It's certainly been an action-packed first week to the 2005 season. The New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox treated fans to a great series, the runs are flowing in Colorado and there have been some great comeback performances. Fantasy owners are already hitting the panic button, adding and dropping players in droves on the strengths or weaknesses of one bad inning or solid at-bat.
Ah, the rites of spring.
In this column, I'll present the first week of the 2005 season as I've seen it, armed with a never-ending coffee pot, a speedy Internet connection and my trusty XM Satellite radio. Throughout the season, I'll use this space to keep you updated on the activity within my leagues and the decisions I'm making, the notes from my couch and tidbits from around the Major Leagues. And each week, I'll end with a mini-soliloquy about a random topic that will hopefully captivate your inner fan.
Without further ado …
In My Leagues
Slowed by injury through spring training, Ryan Freel failed to beat out D'Angelo Jimenez for a starting spot in the Reds lineup and then had his legal issues this week. That violated my team's morality clause, so he had to go. OK, not really; I just need a guy that will play every day in that particular league. I took a flier on the Rockies' Clint Barmes after his torrid start at home. We'll see if that carries over to the road.
I've been debating what to do with Dallas McPherson in an AL-only league. I'm concerned that he only saw action in two spring training games before suffering a herniated disc in his back. A review of available players shows the best alternatives of Joe Crede, Aaron Boone and Casey Blake at a combined 0-20. I think I'll stand pat.
In a Yahoo! Public League that I joined, there have already been 47 moves in the two weeks since the draft. Much of the league's activity can be attributed to bullpen shake-ups and those waiting for their shot (Colorado, Cincinnati, both New York teams, Arizona, etc.).
I always compete in one league with an auto-pick draft, leaving my squad somewhat in the hands of the computer. This year, that squad included both Derek Jeter and Rafael Furcal. I just accepted a proposed trade that would bring me Gary Sheffield to shore up my outfield in exchange for Jeter, pending league approval.
Three minutes – the time elapsed between Dmitri Young hitting his third home run on Monday to his acquisition in my Public League.
The View from My Couch
If Alex Rodriguez cleanly fields the ground ball off the bat of Manny Ramirez, the tales of Mariano Rivera's struggles fall down the depth chart. Instead, the media would be declaring the Yankees back and pumping up the revenge factor after a sweep.
Jose Valentin owns a 1-1 record, atoning for his costly opening day error with three hits and a big home run in Wednesday's victory over San Francisco. He's a spotlight player in Los Angeles. Fans are embittered by the loss of Adrian Beltre.
Staying with the Dodgers, you just have to love the passion of closer Eric Gagne. The dude's on the DL and still got ejected from Wednesday's game!
Andy Pettitte was outstanding in his season debut against the Cardinals on Wednesday, mixing pitches and working the plate. He scattered four hits over six innings and didn't walk a hitter. Though he didn't get the win after allowing a solo shot to Reggie Sanders, he looked very much like the pitcher that averaged 16 wins per season with the Yankees.
I once read a quote attributed to Mickey Mantle that read "If I had hit as many singles as Pete Rose (75 percent of his record 4,256), I'd have worn a dress." What would he say about Ichiro (81 percent)?
In another comeback performance, Runelvys Hernandez pitched stellar ball against the Tigers in his first start since undergoing elbow ligament replacement surgery. He pitched seven innings, allowing only five hits (three to Carlos Guillen) and striking out three. I want to see him do it again next week against Seattle before jumping on the bandwagon, but he should be on your radar.
Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez looks to be about half of his former self. He's leaner, quicker and his bat still flies through the zone. Since the moniker of "Pudge" no longer applies to the future Hall of Famer, let's work to propose a new one. Click on the "Send Mike Feedback" link with your suggestion.
News and Notes
Closers are having a rough start to the season with seven blown saves and only 10 successful conversions.
Lost in Bob Wickman's horrific ninth inning has been the stellar work of the Cleveland starting pitching. Jake Westbrook and Kevin Millwood combined to allow only one run in 14 innings against the White Sox.
Yhency Brazoban, Byung Hyun-Kim and Brandon Lyon have been hot commodities on the waiver wire this week once the tag of closer was attached to them. Thus far, only Lyon has had a save opportunity (one of the 10 successful outings in the Major Leagues).
Vicente Padilla of the Phillies expects to start a minor league game Thursday in perhaps a final tune-up before rejoining the big club. He threw four shutout innings in his last outing against Triple-A Syracuse.
Ken Griffey Jr. missed his first game of the year on Thursday. Don't worry, his hamstrings are fine. Junior had to make an emergency trip to the dentist on Thursday morning. Wily Mo Pena replaced him in the lineup and promptly launched a solo home run off of Kazuhisa Ishii to lead off the second inning.
Kirk Saarloos made an emergency start in place of Rich Harden (blister) and pitched six innings of shutout, one-hit ball against a potent Orioles lineup. OK, so he also walked two and plunked two hitters. He made the pitches when it counted and will undoubtedly keep a spot in the A's rotation after this outing.
Zack Greinke of the Royals was cruising along against Detroit when he took a line drive off of his forearm. He left the game and was en route to the hospital for x-rays at my deadline.
What "You" are Saying
I've certainly heard about my comments regarding Joe Randa from last week, dismissing him from a list of possible 3B pickups. It's way too early to fire off a "mea culpa" note, but Randa is already a quarter of the way to his HR output of 2004 (eight in 128 games).
My inbox is littered with questions from concerned managers contemplating the outright release of hurlers such as John Smoltz, Greg Maddux and Javier Vazquez. To those looking to jettison them to the waiver wire, remember that one start does not a season make.
There have also been a number of letters referencing the possibility of dropping Barry Bonds, convinced that he has no trade value. I looked at the Buzz Index in Yahoo! Sports Fantasy Baseball PLUS and saw that over 1,000 managers had released him outright! At their home opener, Bonds let out a Schwarzeneggerian "I'll be back!" while accepting his 2004 NL MVP Award. Wait it out for his return.
The return of Ted Lilly to the Toronto rotation signals the end of Gabe Gross's stint with the big club. He's expected to be sent down to Triple-A Syracuse. Fantasy owners have been asking for my opinion of this slugger, who lit up spring training with eight bombs. I would advise to hold tight for the time being. The Toronto Sun reports that a deal may be in the works to send Gross to the Braves.
Go Hard or Go Home
One of my late-round picks in a number of my dozen leagues was Alex Sanchez, formerly of the Tigers, currently of the Devil Rays and the first player suspended in the post-Balco drug tests. I've yet to release Sanchez from any of my rosters, despite my abhorrence of the positive test. And to some degree, I'm conflicted about it. I've entered that blurry area between fantasy and reality, that line where you tell yourself, "I will not draft or own this player under any circumstances because …"
At the end of the day, Sanchez will miss 10 days for his offense and then take his place in center field for the Devil Rays. And, I'll be on board to capture his mounds of stolen bases when he does.
Does that make me a bad person? Or a bad sports fan?
I received hundreds of emails from readers regarding my comments about Barry Bonds' achievements a few weeks back, and all I did was marvel at his 700 home runs and 500 stolen bases. Even if you take away every home run from the years under suspicion (2001-2004), you're still looking at a player with 500 home runs and 500 stolen bases. That ranks him at the top of any player I've ever seen. (At 31, I can't fairly comment on Willie Mays or Mickey Mantle in their primes.)
Based on early attendance figures and advance ticket sales, fans will jam Major League ballparks in record numbers this year. Clearly, the proverbial "black eye" that was anticipated after the scandal-filled offseason didn't materialize. Granted Tampa Bay only averaged 14,642 in the first three games, but every other team averaged at least 24,000 fans per home game for their first series now complete.
So, clearly I'm not alone. Baseball is baseball, and what fans ultimately care about is what happens between the lines. No doubt, there will be more players whose samples come back positive. There have already been 41 minor league ballplayers fingered this week for violation of the MLB drug policy. And, we'll continue to lament the traps of illegal substances and cite the downfall of the purity of the game as these stories hit the wire. All the while, we'll wax nostalgic and extol the virtues of players who were known drinkers, womanizers and racists. How about those guys that drank pots of coffee before a game?
I watched "The Daily Show" the other night and laughed heartily at Lewis Black's monologue about the players of days gone by, who ate, drank and took every "performance detracting substance" possible and still achieved great heights.
Overall, the game is fine. It will go on, just as it did after the 1919 World Series, after the 1981 and 1994 work stoppages and after Bartman. Just go down to your local Blockbuster and rent the DVD of the 2004 Playoffs and World Series and I think you'll agree.
Will Sanchez be the difference between my winning or losing a league? Probably not. But, hopefully he'll contribute 30 or more steals and keep me in the hunt in that category. After all, you are in these leagues to win them.
Now, if he tests positive a second time …