On February 10, 2013, an inexplicable portrait of Marilyn Monroe hanging over his shoulder at Masala Indian Cuisine in Chongqing, China, Mark was being a bro.
“How high do you want to go on Strasburg?” he said, now choking on his fourth cigarette since we sat down. The food hadn’t arrived yet. He was actually saying this: “I know that you probably don’t want to talk about Lin, so would you like to discuss fantasy baseball instead?”
Mark took a sip of cloudy water. The cloudy water at Masala was safe. Or at least you figured it was, due to the cost of the delicious grub. I had a rule of “50” for this type of thing. If a place charged less than 50 kuai per meal, you wanted to order beer. Cloudy and clear water both were a no-no in the one-room restaurants that lined the main streets of Huxi. If a place charged less than 50 kuai per plate of chicken, you wanted to say a sentence that sounded like: Boo yow gee toe. That means No chicken head. You only make the mistake of confusing a chicken head with a nugget once.
“Do we think that Strasburg is the most valuable commodity in the game?” I replied rhetorically. I just as easily could have said: “Thank you for not asking, I would indeed prefer to speak about the draft.”
And so we did, laying the foundation for the Chongqing Crouching Tigers, an 80-player dynasty franchise in a 20-team league. Fantasy baseball, my favorite distraction, can perhaps be thanked for the cleanest breakup of my life. Preparation for that inaugural draft consumed our days—we’d be arguing about the value of Brian Dozier in the taxi to Shapingba, or discussing Chris Carter’s expected auction price instead of taking the microphone at the KTV (karaoke bar) in Sunny Block. No, really, Echo—we’re good. Your Celine Dion was great. (Turning to Mark:) You know, Rick Porcello could be a frisky little sleeper.
We ultimately decided to build for the future, which led to a 100-plus loss campaign (Reality Baseball leagues simulate a 162-game season) and the top pick in this spring’s amateur draft, which we parlayed into Kris Bryant. Back in the U.S. and sick of losing, we traded throughout the winter, speaking on the phone nearly every day as we acquired Homer Bailey, Wil Myers, Yadier Molina, Anthony Rizzo, Asdrubal Cabrera, and more. The league consensually viewed our team as a favorite. Where has it gotten us? Every day I wake up, open the box score, and see another loss. We’re 4-15. Today’s column contains two lessons: 1.) It’s better to wake up to a loss than to no box score at all, and 2.) In fantasy baseball, as in life, one must be honest with themselves and willing to adapt. Nineteen games into the season, we must decide: Have we been unlucky (should we stay the course?), or are we not as good as we thought (at what point do we become sellers?)?
- Lester whiffed a career-high 15 batters over eight shutout innings, allowing only one hit, in a dominant victory over the A’s on Saturday. Although the southpaw said he didn’t feel good while warming up—telling reporters he threw the worst cutter he’s thrown in a “long time” during his bullpen session—only nine Oakland batters managed to hit a ball into fair territory. After the game, some people argued it was a better performance than his 2008 no-hitter against the Royals.
Lester is a good example of why it’s important to look beyond surface level stats, especially in small samples. He entered this outing 2-4 with a 3.10 ERA, but he’d been better than that, collecting a 2.56 FIP and 43/8 K/BB rate over 40-plus frames. Lester has been pitching like a fantasy ace thus far, but owners should expect a No. 2 going forward, still a fine return on investment.
- The Indians guess that Jason Kipnis will miss 3-5 weeks with the right oblique strain he sustained on Tuesday, while Kipnis himself expects to heal on the early end of that spectrum, declaring Memorial Day as a realistic return date.
In truth, neither party has any earthly idea, as this is the type of pain-threshold malady that could linger. It would be no surprise, in other words, if Kipnis were playing on Memorial Day, just as it would be no surprise if he’s out longer than five weeks. My backup second basemen in the ludicrously deep dynasty league are Kolten Wong and Brian Roberts, and there are, basically, no available free agents. If you follow baseball, you know that I’m in trouble in the near future.
Fortunately, your league is shallower. Mixed leaguers should be able to locate a replacement easy enough. You’re on your own. I’m more concerned with the poor AL-only owners. Were you too late in picking up Kipnis’ replacement, prospect Jose Ramirez? The 21-year-old should be your first stop; while he had been blasting the ball at Triple-A, the bat isn’t prodigious. Instead, Ramirez will be a fantasy asset, assuming he’s in the lineup, because of his speed. He swiped 38 bags a season ago in Double-A and thieved eight in the early going at Triple-A this year. Another option is Marcus Semien, though I’m guessing the dual-position eligible White Sox infielder is owned.
If you have to go scour deep—don’t be ashamed, dogg, we’ve all been there—Chris Getz will scrounge at-bats in Toronto until the Jays can locate a capable second baseman (they may just have to shift Brett Lawrie back, who knows). Getz swings a hot dog, but he can run, and you’re desperate. And if you have to go even deeper, Grant Green got called up over the weekend and collected a pair of hits in his first start for the Angels on Saturday. His versatility might allow him to hang around, and he hit .365 at Triple-A.
Ready for the Week That Was speed round? Good. Let’s get it:
- Bryce Harper underwent surgery to repair a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his left thumb on Tuesday, and is out until July. Surely you’ve heard. I would do everything in my power to keep him on my roster until July, though an argument could certainly be made that an owner in a shallow mixed league with only a DL spot or two might find himself in a position where walking away is the best call.
- Home runs are down across baseball right now, with fewer dingers per plate appearance in April than in the past three season’s opening months. If you’ve lost somebody like Harper, I would look into seeing if Jose Abreu’s owner won’t demand an overpay. In this fantasy environment, paying full price for power is worth it. If Albert Pujols’ owner hasn’t been converted, you might try floating him an offer, too. If you’re into buying low, give Allen Craig’s owner a ring. The window for discount shopping appeared precariously close to closing when Craig went 4-for-5 with a homer against the Brewers on the last day of the month, but then he went 1-for-8 on Friday and Saturday to rest at a .221 batting average and three homers when this column went to press. When the bat wakes up, he’ll provide muscle to an owner that needs it.
- Tony Cingrani disputed the need for a disabled list stint amidst mild shoulder tendinitis, so he could be activated immediately when eligible.
- Samuel Deduno, a month too late, in my humble opinion, will join Minnesota’s rotation on Tuesday against Cleveland (pitching machine Mike Pelfrey and his 7.99 ERA were placed on the disabled list with a phantom ailment I won’t dignify by listing). Deduno is no world beater, but I would venture to guess he’s been a lot better as a starter over the past few years than you assume, and I recommend scooping him up for speculation purposes if you have room in AL-only formats. He went 14-13 with a 4.09 ERA over 33 starts between 2012-2013 (with shaky peripherals including a 4.66 FIP, to be fair), and has posted a 3.98 ERA overall since 2012 (including a 2.89 ERA over 18 2/3 relief innings this year). Deduno’s upside is capped because he doesn’t strike out a ton of batters (142 over 205-plus frames since 2012) and walks too many (103 in the same span), but stop complaining, dear reader: How many times in-season can you pick up a starter in a pitcher’s park with a career 3.98 ERA for free in an AL-only league? He’s worth a look, even if he doesn’t hatch butterflies in your belly.
- We have two items in Atrocious Bullpen News: Aaron Loup has displaced the shaky Sergio Santos as Toronto’s fill-in closer. Until Casey Janssen’s oblique heals, John Gibbons will be popping antacids like Skittles. Bo Porter knows the feeling. Houston’s skipper has banished Josh Fields from high-leverage situations and announced that Chad Qualls and Anthony Bass will divvy up the night shifts at a bar that never opens.
- Manny Machado made his season debut on Thursday and should be activated in all formats.
- Chris Johnson agreed to a three-year contract extension with the Braves.
- Oscar Taveras and Gregory Polanco are both embarrassing Triple-A pitching right now. If both aren’t owned in your mixed league, make it so. Each is a superior prospect to April promotee George Springer, and they'll be up next month.
- Speaking of prospects, Robbie Ray, who finished just outside the top 100 in many preseason lists, will make his big league debut on Tuesday against the Astros. If Anibal Sanchez’s lacerated finger hasn’t healed itself Wolverine-style by this weekend, Ray is going to have himself a two-start week. Get him on your AL-only roster if you have room, if only for this week’s situation. Ray went 3-2 with a 1.59 ERA in five starts at Triple-A.