Draft Day Dilemma: Mailbag

I've offered my opinions on two of the toughest Draft Day Dilemmas on the board ( A-Rod vs. PujolsAbreu vs. Bay ). Now it's your turn. I've looked through my e-mail for some of the reader's tougher preseason calls. Let's take a look:

I have both Ryan Howard and Todd Helton, and I need some major upgrades to my pitching staff. Who would you trade, and who would you keep? – Doug

Funston: Trade Howard. Based on where his value is now, it's like making a bet in Vegas and getting paid out before the actual results of the bet are known. Howard is going in nearly the identical spot in Yahoo! drafts as Richie Sexson, which means owners are buying into 40-plus home runs and 100-plus RBIs from him. But Howard has just a 107 games of big league seasoning, and he's a bigger gamble than the likes of Sexson, Adam Dunn, Paul Konerko and, certainly, Todd Helton, players that have been putting up those numbers for a few years.

Helton struggled in the first half of '05, but he absolutely murdered the ball in the second half (1.112 OPS), and he's had eight straight productive fantasy seasons. Take Helton's .320-plus BA and 25-35 HRs, especially when the likelihood is that somebody in your league values Howard more than Helton.

I'm in a keeper league, and we've settled on four keepers. My problem is that I have too many guys I want to keep. I've narrowed it down to … Alex Rodriguez (definite), Joe Mauer, Jason Bay, Michael Young, Rich Harden, Mark Prior, and Huston Street. – Joey, New Jersey

Funston: Pitching is more plentiful this season than in season's past. In the four leagues in which I've drafted already, I've found nice late-round arms. Keep your offensive guns (A-Rod, Jason Bay, Michael Young and Joe Mauer). I love the upside of Prior, Harden, and even Street, but Prior is trying to put arm issues behind him and is coming along slowly this spring, and I know that some worry that the oblique strain that Harden had last year could pop up again because of his size.

In keeping your bats, you fill tough holes at shortstop, third base and catcher with at least one of the top two players on the board at those positions, plus you get a top 15 overall stud at OF in Bay. All these guys are relatively young and should have plenty of good years ahead of them (for a keeper league). I know that it will be hard to let go of your pitchers, but with key positions filled through retention, you can dive right into pitching in the draft and, depending on how it plays out, potentially bring back Harden or Prior.

If given the choice between keeping one of the following players – David Wright, Carl Crawford, or Miguel Tejada – which one would you keep? – Chris, Parkersburg, IA

Funston: I may as well take this opportunity to admit a little man-crush for Wright. In a keeper league, it's hard to beat his age (23), value of position (3B), and all-around 5x5 contributions (.306, 99, 27, 102, 17 – in his first full season). The Mets lineup has only improved in the offseason with the addition of Carlos Delgado and some much needed rest for Carlos Beltran, so he'll have the protection needed to continue his numbers ascent.

By the way, I love the hitting zones listed in the Sporting News' 2006 "Baseball Register and Fantasy Handbook" (although some of the scouting reports borderline on senile). Wright's hitting zone, which is a square grid broken up into the nine different areas of a player's swing, shows no holes. His worst batting average zone was low-middle (.257). Everywhere else was .282 or above. That's impressive for someone so young.

I've got a keeper question – Standard, 5x5, 10-team league – I get to keep four of the following: Johan Santana, Mark Teixeira, Miguel Tejada, Victor Martinez, Jimmy Rollins, and Juan Pierre. Teixeira and Santana are locked in, but am I crazy to leave both SS unprotected? I'm worried about finding speed later in the draft and feel I can find a decent SS later like Edgar Renteria, Jhonny Peralta, or Felipe Lopez. Thanks for any help. – Jeff, Raleigh, NC

Funston: In a 10-team league, you are going to be able to pull some nice talent late in the draft and even from free agency. My suggestion is that you simply take your four best fantasy options, regardless of their attributes. In my book, that's Santana, Teixeira and Tejada as your "definites" – they are a step above the others. With those three in tow, I really don't think you can go wrong with Rollins, Pierre, or Martinez.

There'll be a good chance that nobody else in your league is keeping a catcher, so you should have roughly nine pretty good catching options via the draft (Martinez, Joe Mauer, Jason Varitek, Javy Lopez, Ivan Rodriguez, Jorge Posada, Kenji Johjima, Ramon Hernandez and Benjie Molina). Just don't be the last guy to draft a catcher.

I'd take Rollins because the shortstop position is still at a higher premium than an outfielder, and you can satisfy your speed concerns with Rollins, who is likely to steal 40 bases and score more than 100 runs in that Philly lineup. You'll probably lose 10-20 steals that Pierre would have provided, but you can pull some lower level speed in the draft to compensate.

I'm in a five-man keeper league. Since 2003, I've held on to Mark Prior as one of my keepers, hoping that he would stay healthy and have another Cy Young-type year. This year, I'm thinking about holding on to Jake Peavy instead. Who would you keep? Thanks. – Curtis, Danville, VA

Funston: I'll be the last one that's surprised when Prior gets his health in check and returns to blowing hitters away for a full season like he did in '03. But you said it yourself, banking on that repeat performance during a time when he's still fighting through those arm issues has only led to your disappointment. I would definitely take the healthier Peavy, especially since his stuff is on par with Prior.

Peavy has averaged 30 starts for the past three seasons, and has been better than a K per inning and has been among the league's top 10 in OPS Against the past two years. And let's not forget that his home stadium (PETCO Park) is one of the friendlier parks to pitchers. The risk is that Prior's health comes all the way back. Even if that happens, you're not going to lose out on much. Peavy will hang in anyone's neighborhood when it comes to ERA, WHIP and Ks.

Who, out of a few of these players, will have the greatest chance to help a fantasy team or be worth a pick? Felix Hernandez, Francisco Liriano, Matt Cain, Jeremy Hermida or Jonathan Papelbon – Robert, Little Rock AR

Funston: Hernandez is going to fill the Mariners' fifth spot in the rotation so as to lessen his innings a bit. The M's have treated him with kid gloves, but he continues to wear the can't-miss label, and Y! fantasy owners have made him the 13th starter selected on average – I won't argue that, as I have him in similar territory.

Many readers have sent mail stating that Cain deserves to be on a level with Hernandez. He'll come much, much cheaper on draft day, but his upside is in Hernandez territory. Polish is the biggest differentiating factor between the two pitchers, but that divide isn't as wide as where they are going in current Y! drafts. Cain has gone in the 15th Round and the 17th Round in two of my experts drafts, and he is a great consolation for someone missing out on Hernandez early. He should improve on his 5.9 Ks per nine innings from a year ago, and SBC Park treats pitchers very well.

Liriano is being called the next Johan Santana for his excellent changeup, and a fastball and slider that are considered the best in the Twins' system. His control isn't where Santana's is yet but, really, how many are? His control is solid, nonetheless. On most teams, he'd be a lock for the end of the rotation at this point, but that's not the case in Minnesota, where a deep staff has left him without a guaranteed spot. Conventional wisdom is that Liriano starts at Triple-A, but I'd expect him to force the Twins' hand early on. You can get Liriano very late – I took him late in the 18th Round of my last experts draft (12-team), preferring his potential upside to the middling production offered from many established veteran arms.

Jeremy Hermida is another player that goes in the later third of typical drafts, and he's worth the gamble. Florida has emptied the cupboards, so Triple-A stars are going to get a long, long opportunity to develop at the major league level. Hermida is an OBP machine, drawing 111 walks in 118 games at Double-A Carolina last season. His fantasy contributions this year, however, are likely to be modest, but still playable. His power is still developing, so asking for 20 HRs this year out of him is at the top end of expectations. But he can run a bit, and 20 steals given Florida's typical aggressive approach and Hermida's on-base skills seems reasonable.

You can pass on Papelbon in the draft. Boston's rotation is looking set, especially with Curt Schilling pitching well this spring and David Wells pulling out of trade demands. Papelbon looks like he'll start in middle relief, so fantasy owners can sit back and wait until the rotation creates opportunities before buying in on him.

Finally, I got mostly responses in agreement with my taking A-Rod over Pujols as the top pick, but here is an angle that many expressed was another feather in Rodriguez's cap:

A-Rod vs. Pujols: Enjoyed your article. But I think a factor that you didn't mention is the relative quality in the draft at first vs. third. I think if you pick A-Rod first, you can still get a quality first baseman later in most drafts. But if you pick Pujols first, there is a much thinner available pool of premier players likely to be left at third by your next picks. But this is only further support for your conclusion that you'd pick A-Rod first. – Tom, Farmingdale, ME

Funston: I purposely left position eligibility out of the equation as I'm not so sure that third base is that much thinner than first base. In my opinion, there's at least a dozen quality third basemen, and that number could rise several more when Aubrey Huff and Chad Tracy gain eligibility, and if Scott Rolen, Nomar Garciaparra and/or Adrian Beltre can bounce-back with better seasons.

Huff and Tracy currently count towards first base, making for roughly 17-19 worthy first basemen, depending on how you feel about this year's contributions from Justin Morneau and Prince Fielder. The list also includes first base-eligible Jeff Kent and Chase Utley, two players you'd be foolish not to use at second base. If you figure Huff and Tracy at third base, and pull out Kent and Utley, the depth is fairly even. Yes, third base has some guys on its list that might be better served at second base in Chone Figgins, Jorge Cantu and Garciaparra (SS), but there seems to be enough flexibility out there to cover third base with quality in most 10- or 12-team leagues. I still believe when you are talking quality at the top like A-Rod and Pujols, you can throw out the position factor.

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