Fantasy Insider 1/30

It's never too early to find some juicy nuggets of information that may propel you into your Fantasy League Championship. PinstripesPlus Members can get an early jump on fantasy baseball in this weekly article during the offseason.

Anaheim Angels: No closer has been more consistent over the past eight seasons than the Angels' Troy Percival. At age 34, the righty will be entering his 10th big league season in 2004 having recorded 30 or more saves in seven of the last eight seasons. The one time he didn't, in 1997, he finished with 27. With the highly-publicized upgrades on the offensive side of the ball, a much-improved starting rotation, and a quality group of relievers ahead of him, Percival will be one of the top closers on the board in 2004. Expect 40 saves from him.

Baltimore Orioles: Just as Brian Roberts career starts to fly, rumors start that the Orioles will consider going after Jose Vidro if the Expos decide to deal away their superstar second baseman. Roberts came into 2003 as a career .244 hitter with just over 400 career at bats. In 2003, Roberts took over primary second base duties and hit .270 in 460 at bats with the Orioles. If you're in an American League only league, Roberts will gain value since the second base pickings are sort of slim. As for the Vidro rumors, Montreal probably won't look to move Vidro until close to the trading deadline, if at all.

Boston Red Sox: 2004 should finally be the year the Boston Red Sox win the AL East, and prove themselves to be better than their all-time nemesis, the New York Yankees in every way. Their line-up is just as good, and their pitching, right down the line, is better. Curt Schilling and Pedro Martinez will form a devastating 1-2 punch at the top of the rotation, and depending how healthy Pedro feels, should easily win 40 ball games between them. Plus Derek Lowe just might be the best #3 starter in all of baseball. Keith Foulke is every bit as good a closer as Mariano Rivera now, and the set-up men are solid as well. Nomar Garciaparra is still in Boston, as is Manny Ramirez. Solid soldiers Bill Mueller, Kevin Millar, David Ortiz, Johnny Damon, Trot Nixon and Jason Varitek should make life quite uncomfortable for their New York counterparts. The 19 contests between these Beasts from the East should be a thing to behold, and the last team left standing will walk away with NL East crown. It will probably take 95 W's to nail it down, but look for the Sox to win two or three more games than that. Boston and Anaheim will then clash for the AL title… When the smoke clears, the winner of that confrontation is also your likely World Series winner, unless a few Cub pitchers have something to say about it.

Chicago White Sox: Willie Harris played about half his season last year with the White Sox, and as of this moment is expected to be their starting second baseman. Well, this could mean bad things for the White Sox, but good things for Harris. He is ready to be at the big league level, as he has done well in the minors, but last year in limited playing time, he only managed a .204 average against major league pitchers. This was not very good for Harris, but the Sox see something in him that they think will click and he will produce for them. I hope they aren't expecting this right off the bat, because Harris still has a lot of adjusting to do before he will be hitting ML pitching at a good clip. The bad part for the White Sox is that they have no other real option than to go young. They are unwilling to spend the money on a free agent, and don't have many other options. It may be interesting to watch Harris in Spring Training, and he could be a good extremely cheap pickup, but don't expect too much from him. His numbers should steadily rise throughout the year though, and don't be surprised if he isn't doing well by the end.

Cleveland Indians: After missing the 2003 season because of an elbow injury, all eyes will be on Bob Wickman this spring. The Indians insist that he should be ready to go and they also insist that he is their first choice for closer. If - and it's a big if - he is recovered, Wickman should have enough gas left to get through at least one more season as a closer. He's worth a shot in later rounds, but don't jump on him too early. After all, the Indians did sign Jose Jimenez as insurance and he could either get the job by default or by beating out Wickman this spring.

Detroit Tigers: OF Alex Sanchez was acquired last season, after the Milwaukee front office lost faith in his ability to turn the corner and become a consistent everyday player. They traded him to Detroit, where he'd have a chance to play every day, and let the Tigers worry about his inconsistencies. Well, the Tigers feel they've found a good one. While Sanchez still needs to learn some patience at the plate, his .289 average and incredible speed make him a solid candidate for a fantasy team, just because of his ability to swipe bases. If Sanchez can increase his walk total, he could become even more valuable due to the increased power behind him in the Tiger lineup. A good sleeper to take a long, hard look at.

Kansas City Royals: How good can Garth Brooks be? Okay, seriously, the country singer's invitation to the Royals camp is just to draw attention to his Teammates for Kids charities and has become somewhat of an annual event with Brooks going to camp with the Padres and Mets in previous seasons. Maybe, with the switch to the American League, he can DH. In 39 spring training at bats, Brooks has one hit for an .027 average. It's a good bet that you can wait until the very last rounds to grab Brooks, but wouldn't it be funny if he came into camp and tore it up at the plate?

Minnesota Twins: Luis Rivas may just want to peek over his shoulder a time or two this spring. The Twins are very high on Nick Punto who came to Minnesota in the Eric Milton deal with the Phillies. Punto is a shortstop by trade, but can also play second base. Rivas hit just .259 with 8 homeruns last season. The key could be speed. If the Twins feel that Punto can hit in the .260 range, they might also feel that he can steal more than the 17 bases that Rivas swiped last season. Defensively, Rivas is pretty steady, but so is Punto. The second base battle could be interesting for Minnesota.

New York Yankees: The New York Yankees have a lot of nice pieces in place for the new season. The question is now, are the pieces good enough to ensure another NL East title? The answer is: maybe, maybe not. The AL East will be the most competitive in all of baseball in 2004. The Yankees have a stacked line-up, so all appears well. Loften, Jeter, Giambi, Sheffield, Bernie Williams, Hideki Matsui, Posada, Soriano and Enrique Wilson (only because Aaron Boone thought practicing his jump shot was more important than the 2004 baseball season), reads almost like an All-Star line-up. However, the Bombers will have trouble reaching the playoffs this year, as the whole division is armed and dangerous. Plus the Yankees lost three pivotal members of their starting rotation. Andy Pettitte, Roger Clemens and David Wells all have new addresses, and although King George of the Bronx confronted this problem, it is questionable if Kevin Brown and Javier Vazquez will be adequate replacements for the departed. The Yankees, if they are fortunate enough to get by the powerful Bosox, and the improved Blue Jays, will have much more difficulty in taking out the Anaheim Angels (the early favorite to win the AL). My projection: the Yankees win 92, lose the AL East to Boston, win the AL Wildcard, but fall early in the playoffs in Joe Torre's managerial swansong.

Oakland Athletics: Jermaine Dye has been a bit of a mystery man in recent years, basically ever since he was traded to Oakland from Kansas City in 2001. A Bay Area native, he hasn't been the force he was before since moving to his home town to play for the A's. Dye battled injuries in 2003, and hit just 4 HR and 20 RBI in 221 at bats. The A's need him to rebound in a big way, having lost some thunder in the lineup when Miguel Tejada signed with Baltimore over the winter, but how much they'll get remains questionable. Dye's stats will improve, but not enough to warrant choosing him high in any draft league like in previous years.

Seattle Mariners: One of the M's quiet stars of 2003 was their left fielder, Randy Winn, who batted .295 with 11 HR, 75 RBI and 23 SB while playing in Seattle's spacious home park of Safeco Field. Winn will move to center in 2004, replacing Mike Cameron, and should put up similar numbers. He'll likely bat No. 2 in the batting order, behind Ichiro Suzuki and in front of Edgar Martinez, though M's manager Bob Melvin has stated publicly that the club will use Winn at the leadoff spot at times during Spring Training. Expect him to land at the second spot, though, once the season starts.

Tampa Bay Devil Rays: Tino Martinez returns to the American League, where he is admittedly more comfortable. The return to the AL and the presence of Robert Fick on the D'Rays roster means that Martinez will play both at first base and will likely take some turns as a designated hitter. Martinez seemed to be slipping in the National League and wanted badly to return to the AL. He's not going to be the same Tino Martinez that played with the Yankees, but odds are his numbers will show marked improvement over what he did in St.Louis the past couple of seasons.

Texas Rangers: Mike Young didn't get much attention in the potent Rangers offensive attack last season, but the role he played can't be overlooked. Only 26 years old in 2003, he batted .306 with 204 H, 14 HR, 72 RBI, 104 R and 13 SB. All were improvements from his 2002 stats, and amazing numbers for a player that many fantasy owners overlooked on draft day. While the Rangers lost Juan Gonzalez and Rafael Palmeiro in the offseason, they still figure to be a top-notch offensive team. Expect similar numbers in all categories for Young in 2004, with possible drops in RBI and runs.

Toronto Blue Jays: Orlando Hudson needs to improve his numbers against left-handers in order to reach his true potential. The young switch-hitter hit just .160 against lefties in 2003 and has hit just .169 versus southpaws over the past three seasons. One consideration is that Hudson will eventually give up switch-hitting. Toronto will also consider sitting Hudson a little more against left-handers if he can't improve his numbers. On the flip side, Hudson has hit righties at a .299 clip over the past three seasons and all 13 of his career homeruns have come off right-handed pitchers.



Arizona Diamondbacks: Former "catcher of the future" Brad Cresse was cast off to Montreal for a player to be named later. That's got to do wonders for Cresse's self esteem. He gets traded to the Siberia of MLB for a vaunted player to be named later. Great. LF Luis Gonzalez has been playing catch for the last 3 weeks and thinks he'll be able to chuck it 150 feet by the beginning of Spring Training. INF Craig Colbrunn has also rehabbed for the last few weeks by hitting off a batting tee. He'll be ready in a month, he says. Nearlyhalf a million dollars separate the front office and arbitration-eligible 3B Shea Hillenbrand. When you're a big league ballplayer, what is $500K anyway? A Bentley with those spinning hubcaps?

Chicago Cubs: Mark Grudzielanek may have one the hardest names in baseball to pronounce, but in 2003, it was one of the most important names. Grudz led the Cubs to the playoffs in 2003, with his leadoff hitting until Kenny Lofton was acquired via a trade. He then moved to the two spot, and preformed very well, leading the Cubs in batting average with a very good .314 average for the year. Most important was that he could draw the walk, obtaining a .366 OBP during the year, a number that would have been higher had he stayed in the one spot. Gruzielanek may have only knocked in 38 runs, but he was able to score 73 runs for the Cubs to help kick start their offense late in the season. On top of all that, he was injured to about a month, which caused his stats to be down a little. Not bad for someone the Dodgers thought was done in his career. Grudzielanek played well enough for the team to bring him back in 2004, at a reduced price of course. He still should start the season as the starting second baseman for the Cubs though. However, if he struggles, Todd Walker will replace him in the lineup. For this reason, Grudzielanek would be a good pickup in the beginning of the season, but watch him closely, because Walker is always waiting. Grudzielanek is not done playing yet, and he will try to prove it again in 2004, however to expect him to repeat 2003 would be wishful thinking.

Cincinnati Reds: Players should get hazardous duty pay for signing a contract that might put them in the Cincinnati outfield. After a rash of injuries to outfielders during the 2003 season, an offseason injury has hit the newest member of the Reds outfield. John Vander Wal slipped while shoveling snow at his home in Michigan and may miss the entire season. Vander Wal underwent surgery and doctors are unable to say if he'll be able to play at all in 2004. The loss of Vander Wal likely won't screw up your fantasy plans too much, unless you were going to figure he would be playing because of other injuries to Reds outfielders, which was always a possibility.

Colorado Rockies: The Rockies signed shortstop Royce Clayton and utility infielders Damian Jackson and Denny Hocking to deals that will earn them $650,000 if they are on the big-league roster. That buys time for Clint Barmes and Garrett Atkins to return to Triple-A Colorado Springs and refine their talents, and it means Rene Reyes can get his feet wet as a fourth outfielder and show the Rockies management team that he has the focus needed to be a regular.

Florida Marlins: Is there any reason to believe that Darren Oliver can revive his career as a member of the Marlins? Well, maybe a little. Over the past three seasons, Oliver is 28-27, 5.37 overall. Against the National League, where he'll be doing most of his pitching in 2004, he is 14-12, 4.87 over the same period. It's a little better, but still not worth running out to draft Oliver.

Houston Astros: Houston Astros- Jeff Kent was supposed to save the Houston Astros last year, and add some much needed depth to their offense. Well, that's exactly what he did for the Astros in 2003, despite missing a month due to an injury. He preformed well, hitting just under .300 for the year, with a total of .297. He managed to belt 22 homers and 97 RBI's for the men from Texas. His numbers were obviously helped by the little league dimensions of the Juice Box, but Kent had a solid year for Houston, and helped the team to compete up until the end in the NL Central. Kent also had 39 walks on the year, while striking out just 85 times. This was a bit of a down year for Kent though, mainly because Barry Bonds was not in his lineup. This is about the same type of year that you could expect from Kent in 2004 though. Good numbers, but not too eye-popping. Still though, these offensive numbers from a second baseman would be very good for a fantasy league, and if you are in a position to be able to afford Kent, he would be a good decision. 2004 should treat him well, and no matter who, the ballpark in Houston will always help him numbers out a little bit, so expect good things in 2004.

Los Angeles Dodgers: Frank McCourt's ownership bid was approved by on January 29th. And just in time, too! Now the new owner can see just what a miserable line-up this once proud and storied franchise is going to put on the field in April AND he'll get to watch P Eric Gagne clean out his bank account even more! Former Expo and Dodger, Tim Wallach, looks to be the frontrunner for the vacant batting coach position. He should have fun with a team that ranked dead last in runs scored in 2003. Apparently, the team's M.O. is to try to win every game 1-0 because there isn't a fearsome bat to be found. Adding to the fun is 2B Alex Cora who broke his arm in a Puerto Rico winter league game.

Milwaukee Brewers: Geoff Jenkins is due $8.25 million in 2004 and has set a deadline of the start of spring training to have a deal in place. This is a situation to watch. If he doesn't get a new deal, we say move him up two rounds when you are picking. The Brewers will be looking to deal Jenkins if they think they won't be able to re-sign him and his value could explode on a team looking to make a push for the playoffs, the same time you need your own push.

Montreal Expos: The Expos bench is in pretty bad shape. That could mean good news for the starting eight on the Expos, since Frank Robinson will be very slow to make any moves. There are two potential spots where the Expos may split playing time. In right field, Juan Rivera, acquired from the Yankees, may wind up platooning with Terrmel Sledge. The Expos are very high on Sledge and may take advantage of his left-handed bat mixed in with Rivera's right-handed hitting to form a young tandem in right field. The other potential spot that could see some shuffling is behind the plate. Brian Schneider is still a little rough around the edges and could give way to the right-handed hitting veteran Gregg Zaun against some of the tougher lefties in the league.

New York Mets: The New York Mets continue to spin their wheels. Say what you want but it now appears that the Metropolitans are once again headed for the Netherlands of the NL East standings. Fortunately, no matter what happens the Mets should finish ahead of the Montreal Expos, if that's any concession. Yes, some major problems with the team have been addressed and a few rolls of scotch tape in the form of Kazou Matsui, Mike Cameron and Braden Looper have been applied to plug some gaping holes. But the big picture is, unfortunately, still the same. Ye Olde Vets are simply a year older, and although a few lines were dangled to catch the big fish, they all decided the New York bait wasn't tempting enough. An optimistic projection for the 2004 Metsies is a .500 season…81 up, 81 down. At the present time, anything better than that falls under the category of wishful thinking. Also in the world of Fantasy Baseball: the watchword is pure and simple: with few exceptions (the aforementioned trio and youngster Jose Reyes), avoid the Mets.

Philadelphia Phillies: Jimmy Rollins spent time working with Tony Gwynn this offseason. Gwynn also worked with Rollins last year, but the lessons didn't seem to have much effect on Rollins, who continues to try to hit homeruns. Now, after more work with Gwynn and watching the damage that Juan Pierre and Luis Castillo did as members of the Marlins, Rollins seems to have finally seen the light. Rollins told the media that watching what Pierre and Castillo did to set up the big guns on the Marlins was exciting and he knows he can do the same kind of damage. That would likely result in a higher average and more stolen bases for Rollins, making him a pretty good pickup.

Pittsburgh Pirates: Kip Wells, who got married in January, made $370,000 last season, when he went 10-9 with a 3.28 ERA in 31 starts and 197 1/3 innings. Wells, 26, will make $2,575,000 this season and can also earn up to $50,000 in performance bonuses this year if makes 32 starts and pitches 200 innings. Look for Wells to hit that extra bonus this season and he could be a late round find from a bad team.

San Diego Padres: "The defensive caliber of the players we've added is going to assist Bruce (Bochy) when he's making late-game changes," said Padres general manager Kevin Towers. "I thought we improved the defense last year, and we've done it again." That kind of talk could take at bats away from the likes of Khalil Greene, with Rey Ordonez and Javier Vasquez currently behind him on the depth chart. It could also affect Sean Burroughs' at bats with Jeff Cirillo on the roster. Maybe this is overanalyzing, but keep it in mind while you make your selections.

San Francisco Giants: Team trainer Stan Conte is soiling himself due to the fact that superstar pitchers Jason Schmidt and Robb Nen are not a lock to be healthy come April. He's not even "cautiously optimistic" when it comes to Nenn, either. According to Conte, Nen will either be ready or he never will. Words like "never" seldom leave the lips of team trainers and to hear it uttered by Conte is troubling. It should go without saying that the Giants aren't entirely comforted by his words (especially since they let 2003 bullpen hero Tim Worrell escape to Philly). This team is shaping up to be the team it's always been since 1997: Good enough to squeak into the playoffs and then get waxed in the first round. Barry will be a 39-year old left fielder. Of course, he will hit .340 and 42 HR's but he'll still be 39. Scary.

St. Louis Cardinals: Bo Hart came onto the scene for the Cardinals after Fernando Vina went down with an injury last summer. Hart was explosive out of the gate, and became an instant fan favorite in St. Louis. He was hitting at an amazing clip the first few weeks he was in the league, and looked like he would be a very good second baseman. However, he rounded out the year poorly, and only finished with average numbers, hitting for a .277 average. He managed few homeruns, and was not really able to take walks against MLB quality pitching. Hart proved to be a good spark for the Cardinals, but much too early for them. They needed good hitting from him down the stretch and he could not deliver. Chances are next year Marlon Anderson will be the Cardinals starter at second, but watch out in Spring Training and see if Hart can make the team. If he is the starter, he will be a decent cheap pickup, but if not, don't waste your time with him.


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