which you thought would be the better fantasy player to hang onto and which to trade. – Zane in Charlotte, NC

Zane –
I'm expecting big things in Pedro Martinez's return to the National League. His ERA and WHIP totals should return to more closely align with his dominant past, he should post 15-18 wins and his strikeout totals will rise as well. While there is some concern of him breaking down, I'm slightly more concerned about the status of Mark Prior's health (elbow). Prior is scheduled to pitch this weekend in a minor league game. If that goes well, he may only miss one start before rejoining the big club.

For pure trade value, it appears from recent activity in Yahoo! Sports Fantasy Baseball PLUS leagues that you find a more favorable match in dealing Martinez. Straight up deals have been consummated for top performers such as Carlos Zambrano of the Cubs, Brad Lidge of the Astros and Jim Thome of the Phillies. A number of deals involving Prior have seen him packaged for players such as Matt Clement of the Red Sox and Russ Ortiz of the Diamondbacks. While the potential for a big injury is higher from Prior, it appears that owners must be willing to discount his services somewhat heavily. I'd be shopping Martinez.


How shaky is my relief situation? I have Guillermo Mota, B.J. Ryan, Chad Cordero and Mike Adams. – John in Ashland, MA

John –
All four of the closers enter the season with tenuous holds over fellow relievers in the pen. Of the four, I think Guillermo Mota and B.J. Ryan truly have the possibility of being big contributors this year. Mota struggled in his few closing opportunities with the Marlins last year, but I expect those issues to pass with the role officially his. Ryan has the stuff to dominate opposing hitters and will provide a boost to any team's ERA, WHIP and most importantly, strikeouts. As for Cordero, Luis Ayala is waiting in the wings to take over the role in Washington if Cordero should struggle out of the gate. Similarly, Derrick Turnbow, Jose Capellan and Justin Lehr are circling in the Brewers pen.

This is a pure risk/reward bullpen. If everything plays out nicely, you'll rack up solid numbers from players undoubtedly selected later in the draft. If it doesn't, you'll be raked over the coals as you attempt to upgrade.


Mike, I just wanted to know what you think about John Smoltz returning to the rotation. I haven't kept up with the spring training stats much, but from what I have heard, he looks like the Smoltz of old. Houston fans watched this guy in the playoffs last year. When they called him out the pen, I put my head under a pillow. This guy was awesome! If he can stay healthy, I think he has a great year. What do you think? – Tommy in Houston, TX

Tommy –
Smoltz is one of the most intriguing players on draft day. I've talked to a couple managers who drafted him a round or two earlier than projected (fifth or sixth round instead of the customary eighth in Yahoo! Sports Fantasy Baseball PLUS leagues) with the expectation that he may return to the pen this season.

The fact that he allowed only three runs in 19 innings of work this spring AND the fact that he has been named the Opening Day starter makes that scenario unlikely. I see him winning 15 games with low ERA and WHIP numbers while piling up strikeouts. He'll likely be asked to give the Braves six innings of work early in the season, as Leo Mazzone and staff want to monitor how his surgically repaired arm responds to the extensive workload.

And just think, if they decide to switch him back to the pen, citing stamina issues or his performance is shaky or if Danny Kolb scuffles, suddenly there's 40 saves in the offing. I think owning Smoltz is a big win in 05.


I drafted Vinny Castilla and then released him, so I need a third baseman. I picked up Ty Wigginton and Jorge Cantu. There are a couple others to choose from, including Corey Koskie, Dallas McPherson and Joe Randa. Which of these players is most likely to carry over their spring success? – Jim in Bargara, Australia

Jim –
Of the players in question, I think you've got the best of the bunch in Wigginton. He's had a torrid spring, clubbing five homers and knocking in 17 runs. If he settles into his role in Pittsburgh, he's got 20-25 HR potential and may just knock in 80 runs. Castilla should still put up decent numbers in Washington, but his upside is limited. Cantu may hit for a high average, but his production elsewhere will be limited. Similarly, the 25-HR barrage put forth by Corey Koskie in 2004 was out of the norm. He'll likely return to his 15-HR, 70-RBI productivity, which is solid but unspectacular. As for McPherson, he's in the minor leagues after a spring filled with back problems and Joe Randa is, well, Joe Randa. Stick with Wigginton.


Can you provide a sleeper starter or two for this season? I'm looking for some help in my rotation. – Steve in Chapel Hill, NC

Steve –
I love the multi-tasking between rooting for the Tar Heels (did I just make a gross assumption there?) and getting your lineup ready for the start of the season. Here are a couple of pitchers to consider.

Brandon Backe of the Astros pitched well down the stretch last season and will join the rotation of Roy Oswalt, Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte. He averaged just a shade under a strikeout per inning in his starts and has carried his success to the spring, where he's won three games. The one part of his game that needs attention is his control. Backe's career 1.52 WHIP is a bit staggering.

The Astros will count on their staff to carry the early part of the campaign as the new-look offense takes shape and they await the return of Lance Berkman, but if they can get the ball into closer Brad Lidge's hands, it's lights out. I look for 10-12 wins with an ERA in the mid-3.00s with a more contained WHIP around 1.30. He's a solid value in the late rounds of a draft.

Ryan Drese of the Rangers won 14 games last season with a respectable 4.20 ERA. His was a tale of two halves last season. He held a record of 4-5 in 17 first-half starts despite a solid 3.78 ERA and 1.24 WHIP. In the second half of the season, he won 10 games despite an ERA over a full run higher than his first half total and a ballooned WHIP of 1.60.

Drese was named the Opening Day starter by Buck Schowalter and makes for a solid late selection or free agent pick-up.

Finally, I've given a look-see to the available players list in search of Mike Hampton on the strength of his second-half to the 2004 campaign. In 12 starts after the All-Star break, he compiled a record of 9-1 with a scintillating 3.13 ERA and solid 1.25 WHIP. He's not going to overpower anybody, but if you're looking to pad your win total (27 over the past two years) with a free agent pick-up, he's as solid a bet as anyone.

I just want to say thank you to everyone for your thoughts and questions on the pending season and to ask that you keep them coming. I'll keep pulling a few from the mailbag each Friday. Remember, the most general the question topic, the more likely that it will be used.

Happy Opening Day, everyone.

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