MLB Insider: Fantasy Report

The Phillies will have less of Kevin Millwood this season, but don't worry, that's a good thing. In Los Angeles, there's a new setup man you should know about. Plus, in Montreal, a career minor league journeyman might get a shot at the majors for a full season. In the American League, who is the Orioles right fielder and why should you care? Lots of veteran first basemen in Tampa Bay. And, in the Tigers wait for a former top prospect to become a top major leaguer.

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American League:

Baltimore Orioles: Quick, name the Orioles right fielder? If you said Jay Gibbons, you are either a diehard O's fan or very good fantasy player. Gibbons clubbed over 20 home runs for the second straight season in 2003 and also drove in 100 runs last season. He's one of the best kept secrets in the American League and is now just entering his prime. With the added firepower brought in with Tejada, Lopez, and Palmeiro, Gibbons could really thrive in 2004. There's no reason why Gibbons can't hit 30 home runs and drive in over 100 in '04. And he could raise his batting average for the third straight year as well. He'll come at a modest price.

Boston Red Sox: One of the key position battles to watch this upcoming spring is the Red Sox opening at second base, but it appears to be Pokey Reese's job to lose. Yet, that certainly doesn't mean he will be a solid fantasy player, even if he is in a stellar offensive lineup such as the one Boston currently possesses. Theo Epstein was looking for defense, something that Todd Walker couldn't provide. Pokey can. The general manager also brought in Tony Womack, Terry Shumpert, and Mark Bellhorn, but none have the defensive presence the club is looking for to bolster its middle infield. Look for Reese to occupy the ninth spot in the order, hit between .240 - .250, drive in 40 runs, score 55-65 times, and steal 15-20 bases. His speed, if anything, will be the greatest asset to your team. Here's our advice: stay away from the guy.

Chicago White Sox: Magglio Ordonez has been the top White Sox player for several years now, and 2003 was a very good one for him as well. He hit a very good .317 with 99RBI's and 29 home runs for the year. He also had a good eye, with 57 walks, and a .380 OBP. He was also tough to strikeout for a power hitter, only whiffing 73 times during the year. This was a very good year for Magglio, but one that has become the regular for him instead of the exception. This is good for him and the Sox, but 2004 could be a very special one for the 30 year old outfielder. His contract is up after this season, and after the Sox tried to trade him this offseason, don't take any bets on him returning to the south side of Chicago. That means he will be showcasing his talent trying to earn a great contract to finish out his career on in 2004. This means that his stats should look very good in 2004 again as he tries to impress other MLB owners. Ordonez has always been a forgotten superstar, but in 2004, a lot of people and teams will be paying attention to him.

Detroit Tigers: Two seasons ago, Carlos Pena was one of the top prospects in all of baseball. He had an incredible year in the Texas Rangers' farm system, and was then traded in the offseason to the Oakland A's where he was anointed the successor to Jason Giambi. However, Pena has yet to have his breakout in the majors, having two mediocre seasons as the Tigers first baseman (who acquired him midseason in 2002). Pena's power numbers haven't been as strong as hoped, but more worrisome is his inability to make consistent contact as evidenced by his less-than-stellar .247 average. Pena could still become an excellent player for the Tigers, but unless he has an excellent Spring Training, stay away from Pena this fantasy season.

Kansas City Royals: Some of the Royals big bats could see a slight fall in their power numbers, but it might not really be their fault. The Royals moved the fences at Kauffman Stadium back by 10 feet. The new configuration takes the stadium back to the way it was from 1973-1994 and fits perfectly with manager Tony Pena's small-ball theory for the team. It will be interesting to see the difference in home stadium homerun numbers for the likes of Carlos Beltran, who is in the final year of his contract.

Minnesota Twins: After a big performance for the Dominican Republic in the Caribbean World Series, Jose Offerman got himself a new job. The Twins signed the veteran infielder to a minor league contract with an invite to spring training. Offerman hasn't officially been a major leaguer since 2002 when he played with Boston and Seattle. Offerman's signing gives the Twins some infield help and a quality player to put in the lineup in case of a slump or injury.

New York Yankees: All eyes have been on the transaction wire when looking at the Yankees this offseason. Will Lofton thrive in New York? Can Kevin Brown stay healthy and win 20 games? Will Aaron Boone play at all? One person who might be flying under the radar and be ready for a monster season is OF Hideki Matsui. Forget about Kaz Matsui over at Shea. The one to watch this summer is Hideki. Remember this is a guy that belted 50 bombs in Japan. Sure he may not reach those numbers in the States, but he could easily turn some of the 42 doubles he had last season into extra home runs. Expect Matsui to approach 25-30 home runs in 2004 after getting one year of MLB ball under his belt.

Oakland Athletics: Eric Chavez has new agent Dave Stewart in his corner. The former front office man and 20 game winner has negotiated contracts in the past and is positioning the free agent to be for a big payday. Look for Chavez to have a huge year. The 26 year old could post career numbers for the A's, 35 homers over 115 RBI's and a BA of .290.

Tampa Bay Devil Rays: Fred McGriff is going for another season in the majors after signing a minor league deal with Tampa Bay. The question is, where and how often will he play? With Tino Martinez at first and Aubrey Huff as the DH, McGriff will have to fight for playing time. The rotation of the three hitters though could give Tampa Bay some interesting opportunities and ensure that they have at least one big power bat to bring off the bench.

Toronto Blue Jays: The Jays are looking to build their staff around Roy Halladay. With Halladay signed long-term and getting better every season, that's not a bad move. The folks in Toronto also believe that they are sending the right message with Halladay's contract, letting young players know that they'll show them the money if they perform. Halladay could be worth reaching a little for since he turns 27 in May and is coming into his prime.

National League

Arizona Diamondbacks: Former D-back P Ricky Bottalico signed with the New York Mets and will fight for a job in the bullpen. The former All Star ('96) appeared only twice for the snakes last season and compiled 1-0 record with a 5.40 ERA; the team also recently welcomed P Jim Parquee with a minor league contract and an invite to Spring Training. Last season with the Rays, he posted a 1-1 record with an 11.94 ERA in five starts coupled with a terrifying 2.48 WHIP. Eek.

Atlanta Braves: Don't look now, but Marcus Giles is one of, if not the best second basemen in the National League. After being a part-time player for his first two major league seasons, Giles got a full-time opportunity in 2003 and made the most of it, hitting .316 with 21 homeruns. The really good news is that Giles got better as the season went on, hitting .349 after the all-star game, including hitting .360 from the beginning of July to the end of August with 11 homeruns over the period.

Cincinnati Reds: If Danny Graves' first foray into the world of starting pitching wasn't a disaster; it was at least real close to being a disaster. Graves entered the season with a career 3.42 ERA and finished the 2003 season at 5.33 for the year. Of course, considering that Reds starters went 33-72, 5.77 last season, Graves' season wasn't all that bad by team standards. Stating the obvious, don't look to the Reds to fill your pitching staff.

Chicago Cubs: Sammy Sosa is a name that every baseball fan knows, and no matter how you feel about the slugger, you have to give him his due. Sosa has simply been one of the best players in the game for the last six years. Sosa has averaged .302 during the last six years, with 332 homers over that time period. Simply put, Sosa has dominated the offensive parts of the game for several years now. He has become one of the most feared hitters this side of Barry Bonds. Sosa may have had some significant time off in 2003, but it was for things that are not career threatening, an odd injury and a suspension. Despite all that, Sosa still had the best year of anyone on the Cubs team, which was their best in years. He will have something to prove in 2004, trying to regain fans love and take the Cubs back to where they were in 2003. His numbers should be better with a full year next year. Look for him to be above 50 homers again, with an average around .300. Sosa is always a safe bet in a fantasy league.

Colorado Rockies: Luis Gonzalez was picked up this offseason from the Indians. The 24-year-old Venezuelan infielder is a line-drive hitter with proven ability to hit .300 (he hit .318 in 116 games at Double-A Akron this year). Doesn't have much power but makes contact. Can play first base, second base, third or short and with an opening at short he could get some playing time. He won't have enough power to be a starter but could be a useful reserve player in very deep leagues.

Florida Marlins: Mike Neu had a pretty good rookie season with Oakland last year, but wasn't put into too many pressure situations. The Marlins acquired the young right-handed reliever in December and manager Jack McKeon says that Neu will not only have a chance to win a job in the Marlins bullpen, but will also be one of the guys he may look to in pressure situations. It's doubtful that Neu will work his way into the closer's job, but he could put up decent numbers in a relief role for Florida.

Houston Astros: Lance Berkman may not be the most loved player among major league fans, but that's ok with him, because he's not the most loved hitter with major league pitchers. He's earned his reputation, but Berkman had a down year in 2003. He hit .288 with 25 HR and 93 RBI's. Those sound like pretty good numbers, but for Berkman, they were down. Not to worry though fantasy fans, this will only help you out next year. Berkman should return to form in 2004, and have a healthy Jeff Kent to help in the lineup. Also, Berkman had a down year in 2003, meaning that his fantasy value will be lower than normal in 2004, so he will be a good pickup at a lower cost than a player of his caliber. Berkman has increased his walk total every year, though, has had over 100 for the past two years. He should be able to do that again in 2004, as well as increase his power numbers, after all, he is hitting in the Juice Box, and balls just fly out of there. Berkman will be a solid pickup in 2004.

Los Angeles Dodgers: Relief Pitcher Guillermo Mota and the Dodgers avoided arbitration by settling on a one-year contract worth $1.475 million. Last season, Mota went 6-3 with a 1.97 ERA and one save in 76 appearances. He allowed only 78 hits in 105 innings while walking 26 and striking out 99 for a not too ghastly 1.97 WHIP. He'll step in for the departed Paul Quantrill as Eric Gagne's set-up man; speaking of Game Over Gagne, he's due to pummel Frank McCourt's freshly minted owner's wallet since he's the only Dodger remaining who's eligible for arbitration; McCourt interviewed A's assistant GM (and über stats geek) Paul DePodesta and Phillies assistant GM Ruben Amaro Jr. According to reports, DePodesta could be named at any moment and current GM Dan Evans will be asked to not let the door bump his rear on the way out.

Milwaukee Brewers: 2B Junior Spivey had came out of nowhere to become an All Star for the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2002. However, injuries slowed his performance in 2003, and now he's been shipped to the Brewers – in a trade that shipped out their top hitter. Spivey's numbers will still be decent, but don't expect huge production out of him, he's nothing more than an average Second Baseman, production-wise. However, if he gets shipped out at some point during the season to make room for 2B Rickie Weeks, his numbers could see a jump (especially if he's headed to a team with a more potent lineup). But, until that happens, Spivey can't be considered a top tier Second Baseman.

Montreal Expos: Joe Vitiello might finally get a good chance at playing a full season in the majors. The Expos signed him to a minor league contract, but since the Expos are looking for a right-handed bat off the bench, Vitiello could be the answer. Vitiello played 20 games with the Expos last season and hit .342 with 3 homeruns. He could also take over at first base or in the outfield if one of the young players stumbles.

New York Mets: Steve Trachsel got the job done in 2003, going 16-10 with a 3.78 ERA and 1.31 WHIP ratio for a team that lost 95 games last year. Trachsel was phenomenal on the road where he posted a 10-1 record and 3.55 ERA. A good indication for 2004 was the fantastic second half he had. Trachsel went 8-4 with a 2.60 ERA after the All-Star break and looked strong. Now the reality! Trachsel was a bit lucky. Hidden behind these numbers were the 26 home runs he allowed. Also keep in mind that on the rebuilding Mets, Trachsel could be the most attractive bargaining chip come trade time.

Pittsburgh Pirates: Craig Wilson spent two seasons riding the bench as older players took playing time from him. However, after the Pirates shipped out a number of veterans (including their top player, OF Brian Giles), Wilson is now one of the centerpieces of the rebuilt Pirates. In just over 300 At Bats, Wilson knocked in 18 HR's and had an OPS of .872. Assuming the players ahead of him can get on base (a big if), Wilson could be in line to have a huge season. Wilson would be an excellent later round pick that will be under the radar on a lot of fantasy owners' screens.

Philadelphia Phillies: Besides avoiding arbitration and agreeing to a one-year contract, Kevin Millwood has been on a mission to lose weight this off-season. Reports have him dropping between 20 and 25 pounds. Some reports last season were that his conditioning - or lack thereof - was a reason for his drop in numbers in the second half of the season. Manager Larry Bowa said that he believes Millwood has become serious about off-season conditioning.

San Diego Padres: Without a true leadoff hitter, Sean Burroughs will continue to assume the role. Last year, Burroughs scored just 62 runs, drove in 58 and had seven homers. Not quite inspiring numbers from a third baseman. Look for Burroughs to increase his runs scored to over 100, but his RBI's will stay about the same from the leadoff spot. His home runs will go up and his thefts should rise from the seven he sported last year. Still, Burroughs does not match up well with other third basemen around the league. He will, however, post a solid BA around .300 and his OBP will be healthy at around .370.

San Francisco Giants: Manager Felipe Alou is toying with the idea of batting LF Barry Bonds third in the line-up. No matter where he hits, he'll draw no less than 54,766 walks this year (and STILL hit 40 HR's); Alou also told new RF Michael Tucker to "be ready to bat anywhere from first to eigth; progress regarding closer Robb Nen's injury is still a mystery. He feels that his career may have been but in jeopardy with three surgeries prior to consulting Dr. Craig Morgan, who previously repaired ace hurler Curt Schilling's rotator cuff. As a result, he may throw hard or he may not. Even scarier for the front office is that he may never throw, period; the team and new arrival C A.J. Pierzynski look like they're heading for arbitration on February 17th in Phoenix, AZ. It would be the first time since '95 that the Giants were involved in an official arbitration hearing. Pierzynski hit .312 with 11 home runs and 74 RBI last season for the Twins and is seeking $3.5 million, while the Giants offered $2.25 million.

St. Louis Cardinals: Albert Pujols showed again in 2003 that he was the best young hitter in the game. He competed with Barry Bonds for the NL MVP all year long, and came up just short. His first three years in the majors are the best first three years ever. He smoked the ball at a clip of .354 in 2003, scaring major league pitchers, and he also has a good deal of power with 43 homers during the year. Pujols is not as well protected in the lineup in 2004 as he was in 2003, but that shouldn't affect his numbers too badly. He'll still hit well over .300 and have at least 30 homers. This is great for any fantasy owner, but not the best news in the world for the Cardinals, who will have a free agent on their hands soon. Pujols will be expensive, but his fielding versatility and excellent hitting make him a fantasy must.

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