The month of May forces us to attack the weeds that are ravaging our lawns. Similarly, fantasy owners are delving deep into their lineups in an attempt to eradicate those players who are sabotaging their fantasy championship dreams. The "what have you done for me lately?" attitude has taken hold of fantasy owners this past week. The Buzz Index in Yahoo! Sports Fantasy Baseball PLUS shows players such as Victor Martinez, Mike Lowell, Barry Bonds and Kerry Wood among those being jettisoned to the waiver wire. The wheeling and dealing has begun, with the names of superior achievers in April such as Dontrelle Willis, Brian Roberts and Derrek Lee among the most commonly dealt.
As we approach the season's quarter pole, some of the long-slumbering bats are waking up. Travis Hafner, Ryan Klesko and Mike Sweeney have found their power strokes, with Reggie Sanders, Shea Hillenbrand and Brady Clark offering support from the waiver wire. I'm hopeful that some of these other struggling stars will right themselves shortly.
I'll keep wishing and hoping on my own, but here's a look inside my head this week.
In My Leagues
With four blown saves in his last five outings, owners of Octavio Dotel dove to the waiver wire to acquire hard-throwing youngster Huston Street. Dotel's walked 11 hitters in 13.1 innings pitched and gave up game-winning homers in consecutive games. His hold on the job is tenuous. Street has struck out 21 hitters in 18.1 innings of work, allowing just one earned run in his past nine outings.
The placement of Wily Mo Pena on the DL prompted owners to take a shot on Austin Kearns. In one league, an owner dropped Pena to acquire Kearns. He'll play every day and might provide some pop, but that .209 average is uninspiring.
Ryan Dempster of the Cubs was a hot commodity this past week after being named the team's closer. Unfortunately, he took a line drive off the bat of Mike Piazza in blowing a save opportunity. He was subsequently returned to waivers in virtually all of those leagues with the expectation of Joe Borowski's return.
The Giants' call-up of Brad Hennessey did not go unnoticed, as his seven strong innings (six Ks and three earned runs) prompted owners to take a flier with the anemic Astros on tap.
To provide some infield depth with the loss of Scott Rolen, I picked up the hot-hitting Felipe Lopez. He's driven in 16 runs in 20 games with a .328 average and should make for a serviceable stop-gap solution.
The View from My Couch
Is there anything more frustrating in fantasy baseball right now than to own one of the Astros' starting pitchers? Yes, I know it could be worse and they could be horrible, too, but how many 2-1 or 3-2 games are they going to lose this season? Owners of Roger Clemens and Roy Oswalt continue to feel the pain, despite big outings. Take the three categories they can control, and look for your Wins elsewhere.
Jason Giambi continues to ride the pine in the Bronx as Tino Martinez stays red hot! Martinez has homered in five straight games and Giambi is possibly headed to the minors. I just don't understand why there is a clause in the CBA that allows veterans to refuse assignment. If you can't hit, you can't hit. Working on it in the batting cage with a guy tossing mid-70s isn't exactly going to work out the kinks. It's time to apologize for stealing money and a roster spot, it would appear.
It took Javier Vazquez three miserable starts to finally shake off the ill effects of his time in New York. In his past five starts, he's 4-0 with an ERA of 1.89.
In trying to get down a bunt, Luis Matos and his speed will be lost to fantasy owners for 3-4 weeks. The fastball from Jesse Crain was just too much for his improper grip and broke his right ring finger. David Newhan will attempt to state his case for Matos' job during his absence. Matos needs to run a couple laps for bad form and the pain he's caused fantasy owners, self included.
They finally found something wrong with Oliver Perez. He missed his last start with a stiff shoulder and may miss another this weekend. I'd theorized that his lack of off-season work contributed to his slow start and lack of velocity (down five MPH from last year). Instead, he may have just hidden an injury for a month. Thanks, Oliver!
News and Notes
Lost in the horrific start to the Royals' season and the abrupt resignation of Tony Pena, Mike Sweeney has been scalding the ball for the Royals. He possesses an 11-game hitting streak, during which he's clubbed seven homers, driven in 12 runs and hit for a .429 average. Unless he's going to hit 50 homers, his upside from here is limited, as there aren't a lot of RBI opportunities in KC. With that said, he's more productive than those guys lining up for a trip to the DL.
Scott Rolen joined the DL parade on Thursday with a sprained left shoulder. Rolen was hurt in a collision with Dodgers' 1B Hee Seop Choi and will miss 2-3 weeks. Scott Seabol was called up to take Rolen's spot on the roster (.325, 8 HR and 24 RBIs at Triple-A Memphis). Top free agent options at 3B include Chad Tracy (5 HR, 19 RBIs, .275) and strikeout king Russell Branyan (5 HR, 15 RBIs, .264). Or you can go toward a HR-only hitter like Casey Blake, who has six homers and 12 RBIs for Cleveland to go along with an average of .190.
The world keeps spinning for all of us, but for Ben Sheets, it's working in hyper-drive. The Brewers' ace and second-round fantasy selection has been on the DL since April 21st with an ear infection and is likely to stay there for at least 2-3 weeks longer. He will take part in a bullpen session on Friday and try to shake off some of the fog and rust. Managers need to shore up the starting rotation now in the event that this condition lingers. Top options on the waiver wire are teammate Doug Davis, Kenny Rogers of Texas and Brett Tomko of San Francisco. I know, they're no Sheets – but what did you expect?
"Always work for balance and definition" was the credo for Arnold's long-time workout partner, Franco Columbu. White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen is keeping fantasy owners by balancing save opportunities between Dustin Hermanson (six) and Shingo Takatsu (eight). Damaso Marte also has two this season. The workload split has a number of causes, including the number of close games played by Chicago, Guillen's management by feel and the fact that Hermanson has not allowed an earned run. Look for the split to continue.
The Red Sox began the season worrying about the starting rotation with the early struggles of David Wells and Curt Schilling. Bronson Arroyo has certainly done his part to alleviate the concerns, winning four games and pitching effectively in six of seven outings (Boston is 6-1 when he starts).
What "You" are Saying
My inbox on Thursday morning was chock-full of questions and comments about Dontrelle Willis. A number of the emails spoke of how the selections of Willis and Clint Barmes had catapulted their teams to the top of the heap in their respective leagues. Here's the "atta boy!" you were seeking, but remember, it's only May 12th. Others wanted to know what they could expect to receive in return should they dangle the dominating lefty on the trading block. Recent straight up deals involving Willis have yielded players such as Mark Teixeira, Bobby Abreu and the now-injured Jason Schmidt.
I haven't confirmed the addresses of these folks or determine whether they've joined the official fan club, but I've seen an extraordinary amount of messages about Hee Seop Choi over the past 48 hours. His .353 batting average for the past week with three homers and seven RBIs have fantasy owners asking the musical question "Where is the love?" The six home runs and 16 RBIs are no surprise; we've known from his minor league days in the Chicago Cubs system that there's some power to be had. But, like Pedro Serrano of "Major League," it's just a matter of time before he sees nothing but off-speed stuff that buckles his knees. Enjoy the hot streak now, because that average will plummet like the stock market when the dot-com bubble burst.
Victor Martinez continues to a be a touchy subject with owners. He was a fourth-round pick on average and the first catcher off the board. To put his pathetic start in perspective, Martinez is tied for 19th in the RBI category among catchers . Miguel Olivo has driven in as many Mariners runners with his .127 batting average. I can't advocate dropping him at this point, as we're not even a quarter of the way through the season and you don't want to allow another owner to steal him off of the waiver wire. If you just want another catcher in the lineup for a couple days to give you peace of mind, Mike Matheny, Jason Phillips and currently injured Gregg Zaun are available in a good number of leagues. None of these three will light up the HR column, but they appear to be seeing the ball better than the young Indians catcher.
Scott Podsednik of the White Sox can't win. He's already swiped eight bags in May (yes, he had four in a game), but owners are frustrated by his lack of pop and low batting average, suggesting that they are looking to drop him outright. C'mon now! If you feel you're set at stolen bases with the rest of your lineup, go fishing toward those teams devoid of speed. Odds are that they have some power to spare and you can work a deal.
He can't stay north of the Mendoza line and soon he won't be on fantasy rosters. Mike Lowell has been the subject of plenty of emails over the course of the week, each asking very simply – "Is he done?" I don't know that he's done, but he shouldn't be in the lineup as you fill out your roster card until he starts swinging the bat with some authority. He's delivered only three multi-hit games this season.
Go Hard or Go Home
We're a little over one month into the 2005 season and Major League Baseball is looking for a pat on the back. The Associated Press ran a story earlier this week that suggested the dip in the average number of HRs per game over the first five weeks of action from 2004 to 2005 could be tied to the new steroids testing policy. The result of the data pull yielded that home runs were down to 1.97 per game from, get this, 2.16 a year ago.
Aren't we a bit premature in trumpeting this new policy as a big success? After all, of the 59 players suspended, two Major Leaguers were among them. Alex Sanchez doesn't hit home runs and pitcher Juan Rincon works to not serve them up. Even if you do want to give it some credit, it seems to me that a number of other factors play at least as much of a role in the number of homers, if not more so.
First, weather this spring was a bit cooler on the average in the Midwest and out East. It was a wet month in Florida and, hey, they lost two games in Colorado to snow outs. Those two games had to be good for a half dozen home runs right there!
What about the fact that the game's most prodigious home run hitters of recent years are either off to miserable starts or haven't taken a single at-bat? Barry Bonds and Frank Thomas are getting their timing down on the latest EA Sports games. Jim Thome struggled through major back pain for a month before succumbing to the DL. He had one homer at the time of his trip to the DL. Look around the league and note the scuffling sluggers (Gary Sheffield – 5 HR, Sammy Sosa – 4 HR, Scott Rolen – 5 HR, Carlos Delgado – 4 HR, Moises Alou – 3 HR, Aubrey Huff – 2 HR). All of these players hit at least 29 home runs last year.
Finally, shouldn't we give a nod to the brilliance of starting pitching early this season? The youngsters have broken through and are offering scintillating performances every night. Dontrelle Willis, Josh Beckett and A.J. Burnett are putting up the numbers that baseball writers and fantasy owners have been expecting. Jeremy Bonderman, Jon Garland, Rich Harden and the entire Orioles staff have brought their A games to the mound every night. And then, there are the veterans who continue to dominate year after year. Tim Hudson and Roger Clemens are joined by Mark Buehrle, Jon Lieber and Kenny Rogers among others in setting down hitters with regularity.
I'll give Bud Selig and company a point for the effort. Response to the flap at BALCO got a deal in place with the union and got the ball rolling. But, let's give this a full season to play out. The bats normally warm up with the weather and pitchers should have some edge coming out of spring training. Do you think this data will be enough to ward off the attack by the U.S. Congress over the coming months?