To many gamers, the ultimate joy of roto is owning the best players, the true superstars of the diamond. You pummel them with Pujols, mow them down with Lester and Lee, crush them with Cano and then print the Championship DVD.
My idea of fake-baseball nirvana is a little different. To me, the purest joy of the game is getting production from out of nowhere; watching a journeyman, benchwarmer or scrub turn into a key fantasy contributor.
Perhaps Ryan Roberts is ready to join that rags-to-riches club.
Roberts wasn't even supposed to be in Arizona's lineup at Cincinnati on Tuesday, but Melvin Mora's sore foot paved the way for a chance at third base. Roberts didn't disappoint, clocking two homers and adding a walk and a stolen base. He's off to a 13-for-34 start to the year, with four homers, two bags, and five walks (against five strikeouts).
"He's earned the right to play, for sure," said impressed skipper Kirk Gibson.
Roberts is no hotshot rookie or post-hype darling — he's a nondescript 30-year-old who had a lukewarm resume into this season. He could offer a little power, a little speed, a respectable batting eye, a handful of fielding positions and a downright frightening neck tattoo; in short, a handy bench option for an NL club. But his hot start (which began during a .506 spring) might force the Diamondbacks to reevaluate their plans for Roberts; beating out the 39-year-old Mora at third doesn't look like a stretch. Roberts also can play second or short in a pinch — he's been at each of those spots once this year — and he already carries outfield (and third base) eligibility in the Yahoo! game.
There's nothing guaranteed with Roberts, of course — he could turn into a pumpkin in 48 hours for all we know. But in aggressive mixed leagues you want to be proactive with the back end of your roster, focusing on plausible upside at it appears. If Roberts fizzles out quickly, so what — they'll be someone else you grab to take his spot. But there's at least some chance that he's going to settle in as a semi-regular in Arizona, and we know there's power and speed potential here.
Roberts is only owned in five percent of Yahoo! leagues as this Closing Time goes to post, so most of you can kick the tires on him if you so desire. Who's with me?
• The Cardinals finally demoted Ryan Franklin from the ninth inning Tuesday, though the team is spinning it as a temporary move. Here's what pitching coach Dave Duncan told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:
"We're going to do whatever we can do for Franklin, and to get him right," Duncan said. "He's an important part of this staff, and we need him in that role. ... We need to put him in a situation where he can go out there and have some success, and some fun, and relax a little bit. Take the pressure off of him a little bit."
The Cardinals didn't name a successor to the closing chair, which means we still have to play the speculation game. Mitchell Boggs looks like the smartest guess if you combine skills, performance and usage patterns, but there's also a case to be made for Jason Motte (former closer in waiting) and Miguel Batista (veteran moxie matters to Tony La Russa). Trever Miller might sneak in now and then if the ninth inning is filled with left-handed batters, and we also have to keep an eye on nasty rookie Eduardo Sanchez (3 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 8 K). To keep us all in the dark as long as possible, the Cardinals and Nationals were rained out Tuesday.
• You try not to react strongly to a three-week sample, but I think the Minnesota Twins are in big, fat trouble. The 6-11 Twins are currently the lowest-scoring team in the majors (Jake Arrieta and two relievers blanked them Tuesday), and there's a dark cloud over the five most important players on the roster. Joe Mauer is on the DL, as you know, while Francisco Liriano is battling velocity issues and ineffectiveness. Joe Nathan is in a total funk — he allowed a three-run homer to Vladimir Guerrero on Tuesday, pushing his ERA to 11.37 — while Delmon Young (.566 OPS) and a flu-ridden Justin Morneau (.552 OPS) aren't producing.
Head down the pecking order a bit and you'll come to the middle infield, where Tsuyoshi Nishioka broke a leg two week ago and Alexi Casilla is off to a .120 start. Ron Gardenhire has only one losing record in nine seasons since taking over the team, but I don't see this being anything past a .500 team in 2011, if that.
• Kansas City put a stop to Cleveland's winning streak, racing out to a 5-0 lead and then holding on for dear life at the end. The Royals quietly are the top-scoring team in the American League, and they also have an MLB-best 24 stolen bases. Alex Gordon swiped two bags Tuesday, while Wilson Betemit, Alcides Escobar and Billy Butler (that's no joke, Bradley) grabbed one each. Say this for the 2011 Royals — they're not going to be boring. There's still time to get invested, if you please; Betemit is owned in just eight percent of leagues and Escobar is at 19 percent.
• A.J. Burnett was in line for another ugly win, but for once the New York bullpen let him down (specifically, the godfather in the ninth — a rare Mariano Rivera blown save). Travis Snider won the game for the Jays with an RBI double in the tenth, a hit he desperately needed; he was 0-for-5 with three strikeouts before the winning knock. Brett Gardner batted ninth for the Yanks and took the collar, dropping his average down to .128. He was also thrown out trying to steal.
• Ubaldo Jimenez had a messy first inning against the Giants (four runs, three courtesy of Pablo Sandoval's homer) before settling down and posting five bagels. His velocity was down early but rallied later in the turn. Jose Lopez (3-1-0-0, walk) and Ty Wigginton (2-2-1-0, two walks) were in the Colorado lineup while Jonathan Herrera rested and Ian Stewart headed to Triple-A. Herrera's hot start, batting eye and defense figure to keep him in the lineup at second base most nights, while Wigginton and Lopez try to catch lightning in a bottle and mark their territory at third.
Speed Round: Brandon Beachy passed the eye test at Chavez Ravine, posting six scoreless innings en route to his first victory (2 H, 2 BB, 7 K). He's got 24 strikeouts against nine walks for the year. He's probably earned circle-of-trust status for Sunday's start at San Francisco. … Brett Anderson's final line jumps out at you (8 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 8 K, 15 swinging strikes) and if anything he looked better in action; the Red Sox took a bunch of awkward cuts. … Randy Wolf had another scoreless outing (6 IP, 2 H, 3, BB, 5 K) while his mates knocked Roy Halladay around for six runs. Wolf's something of a streaky pitcher, but he should be carried in more than eight percent of Yahoo! leagues. The Astros come calling on Sunday. … Josh Johnson mowed down the Pirates, as you'd expect (7 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 9 K). The mainstream media "hey, Josh Johnson is pretty good" push is already underway. … Be warned before you dig into the Angels 15-run box score — most of the production came from the lesser names in the lineup. The bottom four of Alberto Callaspo, Mark Trumbo, Hank Conger and Peter Bourjos combined for 11 runs, 11 hits and 10 RBIs. … Adam Dunn struck out three times and is just 2-for-23 since returning from his appendectomy. … Zack Greinke (ribs) worked three clean innings in a rehab start. … Jason Bay (rib cage) collected four hits and two homers at Single-A, which could be enough to get him activated Wednesday instead of Thursday. … Victor Martinez (groin) went on the 15-day DL, which means Magglio Ordonez, Brennan Boesch and Ryan Raburn will all receive regular at-bats for a while. … For Closing Time snippets as they're happening on the field (and other random inanity), follow me on Twitter.
Images courtesy Associated Press